Seeded in Modernism:
Hawkins Ferry House


Nestled along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, the Hawkins Ferry House makes a distinctive Modernist statement among its stately residential neighbors.

William Hawkins Ferry (1914-1988) was the grandson of Dexter M. Ferry, founder the highly successful D.M. Ferry & Co seed company, the predecessor of the Ferry-Morse seed company that is still in operation today. He was raised in the Detroit area, attended Cranbrook, and eventually studied architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, ultimately becoming a preeminent expert in the areas of art and architecture history.

Ferry engaged architect William Kessler (1924-2002) to design his new home on Lake Shore Drive. A devotee of Modernism, Ferry requested that the home be designed in the Modernist architectural style. Construction was completed in 1964, and Ferry lived in the home until his death.

Ferry was an avid art collector, and the home was designed to accommodate his substantial art collection. The structure has a deeply overhanging flat roof to protect the home’s interior from harmful effects of direct sunlight. The front and side facades feature vertical wood siding and punched openings punctuated by arched-top windows on the first floor, and surprising mirror image arched-bottom units on the second-story windows. See more photos of the house.

A band of glass clerestory windows just under the roof lightens the effect of the roof and gives and almost levitating effect to the substantial roof form. The rear façade features striking floor-to-roof glass that opens onto to the carefully planned rear patio, and the grounds designed by landscape architect Carl Johnson. The water views beyond provide a tranquil backdrop to the layers of space designed around entertaining and fundraising for the arts. Recessed corners create interesting outdoor spaces on both levels. The transparency of the rear elevation enhances the connection between the home’s interior and exterior spaces.

The home’s interior features clean lines and simple forms typical of the Modernist style. The layout is clear and understandable, with the most public rooms located along the rear, opening onto the lakeside patio. The double-height main public space affords ample volume to display large works of art. The judicious use of wood detailing harmonizes with the wood exterior, while the central spiraling terrazzo staircase creates a striking focal point. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019, and owing to careful restoration in recent years, the Hawkins Ferry House continues to be a shining example of the Modernist style.

Photos: © James Haefner Photography