Memory Lane

A peak inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural gem
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The living room of the Frank Lloyd Wright home, located at 450 Madison Ave. SE, in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of Steelcase.

Set among hundreds of Victorian-era mansions in Grand Rapids’ historic Heritage Hill neighborhood sits a lone Prairie- style home designed by globally famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Step into the wood-slatted entry and the entire house appears to be untouched by time.

A view of the Meyer May House from the rear gardens. Photo courtesy of Steelcase.

Designed in 1908 for Grand Rapids clothing store owner Meyer May and his wife Sophie, Wright considered every detail of how the space would be experienced, a hallmark of his style. This included positioning windows closer to the floor to enhance May’s sight line, as he was of below-average height.

An early photograph found of the home showed a mural wrapping around the dining room wall. Beneath layers of paint, restoration experts discovered (and eventually uncovered) a watercolor mural of hollyhocks by George Mann Niedecken (pictured above). Niedecken collaborated with both Wright and Mahony on the interior details of the Meyer May and Amberg homes. Photo courtesy of Steelcase.

Once finished, the house was unlike any other around it. “Wright’s projects are significant because of his intent to shape an experience,” explained Don Dekker, director of the Meyer May House. “Wright had a vision for open spaces that connected to one another. This house lives differently than other houses in the neighborhood.”

An avid proponent of living in connection with nature, Wright took many of his design cues from the setting of the home. The Prairie style, which Wright and his associates made famous, refers to the emphasis on the horizontal lines of the home, intended to replicate the flat landscape on which it’s situated. Yet time did take its toll. By 1985, the house had fallen into disrepair and much of Wright’s original vision was altered. With a restoration plan, office furniture manufacturer Steelcase purchased the historic icon to bring it back to Wright’s exact specifications. The project was a way to honor Steelcase’s shared history with the famed architect. In 1939, Steelcase collaborated with and manufactured Wright’s furniture designs for the SC Johnson Administrative Building.

Furniture, which Wright had designed specifically for the Meyer May House,
was located around Grand Rapids and meticulously restored. Today, the home features exact replicas of Wright’s original carpets, upholstery, and paint colors. Steelcase still maintains the property to historical standards and offers free tours three days a week. For more information, visit meyermayhouse.steelcase.com.

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