Living with art: a Michigan modernist gem regains its raison d’être

A living room with large windows, coffee table and a grey L-shaped sofa with blue, red and white blanket
The W Hawkins Ferry House in Michigan is the setting for a group art exhibition, ‘Unobstructed Views’, organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in conjunction with Library Street Collective
(Image credit: TBC)

Michigan was a hub for modernist architecture in the mid-20th century, particularly the then-booming industrial centre of Detroit. The Motor City became home to architects likes Eero Saarinen and Minoru Yamasaki, and furniture makers Steelcase and Herman Miller weren’t too far away, in West Michigan.

Now, a hidden gem of modernist architecture by the lesser-known William Kessler is being rediscovered in the suburban town of Grosse Pointe, thanks to a benefit auction and group exhibition. Organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in conjunction with Library Street Collective, ‘Unobstructed Views’ presents a site-specific installation with works of 34 artists at the W Hawkins Ferry House.

View of interior of house showing downstairs entryway, spiral staircase, leather seats and artwork on the walls

Installation view of ‘Unobstructed Views’ in the W Hawkins Ferry House

(Image credit: TBC)

Designed in 1962 by Kessler (who studied under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and worked at Yamasaki’s firm), the historic house boasts dramatic views over the Lake St Clair, ten miles northeast of Detroit, and is named after his former owner – the late architecture historian, arts patron and all-round socialite, W Hawkins Ferry (who had commissioned Kessler specifically to display his art collection amid the scenic environment).

‘We learned most of what we know about the specific details of the house through the process of restoration,’ explains Anthony Curis, founder of the Detroit gallery Library Street Collective, who purchased the house in 2015 with his wife JJ. ‘We were met with surprise at every turn, uncovering the original walnut doors in the basement crawlspace, as well as an entire set of replacement pavers for the patio designed by artist Glen Michaels,’ he continues.

One of the most impressive elements of the house is the grand staircase, constructed on a single, grounded pedestal with undulating steps of granite terrazzo. Contrasting with this colossal feature is the delicate use of piano wires attached to stainless stanchions to create nearly invisible second floor balconies.

Wooden bar area with sink, glass shelves and a wine fridge next to a round table with white chairs

Installation view of ‘Unobstructed Views’ in the W Hawkins Ferry House

(Image credit: TBC)

The installation is accessible to the public by appointment until 10 August and features works by established artists like Mike Kelley, KAWS and Paul Kremer, as well as more emerging ones such as Willie Wayne Smith. It launches with a benefit auction this Thursday 27 July, with all proceeds going towards MOCAD’s programme (bids may be placed online through Paddle8).

It was in a 1969 issue of House Beautiful magazine that a critic described the home’s ‘unobstructed views’ over art and scenery to be at the heart of Kessler’s design. Now, half a century later, this design has regained its raison d’être.

Large painting on a wall behind a large sideboard flanked by 2 wooden arm chairs

Untitled, 2016, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, by Nina Chanel Abney. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Living room with large floor to ceiling windows, grey sofa, chaise lounge and baby grand piano

Designed in 1964 by Meathe, Kessler & Associates, the historic house boasts dramatic views over the Lake St Clair

(Image credit: TBC)

Lounge area with wooden paneling and large artwork on the walls

Artworks by the likes of Greg Bogin form a dialogue with the house’s midcentury furniture

(Image credit: TBC)

Blue tiled fireplace with logs and a large art piece on the wall above

Sun Up/Sun Down (for GL), 2017, acrylic and urethane on canvas, by Greg Bogin Acrylic. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white spiral staircase in a wood-paneled hallway

Wood paneling and a one-of-a-kind staircase are key features of the home

(Image credit: TBC)

Black and white staircase with chrome railings in a wood-panels hallway with brightly coloured art work

The works of 34 artists are scattered across the modernist house

(Image credit: TBC)

A brightly coloured pice of artwork called Cartilage Denial Reference

Cartilage Denial Reference, 2016, by Holton Rower. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Large upstairs hallway with spiral staircase, white lighting feature and large artwork on the walls

From left, NOT YET TITLED, 2017, by KAWS; Dinner Party, 2017, by Josh Reames; and Untitled (Depression), 2017, by Beverly Fishman. Courtesy of the artists

(Image credit: TBC)

Brightly coloured art work on a living room wall next to floor to ceiling windows with cream curtains

NOT YET TITLED, 2017, acrylic on canvas, by KAWS

(Image credit: TBC)

Large 2 story house with floor to ceiling window, balconies and bright artwork

The east-facing glass façade

(Image credit: TBC)

Exterior of large 2 story house with wooden paneling and green bushes and lawn

The 5,275 sq ft home is shaped like a box, with three of the walls sheathed in cypress

(Image credit: TBC)

Dining room with large wooden table, vases of white flowers, white and glass lighting feature and patterned chairs.

AK, 2017, by Andrew Kuo. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Large Brightly coloured painting with black stripes

Untitled, 2017, by Scott Reeder. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Large brightly coloured painting on a white wall

Detail of Summer Lunch at Scala dei Turchi, 2017, by Katherine Bernhardt. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Wooden paneled walls and a black and white spiral staircase

Weed, 2015 (bottom right), by Tony Matelli. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Home office with wooden doors, large arch windows and a wooden desk with black leather chair with a large yellow and black painting on the wall

Read Right to Left, 2016 (left), by Trudy Benson; and “Stop copying my De Kooning style, I thought ‘chu was on that Twombly tip at the moment. Smh”, said De’Andre to Timmothy, 2014, by Devin Troy Strother. Courtesy of the artists

(Image credit: TBC)

Living room with grey L-shaped sofa, black leather chaise lounge, and purple and gold sculpture

Alufoil (Deco Side Table), 2017, by Chris Schanck. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

Round white dining table with black and white piece on the table and bright art on a stand

Model for South eld, 2016, by Charles McGee. Courtesy of the artist

(Image credit: TBC)

White armchair with footstool and standard lamp next to a brightly coloured painting on the wall

Stunts and Shows, 2014, by Derrick Adams. Courtesy of the artist and Tilton Gallery

(Image credit: TBC)


‘Unobstructed Views’ is on view until 10 August, by appointment only. For more information, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit website


W Hawkins Ferry House
Grosse Pointe Shores