The belief in a thing makes it happen.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
Everyone who loves houses enjoys stories about “do overs” and makeovers — so here’s a new one for you. Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve posted news about our second home on the west side of the state.
The past few months have been stressful and exciting for our Frank Lloyd Wright home, designed for industrialist Carl Schultz in 1957. Wright fans appreciate the fact that this Usonian house represents the famous architect’s final mark in western Michigan before his death in 1959.
Overlooking a wooded ravine and riverbank in historic St. Joseph, it even came with some of its original Wright-designed furniture.
But the home wasn’t in good repair when we found it.
The day we took ownership five years ago, I was on my knees scrubbing gruesome rust stains in the bathrooms while my husband, Doug, scouted the hallway for more roof leaks. (When you think of a haunted house, you probably conjure images of a crumbling gothic Victorian that only the Addams family could love. But trust me: Even mid-century modern homes can be very scary when they fall into disrepair.)
In other words, the Schultz house needed more than a new roof and a cleaning service. In fact, it was the beauty of the nearby river – along with the leaky roof and plumbing problems – that inspired me to name the house “Runningwater.” Luckily, Doug is a tireless architect, constantly working toward the goal of leaving the Schultz house better than we’d found it.
This spring, Doug launched a massive renovation/restoration project, driving back and forth across the state almost weekly to work with his construction crew. Not a day flew by when he wasn’t on the phone with the construction manager.
I won’t elaborate on the architectural specifics, because you can visit The Carl Schultz House Web site for a complete history of the house and more photos of the renovation process, including the repair and restoration of the original red concrete floors.
Putting it back together
If I’ve learned nothing else over the years, I’ve discovered that architects and construction crews — like newspaper columnists — cannot kick ass without deadlines.
With that in mind, Doug agreed to put our freshly renovated Schultz house on two house tours this fall. The first, a fundraiser for the Symphony League of Southwest Michigan, was held Sunday, September 29th. The second tour — for the national Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy — will be held later this month.
Well, I wish you could have heard me swearing (WTF!? was just for starters) when I arrived at the house on Friday — 48 hours before the first tour. A dozen trucks blocked the driveway. Construction workers had taken over the living room and master bedroom, and construction dust wafted everywhere. All the furniture and accessories were buried under drop cloths and tools, or scattered like roadkill around the driveway. (See top photos.)
The workmen labored on until 7pm the night before the house tour. With the help of a wonderful local housecleaning duo, we all scrubbed and dusted like the devil and somehow managed to put everything back together — excluding the master bedroom and bath — for public viewing. At one point, I looked down and noticed my right foot was bleeding — and I have no idea how it happened.
Once again, I want to emphasize that the two “before” photos at the top were taken last Friday — just 48 hours before the last two photos shown at the end of this post. The second photo, with tool boxes in the foreground, shows another view of the finished room in the bottom photo. You can click on the photos for a larger view.
All said and (almost) done, the hard work on this project has its rewards — the best being the dozens of people on the tour who’ve thanked us for opening our doors and sharing a slice of architectural history.
Meanwhile, I’ve returned home to my old Tudor here in Royal Oak, which is really starting to look like it needs a paint job …
All photos copyrighted by Cindy and Doug La Ferle. Middle photo shows Doug La Ferle (right) with the late Balthazar Korab, who came to photograph the Schultz home in 2010. Click here to view the Korab photos.