Restoring Wright

small DeckFor years I’ve admired Michigan Blue, a gorgeous regional magazine celebrating our third coast. So I’m very excited to have an essay of mine included in the Fall 2014 issue. “Restoring Wright” chronicles our decision to purchase and renovate a Frank Lloyd Wright home in St. Joseph, a beach town on Lake Michigan. The magazine is available in many bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, in the upper Midwest.

To read more about our Frank Lloyd Wright home, please visit the Schultz House Web site. If you “like” its public Facebook page, you’ll get regular updates and photos of our ongoing renovation projects.

Before and after

The belief in a thing makes it happen.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

DSCN4913If you love houses, you probably enjoy 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.

DSCN4916Overlooking 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.

Doug and BalthazarI 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.

Back RoomBeing the sweet, devoted wife that I am, I volunteered to help Doug redecorate the house — and style it — for its big public debut.

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.)

EntryThe 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.

Gardening Wright

As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.”  ~John Lubbock

Despite all the work involved, owning and caring for a second home is a privilege — especially if that home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of our Wright home in St. Joseph is that it’s so unlike our 1926 Craftsman-style Tudor home in Royal Oak. It gives me an opportunity to explore a fresh new era of interior — and exterior — design.

Designed in 1957 and filled with many of its original Wright-designed furnishings, our ranch-style Usonian home evokes both streamlined Scandinavian and Mid-Century modern styles. Whenever I’m sitting in the living room, for instance, I can almost picture the cast of Mad Men kicking back on the sofa with their cocktails. Anyone for a martini?

Likewise, the gardens at both homes are practically polar opposites. (If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve seen plenty of photos of my garden in Royal Oak!)

In this post, I’ve included a couple of new photos from the Wright house. In the detail shot of the planter near the front door (bottom photo), you’ll see a large ceramic sphere that blends with the red brick and concrete used in and around the house. This area gets a lot of sun, so I’ve mingled succulents with the perennial grasses. The sphere was a gift from our longtime family friends, the Hemmings, as a memorial to Doug’s dad, who died last summer. Doug’s dad always enjoyed gardening, and I’m sure he would have appreciated this tribute.

We purchased our most recent piece of garden art (top photo) from the annual Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff in St. Joseph last weekend. It charmed me as soon as I saw it. Constructed from rusted scrap metal and embellished with rocks, this quirky sculpture features a part that moves like a weather vane or a mobile when the breeze blows through.

For now, we’re enjoying the sculpture on the terrace, which overlooks the woods and St. Joseph River (terrace shown in photo above). The piece looks right at home surrounded by the natural, untamed landscape — just the way Wright himself would have liked it. My next challenge is learning which plants the deer won’t eat. Any suggestions? –CL

— Photos of the Charles Schultz exterior by Cindy La Ferle. For a larger view, please click on each photo. —

Starting the year Wright

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

Late last summer, my husband and I fulfilled our longtime dream of purchasing a Frank Lloyd Wright home in southwest Michigan, where we hope to retire in a few years. Like most homes that need repair or renovation, this one has its own lessons to teach. You can read my new essay online in The Christian Science Monitor. –CL

–Photo of the Carl Schultz house by Doug La Ferle–