About the House

William R. Thorsen House
Berkeley, California
1908-10

This was the last of the elaborate wooden houses, known as “Ultimate Bungalows” to be designed by Greene and Greene. Mr. Thorsen was a lumberman, and Mrs. Thorsen was the sister of Mrs. Blacker, the Greenes’ Pasadena client of 1907. For the northern California climate the Greenes designed a house with a more vertical orientation as compared with the well-defined horizontality of their Pasadena houses. The L-shaped plan of the Thorsen house was dictated by the shape of its urban, corner lot and by the desire for a private and sheltered garden space. Leaded art glass for the house was executed by Emil Lange, who followed Charles Greene’s design for a gnarled grape vine in the front door and transom panels. The teak entry hall leads first to the living room, which is paneled in mahogany, lined with book cabinets, and furnished with a built-in desk. A fireplace in mauve Greuby tile was fitted with a chased steel fire screen designed by Charles Greene in 1914. The mahogany dining room was the only space for which the Greenes were originally commissioned to design furniture. Decorative inlay, depicting a delicate periwinkle design, is carried out in abalone, oak, and fruitwoods. The architects were called back to create additional pieces, as well as alterations to the house, for many years afterward. These included the aforementioned living room fire screen, two additional fire screens, an inlaid table, several case pieces, and the addition of a glass-walled sun porch on the south end of the upper level.

It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1978) and the California Historic Register (1978), and is a Berkeley City Landmark (1975).  Since Sigma Phi’s acquisition of the Thorsen House, more than 15,000 people from all over the world have come to tour and experience its magnificent wonder.

With spacious rooms, a professional kitchen, ample quiet study space and huge backyard, the Thorsen House is an ideal space for students to mature, experience intellectual growth, and meet outgoing people of varying backgrounds and interests.

Facts about the house

Architects:  Charles and Henry Greene

Style:  Craftsman, Bungalow

Years Built:  1909-1910

Woods used:  Black Ebony, Honduran Mahogany, Oak, Burmese Teak, Port Orford Cedar, and other exotic hardwoods

  • 4 floors
  • 10,000 sq. ft
  • 11 bedrooms
  • 5 bathrooms
  • full sized, professional kitchen
  • projection theater system
  • pool table and foosball table
  • spacious common areas
  • large backyard w/ half court
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