Refining a Style: A Loyal Client Returns
“In short, the complete work of applied art, the true unit of the arts, is a building with all its due ornament and furniture…“
~William Morris, in “The Arts and Crafts of Today,” 1889
From the time it was built in 1902 until James Culbertson’s death in 1915, the Culbertson house on Arroyo Terrace was a work of art in progress. The Greenes were called back as early as 1903 to design a wall of cobblestone and clinker brick at the sidewalk. A garage was added in 1906 (with Peter Hall as contractor), followed by significant alterations and additions to the house between 1907 and 1910. These included the movement of the dining room to accommodate a new service wing, with the original dining room converted to a den. Greene and Greene added redwood carvings as decorative overmantels in 1908, looking once again to Japanese design and landscape for inspiration. Letters show the intimate involvement and appreciation of Culbertson, writing of the light fixture designs in July 1910, “Mrs. Culbertson thinks that pink is not the best color for the blossoms in the hall lanterns and that yellow would be better…. The drawings promise a very satisfactory result.” A carved wooden pergola running along the earlier brick wall was added in 1914, thereby further integrating house with landscape.
The Culbertson house had become a bellwether for the Greenes’ evolving aesthetic. Begun as a simple structure in a familiar English style, its later alterations demonstrated the brothers’ growing interest in the design of a complete environment, from house to interiors to surrounding landscape. In 1902 Charles Greene had explained to Culbertson that the “William Morris movement” had only influenced the house interiors, but by 1915 the commission had come to represent Morris’ definition of “the true unit of the arts.”
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