When you’re fans of great architecture, having the chance to restore a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is something of a treat. Two years ago, Marika Broere and Tony Hillebrandt stumbled upon an ad for the Eppstein House in Galesburg, Michigan. Within days, they had purchased it. A husband-and-wife team originally from the Netherlands but now living in Canada, they have been pursuing a passion for home renovation for a number of years now — Tony as the contractor and Marika as the interior designer. But this was project was a whole different undertaking.
The Eppstein House, designed by Wright and built by Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein in 1953, was part of a planned Usonian community of 21 homes set in private, park-like grounds. Only four were finally built. Marika and Tony spent over a year restoring it, adding to its interior original pieces by Wright as well as Bauhaus, Hans Wegner and H.W. Klein. The result? As Marika tells us, they’ve restored a mid-century gem to its former glory.
Can you tell us how you found this great property?
Marika Broere: “We had been looking for the Canadian dream — a waterfront cottage — for quite a while, but couldn’t find what we were looking for. Tony was online, looking for a cottage close to the largest car museum in North America, in Gilmore, and found this house for sale. As we often make art and architecture a goal for our many travels, we almost immediately jumped in the car and drove to Galesburg, a 6- or 7-hour drive from our home. Three days later, we made an offer on the house, and it was accepted.”
What were the challenges in restoring it?
MB: “The restoration took a good 18 months, and a constant crew of craftspeople. We brought the house back to how it was meant to be. Our biggest challenge and dilemma was how to protect the house from the humid Michigan summers and the long winters that are extremely wet, then cold. The house had suffered massively from the climate in the past. The previous owner had already addressed many issues and had taken care of important repairs. We in our turn, finished what he started but then, at the same time, took care that the climate would have less impact on the house in the future. We decided we must install climate control in every room. Due to the architecture, even the most specialized company that we could find could not hide the heating/air-conditioning units. So we had them spray-painted in the same taupe color as the wall to let them blend in as well as possible.”
Did you make any other changes?
MB: “One bathroom was updated but totally in style, with tiles that were manufactured in the Fifties, and mahogany walls and ceiling. We removed the swimming pool, which was never part of the original design — which meant that extensive landscaping was necessary. This coming summer, we will plant beautiful dogwood trees, and lots of shrubs and plants.”
The Eppstein family background was important to you — why was that?
MB: “A house is not just a collection of brick and wood. Historical homes come with their own package. This house was built by Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein, mostly with their own bare hands. They even poured the textile blocks, and stacked them to build walls. Along the way, they had five children, who grew up in the house until they were older teenagers. Mrs Eppstein was a very special person; she even was a pilot during WWII.
“We could relate to their story as we built a large modern addition to our simple house in the Dutch countryside when we were young. We did everything ourselves, together with a carpenter friend. We never had enough money, so it took us many years to finish. Just like the Eppsteins. Meeting the Eppstein children, and letting them stay in the house was one of the highlights of the whole restoration process. They are such interesting people, and they told us many stories related to the house. When it came to decorating it, we strived to make it seem ‘alive’. Too many historical homes are turned into dead and dull museum pieces.”
When you travel, what do you look for? Is good design important?
MB: “It is just so inspiring to stay in a well-designed, tastefully furnished home. We have been very lucky at times. We’ve been to Budapest twice recently, and each time we stayed in a stunning apartment in a very old building — you know, the kind with a rattling metal elevator and marble everywhere. The first place was funky, with murals in the style of Gustav Klimt. The second place was very stylish, with beautiful materials and state-of-the-art kitchen and bathrooms. This is exactly what we tried to achieve with the Eppstein House, staying there must be an adventure, a feast for the eyes, and invigorating!”
To stay at the Eppstein House, click here. For another Frank Lloyd Wright home, Still Bend/The Schwartz House, click here.