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By Sean Adams |

Greene and Greene: The Arts & Crafts Movement in the Sun

The-Gamble-House by greene and greene

A new artisan butcher shop opened in my neighborhood last week. Further down the block is a bespoke one-of-a-kind gift shop. Clearly, there’s a return to the handmade and authentic over mass-produced goods.

As I show in my new Lynda.com course on the Foundations of Graphic Design, the Arts and Crafts movement grew out of the same sensibilities: the rejection of cheap machine-made products and elevation of craft and design with the handmade, unique materials and pride of workmanship.

Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene were two of the most influential adopters of the Arts and Crafts style in the early 20th century.

I’ll show you how their iconic Greene and Greene California bungalows represent the apex of the nation’s Arts and Crafts movement.

Charles Greene

Charles Greene

Charles Greene was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1868; his brother Henry was born two years later. In 1893, the Greene brothers traveled to Pasadena, California, to visit their parents, who had moved from St. Louis the previous year.

Henry Greene

Henry Greene

The rugged and beautiful landscape and temperate climate immediately seduced them and they decided to stay. In 1894, they opened their architectural practice in Pasadena.

The Greenes had a commitment to handmade and natural materials, and a connection to the landscape—all Arts and Crafts Movement ideals. They also embraced the gesamskunst concept: the idea of creating a unified whole, designing or choosing every item in a house from a handrail to the dinner plates.

The Gamble House

The Gamble House

They designed everything, telling the clients, “There must be a reason for every detail.” Doors and stairs were transformed from purely functional to works of fine art. Switch plates and vents became magnificent examples of function and beauty.

The Green brothers worked to eliminate everything unnecessary, to make the unified whole as direct and simple as possible, but always with the beauty as the end result.

The Blacker House

The Blacker House

A Greene and Greene house is iconic. The structure is low to the ground with deep eaves to provide shade from the California sun. Rafter tails are exposed and protrude from the roof, revealing the woodwork of the building. Charles Greene cited beautiful shadows as the reason for this feature.

A Greene & Greene dining room

A Greene & Greene dining room

Walls are typically shingled and stained in various hues of natural green and brown from the surrounding landscape. Arroyo stones, or boulders in some cases, are mixed with bricks as retaining walls, fences and in chimneys. Wood posts and beams are structural and decorative, with sculptural forms, joined with iron straps or wedges.

The entry to the Gamble House

The entry to the Gamble House

Main entry doors are used as an opportunity to incorporate unique stained glass—again, playing with light and shadow. Interiors are often built with redwood, mahogany and cedar. Windows are large and numerous, allowing natural light into the house and creating a connection between the outside landscape and interior.

The Gamble House

The Gamble House

The Gamble House is the quintessential Greene and Greene design. The house was designed in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company. Today it’s considered one of the finest examples of American Arts and Crafts-style architecture in the world.

The Gambles lived in the house from the time it was built until they died. It was continually passed down through the Gamble family until 1966.

At one point they considered selling it to a family who intended to paint the interior teak and mahogany woodwork white. Fortunately, in 1966, Cecil and Louise Gamble turned the house over to the city of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the University of Southern California School of Architecture, preserving the structure. (As a side note, the Gamble house is portrayed as the home of Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy.)

After 1911, the Greene and Greene practice began to decline. The attention to every detail and insistence on high-quality handmade materials elevated costs, created schedule overruns and led to higher fees. By 1916, Charles moved to Carmel to pursue other creative paths, while Henry continued the firm’s work in Pasadena until the dissolution of the firm in 1922.

Compared to their influence on 20th century design, the Greene brothers received little attention during their lifetimes. The rise of modernism and the international style overshadowed their work as it was deemed “antique” or “rustic.”

A Greene & Greene bungalow

A Greene & Greene bungalow

Today, a new generation of millennials reject the mass-produced McMansions and big-box store materials and look for the handmade craft and quality of the Arts and Crafts movement. They’ve rediscovered the Greene brothers and celebrate their distinctly American interpretation of the Arts and Crafts style.

Every artisan bakery, small book press, and bespoke houseware store can trace its lineage to the Greene brothers.

Learn more with my new Lynda.com course Foundations of Graphic Design History: The Arts & Crafts Movement.

 

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