Architects able to built masterpieces of modernism in the suburbs of Detroit are few and far between. But a local preference for more historical styles in Royal Oak was not going to stop architect Frank Arvan from building exactly what he wanted when he designed his own home ten years ago. The Principal of FX Architecture and current AIA Detroit president let us bug him about what it is like to go against the grain in the local design world.
C Det: This house may be 10 years old, but it seems to be the only real modern home in Royal Oak. Do neighbors ever stop and stare?
FA: They do. We get people peeking in the windows and slowly driving by all the time.
C Det: What was the reaction when you first built it? Is it different now?
FA: Reactions varied. Most people love it and still do all though they recognize how unusual it is.
C Det: Why did you decide to build in Royal Oak? Do you think the neighborhood is design conservative?
FA: The site is on the edge of town and suburb, so we are able to walk to everything we need. The community is very accepting and on the progressive side. It is a very energetic town and a great place to live.
C Det: Where you inspired by any mid-century modern Michigan architects?
FA: Not directly although there is some connection to Aldan Dow through Frank Lloyd Wright. Mostly the architecture is my way of making modern architecture that connects with what most people consider traditional architecture. It takes the best, in my opinion, of classical and modern design ideas to create a comfortable home.
C Det: What are your other favorite houses in the area?
FA: There are many wonderful houses, bungalows and larger houses built in the 1920’s in Royal Oak and other communities like Indian Village, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Boston Edison. I would not want to live in a typical suburb with large lots. I don’t want to drive very far. It’s a shame that builders do not build the average house with that quality today and it’s a shame we are not building denser walkable communities. In terms of architect designed houses the Affleck House is one of Wright’s best Usonian houses.
C Det: What is your favorite part of the house? Would you ever sell it?
FA: The courtyard is my favorite part because it holds the rest of the house together. Never say never but I cannot imagine a better place to live right now but I will eventually grow old and want to live in a smaller place.
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