Dr. Robert Ballmer was a physician with an office on Main Street in Midland, Michigan, but when it came to building a house for his family, he chose a long narrow lot overlooking the golf course of the Midland Country Club, and asked Alden B. Dow to design it.
The architect began the drawings for the Ballmer residence in January of 1950. As was his custom, he talked with the Ballmers about their personal interests and how they spent their leisure time. The earliest sketches show a rather basic square floor plan, but with a rather unique twist. To accommodate their passion for gardening and raising orchids, he designed an indoor garden surrounded by a house, instead of a house surrounded by a garden.
A long driveway leads to a one-story brick structure with its horizontality delineated by a wood cornice of three stacked boards that wraps around the entire exterior. The cornice rises to a low peak at the front and rear of the house. A covered walk adjacent to the carport takes one to the front door.
From the front door, one walks directly into the garden room or living room. In the center is a 17 foot long by 9 foot wide free-form earth-filled garden with plants and small trees. The floor surrounding it is scored concrete. Wood-encased steel beams support a 33 foot long by 14 foot wide skylight enhancing the conservatory-like feel of the space. There is a smaller planting area at one end and a raised, two-sided fireplace at the other end.
On the other side of the fireplace is a comfortable sitting room with a wall of windows overlooking the golf course. The master bedroom is off to one side of the sitting room, while the kitchen and dining room with adjoining screened porch are located along the left side of the garden or living room. Four additional bedrooms and a play room line up on the opposite side of the living room.
The estimated cost to build the Ballmer Residence in 1950 was $54,578, at a time when the median home cost in Michigan was $7,496.