Style by Nature: Greene & Greene’s California Sensibilities
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Style by Nature: Greene & Greene’s California Sensibilities 

>> With Cali living as the challenge, their designs evolved into a solution that created a movement. >>

The Arts and Crafts culture on California’s sunny west coast was about the vast connection to nature and geography, breaking down strict ideals of indoor and outdoor living. But how did it start?

Once upon a time, brothers Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene were born in what is now Cincinnati, OH. They summered on their mother’s ancestral farm in West Virginia as boys and attended university in St. Louis. They fell in love with the outdoors and studied carpentry, woodworking, metal working and toolmaking. Their father thought they should both become architects so he made them study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. They both settled in respective firms after graduation but followed their parents to the then-resort town of Pasadena in the 1890s. 

The brothers arrived in Pasadena in 1984 and established Greene & Greene, leading to their peak years of influence from 1904-1914.

“California, with its climate, so wonderful in its possibility, is only beginning to be dreamed of,” Charles wrote soon after arriving. He was only 25.

Their rambling homes flowed inside into outdoor courtyards and pergola’d living spaces; unique rooftops offered shade; and massive cobblestone fireplaces established a proper living room. It wasn’t Mission style exactly, nor Japanese, but it was likened to a Swiss chalet of sorts. It wasn’t quite Craftsman, either, as that felt almost medieval. The same elements were implemented in their furniture, lighting and other decor, too. The style didn’t have a name yet and was misunderstood in the beginning.

With Cali living as the challenge, their designs evolved into a solution that created a movement: the California Arts and Crafts movement, to be exact. 

The brothers Greene served justified nods to Mexico, Japan and Switzerland but ultimately, this style of architecture became a celebration of American craft and decorative arts.

Common elements in homes inspired by Greene & Greene:

  • Rooms and windows that open into mission-style courtyards, fountains and face outdoors
  • Gradual sloping rooftops with rhythmic patterns of rafters extending beyond the roofline for shade
  • Rambling and spread out estates that cling to the earth
  • Clinker brick siding
  • Cobblestone fireplaces
  • Half indoor/outdoor living spaces
  • Joints, pegs and complex exposed woodwork and beams to establish structure with straight lines
  • Light and rich at the same time with earth tones, native materials and open floor plans
  • Handmade tile and hammered metals 

The architect firm Greene & Greene was over by 1916 and the brothers slowly stopped practicing — and were pretty much forgotten — until the mid-1940s, when their work was rediscovered by a new generation of modernist architects. The brothers Greene both passed away in the mid-1950s.

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