Already the home of work by Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn and Stephen Holl, Metro Detroit’s Cranbrook has acquired the Melvyn Maxwell and Sarah Stein Smith House, a 1950 Usonian home in Bloomfield Hills designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for two Detroit public school teachers. The home comes to Cranbrook via a donation from the Towbes Foundation and provides the institution with ownership of the Smith House as an educational resource. The Smith house has been preserved exactly as it was when the Smiths lived in it. While studying at the City College of Detroit, now Wayne State University, Melvyn Maxwell Smith saw an image of Fallingwater during a slide presentation and was instantly hooked on Wright. With equal financial backing from his wife Sarah Stein Smith, the couple travelled to Taliesin, where they asked Wright to design a home for $5,000. Wright negotiated $8,000 and waited for the couple to save up to purchase a suitable piece of property. Deeply occupied by his work on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Wright communicated regularly with the Smiths once he delivered the design for the home and urged Melvyn Maxwell Smith to work as his own general contractor to keep costs down, and one that would allow Smith to control the quality of work. Smith gathered a team of contractors, journeymen and friends to work on the house, including those that agreed to work for a reduced rate in exchange for the privilege of being a part of the project. With the Smiths paying as they went, construction moved slowly. As the house was nearing completion, the Smiths found themselves without funds to purchase the windows. Real estate investor Al Taubman, another FLW super fan, found himself visiting the construction site just as Melvyn Maxwell Smith was boarding up the window openings with plywood. After listening to Smith lament that he was down to his last $500, and worrying that inclement weather would damage the house, Taubman had installers from the Pittsburg Plate Glass Window Company arrive the next day to measure and install the windows and sent the Smiths a bill for exactly $500. Over time, the Smiths filled the house with sculptures and designed objects by artists associated with Cranbrook. Melvyn Maxwell Smith lived in the house until his death in 1984. Sarah Stein Smith stayed until moving to California in 1991. The Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is responsible for stewarding the Smith House and is also undertaking an oral history project to collect stories from artists and contractors that worked on the project.
Posts tagged with "Usonian Houses":
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman Wilson House, built in 1956 in Millstone, New Jersey, opened to the public on November 11th in Bentonville, Arkansas. The house was disassembled on the original site and transported to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, for preservation and public display. In 2013, when museum leaders visited the house, recent homeowners, Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino, proposed relocation. The Tarantinos’ land had been prone to flooding and therefore required numerous restorations to the home. To preserve the house properly, they knew relocation was necessary. The museum agreed, the structure was disassembled, and every component labeled. Two trucks transported the parts 1,235 miles to the Arkansas. The house is now situated near the museum’s south entrance, overlooking the woodlands and Crystal Spring. The reconstruction team also consisted of Scott Eccleston (Crystal Bridges’ Director of Operations), Ron Shelby (lead architect with Hight Jackson Associates), and Bill Faber (chief contractor with Bill Faber Construction). The team strove to reconstruct the house as close to the original as possible, reusing most of the mahogany, and recreating the concrete block walls and floors to Wright’s specifications. To further preserve the original structure, efficiencies were added to the re-construction. For example, a climate control system was installed to protect the mahogany, without having to change the interior floor design. Wright’s Bachman Wilson House is named after the original owners Abe and Gloria Wilson and Gloria’s brother Marvin Bachman, an apprentice to Wright. The house is an example of Wright’s middle-income family residences, in his “Usonian” period. Wright's Usonian Houses were normally small, single story, and consisted of native materials, flat roofs, and cantilevered overhangs–visually uniting the interior and exterior spaces. Tickets became available to the public on November 2nd, and, as of November 11th, the house became available to the public during Museum hours, for no cost. Because of the house’s limited space, tickets must be reserved in advance. Visitors have two options: General Admission, which is a self-guided tour, available each day except Tuesday, or Guided Tours, which are one-hour in length, offered any day except Tuesday or Friday. Regardless, anyone, with or without tickets can wander the surrounding grounds or hike the Crystal Springs and Tulip Tree Trails, which offer views of the house. Now that the Tarantino family, museum, and reconstruction team have successfully given Wright’s home a safe environment for preservation, generations to come can experience Wright's magnificent piece of work. For further information, or to reserve tickets, visit the Crystal Bridges' website.