Late-Career Patrons: D. L. James House
“The contemplative sensitive mind, altruistic and benevolent, cannot develop amongst the disordered hurry of commercial drive…. It must be natural, or rather, spontaneous and free.”
Charles Greene, in “Architecture as a Fine Art,” 1917
In 1916, Charles Greene moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, in part to enjoy greater creative freedom. Shortly thereafter, he met a client who was able to offer him a commission ideally suited to this pursuit. Businessman and writer D. L. James owned a parcel of land on a bluff in the Carmel Highlands overlooking the water. Charles produced watercolor sketches two days after viewing the site and spent the next four years personally supervising and designing every detail of the granite house (later called Seaward). He built up the outer walls so that they appear to be growing out of the cliffs, and the meandering plan defied the logic of the usual front, side, and rear elevations. Greene’s architectural drawings combined floor plans with a variety of elevation drawings, showing that he thought of the house as a whole and never in sections. Though early drawings show a small upper story, the house as built has all rooms arranged on a single floor, creating a continuity of interior spaces and vistas that rival the unimpeded views of the sea outside.
The wooden aesthetic of the Greenes’ Pasadena homes was replaced in the James house with locally quarried sandstone and granite. Designs for its interior decoration reflected sensitivity to the surrounding plant and wildlife in the form of gulls, seaweed, and shells, though in the James house they are represented in carved marble rather than redwood. A design for a built-in fall-front desk in white oak demonstrates Charles’ keen understanding of the most intimate details of construction, wooden or otherwise.
The house’s composition, arched windows, and tiled roof reflect a Mediterranean influence. Yet again Charles personalized the form, adding an archway opening just above a steep drop to the sea, reminiscent of a similar arch he had sketched when visiting Tintagel, along the coast of Cornwall, England, in 1909.