The Blacker House: A Total Work of Art
“All Mr. Green’s [sic] woodwork is a delight for the softness of its finish…. As for the furniture, I find it very excellent for one or two rooms — such as the hall or dining room especially — but in my opinion it is too light in structure and too hard for living rooms. It is all in keeping with the style of architecture and the wall fittings but there is not a deep, soft chair or sofa in the house. “
~Mrs. J. W. Beswick-Purchas, letter to brother William Thorsen
regarding recent visit to the Blacker house, December 17, 1909
One of the more distinguishing aspects of the Greenes’ designs for the Blacker house is the degree of thoughtful detail devoted to all furnishings and fixtures in a given room. This held true for all rooms on the ground floor — from entry hall to dining room, breakfast room, living room, and guest bedroom and bathroom — as well as for several upstairs bedrooms. The sheer size of the Blacker house (at 12,000 square feet, situated on 5.1 acres) allowed the Greenes ample opportunity to explore the unifying qualities of materials and their decoration. Each piece of furniture was linked to its space and surrounding furnishings by color, shape, and decoration. In this way each room became a complete and self-contained environment, a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. Additionally, changes in wood paneling or overhead beam heights, as well as the orientation of furniture, could indicate the transition to another room or functional area of the same room, creating, for example, an intimate sitting area within the voluminous space of the entry hall.
Inspiration for the architecture of the house, as well as for decorative motifs, was taken from the contours of the surrounding landscape and its native plants and wildlife. Greene and Greene designed the living room with several such references, from the recurring lotus motif in the gilded plaster frieze, metal fireplace furnishings, and hanging art-glass lanterns to delicate metal and wood inlays in the furniture, depicting stylized evergreen branches, pinecones, and bees. In the dining and breakfast rooms, inlay of abalone blossoms on the table tops, legs, and chair backs is set aglow by the wood-framed art-glass chandeliers suspended above. These compositions are framed at frieze level by a band of delicately painted cherry blossoms in the dining room, and a stunning transom window of iridized glass in the breakfast room, depicting abstract cloud forms.
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