Gamble House: Architecture, History & Interior

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

California is known for many architectural marvels. One of these is the Gamble House, an arts and crafts style home located in Pasadena. You may have seen it in the first ''Back to the Future'' movie.

Who were the Gambles?

Have you ever used a Bounty paper towel? Or brushed your teeth with Crest toothpaste? How about washed your hair with Pantene shampoo? Then you've used a Procter and Gamble product. David Gamble, who lived in the Gamble House, was one of the sons of James Gamble, who founded the company with William Procter in the 1830s.


David and his wife Mary commissioned the architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene to design and build their California home, which was intended to be their winter residence. David wanted a warm climate for his retirement. The Gambles met the Greenes in 1907 when they were building a house for the Gambles' soon-to-be neighbors.

The Greene brothers were becoming quite well known for their work. The Greene's style was influenced by the Japanese architecture they saw at the World's Columbian Exhibition, a world fair in 1893 in Chicago. They would become leaders in the Arts and Crafts architectural movement, which sought a return to more handcrafted work in response to industrialization. The Gamble House is an example of this movement, with all of its beautiful, yet functional woodwork throughout the house. Every decoration was made by hand; nothing was made in factories. When it came to designing and building the house, it was all about quality versus quantity.

Drawings, or blueprints, were finished by February of 1908, and construction began the next month. The three-story house was finished ten months later and the family was able to move in.

Blueprints of the house

The Gamble House under construction

Feat of Woodworking

The contractors that the Greenes hired used over seventeen different types of wood in the house, as well as custom-built furniture, giving the house an inner glow. The wood ranged from inexpensive oak to pricey mahogany. These different woods provide a decorative contrast without the use of paint.


Visitors can also see the Japanese influence with the interiors. Stained Tiffany glass windows and carved wood rails remind visitors of Japanese screens and houses, with their simple but impressive interiors.

The layout of the house is pretty traditional; the main floor includes a living room and a dining room. The mahogany dining room table seats up to fourteen people.

Wood paneling is all the throughout the house. The teak panels aren't screwed into the wall; the builders used a technique called a scarf joint, which wedged the panels together. This technique has helped the house survive several earthquakes. Some of the panels, if not screwed into the walls, are actually hidden doors. One panel in the front hallway opens up, which allowed servants to enter and leave the downstairs kitchen.

The second floor contains the bedrooms, and the third is an attic. Visitors can see the bedrooms how they appeared when the Gambles lived there. All the original furniture is still there. The master bedroom contains walnut dressers inlaid with fruitwood and semiprecious stones. Even the bathrooms are ornate, with one on the second floor containing stained glass doors.

The third floor was intended by the Greenes to be a billiards room, paneled in Douglas fir. The Gambles were against gaming, however, and used it as storage.


The exteriors are equally impressive. Three of the bedrooms have porches, which were often used as sleeping porches in the days before air conditioning. Restored stonework in the front of the house showcases different planters and new landscaping. The front porches (on the ground level) are paved with patterned bricks, and lead out to a pond and other garden areas. The exteriors are covered in wood shingles.

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