Designed by America's most famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Meyer May House was commissioned in 1908 by Meyer S. May, a prominent Grand Rapids clothier and his wife Sophie Amberg. The house is located at 450 Madison SE in the Heritage Hill district. As example of Wright's now-famous Prairie style of architecture, the house stands apart from the typical victorian and classical revival houses of the neighborhood. It was restored to its original concept by Steelcase and opened for visitor tours in 1987.
Features of the house include Wright's typical art glass windows and skylights, wood grills to hide the radiators, irridescent strips of tile placed in the horizontal grout lines of both brick fireplaces, and a pastel mural of Hollyhocks which wraps around a dividing wall between the living room and dining room. This mural was painted over durring the years of alterations imposed on the house. It was rediscovered durring the restoration and has now been restored.
Before restoration began, extensive research was conducted to determine the original building design. Interviews were held with relatives, neighbors and friends of the May family, Wright scholars, past building occupants, historians and local residents. Documents about Frank Lloyd Wright were also studied to pinpoint information on the Meyer May project itself and Wright's Prairie style of architecture.
Historic photos, drawings and documents were found in public institutions and private collections. These proved to be the most valuable tools in reconstructing the history of the actual structure and its contents and provided the framework for the restoration, which was completed in the fall of 1987.
Everything in the house works together to create a unified and harmonious whole. Wright carefully sited the house to allow maximum southern exposure for the living room windows and skylights and to create a spacious yard for the perennial gardens. Each red-tiled terrace, each section of art glass, each splash of color was artfully designed and placed to enhance the interior and to draw nature into the house. The geomitacal and proportional math used in this building make it beautiful.
Rooms in the restored May House are furnished with a mixture of original pieces, reproductions of original pieces and compatible Arts and Crafts style items from the period. One piece original to the home is the living room sofa, which was still in the home at the time of restoration, though it was heavily upholstered over & almost discarded. The dining room chairs, also original, were purchased from a decendant of the family living in the metro area.
Wright's Other Area Work
The David M Amberg House, which is down the street from the May residence, was originally commissioned by the parents of Sophie May in 1910. The Amberg house is not a complete Wright design though due to the fact that he left the country during its construction following the scandalous affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of Wright's client & neighbour Edwin Cheney. The Amberg house was finished under the supervision of FLW protégés Marion Mahoney Griffin and her husband Walter Griffin.
Both the May and Amberg homes are located in Heritage Hill.