Refining a Style: Further Refinements
“I did not always give them what they wanted but always what they liked.”
~Charles Sumner Greene, from his personal papers, ca. 1943
From 1907 through 1909 the Greenes developed new interpretations of earlier furniture forms. For example, a wingback chair designed for the Freeman A. Ford living room in 1907 had its precursor in a version created for the Adelaide A. Tichenor interior in 1905. As in the Tichenor example, the depth of the Ford chair’s broad seat is partly embraced by wide flanking wings to create an intimate enclosure, but the execution shows the greater sophistication of John Hall’s craftsmanship. The Greenes also added a companion footstool to promise comfort even for prolonged periods of sitting. An even later wingback chair, designed for David B. Gamble, was never executed. The Ford serving table brings another familiar form to greater sophistication, here made particularly dramatic by broader overhangs and a narrower width when compared with earlier tables of similar construction.
For the Thorsen house in Berkeley, Calif., the Greenes reinterpreted their signature Southern California plans for an urban lot and for the cooler climate of Northern California. Overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, the Thorsen house carries a nautical theme that reflects its surroundings as well as Mr. Thorsen’s Norwegian seafaring ancestry. Exterior features of the house suggest the prow and bridge of a ship, and a galleon decorates the iron and bronze gate at the entry walk. The Thorsen interiors recapitulate the rich mahogany- and teak-paneling and leaded-glass fixtures that impart the characteristic light levels of the Greenes’ houses. Inside, the Thorsen house is lavished with decorative detail: painted friezes in the living and dining rooms, multicolored metal inlays in the living-room fireplace, and a leaded-glass depiction of grapevines in the entry door and side lights. Owned since 1942 by the California Sigma Phi Society — a college fraternity — the Thorsen house surprisingly features one of the more intact Greene and Greene interiors. The fraternity is in the early stages of restoring the house, with help from members and the community at large.