The Melvyn Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith House
The Melvyn Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith House also known as My Haven is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed Usonian home that was built by the owner/occupants in 1949 and 1950. The Smiths were two public school teachers living on a tight budget, to realize their dream they scrimped and scraped in ways most people would never consider, but the reward is this wonderful gem.
It is said that Mr. Smith, upon seeing a photo of Falling Water for the first time while studying to become a teacher, stood up in class and said: “One day I will own a Frank Lloyd Wright home”.
In the summer of 1941, the Smiths traveled to Taliesin, met with Wright, and he agreed to design a home for them with an initial budget of approximately $9,000.00.
In the summer of 1946, the Smiths took their entire savings of $3,600 and purchased the 3.3 acres the home would sit upon.
Architect William Wesley Peters, who served as president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, wrote that Wright “never had clients who were greater in the sense of love and appreciation than Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Smith. It was a two-way road because the more that came back to Frank Lloyd Wright, the more he gave, so it was a double gain
On Wright’s advice, Smith acted as his own general contractor in order to save money and maintain the quality standards he expected. He recruited skilled workers who wanted to work on a home designed by Wright so much that they would accept lower pay than usual. Suppliers of building materials also provided goods such as 14,000 board feet of red tidewater cypress lumber at discounted prices because of their wish to be involved with a Wright project. Shopping center developer A. Alfred Taubman provided all of the windows at a deep discount because he considered the house a “fantastic structure”.
Wright visited the house himself in 1951, and called it “my little gem”. He visited the house again in 1953 and 1957.
In 1957, Melvyn Smith met with landscape architect Thomas Dolliver Church who visited the home and stayed for a spaghetti dinner prepared by Sara Smith. Church spent the night as their guest, and the following morning, produced a landscape plan on the spot for a nominal fee
The home is located near the Cranbrook Educational Community, and over the years, the Smiths built an extensive art collection by Cranbrook artists that fill the house today.
Usonia was a word used by Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to his vision for the landscape of the United States, including the planning of cities and the architecture of buildings. Wright proposed the use of the adjective Usonian in place of American to describe the particular New World character of the American landscape as distinct and free of previous architectural conventions.The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.