Living Outside the Painted Box

Don Paul Young’s design for this Franklin home was ahead of its time when it was built in 1978. thirty years later, It still is.


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There are two things one notices when walking into Rita and Marlon Forrest’s Franklin home. First, there’s the feeling of gravitational suspension, as the place seems to be levitating. And second, though the architecture is immense, it still feels like home. So it’s no surprise that the Forrests eat their morning toast and read the paper sitting on Le Corbusier Club Chairs in the living room.

The homey quality of the interior is most surprising after standing at the northwest corner of the more than two-acre lot looking at the immense vertical wing that seems to anchor the whole structure and the vast expanse of glass and wood that juts out, floating above ground.

But when pulling into the northeastern driveway, the house is different. It presents itself at a smaller, more approachable scale, and suddenly the imposing form from the other side is just a memory.

This effect of being simultaneously intimate and expansive is a credit to the home’s architect, Don Paul Young, a firm believer in creating architecture fit for the land it occupies, so that it could never be transferred to another place without compromising the original intent. The house complements the sloping topography perfectly, creating spaces that can be experienced differently from every vantage point.

Young attributes this effect to the continuity of interior and exterior spaces — mostly achieved through his masterful use of fenestration. “I had done a number of traditional houses in Franklin previously, and I was told by the subdivision committees that there had to be a window here and a window there, it had to be this, it had to be that,” says Young, a practicing architect since 1959 and founder of Bloomfield Hills-based Young & Young Architects. “There is no window expression here. There is no chimney expression. There is no front door [expression].”

In other words, what so many “tract castles” (to use Young’s apt phrase) use to decorate their mundane boxes, this house — built in 1978 — doesn’t need. There’s nothing to rely on for a statement, except for the architecture. There are only perfect openings and angles where one can experience the seamlessness between indoor and outdoor space. The house is more of an interaction, a connection device between people and the space they occupy.

“[It’s about] totally being aware of the grand show of planet earth instead of sitting in your painted box,” Young says. And out of the box is where the Forrests closely watch the dogwoods budding, the squirrels fighting, the birds fluttering, and the deer roaming, all while drinking their morning coffee.

The Forrests are only the second owners of the house, which was built in 1978. On buying the unique house, Rita says, “The old homeowners were heartbroken (at selling). But we told them that we’ll take care of it for a while.” The dining table was custom- made by John Morgan, of Perspectives Custom Cabinetry in Southfield, as were the breakfront pieces. The Leucos pendant fixture and the Montina Gio Ponte 940 chairs were purchased from Arkitektura In-Situ. “Although the public space is loft-like, areas of human scale have been segmented to provide privacy without seclusion,” Rita says. This is well-demonstrated by the partial wall dividing the breakfast nook from the dining room, and the cozy red library that flanks the light-filled living room.
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