Category Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

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.

There are twelve zinc glass windows in the house – two in each corner of the three bedrooms, five on the south wall in the living room and one in the window beside the front door. (The three narrow doors leading to the sunporch are also zinc glass in the same design.) The rest of the windows are standard wood casement windows – most of which open fairly easily. We don’t really open the zinc glass windows very often because, well, why tempt fate with something one-of-a-kind?

The inner windows were not a part of the original design of the house. We were visited by the daughter of a former owner, the town grocer, who informed us that it was her father who had built the windows and screens. The grocer and his family lived in the house through the late 1970’s so the inner windows and screens were likely constructed around that time. You’ll also note the early-American style hinges on the windows. It seems that, it being the 1970’s and all, the grocer’s wife was a big fan off early-American style. That’s also an indication of when the windows were added.

There are also screens that were built for nine of the windows. Three screens for each of the larger bedroom, two screens for the smaller bedroom, plus one screen for the kitchen and one for the dining room. Since we know that these screens were built by the grocer, we don’t know what was originally in place. Likely, nothing. In the other ASB homes we’ve been in, we’ve seen a number of retractable and removable screens in the windows. I don’t think the original American System Built Home plans called for screens. That was likely up to the owner.

The screens and windows are numbered with helpful little pins that were sold at a time when storm windows were a more common feature houses.

I’d love to replace the early-American hinges with something that’s more in keeping with the Prairie style of our ASB home, but there are a total of 74 hinges on the windows. And that’s not including the hinges on the screen! If I include those, it would take 94 hinges to replace them all. If anyone out there has the hook-up for cheap but handsome hinges, let me know.

As the current stewards of the house, we are doing our part to care for the windows. Every summer I oil the casement stays and other hardware. Oiling not only helps extend the life of the adjusters, it makes it much easier to open and close the windows. As with any wood windows, some of them are easier to open than others. The swelling and shrinking with the seasons wreaks havoc on the wood each year. There are a few windows that are going to need a little more attention next spring.

In a house that is lacking a lot of other original features, we consider ourselves lucky to still have the windows that were installed in the house when it was built in 1917. Here’s to keeping these windows going strong for another 100 years!

Through the (Drinking and Looking) Glass

Frank Lloyd Wright Drinking Glass

The very first Frank Lloyd Wright-designed glass I ever looked through was a highball containing a vodka soda. We’d bought a beautiful set of Miller Rogaska barware (made for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on our very first visit to Spring Green back in 1999. Alas, much of that barware hasn’t survived the years, but we still have a few existing glasses, a decanter, and an ice bucket in regular service. As I look out now through our genuine Frank Lloyd Wright-designed windows – sometimes with a highball in hand – I often reflect upon our journey “through the looking-glass” into our own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Wonderland here at the Delbert Meier House. And it all started with these drinking glasses. Bottoms up, Mr. Wright!

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!

 

American System Built Homes: A Complete List of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Early Prefab Homes

Burnham Street Two Flats

When most people think of Frank Lloyd Wright they think of his impressive roster of spectacular custom designed homes. But Wright was also an early proponent of design for the masses. While his Usonian homes might be more commonly known, Wright was dabbling in prefab as early as the nineteen-teens. By 1915 Wright had partnered with Milwaukee builder Arthur Richards to create what would come to be known as American System Built Homes. The venture was interrupted by the United States’ entry to World War I (as well as infighting between Richards and Wright) but not before a number of ASB homes were built in the midwest. How many were built? We’re not sure, actually. There are a few ASB homes that have been demolished over the years and some others that are still being discovered.

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Wright Words: Cover It in Vines

A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.

It’s been said that Frank Lloyd Wright hated garages. And, in fact, the American System Built Home designs did not include blueprints for garages. Of course, these designs were produced during the 1910’s, so garages were probably not deemed nearly as important as they would eventually become.

And yet when Delbert and Grace Meier built their American System Built Home, they also built a garage. At some point the original garage was decommissioned and a new garage, along with a roofline extension, was added. The old garage now serves as our carriage house – used for storing firewood and as a summer hangout space. That the old garage is covered in a thick layer of lush, green vines would probably please Mr. Wright. As he famously stated in the quote above, vines are the only way architects can cover their mistakes.

It’s been suggested that we try to remove the vines from the old carriage house. It’s a suggestion that we will not heed. We love the vines on the old carriage house – they way they cover the worn stucco and add a lushness to the space in the summer months. We’ve actually considered adding vines to the new garage extension which, in our opinions, is the much more unsightly building.