I attended a dinner a couple of weeks ago at the Meyer May house in Grand Rapids It was one of those funny things. I’ve lived in GR almost thirty years and only been there once before. It is the kind of thing tourists do when whey come come visit. I’ve gone out of my way to visit Fallingwater and other FLW structures but do I visit the one in my own backyard? Nope.
Finally it happened and what a lovely evening.
The house has been beautifully restored by Steelcase. There’s a logical connection because providing the desks for the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin—a big FLW project—put Steelcase on the Office Furniture Map.
I learned a lot about the house and about FLW design. Here are a few tidbits that interested me so I’ll share.
- The house was built in 1880 for the Meyer May and his family. He was a wealthy retailer and business man in GR.
- It is a striking contrast to the stately Victorian homes built in the prestigious Heritage Hill neighborhood. At the time it was considered “really odd.”
- It has lots of the elements of typical FLW homes like horizontal lines, lots of wood, connection the out-of-doors, hidden or non existent front doors.
- Other FLW characteristics are gently sloping roofs, low proportions, sheltering overhangs and outreaching walls sequestering private gardens.
- What looks like a front porch is not connected to the sidewalk because FLW didn’t think neighbors should be able to meander down the street and join the folks on the “veranda” as they called it.
- FLW didn’t visit GRand Rapids until years later. He designed the house without stepping foot on the site.
- The ceilings and the windows are very low because Meyer May was 5’4”. The house is proportioned to him.
- The fireplace wall in the living room was placed where it is and does not have any windows because FLW didn’t like the look of the neighboring house. The shiny lines in the limestone and brick fireplace surround are glass tiles. Interestingly, the next door house is now the visitor center.
- As with many of his projects, FLW took total control, designing the furniture, lighting, carpets and even specifying where art could be hung. Steelcase has been able to procure many of the original items or reproduce others.
I love the way Vincent Scully’s describes the house in the brochure. He says, “Serenity is the word Wright used to identify the state he hoped to create in his buildings and it is the best word still.”
To continue Scully’s quote: “A gentle unity suffuses the interior o f the May House, carried by the muted light from the bands of leaded windows and spreading in one even tone throughout the flowing spaces, across the quiet carpets, the light colored wooden stripping, and the golden plastered walls.”
Intrigued? Put a tour of this house on your list. Here’s the web site for all the information. MeyerMayhouse.steelcase.comAnd if you get invited to go to dinner there—cancel everything else and immediately accept. It’s a real treat.