Dinner & Design
I just returned from a dinner at the Gamble House in Pasadena, the great 1908 Craftsman style landmark by Greene & Greene. The occasion was to celebrate the publication of a book about the photographer Maynard Parker, who shot everything from Craftsman landmarks like the Gamble House, to celebrity homes of the 1940s and 1950s, to work by ranch house designer Cliff May and landscape architect Thomas Church. The evening made me appreciate anew
the key elements of Greene & Greene architecture, such as the expressive use of wood and the strong connections to outdoor living through trellises and terraces. The rustic-elegant brick terrace wrapping around the house from the front door
is especially remarkable for the way it ties the house to the surrounding landscape (plan courtesy Library of Congress). This is where the dinner was
and terrace to garden. Is the house dissolving into the landscape or is the landscape evolving into a house? The distinction is so subtle I almost fell into that pond as I was chatting with other guests before dinner. (Vertikoff photos courtesy the Gamble House.) I think this radical idea — that house and site should be virtual extensions of each other — is more deftly expressed here than in the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and it paved the way — literally! — for mid-century modern designers and architects. You can see the idea illustrated in some of Parker’s photographs, like this iconic view of House Beautiful’s Pacesetter House
of 1948, designed by Cliff May, where the distinction between inside and outside — house and courtyard — is effectively blurred (photo courtesy Maynard Parker Archive at The Huntington Library through the Online Archive of California). The book about Parker is edited by Jennifer Watts, Curator of Photography at
the Huntington Library (disclosure: one of the essays is by yours truly). As a successful photographer for architects, designers, landscape architects, manufacturers, department stores, and developers Parker documented the burgeoning consumer culture between the end of World War II and the 1960s. His images of the good life became synonymous with modern living, which was all about a private and highly crafted — and romanticized — indoor-outdoor world. (See Jenny Watts’ recent interview about Parker in the New York Times.) Since then, elements like the sliding window wall have been refined such
that the wall completely disappears, as it does in Plan 496-18 by Leon Meyer, above, where the living room and the deck share the same space when the door is open. More than one hundred years after the Gamble house was built the idea of continuity remains stronger than ever.