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By Thomas Connors | Photo: Werner Straube | February 5, 2016
Architect Mason Miller updates a rare 1950s gem for a couple mad for midcentury and modern.
When thinking of fine homes on the North Shore, it’s the traditionally inspired work of architects Howard Van Doren Shaw and David Adler that usually spring to mind. Although there are exceptions—most famously, the A. James Speyer-designed residence and garage that was featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—modernist gems are not especially common in this neck of the woods. But for Jonathan and Megan Greer, finding one was of paramount importance.
“My father taught at Cranbrook Academy of Art,” Megan says. “I grew up around Saarinen buildings and Eames furniture. I’ve always loved the idea of the modern.” So when the couple got wind of this 1950s ranch, they put in an offer based solely on the listing photos.
Not surprisingly, while the property manifested the period profile the couple admired, it needed work. “It was pretty rough inside, and the layout was typical of the era, including a small kitchen tucked in a corner with a tiny housekeeper’s bedroom tucked behind that,” shares local architect Mason Miller, who renovated the residence. “But the house is steel-frame construction—unusual for a single-family home—which meant none of the walls were load-bearing, so we could take them out.”
Miller not only reconfigured the existing interior (tripling the size of the kitchen); he extended the footprint of the house to create a three-bedroom wing for the couple’s children, enhanced the entry court and applied a nonmetallic cladding to the facade that suggests the earthy appearance of Cor-Ten steel. He ripped out the wall-to-wall carpeting and installed rift- and quarter-sawn white oak, removed dropped ceilings to expose steel beams and used a generous amount of walnut—a touch that honors the natural wood detailing that characterizes many midcentury-modern houses.
Bright and light-filled, the house exudes an explicitly high-design sensibility but sports such user-friendly features as a mudroom with built-in cubbies, one for each family member. “The modern aesthetic isn’t always seen as very functional,” observes Megan. “We have three little boys, and what’s so smart about Mason’s design is it’s very clean—and there’s a place for everything.”