One of California’s most whimsical hidden gems is the small beach city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its collection of quaint fairy tale cottages. Peek into these neighborhoods for a world that’s not quite our own, where storybook illustrations are rendered into reality among breezy seaside surroundings.
Master builder and designer Hugh Comstock is largely credited with influencing the city’s architectural character. In 1924 he first built the small cottage “Hansel” as a place for his wife to showcase her hand-made doll collection. Later followed “Gretel,” and eventually residents started asking him to design more.
Twenty-one such storybook homes remain in Carmel to this day, recognizable for their steep gabled roofs, faux beams, multi-pane windows, and lopsided chimneys.
Comstock’s only creation to house a commercial business is Tuck Box, a small tea room and restaurant. He built the charming cottage in 1927 and it was eventually converted into an English tea room in the 1940s that is still operational today.
The gorgeous homes are not only characterized by their architectural styles, but also for the materials and techniques used to build them. Comstock worked with local chalk rock, hand-carved wood and fixtures, redwood shingles, stucco, and more to achieve organic textures and shapes. During the Great Depression he developed a method of making bitudobe bricks (a mixture of adobe and emulsified asphalt) in order to cut costs.
In addition to the fairy tale cottages, Comstock was responsible for other local designs including the magical outdoor Forest Theater, which presents family musicals and the Carmel Shakespeare Festival. He also designed the Monterey County Trust & Savings Building in collaboration with his colleague Michael J. Murphy, another master builder of the time who was responsible for over 350 buildings in Carmel.
If you’re feeling inspired to take a trip down to Carmel-by-the-Sea, be advised that the village still operates on an old coordinate system, meaning that homes do not have street addresses. GPS My City has a map available for a self-guided walking tour, created by Lynn Momboisse from the blog Adventures of a Hometown Tourist.
Remember that with the exception of Tuck Box, these cottages are private residences and should be viewed from the street. Please be respectful and take care to stay outside of the property lines.
Featured image: Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash