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, 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.

Harry Weese Cottages on Glen Lake

Harry Weese 1There are hidden architectural gems to be found all over Michigan but especially in picturesque spots on beautiful lakes.  We found cottages designed by Harry Weese on Big Glen Lake on a beautiful Harry Weese 3sunny fall day. Harry Weese studied at Cranbrook under Eliel Saarinen.   He was a Chicago architect and preservationist who supervised the restoration of important historic buildings like the Adler/Sullivan Harry Weese 4Auditorium Building which I learned when doing a paper for one of my historic preservation classes was built with amazing acoustics thanks to the engineering genius of Dankmar Adler.   Weese supervised the restoration of the Field Museum of Natural History and Orchestra Hall Harry Weese 8in Chicago and Union Station in Washington.  And he designed the Time-Life Building in Chicago and the biggest project of his career, the Washington D.C.’s 100-Mile Metro system. But these Harry Weese 5photos are of the perfect little modern cottages which thanks to a tip from our Muskegon modernist friend Larry, and the Cottage Bookstore, we were able to find last weekend on Big Glen Lake. And because we found those, that led me to discover the Chicago River front cottages he designed in 1988:  http://arcchicago.blogspot.com/2010/04/buildings-weve-grown-to-love-harry.html . Learned these facts from the New York Times Obituary by Herbert Muschamp, November 3, 1998. Love research…Love discovery!  


Peter VanPutten house on Shawnee in Grand Rapids

ShawneeThis unique and really amazing home is for sale. The address is 2310 Shawnee in the Indian Village neighborhood on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. You can link to the listing to see the details and lots interior photos:  http://mobile.grar.com/public/mobile/ePubDetail/Default?mlsin=14049456 . The owner graciously gave me a tour of this home.  This is a one of a kind home designed by Peter Van Putten for his own family in 1968.  Peter Van Putten, AIA,  joined the firm of J. & G. Daverman Co. in Front Structure 2Grandville in 1954 after receiving his undergraduate degree from in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1953.  In 1977, the house was first put on the market and the real estate listing described the home as having imported vinyl flooring, lighted tennis courts on nearly an acre of land, indoor pool, sauna and bathhouse and a home that made “exhilarating living…a mini-estate in the city.”   Since then there have Light Fixtures and Gardensbeen a number of owners.  Today as you approach the home, you notice the tall outdoor globe lights (original).  The landscaping is good too –updated but apparently not significantly altered. The roofline is the home’s most distinctive exterior feature.  The double front doors lead many to guess that the home is a Living Roomduplex but it’s not.  This house is surprisingly large: four or five (counting the office) bedrooms, 3.5 baths, several large common living New Living Roomspaces on two floors and many other amenities. From the interior side the entry doors appear to be enormous. The main living areas flow seamlessly with a back drop of glass window walls under the amazing vaulted Living Roomceiling.   On the opposite spectrum, two understated and low profile cabinets create a nice partition separating the room from the foyer.  The owner shared some of the homes alterations made by previous owners. In the original plan, a door led from the main room into the master bedroom. The wall next to the front doors used to beFormer window wall a full glass curtain wall. One earlier owner unfortunately added colonial style balusters on one of the two stairways leading to the lower level.  Wood paneling in many of the rooms was painted over long ago. We speculated on some of the Kitchenoriginal finishes but there aren’t any plans to consult so questions remain.  When they bought the house it was in foreclosure but they fell in love with it and thus began their adventure with the home. At that time there was no kitchen –this one is new.  They have found other mysteries, for example, a ceiling of small tiles Tile ceiling behind dropped ceilingbehind the dropped ceiling panels in the lower level bathroom. And by the way the lower level has a lot of living space including three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry and a family room with fireplace.  One of the bathrooms was once filled with changing rooms, and a storage area is the former sauna. An enclosed breezeway leads past a small courtyard with a beautiful Japanese maple to Pool 1a gorgeous indoor pool currently framed on one side by a wall of several sets of new glass sliders.  But the original wall consisted of glass panels that slid and turned and enabled Pool 2owners to completely open up the pool house to the outdoors on that side.  You can still see one of the these doors – see glass panel framed in darker orange.  The backyard view of the home is dramatic with the glass, the roof and the full facade decking, not Exterior coverto mention the extraordinary pool house. The current owners actually dug out the backyard that sloped up against the house to expose more of the lower level  The former lighted tennis court has made way for friendly basketball games adjacent to the pool house.pool house This house has great features and lots of opportunity.  It is a very unique and special home.

Join Docomomo Michigan

Join the Docomomo and the Michigan Chapter!  Docomomo stands for the docomentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement. It is an international, national and regional organization.  “Docomomo promotes the study, interpretation and protection of the architecture, landscape and urban design of the Modern Movement. It promotes the exchange of knowledge about this important legacy which extends from the planned city and the iconic monument to the house next door.”   Over the past several years, the Michigan Modern project of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office has brought national and local interest to the strong body of work of Michigan’s midcentury architects and designers.  And during this past year, a Michigan chapter of Docomomo was formed.  Now people who join Docomomo US,  indicate that their chapter is Michigan and 50% of their dues is given to  the Michigan Chapter.   This portion of the dues goes to Michigan events and advocacy. To join Docomomo link here http://join.docomomo-us.org/ To follow the activities of Docomomo Michigan like Docomomo_MI/US on Facebook.     https://www.facebook.com/pages/Docomomo_USMI/1383079621938888

Lakeshore Cottage Modern

Obtaining a piece of the Lake Michigan shore was within reach of the booming affluent middle class in the post-war years.  Today, many of these mid-century modern Lakeshore homes have been torn down or expanded beyond recognition because of the value and limited amount of lakefront property. However, there are still mid-century cottages out there waiting to be re-discovered.   Rebecca Kalinowski, WMM researcher, shares the story of how they modernized and redecorated her parents 1960 Lake Michigan cottage while still retaining the great bones and original features of this beautiful summer retreat in Cobmoosa Shores in Oceana County.

Cottage FrontMy parents bought the cottage in 1988 after tiring of the hectic pace (summer vacationers) in Holland. They saw the cottage for the first time on a cold snowy winter day and fell in love with it. It was described as California Modern.Lower Level Sitting RoomThe first thing they did in the spring was to knock out the master bedroom wall and push it all the way out to the edge of the back deck. They wanted to have a clear view of the lake from 3 sides, so they added floor to ceiling windows. FireplaceThey painted the panelled walls and all of the beams and trusses white and my mom had the ceiling   boards stained seafoam green to match water. The original landing at the top of the dune was tiny and rickety. They had it reinforced but it wasn’t until 2010 that their carpenter Randy Majewski of Jenison built a whole new landing with aluminum clad posts, Rear Exterior from walkwayTrex flooring, and steel wire cable threads to keep it visually simple. The following year, 2011,  a family friend and my dad designed the zigzag walkway from the patio to the landing. The zig and zag followed the natural direction of Walkway to Deckthe dune and made it visually more exciting than the original plan for a straight bridge.The steel wires were also used on the walkway railing. My dad installed solar powered lanterns to the top of each post, Stairway to the beachwhich provide wonderful lighting at night. On a hazy or foggy night, the bridge and the lights look like they are just floating  in the air. That  walkway was built by Mark, a family friend, and a builder from the GR area named Denny Dusandang, who does a lot of building along the lakeshore.   In 2012 my Dad decided to have the island built across from the original kitchen cabinets.The people at Williams Distributing came up with doors that matched the original kitchen cabinet doors.When the island was installed it became obvious that the entire dining and living area needed work. Living Room BestWe tore out the old carpet and removed all of the old wicker furniture. My dad wanted to go with bamboo flooring like they had put in the master bedroom. I showed him pictures of plywood flooring and told him about all of the plywood walls at Herman Miller’s Design Yard in Holland. The plywood sub-flooring at the cottage was in excellent condition. Plywood 2In 2013, we tackled the floors.Whoever had installed the subfloor in 1960 when the cottage was built, had done an excellent job of butting the seams right up next to each other and running the plywood all the way to the edges of the walls and up against the fireplace.Any protruding nails were pounded in, the wood was vacuumed, and it was ready to sand. Plywood develops a beautiful patina after 50 years. Mark painstakingly sanded the plywood to take off just a thin layer of dirt and residue and the wood came alive. Plywood is difficult to sand, and it takes a light touch to do it right. Too much pressure with the sander and you gouge through the veneer. After vacuuming and removing all of the dust (on a hot summer day with all of the windows closed and fans off) Mark had the floor ready to be finished. Plywood FloorHe had a floor finisher from the lakeshore area come in over the next 2 days to apply 3 coats of matte urethane, with sanding in between coats. The finished product was better than I had imagined. The urethane brought out the rich browns and golds of the wood. It almost has the appearance of patent leather! The nails were encased in urethane, also.It was the industrial look that I loved! It is difficult to find floor finishers who are willing to sand plywood. A couple of them said I was crazy to even think about doing that! While the process is labor intensive, it still comes out way below the cost of buying and installing tongue and groove flooring.  (Furniture note:  The pottery cabinet is vintage pine and has the original painted on wood grain, a common technique at the time).

In 2013, we hired a general contractor named Janet Swanson,who owns a roofing business in Shelby. She has done roof repairs on our roof a couple of times.Cottage WalkMy mom’s declining health and dependence on a wheelchair made it necessary for us to have a “ramp” from the driveway to the existing bridge that crosses over a wooded gully to the front door of the cottage. But we didn’t want a business as usual ramp. Mark devised a plan for an inclined walkway that would cut thru the trees and berms leading up to the bridge.Janet suggested that a builder named Dennis Felt of Shelby do the ramp. But first the path for the ramp had to be cut thru the trees. It involved digging out literally tons of dirt and the removal of three trees.The sand and dirt was added to the hillside across from the existing bridge and a huge retaining wall was built to hold it in. Dennis created a beautiful meandering wood walkway with a railing on one side. It follows the curve of the berm. Exterior FrontThis walkway starts at a point  halfway up the yard and connects with the existing bridge. The walkway leading from the driveway to the new walk is made of red brick pavers. Janet recommended a stone, tile and brick mason named Darryl Highway  to create a beautiful brick curved walk. The brick is encased in a mixture of dirt and something that keeps them from moving at all. The brick walk was lined on both sides with rocks for aesthetic as well as strengthening purposes.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen Shelby painter Gordon Courtright  cleaned up the original cupboard doors and painted them bright white. Dennis installed new brushed nickel hinges and handles to the cupboard doors.Cabinets 3 A navy blue high gloss WilsonArt laminate from their Google Earth series was applied to the counters and white subway tiles with a ribbon of pale green beach glass mini-subway tiles was added for the backsplash (unfortunately close ups of these features are not available).
A new crank out window above the kitchen sink still has the original 3 stationary windows above it that follow the peak of the ceiling.The total effect is modern but doesn’t take away from the original MCM kitchen.The kitchen still has the original faux slate tile floor, which has held up really well after 54 years.
Tulip Table and ChairsThe dining area needed to pay tribute to my mom’s 2 favorite Holland Tulip Festival Posters. The only dining table that could measure up to that was the Saarinen STYLE white oval fiberglass tulip table with matching tulip chairs from LexMod and ordered seat cushions in both blue and red. The white fiberglass evokes the feeling of a boat against the backdrop of Lake Michigan. I wanted braided rugs in the cottage to give the floors a cottage feel , but with a modern twist. I discovered the Capel Rug company of North Carolina, makers of brilliantly colored, modern braided rugs.There are only 2 flooring stores in West Michigan that carry samples of Capel rugs, Flooring by Design on 28th st. at Ivanrest and a small shop in Holland. I went to Flooring by Design and spoke with Dick and Vicki, the owners, who recommended getting braided rugs made of 100% Olefin. They clean easily with soap and water and won’t mildew,  which is important at  a cottage on a lake,
I got a large 8×11 rectangle in Maritime blue for the dining area. I choose a more neutral 8×11 oval for the living area and the jury is still out for a color for the TV area.  Green rubI choose 2 5×8 ovals in seafoam for the master bedroom.They have flecks of blue and white in them and often mirror the changing colors of Lake Michigan right outside the window.
Twin BedroomI found vintage Maple beds for 2 other bedrooms because they evoke memories of cottages we rented when I was a kid. I was able to find vintage looking nightstands in pale cottage colors at a wonderful store called Furniture Outfitters on 29th Street in GR. I also found white headboards there for a 4th bedroom. My cousin in California found wonderful Cynthia Rowley quilted twin bedspreads with a vintage sailboat and lighthouse design at Home Goods in Laguna Beach and shipped them off to me. A wall of vintage watercolors and an actual paint by number painting, all of sailboats and lighthouses, complete that room.Walk OUt Sitting Room
The lower level living room contains a mixture of my mother’s beautiful turquoise wicker tables, original rattan chairs that were purchased with the cottage, and my small collection of Herman Miller picnic posters.Herman Miller Picnic Posters I was able to find cushions for the rattan chairs at Pier 1. They have a great collection of vintage style fabric cushions.
BathroomEach level has identical bathrooms: the original beige tile showers, the soft salmon sink with original faux marble formica, jalousie window up and white sink with faux wood grain formica down.  While I was happy to be able to use some our favorite Grand Rapids area contractors for some of the work, I was thrilled that I had to look no further than Oceana County for such talented people for different phases of the construction; these people were great to work with and helped to make the project a success!


James Bronkema on Manhattan

245 MANHATTAN FRONTThis beautiful early James Bronkema home at 245 Manhattan, completed in 1949 and currently for sale (watch for new listing), sits at the southeast end of a string of James Bronkema homes in East Grand Rapids, in the Cascade/Manhattan Park area. Like charms on a necklace, each home is unique, set on a picturesque ravine and constructed from 1948 to 1953. 245 MANHATTAN 1972 SMALLJames Bronkema was happiest building luxury custom homes and believed that the exterior of a home follows from the design of the interior which should mirror the individual needs of the prospective homeowner – i.e. form follows function.  When current owners Hilary and Brian found the home, it was yellow with blue shutters. In the renovation they were able to maximize and draw attention to some of the original features of the home while updating other areas of the house.  245 MANHATTAN KITCHEN 3Brian was able to do much of the work himself including designing and building interior and exterior light fixtures such as the globe on pillar in front 245 MANHATTAN FRONT FROM DRIVEWAYof the house and the pendant lamps in the kitchen.   But I am getting ahead of myself in this tour.  Let me just say that a mix of materials such as the brick and original redwood of this home were trademarks of Bronkema who was born in Grand Rapids in 1924 and only passed away last February, 245 MANHATTAN ENTRY LOOKING TOWARDS GREAT ROOMliving a rich 90 years.   Actually he designed and built homes in Grand Rapids for approximately 14 years before he left Michigan.  During that time he left a legacy of 150-200 homes and buildings of which only a moderate number have been identified.  He started building at age 21, when he returned from a stint as a naval aviator in WWII. During the renovation, Brian had a gracious and interesting phone conversation with James Bronkema who lived in Palm Springs until his death.  Some of the Bronkema trademarks are included in this house like the brick entry floor245 MANHATTAN LIVING ROOM and the radiant heating which still works and makes the house cozy in the winter. Interior paint colors compliment the original brick entry floor and the fireplace wall in the great room which has a new mantle designed with handy built-in storage.   245 MANHATTAN BEAUTIFUL BRICK AND ROOF LINESAs is typical with both Bronkema homes and mid-century modern in general, 245 MANHATTAN KITCHEN the large nearly floor to ceiling glass windows flood the room with light and the ribbon windows on the opposite wall add more light and interest to the room.  Ribbon windows are found in the bedrooms as well.  Other Bronkema features include the wide eaves 245 MANHATTAN WIDE EAVESoverhanging the patio and the large brick chimney on the south side of the house.   The kitchen is new (they were able to move cupboards and uncover a window to the backyard).  A door from the kitchen leads to a handy washer/dryer and then turning left down the hall245 MANHATTAN WORKROOM PLAYROOM is a new workroom and playroom.  The expansion turns the home into an L-shaped structure but does not alter the original exterior of the front of the house. One room that has had a total makeover is the renovated bathroom complete with new tile tub/shower surround, clever sink/counter combination at a nice height and very cool245 MANHATTAN MASTER BATH concrete floor, all designed and completed by the owners and tied together with the original ribbon windows like the other rooms. There is one room where you can see the original wood paneling in the baby’s bedroom245 MANHATTAN BEDROOM 1 and the serene color palette combined with striking art in the master bedroom. One of James Bronkema’s philosophies that he shared with Grand Rapids Press writers who wrote several articles about him, was that the beauty of a house should based mostly on the natural materials, 245 MANHATTAN BEDROOM 3the structure and the architectural features and not extraneous ornamentation. Here, Brian and Hilary leveraged the best of both worlds. They have tapped into their own artistry (Hilary designs jewelry and some of the art in the home and Brian completed the renovation projects as well as his own artful lighting designs) and used these to enhance the natural features of the home.   245 MANHATTAN REAR VIEW SHOWING EXPANSIONWhat they created is a warm and inviting home true to the original design, but entirely their own. Now as they move to a new home, also in the family of EGR midcentury modernism, it will be fun to see what they do with their next house and how future owners make this home their own.

The Modern Furniture of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb by Melissa Fox

Editor’s Introduction to “Modern Furniture by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb:”
Gibby 4 In the summer of 2011, we found at two separate GR Salvation Army Stores two pieces of furniture we call “the Gibby’s” from the modern Widdicomb Furniture line designed by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings and produced sometime between 1946-1955.Gibby 5  WIth the first piece we hesitated. That night after doing our research on Robsjohn-Gibbdings, we were horrified that we had passed it up. Next day we were at the Salvation Army store on Division when it opened.  The second piece was found about two weeks later at a different Salvation Army store — coincidence?  same estate?  Gibby 7Now owners of two pieces by the well-known mid-century designer, we decided to have them refinished.  Note of clarification: These photos are of the pieces after they were refinished.  You will notice in the photos the detail in the drawers of the gentleman’s chest, the first piece, and the beauty of the grain on the spring-action doors as well as the detail of the drawers and shelves in the second. Gibby 8Auction sites confirm that these vintages are sought after by collectors.  Last summer, at a church rummage sale, Gibby 1we found for $5.00 our third piece, this cool chair which we are now refinishing –amazing luck! Naturally, we find the history of T.H. Robjohns-Gibbings interesting and relevant.  Melissa Fox, Grand Rapids Library Local History Librarian and West Michigan Modern contributing writer, reconstructed the Robsjohn-Gibbins/Widdicomb story in the display case, GIbby DisplayLocal History Department, 4th Floor, Grand Rapids public Library.  Check it out. PVP                                                                                                                                                                  T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings by Melissa Fox.    Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings (1905 – 1976) was born in London, England in 1905 and studied architecture at both the University of Liverpool and London University. He worked as a naval architect, designing ocean liner interiors. He also worked for renowned antique shop and decorating firm, Charles of London, which brought him to the United States in 1929 to launch the company’s New York branch.

74ES76p3VwXxoclAc2T4ZJz5A-hqpZS7BfgCHTAvJsEIn 1936 Robsjohn-Gibbings opened his own interior design firm, Robsjohn-Gibbings Limited, and was instantly successful, decorating some of the country’s most publicized homes for such clients as Elizabeth Arden, Thelma Chrysler Foy, and socialite Doris Duke, among many others.

Robsjohn-Gibbings had a strong knowledge of furniture history, and a special interest in furniture from ancient Greece. The influence from this can be seen in some of his designs, such as his Colosseum table. Showcasing his love of Greek design, and a milestone of his early career, was designing Casa Encantada, a 43-room mansion for socialite Hilda Boldt Weber located on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. Robsjohn-Gibbings designed two hundred exquisite pieces of furniture for the project, which have since become prized objects for collectors of modern art and design.

In 1944 his first book, Good-bye, Mr. Chippendale, in which he criticizes antique furniture and furniture collecting and makes a case for producing furniture that is a reflection of American life and culture. Robsjohn-Gibbings authored two additional books, Mona Lisa’s Mustache in 1947 and Homes of the Brave in 1954, the former is a criticism of modern art, and the latter a discussion of good taste and home architecture and design. These books serve as examples of his status as spokesman for American domestic culture, promoting the notion that domestic interiors should grow from both national and personal identities and should reflect the cultures and societies that produce them.

-E32ifiQuDYj7IDgn0hRoIX-hWKL2MgHhdzsBn4p4fgIn the early 1940’s Robsjohn-Gibbings was hired to design modern furniture for the Widdicomb Furniture Company, and remained the principal designer of Widdicomb’s modern lines until 1956.

Though he was commissioned to design the first Widdicomb pieces in 1943, because of World War II and a shortage of materials and resources, the first Robsjohn-Gibbings designs for Widdicomb were not placed on the market until 1946. The furniture line was an immediate success. Pieces such as the Mesa Table, Strap Sofa, and WAP Cocktail Table are signatures from the collection, and remain highly collectable today.

In 1950 he received the Waters Award for Achievement in Design, was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s Good Design exhibition, and in 1962 he won the Elsie de Wolfe Award given by the American Institute of Interior Design.

Robsjohn-Gibbings retired to Greece in 1966, where he remained until his death in 1976.

Resources and Further Reading
*Robsjohn-Gibbings, T.H. Portrait and Biography file, History and Special Collections, Grand Rapids Public Library
*Widdicomb designed by T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings c.1950, Furniture Trade Catalogs (Collection 232), History and Special Collections, Grand Rapids Public Library
*T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings by Louise Devenish – http://www.1stdibs.com/articles/spotlight/robsjohn_gibbings/
*T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings: Reviving Classical Forms for the Twentieth Century by John Loring for Architectural Digest – http://www.architecturaldigest.com/architecture/archive/robsjohn_article_012000
*T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings – Furniture City History – http://www.furniturecityhistory.org/person/4631/th-robsjohngibbings

Note:  A little bit about the Grand Rapids Public Library Furniture Collection.  The GRPL Local History Department has a Grand Rapids furniture history collection that includes original furniture catalogs including the modern Widdicomb furniture line designed by Robsjohn Gibbings.  They also have an archive of furniture magazines and a closed rare book/retrospective on furniture history.  Make a trip to the 4th floor of the Grand Rapids Public Library to check out M. Fox’s display and the furniture history resources.