Wright by the Night
The Palmer House becomes a guest house
From the October, 2010 issue
The Palmer House has found new life as a guest house.
The house at 227 Orchard Hills has no TV, small bedrooms, and a galley kitchen--and it's booked all month at $300-$500 per night. The appeal: a chance to experience a genuine Frank Lloyd Wright home.
The legendary modern architect designed the house for its hilly site off Geddes near the Arboretum. Economics professor Bill Palmer and his musician wife, Mary, moved in in 1952. Bill spent the rest of his life (he died in 2000), and Mary most of the rest of her life (she is now in extended care), perfecting the house and garden.
It was one of the few FLW homes still under original ownership and still used as a residence when Mary and Bill's son, Adrian Palmer, decided to sell it in 2008. Both Adrian and his sister Mary Louise had made lives of their own out of state, so neither was in a position to take over when the day-to-day running of the house became too much for their mother.
Realtor Bob Eckstein fielded inquiries from an architect living in Germany, an Internet mogul who could live anywhere, artists and musicians, and various high-ranking U-M officials. But no one actually made an offer until the asking was slashed from $1.5 million to $960,000.
With the crash of the financial and housing markets "the timing could not have been worse," explains Eckstein. And because the house is registered with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, it can't be significantly remodeled.
Finally, in January 2009, Eckstein found a buyer: Jeffrey Schox, a patent lawyer living in San Francisco, and his wife, Kathryn, both U-M alums, agreed to pay $900,000. Jeff had always loved Frank Lloyd Wright and was familiar with the house from having jogged by it when he was in school.
Jeff's parents, Plymouth residents Gary and Sue Cox, spent the next three months getting the house ready for occupancy, including upgrading the plumbing and electrical systems, but the
only visible change was to put a double bed in what had been Mary Louise's bedroom so that two couples could stay in the house. It's custom made to match the trapezoidal design Wright created for the master bedroom.
The Coxes say their guests include Wright aficionados, high-level U-M visitors, and people coming to Ann Arbor for another reason who are just looking for a place to stay. Unlike the FLW fans--who know so much that one started finishing Sue's sentences during a tour--the last group is often oblivious to its history. The Coxes particularly enjoy seeing how this last group reacts to the one-of-a-kind house.
One family's children, an entering freshman and younger sibling, seemed completely uninterested in the house. To rectify that, the parents took them to Chicago for a crash course on FLW. When they returned, the kids went through the house excitedly pointing out details they had learned about.
[Originally published in October, 2010.]