While on the subject of American adaptation, it is interesting to note that the architects of this country seem so thoroughly to have understood the motif of Swiss architecture. Simplicity, strength, economy and picturesque harmony with natural surroundings, mark the chalet in American architecture even more perhaps than they do, nowadays, in Switzerland, where the bizarre influence of foreign builders has added much intricate and fussy elaboration in the trimming of houses. For instance, one sees on most Swiss houses of this and several past generations, much "ginger-bread" ornamentation. Porch roofs, cornices, doors, windows, often the entire front of a chalet, will be encrusted with jig-sawn fret, grill and scroll work, incorporating religious or family mottoes, intricate designs and every sort of distracting embellishment. It reminds one not a little of a wonderful wedding cake or one of the marvelous performing clocks for which Switzerland is famous. But under it all is the solid worth, the wholesome, nourishing delicious product of the baker's skill, the exact and reliable chronological instrument, the house that satisfies body and soul.
It is this underlying theme that American architects have exemplified in Swiss chalet adaptation. And, for the most part, the chalet has retained its individuality to a great extent. A number of Western houses are exact copies of existing Swiss chalets, notably the Reese house in Berkeley, California, which was designed by Maybeck & White from a small model of the Swiss prototype which Reese himself brought across the ocean. It is, as will be seen by observing the accompanying illustration, of the old block-ban style, with protruding timbers at the corners.
Alameda county, which includes Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont and Oakland, and which abounds in hills, furnishes many fine examples of Swiss chalet architecture and a much larger number of less distinctive ones which are, nevertheless, of more than passing interest and display quite perceptibly their relationship to the architecture of the Tyrol. All of these follow the initial style more than the later ones, probably because the former is original and more picturesque than those which came after, and also because the redwood of California is peculiarly adaptable to chalet building.
Especially is this true of interior furnishing. For interior paneling there is nothing more attractive, all things considered, than redwood, and to the interior plans of American chalets, architects have given fancy full play. It is a difficult matter to preserve the artistic simplicity of the Swiss interior and yet to harmonize it with the requirements of modern convenience. Yet this has been done by many builders and has made the American chalet delightful both inside and out.
In our money-governed world one must not forget the matter of expense, which enters very largely into the building plans of so many people. Economy was necessary to Swiss people; consequently their architecture was of a style that cost little. And the same is true in America. One can build a Swiss chalet for a third less money than it will cost to erect a house of similar pretension in other styles. Of course one may also put a great deal of money into a chalet, so that it really satisfies all classes; but to such as want an inexpensive home that will be homelike and picturesque and will not look cheap in that worst sense of striving for an elegance one cannot afford, the Swiss chalet is, to my mind, the ideal habitation. It is a happy, light-hearted style; it is capable of an infinite variety of treatment without radical departure from its central and fundamental principles of advantage and excellence; it is strong; it costs little and endures. What more can one ask of architecture?