Category Archives: architecture

Giving Thanks: 7 Wonderful Things About Living in an American System-Built Home

7 Wonderful Things About Living in Our American System-Built Home

This weekend marked our SEVENTH Thanksgiving in our American System-Built Home. As part-time residents dividing our time between the Delbert and Grace Meier House in Iowa and our apartment in the city, we always look forward to this long holiday weekend. It’s one of the few times that we’re able to carve out additional room in our work schedules to allow for a long stay at the house together. One of us has to rush back to the city while the other stays behind to work on house projects, but over the holidays we typically get a few extra days together in the house. And over this particular Thanksgiving holiday, we took some time to reflect on the things about our little piece of Frank Lloyd Wright’s American architectural heritage that give us joy. And so without further ado:

The 7 Things About Living in an American System-Built Home for Which We’re Thankful

1 – We’re living in history
Well, of course, there’s the obvious – we’re living in a piece of architectural history. Throughout our marriage, The Mister and I have dreamed about living in a home with architectural significance. It may have taken us 15 years of talking about it, but we finally achieved our goal when we purchased the Meier House. And we’re loving every minute of it!

2 – You’re one of us now
Joining a community of American System-Built Home owners has been another highlight of this experience. We’ve had the privilege of not only meeting other ASBH owners but also visiting their homes, forging friendships and sharing the excitement (and occasional commiseration) of owning one of these beautiful structures.

3 – A stranger is a friend you haven’t met
Giving tours of our home to Frank Lloyd Wright fans has been a unique experience that we have wholeheartedly embraced. We’ve welcomed visitors – both planned and impromptu – from around the world and will gladly stop what we’re doing to give a guided tour and share the history of our home and its owners.

4 – Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision is alive in the 21st century
When Mr. Wright launched the American System-Built Home project with Arthur Richards in the 1910s, he envisioned a nationwide housing system that would bring his Prairie-school designs to the masses at an affordable price. Wright and Richards had a falling out, America entered World War I and only a couple dozen ASB homes were built before the plan was scrapped all together. But here we are, more than 100 years later, calling this house our home. We think Mr. Wright would approve.

 

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5 – You light up our lives
The windows in this house are so, so gorgeous! Just look at the way the sunshine streams through the bank of zinc-glass windows in the living room! And even in the dark days of winter, the corner windows in the bedrooms on the second floor allow an abundance of daylight into the house. On those nights when the moon is full, the glow filters through the 100-year-old glass and brightens the space so much that it feels more like twilight than midnight.

6 – Picture it: Iowa, 1917
Having this house is the best dinner party conversation we could have ever purchased. It’s also the most expensive dinner party conversation we could have ever purchased. But, hey, it happens to also be an effective ice breaker AND a really lovely house so it really does seem like a bargain.

7 – Paying it forward.
Quite possibly the most rewarding part of owning this house is that we’re doing our part to preserve it for the future. There are fewer than 20 American System-Built Home standing today. We’re doing our best to make sure that the Delbert and Grace Meier House remains a viable family home for the next 100 years.

Welcoming Visitors to the Delbert Meier House

Copies of photos from the 1920s are taped to the garage wall to show visitors how the house would have looked before additions.

We knew when we bought the Delbert Meier House that we would receive visits from people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and the American System-Built Homes. The couple we bought the house from – who had only owned it for about three years – attested to this at the closing by sharing stories of drop-ins. And they were correct – we started getting visits from those interested in the house and its history almost immediately.

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The American System-Built Home Revival in Atlantic City

This Zillow image shows the house at 212 N. Tennessee

When Frank Lloyd Wright and Arthur Richards partnered on the American System-Built Home project in the 1910’s, they surely envisioned a large scale endeavor that would see their houses popping up all across America. After all, Wright prepared hundreds of designs and was known to think big. Unfortunately, he was also known to be difficult to work with. By 1917, the relationship between Wright and Richards had soured and, with America entering World War, the ASBH project had all but fizzled. Continue reading

ASBH Features: Our 100-Year-Old Windows

For a 100-year-old-house, the original wood casement windows in our American System System Built Home are in excellent condition. This is largely due to the fact that the house has been fortunate enough to pass from caring owner to caring owner. We learned from the grocer’s daughter, for instance, that it was her father who had carefully reglazed the windows and built the interior (storm) windows and screens. And according to a longtime neighbor, the windows were a point of pride for the teacher who owned the house for many years after the grocer sold it. The neighbor told us that the teacher spent his summer breaks tending to the house and preserving the wood windows.

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The Delbert Meier House in The New York Times

It may be fleeting, but our house was mentioned in The New York Times over the weekend. The article, entitled How to Sell a Frank Lloyd Wright Home, outlines some of the difficulties of selling the architect’s famous (and famously temperamental) houses. And, if I’m honest, the potential resale of our house gave us pause when were considering the purchase. But of course that didn’t stop us from moving forward.

When The Mister first nudged me and said, “Hey, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house that’s in our price range,” I scoffed.

“It must need a lot of work,” I replied.

“It doesn’t look like it,” he said, and then immediately sent an email to the real estate agent to inquire about the house’s condition.

We learned from the agent that the house was in great shape with a newer furnace, recent roof and strong structural integrity. It all seemed too good to be true so we made the 4-1/2 hour trek west to see it in person. And that sealed the deal. The moment we walked in and saw the old windows and the spacious living room with the big, brick fireplace, we were hooked. Sale or resale be damned, we knew this had to be our house!

One of the reasons the sale price on our house was so low is that it’s in a rural part of Iowa where home prices have remained low. But perhaps another reason is that people don’t want old houses anymore. In the little town where the Delbert Meier House is located, the big old homes languish on the market while new construction homes get snapped up fairly quickly.

With all of this in mind, we’ve definitely tempered our plans for the house. Before we took possession we had talked about restoring the house back to its original 1917 state. This would require rebuilding the wardrobes that were removed from the bedrooms, gutting the kitchen and removing the carport addition that was added to the house in the 1960s. That last part would require the largest investment. We invited an architectural firm from Mason City to the house to give us an estimate on the work. Sticker shock shortly ensued. Knowing that we likely won’t be able to sell the house for much more than we paid for it, we’re not quite willing to take on those big projects.

Instead, we’re making minor changes that will make the house more livable while also maintaining its original character. We’re trying to preserve what’s left of the house’s original features – the casement windows and original slap dash stucco – while also making it livable in the 21st century.

Because that’s the thing about our house – it must remain livable. Our house will never become a museum or tourist destination (although we do get our fair share of visitors interested in its history). Instead, t must remain a habitable home that can be passed on to another set of passionate owners at some point.

Of course, if we ever came into a giant sum of money, this might all change. So if you’re reading this and you’re a wealthy benefactor interested in investing in architectural history, let’s talk!