By the time Dr. Jack and Gloria Grabow moved to Minnesota in 1970, they were big fans of Prairie School-style architecture.
“My parents fell in love with Frank Lloyd Wright architecture while living in Madison, Wis.,” recalled their daughter Nancy Grabow. Wright designed numerous buildings in his native Wisconsin, and Taliesin, his home, studio and school, is located there.
“They were wanting to build in that style,” said Nancy. They got their chance when her father, a neurologist, got a job offer from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The offer included a piece of land, more than 2 acres of wooded countryside about 4 miles south of the clinic, where the Grabows built a house for their family of four children.
Wright wasn’t available, having died in 1959, but his longtime chief draftsman, John Howe, had a practice in Minneapolis, designing what he called Minnesota Prairie style homes that shared Wright’s aesthetic and organic embrace of their setting.
The architect came to the site and walked the land, said Nancy. “That was important to him — and an understanding of who he’s building for, and what was important to us.”
Howe, who was 19 when he came to Taliesin in 1932 and remained until Wright’s death, was often called “the pencil in Wright’s hand,” said Minneapolis architect Tim Quigley, co-author of “John H. Howe, Architect: From Taliesin to master of organic design.”
“He’s deeply in Frank Lloyd Wright’s shadow. That’s true of all his apprentices,” said Quigley. “But he was no ordinary apprentice. He was the guy running the studio.” Frank Lloyd Wright would outline a concept, and Howe would draft the design. “Howe did most of the lush renderings for which Frank Lloyd Wright is known.”
The house Howe designed for the Grabow family was a low-slung one-story, nestled into a hillside. People sometimes described it as “the house underground” because it was so low-profile from the street, said Nancy. “To us, it was anything but. It was so light-filled, with clerestory windows. The living room was so scenic with a massive wall of windows.”
The Grabows, who enjoyed entertaining, appreciated Wright’s concept of open central gathering spaces. Howe, like Wright, designed a lot of built-ins, and the Grabows’ home is filled with them, including a built-in sofa, desks, benches and a banquette in the kitchen.
“Usually the seating would be facing outward but my mom wanted to see us while she was cooking so the seating was turned so we were facing inward,” said Nancy.
The 2,180-square-foot home has three bedrooms, plus a study, so the two Grabow sons and two daughters each shared a room. “Because we had to double up in bedrooms we were a close family,” said Nancy, who has warm memories of celebrating Christmases in their home, having people over and playing outdoors. “There was plenty of room to make forts in the woods.”
Her parents were able to remain living in the home into their 80s, Nancy said. Their father died in February, preceded in death by his wife, and the children have now put the house on the market for $750,000.
“It’s really quite bittersweet. We’re hoping new owners will love it as much as we did,” Nancy said.
Quigley, who included the Grabows’ house in his book, has toured the home. “It’s sensational,” he said. “It’s among the finest of Howe’s houses,” with great flow and connection between indoors and outdoors.
Quigley knocked on the Grabows’ door 20 years ago when he was helping to plan a local conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy. “There are three Frank Lloyd Wrights [homes] in Rochester and three Howes, enough for a tour,” he said. At first the Grabows resisted. “They said we could drive by. But when we got there, they threw the doors open and said, ‘Come on in.’ ”
The well-preserved house still has all its original ‘70s features, including abundant light oak woodwork, orange Formica countertops in the kitchen and gold carpeting. “It’s still in really good condition,” said Nancy. Her parents, who had once lived in Japan, observed the Japanese custom of always removing shoes when indoors.
The Grabow house is “about as original as you can get,” said real estate agent Jessica Buelow. “A purist for the midcentury modern aesthetic would be in heaven.”
Buelow is a member of Docomomo Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to preservation of modernist midcentury homes, which is presenting a narrated virtual Facebook Live tour of the Grabow home at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 2. To take part in the tour, go to Docomomo Minnesota’s Facebook page, Docomomo US/MN.
“Our mission is to spread awareness,” said Buelow, so that distinctive midcentury homes aren’t torn down and replaced with new construction because of the land value. The Grabows’ home is in the Merrihills neighborhood, where most of the lots are 2 acres. “We want to preserve and maintain the beauty of this property. The design is so functional. Every square foot is utilized.”
There’s even a built-in record turntable with a speaker system. “You don’t see that in new construction,” she said.
Karen Rue, 612-916-1110, and Jessica Buelow, 612-327-3667, Edina Realty, have the listing.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784