The work of Charles and Henry Greene gained popularity in the beginning of the twentieth century and remains one of the most studied and imitated of all furniture styles. Today, Greene and Greene furniture is widely considered the aesthetic culmination of the Arts and Crafts movement. Deeply influenced by Japanese design, the Greene brothers brought oriental elements including the famous “cloud lift” motif to the essential Arts and crafts aesthetic of honest, functional design and visible construction methods.
Part of the continued interest in making furniture that copies and evokes the Greene brothers may in part be a function of the deceptively simple appearance of much of their work. It’s just easier to look at a Greene and Greene table and think “I can do that” than it is with an elaborately carved eighteenth century masterpiece. But while Greene and Greene furniture tends towards simple geometry and plain craftsmanship, “mastering” the style is not a simple undertaking - any more than having a ruler and a role of masking tape makes it easy to paint like Mondrian.
Still, it’s a style that can be approached with a relatively modest set of woodworking skills. You can spend years exploring the subtleties of the Greene brothers’ design sensibilities without ever departing from some of the most fundamental joinery techniques in woodworking. And you’ll find plenty of help and inspiration if you decide to do just that.
Right now, in fact, you have a unique opportunity to test your Greene and Greene furniture making chops: The folks at Lumberjocks.com, in cooperation with Popular Woodworking Magazine, are holding “Thorsen Side Table Challenge” in which woodworkers of all skill levels are invited to show off their particular slant on a relatively simple Greene and Greene side table in exchange for a chance at fame and fortune (except the fortune) and a free, one year subscription to Popular Woodworking. Details are available at the Lumber Jocks site - briefly stated, you’ll be starting with a complete set of plans for a Thorsen House side table, as interpreted by power tool guru David Thiel, and letting your creativity take it from there.
If that gets you going on the Greene and Greene style, you’ll be looking for more info, plans, pictures, etc. A good place to start is the Greene and Greene Virtual Archives where you’ll find access to a huge stockpile of drawings, photographs, sketches, correspondence and other documents. The collections cover the Greene brothers’ careers in great detail and will give you a chance to get to know the work of these two prolific designers in all its breadth.
Once you’ve studied-up and have an idea where you want to take you exploration of Greene and Greene, you’ll find no shortage of plans and shop drawings to help you get started. Anyone with an interest in constructing accurate reproductions should have a copy of Robert Lang’s Shop Drawing’s for Greene and Greene Furniture. In it you’ll find a dimensionally accurate drawings covering a range of Greene and Greene designs, along with a Greene brothers' history and notes on construction methods.
If you want to find out firsthand how Greene and Greene furniture compares with other Arts and Crafts masterwork, treat yourself to a copy of Craftsman Furniture Projects. In this compilation of projects from the pages of the Woodworker’s Journal you’ll find a tour of the Arts and Crafts movement with enough detailed information to keep you busy for a long, long time. For a sample of what to expect, pick up the April issue of WJ and try your hand at a Greene and Greene-inspired queen sized bedframe.
And that's just a glimpse. There are plenty of woodworkers out there who’ve made Greene and Greene the focus of their work; if you decide to join them, you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration and discussion. Check out the Greene Style Furniture Group at Yahoo to see just how many committed disciples there are. Whether you’ve been woodworking for years or you’re just getting started, building Greene and Greene offers and an opportunity for endless inspiration and challenge.