The Blinn House is the perfect melding of modern house and gorgeous site. Homeowner Mark gave me a tour. It is obvious that his young family loves the home, and it is easy to see why. We entered from the garage into the recreation room, a former carport, where the Blinn's, both teachers, used to give art lessons. The upper floor’s living area has a beautiful wood ceiling with post and beam construction. The beams have been painted black over the years.
The living room has a shallow balcony with views to the natural terraced site. The home was carefully planned so as to preserve as many trees and as much of the natural site as possible. Tucked into the wooded site, the house feels cozy and remote, even though the home is very close to the main street running through the city.
One of my favorite features is the floating stairway that leads from the living room to the walkout level and galley kitchen with access to the the terraced lot. The house form is somewhat illusory. From certain vantage points, the house appears tall and square. From other views, it is long and low and steps along the lot from the end of the cul-de-sac to the edge of the wooded site.
At the end of the tour, Mark showed me the blueprints. E. John Knapp, design principle and partner in the firm of O'Bryon and Knapp was clearly the architect of this project and associate architect Carl Zillmer (who worked for the firm) was also on the drawings.
Architect E. John Knapp, now approaching his 101st birthday, remembered so much about this house history because of the personal connection. Knapp's favorite projects were for people he knew - especially when they had a real flair for art and design. And that was the case here. Knapp designed the home for art teacher Tom Blinn and wife Marjorie Salzmann Blinn. Marjorie's roots were in Belding. The Salzmann family were dry cleaners in Belding and Knapp grew up with Marjorie in the neighborhood, and there is an additional family connection by marriage.
The following story was related by Knapp:
I was walking down the street in GR one afternoon, and who did I see but Marjorie Salzmann! She was a superb architectural draftsman and she had worked at Smith Henchman in Detroit when I was there. I had known her family in Belding and also in Detroit when lots of families moved to Detroit for work during the depression.
So there she was in GR years later! We stopped and talked. We had a lot in common because we worked for the same architectural firm in Detroit. Eventually I told her what I was doing, that I had left Detroit and was building houses in GR. She said, "Well we’re working with a builder to build our house." And I said, Well why don’t you work with me to design your house?
Turns out it was Albert Builders! (Editors note: Knapp's firm, O'Bryon and Knapp, had already been designing houses for a few years for developers Albert Builders at that time).
I asked her where is your land, I’d like to see it before we build the house. She said she would talk to her husband, Tom. She called me up the next day and said they wanted to hire me. I got in my car and went to Greenville and met them and walked the site and listened to what they wanted to do in the house.
I was delighted because Marjorie was a very quiet and artistic person and, because she’d worked at Smith Hinchman Grylls in Detroit, we were both excited to work together to build a really modern house for them. They had not been happy with the standard plans of Albert Builders and were happy to get a modern architect to design their home.
The land was a couple of acres. You came in off the road to the high part and it sloped off to the back of the lot. When we were where the living room would be we, we were looking to the east out the back and down the slope. (About a story and a half slope) I was happy because I like sloped sites. I was delighted to be hired by them because both of them were artistic and I knew we would get a good house out of our collaboration. Good house design always started with good clients.
Tom and I and Marjorie had a long discussion that afternoon about what they wanted in their house and I went back to Grand Rapids to design their house. About two weeks later, I had crystallized the design in the plans and they were excited because it was everything they originally wanted me to design. We gave copies of the plans to Albert Builders and they gave us a price for the building of the house. And the rest is history! -- End of Knapp's story.
Knapp's daughter Marcia J. Krech shared, "Dad liked that house very much and so did Marjorie Blinn." Knapp said, "Marjorie loved it!"
One last fun thing that we learned was that Tom Blinn had a hobby. His hobby was restoring old cars. According to Knapp, "While we were building the house he was restoring an old Ford pickup truck. It was a beautiful old thing."
The Blinn House is a beautiful thing as well, just as cool and modern as the day it was built!