Refining a Style: A Work of Art Preserved
“Qualities that make material useful rarely make it interesting — the quickened sensibility and imagination of the artist must do that.“
~Charles Sumner Greene, from his personal papers, ca. 1943
As with the Blacker house, the Greenes designed complete furnishings and fixtures for the house of David B. Gamble in Pasadena. A Cincinnati native and son of one of the founders of the Procter & Gamble firm, Gamble hired Greene and Greene to design a residence for his family in 1907. Like the earlier houses for James Culbertson and Charles Greene, the Gamble house was situated to take advantage of the view of the Arroyo Seco. It also featured three sleeping porches to catch breezes coming down from the mountains, creating outdoor living spaces shaded by deep overhanging eaves.
The Halls’ workshop completed furnishings for the house in 1909–10, while it was also executing those for the Blacker house, though the decorative motifs are generally quite different. An exception is the design for the Gamble rugs, which share a “tree-of-life” motif with the bedroom furniture inlay for the Blacker house. The Gamble rugs are the only ones known to have been designed by Charles Greene, who sent his watercolor sketches to the firm of J. Ginzkey in Maffersdorf, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), to be woven in 1909. The firm was also known for weaving the designs of well-known British and Austrian architect-designers C. F. A. Voysey and Josef Hoffmann.
Unlike the furnishings in the homes for Robert Blacker, William Thorsen, or later client Charles Pratt, those for the Gamble family home were not overtly decorative. The explicit construction of chair backs and drawer joints was executed with a polish that needed no additional inlay or embellishment. Yet the Greenes called for inlay of silver wire, ebony, abalone, and semiprecious stones in furnishings for the private areas of the house and perhaps most exquisitely in the small letter box designed in 1914, which displays the crane-and-rose family crest, with the motto: vix ea nostra voco (scarcely can we call these our own). Such objects, even if designed only for private use, warranted the same high level of design and craftsmanship, demonstrating not only the Greenes’ concern for quality and beauty, but their clients’ deep appreciation of it.
Such appreciation resulted in the decision by the Gamble family in 1966 to preserve and share their Greene and Greene home, and its original contents, with the public in perpetuity.
Next: Further Refinements