MODERNIST GEM ON COLLEGE NE IN RIVERSIDE GARDENS, GRAND RAPIDS. TEXT AND PHOTOS BY PAM VANDERPLOEG COPYRIGHT 2014.
RIverside Gardens was developed as a residential neighborhood in the 1920's by Charles Sligh who sponsored bus trips to the site to sell lots. At one time a golf course, this picturesque neighborhood is an enclave moderately hilly tree-lined streets between Riverside Park on the Grand River and Plainfield Avenue. For example in Riverside Gardens Sligh Street starts downhill at Monroe and Riverside Park and ends uphill at the iconic Fat Boy restaurant on Plainfield Avenue NE. In this neighborhood you will find English cottage homes designed by Alexander McColl on the same streets as early modernist homes by James Bronkema alongside solid 1950’s brick ranch-style homes by a variety of builders. Tucked a few blocks away from the home James Bronkema built for his parents on Sligh is an extension of College, a cul-de-sac with newer 1960’s style homes and at least two of them were designed by Robert Wold of Bowers and Wold. One of these homes, at the end of the street, is perched on a hill overlooking the neighborhood and the original Crestview School (now Northpointe Academy) and was built for the Carr family.
The house has been beautifully maintained. It helps that the current owner has the original blueprints and that following construction, Carr thoughtfully saved and catalogued extra pieces, parts, materials that could be used by future owners when repairs were needed.
One of the first things you notice is that it still has the original California-style carport distinguished by the decorative concrete block. A narrow walk leads from the street to the front door and inside the front door, the foyer is filled with light.
The open stairway is a major design feature in this multi-leveled home, and leads up to the bedrooms and office or down to the walkout level. There is a mix of materials in the foyer so typical of the mid-century modern home including the tile floor, an abundance of glass, wood paneled walls and the interior brick walls. From this central hub you get a preview of the rooms on the various levels.
To the right you follow a narrow entry to the living room and immediately you get a hint of the window wall looking out onto the natural beauty of the site.
The focal point of the living room is the brick fireplace which is a partition wall separating living room from dining area. The beamed ceiling is dramatic and consistent throughout the house with the beams painted the same color in all of the rooms on the main and upper floor.
The window walls continue in the dining room space. A door leads from the dining room to the stylish vintage St. Charles kitchen.
The cabinets are original. The current owners added new flooring which is complimented by lower cabinets on legs. The generously sized kitchen looks out to the decorative concrete wall of the carport. And the beamed ceiling continues in this space. Leaving the kitchen (maybe a bit reluctantly) and heading upstairs, there are three bedrooms, a set of connecting bathrooms and the office.
Clerestory windows in the bedrooms and office are a source of light in each of the upstairs rooms which also feature hardwood floors. Built in closet dressers and roomy linen closets are nice storage features.
Again the care which has been given to this home is evident even in the bathrooms which features the original decorative wall and floor tile. The skylight brings light into the space.
The open stairway leads back down to the main level and ultimately down to the walkout level–a combination library/family/media and entertainment room.It is a friendly and comfortable space that brings the outdoors inside. Sliding glass doors lead out to the patio set on the hill overspread with ground cover and touches of purple iris.
From here is a panoramic view of a neighborhood that has aged gracefully. I have admired this home for a long time and was lucky enough to be able to make two visits to this home after the owners came to my presentation at the Wealthy Theatre. It’s been wonderful to learn more about the home, observe the talent of the original architect and get to know the owners, one of whom is an architect who worked on a major Bronkema renovation. These two have clearly loved this modernist gem.