Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Primer on Greene & Greene and their Elements of Style

One of my favorite books!
As we build our home in the style of Greene and Greene, we find ourselves explaining to friends the various elements that will define our home, it is quite unusual yet beautiful.  If you have lived in Pasadena then you know the do most architects.  But in this time of Pinterest and many new people are being introduced to the Craftsman style and Greene and Greene in particular. Once you have been bitten you want more information, more pictures, more ideas on how to do the kitchens and baths that fit today's lifestyles without abandoning the essence of a G & G home. 

With this post I will give you a brief synopsis of the Greene brothers work, their elements of style, and what lies ahead on our project this year. 
As we begin working on the interior, this blog will be updated more regularly and the Pages listed on the right column will grow with more content.

A book with a thorough history of the brothers Greene and lots of photos.

Greene & Greene Homes In Pasadena Near Arroyo Seco

By the time of the depression in 1893, the Greene brothers had earned architectural certificates from MIT and some experience with apprenticeships in Boston. The poor state of the economy led them to Pasadena, California to live with their parents. The warm, healthy climate attracted a wealthy class and the Greenes' father tended to the respiratory ailments of this group as a homeopathic physician.

About 20 years earlier, land speculators known as the Orange Grove Association founded Pasadena with a plan that cut a central avenue, known as Orange Grove Avenue (Blvd.), parallel to the Arroyo Seco canyon. They envisioned attracting east coast people to build large winter homes along the Avenue and surrounding neighborhoods.

Not only was the weather fantastic but many of the homes in these neighborhoods enjoyed views of the Arroyo Seco and the San Gabriel Mountains. It was the perfect location for the homes the Greene brothers would eventually build.

It should be noted that before 1902 Greene and Greene homes looked very much like homes on the east coast with colonnade porches, steep roofs, and applied plaster ornamentation. It took about 8 years of working with clients in California for the brothers to develop their own style.

The brothers settled into their roles as business partners-- with Henry handling the business side and Charles the design side. Eventually their homes began to show a roof line of gradual slope designed for sun rather than snow and rooms that flowed from one to another with transitions from inside to outside through the use of sleeping porches, interior courtyards, and careful window placement for airflow.

In 1859 Japan opened its ports to foreign trade and Japanese exotic beauty began to influence the rest of the world. Charles Greene, the artistic brother, collected Japanese block prints and he began to incorporate Japanese architectural elements into his designs around 1902. House Beautiful magazine featured the Duncan Irwin House in a 1911 issue and called it "A Bungalow in Japanese Style". Greene and Greene were recognized by Gustavo Stickley as well. Stickley published his first issue of The Craftsman in 1901 and through 1916 featured the work of the Greene brothers in the journal.
The weather certainly did attract the wealthy east coast clientele the founders of Pasadena planned for and the Greene brothers were perfectly situated by 1902 to begin building noted homes belonging to David Gamble (Proctor & Gamble), Charles Pratt (Standard Oil), David Tod Ford (coal & steel), Robert Blacker (lumber), James Culbertson, Freeman Ford (son of David Tod), William Thorsen (lumber), Theodore Irwin (family wealth), and Lucretia Garfield (President Garfield's widow) to name a few.

A few maps follow to give you some perspective of the area:
Map from

Here is a closer view of the neighborhood where several Greene & Greene homes are located, just NW of where the 210 and 134 freeways intersect today :

(The map above is available for purchase at the Gamble House bookstore for a self guided walking tour of the surrounding area.)

A partial legend of Greene & Greene designed homes shown in the map above:
1. Gamble House  2. Cole House  3. Ranney House  4. Willet House  5. Hawks House  6. Van Rossem-Neill  7. White Sisters House  8. Charles Greene House   9. Duncan-Irwin House  10. James Culbertson House  12.Van Rossem House II

When you are on either Arroyo Terrace (near Culbertson House) or on Scott Place behind the Gamble House you can look out across the Arroyo and see the Rose Bowl in the distance. From the Robinson House the view is of the Arroyo Seco and this viaduct.

The Arroyo Seco Canyon
(find this art at
Arroyo Seco means dry creek bed in Spanish and it factors large in my husband's fond memories as a kid growing up adjacent to it and playing there (he lived in a Pasadena home that was built with similar design elements to the Greene and Greene homes).  In case you were wondering, the Arroyo Seco is open to the public for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It stretches from the Rose Bowl to South Pasadena.

The Elements of Greene and Greene Style

The Duncan Irwin House


There are many identifying elements of a G & G home. Those who visit the homes today are captivated by the unique attention to detail and quality of these handcrafted homes. The Gamble House offers a Behind the Ropes tour with Jim Ipekijan that provides an in depth look at this detail. I have been on Jim's tour and also the regular tour and have been in The Robinson House twice, with each visit I notice something new and incredible.  I spent a lot of time in the homes just savoring the moment and wish I had taken more pictures than what you see here, I guess there's always another trip to Pasadena!  While some pictures are posted on the internet, the real treasure trove of photographs are in books. We own close to a dozen Greene & Greene books, the two shown above and the three pictured below are my favorites---full of pictures and relevant information.

From these books I have developed a list of design elements that I continually consult as we go about building and specifying everything in our handcrafted home. You may want to use the list as a guide in your own craftsman bungalow renovations, the result is a very warm and inviting home.  I will begin to feature photos of our house, right now the exterior is coming along nicely.

Exterior Greene & Greene Elements of Style

  • Gabled roof lines with broad overhangs
  • Exposed structural timberwork
  • Forward or side-facing gabled roof
  • Rafter tails 
  • Steel strapped beams
  • Horizontal bands of redwood delineate interior floors
  • Many windows for air circulation
Duncan Irwin House

  • Clinkerbrick and large stones from Arroyo Seco canyon (or locally sited) for walls and chimney.
  • Stacked stone walls, some walls faced with stucco

Van Rossem-Neil (I believe)  just around the corner from the Gamble House
  • Extra wide front doors, often the shape of Japanese temple entrances
    The Gamble House front door, side doors open for air circulation. photo from
  • Generous outdoor porches and terraces (open and covered)
  • Sleeping porches
  • Beautiful screen doors to sleeping porch
  • Courtyards
  • Cloud lift pattern in porch railings or door trim (now just called "lift" pattern)
A new construction home with lift pattern in railing,

  • Leaded art glass in windows or doors
  • Copper roof drains/downspouts
Gamble House dining room window and copper rain spouts

  • Red clay pavers and red brick used on driveways and sidewalks
Front porch of Gamble House

  • Rolled Malthoid roofing
Charles Greene House

  • Wood varieties include: Douglas fir for exposed structural beams, redwood shakes 3 feet long, white quarter-sawn oak or Burmese teak windows, sugar pine screen frames, mahogany or teak doors.
Robinson House-- inside of
 front door

  • Shingle siding with each individually dipped in creosote for green patina.

    Our house, but we didn't dip in creosote!

  • Stucco used on some homes instead of shingles and also used in retaining walls.
  • Stucco is a hand dash coat---gunite concrete is pressured through a hose and sprayed onto wire mesh frames or external wall surfaces.
  • Lanterns made of metal and art glass (Japanese influenced).
The Robinson House stucco dash coat and light fixture example

  • Wood for doors and window frames left in natural state oiled with transparent stain.

Gamble House window

  • Garden pottery in ceramic and terra cotta often made with glazes that Charles mixed and applied himself.

    Hand rail and garden pottery in front of Gamble House


  • House and garden designed as one
  • Okigata-style Japanese stone lanterns

Interior Greene & Greene Elements of Style

Over the next year or so I will have photos of our house.  I don't have many from the homes I have visited because I am always so involved with the people I forget to take pictures and the Gamble House tour doesn't allow cameras (this is where those books come in handy!)

  • Natural world integrated into the interior
  • Sight lines through doorways or windows to the back garden (in many homes)
  • Inglenooks and bookshelves near fireplaces
  • Built-in cabinetry with wood handles
  • Built-in closets, desks, file cabinets
  • "Revealed construction" in staircases and furniture--exposed joinery
  • Custom furniture from Jeff Grainger (

    An example of new cabinetry in the G & G style (
  • Fireplaces made of either large boulders, brick, art tile such as Grueby, Batchelder, or Rookwood. Some with decorative hand hammered copper hoods and some tiles with inlays of brass, copper, or silver.
  • Leaded art glass in light fixtures, windows and doors, also used in interior windows between rooms or within a staircase
    The front door of a new home called Loblolly from
  • Wall sconces of mahogany and art glass in public areas such as living and dining rooms
    John Hamm restored this Blacker House light fixture
  • Ceiling height 7'6"- 9 feet
  • Wood trim headband circles the room aligning the top of doorframes and windows
    Robinson House
  • Wood varieties include: Port Orford cedar for wall paneling and trim; oak, ash, and cedar for furniture, also in mahogany and teak with ebony trim. Mahogany windows and doors.
  • Wood carvings in wainscoting, furniture, and frieze work.
  • Furniture was often custom designed by the Greenes, Stickley, or Roycroft. Some furniture with inlays of fruitwoods, ebony, abalone shell, brass, copper, or silver.
  • Oriental rugs or Greene designed rugs
  • Lighting materials include: low watt bulbs, mica, leaded glass, frosted glass, fabric, wood, metal, leather straps.
    Robinson House

  • Lighting styles include: hanging, wall sconces, surface mount, waterfall chandelier, lamps (sometimes Tiffany) some with inlays of brass, copper, or silver.
     Robinson House
  • Simple bathrooms of white subway tile, wood framed mirrors, and simple light fixtures. (I wasn't supposed to be taking pictures inside the Gamble House--but noone was watching in here!)

  • Simple or decorative steel or wrought iron andirons and fireboxes.

Custom firebox by Jeff Grainger (

Greene and Greene Kitchens and Baths  

In these grand homes, kitchens were for the staff and bathrooms were very basic.  Today we operate a little differently, for our home we plan to have a cook's kitchen, (we don't have a staff, we want to have fun in there ourselves!). We will attempt to create a hard working kitchen that will get extensive daily use but make it feel like it's been around for a long time.  Restraint will be critical in the bathrooms in an effort to stay with a simple design.  It looks simple on paper right now, I hope we can achieve it in reality.

We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time

There is something to be said for patience......without it we would not have had the experience of building a house together with our now college aged children....and when you think about it, our long construction time line is actually in the Charles Greene way......

While recently studying Greene & Greene I ran across an interesting note in the book Greene & Greene: Developing a California Architecture, Smith/Vertikoff.  While reading it I had a bit of a bonding moment with DL James. Charles built a unique stone-faced seaside home for Mr. James in Carmel (by this time Charles was on his own and was without Henry's assistance on the business side). Evidently when Charles was building this home he told the client it would be a two year project. One year passed and all that had been accomplished was the building of the foundation and retaining walls.  (exactly our state after one year) After 4 years the house was still not finished but the client demanded that he be allowed to move in....... DL James..... I am feeling your pain!

In all fairness though to my husband, it is quite challenging to build a handcrafted home in your spare time! 2014 will mark a huge turning point in our new construction, Greene and Greene style home.....we finally start working on the inside!

Have nothing in your houses 
that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. 
                                                                                William Morris, The Beauty of Life 1880