MODERN VERSCHURE ON GRAND RAPIDS NORTHWEST SIDE
Text and Photos by Pam VanderPloeg, copyright 2018.
Beth and John Scott were searching for a new home and wanted to focus on the NW side of Grand Rapids. Although they drove down Oakleigh SW several times, the trees and foliage on the 1/2 acre corner lot screened the VerSchure House from view. Beth grew up just down the street on Oakleigh, and had walked by the house many times on her way to her grandmother's house. Even as a child Beth understood that this house was unique. One Sunday afternoon in late summer 2015, just one day before the VerSchure house was listed or sale, Beth an John drove west on Seventh Street where they could get a good look at the home's current condition. They toured it Monday, and within a week, they had become the third owners of one of Grand Rapids true mid-century modern gems.
The exterior of the VerSchure House is composed of warm, rosy face-brick topped by creamy gray painted vertical boards. The low horizontal profile is accentuated by wide eaves resting on slender square posts and the narrow clerestory peeking out above the flat roof. Oversized stone pavers lead to the recessed front door with its wavy glass side light. The pavers are flanked by small beds of Japanese-style plantings with shrubs, ornamental Maples and other conifers. Beth, who has a talent for landscape architecture, is restoring the landscape using a tattered remnant of the original garden plan found in the back of a cupboard as inspiration.
There is a wonderful balance in the massing of this house completed in 1952. The impression is of connected boxes set firmly into the front of the corner lot and extending out in an L-shape over the walkout level in the back. The interior has an immediate wow factor with the playful back and forth of vertical and horizontal geometric design elements. For example, beyond the front entry, the foyer is separated from the living room by a three-panel industrial style screen in a metal honeycomb pattern framed in wood. The screens are suspended from the ceiling by metal rods over low built-in shelves that turn the corner to abut the brick fireplace wall. The line of the top shelf continues across the wall as a single plank forming a simple modern mantle. Firewood is stored in a square niche in the brick wall. The newer fireplace screen introduces a chevron pattern.
The open concept living room and dining space has a smooth plaster ceiling that angles sharply upward to create the clerestory. The transition from the cozy foyer to the more expansive living area has been described in Frank Lloyd Wright homes as the technique of "compression and release." Harris VerSchure, the architect of this house, drew on the mid-century modern playbook to bring the "outdoors-in," installing three large windows with treehouse like views of the garden below and the neighborhood beyond. The refinished pine floors are original.
Wright's style of compression and release is experienced in reverse in the transition from the vaulted ceiling of the dining area to the low-bead board and beamed ceiling of the separate enclosed kitchen. The wide opening between the two is framed with modern trim and decorative vertical slat boards. The kitchen was updated by the second owners and features sleek contemporary cabinet fronts, subway tile and pretty globe pendants. The open wood shelves add a playful touch of rustic modern. A six-light glossy white door leads from the kitchen to the carport and porch where straight lines give way to casual wooden steps that meander in an angled path to the backyard below and are decorated by interesting perennials arranged by Beth.
Newer cork floors of the kitchen and foyer continue through the hallway to the bedroom wing where Beth and John have updated the rooms with new paint and carpeting. It is not known what was once under that cork floor.
In the stairwell, a pattern of three is used effectively in the floor to ceiling vertical window and again in the three pretty pendant lights. The floating stairway is one of my favorite modern design elements with the natural wood stair treads suspended by dark industrial metal rods. There is a whole other level of rooms below in the walkout level that expands the living space. Here the family room is brightly lit by a wide band of ribbon windows overlooking the backyard.
Sharing his admiration for the house located on Grand Rapids northwest side, John says the house, “doesn’t beg for your attention” and it feels much larger and more open inside than anyone would guess.” The Scotts are both interior designers working at Haworth. At Haworth, Beth designs showrooms and workspaces for Haworth’s headquarters facility, while John’s work involves developing strategic plans and conceptual design recommendations for global companies to help them realize healthy workspaces that align with the company's business performances and culture. They are the perfect owners because they appreciate the home's modern aesthetic and have filled it with complimentary furniture, lighting and textiles.
John was the first to tell me the history of Harris Andrew VerSchure who designed this house for his own family. VerSchure, an architect at Daverman Associates, was a specialist in healthcare design. From 1952 until 1979, Harris and his wife Eleanor worked together to finish the house to their liking. Then tragedy struck. VerSchure was traveling to Detroit in the Daverman company plane for a meeting with HUD officials to confer on a housing project long in the making. He was killed when the plane collided with another while circling over Detroit, waiting to land. The plane went down scattering pieces over a large subdivision in Windsor. After her husband’s death, Eleanor Ver Schure continued to live in the house, even after she remarried. In fact Eleanor owned the home until her death in 2009. There was only one owner between Eleanor and the Scotts, and certainly this is one of the reasons the house has not been, in a word, “remuddled.”
The VerSchure House is a great example of a well-preserved home of pure modern design. It may be the only residence designed by Harris VerSchure, who was born in Holland, Michigan in 1922. VerSchure graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Michigan College of Art and Design. According to a Grand Rapids Press article published after his death, VerSchure designed the mid-century Veteran’s Hospital building on Monroe, Raybrook Manor off Burton on Grand Rapids southeast side, Pine Rest Hospital on 68th Street and the 1958 Grand Rapids Osteopathic Hospital building and first addition formerly located at 1919 Boston SE but now gone.
It is gratifying to discover VerShure's work, and to tour the home he designed for his own family back in 1952. A big thank you goes out to Beth and John Scott who not welcomed me to their home. They shared their knowledge of Ver Schure and the many plans they have for its restoration. Right now Beth is restoring the landscaping and John's projects include rebuilding the Japanese lantern designed by Ver Schure designed, as well as painting what was the original redwood siding.