ELIEL AND EERO SAARINEN DESIGNED THE FENTON COMMUNITY CENTER. Text and photos by Pam VanderPloeg, March 2015.  On Saturday, March 14, 2015 Deborah Goldstein, President of the Michigan Chapter of DOCOMOMO-US, welcomed visitors to a lecture and tour of the Fenton Community Center in Fenton just south of Flint.  Lecture The Michigan Chapter of Docomomo US is dedicated to raising awareness of Michigan’s modern design heritage to encourage recognition, preservation and reuse of these resources (https://www.facebook.com/mi.docomomo).   Brian Conway, Director of the State Historic  Preservation Office, the guiding force behind the MICHIGAN MODERN project, provided the audience with a slide show detailing the history and principle buildings of Eliel Saarinen and the collaboration between Saarinen and his son Eero.

 Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish architect, came to the United States with his family and developed a practice here after he received second place in the 1922 Chicago Tribune design competition.  Eliel Saarinen designed the buildings and planned the Cranbrook, where he served as the first President and head of the Architecture Program.   Son Eero Saarinen was the designer of the St. Louis Arch, the New York TWA Terminal buildings, and General Motors Technical Center among other notable structures. The Fenton Community Center, was built with funds from Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham. Mary had ties to the area which was  primarily a farming community.  They believed the community needed a cultural and educational gathering place.  Original photos are found on the Cranbrook Archives website including a rendering and model of the original building.   http://cdm9024.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/searchterm/Fenton  

Vince Paris, Director of the Fenton Community Center, led participants on a tour of the facility and described the extensive maintenance and improvements being conducted through a successful partnership between the Center’s Board of Governors and the City of Fenton.

The new addition was designed to bring harmony between old and new. The brick of the fourth side of the historic exterior is now visible as an interior wall in the addition.  The adjacent oversized wood doors were the exterior stage doors (seen here through the glass because the addition has not yet been cleared for occupancy).  The doors had a removable set of metal stairs to transport scenery and provide access to the backstage area.  Infrastructure improvements have uncovered intriguing mechanical systems and an innovative foundation design of concrete piers on what was discovered to be a layer of peat approximately 16 feet below.  A tornado hit the building in 2007 and took off the roof. This has since been repaired and the flat roof style maintained.   Recently the carpet in the lobby was removed, uncovering the original tile floor.  The lower level floor has a duplicate tile floor.   The lobby leads to the auditorium and the doors feature the original hardware.  

The auditorium includes original stunning floor to ceiling windows, extensive paneling and a performance stage.   There is an auditorium photo in the Cranbrook Archives:    http://cdm9024.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p9024coll2/id/345/rec/4.

Some future challenges will be restoring the massive folding partition walls that move on a ceiling track. These have sustained water damage and can no longer be opened and closed. There is a clever use of plywood in the building with a beautiful herringbone veneer pattern visible in the screens, the wall panelling and the wainscoting.  

The fireplace located in the back of the auditorium has a distinct horizontal prairie style and features decorative brick, wood and metal trim.  The wall surface above the fireplace is now a wood frame covered by fabric painted over the years. Hidden underneath is the same panelling seen throughout the auditorium.  The original parquet floor will be beautiful when refinished.

Inside the cabinets of the old kitchen adjacent to the auditorium are the remaining pieces of the china S FC ORIGINAL SYRACUSE CHINAcommissioned for the Center from Syracuse China who closed its New York manufacturing facility in 2009, after 138 years and moved manufacturing operations oversees.

 Walking around the building there are other outstanding features including two floors of windows.  The lower level doors that are surrounded by windows were added in a later renovation.  The stepped side wall framing the exterior stairs seems like a Saarinen trademark noted in other buildings.  With its generous and beautiful grounds, the Center was designed with outdoor functions in mind  At one time the Boy Scouts restored the fountain.  Now the Center has a plan to raise funds to replace missing parts (some of which have been located at Cranbrook) and restore its beauty.   

The Fenton Community Center is located on a prominent and pleasing site.  S FC BUILDING W CLOCK TOWERAs you walk up the hill from the back and round the corner of the building you have a great view of the new addition and of the Fire Station across the street complete with iconic tower and historic clock.  The old Fire Station had been located on the Center’s site and when they moved to their new building they took the clock with them.

 The Board of Directors and the City have made an important investment in the future of Fenton by preserving the Fenton Community Center and have insured its lasting value with a critical new addition.  For more on the history go to the Fenton Community Center website:   http://www.fentoncommunitycenter.org/About-Us.aspx

Breton House: A Tale of Two (of the same) Homes

The Breton House:  A Tale of Two (of the same) Homes written by Melissa Fox with photos and research collaboration by West Michigan Modern, Pam VanderPloeg, Editor, c. 2015.  Early black and white and some color photos provided by the homeowners.

Breton House

Breton House

The first time I saw the Breton house was in a photograph at Pamela VanderPloeg’s presentation GR Modern: Home Architecture 1945-1970 at Temple Emmanuel during the summer of 2013. The next time I saw a version of it was later that fall when I was house hunting and found its double, the house next door to the house we were viewing on Pinecrest in East Grand Rapids.  I remember driving along Pinecrest that day and seeing 1505 Pinecrest and thinking, Wow, where did that come from? 

Pinecrest House

Pinecrest House

It is a stunning home, well designed and super modern, with a double box shape and flat roof and spartan appearance.  And it stands out on a street of homes constructed in the mid-century yet more conservative and traditional in design. I ended up purchasing the home next door, designed by the same architecture firm, Obryon & Knapp, but nowhere near as unique as 1505. For more on 1507 Pinecrest and Albert Builders link http://westmichiganmodern.com/2014/11/27/pop-up-tour-of-1507-pinecrest-designed-by-e-john-knapp-an-albert-builders-house/

Fast forward a month or so and Pamela and I were in a small group touring a house on Fultonwood, one of those amazing Bronkema designed homes. A bit into the tour a man joined the group and seemed a friend of the Fultonwood homeowner. We later learned he was the owner of the Breton house, the twin of the Pinecrest house, and that it been sold to him by the current owner of the Fultonwood house who was giving us the tour. It was very six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Anyways it was a treat to meet him and we all agreed we would like to see his home sometime too. Which we did months later.  And when we did tour the Breton house, my former neighbor, the owner of the Breton home’s twin 1505 Pinecrest Ave SE, came along.

This particular scene, with the owner of the Pinecrest house visiting the Breton house is a return, in reverse, of how these two homes came to be. 

Pinecrest House 1960's

Pinecrest House 1960’s

1505 Pinecrest SE was constructed in 1961 by Albert Builders in the Heather Downs community of East Grand Rapids.   In 1961, the house with its stark, box-like shape would have stood out as unusually modern, even in this mid-century neighborhood.  Around 1963, Mr. & Mrs. Kenneth Koernoelje were invited to a party there and immediately fell in love with the Pinecrest home.  One can imagine  both Mr. & Mrs. Koernoelje noting the home’s open floor plan as the guests floated from room to room, their attention drawn to the family room’s wall of glass and the dramatic floating staircase, the focal point of this multi-level house.  There are many gorgeous mid-century modern homes in West Michigan, but not many are as stylish nor as unique as the Pinecrest house.  With its flat roof, original shade of stone grey paint, and lack of large windows on the front side, from the exterior anyway the home is probably on that far end of the modernism scale, the either love-it or hate-it zone. They fell on the love-it side of the scale and contacted Albert Builders immediately to have one of their own built about 5 minutes away, in Grand Rapids off Breton. 

Breton House Constructed

Breton House was constructed in 1965

The Koernoelje house was completed in 1965.  The home was designed with mostly indirect lighting and had all of the modern conveniences such as air conditioning, underground sprinkling, a central vacuuming system, and was very well insulated.  Albert Builders promoted modern conveniences in the homes they built, especially their high-tech kitchens. This house drew the attention of the media and on March 8, 1967 the Almanac, an East Grand Rapids newspaper, published a feature story on the house in an article entitled, Better Living – To Each a Home of

Mrs. Koernoelje favored modern furniture.

Mrs. Koernoelje favored modern furniture

His Own Choice… The story contrasted three different styles of homes. The home on Breton represented contemporary design.  The house featured many built-ins and was furnished with appropriate modern furniture selected by the homeowners. Mrs. Koernoelje apparently had a preference for simple housekeeping and was quoted as saying “I don’t like dust-catchers.”  The original bathrooms were tiled floor to ceiling, and Mrs. Koernoelje said that in hindsight she would have tiled the ceilings too. It was cool in the summer thanks to an air-conditioning system, and according to the article in the Almanac, the home had a feeling of “airiness.”  

Tweedy gold carpeting on the foating stairway

Tweedy gold carpeting on the foating stairway

Today we would call that an “open plan,” a highly desired floor plan style that is sought after by today’s homebuyers. The original interior also featured walls of a cream color with painted greypaneling, and the floor finishes were a sharp contrast – carpeting in blue-green, apricot, and “tweedy” gold on the floating stairway.  Kenneth Koernoelje loved sailing and there was speculation that this influenced the soft grey and cream colors of interior and exterior.  Today the Koernoelje house remains an icon of modern style.  Current owners Stephane and Carolyn moved here from Toronto and filled the home Screenwith their collection of modern furniture and art. With two young children, the multi-level house offers great functionality and flexibility.  This house is both beautiful and practical.  For example there is an unusual modern metal screen at the top of the stairway at both the Pinecrest and Breton homes. This decorative feature provides privacy by blocking the view of the bedroom hall from visitors entering through the front door.  TBackyardhe things that attracted Carolyn and Stephane to the house reflect the ease of living in a well maintained modern home, the floor plan and use of space, the location, and the quality of finishes and sensitive remodel that had been done by the previous owners. Stephane and Carolyn wish they could put the house on a truck and move it with them, as they are relocating to Indiana. They will miss the house, and also the peaceful setting and daily visitors, the deer, wild turkeys, and birds.  On the day of our tour, the yard was lush and green. SH FROM STIARWAYStephane and Carolyn met us at the door, eager to show us their lovely home.  When Stephane and Carolyn first moved here from Toronto they fell in love with the Breton house.  With two young children, the multi-level house offers great functionality and flexibility.

The dramatic cantilevered stairway at the entry leads down a flight to the two very distinct halves of SH Dining Table 2the open plan main level and up a flight to the bedroom level. For Stephane and Carolyn, the stairway provides a perfect focal point for art and light fixtures and separates the two parallel halves of the main floor which are a contrast in natural lighting.  On the living SH GARDEN 5room and dining room side the length of the room has floor-to-ceiling glass, bringing the outdoors in. These rooms front a beautifully landscaped backyard.   The only original dark wood-paneled wall, located in the dining area, has been painted a light color to provide a backdrop for more beautiful art.   The seating group is positioned to enjoy the outdoor patio with its mix of concrete, rocks, ground cover, steps and an iron gate.  The lovely grounds are a SH LIVING ROOMperfect frame for this geometric house.  On the family room and study/office side there is a high bank of ribbon windows. We like these,”  said original owner Mrs. Koernoelje, “They make for varying furniture placement, give plenty of light, yet complete privacy.”  Between the two halves of this level is the kitchen, which has been tastefully updated.  The original kitchen was planned to be an efficient connector between eating area and dining room and today separates the dining area from the children’s play area.

Kitchen connects to the playroom

Ribbon windows also line both sides of the bedroom level, which is arranged around a large central landing. This house is great for a young family.  The attractive rooms of the main floor do double duty as a place for entertaining friends and also for children’s play and quiet activities close to parents.  One accesses the garage and utility room, including laundry, via a hall leading from the main floor living room. The efficient use of

Hall to Utilitiesspace on the interior of the house is reflective of the minimalism suggested by the exterior.  Still the interior of the home is warm and peaceful, with Stephane and Carolyn’s baby sleeping and their young son running around, the home is clearly as well suited for parties as it is for family life.  It’s easy to see why the Koernoelje’s needed one of their own.

Walking around this house with my neighbor was particularly interesting, both of us oddly familiar with it, though not quite. He walked slowly through the house, commenting here and there on similarities and differences between his home and this one, and on projects he was planning to tackle as he renovated his house. My familiarity with this house, these two homes was from the exterior as I had never been inside either of them. Walking and driving by, and looking out at this house from my own, I thought often of the way that house must have landed on Pinecrest like a strange other place sort of dwelling. I thought too of the wonderful parties that must have happened there. It has all those elements that delight

View Outdoorsmid-century enthusiasts, the glass and open floor plan and indoor outdoor living. For me though the really special thing about this house, in addition to its sort of building block shape, is the play between privacy and openness. The front of the house is very private, the only real opening is the large windows by the door, which are hard to see into because of the way the house is positioned on the lot. The back of the house is so open, at least on that main level. If there wasn’t a fence between our yard and that house we would have seen everything our neighbors did in the kitchen, dining, and living room. What must it have been like, in 1961 to look from my house to that house? Those original owners must have felt so exposed. But that is what is so great about the back of these twin houses – they are so open to the outdoors, but also very much like a department store display window, especially if someone has the right furniture and design sense.

It’s wonderful to have not only one, but two of these houses in West Michigan. And even more that they are nearly original, both a perfect set of light grey boxes, set just so on their lots, inviting yet not so very.     Author note:  Melissa Fox is a librarian and avid reader who most recently worked at the Grand Rapids Public LIbrary Local History and Special Collections Department. Melissa and her husband Tom and daughter Lucy are currently living in London.  Melissa is a contributing writer and correspondent for West Michigan Modern and is writing her own blog about her London adventures.

International Style House designed by Emil Zillmer, 1937

Best exteriorWritten by Pam VanderPloeg, text and color photos copyright 2015 West Michigan Modern www.westmichiganmodern.com. This International style home  went up for sale in 2014 causing some concern because it is historically significant.  In this highly desirable community with great schools and few buildable lots, tear-downs increasingly make way for new custom homes.  I won’t keep you in suspense.  Happily the home sold this summer to sensitive new owners.  The home is tucked away in the center of East Grand Rapids, not on a major road, and therefore something of a hidden treasure. It was designed in 1936 by architect Emil Zillmer for Dr. J.C. Mauris, a local dentist. Emil Zillmer received his bachelor of science from Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1913.  855 PINECREST ARCHITECTS SEAL He designed this bold statement of modernism at a time when the country was still coming out of an economic depression and Europe was plunged into turmoil.   The origins of International Style.  Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson curated the first display of architecture held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932.  At the same time they published the book International Style citing examples of modern buildings designed from 1922 to 1931 documented during their travels throughout Europe with Alfred Baar who first coined the phrase.  Some of the features of these modern International Style buildings were flat roofs, plain smooth facades lacking ornamentation where form followed function.  Steel and metal windows were an important part of the facade sometimes creating wide expanses of ribbon windows, sometimes wrapping around corners blending into the exterior without the interruption of traditional wooden Drawing by Zillmerwindow trim. Emil Zillmer’s original design.  When this house was built in East Grand Rapids, both the style and the construction materials set it apart on the block and placing it in a small category of International Style houses city-wide. To date I have identified approximately 16 of these houses that appear to have changed very little and are located in the Grand Rapids area.  A good share of them were built from 1935-1938.    In this house, exterior walls and interior partitions are 855 PINECREST FACADE CLOSEUPconstructed of Haydite blocks, a building unit produced locally at the time by the S.A. Morman company.   These blocks came in the same dimensions as concrete blocks and were lighter but three times as strong.    Haydite joists supported the reinforced concrete floors.   The house was fitted with steel sash windows.  The exterior finish is pure white stucco and when built the only color was the painting of the window sashes.  The interior of the home was finished in tinted plaster.  Original finishes included carpet over concrete floors and asphalt tiles in bedrooms, stairways, halls, kitchen.   It’s fun to imagine Dr. Mauris and his wife welcoming curious friends and visitors in this traditional city to their unusual new modern home for Cover Christmascocktails in the formal evening attire of the late 1930’s.  The house was purchased in the summer of 2014 by new owners David and Jennifer Kirchgessner for their young family. I made the acquaintance of David, a realtor with an interest and knowledge of mid-century modern homes, in early 2014 when he alerted me to the sale of a cool 1950’s ranch with a low profile and swooping roofline designed by Ernie King, GM automotive designer.   Jennifer who has a textile design 3164 HALL FULL BESTbackground and works for the Scott Group Custom Carpets clearly appreciates the aesthetic value of the house.  Jennifer grew up steeped in modernism, living in one of the most iconic modern homes (shown above) on Hall Street designed by Arleigh (Bud)Hitchcock, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Homestyle Center, an amazing idea that came close to fruition in the 1950’s.  See WMM post http://westmichiganmodern.com/2014/07/01/3164-hall-a-precedent-for-aging-in-place-in-grand-rapids-michigan-by-alison-mcdonnell/.   The house tour.  We were so happy when David and 855 PINECREST EXTERIOR FRONT STOOPJennifer agreed to let our little party tour their home.  Later I asked our friends about their first impressions and they confirmed my own.  Behind the beautiful stark white stucco finish and the smooth flat planes of of the exterior is a warm and inviting interior.  We entered through the original wood front door into a cozy foyer where we were welcomed by our hosts. The home has a well-designed circulation pattern and the entry leads three ways – to the 855 PINECREST BUILT IN BOOKCASE 2garage, to the kitchen or to the open living area with built in book shelf and three informal seating areas.  The room is surprisingly cozy with low ceilings (must ignore the ceiling beams) and warm wood floors.  These floors happily have replaced the original finishes which called for carpet over concrete.  The dining area is a continuation of the living area, handy to both living room and kitchen. Our friend recalled that she just loved the way the dining area was incorporated into the main living area with a USE LRdoor leading back to the kitchen for serving purposes.  Wrap around windows provide light in the dining area and  are an attractive backdrop for the dining furniture.  These were originally steel sash windows and provide one of the main design features of the home.   The windows have been replaced by new windows that are functional and convenient and maintain the wrap-around style.  The owners had laid out on the SPECIFICATIONSdining room table the original blue prints and a book of specifications created by the architect for the owner.  We had a great time paging through the detailed information to look back at the architect’s vision.  My husband really enjoyed delving into Hillmount Completedthe specifications for the house because he recognized some similar structural characteristics after doing all of the interior renovation work on a condo we own at the Hillmount on Cherry Street in Heritage Hill.  Emil Zillmer designed the Hillmount too, a 855 PINECREST FIREPLACE ELEVATIONwonderful Art Moderne building, about the same time as this house in 1937.  However, due to wartime material shortages the building was not completed until 1952.   In looking through the house blueprints, it was fun to identify striking features such as the decorative marble fireplace and multi-paned wood doors.  The art deco style fireplace is just as originally drawn in the elevation shown left and is the focal point of the third seating area in the living room.  This area is almost overlooked when you first USE MARBLE FIREPLACE 2enter the living area because your eyes are drawn left. Next to the fireplace is the glass door shown in the drawing which leads to a delightful room that could serve as an office or small den where you can be totally apart from the open living space but still hear the quiet conversation buzz and activities taking place just around the corner. The space has that indoor/outdoor feel with a lovely view of the backyard green space.   One last thing about the living area.  The original multi-pane French doors lead to an inviting comfy porch/sunroom.  We could have lingered a long time in 855 PINECREST PORCHthe living area enjoying the ambience and conversation but the interesting stairway drew us to the 2nd level.   The ballusters and railing were surprisingly traditional but original per the blueprints.  The 855 PINECREST DECORATIVE VERITCAL STAIRCASE WINDOWmain stairway feature is a full length vertical window in three sections.  That window is a ZILMER PINECRESTstriking design feature as viewed in this exterior photo.  The third and lowest part of the vertical window is actually located in the stairwell that leads from the main floor to the basement. What is especially fun about this window is that Emil Zillmer designed a similar vertical AB Apartments Currentwindow in glass block in one of my favorite art moderne structures – a small apartment building at Fulton and Prospect constructed around the same time by Albert Builders and shown at left.  David and Jennifer’s house originally called for 855 PINECRESST HALL BETWEEN BEDROOM WINGSone bath, four bedrooms and the airing porch with the typical nautical rail on the upper level. However, somewhere along the way, a second bath was added upstairs.  The upstairs is USE ORIGINAL DOORS WITH HARDWAREbisected by the stairway creating two separate bedroom wings on either end of the connecting hall. Many original features remain upstairs.  The master 855 PINECREST - ORIGINAL STORAGEbedroom features original cupboards and closets and the wrap around windows. A multi-pane exterior door leads from 855 PINECREST BEDROOM WINDOWS 2the Full look bathroommaster bedroom to the airing porch.  There are gorgeous double doors and extra-wide single doors of burnished wood all with the original silver hardware throughout.    The main bathroom features the original pretty patterned asphalt floor tiles and large square glass shower tiles in a complimentary carmel color with black accent tiles.  The door trim is a unique three-layer wood style still preserved throughout the house.  We were all elated to see so many original details in the home still intact despite the nearly 80 years of occupancy.   When we went backUSE KITCHEN downstairs, we did a quick tour of the basement with it’s recreation room, utilities and laundry. This house was designed originally for gas heat and air- conditioning. Our last stop was the kitchen which is a bright welcoming space – casual and friendly and a combination of old and new.  The floor to ceiling cupboards appear to be original.  New stainless appliances blend well with the warm yellow paint of the walls. Asphalt tile has been replaced by warmer wood floors and a built-in 855 PINECREST KITCHEN STORAGEglass front cupboard provides storage and display. The wrap around windows are new but replicate the original style.      Thanks to the generosity of David and Jennifer, our tour group was larger than usual that evening and included architect Emil Zillmer’s grandson Eric.  Eric’s grandfather Emil and father Carl are both part of the mid-century modern architectural history of 855 PINECREST KITCHEN WINDOWSthe city.  Friends John and Barb Mytek (who works with Eric) made the connection.  Barb and John are the former owners of one of my favorite modernist homes on College in Riverside Gardens featured on WMMhttp://westmichiganmodern.com/2014/06/16/a-modernist-gem-in-riverside-gardens/ .   Eric had hadn’t known about this house his grandfather designed and so it was fun to include him on the tour. The home was considered so unusual for the time that it drew significant attention.  The contractor Peter J. Ebels praised the house saying, “This type of house is the coming thing.  I believe that it will replace frame house construction within 10 years. The advantages are obvious.  Upkeep on the building is reduced to nothing for there is nothing to depreciate.  Heating and cleaning are made far easier and the building is fireproof,  and rodents and termites and vermin can’t live in concrete.”   International Style homes in the Grand Rapids area.  In my modernist quest, David and Jennifer’s house has a place in a collection of about 16All Gas Wonder House outstanding local International style homes with similar features but each with a distinctive design and created by a variety of architects. The bulk of these were built from 1935-1937 and they may have been influenced by the modern architecture featured at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.  One such modern house completed in 1937 in Grand Rapids is the Gas Wonder House shown right. Designed by a Chicago firm in collaboration with local architects Knecht, McCarthy & Theibaud, this was a demonstration house.  People lined up to see this 739 PLYMOUTHmodern marvel of gas appliances and utilities when it was completed.   The earliest of these International style homes in Grand Rapids was probably built in the 1920’s and the latest one I’ve found was constructed in 1947.   These homes are limited in number but today stand out in the various neighborhoods where they are located.  The International Style house designed by Alexander McColl on Plymouth in East Grand Rapids and built in 1937 (shown left) was featured in the Grand Rapids Press just last summer.  These homes represent a small but important part of the modern housing stock in Grand Rapids.    It’s unknown at this point if architect Emil Zillmer designed any other homes in this style. However, slowly a catalogue of Zillmer’s principal works is coming together including the Hillmount,Best exteriorthe apartment building on Fulton and Prospect, some residences including a Lake Michigan Cottage, the design for a Veteran’s building (unknown if it was built) and a number of commercial structures in Muskegon. In the meantime, David and Jennifer are beginning a new chapter for this lovely modernist gem nearly 80 years old, an important piece of East Grand Rapids architectural history.  Written by Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2015.   Citations:   1. American Architects Directory 1956.  NY:  R. R. Bowker, 1955.  2. Grand Rapids Herald, August 2, 1936.  3.  The International Style by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson.  NY:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1932, 1966.

Artist Robert E. Kuhn and a small modern house

REK Sculpture 4This is a brief tale of a sculptor and a small modern house. My friend Jennie was doing a quick survey of a Grand Rapids Goodwill Store when she spotted the welded metal sculpture with a price tag of $7.99.  The sculpture’s square stand was engraved with the artist’s name.  Jennie purchased it on a hunch that it might be “something.” She later discovered that artist Robert E. Kuhn who passed away on July 8, 2000 was a prolific American sculptor.  My first words when she REK Sculpture 1recounted her story (and this will surprise no one who knows me) were “Kuhn designed the coolest little modern house in 1946 and I have a photo.”   Later that night I sent her two articles from the Grand Rapids Press about Kuhn.  By then Jennie had already placed this wonderful sculpture on a glass top table in her northwest side home for her friends and family of four boys to enjoy. Perhaps one of the boys will be inspired to create their own welded art someday??  The first newspaper article was dated October 19, 1946 and told the story of the modern house that was “something ‘different’ in houses” tucked away in a little Wyoming neighborhood.  The house was constructed using a combination of materials including stucco, cement block and brick.  There is no basement.  “The house featured knotty pine 1431 WHITING 1956 SMALLceilings, asphalt tile floors throughout with the lighting inset in the ceiling.”   Clerestory windows in the main rooms flooded the small home with light.  The photo shown above was taken in 1956 a few years after Kuhn had left Grand Rapids. Note the great wide chimney, the modern door with three lights and the built-in planter. This early Grand Rapids modernist home was designed at the same time Frank Lloyd Wright’s master builder Harold Turner was building a Usonian house of his own design on the Thornapple River.  Also at this time, James Bronkema had returned from the war was designing spacious brick ranch homes 1431 WHITING 1990'S SMALLand beginning to experiment with new materials and modern design. The Grand Rapids Press article ends with the intriguing statement,  “He (Kuhn) plans to build many more houses in the same modern style with designs even more radical than that of the Whiting st. house.”  But did he?  I was surprised that he never lived in the home but perhaps it was too small for his family.  The photo above is 1990’s vintage and shows that the house was well groomed but beginning to look different. The second newspaper article dated March 16, 2004 was written by Gail Philbin to draw attention to an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. It was entitled  “Kuhn’s World: First retrospective of sculptor’s work takes place in his native Grand Rapids.”  It tells more of the story of Robert E. Kuhn who was born December 27, 1917 on Grand Rapids west side and attended St. James Catholic school.  His artistic talent was nurtured there and he REK Sculpturewent on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1936-1939. He was hired as a Depression-era WPA artist and worked in Washington D.C.  However, at least by 1945 Kuhn was back in Grand Rapids and was listed as a painter in the City Directory.  He lived with wife Helen and their four children in a house on Breton Road in East Grand Rapids.   Kuhn spent several years as a toy salesman to support his family and the GR Suburban Directory backs this up.  About 1951, he was once again listed as an artist and made a pivotal trip to Mexico where he exhibited his paintings and learned to weld steel.  Now a sculptor as well as abstract painter he REK Sculpture 2moved back to Washington D.C. and his career took off. By 1957 was represented by galleries in New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago and Neiman Marcus in Texas was asking to sell his sculptures.  At this time his self-declared output was approximately 110 pieces per year.  He became disenchanted with gallery representation in the 1960’s and bought an old church in Tanners Creek, Virginia in the Blue Ridge mountains which he converted to a home and studio. Kuhn filled the grounds with his steel-welded sculptures and abstract paintings and became a recluse.  To see more of Robert E. Kuhn link here  http://www.robertekuhnpainterandsculptor.com/#!__world-and-eye   Also he was known for getting stopped by local police for driving his vintage yellow corvette too fast along the local country roads!   1471 WHITING CURRENT RECENT SMALLWhen Kuhn’s vision failed he turned to collage.    Surprisingly one source for buying his sculptures became the J. Peterman Catalog.  Today the little house is still there, a small modernist home standing out among more traditional designs, waiting to be discovered and sensitively restored.  Citations:  1. “Artist Designs Unusual House,” p. 11, Grand Rapids Press October 19, 1946. 2. “Kuhn’s World: First retrospective of sculptor’s work takes place in his native Grand Rapids” by Gail Philbin, Grand Rapids Press, March 16, 2004.   3. “Robert E. Kuhn, a Recluse Whose Art is Anything but Reserved, “ Washington Post, December 6, 2012.  4.  Various Internet sites on Robert E. Kuhn.

Pop Up Tour of 1507 Pinecrest Designed by E. John Knapp, an Albert Builders House

Pop-Up Tour, December 6, 2015 from 4-7.  Albert Builders Home for sale at 1507  Pinecrest SE, East Grand Rapids. Tour is free but registration required.  To register link here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pop-up-tour-1507-pinecrest-tickets-14596186587

1507 BEST DINING ROOM LRThe house at 1507 Pinecrest is a 1960 Albert Builders home designed by E. John Knapp, of the architectural firm of Obryon and Knapp. The house is located in the Heather Downs Subdivision platted in 1959 by Harold Albert and son J. Brock Albert. Harold Albert was one of three brothers who grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine and after college moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Silas came in 1919 and Samuel and Harold followed. AB Logo 1954 They started a real estate business that blossomed into one of the largest firms in Grand Rapids.  They invested in land and offered building, financing, insurance and real estate services.  Harold Albert’s daughter Marilyn recalled an incident where two of the Albert Brothers were driving around the undeveloped fields of one of their platted subdivisions one night after dark. They literally ran into each other’s cars.   Homes in the Heather Downs Subdivision were priced reasonably for the time and the area at under $28,000.  They were heavily advertised in the Grand Press.  “Heather Downs in Breton Downs”…”A private community within a community”…“Enjoy a pool at no extra cost with a special area for 1507 PINECREST 1964horseshoes, volleyball”…”Exclusive membership lets you in for many sun-filled, fun-filled summers.”  1507 Pinecrest is actually one of the first two homes built in the subdivision in 1960 at the same time the community pool and pool house were constructed. The prolific partnership of Albert Builders and Obryon and Knapp yielded over 300 designs built in metropolitan Grand Rapids and replicated in other communities such as Rockford, Spring Lake/Grand Haven, 1507 PINECRESTMuskegon. As owner Melissa said, “We found a house in the Heather Downs neighborhood of East Grand Rapids. Built by Albert Builders and designed by Obryon and Knapp, our house is part of a collection of homes with similar mid century features, such as low pitched roofs, split level floor plans, and ribbon windows. Obryon and Knapp designed many models for Albert PC BACKYARDBuilders, many of which can be seen in Heather Downs. The designs are distinct enough that each one feels unique, but they have enough in common that they make for a pleasing neighborhood.”  The home’s design is based on an innovative four-foot modular section developed by E. John Knapp. The modular concept was customizable for the homeowner and easily priced by the Albert Realtors’ sales-force. In point of fact, although in our research we have found many “twins” and “triplet” homes, this Obryon & Knapp design appears to be unique. Finding the house was an adventure.  In the late summer 2013, Melissa, husband Tom and daughter Lucy began their search for the right mid century modern house. At the time they lived in a large beautiful Heritage Hill home but were in mid-quest. As Melissa said, “We have always been drawn to mid century design and architecture the clean lines, efficient use of space, and the connection of the interior of the home with the exterior. These are the things we started to dream about when our historic home began to feel too large and overwhelming.1507 BEST LIVING ROOM SLIDERS

It sounded lovely to have fresh, bright spaces and tidy rooms, especially when we had an endless list of projects we knew we would never have time to tackle and owned more sofas than we had persons to sit on them.” Finding the right mid century home was a challenge in a market of high demand and limited inventory. Melissa is an ace researcher and a local history librarian so she used all of her skills to locate the perfect house, working by day and searching GRAR by night.  “Throughout this time, we were house hunting. In Grand Rapids there are several areas that were developed during the mid century and we looked at homes in a few of them. We also enlisted the help of our friend, and mid century expert, Pamela VanderPloeg of West 1507 BEST KITCHEN LRMichigan Modern to help us in our search. It was fun to grab coffee and meet at a house and tour and discuss it. In some ways, I wish our search had gone on a little longer, so we could have toured more homes.” 1507 Pinecrest appeared online on a Wednesday night and on Thursday morning, the  realtor unlocked the door to reveal a beautiful kitchen and a window wall in the living room looking out into the backyard’s fall landscape.  Melissa called Tom to tell him that the house search unnamedwas over. Coincidentally, that same evening I gave a presentation on Albert Builder homes at the East Grand Rapids City Hall complex and the owners of the home, who were in the audience, were surprised but happy to see in my slide show the photos I had taken of their home earlier in the day! It’s no surprise that there four families bidding on this house. The home is on four levels set into a gentle slope. At the PC EXTERIOR FRONT-1southernmost point on the lot is the one story garage. To the north is the heart of the house, a two-floor section with a recessed entry. Melissa describes the house. “The exterior of our house has professional landscaping, done by the previous owners, and includes a beautiful blue stone patio, several ornamental trees, and huge peony and hydrangea plants. From the driveway is a brick paved walk leading to the front entrance, which opens directly into a 1507 BEST KITCHEN 2modern kitchen with a large center island and three floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the front yard and patio.” In this case the architect has recognized the importance of the kitchen by placing it at the entry, giving it light and making it a hub of family activity. Melissa described the way the kitchen leads to both the combined living and dining space on the main with its wall of glass, and to the lower level family room. Seven stairs down brings one to the family room with a fireplace and a stretch of windows at the 1507 BEST FAMILY ROOM LRgarden level. There is also a small bathroom and a laundry room. The warm and bright feeling carries throughout the house as many of the rooms have large windows with views of the yard. The living and dining room in particular have a wonderful connection to the outdoors, making it a very 1507 BEST LUCY'S ROOMrelaxing space.” There is also the bonus of a nicely proportioned deck with a wisteria-covered pergola and a professionally landscaped backyard and small shed for garden equipment. Above the kitchen are two bedrooms with one being used as Lucy’s playroom and a full bath. The third section of the house which extends north contains the master bedroom and bath. Melissa described 1507 BEST STAIRWAY LRthe upper levels of the house. “Seven stairs up from the first floor is the master bedroom and bathroom level, and a small desk area. Seven stairs up from there are two more bedrooms and a bathroom. The bedrooms all feature exposed beamed ceilings, large closets, and original wood floors. The two upper bedrooms each have a set ribbon windows, making them feel warm and bright.”  The master suite is very roomy and was actually designed so it could be divided into two bedrooms if necessary, making it a four-bedroom house.  Although they had found their mid century home, in Melissa’s words, The process of moving is always daunting, but when we sold our 1910 prairie style house in favor of something smaller we 1507 BEST MASTER BDRM LRembraced the chance to weed our belongings and sell the many things we no longer had room for. It was wonderfully freeing to watch those extra sofas leave for new homes, driven away in the back of anonymous pickup trucks.

For the 45 or so days between leaving our historic home and moving into our new home, we rented a 1950s ranch which we referred to as the home-tel. Our time there was brief and had its challenges, but we loved the house itself with its original kitchen and bathrooms, cozy family room, and large basement, a perfect for space for riding tricycles and scooters in the winter months. It was a great transition period for us and helped us learn to live smaller, and because it often felt like we were camping, it was a fun adventure too.”

1507 BEST OFFICE NOOKAs we continued to pare down our belongings and settle into our new home, we also settled into the mid century lifestyle with a record player and a new interest in classic cocktails, but also with the features that classically come with a mid century neighborhood a nearby school and playground, and a pool. It was a wonderful summer, walking from our house and around the corner to the pool, in the same way folks have celebrated summer here since the 1960’s.”   The next chapter to this story is that after a year in the home, Melissa, Tom and Lucy are moving. Tom’s been transferred to his company’s London office where they are now looking for a flat in wonderfully named areas like Primrose Hill and something “on Thames.” And so 1507 is for sale. You can see this delightful Albert Builders home at the West Michigan Modern Pop-Up Tour on Saturday, December 6 from 4 to 7pm at 1507 Pinecrest SE. Although the tour is free, registration is required – see registration link at the beginning of this post. Also, link here to the online Collection of Albert Builder Plans, donated to the Grand Rapids Public Library by the Albert Family when the Albert Builders Office closed  http://grpl.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16055coll8

A House in the Dunes

EXTERIOR WITH BALCONYThere are many stunning modern homes with that special mid-century combination of materials – glass, wood, stone, brick – that you will never see from the road.  Architects and builders leveraged the unique topography of the dunes creating subdivisions that are convenient to ADDS BALCONYLakeshore towns and yet are tucked away for privacy and a sense of wilderness.   I received a message from Matt telling me that his neighbor has a home that would be a great feature on West Michigan Modern.  He was right.   We recently toured the home that is technically a two-story but – using a phrase borrowed from my friend Ashima –  “lives much bigger.”  It soars upward from a high point in the dunes in search of a view of the big lake.  The epicenter of the house is a two-story living room with a second story loft-style opening over the carpeted floating stairway. HOLCOMB BEST ALL LEVELSThe walls are like swiss cheese with square and rectangular openings.  Our son, who has always a great eye for design, remembered how fun it was to play in this interesting space with his friend whose parents were the second owners. The current owners Joyce and Gene also appreciate the architecture of the home which has “great bones.”  They find the wooded dunes a perfect setting for outdoor adventures, beach or sledding, making acorn people for the grandchildren and enjoying cozy nights with family and the many friends who like to visit.  Joyce and Gene are from ANOTHER OUTSIDEChicago.  They look forward to living full-time in this house after they sell the Prairie style house they own in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. To find this house, you need good directions. The location is Grand Haven, a city of about 29,000 and the home of the Coast Guard Festival, Musical Fountain and loads of interesting architecture. The house is perched on 1.8 acres high atop a vegetation-covered dune in a small neighborhood of custom homes that hug large scenic lots.  They share a common Lake Michigan Beach. Although EXTERIOR FRONT DOOR:GARAGEthe land was actually platted in 1928, this home was designed by architect Phil Lundwall and completed in 1972.   The exterior is vertical rough sawn cedar peppered with various sized glass openings.  At over 3,500 square feet, the home takes full advantage of the natural elevations and provides four levels of living space including the walkout basement and loft with a bonus – a small square roof top deck.ADDS FRONT DOOR

From the online photos, I didn’t recognize the house but knew that when we lived in Grand Haven we had friends who lived in the development. As our Jetta climbed the hill, we could barely see the house at the end of the road even though in late October the leaves  are sparse. The entry to the home is low-pitched. The spaciousness of this home’s open plan is hidden behind a stunning wooden door not shown here but original to the home. We also admired the DOWNSTAIRS BEDROOMmodern garage door warmly lit from within.  Owners Joyce and Gene welcomed us into an entry with glass side light, polished parquet floors (original), a Nelson bench and tiered free-standing light fixture.  The mobile and red door give the front hall a distinctly Calder flavor. To the left is a guest bedroom. Each room of this stylish house including this one decorated in a Japanese style is unique and furnished with well-coordinated authentic mid-century furniture and accessories.  From lighting to art and window treatments, nothing is wanting.   Straight ahead from the front door HALLWAY 2is a low and narrow hallway. The nicely aged parquet path opens – Frank Lloyd Wright style – into the grand space.  This house has its own unique vertical style and we took a minute to let the house come into focus, appreciating the natural and ambient lighting in the living room calling  attention to the beamed ceiling with tongue and groove boards. FAVORITEJoyce and Gene have added most of the lighting to match their modern style.  The focal point of this grand living space is the 2-story fireplace.  Called dry-stacked, the fireplace has no mortar visible between the stones. Mortar behind the stone holds them in place.  The fireplace is new and replaced a more utilitarian country-style pellet stove set on a tile MEDIA NOOKplatform.  There is glass on three sides of the living area.  Turn left from one set of glass sliders and enter a cozy nook which serves as a media center.  White walls and white beamed ceiling provide a bright backdrop for tubular metal chairs and a massive media cabinet. A horizontal glass band brings in light and a peek at the trees outside.  Another broad opening leads from living room to dining room and kitchen.  The kitchen has bright white walls and white beamed ceilings and cupboards.  It is part of an addition completed for the second owners by a neighbor who formerly worked iKITCHENn Lundwall’s office. Sliders from the kitchen eating area lead to one of several deck areas overlooking the wooded lot. The backdrop for the kitchen eating area is a large glass window Joyce and Gene installed to replace smaller windows that werefavorite kitchen leaking. The kitchen and dining floors feature the original parquet tiles – glowing solid oak hard wood squares that are about 1/2 inch thick matching the parquet in the entry hall. Joyce was sure the newer, roomy kitchen replaced a galley kitchen now a super efficient kitchen/office and storage space. Thanks to the addition there are now two cool eating areas.  The dining room like the kitchen eating area has a backdrop of glass.  Joyce has furnished it with a stunning vintage Danish table with hinged extensions that slip under the table when not in use.  The table partners beautifully ADDS DINING ROOMwith a Hans Wegner buffet seen on the other side of the partition in the kitchen/office photo. (Note: Wegner also designed furniture for the Danish king!) The Paul McCobb china cabinet is filled with Red Wing dishes in the Smart Set pattern. The living room has a lovely transparent tree-house feel.  Sliding doors on opposite sides of the room lead to decks with panoramic views and HOLCOMB PORCH CHAIRSrefurbished vintage outdoor furniture.  After purchasing the house, Joyce and Gene were forced to make a big investment in the house replacing the glass in the sliders, transom and miscellaneous windows and other structural repairs including the roof and siding.  They discovered important maintenance work had been deferred.  This forced a postponement of improvements planned for the house with the exception of the fireplace described above.  When asked if they’d given the house a name (as in Mr. Darcy’s ”Pemberly” in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice) Joyce said, “No…maybe Money FRATERNITY HOUSE CHAIRSPit?” But seriously, for Joyce the relationship with this house was love at first sight.  Gene was a little more cautious initially when they purchased the home in 2007.  Since then they have put their heart and soul into their dream house.  They have made it a showplace for their extensive collection of authentic modern furniture and design accessories.  In the living room high-backed chairs designed by either Vladimir Kagan or Adrian Pearsall were rescued from a LLIGHT FIXTURE 2fraternity house and re-upholstered.  Across the room, a three-piece hanging fixture lights the metal wall sculpture, a backdrop for the “Eames” knock-off.  The “tell” is the number of feet on the chair’s metal stand – this one has just four.  (For more information on how to tell an original Eames chair see this guide http://manhattan-nest.com/2013/03/25/real-vs-fake-the-eames-lounge/.) Joyce knows her mid-century furniture!   She is a dealer of antiques and has a shop in the Lincoln Antique Mall in the Chicago area AIRPLANE COFFEE TABLEwhere her inventory reflects varied time periods — not all modern. The popular shop rents out furniture and accessories for use in movie and TV productions, for example on the set of  “Chicago Fire.”  One of my favorite groupings is set against a band of four tall windows and adds an interesting horizontal feel to the room.  The airplane coffee table with “tail” like end tables ADDS FLOATING STAIRWAYworks well with the Pearsall sofa. The floating stairway leads to the second floor. There are three bedrooms upstairs, each one decorated in mid-century treasures. To start with the former master bedroom couldn’t be cozier –  in a good way.  It’s tucked away and has HOLCOMB THE CLOSETloads of storage behind a stretch of accordion closet doors.   Many mid-century homes have folding accordian-style doors but these are in perfect original condition and meld almost seamlessly with the dark boards of the ceiling. There is a newer master suite on the second floor of the addition.NEW MASTER SUITE 1 Here, as in other parts of the parts of the house, Joyce has wisely used the orange to good advantage to coordinate with her mid-century accessories and to accent the rich, dark beamed ceiling.  She even knows how to use those tall quirky mid-century lamps I always want to buy but don’t.   A single pane vertical window and skylight bring in light. HOLCOMB MIRROR CLOCKS And she designs the wall opposite the cool platform bed with a beautiful dresser, Danish pendant lamps and clocks now refaced with mirrors.  Joyce calls the repetition of the three clocks a visual alliteration.  Vintage Danish light fixtures are DANISH LIGHT FIXTURESalso an attraction in the master bath.  One of the great features of this house is the location of the laundry on the second floor, conveniently located near the bedrooms.  ADDITION LAUNDRY  Exploring this house is like a treasure hunt.  The hall on the second floor ends at a bookcase and ladder you climb to reach a small third story loft furnished with a desk. Quiet and out-of-the-way,  this could be an inspiring place to work. But that is not the end of the discoveries.BEST LADDER Pull the ladder from the wall and climb through the skylight to the small square rooftop deck.  It was evening so we didn’t make the climb but Joyce assured us that it’s spectacular up there. Wall cutouts are dramatic when viewed from the living ROOFroom, but they have a slightly dizzying effect when experienced from the loft looking down to the second floor and from the second floor to the main floor.  Many interesting vantage points. We followed the stairs down to the lower walk-out level which follows footprint of the main floor. There you find a wine (and beer) room and a recreation room serves as a ADDS VIEWS 1storeroom for vintage furniture in-waiting like the Z-Chairs and Pearsall tables. Joyce hopes to add a dark room because she has two careers – antique dealer and photographer who in her own words “hasn’t made the switch to digital.”  Husband Gene has had an interesting career.  He is a third generation plumbing contractor whose family has specialized in working with the complex plumbing in the old skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in Chicago.  So how did ADD WALK OUT LEVELChicago owners Joyce and Gene find this house? Joyce’s cousin married a “wooden shoe” (aka Dutchman) and lives in the next development south on the lakeshore. The cousin encouraged them to look at a house for sale in theADDITION SLIDERS neighborhood.  It wasn’t until a realtor showed them this particular home that Joyce and Gene were ready to buy.  And the rest is history.  They love winter in this house. When the leaves are gone and the snow starts blowing an amazing vista of lakeshore and land is revealed.  So why did they choose a house in Grand Haven? They love spending time in this picturesque, clean and friendly town.  By the way, Joyce and Gene have known each other since age 15 and now their grandkids visit and ask “Can I never go home, can I live here forever?”   For now, while they own two homes, they do rent this house on HomeAway.com in  the GH section. Their listing LIVING ROOMnumber is 900675.  Grateful thanks to Joyce and Gene for their gracious tour.  My appreciation to Matt, the neighbor, for introductions.  Preview of coming attractions:  Watch for an upcoming post featuring an interview with architect Phil Lundwall and more photos of his designs.  All text and photos copyright Pam VanderPloeg, West Michigan Modern 2014.  

Harold Turner’s THORNAPPLE RIVER HOUSE by Pam VanderPloeg

Writers Note:   Black and white photos are original from 1947-1948 and were provided by the owner. Color photos are from recent visits to the home. Devon Gables photo is from a postcard.  The numbers in parentheses represent the referenced sources listed at the end of this posting.  Text and color photos except postcard in this post are copyrighted 2014 West Michigan Modern.   Exterior 1THIS STORY is about an extraordinary home currently for sale at 7510 Valhalla Drive on the Thornapple River, south of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  To tell the story, we have to go back to the beginning. For original owner Edna Hargrave, the Usonian-style home designed by Harold Turner and built on a steep bank of the Thornapple River was more than a house–it was a way of living.  L. F. Jessup, Building Editor, writing in the December 21,1947 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald clearly questions whether this type of modern house would be popular with most homeowners, but he is taken with its beauty stating that it was “the manifestation of ‘the brave new world’ that was promised after World War II.”  (5) The home completed for Edna and Edward Hargrave in 1947 was designed in an “organic style of architecture SIde & Patioadvocated by Frank Lloyd Wright” according to Jessup. (6)  In the mid-forties the building site must have been considered remote and very much follows Frank Lloyd Wright’s advice to homeowners to find a site that seems impossible to build on.(10)   Before he designed the Valhalla House on the Hexagonal grid, Harold Turner, Danish-born cabinet maker built Aflect Housesome of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most complicated Usonian homes.  Scholar John Sergeant in his book Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses writes that Turner built the Hanna House on Stanford University property, the Armstrong House in Ogden Dunes, Indiana, the Christie House in new Jersey, the Rebhuhn House in New York and the Goetsch-Winkler house in Okemos, the Wall house in Plymouth and the Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills Harold Turner 2(shown above), Michigan. (1) Turner’s first FLW house was the Hanna House built while he was living in San Jose, according to the 1940 Census. (11)  Turner worked for a Stanford professor who recommended him to the the Hanna’s who later became well known for their educational research.  At the urging of Paul Hanna and Wright’s invitation, Turner stayed at Taliesin for some weeks observing and working until okayed by Wright to proceed as contractor for the Hanna project.(10)  Here Turner is shown surveying the Hannah property.  In the years from 1938 through 1945, Turner lived where he worked constructing Wright homes.  When Turner built his own home in Bloomfield Township on Lone Pine Road, he designed it as a small farm using the Taliesin principles of self-sustenance with facilities to grow and store the food on the site and according to Sergeant said he used Japanese prisoners of war at the time. (1)  When Turner was working on the THORNAPPLE RIVER HOUSE NEAR ALASKA 5 10-21-1947Thornapple House he lived part of the time with the Hargraves and part-time in a prefab building on the site. (6) Here the home is shown in process with insulation showing in the ceiling. The Grand Rapids Herald writer described Turner as a modest man in his early 40’s or 50’s. (6))  His connection to the Hargraves was a family one.  Edna Hargrave was the sister of Turner’s wife Laura according to the current owners.  Although from the suburban Detroit area, in 1945 Edna and Edward lived at 101 Prospect SE in Grand Rapids and were the owners of the “Mug and Muffin” located at 75 Division N. (2) The Hargraves decided to buy 11 acres with 600 feet on the Thornapple River to enjoy as they prepared for retirement. (5)  Once 739_001retired they alternated weeks living in the Thornapple House with weeks spent in Bloomfield Hills with the Turners doing the bookkeeping for the Turner’s well-loved local restaurant Devon Gables.  It is unknown how they decided on this Usonian style but the Grand Rapids Herald article described their contentment with all aspects of the house.  “Now that they are occupying their dream house, the Hargraves feel as they could never live anywhere else and that they never really have been adequately housed before.  They expressed regret that they will not have more years to live in their new home.” (5) Here Edna is photographed as she contemplates the view.  Views from Ednathe south facing window wall are spectacular.  According to Edna maintenance was minimal in the house.  “It’s a joy to keep house here…”  Mrs. Hargrave, exclaimed according to that early Herald article.  “The contrasting textures of the wood, brick, glass and concrete are pleasing and restful.  The need for redecorating is virtually eliminated and for a change of scenery we have the ever-changing panorama of the landscape always visible from every part of the living Original front windowsarea.”  (6) Along the south-facing glass wall, you find an inside garden.  This provides the humidity in the dryer winter months.   From the beginning the narrow garden had a practical purpose. Author John Sergeant writes that Turner talked of the use of cypress in Usonian houses stating that “he found cypress to be a moist board, requiring particular care in detailing and benefitting from the moisture of house plants or an internal flower garden.” (1)  The original window wall was made up of many smaller glass panes. An early solar house, the glass south wall admits sun rays in winter to augment the radiant heating system.  “I am susceptible to colds, “ said WINDOWS 4original owner Mrs. Hargrave.  “but last year I didn’t have a cold and despite the large expanses of glass in the living area we were comfortably warm even when it was 28 below zero.” (6)  Current owners Ashima Saigal and David Fridsma agree. Today the house features large panes of glass as opposed to small and the windows provide a dramatic view of the outside and the Thornapple River below.  David said “It can be winter and 10 degrees out and if it’s sunny, we have to open the doors.” (7) 

FullSizeRender (9)The Hargraves enjoyed their beautiful retreat for many years.  Edward died in 1966 and Edna died February 22, 1980 both in the  Bloomfield Hills area but chose to be buried closer to their beloved Thornapple River House and their gravestones can be seen in Grand Rapids at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Latest Exterior 2The Thornapple River House on Valhalla Drive in Caledonia Township south of Grand Rapids, Michigan has changed very little since Edna and Edward Hargrave moved in just before Christmas, 1947. Writer’s note:  at the suggestion of the owner, the four of us climbed up on the roof to see the sharp angles of the amazing roof and of course a view of the river.  The Roof 3hexagonal grid typical of many Usonan homes with its 60 and 120 degree angles makes it possible for this house to hug the cliff and take advantage of glorious exterior views from the glass interior. Turner’s incredible skill as a cabinet maker made him a Master Builder of FLW Usonians.  He was one of few who could build Wright’s designs. Roof Angles And for his crew of workers, Turner said he preferred four days of work from older skilled craftsman (including cabinetmakers) than five from younger. (1) 

Today nature is still king in this Brick Wallpicturesque spot on the river.  And the house fits on the land as though it were always there.   The House has a large trapezoidal living area with three walls of glass on one side of a thick brick wall which intersects the house and emerges on the east end to anchor the house into its natural surroundings.  The brick Brick Wall east sidewall is a structural element and creates the strong horizontal line.

The walls are of brick, glass, wood and the ceiling is “random width cypress panels with warm mellow finish.”  (6) The floor is of polished red concrete.  The Usonian style is so apparent in this home.   In the 1948 issue of Architectural Forum curated by Henry Russell Hitchcock, Wright Polished concretediscusses the important characteristics including  concrete slab foundations over a bed of insulating stone/gravel with radiant heating, a strong relationship between the interior and the exterior, “big living rooms and commodious fireplaces, all eventually leading toward the great single room…the open plan…a great Usonian house is always hungry for ground, lives by it..becoming an integral feature of it.” (4)  So now I realize the FLW must have “coined” the term we toss about liberally today “great room.” In the great room of thisTransparency home, the ceiling is stunning!  The light reflects off the ceiling of mitered cypress chevrons and is mirrored in the floor – glowing slabs of red polished concrete.  Another characteristic of the EastsideUsonian homes found in here are the piano-hinged doors. Located on both the east and west sides of the house, they provide a very elegant entrance on the east into the home and egress on the west to the riverbank terrace.  It is this feeling of transparency – bringing the outdoors in – that may influenced the current owner’s statement that “the house lives big.” (7)  There is another way light is used in the home.  Both the kitchen and the sleeping ends of the living area have lower ceilings at about 7 feet. Clerestory windows on both ends provide a view of trees and sky. One thing about this house that was stressed by Edna Hargrave and echoed Clerestory windowsby Ashima, is that atmosphere of the Thornapple River House is very peaceful and serene.  In fact, since they moved to a new home, Ashima has returned to the Thornapple river House to meditate and has invited others to join her in the open space.  In the open plan space,  only movable partitions and screens separate the bedroom areas from the living room.  There are no walls on Bedroomthis side of the brick wall.

The original bedroom was configured using the movable partitions.  Today with the house empty of furniture, you spot the bedroom area on the east side of the living area by the built-in View of %22Bedroom%22 wallchest of drawers.  There is also inset in the wall designed to serve as a built-in night stand which you can match to the older photo.  The kitchen is located on the opposite end of the living area. Below is a photo of the original kitchen.  According to the 1948 Grand Rapids Herald article, the finishes in Old Kitchenthe kitchen included a Monet metal sink and oil-treated plywood counter.  Appliances were recessed into the brick wall and the ceiling light was a light socket in a triangular recess. Today the kitchen area has the same footprint and  Ashima and David both feel that the galley kitchen will make a fun and creative remodel for new owners. The existing kitchen is the product of an earlier remodel.  Kitchen TodayIn fact Ashima and David had plans drawn for a sensitive renovation and expansion of the house before they decided that due to the needs of their own family, it was time to put it up for sale.   Behind the kitchen and on the other side ofDoors the brick wall is the utility hall.  The doors that lead to these functional areas of the house blend into the wood panelling.
The bathroom, laundry, d
ressing room are located here.   There is lots of storage in the high shelves and cupboards of this area of the home. I noticed the unusual striated plywood (sometimes called combed) wall surface in the utility hall. I saw a similar style in another house – the Levy House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Parkwyn Village in Utility Hall from EntryKalamazoo.  Apparently this product/technique was used in Eichler homes as well.  There are other things to see in this home.  The Thornapple River House is a gem and deserves an appreciative owner who wants something rare and yet totally vital today in a setting that few homes can match.  Prologue:  There is much more to the Turner story. When Harold Turner had finished building homes for Frank Lloyd Wright by the end of WWII and finished building the Thornapple River House, he continued to design and build homes mostly in Bloomfield Township on and near many of the small picturesque lakes in the area and some as well in Southfield and Grand Blanc.  One of the Bloomfield homes was written up in an article entitled  “The Boomerang House” with text by Robin Cohen and photography by Beth Singer in Echoes Magazine of Classic Modern Style (no longer in publication).  The photos of this home are impressive and I hope that I will be able to obtain permission to share them in a follow up article.  I was able to get a copy of the article from TIm Sullivan of HomeLab who builds homes in Palm Springs and lives the rest of the time in Birmingham, Michigan.  The article sums up the characteristics that described Turner’s style are “…low horizontal forms…wood and other natural materials …interior walls and ceilings of pecky cyprus…walls are raw exposed brick…built-in shelving and furniture….inside spaces “expand into outdoor spaces…butted glass windows at the corners.”  It is clear that working for Frank Lloyd Wright made a great impression on Turner’s own designs.  Turner and his wife Laura continued to run the Devon Gables restaurant until about 1967 when it was sold.  He lived until 1974 and left a legacy of beautiful midcentury buildings of his own design to be lived in and enjoyed.  I finally realized that if I waited to complete this posting about the Thornapple RIver House until I was finished researching Harold Turner, well it would be a long time before posting!  So consider this “Part 1.”  Look for “Part 2 – More of Harold Turner” sometime in the spring to learn more about Turner’s work and his own designs.  I have included some windshield photos of other Turner homes in Bloomfield Hills below. Turner Bloomfield House 1 Turner Bloomfield 5 Turner Bloomfield 4 Turner Bloomfield 3CITATIONS: 1.Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses; Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes by John Sergeant  2. Grand Rapids and BIrmingham City Directories.  3. “History,” Valhalla Rental House http://www.usonianhouse.com/home/history .  4. “In the Nature of Materials” by Henry Russell Hitchcock.  Architectural Forum, January 1948.  5. “Modern Dream House on the Thornapple” Grand Rapids Herald, December 21,1947.  6.  “Thornapple House is Way of Life,” by L.F. Jessup, Building Editor, Grand Rapids Herald, September 19, 1948. 7. “A Space Craft” by Karin Orr, Grand Rapids Press, Date unknown. 8. U.S. Social Security Death Index for Edna Hargrave, Edward Hargrave, Harold Turner  9. Frank Lloyd Wright in Michigan by Dale Northup.  Algonac, MI:  Reference Publications 1991, 2nd Rev. Edition.  10. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House:  the Clients’ Report by Paul Robert Hannah.  New York:  Architectural History Foundation, 1981. 11. United States Census 1940.