Wright’s Palmer House Put on the Market

August 14, 2008

By John Gallagher

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, acclaimed by historians as one of the architect’s best residential projects, has been put up for sale by the family of the original owners. The asking price is $1.5 million.

Palmer House
Photo courtesy Edward Surovell Company

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Built between 1951 and 1952, the Usonian-style home measures 2,000 square feet and sits on 1.5 acres of wooded hillside near the University of Michigan campus. Still in pristine condition, it contains three bedrooms and two baths, as well as many pieces of Wright’s free-standing furniture and a collection of original documents relating to the project. The grounds also include a small teahouse designed in a sympathetic style by John Howe, a Wright protégé. The structure was built several years after Wright’s death in 1959.

Wright designed the house for William Palmer, a professor, and his wife, Mary, a musician. In 1950, the couple asked the architect to create a dwelling for a double lot they had purchased on Ann Arbor’s east side. Historian Grant Hildebrand, author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House, published in 2007, wrote that the architect, then in his eighties, gave the Palmers a design that ranks among the best residential work of his career.

The Palmer family lived there for five decades. William Palmer died several years ago, and his wife and their children recently decided the time is right to sell.

Viewed from above, the house evokes an arrowhead. Its shape is based on an equilateral triangle, which creates sculptural spaces and relationships, inside and out. The house contains many of Wright’s trademark interior elements, including cypress paneling, a large central fireplace, and flooring made of reddish concrete with a leather-like finish. Outside, the gently sloping roof features cedar shingles and patinated copper flashing. The building’s façade is a defining characteristic: brick walls are accented by bands of ceramic blocks with a repeating cutout that resembles a bird in flight.

Edward Francis, FAIA, a Detroit architect and long-time student of Wright’s work, says the house is in mint condition, which he attributes to the architect’s meticulous craftsmanship and the building’s “well-conceived and technically solid design.” Furthermore, he adds, the house was “passionately maintained by dedicated owners.”

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