Saturday, September 12 Pop-Up Tour of the Eppstein House by Frank Lloyd Wright 2-4pm

West Michigan Modern invites you to hit the road for a tour of the Eppstein House in “The Acres” in Galesburg, Michigan from 2-4pm Saturday, September 12.  The house is currently for sale and vacant and in need of a good owner.  It is located at 11090 Hawthorne Dr, Galesburg, MI 49053.  A link to the home listing is found at the end of this article.

Entrance to The Acres

Entrance to The Acres

The Eppstein.  Photos and text (excepting identified source material) by Pam VanderPloeg, West Michigan Modern.  The Eppstein house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in The Acres, also known as the Galesburg Country Homes, established as a co-op in 1949 by a group of scientists from the Upjohn pharmaceutical company.  They retained Frank Lloyd Wright to design the four FLW Usonian homes  in the neighborhood:

  • David Weisblat Residence
  • Eric and Pat Pratt Residence
  • Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein Residence
  • Curtis Meyer Residence

A fifth house, the Günther and Anne Fonken House was designed by Taliesin School fellow Francis “Will” Willsey.   One unique feature of these homes is that each is sited on a 1-acre circular lot.

Curved block wall

Curved block wall

The Acres owners were originally partnered with their colleagues, a group of scientists (also from Upjohn) who founded the Parkwyn Village settlement of Frank Lloyd Wright homes on Asylum Lake in Kalamazoo.  The homes were all to be built in the Acres but some of the scientists believed that the Galesburg site east of Kalamazoo was too far to commute and created Parkwyn Village. (Source: Parkwyn Village.)SIde Perspective

Homes in The Acres are the Usonian style based on Wright’s recognition that there was a need for a moderately priced house with ‘a pattern for more simplified and…more gracious living.’

Wright was involved with every detail from master site plans, house plans, furniture and landscape designs. “Upon receiving Wright’s plans for their house, the Eppsteins reviewed them, and made several suggestions they felt made the house more livable,including enlarging the children’s bedrooms, and both enlarging the kitchen and including a window (the initial plans had no window) and a desk. Wright agreed to these suggestions, and construction soon began.”  Eppstein House – Michigan Modern Website

Built-in living room furniture

Built-in living room furniture

The finished house was constructed of textile blocks, big windows and skylights, built-in furniture, and a mix of shallow and grand sloping ceilings.  The floors were of polished concrete that you see above and were stained a dark red.  The Eppsteins scored the concrete in four foot squares using a circular saw.

Varying ceiling heights and natural materials

Varying ceiling heights and natural materials

Wright designed the house to be connected closely to nature.”  Parkwyn Village – Kalamazoo Public Library  The original owner of the Eppstein House wrote a wonderful description of the work she and her husband did on this house (“Why we lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright House” by Dorothy Eppstein Why we lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright House .

Pattern Blocks

Pattern Blocks

They formed all of the blocks at Asylum Lake in a community effort with the owners of the Parkwyn Village owners.  They cured all of the patterns blocks used in the house.  Interestingly they are cut-out to look like the letter F.

Mr. Eppstein built much of the furniture himself.  According to Mrs. Eppstein, he did it all with a radial saw set up in the open carport. They took carpentry classes at Galesburg High school and they sewed drapes of tan burlap bag material costing .50 per yard.  The house was move in ready by 1953 but Mrs. Eppstein said it took twenty years to complete the house including the bedroom wing and the last section was a family room with fireplace.   Over the past few years, the Eppstein House has undergone extensive repairs including new structural beams, and restoration of the mahogany fascia.  There is a new kitchen

Newer Kitchen

Newer Kitchen

but the home is in original condition with the polished concrete floors, fireplace, and the hand built furniture.  The living room is a wonderful room with fireplace and a lot of light. Although it sits low behind a semi-circle block wall, it overlooks the community property and beautiful grounds.   For many summers all of the residents of The Acres enjoyed swimming in the lovely built-in swimming pool on the property. Eppstein House CoverThis house is for sale and needs a new owner.  Link here for listing:  Eppstein House for Sale .  Come and see for yourself West Michigan Modern Pop-Up Tour of The Eppstein House on Saturday, September 12 between 2 and 4pm.  Walk through this interesting Frank LLoyd Wright Usonian home.

LOVELL-LARAMY HOUSE DESIGNED BY E. JOHN KNAPP

LL Rear and side of homeTHE LOVELL-LARAMY HOUSE.  Text and photos by Pam VanderPloeg copyright 2015.  The Lovell-Laramy house, 1958, was designed for Mary Laramy and Ida Lovell by E. John Knapp and built by Lovell’s brother Paul.  Current owners VIcky and Bruce became the second owners after they purchased it from Mary Laramy.

LL Exterior Facing Backyard

Exterior Facing Backyard

This mid-century home is furnished with a mix of antiques and eclectic furnishings. It has gracefully survived what my friend calls “re-muddling.”  The structural and design details are intact and cherished by the current owners.  As with many modern homes, the street side masks the full impact of the architect’s vision – the lovely transparent feeling of the floor to ceiling windows in the main living area. On one side of the house larger windows are visible but a sense of privacy is retained. 

Side exterior with glimpse of floor to ceiling glass

Side exterior with glimpse of floor to ceiling glass

On the street side shown below, high front windows let in light but shield the rooms from the road.

LL Garage faces street

E. John Knapp’s daughter Marcia on the street side of the house with garage and high awning windows

 When I stopped by the first time, it was just on a feeling that the owners might be there.  Bruce was in the driveway and the open garage door gave me a glimpse of his beautiful hand-built canoe nearing completion.  Although I had given them no advance warning, they graciously invited me in to see their home.  I was absolutely thrilled to discover how lovely this home is inside and out.

The changes Bruce and Vicky made have increased the home’s livability such as a third bedroom in the basement.  They enhanced the openness of the living area by removing what I understand was a sort of small partition wall/storage unit. Other changes were inevitable like new flooring in certain areas of the house and for safety a new stair railing shown below.

Hallway Downstairs to Main Entrance with Colorful Original Slate Flooring

Hallway Downstairs to Main Entrance with Colorful Original Slate Flooring

You enter at the street level and leave your shoes beneath the bench Japanese style before entering up the stairs with their colorful slate finish.  At the top is one of Knapp’s trademark built-in units, this one for books.  During his student days, Knapp attended a Detroit Institute of Arts exhibit with a replica of a Japanese living room.  Knapp shared his enthusiasm with his professor who loaned him a book on Japanese design which greatly influenced his later work along with the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.

LL As with Japanese houses a place to leave shoes before entering house

LL As with Japanese houses a place to leave shoes before entering house

The second visit was arranged when architect E. John Knapp’s daughter Marcia was visiting from Missouri.  On this pre-arranged visit,  Bruce and Vicky brought out the architect’s plans and drawings that came with the house.

Knapp's Original Drawing

Knapp’s Original Drawing

When Knapp had completed his first preliminary sketches, he asked the two women to meet him on the site so he could show them the location of the house on the lot and the views from different parts of the house.  Knapp recalled that he brought a large stepladder to the site and set it where the top step matched the floor of the main living area. Ida Lovell was the head of the art department of the GR public schools.  He had her go up the ladder first because he felt she was sensitive to the atmosphere he was aiming for. 

Laramie was the principal of Stocking Elementary School.  She caught on that Dad was teaching them about their new house. From the ladder they could see in all three directions.  Their first reaction was how beautiful the views were including the mowed lawn of the golf course with all the trees they had planted.  That golf course is gone now but at that time, 1957 about, they made the decision to put windows on 3 sides to take advantage of the view. 

LL Colored Glass in Main Living Area

Colored Glass in Main Living Area

Lovell and Laramy wanted a window wall but they didn’t want to see the house next door so Knapp suggested using a cost-effective colored glass system that he had used in one of his church designs where colored plastic was sandwiched in between clear glass in the large windows that faced toward the neighboring house!   Also when they were on the ladder they realized, they didn’t want the fireplace to block the view.     So Knapp put the chimney in the middle of the house with the fireplace part of an expansive brick wall.  

LL Expansive Fireplace Wall in Living Area

Expansive Fireplace Wall in Living Area

On the kitchen side they had a big brick grill which the current owners decommissioned after a particularly unsafe adventure with it involving a lot of smoke.

Kitchen Side of Brick Fireplace Wall with Grill

Kitchen Side of Brick Fireplace Wall with Grill

The roof was held up by a center beam in the living room.  Knapp described doing his own engineering for the beam so that no posts were needed in the center of the room.  Although Knapp remembered that his plan had been to use 2 x 6 lumber for the beam,  20 footers glued & nailed together (20 ft. wasn’t long enough), the homeowners report that close inspection shows the beam to be constructed of 2 x 4 lumber.  Knapp also recalled that they used nails to clamp them together because they didn’t have clamps that were big enough. 

Close up of ceiling and beams

Close up of ceiling and beams

After Lovell and Laramy lived in the house for 6 months, they called Knapp and told him they were having  a party at their house for teachers.  They wanted him to come and give a talk about architecture, art, design, fabric.  He described to the audience how he designed the house and the influence of Japanese design and Frank Lloyd Wright had on his work. 

LL Exterior Closeup

LL Exterior Closeup

At one point he projected slides of drawings he’d had daughters Laura and Marcia do of vertical and horizontal lines on paper with some of the boxes colored in with their crayons and according to Knapp the teachers really enjoyed that part.  For his part Knapp considered Laramy and Lovell two of his favorite clients and loved how the two educators were using their new house.  To have parties and meetings and share that spectacular view.  This the architect called “life After Construction.”

LL ANother View of Living Area

Another View of Living Area

Another memory shared by Knapp is that during construction, he assured Lovell and Laramy that they would not need drapes for their wall of windows.  They disagreed and went about picking out drapes from a company called Infinity Fabrics (this company has a story that will be shared in another post).   When Knapp visited, much to his surprise, he found no drapes.  The women told him he was right after all.  The drapes would have ruined their spectacular view!   Bruce and Vicky said those drapes were probably the ones that were still on the windows when they bought the house.

The two bedrooms are cottage-like with post and beam ceiling and wood floors. 

Guest bedroom with original wood ceiling and replacement Bamboo Screen Doors

Guest bedroom with original wood ceiling and replacement Bamboo screen closet doors

New bamboo screens replaced the original wood folding doors on closets.

Master Bedroom adjoins Guest Bedroom

Master Bedroom adjoins Guest Bedroom

The bathroom’s original tiles and sink are framed as are other rooms in house with Frank lloyd Wright style piano hinged doors.   LL Piano Hinge Doors

Hallway flooring is the original cork

LL View of Hallway & Kitchen Partition Wall leads to Office/Den

LL View of Hallway & Kitchen Partition Wall leads to Office/Den

and the kitchen features the vaulted ceiling, original cabinets and door pulls 

LL Kitchen with Original Kitchen Cupboards & Pulls

LL Kitchen with Original Kitchen Cupboards & Pulls

Shown below is the original light fixture and built-in storage units.

LL Original Storage Shelves and Light Fixture in Laundray

Original Storage Shelves and Light Fixture in Laundry

It is evident that the owners treasure their beautiful home.  They did not approach the home as mid-century modern enthusiasts. However, as many others have done, they fell in love with the house immediately and made it their own.  They have maximized the site by retaining some original plantings, creating new gardens and restoring an original overgrown water feature.

Views of the gardens and yard

Living room views of the gardens and yard

LL Owners with Architect's Daughter

Bruce and Vicky with Marcia, E. John Knapp’s daughter

Here Bruce and Vicky pose with Marcia as we wandered through the large yard with its flower and vegetable gardens, pergola and pleasant seating areas where resident chickens wander.

A wandering chicken

A wandering chicken and view of the vegetable garden

Rarely do you have the chance to tour a house so beautifully preserved in the context of the stories of the home’s beginnings.  We thank Bruce and Vicky for welcoming us into their home. And we thank Knapp for sharing his memories of the design process.  And one last fun detail.  Bruce showed us the corner of the garage where just barely visible are the names the owner, architect and builder etched in concrete so that this information would never be forgotten.   LL Etched in Concrete

 

West Michigan Modern Free Pop-Up Summer Gathering July 16 – Ticket Required Due to Limited Space

West Michigan Modern Pop-Up Summer Gathering Thursday, July 16 – 6:30-8:30 pm  at the Varsity Grill at 400 Franklin SE, Grand Rapids (SE corner of Franklin at Madison).  Join West Michigan Modern at this free event.  Free  –  Ticket Required  RSVP WMM Pop-Up Summer Gathering      Varsity Grill

The Varsity Grill was designed by E. John Knapp, AIA architect, who started his career with experiences in the Eero Saarinen Office working on the GM Tech Center following his education at Lawrence Tech in the Detroit area. Built in 1954, the Varsity Grill has been handsomely restored by the ICCF as a community gathering space. Knapp designed hundreds of popular developer homes for Albert Builders and many unique and beautiful custom mid-century homes and commercial buildings in West Michigan.  Join West Michigan Modern, mid-century modern enthusiasts, homeowners and special guests including E. John Knapp’s daughter at a Summer Pop-Up Gathering at the old Varsity Grill from 6:30-8:30 pm – the first public event here.  Stop by to say hello, see this cool little building, view a slide show of beautiful modern buildings by our favorite mid-century architects and builders and enjoy vintage vinyl tunes.   Free but limited space – so ticket required.  RSVP WMM Pop-Up Summer Gathering      

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 FRONT EXTERIOR - LAST LOOK

FRONT EXTERIOR with formal landscaping and dune grass

THE SURF HOUSE OVERLOOKING MUSKEGON LAKE BY CARL ZILLMER, AIA, OBRYON & KNAPP. Text and photos by Pam VanderPloeg copyright 2015, West Michigan Modern.   With summer around the corner, it’s time to think about warm sunshine, Lake Michigan breezes, sand dunes and beach houses.  This late 1950’s Muskegon home was designed to take maximum advantage of sunlight and lake views in true California Contemporary style.  I’m calling it the Surf House because the owners make a surfing pilgrimage to Costa Rica every winter, and years ago, owned a surf shop in Muskegon.  The home is located in Muskegon’s Bluffton neighborhood near Muskegon Lake and Pere Marquette State Park on Lake Michigan.  Driving up to the Surf House for the first time felt like stumbling upon a lovely driftwood sculpture with its weathered board and batten siding.  

EXTERIOR VIEW

WEATHERED BOARD AND BATTEN SIDING

As you approach the front door of the Surf House you are greeted by a large Charlie Chaplin print visible in the foyer beyond the bright orange door. This is a theatre rich area and Larry shared some of the local Buster Keaton lore with us as we entered the main living space of the house. 

FRONT ENTRY KEATON STYLE

FRONT ENTRY KEATON STYLE

The Bluffton neighborhood  was the summer home for actor Buster Keaton’s family.  The area was home to a Pigeon Hill, a large dune gone today due to sand mining for industrial uses from the 1930’s on.  This dune was a landmark and the summer backdrop for Buster Keaton’s family performers at the Lake Michigan Park Theatre built in 1898 to compliment the beach pavilion owned by the Muskegon Traction and Lighting Company, the city’s trolley service. The Keatons returned annually, built a cottage and established an Actor’s Colony http://actorscolony.com/ that lasted until about 1938.  Buster Keaton’s father at least once rode an elephant around the streets. Today the dune is gone, the theatre is gone but Pere Marquette Park is there for all to enjoy. 

BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN

BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN

The Surf House is built on an extraordinary site perfect for outdoor living with its generous deck and breathtaking view of Muskegon Lake clearly visible inside and out. 

BREATHTAKING VIEWS

BREATHTAKING VIEWS

Larry and Lynne can also enjoy a glass of wine and the Lake Michigan sunset from adirondack chairs on an unobtrusive deck nestled into the dunes on the other side of the house.  

IN THE DUNES

DECK IN THE DUNES

Mid-century homes are often referred to as California contemporary and that was actually the inspiration.   In the late 1950’s, the original owner, Larry’s uncle, moved back to Muskegon from the California coast and brought back with him his appreciation for the Eichler homes and a dream to recreate the style in West Michigan.  Larry and Lynne bought the home from Larry’s uncle and made it their own. The Surf House has a classic combination of horizontal design and post and beam construction.  The hopper windows shown here ventilate the living area with lake breezes.  

ENJOYING SUMMER BREEZE

ENJOYING SUMMER BREEZE

The Surf house,  which would look just as comfortable on the Pacific Coast, has floor to ceiling windows guaranteed to make you forget you are actually inside in a room enclosed by walls.  Dining and living come together here in this light filled space with amazing views during all four seasons.

LIVING SPACE LONG VIEW

LIVING SPACE LONG VIEW

This is a good time to mention that the house has been beautifully and faithfully maintained.  Improvements and renovations have been completed gently over the years in the spirit of the original design which can be challenging at times.

When the house was built, in order to maximize the open space but keep it flexible, the architects implemented a unique solution.  They created massive, decorative and utilitarian movable shelving units to allow for rearrangement of the main living area to suit the owners needs.  

MOVABLE PARTITIONS

MOVABLE PARTITIONS

The shelves can be used to define a more private setting as in the seating area shown here.

LIVING ROOM

LIVING ROOM

From the vantage point of the original kitchen,  you can see the harmony of the structure — beams, brick, and glass create a unified and pleasing image framed by the original wood cabinetry.  

KITCHEN VIEW

KITCHEN VIEW

The home has a convenient and efficient galley kitchen open on one side to the dining area and including a view of the lake to make it feel more expansive.OKM KITCHENThe kitchen is original but for a few practical changes for example re-working the counter and cabinets to accommodate a new larger refrigerator.

ORIGINAL KITCHEN CABINETS

ORIGINAL KITCHEN CABINETS

Past the kitchen and laundry room is the bedroom wing. In both bedrooms newer drawer units replace older built-ins and shoji screen doors are a good compliment to the beautifully maintained paneled walls and beams.

MASTER BEDROOM

MASTER BEDROOM

Note the panels that pull out to expose fresh air vents. These are necessary as the windows with their scenic views do not open.

VENTILATION CLOSE UP - CATCHING SUMMER AIR

VENTILATION CLOSE UP – CATCHING SUMMER AIR

The beautiful turquoise bathroom tile is also original.

 ORIGINAL BATHROOM TILE - PERFECT FOR A HOME NEAR THE WATER

ORIGINAL BATHROOM TILE – PERFECT FOR A HOME THAT CELEBRATES THE LAKESHORE

On our first visit, Larry  described his plan to refinish the beautiful decking.   He had done a lot of research!  On our second visit the deck planking had a beautiful new finish.

REFINISHED PATIO DECK

REFINISHED PATIO DECK

On that visit as on the first visit Larry wanted to show us more area modern houses.  In Muskegon you need a guide to find them because they are usually singletons in more traditional neighborhoods. He surprised us with an additional “tour”  in his Lyman power boat on Muskegon and Bear Lake to see some beautiful homes that show their best sides to the water.  

LYMAN WOODEN BOAT

LYMAN WOODEN BOAT

On our first visit Larry brought out blueprints and that enabled us to identify both the Grand Rapids architectural firm of Obryon and Knapp and the design architect Carl Zillmer,  an AIA architect working as an associate with the firm.  Former partner with the firm,  E. John Knapp remembered hiring Carl Zillmer after Knapp met him at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and discovered Zillmer was looking for work.   Knapp invited Zillmer to come over to the office to meet the other partner OB (Obryon’s nickname).  They hired him on the spot. Zillmer’s wife remembered driving to Muskegon so Carl could show her the house.  And Zillmer’s son Eric, reminiscing about his father, recalled his image of his father, the architect, who was a vision of true classic mid-mod style:  “gingham short sleeve button-front shirts,  casual-dress slacks, and always a knit, square-end tie.”  Carl Zillmer was the son of Grand Rapids architect Emil Zillmer who designed the International style home featured on West Michigan Modern in February 2015.  http://westmichiganmodern.com/2015/01/26/international-style-house-designed-by-emil-zilmer-1937/

We looked at the original landscape plans drawn up for the Surf House conceived by Willard Gebhart.

AND THE ORIGINAL LANDSCAPE DESIGN BY WILLARD B. GEBBERT

AND THE ORIGINAL LANDSCAPE DESIGN BY WILLARD B. GEBHART

Gebbart also designed the Muskegon Causeway Memorial Park.  He graduated from Cornell’s Architecture School and developed a national reputation with his designs for various Washington DC sites such as the British Embassy and the Folger Shakespeare Library and a number of private homes for governmental officials. Even with national success, Gebhart continued to live on his farm in Hart, Michigan about 35 miles north of Muskegon.  

OM Exterior Low Res 1We can’t express adequately our appreciation to Larry and Lynne for sharing the Surf House and guiding us through the neighborhoods.  The close knit neighborhood is appropriately protective of the natural beauty of the area.    There is an eclectic mix of homes in this area including some mid-century modern gems. In fact there are a significant number of beautiful midcentury modern homes in a variety of styles in Muskegon and they are well worth seeking out.  Happy approaching summer to all!  

ELIEL AND EERO SAARINEN DESIGNED THE FENTON COMMUNITY CENTER

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.