You Have to Stop Somewhere…the Greene & Greene, Pt. III

The Greene & Greene miniature house

The Greene & Greene miniature house

The final months of the Greene & Greene were reminiscent of preparations for a large family wedding. Deadlines were set and broken as “final” alterations compounded and time calculations protracted. Lists of furnishings and exterior details were trimmed at breakfast, only to be added back at bedtime. In July of 1988, just before we closed up the first floor, we decided to exhibit the house at the NAME National in So. California as a work-in-progress. The excitement generated there convinced us we could deliver by Thanksgiving.

Living room with main rafters in place

Living room with main rafters in place

The second story went together relatively quickly. It consisted of a master bedroom, dressing room, closet, bath and sleeping porch—living quarters without the showcase aspect of the main floor.

Finally the 2nd floor walls go up

Finally the 2nd floor walls go up

The sleeping porch was off the master bedroom. The porch deck on the full-size house was covered in a pleasantly worn and slightly moldy floor cloth—a project right up my alley. I made it from muslin stiffened with watered-down Elmer’s white glue and painted it a neutral red-brown. As I had hoped, the colored dried unevenly, looking faded in spots. The thin layer of Washington State mold that formed on the surface added a minor but not insignificant sense of reality to the porch. I spray-fixed it and glued it down.

Looking down into the master bedroom

Looking down into the master bedroom

Laying the 2nd story floors

Laying 2nd story floors

            The unexpected travail was the roofing; there were nine different sections overhanging the first floor, at angles not shown on ordinary protractors. When I gave up and went to bed, Noel stayed up later than usual, arguing aloud with Charles & Henry. It wasn’t so bad when we were both wrestling them, but two against one was a bit much We saw our deadline slipping out from under us and postponed delivery until January.

Graveling the roof

Graveling the roof

As the rooflines took shape, we discovered how graceful they were, and, once again, how each design element complemented the whole, helping to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle The second story was a present; just two pieces comprising a simple peaked roof. The oddity was that the roof of the full-size Gamble House was covered in a rather large white gravel presumably to deflect the California heat. I faithfully recreated the look with white bird gravel over tarred muslin. On the original house, the effect was not particularly apparent from ground level, but on the miniature, even after toning-down the white with aging paints, it was more eye-catching than we had hoped. Months later, when we stopped at the Gamble House on our way to delivery, we found it had been re-roofed in a subtler material since our last visit. Charles & Henry hadn’t breathed a word.

Creeping thyme detail

Creeping thyme detail

A more gratifying exterior element was the landscaping. In Pasadena, creeping fig, a neutral green, small-leafed vine hugs the walls of the Gamble House terrace. Several years before the Greene & Greene, my front garden had evolved into a miniature research plot. One of the more prolific plants was the herb creeping wooly thyme, an excellent miniaturization of creeping fig. It dries well, and its fuzzy, grey-green foliage and woody stems provided the needed color and texture. The green turned out to be another echo of the Greene’s signature aged-green copper rain collectors and downspouts—yet another example of their masterful sense of balance and color.

Noel adding some final touches of aging

Noel adding some final touches of aging

The excitement of the final weeks was underscored by our not wanting to let go, along with trepidations that this project, this all-consuming love story/ghost story, would never, could never end.

Upstairs bath

Upstairs bath

On January 7, 1989, the bride was ready–the house was officially completed, 80 years less one day after the original was finished. We made an 11th hour decision to celebrate by inviting friends to view the house and donate some money to a pet project—the restoration of the local school district’s Steinway grand piano. I began to sense trouble when the newspaper called to verify the date for the Community Events Calendar. I declined, explaining we had a tiny home and this was not a public event. At 4:00 p.m. on a stormy Sunday, two hundred people and a string trio crowded in to see the house and contribute $1200 to the piano project.  On January 11 we left for delivery in Tucson, via Pasadena by invitation of the curator of the Gamble House Museum.

Noels & Pat with RAndall Mackinson, curator of the Gamble House Museum

Noels & Pat with Randell Makinson, curator of the Gamble House Museum

00110_s_10af8pvwbk0116   We drove quietly from Pasadena to Tucson, nervous about the delivery, but also wondering how we could ever start a new project. We knew this was the peak, the best and most complex house we would ever make, and now our part was done. It was late afternoon when we arrived. To beat the dark, we quickly moved the house to the clients’, Pat & Walter Arnell, then-small museum. They then took us out to eat and relax after the long drive.

Walking back from their car to the house, Walter showed us his English garden, complete with a pond, and swans. An enormous swan wandered our way, causing Walter to chuckle, “Watch out for that one—those wings could break your leg!” We all laughed. Much later, while we were settling in to our guest bedroom, Noel, still a smoker, decided he needed a cigarette–his last pack was in our van, parked across the property by the museum. Off he went into the dark, unsure of the relative geography. Cigarettes in hand, he started back for the almost dark house, walking a little faster when he noted the whereabouts of the swan. The swan noted Noel, and began to charge. Noel ran for the house. Searching frantically for a way in, he grabbed the first doorknob with a light behind it, yanked it open and ran straight in to Pat Arnell’s bedroom. Wish I knew which one screamed louder.

The Greene & Greene epic would not have come into being were it not for the Arnells, the instigators, supporters, and now owners of the house. We are ever grateful for having had the chance to create such a thing, and that it is now housed in a beautiful museum, the Tucson Mini Time Machine. On the way home we stopped for the night at a Mom & Pop motel in the desert, with a small Japanese restaurant across the highway. There was nothing else around. The restaurant was a family affair, with Pop waiting tables, Mom and Grandmom cooking, and the kids doing their homework at an empty table. Over sushi and hot saki Noel said he wanted to start painting again. I said I wanted to write more than miniatures how-to’s. We shook on it–from then on, weekends belonged to painting and writing, weekdays for miniatures. At home,  party was over, the bride gone–we felt like the parents after the reception. Not only was the worktable empty, but the ghosts of Charles & Henry were gone, presumably back to the Gamble House library to haunt the architectural students and museum staff.

About smallhousepress

In 1974, my husband Noel and I began building aged miniature houses for collectors and museums. We were 70's dropouts. We quit our careers in advertising--art director and writer, respectively--and escaped Los Angeles in a VW camper and a Bug for a simpler life on the coast of Washington State. From a tiny studio in our home, we built 64 houses and buildings. Our specialty was aging--making a structure that reflected the scars and wrinkles of time, the elements, and human habitation. In the 80s we began teaching our techniques in workshops around the country, and I began to write our how-to's in Nutshell News and Miniature Collector. In 2000 we migrated across the Columbia to Astoria, OR, where , in 2011, we retired from miniatures. We are Fellows of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans and taught at their annual school in Castine, ME. By avocation I am a writer and poet. The blog is my way of working back into a writing routine, as well as recording what we did, and what we learned along the way.
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16 Responses to You Have to Stop Somewhere…the Greene & Greene, Pt. III

  1. Marilyn Starr says:

    So interesting! Thank You, Thank You!

  2. David says:

    Wonderful story…and excellent work!

  3. maryj716 says:

    Thank you! This just makes my weekend! Beautiful story, beautiful pictures make a lovely egift tonight. Thank you, so much for the effort. Hope to see it in person some day, and certainly look forward to the new, next book.

  4. Linda Master says:

    hahaha I can picture that swan charging! Wonderful story and mind blowing work—

  5. Kathi says:

    Wow! What an amazing house! Thanks so much for sharing all of the wonderful details of your project. Truly inspiring!

  6. Steve Kelly says:

    I wanna live in that little house! Such talent!

  7. Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm!

  8. Barbara Ann says:

    Ah, Pat- how I have enjoyed the adventure of this house’s birth. The talent exhibited is just unbelievable and I hope, with all my heart, that some day there will be another challange for you all to share. thank you so much for the pleasure of your company. Barbara Ann

  9. Peggy in Italy says:

    You know, while reading this it dawned on me how this would make an excellent screenplay. How odd and still easy to imagine. Some of my favorite movies are the ones which follow artist’s process and their struggle against materials and time as well as the emotional investment. Your story would make a wonderful visual testament. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Rebecca says:

    What a beautiful house and great story!! I would love to see more pictures of this inspiring miniature work! 🙂

  11. Madeline says:

    Just read the last two chapters. WOW!

  12. Such an incredible piece of work. I can’t believe you were actually able to part with it after all that. Do you ever go to Tucson to visit it?

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