The Kalamazoo area is home to an impressive collection of residential architecture designed by world-famous names and local designers alike. The late Norman Carver, Jr. is one such local architect. First influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and later by the traditional architecture of Japan, Carver had more than 120 of his designs built and was frequently recognized for his work during his 65-year career. Three of his early designs won consecutive Architectural Record House of the Year awards, from 1960–1962. Here are my five favorite Kalamazoo buildings designed by Carver:
The Rogers House (1959)
2905 Memory Lane
This pinwheel-plan home is a favorite because it is one of the main reasons my wife, Vanessa, and I moved to Kalamazoo from Florida in 2016. After we bought the house, I met Carver at his gallery and we struck up a fast friendship. He was very pleased we restored the house’s flat roof and opened up the clerestory windows (small windows near the top of a wall, usually at or near the roof line) shown in the photo. It’s one of three similar homes at the end of a cul-de-sac designed for WMU faculty in 1959. Three other Carver homes were built on the street four years later, giving it a distinctive Japanese village feel. We are lucky to live in a very friendly neighborhood of Carver enthusiasts.
The Greaver House (1968)
6917 Willson Drive
A collaboration between Norm and his wife, Joan Carver, the Greaver House was the first of 20 Carver homes built in the Twelve Oaks subdivision off N Avenue, just west of Ninth Street. Designed for then Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Director Harry Greaver and his wife, Hanne, this house has an almost Cubist expression in its form.
The Thorne House (1983)
4210 Old Field Trail
This sprawling and impressive home was built for James and Mary Thorne, key figures in the development of the Parkview Hills community, off of Parkview Avenue. The house utilizes an interesting structural system Carver devised for spanning greater distances. The home was featured in a 1987 issue of Fine Homebuilding and photographed by Norm’s close friend and world-class photographer Balthazar Korab.
The Lirot House (2010)
3404 Lorraine Ave.
The Lirot House, in Parkwyn Village, is Carver’s only three-story house and has some of the most beautiful landscaping in the area. It fits right in with the neighboring Frank Lloyd Wright homes and will often stop passersby in their tracks. This house is the second incarnation of the original Carver house, built in 1958. In 2004, the house burned down, leaving only a portion of the garage standing. Carver watched the fire being extinguished, with the owners, and agreed then and there to help them redesign something even better. By 2010, Kit and Linda Lirot had completely rebuilt the home, doing most of the work themselves, and the result is phenomenal.
The Probasco House (1960)
2525 Sheffield Ave.
Longtime Kalamazoo residents may remember the Probasco family, who ran Probasco’s Quality Fabrics store on the downtown mall. The 1960 Probasco House, in Kalamazoo’s Winchell neighborhood, was the first house Carver designed for the family. It is a beautiful post-and-beam structure that stands on incredibly thin stilts and has a distinctive wood grille across the entire front of the house, providing privacy and creating an air of mystery. The grille is evocative of the streets of Kyoto, Japan, where Carver spent several years studying and photographing architecture for his first book, Form and Space of Japanese Architecture (1953). The house was selected as a 1962 Architectural Record House of the Year — Carver’s third consecutive such prize. Carver later designed a winter beach house for the Probascos on Anna Maria Island, Florida.