With a centennial exhibit of Greene & Greene design opening Oct. 18, Pacific Northwest craftspeople are celebrating their own work inspired by those leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement.
The iconic Gamble House in Pasadena, Calif., celebrates a century this year with a major exhibition that starts in California Oct. 18. The display of 160 works will pay tribute to the defining work of Henry and Charles Sumner Greene and their legacy within the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
Shingle homes on the East Coast, Asian architecture and crafts, and a reverence for materials of the earth and forest inspired the Greene brothers to create some of the most important achievements in American architecture — what could be called “total art” with its integration of landscape, buildings and interiors.
Their work 100 years ago has inspired a new generation of craftspeople in the Puget Sound region whose products — as large as a house and as small as a dining-room chair — are grounded in the principles and skill sets that the Greene brothers nurtured and the extraordinary homes and furnishings that they produced.
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For Nick Ericson, a local builder with experience in residential and commercial projects, a tour of the Gamble house with his wife, Cindy, virtually changed his life. As a carpenter, he was immediately drawn to the craftsmanship, so much so that he shifted his focus. “I wanted to build something to push my limits. The Greene & Greene style has a higher level than the craftsmanship I work with daily. It allows me to get back to my roots as a carpenter, finding value and satisfaction in what I am doing.”
Ericson studied computer-aided design, read and experimented with Japanese joinery, learned how to lay brick and stone, and was not afraid to experiment in his own home. The result is a house that stops people in their tracks as they drive past the typical row of suburban homes. Undulating clinker brick and stone foundation walls appear to support a cantilevered deck and a Japanese post-and-beam structure framing the shingled facade. Ericson bought 14 truckloads of bricks from the demolished 1906 Scottish Rite Temple in Everett for the foundation’s outer layer.
Although he was a carpenter, Ericson wasn’t originally going to do the timber work. “I got a book on Japanese joinery and studied the joints in it. The first I copied. The second I modified. By the time I was on the third, I just started making them using the concepts in the book.” The house is a symphony of wood: Douglas fir, okume plywood, redwood, western hemlock, golden cedar, mahogany and ironwood. The gables are crowned with latticework. Interior spaces are not finished, but the true tenon construction of the stair treads and risers, fir trim to doorways and windows, and trim at the upper walls give an indication of what will come. Ericson has also befriended local craftspeople equally passionate about the work of Greene & Greene. They could easily turn his completed home into a harmonious work of art with their furniture.
Darrell Peart’s introduction to the Arts & Crafts Movement is laced with irony. While working for a local shop, he was given an Arts & Crafts project that used veneered particle board and pasted on tenons to fake the through tenons that come from structurally honest joinery. It was, he recalls, “Just the kind of shoddy work that spawned the movement in the first place.” The experience encouraged him to read, attend lectures and search out originals that characterized the movement.
Peart’s influences as a furniture maker/designer have been many. But the work of Charles and Henry Greene has captivated him. “The furniture from their ‘Ultimate Bungalow’ period represents not only the best from the American Arts & Crafts Movement but also some of the most sensitive and thoughtful designs ever produced.” Peart’s work relies heavily upon traditional joinery, which he often exposes, making it part of the design.
Thomas Stangeland studied woodworking with master furniture builder/designer Emmet Day. What started as an odd job to earn extra money evolved into a woodworking apprenticeship. In 1991, someone handed Stangeland a photo of the Blacker House armchair, and asked whether he would be able to make one like it. “If I can make that chair,” he replied, “I can make any chair.” That was Stangeland’s introduction to Greene & Greene. From that first piece, he has expanded both his enthusiasm for the style and his interpretation of it, always paying attention to details.
Tim Celeski is a custom furniture designer and builder with an unusual specialty. Where most custom Arts & Crafts furniture makers produce indoor furniture, he chose to create a large collection of high-quality custom outdoor furniture, some of it inspired by Greene & Greene, with cloud lifts and square plugs. His pieces have found homes in some of the most famous Greene & Greene houses in Pasadena.
Larry Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.