Dubbed a “treasure trove of Mid Century Modern architecture,” Midland, Michigan is teeming with eye candy for modernists, but the Dome Home just might take the cake. Designed by architect and Midland native Robert Schwartz, the 1964-built home is regarded as a must-see feat of innovation—topped with a hardy dome shell spun by Dow Chemical and inspired by Buckminster Fuller.
“If you’re talking about Mid Century Modern structures in Midland, you have to include the dome because it is so iconic,” says Craig McDonald, director of the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio and founder of Mid-Century Midland. “We did just that when we were creating a new logo for Mid-Century Midland and wanted to do a silhouette of influential buildings. The home really signifies the creativity and integration of experimentation that defines mid-century in Michigan.”
The Dome Home Breaks Out of the Shell
Clocking in at around 3,800 square feet, the tri-level home is located at 3201 West Sugnet Road and sits on the National Register of Historic Places. United by a central spiral staircase, the first floor features an entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, half-bathroom, office and utility room; the second level has four bedrooms and two bathrooms; and the third floor is essentially open space with a skylight.
Here’s the interesting part: “Nothing touches the sides of the dome,” says McDonald. Though that can create minimal acoustic and privacy issues, there’s a good reason for the gap. “If the floor or walls were attached to the shell, any movement of those two things would disrupt the construction and strength of the dome,” adds McDonald.
Not that the shell is fragile by any means. Made with Styrofoam donated by Dow Chemical Co., the dome is “incredibly strong,” and was spun in 14 hours using a proprietary technique known as spiral generation. McDonald likens the method to “poly welding Styrofoam planks to create the dome, then spraying on a two-inch-thick layer of concrete for protection.” Three large window wells were cut out once the dome was complete, and the exterior finish was a coat of acrylic paint and a coat of sealant.
The dome is also an homage of sorts to Buckminster Fuller, Schwartz’s mentor during his time as an architecture student at the University of Michigan. Schwartz was part of a small team assisting Fuller on a housing project for the U.S. Marines Corps, designing geodesic domes made out of cardboard. It was Fuller who encouraged Schwartz to approach Dow Chemical Co. with his concept for a residential dome home, but Schwartz had also been highly influenced by the work and mindset of Alden B. Dow (who designed over 130 structures around Midland).
“Almost every house [that Alden B. Dow designed] has a test product or new idea, and Dow Chemical had also fostered a community spirit of innovation,” says McDonald. “The Dome Home captures that spirit and the ingenuity here in Midland.”
Labor of Love
Though Schwartz is credited with designing or co-designing no less than 32 structures in the area, the Dome Home is known as the Midland native’s crowning glory (along with the United Church of Christ). Schwartz lived in the house with his own family until he died in 2010, furnishing it with mid century classics such as an Eero Saarinen Tulip table and Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs.
“When the Schwartzes lived there, it was essentially a showplace-slash-museum that really showed the beauty of mid century design,” says McDonald. (Indeed, Robert Schwartz, Jr., recalled to Our Midland that people would wander through the yard trying to look through the windows during his childhood.)
Today the home is occupied by its second owners Leonard and Carol Bogan, who purchased it in 2013. According to McDonald, the couple is regarded locally as meticulous—and playful—stewards who regularly open the home for special events and fundraisers. “The Bogans lovingly call it ‘the igloo house’ and have fun penguin [decorations],” shares McDonald. “They also have a white Beetle car as a reflection of the dome.”
Though a devastating flood threatened the house in 2020—submerging the first floor in seven feet of water—the Bogans have made provisions for such events since the home is located on a flood plain. According to McDonald, virtually every element on the main level is detachable (such as the kitchen cabinets), and the living room carpeting can be easily rolled up and removed. “They were very smart and creative in their redesign of the main level,” says McDonald.
And nature also makes a positive contribution to the home, flooding it with natural light thanks to vast two-story windows in true MCM tradition. “Rarely does the home need artificial light because of the massive [window] openings,” says Schwartz. “It’s a living environment that is open, bright, and truly connects to the natural element, and one that truly redefined how we use materials and enjoy a space.”
About the Contributor
Jen Jones Donatelli is a freelance journalist and Mid Century Modern devotee who lives in Cleveland, OH. Her work has appeared in publications including Los Angeles Confidential, Playboy, West Hollywood Lifestyle, Budget Travel, Robb Report, Thrillist, JustLuxe, and many more. In 2018, she and her husband purchased a 1950 mid-century ranch on Lake Erie and are always looking for the perfect pieces of MCM flair to enhance it — from sunburst mirrors to Mondrian-inspired placemats. For fun, she shares Mid Century Modern inspiration and homes at Mid Mod Midwest – give it a follow!