Northern Roof Tiles and Frank Lloyd Wrights Martin House Buffalo, New York

Frank Lloyd Wrights - The Darwin Martin Complex in Buffalo, New York

Darwin Martin House - Slideshow

Check out the article in the November issues of Period Homes for more information about this fascinating architectural landmark.

Northern Roof Tiles involvement in the restoration project.

In 1904 Buffalo was a thriving prosperous city and for a ‘modest’ $6000 you could buy yourself a well-appointed 4 bedroom house.

Mr. Darwin Martin, a local businessman, who just happened to be the highest paid executive in America at that time, commissioned up and coming Chicago based architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build him a new residence. He was in for a bill which is reputed to have exceeded a cool $350,000, this must have made it the most expensive home in the neighborhood.

Noted Wright Scholar Robert McCarter stated that

 “The Martin House Complex is the most important house design of the first half of Wright’s career, matched only by Falling Waters over 30 years later.”

However magnificent the house had been, it had suffered badly in the intervening years. By the time a group of concerned locals came together in 1992 and formed a preservation society to save this national treasure, it was in need of a little more than just TLC!

The society commissioned Buffalo architects Hamilton Houston & Lownie to oversee the restoration to its 1907 grandeur. Phase 1 of the project was to stabilize the main house which involved the foundations, outer wall and returning the clay tile roof, which had been lost to the ‘dreaded’ asphalt shingles in the 1950’s. They knew the original shingle style tiles had been supplied by the Detroit Tile Company, who’s company slogan was If it isn't Tile it isn't a Roof but unfortunately they were long gone.

The Architects did find a piece of one of the original roof tiles when excavating around the foundations, so the search was then on to find a modern day match. All the usual suspects were asked to submit a match but no one came close and just when they thought all avenues had been exhausted they heard about a small company based over the border in Ontario….the fledgling Northern Roof Tiles.

I can remember the first phone conversation when Mr. Ted Lownie, the senior partner on the project called me. He explained the project and the situation with the single piece of tile and his need to find a match. He warned me that he didn’t think a match was possible and would understand if I refused the challenge.

I did make the trip to Buffalo and as soon as I saw the piece of tile I thought it was very close to a color of tile made by a small tile maker in rural France. I faxed the factory and as they did not speak English and I do not speak French we always communicated in both English and my wife’s school girl French. They would take the English version down to a local restaurant as the proprietor spoke English and he would translate it for them! (No immediate computerized translation in those days)


Four weeks later a box arrived with some samples packed in straw, which took some explaining to Canada Customs! Once the samples were cleaned up as the straw certainly smelt as if it had been used…I presented the tiles to Mr. Lownie who was amazed at the match.

This was the start of our association with the Martin House. We supplied the roof tiles for the main house, and re-roofing the Barton House, the residence on the edge of the complex which Darwin Martin had built for his sister.

Once the Restoration Society had purchased the 1960’s apartment bock at the rear of the property planning approval was obtained for its demolition and the building of the stable / garage block with the chauffeur’s apartment above and the pergola.

The last Phase involving roof tiles was the alterations to the roof above the bedrooms at the front and a small addition on the rear. Northern’s involvement with the project spanned over 12 years and we are very proud to have been given the opportunity to play a part in this American landmark building.

For more pictures and information check out

Northern Roof Tiles - Ph: 888-678-6866

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