True Greene and Greene
Learn how the elements work together, and then use them in your furniture
Synopsis: Born out of the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century, the marriage of styles created by California architects Charles and Henry Greene continues to please the eye and spark the imagination 100 years later. Their designs, which have been revered, copied, and rediscovered countless times over the past century, mix the subtlety of Chinese furniture with the boldness of Japanese temple design and the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau. Furniture maker Gary Rogowski has been a student of Greene and Greene style for most of his career. The way he approaches this style could serve as a blueprint for others who’d like to incorporate the Greenes’ design philosophy into their own work.
For more on Greene and Greene, take a video tour of The Gamble House with Darrell Peart.
From Fine Woodworking #203
The marrying of styles is a tricky business. Add the wrong elements, or too much of one over another, and the results look wrong and out of place. Brothers Charles and Henry Greene, the California architects of the early 20th century, created a marriage of styles that continues to please the eye and capture the imagination 100 years later. They took the plainness and exposed joinery of Arts and Crafts furniture, mixed it with the subtlety of Chinese furniture and the boldness of Japanese temple design, and then with a final flourish threw in a taste of the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau. The result is a style that has been revered, copied, and rediscovered, but remains uniquely Greene and Greene.
If you are attempting a faithful reproduction of a Greene and Greene piece, you’ll want to understand each of the essential elements in order to capture the original spirit. If you are brewing your own blend, you’ll need to know how the Greenes combined carefully selected elements to create a single effect.
How the style was born: The Greene brothers began their professional careers steeped in the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. This era in design emerged as a reaction to the crush of the Industrial Revolution—with its machine-made, often low-quality products—and the overwrought frilliness of the Victorian era. With a start in Europe, the movement found ready followers in America including the entrepreneur and furniture maker, Gustav Stickley.
Stickley started a magazine, The Craftsman, and it provided the Greene brothers with ideas, perhaps a mirror to hold up to their own work, and certainly a perspective on design that was new and exciting for the time. The Crafts movement, both in this periodical and in shows and expositions in Europe and America, was an all-encompassing view of life. It promoted an honesty of approach as a moral truth and used a simplicity of line and form as a dictum. It also began a movement toward the architect as artist for interiors and functional items. Whereas the architect once designed only buildings, now he designed interiors, fabrics, lighting, windows, and furniture, a whole fabric for living.
However, while the Craftsman style had a certain severe, almost medieval, character about its solid planks, exposed joints, and straight lines, the Greene brothers added life. From Japanese temple carpentry, they used corbels and large timbers to give their work a sense of strength and foundation. They added organic and flowing shapes found in Chinese furniture: the cloud-lift form, overhanging tops, and rounded edges and corners that gave their work lightness and richness. Their furniture also showed the influence of Art Nouveau designers such as Mackmurdo and Mackintosh, who borrowed curved lines and organic shapes from nature. The Greene brothers turned these seemingly disparate elements into one seamless style.
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