Wednesday, November 9, 2011

House Tour: A Midcentury Masterpiece

I visited my aunt and uncle recently and was lucky enough to stay in their fabulous mid-century home. I hadn't been there in several years and had forgotten how astoundingly beautiful it is. I've been in a lot of mid-century modern homes in my life, but this one is something truly special.

Built in 1968 by architect Francis "Will" Willsey, the house sits on a large corner lot. Willsey was an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, serving for several years as a fellow in Wright's famed Taliesen School in the 1940s. Willsey was also chosen to build the fifth and final house in Wright's Michigan Usonian community "The Acres." The other four houses in the community were designed by Wright himself, and Willsey designed the fifth house following Wright's death. It was around that same era that Willsey designed and supervised construction on this house.

One of the many impressive features of the house is that it looks completely different from every angle. Here is an exterior shot taken from the side street just beyond the carport:

These shots are taken from the other end of the driveway, which adjoins the main road:

The clerestory windows are amazing and keep the house bathed in light at all times.

Another exterior angle:

 And a shot of the side yard, looking into the kitchen. You can see the influence of Wright and the Prairie School in this one:
My aunt and uncle are master gardeners. I'll have to do a follow-up post next summer, when things are in bloom,  to showcase the amazing garden, in-ground pool area, and gazebo they installed.

Even the carport is a work of art!

{At this point, I'll just apologize in advance for my cruddy cell phone photos. They get worse as we venture into the interior shots. What can I say...this wasn't a planned photo session!}

The interior is amazingly original. There have been a couple of updates--namely to the kitchen countertops and one powder room, but the original house has survived suprisingly intact.  My aunt and uncle are, thankfully, appreciative of the original features of the house, so it's in safe hands!

The kitchen is gorgeous, with wood paneling and tons of original built-in storage. Someone added granite countertops along the way, and while I normally detest granite, whoever chose this did a good job. It's shiny and thin and modern, and has just enough texture and the right color to complement the warm tones of the cabinetry. The kitchen is almost completely open to the outside, yet still manages to be cozy and inviting.

The adjoining dining area is just large enough for a table, and features another bank of cabinets plus some built in shelving. I just love the rustic-yet-modern brick floors.

{Blurry...UGH!  Sorry!}
The house has three original bedrooms, plus one in the finished basement. All feature amazing hidden closets, built in shelving, original built-in bookshelf headboards, and built-in dressers. Here's a vignette from the guest room:

You can see some of the built in drawers and shelves here. My aunt and uncle are collectors and artists, and have done a great job accessorizing the home with their own funky style. I love that the furnishings are era-appropriate, yet they manage to avoid that overly-authentic "museum" feel. An added bonus to all those layers of wood paneling, built-in furniture and recessed ceilings?  The bedrooms are virtually soundproof. Trust me. There were SEVEN children under the age of 13 staying there when I visited, plus about twelve dogs, and I didn't hear a thing from that room. Great design is not always something you can see. :)

As I mentioned, the house is extremely well-preserved and still has most of its original features, right down to the hardware.

Each of the ten-gazillion windows features the original brass latch. I have to believe they were custom made for the home, as the style is perfect--a little Arts and Crafts, a little mid-century modern, and very unique!

Here's a [terrible] shot of some of the aged brass hardware on the dining room built-ins:

Again, the perfect mix of rustic and modern--just like the house.

Amazingly, all the exterior doors still sport their original handles and locks:

Seriously, people...the hardware alone had me swooning!

Perhaps most astonishing is that no one has ever replaced the original faucets in the two upstairs bathrooms--and they are complete works of art:

The tops of the gigantic handles and the drain stopper are MARBLE, and the surrounds are solid brass, which has aged to a gorgeous patina. Truly beautiful. Again, I see strong Craftsman/Prairie School influencees, with some mid-century modern and even a little Hollywood Regency flair thrown in. Stunning and one-of-a-kind. I can't believe that someone didn't go on a home improvement kick at some point and rip them out in a favor of some Lowes specials. A minor miracle.

One of the most dramatic areas of the home is the living room.  It showcases the architect's vision to a tee, with floor to ceiling windows that flood it with light and make you feel completely connected to the outside.

Here is a shot as you enter from the corridor that leads from the dining room:

Everywhere you look is something intereresting. From this angle, you can see the built-in sofa and the display shelving above:

Isn't that fireplace and the intricate carved paneling above it mind boggling?  Here's another angle:

There is a movie screen built into the ceiling above the carved paneling. It can be lowered to show movies, which are played on the old built in projector which is hidden on the opposite side of the room in the tray ceiling.

Here's the built-in end table at the far end of the built-in sofa:

Around the corner from that table is the corridor that passes the front entrance and leads to the kitchen, seen here:

Half-way down that corridor, where you see the upholstered chair sticking out, is a "nook" that holds a couple of comfy chairs that face enormous built-in cabinets large enough to hold a good sized television. The nook is so cozy and well-designed that my aunt and uncle tell me they usually curl up there in the evenings to watch TV.  Here's a view of the cabinet that faces the nook:

To the right of the living room fireplace is a sunken area that my uncle uses to diplay his collection of vintage guitars. This part features vaulted ceilings and a second story display ledge, plus yet another wall of floor to ceiling windows. I managed to mess up almost every photo I took of this area, so you'll have to use your imagination. Here is a shot of one lone guitar, displayed against an area of exposed brick:

...and here's a {blurry} shot of a vintage amp nestled in a window well:

...and another {blurry..sigh!} shot of the guitars displayed on the ledge overhead:

Here's a wide shot of that whole area, taken from the built-in sofa across the room:

Just to the right of the shot above is another huge built-in...this time a large buffet cabinet:

It took all my willpower not to bring home that panther television lamp as a "souvenir."   Here's a close-up vignette:

We're a "dog family," in case that wasn't obvious. My uncle has a great eye for vintage treasures--both finding them and displaying them.

There's so much more that I wasn't able to capture. The staircase with its artful woodwork; the stylized recessed lighting throughout the house that eliminates the need for lamps; the layered tray ceilings; the insanely cool hidden closets in the bedrooms...the list goes on. The upstairs hallway ceiling alone merits its own post!

This house is truly a work of art.  I appreciate architecture and design in almost all its forms--particularly mid-century modern--but I've never been so in awe of the design of a house before. It's simultaneously streamlined and complex; modern and rustic; open and cozy. It is truly a privilege to walk through it.

I'll end this post with a shot of the home's main entrance, taken from the driveway. Yet another angle, yet another vista. True artistry, if you ask me.

In his obituary, the home's architect is quoted as referring to himself, when asked what kind of architect he was, as "a good one!"  I'd say that was an understatement.


  1. This is a nice looking house! I think I might go see it over the Thanksgiving holiday!

  2. Good plan! I may see you there! I bet if we're reallllllly nice, they may even feed us! ;)

  3. Mid century isn't my fave but this house is a beauty! Indeed your Aunt and Uncle live in a piece of art. And given what I see of the decor they are the perfect people to do so. They really respect the architecture. It just drives me nuts when people fight the style of their homes. So refreshing to see those that embrace it! *winks*...Oh and the bathroom fixtures did indeed have me swooning! Vanna

  4. He was my great uncle, and a wonderful, simple man who I think of everyday, he would be touched by your appreciation for his passion.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! You must be very proud of your great uncle - what a talent.


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