In the late 1940s, Josephine Ashmun approached her cousin, architect Alden B. Dow, with a request to design her new home in Midland, Michigan. Dow, a Midland native, was an obvious choice. Not only was he a member of Jo’s own family, Dow also was making a name for himself in design circles. He initially studied engineering with the intention of joining the family business, Dow Chemical. After three years of study he altered his career trajectory, changing his major to pursue his lifelong passion of architecture. Dow began his career with an apprenticeship in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin office and his time there left an enduring impact on him, which is reflected in Dow’s own designs throughout his career.
Ashmun, a talented musician, had only one requirement for the home: it must accommodate her grand piano. The resulting design was a basic A-frame, affectionately referred to as the “Timber Teepee”. The impressive two-story high space also allowed for impromptu concerts to be viewed from the suspended balcony that overlooks the piano. The massive timbers that create the frame provide a literal connection to the heavily wooded site by projecting through the exterior and into concrete buttresses in the surrounding earth. Clay brick is used not only for the home’s foundations but also as flooring in the main space, further reinforcing the home’s connection to the natural setting.
Although simple in its layout, the home’s dramatic spaces and rich detailing have produced a spectacular setting which was enjoyed by Ashmun from the time of its completion in 1951 until her death in 1987.