The Gamble House: Architecture as Fine Art — The Gamble House, promotional postcard
The Gamble House in Pasadena is ranked one of ten best houses for design by the Los Angeles Times. Reviewers on Trip Advisor and Yelp give it a solid four and half stars out of five. After visiting, I agree it’s a pretty cool house. It’s gorgeous features like the stained glass door, custom built furniture, wood panels with reliefs, and the Japanese influences inside and out are impressive; it’s also what visitors rave about. But it’s far from light and airy; its wood-laden interiors create a dark, almost cave-like experience. It’s a ‘symphony of wood’, according to numerous descriptions, but wood of ‘quality as much as quantity’. Yet despite the darkness, it’s impressive. Following is a review of the Gamble House itself, the tour, and the pictures I took during my visit.
The house was custom built for Mary and David Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble—think Tide laundry detergent) by Greene & Greene brothers, two architects of Los Angeles who were known for their unique designs and Craftsman style bungalows. The Gamble House, though sometimes referred to as a bungalow, is not with its two floors above the first (bedrooms on the second and a games room on the third). The Greene brothers had a creative approach to home design, they seemed to behave more like artists than architects—they were known for treating blueprints as starting points for design, not the end game. They worked with local contractors, the Hall brothers, who executed Greene & Greene’s artistic designs meticulously, including in the case of The Gamble House, the gorgeous lead glass front door, reliefs on wood paneling, and custom furniture that mirrors the house design elements.
The Gamble House was the family’s winter residence beginning in 1909. The family lived in Ohio and came to Pasadena in the winters to avoid the cold weather. Pasadena was a popular spot in the early 1900s for snow birds, people with money, wanting to get away from harsh winters in the East. Though the house took less than a year to build, the furniture took longer—the furniture wasn’t done until 1910.
The Arts & Crafts Movement
The house is internationally recognized for its design; it’s considered a masterpiece embodying the Art & Crafts movement that was popular in the United States at the turn of the century. The movement began in Britain, as a response to the perceived decline of craftsmanship due to factory produced goods that emerged during the period of industrialization. The Greene brothers were also influenced by the Japanese architectural styles they had seen on display at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago that represented nature, simplicity and beauty. Greene & Greene’s signature design style thus incorporated both the Arts & Crafts movement and Japanese aesthetics, with artistic designs that used natural materials, embellishments and engravings, as well as building designs that included extensions of indoor living to the outdoors via large patios and porches. Everything in the home, cabinetry, wood paneling, rugs, lighting, furniture and the spectacular front door was custom-designed by the Greene brothers.
The house stayed in the family until 1966, after which it was turned over to the City of Pasadena and University of Southern California. The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
Of all the things in the house, I liked the bedspreads the best. Yet they’re not the originals, (not surprising given textiles deteriorate at a faster rate than more dense materials, like wood) but the spreads are ‘close’ to the originals according to the docent, and were replaced sometime after the house was turned over to the city of Pasadena (1966). The spreads are creamy, textured and fringed with gorgeous tassels (pic below), they add a softness to the house which it lacks due to the ‘harder’ materials. For instance the guest beds which the spreads were on, are made of nickel, and according to the docent, were custom carved with floral designs. They looked like hospital beds to me; but the bedspreads rescued them from the frames’ coldness.
My other favorite part was a porch off one of the bedrooms that overlooked the backyard; it’s an enormous, covered porch with a view of the green and lush back garden (see slideshow below) including the fountain. It felt cosy—like a cool, airy room. I could imagine having a comfortable lounge chair with an adjacent side small table to rest a cup of coffee or glass of wine. The only wood in sight were the beams above, which apparently had been recently restored.
The Gamble House offers a variety of guided tours; which is the only way you can view the interior of the house. I took the most popular; the hour long docent-led tour for $15. It was quite good; the docent was informative and knowledgeable, though it felt a bit like a school tour, with the tour being introduced by a docent (who was not our tour-docent) laying down the rules—no touching, no flash, stay with the tour, no going into empty rooms (?)…okay. The tone was set—the tour was passive for the most part. It felt like we were a group of herded sheep going from room to room (there were other docents guiding us along the way to make sure we stayed on task). Granted, I learned more than I might have had I just perused the images and information online.
Overall, the Gamble House is an interesting and worthwhile destination for those interested in architecture, home design or the Arts & Craft movement. For others, you may want to skip it and watch the video walkthrough in the link below, and/or peruse the many pictures available on the web (use ‘The Gamble House Pasadena’ for the search terms) including my pictures (below). I’ve also listed some links to articles with more Gamble House details. Enjoy!