It was fun to share with Stephon the memories of E. John Knapp as recorded by Knapp's daughter Marcia Krech, who called it her father's first "zig zag" house. He recalled that he couldn't find an engineer who would do the math for the plated roof so he did it himself. Marcia said, "The proof that he did it right is that it is still standing and in beautiful shape.”
According to Knapp, "O'Ryan was a landscaper. He approached me and asked me if I understood Japanese architecture. He had heard my landscaping speech [given in Muskegon].” "I told him yes I had studied Japanese architecture and I would love to build a house based on those principles. I asked him if he understood the tatami mat principle. He said he was aware of it but didn't understand it. I explained it to him. Their sizing of rooms was based on the number tatami mats it was, whereas American homes are always based on feet and inches. I adapted the tatami mat principle to modules.
O'Ryan had the land on Mona Lake. I went to see it and was happy to see it had a view of the lake and was a good size. The next thing we did was we went to the planning commission to see what the set back was to see how large of a house I could design on the lot. I took all this info. back to the office and started working on the schematic design. I knew I wanted to try a folded plate roof. I also knew that my engineer who I had a great respect for, Melvin Medema, did not really understand the folded plate so I spent considerable time figuring out the folded plate engineering. I gave all my calculations to Mel to check on it. He said I had done a good job and approved all my calculations.
I had instructions from the owner on the number of bedrooms and what other rooms he wanted and had figured out how much of the land we could use for the actual building. I mastered the roof design so now I could design the building. I made several sketches of the floor plan and the elevations, and realized I was on to something unique in house design. It was so exciting to me that I worked on the design practically the whole night, and the next day I realized I had designed a building that I could show the owner.
The first thing I showed him was the site plan and the use of the land. He was a landscape architect so I wanted him to see the relation of the landscaping to the building, how they worked together. The owner was delighted with the floor plan and intrigued with the exterior elevations, the folded plate roof. He authorized me to complete the preliminary design and try to put a price on the building. We eventually had the house under construction.
In the meantime Bill Dunlap owner of Aluminum Extrusions called me from Charlotte and asked me if I would be interested in working with him to design his home and I said yes and I have a house under construction near Lake Michigan that I want to show you. I think you will like this new design. So he drove to Grand Rapids and I took him over to Mona Lake to look at the O'Ryan House. He was absolutely entranced by the house and realized we were on to something unique and special in architecture, integrating landscaping, and engineering in a folded plate design."