Frank Lloyd Wright’s original exudes small-scale architectural art

The east facade of the Eppstein House in Galesburg, Michigan, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1940s.Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

For two glorious mornings, Mother Nature gently woke me up. As morning dawned, soft sunlight streamed in from a long row of windows just above my head and printed squares of light on the mahogany walls. And, slowly, as the room grew brighter and filled with birdsong, my eyes blinked open.

It was the best kind of Mother Nature: interpreted, bottled and delivered via Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture in Galesburg, Mich. Oh, and the architecture that has been restored to perfection by Marika Broere and Tony Hillebrandt, two sixty-something FLW aficionados who were born in the Netherlands but now call Cambridge, Ontario home.

In most rooms of the house that Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein began building in the late 1940s, the same sunlight hits custom-made, terracotta-colored 12 x 16-inch concrete blocks that Wright designed for the couple (primarily Doris) to make with molds the couple made themselves; it took three years for the more than 3,000 regular blocks (plus corner blocks and perforated blocks) and delayed moving into the house until 1953.

Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

Above: A pink-hued fireplace anchors the living room. The dining room, overlooking the kitchen.Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

And these blocks, thanks to Ms. Broere and Mr. Hillebrandt, will last at least until the 2070s.

“We brought in master painters who treated the blocks inside and out,” says Broere, “and we asked Sherwin-Williams, the company, to help us find a very , very special so that the blocks would not look different, but they would be protected for 50 years. … It cost an absolute fortune, we could have bought a really nice car for it.

In Cambridge, Ont. couple bought the house and went to great lengths to painstakingly restore it.Dave LeBlanc/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Broere and Mr. Hillebrandt have spent other small fortunes – a partial list of major items includes part of the “Cherokee Red” concrete floor, new windows, a ductless heating/cooling system and ceiling repair of the sagging bedroom — since, when they first saw the house in 2016, it hadn’t been lived in for 18 years.

In fact, if you add up all the money they spent, it would equate to an expensive waterfront cottage in Ontario, since that’s what they were looking for in the first place. “Already the prices were six, seven, eight hundred thousand dollars,” says Hillebrandt. “I love classic cars, I was in Michigan and then I found this house for sale.”

It was probably Frank Lloyd Wright’s cheapest home to come on the market in the past two decades. Listed at US$455,000, the couple were able to secure the 2,250 square foot home for US$368,000 and then spent likely even more than that on restoration.

The Eppstein HPuse, Galesburg, Michigan. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1940s. Dining room.Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

The Eppsteins, if they were here today, would probably understand. In the first letters to Mr. Wright, they had asked the master for a house that would cost US$10,000. Mrs. Eppstein, a chemist who flew military aircraft during World War II as WASPs (Woman Airforce Service Pilots) and worked with her husband at the Upjohn Co., wrote much later that “the true cost of house was around $45,000”. back when “a scientist with a Ph.D. was probably making $10,000 a year.”

Ms Eppstein also wrote that ‘the floors were very difficult to clean’ and that she ‘didn’t like the cramped bedrooms or the small kitchen’. She admitted, however, that her children loved the design for its openness and interaction with nature, and that there were other children in the other three FLW homes on the land they had named “The Acres”. .

Walking from room to room, one can admire how the evening light fills the long, narrow hallway of the house.Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

It’s this reality of a mother with five children versus the artistry and fantasy of America’s greatest architect that I try to balance as I wander from room to room. The long, rather narrow hallway is wonderful when it contains a person (me) admiring the way the evening light fills the tiny Tetris-shaped glass windows contained in the blocks (which Mr. Hillebrandt and Mrs. Broere changed to glass at double glazing), but I’m sure it was another when it was filled with hungry, barefoot toddlers heading straight for the breakfast table. And that glorious living room, with its dramatic ceiling that connects to a row of 10-foot high windows, and that monumental fireplace, those surely make more sense with adults and cocktails than sibling fights. . And that little kitchen! Although I could manage in it (while I didn’t cook a meal, I cut evening brie and hot muffins for breakfast in the microwave), I can’t imagine how it would have ran with a bunch of snacks- PB&Js demanding after school freaks.

Fortunately, I can use the house as FLW surely intended: as an aesthete, a connoisseur, a gentleman who likes his dry martinis. And while the Eppstein house is certainly not Fallingwater, in my opinion it’s more interesting to examine how Wright’s mind worked on this scale, how he tried to engineer elegance into small things such as those perforated blocks or the sexy hardware that allows the windows to swing. wide open and how the kitchen skylight performs a dual function by sneaking past the wall (which does not touch the ceiling) to illuminate the foyer, or how a variety of ceiling heights and the partial burial of the east facade can create such feelings of shelter and comfort.

In the family room at the south end of the house, I can sip wine, listen to jazz, and gaze at Wright’s sashless corner windows and how wonderful they are for bringing nature ever closer to our heart.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Ms. Broere said. “Usonian houses, in many ways, go against my sense of aesthetics; you know, they’re kinda hazy, kinda dark, kinda earthy, little pieces. But the Eppstein house makes me so happy, I feel so at home in this house. … This is the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

Large windows fill the living room with natural light.Leigh Ann Cobb/Leigh Ann Cobb

Although the Eppstein House is not currently listed on AirBnB, it was previously under the management of Mrs. Broere and Mr. Hillebrandt. To that end, the couple are currently working with The Acres HOA (Home Owners Association) to amend the bylaws to make it available again from next month.

Ms. Broere and Mr. Hillebrandt allowed Shauntelle and I to stay two nights for free. They have not reviewed this article.

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