A local architect finds the house of her dreams.
By Lynne Konstantin
Photography by Brett Mountain
Most young couples fantasize about their dream house.
But when one part of that couple is an architect herself, the fantasy gets a bit more detailed.
Architect Laurie Hughet-Hiller, an associate at McIntosh Poris Associates in Birmingham and Detroit, and her new husband had been living in Los Angeles, a mecca for mid-century modern design, when she fell in love with the style.
Referring to the modern design of the mid-20th-century, the American mid-century took many cues from the German avant-garde Bauhaus movement, including the mantra that form ever follows function. That groups’ director of architecture, Mies van der Rohe, left Nazi Germany to settle in Chicago, where he headed the department of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In the 1950s, a young University of Michigan architectural student named Irving Tobocman studied van der Rohe’s work, and it left a lasting impression on him. His residential work in the mid-century style was distinguished by clean, horizontal lines, floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a smooth transition from indoors to out and an easy, open flow between rooms. Inside, the style was echoed in furnishings lacking in ornamentation but bursting in polymorphic and geometric shapes. In her definitive 1984 book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s (Harmony Books), author Cara Greenberg wrote, “Multipurpose became a catchphrase,” motivated by a desire for post-war simplicity and economics. “This new furniture stacked, folded and bent; it was rearrangeable and interchangeable; it nested and flexed.” And many of the most lasting designs had connections to Michigan: designers and manufacturers including Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, Herman Miller and more.
“As an architect, mid-century modern appeals to me as it was the preeminent movement in architectural design of the last century,” Hughet-Hiller says. “There is a timeless, simple elegance to mid-century modern design; it is characterized by pure materiality and form without superfluous ornamentation.
“After living in Los Angeles for a few years right out of school where there are a ton of great mid-century modern homes by the architectural masters of the day [like the famous Case Study Houses], I always dreamed of owning a mid-century modern home. This house is a part of design history.”
Moving back to their native Michigan in 2009, Hughet-Hiller and her husband, with the help of her mom, came upon a listing for an Irving Tobocman-designed home in Bloomfield Township.
“My mom saw this listing before we moved back, and when we got here, it was still on the market,” Hughet-Hills says.
Built in 1964 when Tobocman was not long out of school — “about the same age as I am now,” Hughet-Hiller says — the home was a custom design for its original owner, who the couple bought it from. Last year, they gave the house a 50th birthday party — which Tobocman attended. “He told me stories about the house,” she says. “I had him sign my blueprints and he blew out birthday candles.
“The house is really a true piece of architecture, and it really spoke to us,” says Hughet-Hiller, who acted as the home’s general contractor for its true-to-the-original renovations. “We really lucked out to find something so architecturally significant, a little more high design than others [of that period] that can be a bit more generic, yet small-scale enough to be able to afford it as first-time homebuyers. I feel very privileged.” NS
Photographer Brett Mountain, who captured the images of this architecturally important home, has created a website, PLAC3D.com, where guests can explore a virtual, 3-D tour of real estate and design. He also offers businesses the opportunity to have their own interior and exterior real estate captured for display. Visit the website for a virtual tour of Laurie Hughet-Hiller’s home, Mid-Century Manse, where you can explore the layout, each room in the house and more.