Seller Story: Robert Metcalf, Ann Arbor, MI

“My house was the sixth home Bob Metcalf designed and stands only a few blocks from where he lived. From the street, it’s just a little low-profile box in a hill, but you walk in and really get the wow-factor. There’s a lower level and the front kicks out. That’s how Metcalf designed his houses–he knew how to put a house on a site. He mapped out floor plans by pacing lots, incorporating his designs into the landscape which he considered to be an extension of the living space. So it’s like I live in a treehouse–and my friends are all mad I don’t throw more parties.

Metcalf always included furniture in his sketches, often by the mid-century pioneers like Eames, Bertoia, Nakashima. He would purchase pieces at a discounted rate and would sell the furniture to his client at-cost, because the space was built specifically for that chair, table, or sofa. Furnishings were as important as the home’s design. He was a perfectionist that way.

One of the things I loved about him was that he wasn’t out for the profit, fame, or glory. He considered it an honor to build the homes that his clients were going to raise their families in, so there was no cutting corners. He did things right because that’s just how you did them. To live in this house, and to have known him, someone of that character with that much generosity, and pride in his work– I consider myself very fortunate. I wish everyone could have known him. Though I’m sure he’s looking down right now wishing I would move this or that to the left or to the right.” –C.B., neighbor

Seller Story: Robert Metcalf, Ann Arbor, MI
Seller Story: Robert Metcalf, Ann Arbor, MI
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Seller Story: Robert Metcalf, Ann Arbor, MI

Was Metcalf involved in your interior decorating or renovation projects?

When I moved into my Metcalf house, I saw the previous owner had put linoleum floor into the kitchen, and that just wasn’t going to work. So I drove to Detroit a few times before I finally found some concrete-looking porcelain tile I liked, and I showed them to Bob who said, “I think that’s the ugliest tile I’ve ever seen in my life.”

So he would come by during lunch every day to oversee my kitchen floor renovation, and when it was done, he agreed my tile choice looked “kind of nice” after all. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he had the most marvelous sense of humor. Very militaristic, but with a twinkle in his eye.

What are you interested to see in the sale?

He had these beautiful dining room chairs by Nakashima. As talented as he was, he really appreciated the craftsmanship of these mid-century furniture designers. I remember him telling me that Nakashima was a guest speaker at the University while he was Dean, and Bob had him over for dinner and they sat in those chairs.

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