FOREST HILLS MODERN
Text and Photos by Pam VanderPloeg Copyright 2019
Stephanie and Dennis Squibb, who are both originally from Illinois, have owned an eclectic mix of homes. These range from an East Grand Rapids house that led to a Forest Hills home that was sold to move to a mid-century house in the Westlake area of Los Angeles and then back to Grand Rapids to a classic Heritage Hill home. Ask which house they liked better and the answer will be “all!”
They recently bought a spacious and stylish 1965 contemporary ranch in a Forest Hills neighborhood developed in the 1950s. It is a tribute to the original design, that today the style is so cool and very modern. The house form consists of an asymmetrical gable and wing with a roof that slopes gently down almost to the ground.
Located on a cul-de-sac in a busy neighborhood, the home is actually very private. The house has a horizontal profile, reinforced by a facade of cream-color painted Roman brick laid, of course, horizontally. The only front windows consist of three narrow vertical units, one with casement windows and two of wood-framed opaque decorative glass. The double-door entry with wavy glass side-light is topped by large clerestory windows and flanked by rows of vertical boards. The delicate sputnik chandelier that lights the dramatic two-story foyer is visible from the outside.
In this bi-level form, the split stairway leads a half-floor up to the bedroom level where the post-and-beam construction and vaulted ceilings create large volumes of space for the master bedroom, gym/yoga space and guest room. There is an abundance of space in the master bedroom, enough to easily add a baby crib for the couple’s new grandchild. The master and guest bathrooms are modern and spacious.
In the guest room, the original built-in bookshelves and the unexpected brick fireplace, now painted a flat black, add warmth and character to the large room which serves as a serene meditation space. The wood-paneled walls were over-painted a quiet cream-color, and the ceiling beams are painted the same flat black as the fireplace. It is true that some might regret that the wood paneling and beams were painted, but here it works well, and is complimented by new wood floors.
One interesting detail seen throughout the house are the modern “trim-less" door openings, nicely finished with smooth, simple edges.
At the other end of the split staircase, several steps down from the front entry, is an open-concept all purpose space that incorporates the living and dining area on one side of the kitchen. There is a beamed ceiling, a painted brick fireplace wall on one side and sliders on two walls that lead to the outdoor patios. The floors on this level are the original polished terrazzo-style concrete floors.
Directly in front of the staircase, in the middle, is the modernized kitchen with pretty bamboo cabinets and simple fronts, and the welcoming, oversized bamboo island. This is the signature piece of the kitchen and is perfect for casual dining, socializing and food preparation. The lighting is soft with both canned lights and globe pendants.
On the other side of the kitchen is a bathroom and an open space awaiting a new identity and new furniture. It is in this area that walls were removed to create a more open space. Another glass window wall leads outdoors.
The house sits in the center of a large backyard defined by enormous old trees and minimal plantings. A creek borders the property. The rear and side exterior walls are clad in vertical siding. The interior ceiling beams pierce the exterior walls to support the deep eaves. A narrow balcony is accessible from the guest room and provides tranquil garden views. In true mid-century style, in the main living area, the three sets of glass sliders melt away the boundary between the inside and the outside.
ABOUT THE ARCHITECT AND BUILDER. This home was designed by builder Richard D. Brooks, a popular and prolific builder who was born in 1915. Brooks grew up on his grandparents farm on Bostwick Lake. He graduated from Central High School and Northwestern University and was working as a sales engineer for American Seating when he was called to service in World War II. He flew Navy seaplanes in the Pacific theater during the war and when discharged ran an air-freight service at the Wayne County airport until he eventually returned to Grand Rapids. Brooks was very active in the community, serving on several boards including one that promoted keeping Grand Rapids (then) Junior College downtown. He completed over 3,000 homes, apartments and buildings during his lifetime.