The Joule Home, 756 First St.
Exterior: This much-loved and unique Woodland home was built during the height of California’s Arts and Crafts period and is the work of John Hudson Thomas, a noted Berkeley architect. The low horizontal façade, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style, combines with a half-timbered look from the Tudor period.
Built in 1916, this progressive design stood in marked contrast to Woodland’s Victorian heritage. Stylistic elements include broad cantilevered roofs over the front entry (supported only by chains), false beams protruding from the south and east sides, and a Jerkin Head dormer on the east roofline. The design also boasts many practical elements, including extra-wide eaves that shade the inside from the summer heat, extensive use of windows that bring sunlight and fresh air into interior rooms and Woodland’s first attached garage complete with a sunken mechanic’s pit for emergency car repairs.
Interior: The downstairs has an open layout, with the stair hall flanked by the living room to the right and the dining room to the left. There is an intimate sunken library near the stair hall. The stair landing is lit by a bay window and provides privacy for the upstairs living quarters. Each downstairs room can be closed off using windowed French doors.
The extensive use of wood trim (straight-grained fir finished with a rich reddish-brown) and oak floors create a warm, homey ambiance. A decorative motif, composed of four small squares, is repeated on the woodwork. These squares represent a signature that the architect used in several of his Bay Area houses.
The living room features a grand piano and Victorian era antiques, including an Eastlake-style organ that has traveled around the world. The fireplace mantel and the hammered copper beneath are original. Extensive windows give the rooms and main staircase a bright, airy feeling of the outdoors. A second-story sleeping porch is nicknamed the “Tree House” because of tree leaves surrounding its wrap-around windows.
Gardens: The present owners created a peaceful, tree-covered side yard by enclosing the former farming corporation work yard with a custom hand-crafted fence. The stucco relief work on the massive fence pillars and the vertical wooden fencing match similar relief work and half-timbered elements found on the exterior of the main home.
The two original small buildings to the rear of the garden were used for a machine shop and the living quarters for the Stephenses’ domestic worker. The front of the house and the stepped terrace are shaded by a centuries-old native valley oak tree.
Ownership: This home was built in 1916 for Williams Stephens, a prominent grain broker, and his wife Florence. The home remained in the Stephens family until 1985 when Frank and Ann Joule purchased it. The Joules have been prominent contributors to the Stroll Though History and other community activities for many years. They have lovingly restored and updated the home.