Welcome to the Woodworking section of the Lee Coleman Collection.
About Greene an Greene and Their Influence on Lee Coleman
Charles and Henry Greene were born in Brighton, Ohio, in 1868 and 1870, respectively. They grew up primarily in St. Louis, Missouri, on their mother’s family farm in West Virginia while their father attended medical school.
The architectural firm of Greene and Greene was established in Pasadena in January 1894, eventually culminating with the designs of their “ultimate bungalows”, such as the 1908 Gamble House in Pasadena, generally considered one of the finest examples of residential architecture in the United States.
Two other landmark ultimate bungalows were the Robert R. Blacker House in Pasadena and the Thorsen House in Berkeley. Such ultimate bungalows were completely custom affairs, where the vast majority of elements — light fixtures, furniture, even woven textiles — were created for specific spaces in the home.
After 1901 the firm began developing the distinctive stylistic elements that finally came together as a cohesive whole in their grand works of 1907-09. The Greenes developed a personal idiom within the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, receiving commissions to design furnishings for their houses. Charles’ sketches for the 1903 Mary Darling house were published in England in Academy Architecture the same year, representing the first foreign publication of the firm’s work.
The structure of the Greene & Greene house is essential not only to the immense feeling of security that such an overly-supported structure brings, but also accentuates the importance of the Arts & Crafts fundamentals in the Greene & Greene style. The visual importance of the aesthetic nature of the joints, pegs, and complex wood-work symbolizes the structure of the house, and coincides with the principles taught in the Manual Training School of their youth. The structure of the house is externalized, or exploded, rather than hidden in decoration. Each element of the structure asserts itself. This extravagance of support takes its origins from the elaborate joinery and framing of traditional Japanese architecture.
In 1905 the Greenes began an association with Peter Hall as the primary contractor for their major commissions, and from 1907 with his brother John Hall, who ran a millwork shop producing their decorative arts and furniture designs. In 1922, their firm was dissolved. (from Wikipedia)
Their Influence on Lee’s Woodworking
Once we moved to Berkeley, in 1972, Lone and I finally had a house of our own, so I knew I would use our garage to develop a woodshop. I had taken woodshop in junior high and senior high, but college, med school, internship, residency, and the air force had more or less limited both money for tools and space for working. Now I could get back to it.
For about 10 years, my projects were not accompanied by much intensity. My work as a psychiatrist, especially the legal side and the growing frequency of media appearances, and projects to bring the house into better shape, took most of my time.
When I did take on a furniture project, I was never that happy with the result. Mostly because I had, and still have, little talent for design. It dawned on me that I should start paying attention to the work of others, and either copy them or make only minor modifications. So, by the late 1970’s, my work began to become more interesting, and this inspired me to take more pains with the execution—sharper tools, more patience, etc.
Around this time I discovered the work of James Krenov, through a couple of books, and also Charles and Henry Greene. Krenov’s workmanship was impeccable, but his designs were rather repetitive and limited to cabinets for artsy little pieces. Charles Greene, the more creative of the two brothers, was finally getting some recognition for work done one hundred years earlier.
Both in the design of their houses, and the furnishings, everything had an immediate appeal that has only grown stronger for me and countless other woodworkers, both amateur and professional. Initially furniture of the Arts and Crafts and later movements tended either to be deliberately spartan, like Stickley pieces, or somewhat affected, like those of the Spaniard Gaudi. Charles Greene’s approach took the honest, exposed joinery of the Japanese, and blended it with the soft and inviting curves of the Chinese, plus the simple lines of the Arts and Crafts era. The result is so pleasing that by the 1990s Greene and Greene were the subject of many books, some project plans began to appear, and more and more amateurs and professionals realized the broad appeal just waiting to be exploited.
My most demanding Greene and Greene pieces— dining room group, Lone’s “chiffonnier”, two sofas, rocking chair, have (except for the last) been made without benefit of any plans. That has forced me to do things like full scale drawings, an exercise that is well worth the considerable time involved.
All in all, my romance with Charles Greene burns as brightly as ever, and a ton of other woodworkers feel the same way. MM Wood Studio founder, Matthew Morris, is an obvious example. He’s the guy whose plans and video demonstrations made possible my living room rocking chair.