I concluded my recent exploration of local historic homes by visiting the Gamble House In Pasadena. As with most of my adventures I was looking forward to the tour, but not nearly as well-informed as my fellow tour members. This was a small behind the scenes tour of a marvelous turn of the century house.
In the late nineteenth century, Pasadena was a winter haven for millionaires from the east coast. In the early 1900s, the city was small and these families could buy land and design homes that spoke to their lifestyles. The key architectural firm in the making of the Gamble House was Greene and Greene, two brothers Charles and Henry. The house they created for David and Mary Gamble is Greene and Greene’s masterpiece.
Our tour group met on the porch and spent the first thirty minutes of the allotted time walking around the perimeter of the house. I was getting anxious to see inside. In hindsight, I’m glad we took things slowly, and finally entered by the front door.
The interior is much darker than outside, but it shows off the stained glass doors. The house faces southeast and these windows must have glowed every morning.
It’s all about wood
Our docent was very knowledgeable and spoke about Craftsman homes and the Arts and Crafts movement. I’m afraid this went over my head a tad, but one step inside the front door and I was hooked. The winning feature of this house is the wood. I can’t write about it without my pulse racing.
The Greene brothers, with help from John and Peter Hall’s millwork establishment, created all the woodwork, cabinets, and furniture in the house. They are famous for their joinery. The woods used on the first floor are mainly old-growth teak, ebony, and mahogany. All the furnishings, carpets, and fixtures in the house are original. While we did get to go behind the velvet ropes, we didn’t touch the wood or sit on the furniture. Oh, how I would love to touch that banister!
Great design helps
The design flows from room to room. Common motifs highlight a Japanese influence (the tsuba shape and the stylized clouds) and an interest in nature as seen in the ray of light v-shape found in the windows, chairbacks, and cabinets.
Even the attic windows have this distinctive v-shape. One sees it everywhere. Of course, the Gamble motif of the rose and crane is also present.
Space is used wisely. Our guide said the house is about 8,000 square feet with 3,000 being storage space. In the image below, the buffet area under the windows is a good example of Greene and Greene cabinetry. The line is elegant. Everything is wood, with no jarring metal handles on the doors. The cabinets and walls flow into one another.
The mahogany table is a tsuba-shape. It will hold five leaves, which can be stowed in their own leaf cabinet, of course.
Attention to detail
Greene and Greene filled this house with marvelous furniture. The drawers of the tables slide all the way through! That’s right, there is a handle at both ends.
In the image above you can see the raised ebony plugs that cover the screws. These are synonymous with Greene and Greene. Is the corner of the drawer called a box joint? I’m not sure. Are the pieces of ebony functional? I think so. In some cases, these ebony plugs were simply decorative. It keeps the unenlightened guessing.
I’ve said too much and missed so many marvelous aspects of this house. I will return another time and find a different approach to my story. For now, I challenge anyone who has an interest in beauty and excellence to see Gamble House and not come away in awe. That being said, here are my suggestions.
- Arrive early. Parking is limited. The house is located on Westmoreland Place, a private street. I drove around for fifteen minutes looking for a street sign. Silly, I could see the house, but I hesitated.
- Take a docent-led tour. The “Behind the Velvet Ropes” tour is long but well worth the price and time. You’ll see the house from basement to attic! If you don’t want to spend three hours, try Brown Bag Tuesday.
- Enjoy the garden and the view. Art is meant to be seen.
- At the very least, stop by the bookstore.
To see more images from my visit to Gamble House, please click here.