ALEXANDER MCCOLL MODERN ON MEADOWFIELD
Text and photographs (unless otherwise noted) Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2017.
Julie Wolfert’s restored 1956 Alexander McColl-designed house, recently listed for sale by owner, is a rare example of the architect’s open-concept ranch homes. It was completed around the same time that the interstate highway system was created, the nation’s first suburban shopping center was being built, television had become a household fixture, and Grand Rapids had begun expanding the city’s boundaries in all directions.
I have documented five Alexander McColl ranch-style homes in East Grand Rapids, one on the northwest side of town and two, including Julie’s house, on Meadowfield NE, a cul-de-sac street that was developed in the 1950’s by Jack and Fred Stiles and overlooks Kent Country Club. McColl, a 1916 University of Michigan graduate, was a very popular architect, his homes are still prized by owners. He was known especially for his English cottage and historic revival styles. Hearing about the project, my mother-in-law offered to introduce me to McColl's daughter Anne Forslund. During the pleasant interview, Forslund told me about her father’s practice, and how he had always designed with the client’s wishes in mind, doing extensive research on the various historic styles requested to add authentic period details.
After taking possession of her Meadowfield house in January 2017, Julie fast-tracked the restoration. She painted the original door and new custom sunburst storm door, a bright turquoise to add a splash of color to the light tan stone and frame exterior. The foyer is tiled with colorful irregular slab slate flooring and decorated with a mid-century planter. Stone details recur throughout, as with the living room’s 10 foot-high cut-stone fireplace wall with a raised concrete
hearth. Rooms are wrapped in Mahogany, from wood-paneled walls to the living room’s parquet ceiling. Although the abundance of warm wood is something of a throwback to the beauty of Arts and Crafts houses, this home’s interior is absolutely modern. Mahogany paneling was a key interior design element of mid-century modern homes, notably in the iconic California Eichler homes.
Here the wood is balanced with light. New globe pendant lights were added, a liberal sprinkling of original bullet lamps hang throughout, and (as a nod to the technology of the day) a full-length glass window wall runs the entire length of the main floor. The sliders lead to a sleek deck with a stylish metal railing that was hidden under a wood structure that was just 24” high with only 2 horizontal rails. Julie’s father, with the help of Ebling & Son Blacksmith, added another horizontal rail at 36” high and added steel rod rails in between to meet safety code. The Lazy L- shaped concrete pool and with concrete apron was installed in 1975 by Spoelstra Pools. The day of our tour, the season’s autumn colors created a spectacular view of Kent Country Club’s rolling terrain, a backdrop to the deer that had stopped at the fence to curiously peer at us.
Back inside, the warmth of new cream-colored carpeting provides a soft balance to all of the cool finishes. Mid-century modern design typically combines a variety of natural materials such as brick, stone, wood and glass, so that a la carte decoration is rarely necessary. Here, in keeping with the style, Julie wisely furnished her home with iconic, modern pieces, including a pair of Eames lounge chairs, and a few rich-hued landscape paintings.
The stone fireplace wall continues into the dining area, where the Mahogany ceiling now shifts into a herringbone pattern, illuminated by a saucer-shaped George Nelson Bubble Lamp.
In the kitchen, Julie partnered the 1950’s brick fireplace and built-in barbecue with new wall ovens, quartz counters by Top of the World Granite, cabinets by Studiowise, a company that specializes in restaurant interiors and applications, and a raw steel backsplash fabricated
by Holland Sheet Metal. She repaired the vintage slate floor that leads to the glass-walled greenhouse. Brightened by a skylight, the greenhouse is framed in Pecky Cypress, a rare old wood marked with pockets of darker colored wood resulting from the wood being attacked by fungi. Frank Lloyd Wright often used this wood in his Usonian homes.
From the greenhouse, Julie took us back through the living room to the open stairway. The turquoise metal railing is vintage, but has a new custom wood bullnose and risers to match the original. We went up the half-flight to the second floor to the master bedroom where large windows showcase the best sunset views. We were curious about the small ramp next to the bed, and learned that Julie is developing a ramp for small dogs for injury prevention and mobility enhancement. She hopes to soon market this product as “Juan + Sophia,” the names of her former and current Chihuahuas. The adjacent dressing room and master bathroom retain their 1950’s powder blue sinks and tile, while the original pink and black tile of the guest bathroom somehow survived, and the recently-removed wallpaper will make way for a fresh coat of paint.
A half-flight of stairs down from the main floor is the family room and walkout level which is framed with hand-hewn beams, another stone fireplace wall, and a swath of original mural wallpaper. Julie mixed contemporary with mid-century by adding a minimalist stainless steel back splash fabricated from Holland Sheet Metal, and a new wet-bar from Studiowise formed from an old utility/water heater closet. A new tank-less water heater was installed in the mechanical room of the basement.
Also on the lower level, literally behind a door in the wall, is the gym and laundry room, complete with a beamed ceiling, more wood paneling, and triple doors leading to the backyard. The room started out as a deluxe “hobby” garage to store a vintage car collected by original owners, Elizabeth and Cornelius B. DeKorne.
Cornelius DeKorne owned C.B. Cutting Tools on Ottawa near downtown. The DeKorne name has long been associated with furniture, and C.B.’s first career was from circa 1916 to 1950 working with his brother Lewis in the original DeKorne Furniture Store on Plainfield NE, now site of the Creston Brewing Company. C.B.’s father, Boudewang DeKorne, was a Dutch immigrant who carved sample furniture for the Berkey and Gay Company. Boudewang also did the moldings and cornice work in the lobby of the old Pantlind Hotel, now the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and in the Stewart White, later the Grand Rapids Furniture Museum and is now part of Grand Rapids Community College.
The Meadowfield house is true mid-century gem restored to its original beauty by Julie’s commitment to renovation and restoration. Now she taking her love of interior design, history and workmanship of fine craftsman to another level, and an older historic period, as she embarks on a new project in the Heritage Hill District. If you would like to inquire about the sale of this house you can contact Julie at ________