The Spirit of America: The Wolf Family Collection

The Spirit of America: The Wolf Family Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 44. Fall-Front Desk and Chair from the Charles Millard Pratt House, Ojai, California.

Greene & Greene

Fall-Front Desk and Chair from the Charles Millard Pratt House, Ojai, California

Auction Closed

April 20, 12:24 AM GMT


800,000 - 1,200,000 USD

Lot Details


Greene & Greene

Fall-Front Desk and Chair from the Charles Millard Pratt House, Ojai, California

Executed circa 1912.

executed in the workshop of Peter Hall, Pasadena, California

Honduran mahogany and ebony with silver, copper and assorted burled hardwood inlays, original leather seat

desk branded four times Sumner/Greene/His/True/Mark

chair branded Sumner/Greene/His/True/Mark

desk: 48 x 46⅞ x 22¼ in. (121.9 x 119.1 x 56.5 cm.) closed

chair: 38½ x 19 x 20 in. (97.8 x 48.3 x 50.8 cm.)

Charles Millard Pratt and Mary Seamoor Morris Pratt, Ojai, California, 1912-1947
Eleanor I. Palmer, by acquisition of the house and contents, 1948
Harley and Jennie Culbert, by acquisition of the house and contents, 1954
Christie's New York, Important American Architectural Designs & Commissions, June 14, 1985, lots 136 and 137
Wolf Family Collection Nos. 0807 and 0808 (acquired from the above)

Alan Marks, "Greene & Greene: A study in functional design," Fine Woodworking, September 1978, p. 42 (for the desk's proper right side inlay panel)

Randall L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: Furniture and Related Designs, Salt Lake City, 1979, pp. 94-95 (for the design drawing of the desk and chair, the desk's fall front, the desk and chair in situ in the Pratt living room, and a period photograph of the desk in the Hall workshop, circa 1912)

Edward R. Bosley, Greene & Greene, London, 2000, p. 130 (for a period photograph of the desk, circa 1915)

Marvin Rand, Greene & Greene, Layton, UT, 2005, p. 206 (for the desk's proper right side inlay panel)

Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek, eds., A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene, London, 2008, pp. 122 (for a period photograph of the desk's proper left side inlay panel, circa 1915) and 250-251 (for a period photograph of the desk and chair in situ in the Pratt living room, 1947)

For detailed discussion on the Pratt commission see:

Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: Architecture as a Fine Art, Salt Lake City, 1977, pp. 168-173

Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: Furniture and Related Designs, Salt Lake City, 1979,pp. 94-98

Scott D. Goldstein, “The Charles M. Pratt House Casa Barranca,” Style 1900, Winter/Spring1998, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 45-58

Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: The Passion and the Legacy, Salt Lake City, 1998, pp.126-135

Christopher Finch, “Ojai Arts and Crafts: Greene and Greene’s Ultimate Bungalow in California,” Architectural Digest, June 1999, pp. 234-241 and 264

Edward R. Bosley, Greene & Greene, London, 2000, pp. 127-131

David Rago, “Casa Barranca: A Personal Introduction,” Style 1900, November 2001, vol. 14, no.4, pp. 54-55

Brothers Charles Sumner Greene (1886-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954), who founded the architecture firm Greene & Greene in 1894, rank among the most important American architects of the 20th century. Inspired by their training in woodwork, metalwork and architecture, as well as their passion for Chinese and Japanese design, the Greenes’ bungalow-style houses stand as icons of the Arts & Crafts Movement, marrying livability and fine design in their unparalleled constructions. Due to its enveloping, luxurious quality, the Greenes’ work was noted in the journal of Charles Robert Ashbee in his tour of the United States in 1908-1909: “I think C. Sumner Greene’s work beautiful; among the best there is in this country. Like Lloyd Wright the spell of Japan is upon him, like Lloyd Wright he feels the beauty and makes magic out of the horizontal line, but there is in his work more tenderness, more subtlety, more self-effacement than in Wright’s work and it is more refined and has more repose.”

The Greenes designed and built five “Ultimate Bungalows” at the pinnacle of their careers; large-scale residences such as the Gamble, Blacker and Thorsen Houses showcased their mature style. The Pratt House, otherwise known as Casa Barranca, was one of the last of the Greenes’ Ultimate Bungalows. It was commissioned in 1908 as a winter home for Charles M. Pratt, son of the co-founder of Standard Oil, and his wife Mary Seamoor Morris, daughter of the governor of Connecticut and a college acquaintance of Mrs. Blacker and Mrs. Thorsen.

As in the other Ultimate Bungalows, the furniture for the Pratt House was custom designed, site-specific and superbly constructed by Greene & Greene’s master cabinetmaker, Peter Hall. Designed for the living room, the Desk is a tour-de-force that stands today as the most important piece of furniture the architects created. The work embodies the Greenes’ defining design principles, with a purity of proportion, form and line that is balanced by sumptuous textural enrichments. Hand-carved wood inlays on the exterior of the desk articulate gnarled oak trees in bas relief, inspired by the surrounding landscape of the Ojai valley. This anthropomorphic depiction of the live oak represents a high water mark in the history of inlay. Undulating lines of precious silver inlay enhance the drawer pulls – a motif echoed in the fretting of the chair’s back and stretchers.

The contents of the Pratt House were disassembled in 1985. A majority of the furniture was offered at auction the same year by Christie’s, where the desk set a record for a work by Greene & Greene at auction that held for 15 years. The Pratt Desk and Chair have remained in the Wolf Family Collection since 1985. 


Throughout history, art patronage has given rise to some of the most iconic works of fine and decorative art to come to fruition, from the masterworks commissioned by princely courts including that of Louis XIV to the American robber barons of the turn of the century. This patronage allowed the artists, the designers and their artisans to work at a level that would never have otherwise been possible, often exceeding their patron’s expectations. With boundless budgets and access to the finest materials, the designers and artisans stretched to provide a luxury never before seen in their oeuvres. What these masterworks have in common is that they were commissioned by patrons who were true collectors and intimately involved in the commissions—the legacy of this patronage culminating in the most prominent collections in history.

The Pratt Desk and Chair brings the evolution of this legacy into the 20th century. The House and its interior contents were commissioned in 1908 by Charles Millard Pratt, son of the co-founder of Standard Oil, and his wife Mary Seamoor Morris, daughter of the governor of Connecticut. By 1906, the Greenes had formed a collaboration with Swedish-born cabinetmakers, Peter and John Hall. Entering the most mature period of their artistic careers, the Greenes now had master craftsmen on whom they could rely to carry out their furniture designs to their exacting standards of design and performance. Coupled with having patrons with the vision and means such as the Blackers, Gambles and Pratts, the architects evolved to a whole new level of sophistication in their work, allowing Charles’ poetry to grow and be more bold in its application.

The Pratt Desk and Chair embodies this high level of sophistication in both design and execution. The construction is meticulous, the selection of materials the finest, starting with exceptional striped fiddle-back and flame-figured mahogany. The inlay work is distinctly original and of the highest order. A wide range of burled hardwoods were hand-selected to vary grain orientations and color to express the anthropomorphic movement of the tree. These pieces were hand shaped and sculpted to fit into carved recesses in the mahogany grounds, then further smoothed to harmonize the raised profiles of the inlay, the end result producing an effect of bas relief. These inlaid compositions were further accented with irregular dots of ebony and occasional traces of copper and silver wire inlay, further heightening the visual depth and tactility of these pictorial panels.

The Greenes left no detail overlook. Hand-sculpted ebony pegs and splines explored in varying sizes and profiles are used as a decorative embellishment while cleverly concealing interior screws throughout the case. The larger desk drawers are constructed with bottoms composed of more than twelve individual inch-and-a-half wide strips of mahogany of varying hades and color, presumably a conscious construction technique to avoid shrinkage and cracking. The fall front is composed of two highly-figured mahogany boards butted together to conceal the screw attachments of the central handle and lock plate on the interior. Each drawer is articulated with molded sides and raised “cloud-lift” plateaus at all four corners—a signature motif of the Greenes adopted from Japanese tsuba (sword guards). Edges are softly rounded throughout, imparting a further level of refinement to the bold forms.

All of these design and construction decisions were consciously executed to realize true luxury for their clients, not the pastiche or the mere appearance of luxury. While Charles Pratt was in a state of disbelief and protested the total cost of the commission, Charles Greene’s heartfelt response demonstrates his true ideology for his art and craft: “Into your busy life I have sought to bring what lay in my power of the best that I could do for Art and for you… I have known many people that love the beautiful but it is beyond their reach. For you all those things are possible and, believe me, I have given what I could personally…”