With all the changes that have been made to the Meier House in its 100+ year history, we cherish the features that are original to its construction. We do our best to restore and maintain the entire house, but we give special attention to extant original elements. One of those original features is also the largest: the carriage house. Well, that’s what we call it. It’s actually the garage that was built when the house was constructed in 1917. It was built for an automobile so it never really housed a carriage per se. Still, this vine covered little structure begs to be called carriage house, doesn’t it? Continue reading
Now that we have a plan to upcycle the upper half of the original kitchen cabinetry, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The first step in refashioning the cabinets as new fireplace built-ins is cutting this one cabinet into thirds. Continue reading
We’ve been thinking about what to do with the original kitchen cabinets since we first discovered them in the garage back in the spring of 2014. Back then, the cabinets were sitting in a corner of the garage covered in layers of dust and grime. The base unit, facing backwards, was resting on the concrete floor and the upper cabinet was mounted on the wall above. The doors, drawers and shelves were stacked on the top and inside the base unit. We turned the base unit around and tested to see if the drawers and doors fit it and the upper cabinet. We were delighted not only to see that everything fit but that none of the glass in the doors had been broken over the years.
Satisfied that we had the complete cabinetry, we start mulling how we would reuse them in the house. In those early days of house ownership, when we were wide eyed and filled with outrageous ambition, we dreamed of retrofitting the kitchen and re-placing the original cabinets back in their rightful spot. But to make the footprint of the kitchen look as it would have back in 1917, we would need to completely reconfigure the kitchen. We would need to relocate the refrigerator and dishwasher as part of a complete kitchen remodel. Ambitious, right? Well when we decided to give the kitchen a facelift instead of an overhaul, that nixed that idea.
And so we left the cabinets sitting there in the garage. For. Five. Years.
Now that we had jettisoned the plan to move the cabinets back into the kitchen, I started thinking about another way that I could upcycle them. About a year ago I hit on the idea of dismantling the top cabinets to reuse them elsewhere in the house. I think I was sweeping the garage when I ran excitedly into the house and beckoned The Mister to share my new plan with him. Picture it, I said as I stood with him in front of the cabinets in the garage, I’ll cut the upper cabinetry apart to create two built-in cabinets for the fireplace. There had once been shelving flanking the fireplace but that had been removed years ago. So let’s take something that had been removed from the elsewhere in the house, I explained, to create something new for it. What a great idea! we both agreed.
And then I choked. I could hear the purists in the back of my wind. “Why would you ever cut those cabinets apart! They’re one of the only remaining original features of your home! You should preserve them!”
But today I’m here to tell you that I’ve decided to let the purists squawk all they want; we still think this is a good idea.
Because, you see, here’s the thing: the Delbert Meier House is not a museum. And we have not set out to turn back the hands of time and recreate the home that the Meier family first inhabited in 1917. This house is an ever-evolving family home in a small rural town. Over the years it has been owned by woodworkers, DIYers and co-creators who have made changes to the house that they deemed appropriate at the time. We’re following the example set by those previous owners and creating something that will be useful, beautiful and enhance the livability of the house for future owners.
We don’t know exactly how long the original kitchen cabinets have been stored in the garage. Judging by the layers of dirt and dust on them, I’d say at least a couple of decades. Some of the shelves were imprinted with what looked like oil can rings and other automotive stains so we suspect that the cabinets were used for storage in the garage at some point. The cabinets have been enduring the damage of temperature change and wear and tear of being in the garage for decades. By repurposing one of the cabinets for a new use, we’re saving them from further neglect.
And so it’s official. The upper cabinetry will be cut down to size and repurposed as built-in cabinets on either side of the fireplace. Stay tuned to see the progress of this project!
As we’ve written about in the past, one of the wonderful advantages of owning one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s American System-Built Homes is becoming part of a network of stewards who are interested not only in their own home but in the ASBH project as a whole. Over the past five years of ownership of the Meier house, we’ve had the privilege of spending time with many ASBH stewards in their homes. We meet to share stories and compare notes, to break bread and break down history and, of course, to give tours of our homes.
The below photo of the Meier House from the 1920s was sitting on the kitchen counter when we first toured it. Looking back, that was a smart touch by the sellers and real estate agent. We had driven five hours northwest of the city to see a house that we didn’t think we would actually buy. (Or did we?) They couldn’t have known it but these two guys who were about to walk through the house love a little bit of history. Throwing down a couple of black and white photos is like tossing a dog a bone. We panted over the old photos of the house before bouncing around its empty and echoey rooms, oohing and ahhing and planning what we’d do with it.
It’s one of only two photos of the house as it used to look. The other photo, standing directly in front of the house, was taken at the same time. In both photos the snow looks like it’s drifting off the middle of the roof on the front of the house.
Romantics that we are, we’ve looked at these photos many times over the past five years of homeownership. We’re looking back at how the house used to look, sure, but we also find ourselves thinking about what life in this big, boxy house in this small, Iowa town must have been like back then. Why did the Meier choose this day – and not a beautiful summer afternoon – to photograph their house? And how is that snow drift just hanging off the roof like that?
It’s that last question that we may finally be able to answer. During a recent snowstorm and deep freeze here in the midwest, we noticed that snow had collected in the same spot as in the vintage photos. Directly above the front door and in line with the belvedere up at the top of the house, a drift of snow seems to be dangling off the edge of the roof. Scroll up to the top of this post and look for yourself.
In our years of ownership, this is the first time we’ve noticed this snow drift phenomenon. Perhaps this is a clue about why the house was photographed that day. Perhaps the Meiers had just experienced a big snowfall and deep freeze, much like the one we’re experiencing here in the 21st century. They may have been documenting the weather, a photo that they would include in a letter to relatives in which they’d share their experience hunkering down and staying warm in front of the fireplace.
It’s in these moments that we feel a closeness to the house’s original owners. It’s also a reminder that we are total nerds who spend too much time imagining life in the past!