There are many stunning modern homes with that special mid-century combination of materials – glass, wood, stone, brick – that you will never see from the road. Architects and builders leveraged the unique topography of the dunes creating subdivisions that are convenient to Lakeshore towns and yet are tucked away for privacy and a sense of wilderness. I received a message from Matt telling me that his neighbor has a home that would be a great feature on West Michigan Modern. He was right. We recently toured the home that is technically a two-story but – using a phrase borrowed from my friend Ashima – “lives much bigger.” It soars upward from a high point in the dunes in search of a view of the big lake. The epicenter of the house is a two-story living room with a second story loft-style opening over the carpeted floating stairway. The walls are like swiss cheese with square and rectangular openings. Our son, who has always a great eye for design, remembered how fun it was to play in this interesting space with his friend whose parents were the second owners. The current owners Joyce and Gene also appreciate the architecture of the home which has “great bones.” They find the wooded dunes a perfect setting for outdoor adventures, beach or sledding, making acorn people for the grandchildren and enjoying cozy nights with family and the many friends who like to visit. Joyce and Gene are from Chicago. They look forward to living full-time in this house after they sell the Prairie style house they own in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. To find this house, you need good directions. The location is Grand Haven, a city of about 29,000 and the home of the Coast Guard Festival, Musical Fountain and loads of interesting architecture. The house is perched on 1.8 acres high atop a vegetation-covered dune in a small neighborhood of custom homes that hug large scenic lots. They share a common Lake Michigan Beach. Although the land was actually platted in 1928, this home was designed by architect Phil Lundwall and completed in 1972. The exterior is vertical rough sawn cedar peppered with various sized glass openings. At over 3,500 square feet, the home takes full advantage of the natural elevations and provides four levels of living space including the walkout basement and loft with a bonus – a small square roof top deck.
From the online photos, I didn’t recognize the house but knew that when we lived in Grand Haven we had friends who lived in the development. As our Jetta climbed the hill, we could barely see the house at the end of the road even though in late October the leaves are sparse. The entry to the home is low-pitched. The spaciousness of this home’s open plan is hidden behind a stunning wooden door not shown here but original to the home. We also admired the modern garage door warmly lit from within. Owners Joyce and Gene welcomed us into an entry with glass side light, polished parquet floors (original), a Nelson bench and tiered free-standing light fixture. The mobile and red door give the front hall a distinctly Calder flavor. To the left is a guest bedroom. Each room of this stylish house including this one decorated in a Japanese style is unique and furnished with well-coordinated authentic mid-century furniture and accessories. From lighting to art and window treatments, nothing is wanting. Straight ahead from the front door is a low and narrow hallway. The nicely aged parquet path opens – Frank Lloyd Wright style – into the grand space. This house has its own unique vertical style and we took a minute to let the house come into focus, appreciating the natural and ambient lighting in the living room calling attention to the beamed ceiling with tongue and groove boards. Joyce and Gene have added most of the lighting to match their modern style. The focal point of this grand living space is the 2-story fireplace. Called dry-stacked, the fireplace has no mortar visible between the stones. Mortar behind the stone holds them in place. The fireplace is new and replaced a more utilitarian country-style pellet stove set on a tile platform. There is glass on three sides of the living area. Turn left from one set of glass sliders and enter a cozy nook which serves as a media center. White walls and white beamed ceiling provide a bright backdrop for tubular metal chairs and a massive media cabinet. A horizontal glass band brings in light and a peek at the trees outside. Another broad opening leads from living room to dining room and kitchen. The kitchen has bright white walls and white beamed ceilings and cupboards. It is part of an addition completed for the second owners by a neighbor who formerly worked in Lundwall’s office. Sliders from the kitchen eating area lead to one of several deck areas overlooking the wooded lot. The backdrop for the kitchen eating area is a large glass window Joyce and Gene installed to replace smaller windows that were leaking. The kitchen and dining floors feature the original parquet tiles – glowing solid oak hard wood squares that are about 1/2 inch thick matching the parquet in the entry hall. Joyce was sure the newer, roomy kitchen replaced a galley kitchen now a super efficient kitchen/office and storage space. Thanks to the addition there are now two cool eating areas. The dining room like the kitchen eating area has a backdrop of glass. Joyce has furnished it with a stunning vintage Danish table with hinged extensions that slip under the table when not in use. The table partners beautifully with a Hans Wegner buffet seen on the other side of the partition in the kitchen/office photo. (Note: Wegner also designed furniture for the Danish king!) The Paul McCobb china cabinet is filled with Red Wing dishes in the Smart Set pattern. The living room has a lovely transparent tree-house feel. Sliding doors on opposite sides of the room lead to decks with panoramic views and refurbished vintage outdoor furniture. After purchasing the house, Joyce and Gene were forced to make a big investment in the house replacing the glass in the sliders, transom and miscellaneous windows and other structural repairs including the roof and siding. They discovered important maintenance work had been deferred. This forced a postponement of improvements planned for the house with the exception of the fireplace described above. When asked if they’d given the house a name (as in Mr. Darcy’s ”Pemberly” in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice) Joyce said, “No…maybe Money Pit?” But seriously, for Joyce the relationship with this house was love at first sight. Gene was a little more cautious initially when they purchased the home in 2007. Since then they have put their heart and soul into their dream house. They have made it a showplace for their extensive collection of authentic modern furniture and design accessories. In the living room high-backed chairs designed by either Vladimir Kagan or Adrian Pearsall were rescued from a fraternity house and re-upholstered. Across the room, a three-piece hanging fixture lights the metal wall sculpture, a backdrop for the “Eames” knock-off. The “tell” is the number of feet on the chair’s metal stand – this one has just four. (For more information on how to tell an original Eames chair see this guide http://manhattan-nest.com/2013/03/25/real-vs-fake-the-eames-lounge/.) Joyce knows her mid-century furniture! She is a dealer of antiques and has a shop in the Lincoln Antique Mall in the Chicago area where her inventory reflects varied time periods — not all modern. The popular shop rents out furniture and accessories for use in movie and TV productions, for example on the set of “Chicago Fire.” One of my favorite groupings is set against a band of four tall windows and adds an interesting horizontal feel to the room. The airplane coffee table with “tail” like end tables works well with the Pearsall sofa. The floating stairway leads to the second floor. There are three bedrooms upstairs, each one decorated in mid-century treasures. To start with the former master bedroom couldn’t be cozier – in a good way. It’s tucked away and has loads of storage behind a stretch of accordion closet doors. Many mid-century homes have folding accordian-style doors but these are in perfect original condition and meld almost seamlessly with the dark boards of the ceiling. There is a newer master suite on the second floor of the addition. Here, as in other parts of the parts of the house, Joyce has wisely used the orange to good advantage to coordinate with her mid-century accessories and to accent the rich, dark beamed ceiling. She even knows how to use those tall quirky mid-century lamps I always want to buy but don’t. A single pane vertical window and skylight bring in light. And she designs the wall opposite the cool platform bed with a beautiful dresser, Danish pendant lamps and clocks now refaced with mirrors. Joyce calls the repetition of the three clocks a visual alliteration. Vintage Danish light fixtures are also an attraction in the master bath. One of the great features of this house is the location of the laundry on the second floor, conveniently located near the bedrooms. Exploring this house is like a treasure hunt. The hall on the second floor ends at a bookcase and ladder you climb to reach a small third story loft furnished with a desk. Quiet and out-of-the-way, this could be an inspiring place to work. But that is not the end of the discoveries. Pull the ladder from the wall and climb through the skylight to the small square rooftop deck. It was evening so we didn’t make the climb but Joyce assured us that it’s spectacular up there. Wall cutouts are dramatic when viewed from the living room, but they have a slightly dizzying effect when experienced from the loft looking down to the second floor and from the second floor to the main floor. Many interesting vantage points. We followed the stairs down to the lower walk-out level which follows footprint of the main floor. There you find a wine (and beer) room and a recreation room serves as a storeroom for vintage furniture in-waiting like the Z-Chairs and Pearsall tables. Joyce hopes to add a dark room because she has two careers – antique dealer and photographer who in her own words “hasn’t made the switch to digital.” Husband Gene has had an interesting career. He is a third generation plumbing contractor whose family has specialized in working with the complex plumbing in the old skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in Chicago. So how did Chicago owners Joyce and Gene find this house? Joyce’s cousin married a “wooden shoe” (aka Dutchman) and lives in the next development south on the lakeshore. The cousin encouraged them to look at a house for sale in the neighborhood. It wasn’t until a realtor showed them this particular home that Joyce and Gene were ready to buy. And the rest is history. They love winter in this house. When the leaves are gone and the snow starts blowing an amazing vista of lakeshore and land is revealed. So why did they choose a house in Grand Haven? They love spending time in this picturesque, clean and friendly town. By the way, Joyce and Gene have known each other since age 15 and now their grandkids visit and ask “Can I never go home, can I live here forever?” For now, while they own two homes, they do rent this house on HomeAway.com in the GH section. Their listing number is 900675. Grateful thanks to Joyce and Gene for their gracious tour. My appreciation to Matt, the neighbor, for introductions. Preview of coming attractions: Watch for an upcoming post featuring an interview with architect Phil Lundwall and more photos of his designs. All text and photos copyright Pam VanderPloeg, West Michigan Modern 2014.