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American System-Built Home

American System-Built Home, architecture, history, iowa, Prairie School

Prairie School in Iowa: Support Iowa Architectural Foundation

01/25/2021

We’re excited to be partnering with the Iowa Architectural Foundation as part of their Prairie School Architecture in Iowa class. This 3-part virtual class – held February 9, 16 23 – will include 3 home tours – our American System-Built Home and two Walter Burley Griffin-designed homes in Mason City! See all the details below and consider joining us! This is a fundraiser for Iowa Architectural Foundation and a great way to see three wonderful houses without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Early Bird Tickets @ $35 are available only until 7PM on Feb 1; after that, $45 at EVENTBRITE.

February 9, 7-8:30 PM: Virtual Class led by Paula Mohr, PhD and Ryan Ellsworth, AIA

In the first half of the twentieth century, Iowa was a significant player in the development of what later came to be known as the Prairie School of architecture. This 3-part course will explore some of Iowa’s internationally renowned Prairie School buildings, such as works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin. We’ll look at examples located across the state, including the Woodbury County Courthouse and Mason City’s Rock Crest-Rock Glen as well as less famous examples located in small towns throughout the state.

February 16: Tour #1 – The Meier House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Monona, Iowa
Virtual tour of the Meier House, the only Iowa example of the American System-Built House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Join homeowners Jason Loper and Michael Schreiber as they explain their fascinating stories of finding and restoring this beautiful home. Motivated by Wright’s lifelong interest in affordable housing, he designed these homes between 1911 – 1917. The tour will be followed by a Q&A with the homeowners, our instructors and attendees.

February 23: Tour #2 & #3 – The Schneider House and The Page House, designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Mason City, Iowa – Virtual tours of both the Schneider House and the Page House in the Rock Crest-Rock Glen development in Mason City, the first planned Prairie School development in America. Homeowners Tim & Joan Platz and Gary & Anne Schmit will take you through their amazing homes and afterwards you can ask them questions and join in the discussion with other attendees and class instructors. Find out how you can dig deeper into the Prairie School architectural legacy of Mason City.

This is a fundraiser for Iowa Architectural Foundation to help us persevere through the Covid period with our mission: “To inspire an appreciation of architecture and design through educational programming for adults and students.”

Class Instructors
Paula Mohr, PhD
Paula is the Certified Local Government Coordinator and Architectural Historian for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). She is an alumna of the University of Iowa, the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies and the University of Virginia, where she earned her Ph.D. in architectural history. She has held curatorial and preservation positions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House and the National Park Service. In 2018 The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions awarded Paula with the Renaud Award, a lifetime achievement” award that recognizes trailblazers in the advancement of preservation at the local level.

Ryan Ellsworth, AIA Ryan is a licensed architect with Estes Construction. He has practiced in New York, Chicago and Des Moines. Ryan is on the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Architectural Foundation. He is one of IAF’s most active volunteers, serving as a guide for corporate and organizational tours and Architecture on the Move summer walking tours of downtown Des Moines. Ryan was the champion of IAF’s motor coach tour to Dubuque in 2019.

American System-Built Home, Frank Lloyd Wright, original elements

Who Built the Windows in Our American System-Built Home?

12/07/2020
The five windows on the south wall of the living room feature a zinc glass design seen in other American System-Built Homes

The Meier House contains a total of 38 windows, most of which still open and close, although some need a little encouragement from a rubber mallet. We can attribute the excellent condition of these 100-year-old wooden casement windows to the dedicated restoration efforts of Becky and Peter Olafsen. For our part, we have diligently been carrying on the care of the windows by tending to them each spring and fall. We oil the hinges and window stays, and carefully clean the glass twice each season.

Inner storm windows being stained and prepped for re-installation

Although inner “storm” windows and screens were not specified in the original plans for our Model M202 American System-Built Home, not long ago we discovered a few original interior screens in the attic of the new garage. We’ve seen a few variations on such screens in other ASBHs we have visited, although we have been unable to conclude whether a variety of screens was made available depending upon the model of ASBH a homeowner purchased, or if weatherproofing was left to individual owners to determine. Apart from the sun porch windows, newer protective inner glass windows are installed with each of the Meier House’s outer windows, along with a large selection of interior screens with numbered tags or handwritten notations indicating their placement throughout the house. We have not been able to verify which owner built these inner inserts, but given Delbert Meier’s penchant for woodworking, there is a strong possibility that he added some or all of the interior windows himself. In stripping paint from these windows, however, we have discovered that some storm windows and screens are newer than others, leading us to believe that some were rebuilt or replaced by succeeding owners as time and weather deteriorated the originals.

This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming book, This American House: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meier House and the American System-Built Homes, coming from Pomegranate Communications July 2021.

American System-Built Home, architecture, dream house, Frank Lloyd Wright

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

12/03/2019

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: Continue Reading…

American System-Built Home, before & after, DIY, renovation, stripping paint

Stripping Living Room Windows & Trim: Progress!

05/06/2019

This is how the conversation usually goes…

The Mister, with a glint of excitement: We should definitely strip all the woodwork in the house.

Me, flashing back to childhood weekends helping my dad strip paint from woodwork in our house: I don’t know. The white does make it feel a little more modern. Maybe we should just repaint it.

The Mister, downcast by resigned: Yeah, you’re probably right.

Me, leaving that window of opportunity slightly ajar: Although the trim really would be beautiful if it was stripped!

We’ve probably had this conversation a hundred times over the past five years of owning the house. That’s why we’ve left the trim untouched all the time. Until now, that is.

stripping wood trim in American System-Built Home

As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to take the leap and strip the wood in the living room. And you know what? It’s not so bad! Stripping paint is messy – there’s no way around that – but the work has been fairly quick. Well, some of the work has been quick. Stripping the windows is definitely more time consuming than stripping the picture rail and baseboard. All those little corners and crevices!

Stripping paint in an old home

But oh how good it looks!

I should clarify – when I say that I’m stripping the windows, I’m really talking about the frames. In the photos here, I’ve removed the interior storm windows so that I can strip the frame. I will not be stripping the exterior windows. The exterior windows will get a fresh coat of paint and the interior windows … well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

stripping woodwork in an old house

By stripping the trim, we’ve discovered that some woods don’t match. Well, not exactly discovered. We’ve known this for a while – from our own strip test when we were pondering our options and as informed by former owners when they came to visit. Most of the wood that’s been replaced is around the windows, likely due to water damage.

The wood that is original has a very dark stain on it. While most of that stain comes up with the stripper, a dark hue remains on the wood. It doesn’t appear that the wood that has been replaced was ever stained at all. By the time the previous owner was replacing wood trim around the windows, all the other trim had already been painted. So of course they just painted the replacement trim instead of staining it. When everything is stripped we’ll face the task of using stain to try to make all the wood match.

restoring wood trim in an old house

There’s just something about 100-year-old woodwork! At the risk of sounding like the old man that I am, they just don’t make it like they used to! When the trim was painted white it looked flat and lifeless. By removing the paint from the trim, we’ve exposed the beautiful grain that gives the wood visual interest.

So many paper towels and garbage bags! Have I mentioned how incredibly messy stripping paint can be?!

rehabbing wood trim in an old American System-Built home

But just look at the difference!

Now, back to those windows. As I said, we’re not going to strip the exterior windows. The window sash that faces inward will get a fresh coat of paint. We’ve decided to use the same color that we used on the outside trim and windows – black fox. We will, however, be stripping and staining the inner (or storm) windows. These windows were not original and, like the replacement trim, were never stained. Stripping paint from untreated wood is not easy! Fortunately, the house had a little surprise for us.

I was poking around in the garage looking for some scrap wood when I spied a few old window screens in a dark corner. While most of the screens were painted, two of them had not been. And, like a gift from the renovation gods, one of those unpainted screens fits the living room windows that were just stripped! See that dark screen in the middle window? That’s the one! This old screen even has the original hardware attached to it!

Since this screen has never been painted and hence never stripped, we can finally see that this is how dark the wood trim was stained. This truly is a gift from the rehab gods because now we have a goal: stain all the woodwork to match the color of this screen.

I also started stripping one of the old screens that had been painted and installed it in the right window. You can really see the difference between the stained screen and the screen that’s been stripped. We’re still planning to go back and strip the storm windows but for now we’re just going to install the screen. Since we’re in the warm months, the screens will suffice. (Plus, we’ve never had screen in these windows so it will be nice to be able to open them for fresh air!) Come fall, though, we will definitely need to re-install the storm windows. They really do make a difference in keeping the house warm.

For now, let’s step back and admire the progress…

So beautiful, right? We have a long way to go but it’s heartening to see all of this progress. When it comes to DIY renovations, one must celebrate the small victories in order to forge ahead with the other projects.

American System-Built Home, Famous Places, Frank Lloyd Wright, travel

A Visit to the Elizabeth Murphy House

02/04/2019

The Owners of the Elizabeth Murphy House in Milwaukee, WI

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.

Continue Reading…