Blog: Norm Silk

"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." –Anais Nin.

Take it from Norm Silk, owner of Blossoms florist, who discusses the growth
and challenges (the Iceland volcano) of the floral industry. Then follow his rehab of Detroit's only Frank Lloyd Wright property, and progress report on the Woodward Avenue Action Association's work on 6 to 8 Mile's commercial strip.

Post 2: A Walk Through the Turkel House

In 2006, my partner and I purchased the Dorothy Turkel home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

After living six blocks from this house for 25 years and even being in the house when student friends lived there many years ago, I never thought that I might own it someday. In fact, I never wanted to, until one day nearly four years ago. Strangely drawn like a moth to a flame, I stopped one sunny day as I was driving by after noticing a For Sale sign in the unkempt lawn. The house was clearly empty.  Pressing my face against the window I was amazed at what I saw. A large spacious two-story room with a dark red floor, an interesting gallery with eight glass doors opening to a large terrace, enough windows to defy counting, and interesting details everywhere. I couldn't wait to get home.

As I remember, we both went back that day for another look then called our realtor friend to arrange a look. It needed "a new furnace", the kitchen was a horrible remodel, and everything was worn but original. With just a few updates like paint and stain and new cushions we would have a beautiful significant new home. Boy, was I naïve. Within two weeks we had made an offer. I remember the call as we were driving back from our condo in Chicago. The offer was accepted. What had we done?

We hired Lawrence Brink, an architect from Ann Arbor specializing in Wright properties. He was even a former Wright apprentice and knew Mr. and Mrs. Wright. His first action was to shore up the carport. It had a structural problem that had existed for more than 10 years when he studied it for another owner. It could fall down anytime, he said. We brought in steel supports immediately.

We established our budget and started planning. After many consultations and numerous architectural drawings, we were ready to begin:

This is what we HAVE done:
•    New roof
•    New thermal pane windows
•    Complete new heating system
•    Updated plumbing and electrical
•    Repaired block exterior
•    Cast 55 new blocks to replace damaged blocks
•    New kitchen
•    New master bath
•    Restored all original Philippine mahogany to original color and finish
•    Restored all original furniture
•    Reproduced all original missing music room furniture – three coffee tables and 12 hassocks

We DID NOT remove any walls or change floor plan or make any significant changes to the original design.

Our intent was to return the house to its 1955 appearance while making it comfortable for modern living. We are close to accomplishing this, within three years and at three times the original budget.

As we settle in we continue to marvel at the astounding modern design. The Usonian Automatic design is one of seven houses designed by Wright in this organic style; this is the largest and only two-story in existence. The house is constructed entirely of custom made concrete blocks – over 36 patterns woven together with steel rebar. The interior finish is a combination of concrete block and Philippine mahogany. The geometry is precise, the building module based on a two-foot square is repeated throughout the house, floor grid, window size, ceiling blocks – even two-foot door openings. Repetition makes strong sight lines. Rows of cabinets between doors on both the first and second floors lead from the open airy two-story music room to small intimate private sleeping chambers. Wright provided large public areas but made bedrooms smaller. Each of the three bedrooms has built-in dressers, night stands, closets, and a desk. Each has its own bath. Ribbons of windows line every room. Natural light streams from the east in the morning, making geometric patterns on the polished red concrete floors. As the light keeps changing throughout the day, the shapes cast by the open blocks change and evolve. At night the moon casts the same shadows. Mr. Wright was 88 years old when he designed the house for Mrs. Turkel.
As he did in some of his houses, Mr. Wright did not design the original landscape. Working with a landscape architect last fall, we installed some landscaping and this spring will place additional plantings and perennial gardens. All are sensitive to Wright's ideas of natural plantings and will be a complement to the house. Wright's philosophy was to blend the house with nature, making the inside and outside blur. The low 6.8 ceilings are a method he used to force you to look out, not up. It works. One is very drawn to the outside while in the house; your eye cannot help but look outside.

You should understand we are not life long Wright fans; it was not our goal to own this house, however it has turned into an extraordinary experience. Every day we see people slow down to catch a glimpse now that the house has come back to life. Others gaze from the sidewalk. When all the lights are on it looks like a lantern in the woods. It slows traffic, in fact. We have been contacted by enthusiasts and architects from all over the world and have shared the house with architectural students and community groups whenever possible.

This newfound interest caused me to extensively research Mr. Wright's work and long career, and I have found it fascinating. The experience of owning a Wright house has made me realize we are really only the caretakers of this great house. Only about 400 of his roughly 532 built buildings remain. Many are in danger of destruction. The organization Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy works to protect Wright buildings. Learn more at

Wright has been called the Greatest American Architect. During his long career, his ideas pushed the limits of modern design and construction. He accomplished his dream of creating a unique style of American architecture.

I am pleased to be the caretaker of this house.

Editor's Note: Other Frank Lloyd Wright homes built in the Detroit area between 1940 and 1953 can be found in Bloomfield Hills and Plymouth. Click here. And check out Wetmore Tire (originally the Wetmore Auto Service Station) in Ferndale.