Education and Early Career: An Enlightened Client
“The suggestion enclosed in your letter, for the living room, pleased me very much, as I am in thorough sympathy with the Wm Morris movement, in fact the whole inside of the house is influenced by it in design.”
~Charles Sumner Greene, letter to James Culbertson, October 7, 1902
Charles Greene openly acknowledged his debt to late-nineteenth-century British designer William Morris (1834–1896), a man whose designs and philosophies related to the production and use of the decorative arts had won him just acclaim as the “father” of the Arts and Crafts movement in Great Britain and America.
James Culbertson, perhaps the most significant of the Greenes’ early clients, was a native of Pennsylvania and later a resident of the Chicago area. With a substantial interest in his father’s Pennsylvania lumber company, by 1902 Culbertson could afford to build a winter residence alongside Pasadena’s picturesque Arroyo Seco. Like Morris, he believed that simple household elements could be invested with greater meaning.
In 1893, Culbertson commissioned an English-style house in Kenilworth, a garden suburb of Chicago. His Pasadena home was also in the popular “Old English” style, one of only a small handful of such houses designed by the Greenes. The house’s gables, half-timbering, and diamond-paned windows were common to the vocabulary of both East- and West-Coast architects at the turn of the century. However, the standardized exterior belied an interior whose design reflected its client’s and architects’ interests in Japanese architecture and the California landscape. This included bracket elements in the living-room ceiling and frieze that were reminiscent of Japanese temple design, and windows that were situated to frame western views of the arroyo. The decoration of the house also bespoke a belief in a simple and refined life in which the beautiful was also purposeful. Pithy mottoes were carved into walls and mantels, and furnishings from Gustav Stickley’s United Crafts created an interior harmony in wood. Culbertson would continue to engage the Greenes to perform major additions and alterations until his death in 1915, establishing the precedent for their practice of maintaining long and loyal relationships with their clients.
Next: A Voyage of Discovery