Architects seldom obtain the opportunity to design a structure and its fixtures and furniture. It is more uncommon for architects to design site-specific furniture that must work in harmony with the overall structure and still serve practical needs. The brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene were able to do both in their work designing the “Ultimate Bungalows” between 1907 and 1910. Containing elaborate woodwork and coordinated furniture, the “Ultimate Bungalows” were Greene and Greene’s very large version of the traditional arts and crafts bungalow. The dining table from the 1907 Robert Blacker House, one of the bungalow commissions, is an important example of Greene and Greene design.
Considered one of the architects’ two most important commissions,1 the Blacker House was the first of the “Ultimate Bungalows” and the most elaborate, subtly detailed, and richly appointed of the firm’s production. The house was unusually large at 12,000 square feet and included a garage, gardener’s cottage, greenhouse, pergola, and porte-cochere. The Greenes were involved with every aspect of the site’s design, closely collaborating with Mrs. Blacker, who insisted that the home conform to her family’s needs.2
Furniture for the Blacker house was fashioned out of Honduras mahogany and enriched with varying amounts of inlay work, including mother-of-pearl, silver, copper, and fruitwoods. A distinguishing feature of the dining table is the extensive use of table-sawed construction and slotted screw fastening—early manifestations of what became known as Scandinavian design. This approach is the result of the firm’s collaboration with the brothers John and Peter Hall, sons of a Swedish-trained cabinetmaker.3
The collaboration between Greene and Greene and the firm of Peter Hall produced furniture that was as much a part of the architecture as it was functional. The focal point of the dining room was its table, placed in the center of the room directly under the lighting tray, a fixture suspended by leather straps from the ceiling-mounted mahogany canopy (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The dining table worked in concert with the lighting tray above to form a quasi-architectural column for the room. The breakfast room received a similar treatment with a smaller table (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and lighting tray (private collection). A simple, long-stemmed flower motif, fabricated of silver and mother-of-pearl inlay, similar in design to those painted in the dining room’s frieze, unified the furniture of the two rooms. The breakfast and dining rooms contained sixteen chairs, designed to adorn the perimeter of the respective rooms when not in use.4 This arrangement allowed for an unencumbered view of the tables and lighting trays in each room.
Greene and Greene’s design for the dining table provided for enormous versatility. When needed, supports reminiscent of wooden beams in the room’s paneling and concealed under the table’s top could extend to receive one or two table leaves at each end. If occasion called for even a larger surface, the glass doors between the breakfast and dining rooms could fully open to create a single, unified space. The breakfast and the extended dining tables could then be pushed together to form a large banquet table. James W. Tottis
Adapted from Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1–2 (2007): 42–43.
1. The other commission is the 1908 David B. Gamble House in Pasadena, California. See R. L. Makinson, Greene and Greene: The Passion and the Legacy (Salt Lake City, 1998), 92.
2. R. L. Makinson, T. A. Heinz, and B. Pitt, Greene and Greene: The Blacker House (Salt Lake City, 2000), 71.
3. The furniture from the “Ultimate Bungalows” was made by Peter Hall and his brother John, who began to work with the Greenes in 1905.
4. Of the sixteen chairs, two armchairs and ten chairs were intended for the dining room and four chairs for the breakfast room.