Pewabic partnership: Couple created unique home
In the late 1920s, Pewabic Pottery founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her husband, architect William Buck Stratton, collaborated on their most personal project to date: their home.
Constructed on a plot of land Perry owned on Three Mile Road in Grosse Pointe Park, the couple built an eclectic home with Mediterranean elements. They borrowed much of the design and materials from their previous home on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, taking with them wood beams, flooring, doors, windows and tile.
“When we decided to move from the East Grand Boulevard home in Detroit, it was quite evident that we would want to take with us many of the familiar features of the old house,” wrote Perry Stratton, according to documents from Pewabic historian Thomas Brunk.
Today, those same beams, floors and tiles are still in place and in the same layout as the couple’s previous home on East Grand Boulevard. And the five-bedroom home is a treasure trove of Perry Stratton’s beloved Pewabic tile.
“This house is a unique collaboration between the two of them – Mary Chase Perry Stratton as an artisan and William Buck Stratton as an architect,” says Ayers Morison Jr., a Metro Detroit architect whose grandfather bought the house in the late 1930s.
The 4,300-square-foot home features a unique mix of materials, including cork walls, a cement ceiling in the library, and paint-stained wooden beams. Pewabic tile covers the dining room floor, radiator covers, window sills, fireplace surround, kitchen backsplash and several bathrooms.
But the Strattons didn’t stay in their dream house for long. When the Depression hit, the Strattons had to choose between their home and their business, according to Brunk, the historian. Their business won and the couple moved back to Detroit. Clare Brackett, Morison’s grandfather and a friend of the Strattons, bought the house out of receivership in the late 1930s. He eventually sold it to his daughter, Morison’s mother, and her husband in the late 1940s, which is where they raised their children.
Morison says it was a wonderful place in which to grow up. “It’s an absolutely unique house,” says Morison, who says his parents, Ayers Morison and Mary Lin Morison, played a prominent role in getting the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Unique indeed. It has a distinct Arts and Crafts feel, but with some Spanish elements. The couple brought back several pieces from their trips to Europe in the 1920s, including the hand-carved front door from Spain and an upstairs balcony.
But it’s the tile that stands out.
“There’s some 1,700 square feet of Pewabic tile in this house,” says Morison.
Stratton and Perry met each other in 1904 when both were founders of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, according to historical documents. Stratton designed the Pewabic Pottery Studio and School on Jefferson Avenue. They married in 1918 when he was 53 and she was 51.
It’s no surprise that tile is integrated throughout the decor of their dream house. What’s interesting is the extent, both inside and out. Built with a steel frame, it is in-filled with ceramic tile block, much of which was from Pewabic Pottery downtown, says Morison.
And “a lot of the brick on the exterior was originally liners to the early kilns that she had,” Morison says.
Just off the front foyer is an open concept dining room, music room and living room. Arched double doors lead to an outside covered terrace. The music room was a functional space for the Strattons.
“They would throw pots and have studio right here,” says Morison.
According to Brunk, the historian, Perry bought the property in Grosse Pointe Park in 1916 before she married Stratton. By the time construction really started in 1926, the nation had been through World War I and their attitudes had changed, Brunk says.
“The Arts and Crafts movement was pretty much finished so they went into a different style – a Spanish style – but they kept features that were dear to them from the old house. And that’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when you’re trying to do a new one,” he says.
When the Bracketts bought it, the house wasn’t really done, Brunk says.
The house is perfectly imperfect. When brick masons tried to fix a leaning upstairs arch, Perry Stratton didn’t want it fixed. “Things were not intended to be done perfectly,” says Morison. “Things had to look craft-like...The arch is indicative of the whole character of the house.”
That imperfect perfection can certainly be seen in several bathrooms, including what was once Perry Stratton’s bathroom in the master bedroom suite. Bright, blue 4-inch Pewabic tile covers the floor and two-thirds of the walls.
Pointing to a blue tile on the walls, Morison says the bathroom sink “was intended to be fired as this blue and it was a mistake firing,” says Morison. “She loved it so much she put it in anyway.”
Some of the tile has a utilitarian feel. Six-inch unglazed brown tile covers the stairs and the floor in the front vestibule and dining room. Aside from the bathrooms, there’s very little iridescent glaze for which Pewabic is known.
“Mrs. Stratton often commented in her later years that she was sorry in some ways for ever developing the iridescent glazes because they overshadowed her other work,” says Brunk, who worked with Stratton’s assistant for 17 years.
Outside, the Strattons worked with Raymond Wilcox on the garden’s design, which again is similar to design of their East Grand Boulevard house. The garden has three levels, including the terrace, an orchard, and a playground.
With the house now for sale – it’s listed for $775,000 – Morison hopes whoever buys next it appreciates its unique history. It does require some maintenance, but it’s held up remarkably well over the decades, Morison says. The tile roof, for example, is original.
“It’s a magical place,” says Morison.