These Walls Can Talk: How Owning a Frank Lloyd Wright Home Sparked Passion, New Book
When it comes to unique homes, claiming a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home ranks at the top. What makes it more special is that this is a Wright-designed house located outside of Illinois and Wisconsin which is one of the few that uses prefabricated building techniques. in its American system-built homes program.
On the northern edge of Monona, Iowa is the Delbert Meier House, one of Wright’s unique M202 designs and now lovingly maintained and restored by Michael Schreiber and Jason Loper. They bought the house in 2013. Delbert and Grace Meier selected, bought and built the house in Monona in 1917. The lawyer and his family, with two daughters, lived in the space above his law firm during the construction of the house. Even local newspapers made mention of the added beauty to the city after the house was completed. The Meier family lived in the house until the early 1960s. Coincidentally, Delbert died the same year as Frank Lloyd Wright, the designer of his house.
âWhile looking for a home, we had stayed in cabins and B & Bs in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, really lovely places,â Schreiber noted, âand we knew very well. Frank Lloyd Wright and visited several of his homes. Near where we had stayed. After this list was posted, it took a few weeks to convince Jason to look at it. We had a list of “must haves” and it did not match any of the first three. ”
Living in Chicago at the time, they wanted a shorter than five hour trip to Monona, but Schreiber recalls, âWe were gone as soon as we walked through the door. We knew this was a truly loved house. Schreiber and Loper confirmed this in their conversations with many previous residents. But each family had also left its own unique imprint on the house.
âThere were a lot of colors on the walls that we wouldn’t have chosen,â he noted. A little remodeling was done in the 1960s; the woodwork had been repainted, the fitted wardrobes had been removed, the entrance had been opened, a new garage had been added, and the porch had an extension added between the house and the garage. In the 1980s, the kitchen and bathrooms were renovated.
This dream home became a passion for the couple, who interviewed the previous owners for more information, documenting the history of the Meier House and the American-System-Built Home project as a whole. This passion has translated into careful preservation of the house to honor its heritage, while simultaneously modernizing it to enhance its functionality as a 21st century home.
Starting with the exterior of the house and moving to the first floor, their challenges have been to restore as much of the original features as possible from the renovations, design choices and additions made by previous owners. In the living room, this included painstakingly removing paint from the brick fireplace and removing the added mantel, a daunting task for any homeowner.
As in many older homes, the woodwork had been repainted and Loper made it his mission. He removed the paint and stained the woodwork, restoring it to its original splendor throughout the house. Fortunately, the original kitchen cabinets were found in the garage in 2014 and were used to recreate and replace the fitted cabinets that had been removed in the living room.
Doing most of the work themselves gave the couple the opportunity not only to connect and engage in the renovations in an intimate way, but to plan phases of restoring the original aspects of the historic home and time for it. connect with his past. âOf course we enjoyed the Frank Lloyd Wright look of the house, but the connection we were able to experience with the previous owners and parents who knew the house are tangible memories of living in this house over the years. Last 100 years, “Schreiber said with a smile.” They shared their memories, their photos, we even have the original shot, which is just priceless. “
Each projects a labor of love, each brushstroke is closer to their vision of the house of their dreams. The couple developed a website, www.thisamericanhouse.com, devoted to their findings and helping to connect people with other system-built homes. They always receive comments on their blog from people who remember the house and the people who live there.
Schreiber added, âIt’s the advantage of being in a small town. We have access to those people who have memories and stories. People always say âif these walls could speakâ, but we were very lucky because these walls spoke and we are listening. “
Seeing a correlation to their situation in one of their favorite 1948 films, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home,” Schreiber and Loper adopted their own nicknames: Mr. and Mr. Blandings. âThere are still things we would like to tackle in the restaurant business, and eight years later, it’s still a work in progress. And we’re still discovering little surprises as we explore the next renovation project. Like the original pebbled stucco tucked under the porch roofline addition.
Schreiber and Loper signed a book deal in 2018 with five separate chapters titled: âAn American Plan,â âA House in a Prairie Town,â âThis American House,â âIf These Walls Could Talkâ and âThe Accidental Archivists. The compilation of stories from the house itself has been matched with a book with the finishing restoration in the main areas of the house for photo opportunities. All documents were submitted in summer 2019 with a book release scheduled for 2020.
âWhile the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the world, it has also put the publishing industry on hiatus. The folks at Pomegranate have very wisely decided to delay the release of our book for a year. We were disappointed (naturally!) But considering what we all went through in 2020, it didn’t seem like something we had the right to complain about, âSchreiber relayed.
The book, “This American House,” was finally published in August of this year and is now available in bookstores. The book reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s sense of design on its cover and is filled with much of the wonder and love that the house has held for over 100 years.
They realized there was more to Frank Lloyd Wright’s house than the design, and they continued to listen to the stories of past owners, parents and community members. These have also become part of the stories told by Maison Meier – a home of family, community and connection, just like its original owners, Delbert and Grace Meier.
Visit www.thisamericanhouse.com for more details on the Meier House, its history and other American System-Built homes.