"I seek till I find what is truly useful, then I try to make it beautiful," was how architect Charles Greene once described his design process.
It was Greene's contention that good design involved good craftsmanship, and that it should envelop the user as a total experience and not simply be applied as ornamentation.
With his brother, Henry, the Greenes in the halcyon decade at the beginning of the 1900s were the premier practitioners in Los Angeles of the so-called Arts and Crafts Movement.
Begun in England, the movement--in its designs of homes and furnishings--called for a sensitivity to the local culture and environment and a dedication to the revival of handicraft.
With the movement as their guide, the Greene brothers took the popular Bungalow style then flourishing in California and enlarged and exquisitely detailed it with sculpted wood to produce a number of distinguished homes, most of them in the Pasadena area. The resulting post-and-beam style was labeled the Craftsman.
Among the many houses the Greenes designed, built and furnished was one for David Gamble (of Procter & Gamble wealth) in the fashionable Upper Arroyo Seco neighborhood. (The house, at 4 Westmoreland Place, parallel to Orange Grove Boulevard near Walnut Street, is open to the public. For times and details please call (818) 793-3334 or (213) 681-6427.)
A local, state and national landmark, the Gamble House--under the care of the University of Southern California, the City of Pasadena and an active docent council--is considered one of the best-preserved examples of the Craftsman style in the country. It also has been described as the "ultimate California bungalow."
With this proudly in mind, the overseers of the house, with the aid of USC, have established an award, the Gamble House Master Craftsman Award, "to acknowledge contemporary artisans whose body of work in all areas of the arts represents the basic principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement--the union of client, design, materials and craft."
The initial winners of the award are architects Conrad Buff III and Donald Hensman, principals of the architecture firm of Buff and Hensman. Based in Pasadena, the firm for three decades has produced a wide range of excellent designs for buildings, landscapes, interiors and furnishings.
To celebrate the award, the Gamble House will be conducting tours today and Sunday of select homes in the Pasadena area designed by Buff and Hensman. Tickets, available for $10 each at the Gamble House and the other residences, will entitle visitors to tour any or all of the homes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. either day.
Among the houses on the tour will be a San Marino residence designed in 1959. The large post-and-beam structure, on Canon Drive, was sited so that all the existing trees on the lot would be saved while the building itself was oriented to take advantage of the views across the canyon to the west.
Also respectfully sited by Buff and Hensman on a wooded lot is the Taylor house at 2256 Villa Heights Road in Altadena. The building, designed in 1962, is distinguished by its clean lines and the subtle use of exposed redwood.
One of Buff and Hensman's more challenging sites was an acre on the edge of the Arroyo Seco just north under the Ventura Freeway and the famed Pasadena bridge. The resulting structure at 60 El Circulo Drive for Richard and Carole King, she the editor of Designers West magazine, is a well-scaled, contemporary concoction, presenting a blank wall to the bridges and an open yet strong facade to the north.
Nearby at 330 S. Arroyo Blvd. is the Schultz house. On an old Pasadena estate marked by a large oak tree, its design is also contemporary, but more informal in its arrangement of spaces, gabled roof and wood shingling.
Quite different was the site for an East California Boulevard house also on the tour. It is in a comfortable Pasadena neighborhood of substantial structures designed in the more traditional revival styles by such architects as Wallace Neff, Reginald Johnson and Myron Hunt. Though the house Buff and Hensman designed is very much in the modern idiom, it is well scaled and landscaped, and neighborly.
The Dunn house at 999 Buckingham Place in Pasadena, will be shown only today. It is an interesting attempt by the architects to provide their clients a contemporary house with a "Spanish Colonial feel," according to a description offered by the tour docents.
Not on the tour, but worth a peek in Pasadena, is Buff and Hensman's designs of two town-house complexes, one at 72 to 108 Grand Ave. and the other at 200 to 236 Arroyo Terrace. Both in their way update and adapt the Craftsman spirit under obvious cost constraints to serve modern styles and needs.
I am sure Greene and Greene would have understood, and applauded the effort.