Music was always an important part of Josephine Ashmun’s life. At age 11, she became a church organist, a position she would hold for over 40 years. Her mother, Helen, was the sister of Herbert H. Dow, founder of the Dow Chemical Company. When Josephine asked her cousin, Alden B. Dow, to design a house for her, she is reported to have asked for only one thing – a place for her grand piano. She then departed for a planned vacation, a world cruise, and entrusted the design of the house to Mr. Dow.
Basically a simple A-frame design nestled in a heavily-wooded lot, she and Mr. Dow affectionately referred to the house as the “Timber Teepee.” During construction of the house, she enjoyed baffling people by telling them that the roof was on the house and the second floor in place, but there were no walls. Much of the unique charm of the house derives from the way the second floor is suspended from the rafters, providing an open balcony over the living room and on which guests could be seated for her piano performances.
The giant rafters of the house extend beyond the interior into the exterior to the supporting concrete buttresses. A 48-foot long skylight along the roof ridge was added later to lighten up interior spaces and expand the spatial quality of the home. Indeed, the massiveness of the wood in contrast to the lightness of the space is breathtaking.
Ms. Ashmun lived in her house from the time it was built in 1951 until she passed away. Mr. Dow received more inquiries about her home than any of his other designs.