By David Mathias
Furniture designed by early 20th-century American architects Charles & Henry Greene is as rare as hen’s teeth. The reason is simple: their pieces were never mass-produced or marketed. Every table, chair, bed and cabinet was designed to occupy a particular location in a particular house of the Greenes’ design.
There is one – and only one – Gamble dining room table and it is, quite rightly, in the Gamble house dining room. You won’t come across one in that out-of-the-way antiques shop where you hope to discover the rare underpriced gem that will put you on easy street. The days when one might encounter such a find, as in the infamous Blacker house yard sale six decades ago, are long gone.
In fact, Greene & Greene, together with John and Peter Hall and their team of craftsmen, designed and produced suites of furniture for a relatively small number of houses, approximately 10. In total, not many more than a few hundred pieces were created.
Numbers, of course, do not tell the whole tale, for that volume of work was concentrated within a brief period during which they also designed and oversaw construction of some of the most inspiring houses in the United States.
Nor can numbers relate the beauty and imagination evident in these pieces, beauty that has transcended a century and found many more admirers in the 21st century than the Greenes could have dreamed of early in the 20th.
The Greene & Greene design vocabulary is well recognized because it is quite distinctive. Cloudlifts, ebony pegs, finger joints and breadboard ends are all familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in their work. Combine this with the ability to marry disparate elements into an always-pleasing whole and with obsessive attention to even the smallest details, and it is little wonder that their furniture graces the collections of numerous American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the context of their work as a whole, one form of detail stands out: the inlays that often grace tabletops, door panels and crest rails. While Greene & Greene inlays are distinct in some ways, they share at least one important attribute with other Arts & Crafts examples: they are inspired by and depict natural forms. This is also consistent with Japanese influences that were so significant to the Greenes’ work.
Slideshows: Watch our PDF slideshows of additional furniture and architectural details from Greene & Greene houses: Greene & Greene Everyday, Green & Greene from a Woodworker’s Perspective and Greene & Greene: Details and Joinery
Blog: Read the author’s blog and view his other photographic work.
To Buy: Previous articles by the author can be found in the August, October and November 2008 issues of this magazine.
In Our Store: Purchase the author’s book, “Greene & Greene: Poems of Wood & Light.”
From the April 2013 issue #203
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