JAMES BRONKEMA HOME AT 73 FULTONWOOD SE
Text by Pam VanderPloeg Copyrght 2019. Photos provided by Kristine DozemaN.
Whenever a Bronkema home is listed for sale, I think the community’s mid-century heart skips a beat, just a little. 73 Fultonwood is on a unique cul-de-sac of six mid-century modern homes built in the 1950s by James Bronkema and located just off East Fulton Street. The seventh house on the street is a Carl Koch house.
73 Fultonwood is a three bedroom/2 bath house built originally in 1953. It has an Asian-inspired design with a Frank Lloyd Wright-style recessed entry reached by a walkway thickly planted in lush bamboo. Listing agent Kristine Dozeman gave me a tour beginning with the horizontal foyer with its wood floors, skylight and bold art, found throughout the house. The hall follows the roof ridge of the side-gabled house and connects the master and guest room suites. It also leads to the modern kitchen addition with a walk-in wine cellar and clerestory windows that provide a view of the gardens.
One step down, is the dining room and behind that wall a theatre room. The living room is separated from the theatre by a stylish angled partition wall and fireplace framed in stainless steel. Brightly lit by the skylights, that expose a section of the steel construction, this room has a full-length glass curtain wall with an up-close view of the in-ground pool and gardens.
In true mid-century custom, the home’s dramatic exterior of glass, wood and brick is meant to be viewed from the backyard. At the back edge of the property is small creek with two Japanese-style bridges, the backdrop for the wisteria-covered pergola and a Tuscany-style outdoor dining room. Kristine recalled the many year-round events and small parties the owners hosted on the property. In truth, the house was made for entertaining, and yet, Kristine also stressed its retreat-like ambiance where you might like to curl up with a book and watch the snow fall in the winter garden.
Kristine stressed that not only had the owners invested in the interior design and landscaping, but they had also rigorously maintained the home’s critical systems, upgraded bathrooms and restored the in-floor heating. In the 1990s, earlier owners completely restored/renovated the home which had deteriorated considerably. The result was a like-new house within the framework of the original house and with a vision compatible to that of its designer James Bronkema.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT JAMES BRONKEMA. If you are a modern architecture enthusiast, then you will love Fultonwood SE, a cul-de-sac just off East Fulton Street. James Bronkema, a World War II pilot, made Grand Rapids history in 1949 by becoming the youngest president of the Home Builders Association. He was the designer/contractor/developer of six of the seven Fultonwood homes in the 1950s. The homes included flat roofs, prominent front gables, stepped up ranch design, and rectangular massing. In fact, in the 1950s, Bronkema pushed the boundaries of traditional home construction, using his signature combination of brick floors and wood partitions in the place of full walls. He designed glass curtain walls with sliders to backyard patios and emphasized the importance of family rooms. He added extra-wide chimneys, and in at least one of the homes, a sunken living room. His intention was clear. These homes were to evoke popular California contemporary design. Bronkema left Grand Rapids around 1960, headed for Tampa, Florida where he worked as a real estate developer for a few years. From Florida, he moved to California for a job managing the Embarcadaro Center in San Francisco. There, he was very active in political circles and served on boards and commissions, one that influenced the development of the Golden Gate Bridge area. Bronkema retired to Palm Springs and he died there in 2014.