Category Archives: dream house

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.

Golden Hour on a Cold Wintry Day

Don’t let the golden glow of the evening sun illuminating the sun porch fool you. This is one of those cold winter days that makes Iowa feel like Siberia. Thank God for central heating! We’ve had the thermostat cranked up to 71 degrees today trying to battle the arctic air that makes its way through the drafty old doors and windows. But somehow the cold air always seems to win.

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Winter Reflections on Corner Windows

You know how I was saying that I love the windows in our house? Well this is why.

Frank Lloyd Wright really knew what he was doing when he placed corner windows in his homes. Each of the three bedrooms in our American System Built Home have corner windows like this and the effect is huge. Pushing the windows to the corners of the rooms brings in some of the most amazing light. And when you first walk into a room your eyes are drawn to the corner, to outdoors, to treetops and light.

One day last week I caught this sunset just as it was shining its brilliance through the windows in the front bedroom. I paused for a moment to think about all the previous owners who have probably had moments of reflection inspired by the house’s design.

I think back to the house’s first winter in 1918. I wonder whether Mr. and Mrs. Meier admired the sunlight streaming through the windows. I wonder whether they watched the snow fall and the windows frost and thought about how happy they were to have finally moved into their American System Built Home.

I think about the kids who have probably looked impatiently out the windows in hopes that it’ll be a snow day. I imagine them pushing one of the casement windows open and reaching out to catch a few flakes as they drifted toward earth. “See, Mom,” they might have said. “It’s really coming down out there! It’ll be a snow day for sure tomorrow.”

I imagine the teachers who inhabited the house for 30 years who might have had the same feeling about snow days. Perhaps they counted on snowstorms to deliver unplanned days off that would allow them to hole up in the warmth of the house. And maybe they would see the sun setting through the windows and, refreshed by a day of rest, would feel revived for the new day ahead.

This is our fourth winter in the house and I still find myself being inspired by its beauty. I hope whoever owns the Delbert Meier house one hundred years from now knows that it has been filled with love.

Happy 98th Anniversary Delbert Meier!

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Today is a very special anniversary for the house. On this day ninety-eight years ago, Delbert Meier, along with his wife Grace, and daughters Esther and Martha, finally took residence in their American System Built Home. They had sold their house on Main Street earlier that year and were living temporarily in the apartment above Delbert’s office in the Monona Bank Building while this house was being built.

I imagine that day ninety-eight years ago was kind of like the one we’re having today. It was sunny but brisk and the trees were stripped of their leaves which were fluttering around in cyclones. Del and Grace might have walked up the sidewalk and paused on the porch before they opened the front door. They had ordered this house from a catalog, seen the supplies arrive (likely by train) and then waited as workmen had pieced it together. Today, standing on the front porch, they were finally about to walk into their very own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house.

I wonder if Del was more excited than Grace. I know that when it comes to The Mister and me, we don’t always have the same level of enthusiasm about things. Do you think it was that way for Delbert and Grace Meier? Maybe she kind of rolled her eyes as he gave a little speech about how they were going to put Monona on the map with their Frank Lloyd Wright designed house. Delbert was mayor just a few years after moving into the house so he was certainly a civic booster. Maybe he had seen Wright’s designs in Mason City and came back convinced that they needed once of Mr. Wright’s modern homes.

But then again perhaps Delbert and Grace were equally enthusiastic about their new home. Grace could have been just as intrigued by Wright’s pre-fab homes as Delbert. Maybe it was Grace who came back from a trip to Mason City all fired up about the architect’s designs. Looking at the plans maybe she recognized that the corner windows would create bright and airy rooms and the sunporch would be perfect for summer nights and afternoon teas.

Either way, the Meiers went on to occupy this house for 40+ years, the longest they occupied any home in their lives. They finished raising their daughters here. Delbert was a fixture in town, first at the bank and then in his own law practice. Grace, an educated woman, devoted her time to gardening and, I imagine, other home projects.

In fairy tale parlance, they lived happily ever after.

Happy anniversary, Delbert and Grace. Thank you for bringing this house into our lives.

The House that Feels Like a Home

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I’ve never been attached to a home.While I’ve always been a homebody, I was more likely to make the best out of any living situation rather than feel like I was planting roots. My family moved frequently when I was growing up and then I carried that gypsy spirit into my adulthood. By the time I hit my 30’s I had managed to live in a different apartment each year of my adulthood. Moving was fun and I always appreciated the opportunity to make an annual purge and redesign of my space.

Then, a few years into my thirties, we bought a small condo in the city. The housing market was booming and were practically promised a strong return on our investment. Well, if you were around for the 2007 housing crisis, you know how that story turns out. The bottom fell out of the housing market and everyone who bought during the boom found themselves with properties that were worth much less than they had paid.

Almost overnight, our home became a yoke around our necks. While we thought that we were ready for long haul home ownership, we had only envisioned being in the tiny condo for a few years before selling up to something bigger. Suddenly, our home became a yoke around our necks.

But we stuck with it. While many of our neighbors let their condos slip into foreclosure, we kept making our payments, confident that it would be the best decision in the long run.

While we still can’t sell our condo, we haven’t ruined our credit by walking away. We’ve diligently made all our payments and even though we’re still upside down, the amount we owe and the low monthly payment after refinancing our mortgage is very manageable. So manageable, in fact, that we have a little extra money to buy another home. It’s not a lot of money – which means we’re already priced out of buying another home in the city. And that’s what took us 4+ hours out of the city in search of a second home.

When The Mister first started telling me about this house, I immediately shot it down. There are so many reasons that owning this house is ridiculous for us. Besides the distance from our main home, the house is almost 100 years old, it’s much bigger that we originally had in mind and it’s located in a small town. Still, The Mister was drawn to the house’s history and, after talking and talking and talking about it, he finally convinced me that we should at least take a walk through it.

And that was it. From the minute we opened the front door and stepped into the house I knew that it was home. Because it felt like home. I can’t explain it really. This house has just always felt like home. Even before we started furnishing it with our own belongings it felt like home. There’s just a comfort here. And a familiarity that belies the fact that we’ve owned it for less than two years.

We don’t get to spend as much time here as we’d like. But whenever we do, we feel at peace. And that, in my mind, is what makes a house a home.