Summary Note: Alison Paige McDonnell, Graduate Student in Architecture at Lawrence Technological University, studied the work of Grand Rapids Mid-century Modern architect Arleigh Hitchcock, specifically the family home he designed at 3164 Hall. The result is a thoughtful piece about designing homes to enable people to age gracefully without the need to move to different homes for different life phases. This article will challenge you to think differently about your own home. The largest percentage of the U.S. Housing stock was built in 1960 (54 years ago) or earlier according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders.These mid-century homes have lasted through generations of families. In Grand Rapids, Michigan many mid-century gems exhibit these qualities, but specifically a hidden treasure is nestled into the hills near Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. This house utilizes a powerful skeletal structure that accommodates re-purposing space over the course of lifetimes and assists in the aging phases of the occupants’ lives, being advantageous in a design precedent of a forever home.
The population is rapidly aging and approaching life’s later phases.“The older population (65+) numbered 41.4 million in 2011, an increase of 6.3 million or 18% since 2000 & the number of Americans aged 45-64 who will reach 65 over the next two decades increased by 33% during this period,” (Administration on Aging, 2012). Anticipated numbers of those 65+ by 2050 is projected to be as many as 88.5 million, more than double that of 2011. 2050 is only 36 years from now which is not too distant in the future. Investigating homes that currently accommodate aging well will help in the design of new construction being added to the housing stock.
(Left) Current Home at 3164 Hall A lifelong residence will consider the phases of life. Activities in each phase of life are adequately allotted for in the design through space planning and circulation patterns. Similarly, the house must respond to the cyclical nature of a human lifetime and re-purpose itself when the cycle begins again. In general the phases of life would be divided as follows in regards to inhabiting a home:
The first phase would be first time home ownership, ages 25-35 (Eisenburg) and lasting through the early years with children until approximately age 45. Average first time homebuyers spend $142K, & look for about 1600 sf, in Grand Rapids, (www.treadstonemortgage.com/blog/2013/02/who-are-the-first-time-home-buyers/).
The second phase of life accommodates growing kids or an in-law and often initiates a remodel or addition which can cost from $45K for a bedroom to $145K for a two-story addition,(Cost vs. Data). “More and more parents are moving in with kids (not necessarily because of financial reasons) and are as much retrofitting a house. We’re seeing more of that. We’re setting up full baths on first floors next to a study. Grandparents are coming to stay with their kids for a long weekend. They want more flex bedrooms on the first floor,” Jason Minock, Toll Brothers VP.
The third phase would consider end of life accessibility, caretakers or children returning home as cohabitants. “Retirement developments offer one-bedroom units, a few offer two-bedroom units to accommodate a live-in caregiver. Most developments offer barrier-free units,” Interview, Grand Rapids Housing Commission, February 2014). Society is facing a need for more housing to suit this phase of life, the aging American.
(Left) Arleigh“Bud” Hitchcock Arleigh ‘Bud’ Hitchcock was the architect of the mid-century East Grand Rapids gem located at 3164 Hall Street. He designed this home as his personal home in 1958 while working as the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Home Research Foundation. Was it through this research and the connections to great architects such as Kazumi Adachi, Alden Dow, and R. Buckminster Fuller that contributed to the longevity success of 3164 Hall? The Home Research Foundation’s objectives were “to serve as an information, reference and display center where all those interested in the home field may study and compare the most comprehensive display of homes ever built,” (The Unique Homestyle Center). Hitchcock was thoroughly submerged in great plans of the time choosing 17 to build in a prominent area in Grand Rapids (now the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.) Sadly, the project never came to fruition, but Hitchcock’s home is certainly representative of research that reached fruition and could still be implemented today.
(Right) Original Home. The first phase and original design of this Hitchcock house had a large fence framing the property and leading to the entry.The East Grand Rapids Design Committee no longer permits fenced front yards,thus when the renovation was completed in the late 90’s, the fence was removed and not reinstalled.
Hitchcock was not unfamiliar with life’s phases. Phase 1 in his life was overcoming a proverbial unconsciousness that was a result of two near death experiences – an overdose on ether at age 9 during a tonsillectomy and almost drowning when he was 12. He designed his first house (3120 Hall Street) for he and his small family at 28 years of age as a veteran of WWII, with knowledge from a Bachelor of Science in architecture degree from the University of Michigan. Phase 2 for Mr. Hitchcock was a mixture of success as a manager in the Grand Rapids Furniture Industry working at Herman Miller and as the director receiving the accolades that corresponded to interactions with great architects, donors and socialites at the Home Research Foundation. 3120 Hall Street did not have the capability to accommodate his family and his lifestyle thus 3164 Hall emerged. Phase 3 for Mr.Hitchcock began with the loss of a lot of money in his late 40’s, a near death car accident at age 50 and the divorce of he and his wife Pat at age 57. At this point the Hitchcock family vacated their residence. Would the house have adapted with the family beyond 1981 had these incidents not occurred? Scott Hitchcock, Arleigh’s son, returned to the home about 5 years ago while the current residents were living there. “Scott pointed out some neat features that he remembered as a child,” (owner)“and especially loved returning to this house.” (Left) Original Building Plans. The master suite is separated from the other private spaces (3 bedrooms and a bath) by the large open living area. On the lower walk-out level, a guest suite mimics the master suite upstairs and another large open living area faces the back yard.
The current owners of 3164 Hall St. believe that their house is a home that they’ll have for a lifetime.They each owned their own homes before they were married and bought this one together in 1993. This period was their phase 1– newlyweds, no children and a house that could grow with their family. In phase 1 the only renovations they performed were eliminating the floor to ceiling windows due to safety fears with children in mind. Phase 2 brought along 3 children, success in a local law firm and an addition to the home. The house was arranged such that an expansion to the entry, informal eating area (hearth room) and master suite was achieved in one swift move. An in-ground swimming pool was also added in the backyard. As phase 3 approaches, they anticipate keeping their home. With 2 children in college and the last on her way, the owners are facing their empty nest. When asked about downsizing, “it’s not something we’d consider. ”They like the space and the zone heating helps to keep utilities under control but still allows them to use certain public and private spaces. When asked about renting out space, “we wouldn’t do it because of privacy” but they do anticipate the kids coming home quite a bit. The owner could even see one of her children owning the house later in life. (Left) Renovated Building Plans. A hearth room added to the kitchen, master suite was increased, laundry moved downstairs, and the entry increased. On the lower level, the guest suite was divided into 2 bedrooms separated by a Jack and Jill Bathroom and large storage area replaced by laundry with new storage beneath the addition.
(Right) Hall Great Room. The windows pictured are the renovated windows after the original floor to ceiling windows posed a hazard to small children.
(Left) Main Entry and the choice to go up to the main level or downstairs
While the residents at 3164 Hall did not anticipate living here as long as they have (over 20 years), the house has made it feasible. When asked what could be improved in the design of the house, the owner responded, “being able to fully turn off a part of the house would be nice, but it’s not something we’d consider now. ” The only main criticism of her house was the size of the garage and that it is located under heated space. “The garage was built for cars so long ago, it’s hard to get a normal car or minivan in there. Reconfiguring [the garage] for heating and cooling would be nice,” she stated however this also is not a deal breaker nor would they remodel just because of this. While the home’s highly used spaces are on one floor, there is a staircase between the floors and from the main entry, one has to go up or down. If accessibility were an issue for this family, adjustments would have to be made. These criticisms could certainly be adopted in designing new homes for the aging population.
Studying mid-century homes in Grand Rapids, MI that have been successful in housing families for decades could be the key to future designs and modifications. Some of the key ingredients to 3164 Hall Street’s successes are the ability to change the skin of the building (full height window glass to windows and wood), the ease of additions of open public and private spaces in one swift move as merely an addition to the structural grid, and finally locations of public and private space that allow the house to be semi-turned off. Using criticism from the occupants at 3164 Hall, one could make initial design implementations that would really be successful in all phases of life. For instance, an easier to heat garage and potentially an entry that opens directly onto the main level without stairs to aid in accessibility at an older age. Residential Architects and Designers can use Arleigh Hitchcock’s success at 3164 Hall as a starting point for designing a home where a family can age in place for multiple generations.
1) “The Unique Homestyle Center” of the home research foundation incorporated, summer 1957, Technical Advisers National Association of Home Builders, Washington D.C.
2) “Interview with Arleigh Hitchcock,” Scott Hitchcock, 1993, Obtained on Cassette from the Grand Rapids Public Library.
3) “Homestyle Center”, Miller, Allen, Peninsular Club Magazine, October 24, 1956.
4) “Lost in the Grand Design”, Wozniak, Curt, Home & Design Legacy-Grand Rapids Magazine, August 2005, P26-27.
5) Interview with Marijo and Matthew Zimmerman, McDonnell, Alison, January 2014.
6) Interview with Pamela VanderPloeg, Director, West Michigan Modern, McDonnell, Alison, January 2014.
7) “Change in Woman’s Roles During the Industrial Revolution,” Grimes, Patty, Russellville Arkansas, NEH Seminar, 2006.
8) “Finding Aids of the Arleigh C.Hitchcock Homestyle Center Collection #354”, Grand Rapids Public Library, Michigan Room, Oct 2009.
9) “Births: final data for 2008,” Martin M.P.H., Joyce A., National Vital Statistics Report, Vol 59 #1, Dec 8, 2010.
10) “The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States,” Shrestha, Laura B. & Heisler, Elayne J., Congressional Research Service, March 31, 2011.
11) The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History 1880-1990, Costa, Dora L., The University of Chicago Press, January 1998, P6-31.
12) “Hitchcock House,” Exterior view, entrance.; Arleigh C. Hitchcock, 1951, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/u/ummu2ic/x-ls002599. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed, January 24, 2014.
13) “Grand Rapids, Mich., Building New U.S. Home Style Center,” Home and Garden News, The Geneva Times, Friday July 6, 1956, P14.
14) Interview with Jason Minock VP Toll Brothers, McDonnell, Alison, February 2014.
15) Interview with Grand Rapids Housing Commission, McDonnell, Alison, February 2014.
16) www.treadstonemortgage.com/blog/2013/02/who-are-the-first-time-home-buyers/, February 20, 2013.
17) “Characteristics of First-Time Home Buyers,” Eisenberg, Elliot F. Ph.D, Housing Economics.com, January 23, 2008.
18) Cost vs Data, Regional City Values, Grand Rapids, http://www.remodeling.hw.net/cost-vs-value/2013/east-north-central/grand-rapids-mi/
Author Biography: Alison McDonnell is a graduate student at Lawrence Technological University pursuing her Master’s in Architecture. Alison was born and raised in Rockford, MI (just north of Grand Rapids), earned her Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from the University of Michigan and practiced residential architecture in Vail, Colorado for 5 years. Alison now resides in Sparta, Michigan, was married on her birthday in June 2014 and looks forward to aging in place with her new husband Jesse Flegel.