The Craftsman Movement & the Gamble House

At the turn of the century, Southern California gave birth to the Craftsman movement, which quickly spread to the rest of the country through pattern books and popular magazines. It became the dominant style for smaller houses from 1905-1920. In varying forms, it became affordable to almost anyone, from the working man to society’s elite.

Primarily inspired by the architectural works of brothers Charles and Henry Greene, of Pasadena, California, the Craftsman house was a departure from the formal ornamentation of the Victorian. Literally a breath of fresh air, it exuded a oneness with nature, a casual lifestyle, and an air of elegant simplicity for a servantless society.

The Craftsman house seemed to grow out from the land and took its clues from nature. Great sheltering overhangs provided air conditioning, relief in the winter, and psychological sheltering; wall cladding, usually of wood clapboard or shingles; stepping stones that looked like they were left there to stumble upon; and interior designs were reminiscent of the great outdoors.

Although the Greenes were influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style and the elemental forms of H. H. Richardson, they were immensely impressed by the Japanese idea of the functional house. Responsive to adverse laws of nature and rapidly changing family needs, it stressed the relationship of structure and design, subtle proportions and the integration of a building into its natural environment. Aided by these theories, their interest in the English Arts and Crafts movement, and their background in manual arts, the Greenes created the “California Bungalow”.

Their 1908 masterpiece, The Gamble House, in Pasadena, highlighted their utilization of exposed joinery that seems to grow out of the house, post and beam construction, airy verandas and ambulatories, the use of earthy materials, and the close relationship of house and garden. Asymmetric and horizontal, it slices out a picture of natural beauty. The low-pitched, gabled roof, wide eave overhang, exposed roof rafters, triangular braced supports, transomed windows (in 3’s) are typical Craftsman ideals.

The Japanese influence is seen in the relationship of the house to nature, exposed beams, the flair of the chimneys and garage roof, and the stylized Japanese “Cloud Lift” design, seen on doors, windows, lamps, carpets, furniture, picture frames and elsewhere throughout the interior and exterior of the house.

Other motifs adding unity are the “Tree of Life”, the “Oak Leaf”, sets of 3, and the “Crane and Rose’ (the Gamble family crest) with the most diligent attention to every detail.

Upon entering and leaving the Gamble House, one is awestruck by the front door. From the outside, a reflection of what appears to be an oak tree vertical behind you. The vertical cloud lifts, sets of three, and Louis Comfort Tiffany glass (up to three glasses thick) are a clue as to what you are about to encounter as you step beyond. They entice you in with a serene, calm, yet exciting look that whets your appetite for more. The horizontal bar below the transom is another motif carried throughout the house on many windows. The bars look like curtain rods, but in fact are there to add unity. This horizontality, also seen in the sweeping broad lines of the house exterior, provides restfulness.

As you look at the door from the inside, the same oak tree, now seen beyond the house, gives a feeling of being a part of nature. The stained glass scene, ever so sensitive to light, changes dramatically as the day wears on.

Impeccable wood joinery is the highlight of the breathtaking interior. Everything is covered. Scarf, lap, and finger joints (mordis and tendon) leave no crevice exposed.

The Japanese-inspired lack of clutter and ornament, and the desire for function are exemplified by the Greene’s extensive use of built-ins. Built-in dining room drawers hold linen and other items. So concerned were the Greenes about unity, that they built in much of the furniture so that whoever lived there would not bring in any unwarranted items that might ruin the ambience.

The themes mentioned above are repeated throughout the room. Sets of three can be seen in the vertical wood pieces just below where the wall meets the ceiling, in the three stained glass windows, the three circular lines on the handing lamp, the clover-shaped wood pieces connecting the lamp to metal straps, the leaded glass cabinet windows, and in the number of tiles on each side of the fireplace. The cloud lift was placed on leaded glass cabinet doors, the stained glass windows, and all three of the lamps.

Like the front door, the window carries on it the “tree of life” motif and changes colors throughout the day so those living there can look forward to and enjoy every nuance of light.

The mahogany table is suba shaped, as is the chandelier. All the furniture in the house was either designed by the Greenes or Gustav Stickley. The fabric covered walls are painted over. The carpets were brought in to add color.

The fireplace uses groovy tile with an inlay of Tiffany glass in a vine pattern that matches the Tiffany glass in the bowl on the table. The vine pattern of the Tiffany glass ties in with the stained glass windows. Everything fits together like clockwork.