One of the most influential figures in Western design is Cliff May, credited with establishing the form of the modern Western ranch house. Born in San Diego, a descendent of the Estudillo family whose restored 19th century ranch house was once called "Ramona’s Marriage Place," he grew up exposed to the best of California living. From childhood he experienced at first hand the pleasures of thick walls with deeply overhanging roofs, wings spread wide to shelter gardens and patios, materials that become even more beautiful with age and that support a richly full lifestyle with little upkeep. He has designed homes, wineries (including Mondavi in Napa Valley), apartments, office complexes, grand estates and low cost subdivisions all over the world based on his deeply felt philosophy that "simple is best." The buildings and interiors he designs, which he feels were strongly influenced by interior designer Paul Frankl, fuse all the elements of his youth — ranch house and mission architecture, Craftsman traditions, exposure to the work of Irving Gill. His own work is exhaustively modern. His designs are always inventive, never slavish imitations of the past. He slices off masonry and walls of the traditional ranch house and replaces them with glass. He opens up roofs with skylights and floods the interiors with natural illumination, providing glimpses of clouds and stars. He believes that living on a grand scale has little to do with fragile materials, superfluous ornament or glitter. He believes that good design is based on an appreciation for nature, organic materials used in an honest way, superb scale, ample proportions and beautiful craftsmanship. Like the best of Mediterranean design, his structures are rooted in the past, functional for the present. They balance drama with comfort, romantic imagery with durable, realistic solutions.
Modern-day Spain, Italy, France and ancient Greece continue to influence the West. Architects go to Barcelona to admire the work of Antonio Gaudi. Designers make their yearly pilgrimages to the Milan Fair and the Venice Biennale in search of new inspirations. Just as in the past, Italy is a land of artists producing quality and beauty. Modern Italians grow up surrounded by natural and man-made beauty in a land ablaze with color. With little opportunity to build new cities, or even many new buildings, these artists have turned to the creation of environmental products of all kinds: furniture, lighting and textiles, all of which are colorful, charismatic, sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious. Many are one-of-a-kind craft objects, handblown glass, carved wood, embroidered textiles. Some, like the designs of Mario Bellini for Olivetti, are the result of high technology and are intended for industrial production and use.
AN AMERICAN VERNACULAR Cliff May’s Ranch Homes by Ed FitzGerald
Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May and Paul C. Johnson
© 2011 Athena Goodlight