Melvyn Maxwell Smith House: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Updated Photos: 01/22/2004

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan is a suburb of Detroit.  This home is placed in a beautiful wooded area on a lake.  All of the homes surrounding it are large, "beautiful" homes that don't really match this 1949 Usonian.  Even though some of them are old, the Melvyn Maxwell Smith house is definitely the most beautiful home around. 

Melvin Maxwell Smith House from the street.

There are quite a few modern sculptures around the yard that add to the artistic impression of the house.  The L-shaped home has a mixture of banded and floor-to-ceiling windows that face the lake.  A wall adds privacy to that side of the house.  

Wall setting off the private side of the house.

According to Storrer, Mr. Smith first saw photos of Taliesin in 1938.  He read all of the books about Wright that were contained in the Detroit Public Library and particularly was interested in the issue of Architectural Forum that was devoted to Mr. Wright.  Mr. Smith returned from WWII and found this plot of land near Detroit for a very reasonable price.  Mr. Wright approved of the site and work began on the plans.  Mr. Smith and his wife were both teachers.  The plans that arrived proposed a home that was priced well beyond what they could afford.  In answer to this, Mr. Smith immersed himself in learning the building techniques required to be his own contractor.  Storrer tells the tale of how Mr. Smith managed to acquire tidewater cypress for the home when none was available... and at a very reasonable price.  

Carport side from the road.

Thomas Heinz explains in his book "The Vision of Frank Lloyd Wright" the reasons why this home remains one of the most beautiful of Wright's Usonian designs.  This zoning laws in this region originally required that each house must be placed on a lot no smaller than 3 acres.  The zoning laws for this neighborhood have not been changed since its construction in 1949.  So where-as the 2 Jacobs' homes are now surrounded by homes, the Robie House has an apartment building built 6 feet from its back wall and the Pope/Leighey house had to be moved 20 miles to the south to make room for a highway, the Melvyn Maxwell Smith house remains wonderfully uncrowded on its large, lake-side lot.  In fact the road to get to this house is still dirt.  

Cherokee Red Mailbox with Matching Masonry Work

Storrer identifies the Melvin Maxwell Smith house as one of the last board and baton "sandwich" design homes.  The masonry pillars offer the structure that holds the cantilevered roof while the walls are made of sandwiched cypress wood and are not load bearing.  Later Usonians were predominantly built with brick and the sandwich walls were used for internal walls.  With the winters in this part of the country, that seems to make sense.

I'd read on the internet that the Melvyn Maxwell Smith house was owned by a university that did tours.  I even got this phone number where I could call for a tour.  No-one ever answered my messages though.  Early this October (2003) I found out why.  A really great woman sent me an e-mail telling me that the home is actually owned by her Aunt's best friend and said she'd send me the info so I could take a tour the next time I'm in the area.  Thanks Liz!  you're the greatest!!!! 

Updated Photos:

I've had many e-mail conversations with people about he Melvyn Maxwell Smith house.  Some have speculated that Mrs. Smith has passed away. From what I have learned, she's alive and well and living in California (as of April, 2004). Her family is working on creating a trust that will maintain the house over the years. The Cranbrook Institute has sponsored tours of the home on a few occasions. Unfortunately I haven't been on one yet. Hopefully I'll manage that soon.  

What I can say is that I've been in contact with a woman from Sterling Heights, Michigan who has stopped by and taken a bunch of photos of the home since it is not being lived in at the moment.  The following photos are thanks to Victoria Mielke.  Thanks so much for sending them!!!

Gate across the driveway.  It looks a lot like other Cherokee red gates that Wright has used in his buildings. 

Pendant Lamp in Carport

Street side of the house... notice the clerestory window designs. 

Ceramic tiles on the side of the house

Side view of the home... Notice the other pendant lamps in and outside of the house

Rear of the home... facing the lake.


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