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January 28, 2003

The Unbearable Lightness of Stucco


As you know, I live in Southern California. What you may not know is this is the world capital for wood-framed, stucco-walled buildings. As a result of seeing so much of this style of construction, I’ve noticed two things: first, I find the framing for such buildings more interesting than the buildings themselves and second, I prefer the buildings when they are in the earlier, monochromatic stages of stucco than when they have their “finish coat” on.

While I know these preferences to be a fact, I don’t know why I react the way I do. I’ve come up with several hypotheses to explain them:

1) My grandparents' house in Toledo Ohio was stucco, and I’m still suffering from a forgotten trauma connected to their choice of building material.

2) I’ve developed a case of postmodern blues, in which I prefer an unfinished building to a finished building for reasons of irony, or something.

3) The grey undercoat of stucco, known as “mud” reminds of the happy days I spent digging a moat around my childhood home.

4) Stucco, as a finished architectural material, appears so “weightless” that I’m subconsciously afraid that it will blow away, and I’m more comfortable with its earlier state, which looks like reinforced concrete. (You can never tell when the Big Bad Wolf will show up.)

I considered, and rejected, the hypothesis that I have a hankering for Modernist simplicity, since I actually find the ornamentation on these buildings--in its monochromatic state--intriguing.

Do you share my weirdo preferences? Can you at least explain them?



posted by Friedrich at January 28, 2003


I do share your preference, probably because most of my childhood was spent in a classic Southern California "Spanish-style" house of unpainted stucco. I'm not sure why my parents never painted it, but it looked fine, and to this day, painted stucco looks a bit, well, gaudy.

I don't see much stucco in Boulder Creek, for here, as in any area that gets upwards of 50 inches of rain a year, no matter what color you paint it, stucco usually ends up green unless you douse it with decidedly unpleasant chemicals.

BTW, if you like indulging in the "they don't make houses like they used to" kind of nostalgia, know that this house was built in the early twenties and had, believe it or not, pegged oak floors. That's right: not nails but wooden pegs held the floorboards to the joists. However, it being the fifties, my parents covered them up with carpeting, a crime against humanity, or at least aesthetics.

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge on January 28, 2003 8:27 PM

There is a lot of stucco in Oak Park IL where I live. More than half the Frank Lloyd homes used it. One local Prairie Style architect, EE Roberts, is always dubbed "The Stucco King" on tours. I do feel that Stucco when it isn't well maintained can look dowdy or depressing.

Posted by: M. Scott Anderson on January 29, 2003 9:21 AM

When I was a teenager living in NW Arkansas my family lived in a house (a typical bungalow) of unpainted stucco with pieces of broken glass bottles embedded in it. The pieces of glass were about 1 to 2 inches across and mostly green and brown with some blue, clear and a few other odd colors. I though it was a very interesting thing to do and wondered where they got so many broken bottles. They remodeled the house a few years ago and covered it with some kind of siding.

Posted by: Lynn on January 30, 2003 4:11 PM

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