Press "Enter" to skip to content

Meet the Gamble House, a 'Symphony at Wood'

Wood. If one phrase springs to mind when considering the homes of brothers Charles and Henry Greene, it’s “wood.” They used a lot of it, from the structure (beams and columns) to surfaces (walls, ceilings, flooring) and even the furniture they made. Nevertheless their use of wood is as much about quality as quantity, for they tapped the timber’s potential through craft and increased the beauty of their architecture inside and outside. Their manipulation and expression of wood snapped from the applied decoration of this prevailing Victorian, Queen Anne and assignment styles of the day, and in this light their design can be regarded as contemporary.

Gamble House in a Glance
Year built: 1908
Greene and Greene
Location: Pasadena, California
Visiting information: Docent guided tours available
Size: 8,000 square feet enclosed, plus 2,000 square feet of porches and terraces

Easily one of the masterpieces of the California bungalow design they assisted fashion is the Gamble House in Pasadena, California, where the brothers moved in 1893 while they were both in their mid-20s. A brief visit to find out their parents in Pasadena turned into a permanent move. They graduated with design degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for different architects in Boston. Early residential commissions reflected their education in classical design, but slowly, with time, they created their own reaction to the Southern California circumstance, inspired by architects H.H. Richardson and Gustav Stickley.

The Greene brothers’ client for the Gamble House was David Gamble, an heir to the Proctor & Gamble soap empire. He’s been described as an perfect client, both because of his openness to the Greenes’ style sensibilities and for working closely with them on issues like site selection.

Watch: Watch more of this Arts and Crafts masterpiece

This view shows the front part of the home, which faces east.

Photo by D1v1d

The home, a winter residence for Gamble and his wife, Mary, is located on a big lot on Westmoreland Place, and it benefits from older trees and a view of the San Gabriel Mountains over Arroyo Seco Canyon (up in this aerial perspective).

The brothers housed the home to channel prevailing breezes, but they had to tweak it to fit within the essential setbacks.The design harnesses the possibility of the site by lifting the home on a plinth over the landscape, as well as in the way that it addresses the ample exterior spaces.

Here we’re taking a look at the west-facing rear of the home.

The Greene brothers’ mature functions, where the Gamble is a part, clearly exhibit the brothers’ love of wood, culminating in an appreciation of Japanese and Swiss architecture. But equally important is the way the brothers treated outside space. Their floor programs are formed to embrace the landscape, for one, and on the next floor they incorporated large sleeping porches; in the case of the Gamble House, the latter have been positioned within the former, therefore the terraces receive colour. The combination of sleeping porches and large overhangs gives the home its outside character, a mix of wood decks and deep shadows.

Watch: Tour the Gamble House on TV

The Gamble House’s interior attributes are conveyed to the visitor from the outside, not only in terms of how much wood is used, but in how it’s used. Wood is used for the structure, the skin and the window frames. Nevertheless it’s the articulation of the beams supporting the roofs and the porches which provides the most powerful hint in what is happening indoors: The endings of the wood members are rounded off, in effect reshaping their projection past the roof and flooring edges.

Kiler Photography

This curving of corners and edges extends into just about every piece of timber within the home, even when members are stacked to create a surface. Rather than creating the wood appear flat in these examples, the curved edges allow each member to read separately. In addition, it usually means the surfaces, predominantly mahogany, are soft to the touch — and irresistibly so at that.

While Henry conducted the office’s business matters, Charles spent much of his time away from the workplace, make it in the mill or on the jobsite working with amateurs; many of the details were actually determined on site by Charles, working together with the carpenters. Of course that the Gamble House is so beautifully assembled.

The home features Douglas fir, maple, sugar pine, Burmese teak, California redwood and Honduras mahogany, all left natural or lightly finished to show their natural beauty. Teak beams span the area, with carved California redwood panels.

Past the attention paid to the wood surface, Greene and Greene devoted a great deal of consideration to connection details. Where wood is exposed, their relationship is exposed. Wood covers over the nails, wood hooks, iron straps — every corner, intersection along with something like a lamp is celebrated. But upstairs in the attic, as the British critic Reyner Banham (a regular visitor to and sometimes resident in the home) pointed out, “the construction of what isn’t seen, far from becoming carefully and lovingly manicured, tends to be the usual older U.S. carpenter’s crudwork, trued up using strange ends of lumber and spiked with cock-eyed six-inch claws”

Regardless, the pegs and other connections weren’t all for show; they enabled the substances to shift in the case of an earthquake, a significant concern in Southern California.

Watch: Watch more magnificent details from the Gamble House

Kiler Photography

The prior detail of this stair and this detail of a lamp hanging near the fireplace in the living area illustrate a few of the link details which permeate the inside. We view the mahogany buttons which protect the nail holes, the pegs which fit into notches between the members, the iron straps out of which wood pieces are suspended under the column the leather straps holding the lamp, along with the wood piece that retains the leather strap through wood pegs and rust. So much is happening in only the small area of where the lamp is hung, but it all works so well together the exaggerated characteristics of the construction aren’t overwhelming to the senses.

The brothers also lavished attention on the glass which helped infuse their interiors with a shine that highlights the colours and textures of the wood. The stained glass entrance doors are a fantastic case in point. Instead of normal leaded joints, they created a copper joint holding the a variety of glasses (like Tiffany). Treated with a bluestone solution, the copper took on a soft green shade that worked well together with the pure design of this glass and the wood it fit between.

About five years following the Greene brothers perfected their California bungalow design, their work in Pasadena dried up, in reaction to both the area’s shift from a resort-like place into a growing metropolis and the popularity of the Hawaiian style following the 1915 Pan Pacific exhibition in San Diego. Regardless, the duo affected many buildings in the region, the majority of which weren’t built for their own exacting standards.

Even the Gamble household’s appreciation of the home carried down to their son and stepdaughter, that deeded the home to the city of Pasadena as a cultural heritage site with the University of Southern California, amid fears of a fresh owner’s altering the home to the worse. Their imperial means that the Gamble House is the most intact example of the brothers’ architecture. Restored in 2003–04, a couple years before its centennial, the home now welcomes visitors six days a week.

Banham, Reyner. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The Penguin Press, 1971. Curtis, William J.R. Modern Architecture Since 1900. Prentice-Hall, third edition, 1996 (first published in 1982).Frampton, Kenneth and Larkin, David. American Masterworks: The Twentieth Century House. Rizzoli, 1995. The Gamble HouseMcCoy, Esther. Five California Architects. Hennessey + Ingalls, 1987 (originally published in 1960 by Reinhold Book Corporation). The University of Southern California

Watch: See more of the Gamble House on TV

More: 10 Must-Know Modern Homes

See related