Richard Meier's 1973 Douglas House Receives Historic Designation

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By Aileen Kwun / Published by Dwell
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More than 40 years after its completion, an early masterpiece by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect receives historic designation.

The National Park Service U.S Department of the Interior announced today that The Douglas House—an iconic residence completed by architect Richard Meier in 1973—has been added to the National Register of historic places, in recognition of a significant architectural work worthy of cultural preservation.

Nestled into a steeply sloped waterfront site on Lake Michigan, the all-white, starkly modernist home is defined by verticality. 

Nestled into a steeply sloped waterfront site on Lake Michigan, the all-white, starkly modernist home is defined by verticality. 

Designed in the late 1960s for clients Jim and Jean Douglas—who contacted Meier's office after seeing his Smith House in Darien, Connecticut, on a magazine cover—the Douglas House, completed in 1973, is one of Meier's earliest residential commissions. 

Surprisingly, Meier's first design for the Douglases was actually refused by the developer of a site they had initially specified in a residential subdivision in Northern Michigan. The developer had deemed it necessary to feature a classic pitched roof, in accordance with the neighboring structures, and "To my delight," recalls Meier by statement, "the Douglases responded to this impasse by promptly selling the plot and looking for another site, and that was the beginning of a very gratifying collaboration."

Notched into a steeply sloped, isolated waterfront stretch in Harbor Springs, Michigan, the starkly modernist, all-white structure extends into the challenging site, defined by its verticality. "No one else could figure out how to build there," recalled Meier, in Dwell's 2011 coverage of the home. "It took me quite a while to do it."

A series of ladders and cantilevered staircases connect each level of home from the exterior, offering a dramatic cascading promenade with an expansive view of Lake Michigan.

A series of ladders and cantilevered staircases connect each level of home from the exterior, offering a dramatic cascading promenade with an expansive view of Lake Michigan.

In its most dramatic gesture, a series of ladders and cantilevered staircases run alongside the home's exterior, forming a cascading promenade that opens up to sweeping views of Lake Michigan and beyond. Integrated into a sharp downhill grade, the home is entered at roof level via a main walkway that extends over the sloping site. "It is truly a house of opposites," said the architect. "To leave the house, for instance, you go up instead of down." Square apertures and horizontal strip windows further an unimpeded connection to the outdoors.

The main entry, accessed via a footbridge that extends beyond the building envelope and into the site, leads to the upper-level floor. "It is truly a house of opposites," said the architect. "To leave the house, for instance, you go up instead of down."

The main entry, accessed via a footbridge that extends beyond the building envelope and into the site, leads to the upper-level floor. "It is truly a house of opposites," said the architect. "To leave the house, for instance, you go up instead of down."

"Reflecting on the history and design of the Douglas House, I believe the architect is really the facilitator of creating something which goes on to have an existence that is much greater than itself and has a life that is longer than any of the people involved in the creation of it," said the architect in a press statement. "In thinking about the ideas that go into making architecture, one has to think about not just the context, the circumstances of the site, its history, the surrounding buildings, the topography, and the nature of the place in the public realm, but also about what it can be, what it will be, and how it will be meaningful for future society. With all of the changes that are taking place in the world today, it is important that architecture continues to move us aesthetically, as great architecture always has."

In honor of the news, we revisit our 2011 coverage of the Douglas House and its current residents, Michael McCarthy and Marcia Myers, who acquired the property in 2007 and have since devoted their efforts to restoring the home to its original glory. Take a peek at the present-day interiors, below, and read the full article for a closer look at the storied residence.

The current homeowners, Michael McCarthy and Marcia Myers, pictured at home in the Douglas Residence, spent years rehabilitating the structure. The double-height living room features a custom sofa and low table of Meier’s design, and an Edward Fields rug based on a sketch Le Corbusier created in 1956 for a Tokyo theater.

The current homeowners, Michael McCarthy and Marcia Myers, pictured at home in the Douglas Residence, spent years rehabilitating the structure. The double-height living room features a custom sofa and low table of Meier’s design, and an Edward Fields rug based on a sketch Le Corbusier created in 1956 for a Tokyo theater.