Meet the De Pree House: Michigan’s Eames House

It is often assumed that Charles Eames, with his studies in architecture and with the steel-framed Eames House under his belt, had a career that boasted dozens of commissions in architecture. In actuality, Charles and Ray’s residential architecture endeavors stopped in 1954, merely five years after they built the Eames House in California. Max De Pree, the son of Herman Miller’s founder D.J. De Pree, commissioned the Eameses to design a home for himself, his wife Esther, and their two young children in Zeeland, Michigan.

Charles and Ray, in an effort to begin the design process, informally asked the De Pree family questions about their daily way of living at home. Two constraints became known during the planning stages: the climate of Zeeland was considerably colder than always-pleasant Southern California, and Mr. De Pree asked that the structure be constructed by local craftsmen—most of which were immigrants from Holland.

While looking at the home from the street, its features do not immediately cause you to scream, “Eames!” But with closer inspection, the house does reference many of the same ideologies and uses similar materials as the Case Study homes of California. The facade of the residence, although made of timber instead of steel, echoes the modular grid of the Eames House in Los Angeles. The white-painted support beams remind one of the bolted steel H-beams of Case Study House #8 as well. The enclosed glass rear porch gives the illusion of a seamless indoor-outdoor transition that the Eames House (and countless other modernist homes) captures while allowing the De Prees to be comfortably warm inside during periods of harsh Michigan snow. A charming aspect of the house is how incredibly collaborative the structure feels; George Nelson designed the CSS built-ins and lamps, while Alexander Girard added textiles to the entry closet doors and the fold-out vanity in the bathroom. Only a few miles away is the Herman Miller campus, which one can assume had to have made this collaboration between designers unfold organically.

The De Pree family occupied the house for 21 years (and added two harmonious structures to the front courtyard) before selling it to a Herman Miller employee in 1975. In 2010, Herman Miller purchased the De Pree House from the second owner in hopes of preserving it for educational purposes and historical significance.

Published by: Kelsey Rose Williams Photographs: (top) Eames Office (center and bottom) Zack Bolotin