East Lansing at Home: 812 Lantern Hill Drive

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

One of the gems of East Lansing’s Lantern Hill neighborhood – situated just north of Burcham Drive and to the west of Hagadorn Road – is 812 Lantern Hill Drive. A dark-painted modernist marvel, it inhabits the curve of the street and sits among lush gardens designed by the homeowner.

The house was built in 1951. Its current owner, Elinor Holbrook, bought the house with her late husband, Larry, over 50 years ago, in October 1967. When the couple first walked in the front door, Elinor says, she gasped audibly, and her husband poked her in the ribs.

“It was love at first sight.”

Lantern Hill was developed as a cooperative community by young Michigan State University faculty in the years after World War II. A majority of the 41 original households contracted with a young architecture professor from Harvard, Hugh Stubbins, who would go on to have a successful career as a creator of skyscrapers and other notable buildings, including the Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Stubbins was recommended for the job by one of the Lantern Hill community’s founding members, Myles Boylan, a professor of landscape architecture and urban planning. In fact, it was Boylan who situated the houses that Stubbin designed on the individual plots of land so that the windows took best advantage of the views while still affording the inhabitants their privacy. Although the houses are epitomized by large expanses of floor-to-ceiling windows, none of those windows looks into neighboring homes.

When Elinor and Larry bought their home in 1967, it had been rented out and was in rough shape. The Holbrooks immediately began making it their own. In the years that it was their home together, Elinor says she and Larry did everything they wanted to with their home, including some significant renovations about 25 years after they had moved in.

They added on the spacious and airy wing that contains a combined living and dining room, and renovated the kitchen. The living room addition doesn’t extend in a straight line from the original footprint of the house; rather, it seems to almost curve with the property when viewed from the street. While the addition fits the lot in an organic way that makes it appear as if it was always there, this was actually a solution by Larry, whose background in engineering helped them to avoid city drains when adding the additional square footage

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Elinor has decorated with authentic midcentury modern furniture and stunning art. The brown velvet, rounded sectional looks like Milo Baughman or Thayer Coggin and is in impeccable condition. A similar sofa is for sale on Chairish priced at $24,000. The leather chairs are Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona chairs. A Turkish rug is layered over the wall-to-wall carpeting.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

The buffet originally belonged to Betty Price, a Lansing merchant who commissioned architect George Nelson to design the building that housed Liebermann’s Department Store on Washington Square in Lansing. Elinor, a semi-retired realtor, sold Price’s home and bought the buffet from her. The art above it belonged to another set of clients who moved out of the country.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

On the other side of the house is the original living room, which faces south with a large expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows. This is where Elinor enjoys French spy thrillers on TV and fires in the fireplace.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

An Eames molded plywood lounge chair with a metal base sits against the wall to the kitchen.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Because they enjoyed cooking together, Elinor and Larry designed the kitchen with this large butcher block island in the center. It has served her well as a spot for setting up food during parties. In pre-pandemic times, Elinor entertained often in support of the causes important to her, including the local arts community. Her home has been featured in several home tours including a City of East Lansing centennial celebration in 2007.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

The eat-in area of the kitchen faces the street but is afforded privacy due to smart landscaping, including a privacy fence. On the wall are woodcuts of VW buses in six different colorways.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Elinor bought the Eames recliner from Roy Saper of the Saper Art Gallery. She says it is the most comfortable chair she has ever sat in.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

The bedroom addition took a year to perfect so that it would read as seamless with the exterior of the home. The original design by Hugh Stubbins was done in such a way that the house has accommodated additions and renovations beautifully.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

The spa-like bathroom that adjoins the bedroom has an Asian influence. The art above the tub was designed by Elinor’s late husband, Larry.

Thank you to Elinor for sharing her beautiful home with the readers of ELi! Do you know of an East Lansing home that we should consider featuring in our new House Styles series? Contact us!

The author is indebted to “Remembering Lantern Hill 1950-1952” by the late Alan P. Grimes for his thorough history of the Lantern Hill neighborhood. It is also summarized in Susan Bandes’ book Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie.

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