Dr. Carleton Washburne was a nationally-known educational psychologist and author who taught at Brooklyn College in New York. He wrote to Alden B. Dow in November of 1959 to inquire if the architect might design a retirement home close to his daughter, who was married to a professor at Michigan State University. He described a small home with five rooms, a basement, attached garage, and two bathrooms. “We hope we can build this for about $20,000 by using simple, inexpensive but sturdy materials, and yet achieve beauty and some distinction.”
By June of 1960, drawings of the Washburne home were completed. A contract was signed with Modern Builders of Lansing on June 27th for the initial cost of $31,072; the final cost rose to $33,500. The one-story house hugs the ground on a long and narrow lot. One of the architect’s signature wooden petal lanterns rises near the one-car garage. A flat roof edged with wood fascia overhangs an exterior of white cement blocks. The horizontality of the entire structure is emphasized by alternating courses of 10” and 12” blocks, even on the large chimney that sits above the recessed entry to the home.
The same alternating raised bands of cement block continue throughout the interior. Extensive use of edge grain fir and fir plywood for wall paneling, casework, and shelving provides warmth and visual contrast. A large living room is at the center of the home and features floor to ceiling windows that project outward toward the backyard. A raised ceiling with clerestory windows above the fireplace adds to the expansiveness of the space.
Off to one side of the living room is the dining area and adjacent galley kitchen. On the opposite side a hallway leads to the private area with a bedroom, a study/guest bedroom, and two bathrooms.
After finally moving into the house, Mr. Washburne wrote to Mr. Dow on April 29, 1961: “This house is certainly a joy – comfortable, functional, admirably constructed, and designed with attention to every detail as well as to its wholeness…We revel in its beauty.”