Early in 1940, Gregor S. Affleck retained Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new home for him and his wife Elizabeth. Mr. Affleck had grown up in Spring Green, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1919 with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Mr. Affleck invented a fast-drying paint that found use in the automotive industry. "Affleck paint" is still used today and is highly regarded for its qualities of drying and durability.
In response to Mr. Affleck's letter, Mr. Wright told him to go far out of the city and find a site nobody wanted or could build on. At the time the Afflecks lived in the City of Pleasant Ridge, one of Detroit's outer most suburbs. Mr. Affleck found a hilly area along Woodward Avenue in rural Bloomfield Hills. A subdivision had been planned on the site, but the lots did not sell well because of terrain. The site consisted of a ravine with an artesian spring at the top. Mr. Affleck sent a topographical map to Mr. Wright.
The Initial plans that Mr. and Mrs. Affleck reviewed were essentially the same as the house that was ultimately constructed. In the revisions a balcony was replaced by the loggia porch, the kitchen was redesigned, and the window profiles were changed, among smaller items.
Construction of the Affleck's Usonian house was finished in 1941. As construction proceeded, local interest brought many visitors to the house because it was so unusual compared to the currently popular colonial style. It was perhaps interest in the architect himself that brought out visitors also.
Beginning in the 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright's argument that modern cities were no longer habitable led him to develop his solution for urban problems - Broadacre City. Wright used "Usonia" as his substitute for the reformed, future "America" of Broadacre City, and his solution to the "small house problem." These Usonians - and in particular the pre-World War II designs - were a solution to the changes in the lifestyles of the clients and their need for low cost but satisfying housing.
Usonian houses were typically one story, designed to express the horizontal element of the American midwestern plains. Attics were eliminated to avoid building unusable space and the Usonian homes had flat roofs. Wright introduced skylights as a way of providing additional light into the house. He believed his new ideas of the home should involve new materials and new technology.
The interior of Usonian houses were based on modular grids, usually 2 feet x 4 feet, or 4 feet x 4 feet as in the Affleck house. This grid was the basis for laying out the plan of interior partitions, furniture, rugs and cabinets. The living areas consisted of spacious and interconnected rooms, combining spaces such as the entry, the dining room, the living room and the music room. Mr. Wright's idea of the modern kitchen was one that opened directly into the living area. At the time, no one would have designed a kitchen in full view of the living room, it was meant to be closed off behind a door, preferably at the rear of the house. Mr. Wright believed the housewife was the worker of the American home, and he designed his kitchen such that she could cook and watch the children at the same time. Mr. Wright believed that windows should not be 'punched out' of walls, as it gave the feeling of living in a box. Instead, the windows took up the entire wall space to enhance the open natural living that Mr. Wright desired.
Mr. and Mrs. Affleck lived in the house until they passed away; Elizabeth in 1973 and Gregor in 1974. Over the years the house has withstood the elements and the design details of Mr. Wright, who had the habit of pushing materials and structure to their limits. In 1978 the children of Gregor and Elizabeth Affleck, Mary Ann Affleck Lutomski Shurly and Gregor P. Affleck, donated the house to the College of Architecture and Design at Lawrence Technological University to inspire students.