A Place of Her Own
A former Michiganian returns to the Great Lakes State, choosing easy elegance in her Bohemian-style Ann Arbor home
Michelle Adams enjoys her mini Goldendoodle, Rufus, on the screened porch of her newly renovated Ann Arbor home.
Photos by JUSTIN MACONOCHIE
More space and a better pace. Both were on Michelle Adams’ wish list when the New Yorker decided to return to her home state in 2014. Adams grew up in the Midwest and attended Michigan State, but spent most of her 20s as a magazine editor in Manhattan, photographing and reporting on chic spaces in the Big Apple and around the world for Domino and Lonny.
Surrounded by so many influences, Adams says her personal style was all over the map. “I moved often and greeted every new apartment as an opportunity to redecorate,” she says of the years she spent in Manhattan. Her priorities began to shift in her 30s, when she found herself stalking Michigan real estate online and dreaming about backyards and closet space. In early 2014, she came across a listing for a 1920s Colonial in Ann Arbor’s Burns Park, a leafy and historic neighborhood near the U-M campus.
Despite Ann Arbor’s fast-paced real estate market, the approximately 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house had lingered, unsold, for months. “I asked my dad to go see it, wondering if there was a crack in the foundation or some other serious flaw,” she remembers. “He took some builder friends and, surprisingly, everything checked out.”
Classic elements such as white subway tile and marble add a timeless feel in the sunny renovated kitchen. A cabinetry wall leads to the nearby dining room.
Other buyers couldn’t see past the fixer-upper’s drop ceilings and dated spaces. “Real estate feedback said that people thought the ceiling was going to cave in and they wanted to get out as quickly as possible,” she says. She decided to stake her claim, putting in an offer without seeing the house and moving to her parents’ farm to “detox from New York” while the Colonial was being renovated.
The project took about six months, and included removing the dated drop ceilings and an awkward front closet, adding moldings, installing French doors leading to the backyard from the living room, and bringing in a new marble mantel inspired by her favorite homes in Europe. Dark 1950s kitchen cabinets and linoleum were replaced, and the space was brightened with new wood floors, marble countertops, and classic white subway tile. Adams did similar work in the upstairs master bath, the only other space that was gutted. “I love how sunny the house is now,” she says. “I need to be in a bright, happy place. That makes me sound high-maintenance, but I really like light.”
When it came to decorating, buying the house forced her to “reconcile a decade of design crushes,” she says, and identify a more permanent personal style. What she settled on was a chic combination of the looks she loves — something she has described as heavily influenced by both European and breezy California Bohemian styles. “The only way I could satisfy my creative eye was to represent them all. It’s kind of a hodge-podge, but in a fun way, I hope.”
The living room, which has a coastal feel, was inspired by the J. K. Place Capri Hotel and the work of architect Michele Bonan. The homeowner added French doors that overlook the garden. The wood banister is original. Bookshelves corral vintage textiles, and art and design books.
White walls, eye-catching art, and an easygoing elegance unite the home’s rooms; Adams says the challenge was to make the décor both cohesive and timeless. “I kept it neutral so the art and textiles can talk,” she explains. The pared-down palette and pops of blue were inspired by Something’s Gotta Give, the Nancy Meyers movie that launched a design revolution in 2003. Adams even named The Maryn (themaryn.com), the new lifestyle company she operates from her home, after Amanda Peet’s character in the movie.
Maryn means “of the sea,” Adams explains, and says: “I’ve always been fascinated by homes with a relaxed, coastal vibe. I tried to bring that here.” Other muses include Florentine architect Michele Bonan, designer of the J.K. Place Capri hotel, “a place that literally made me teary-eyed when I saw it,” she says. His influence can be seen in the symmetry of theliving room, as well as its marble mantel, basic mirrors, and wingback chairs.
Michelle Adams dreamed of having space for a dining room during her New York years. Today, in her Ann Arbor home, Adams uses her dining room, above, as both an entertaining and work space. The upstairs hall includes mirrored doors, a design trick that adds light, Adams says.
Rooms throughout the home showcase some of Adams’ favorite things. The living room bookshelf has back issues of Domino magazine (“I just can’t throw them away,” she admits), a photograph of her grandfather, go-to design tomes, and textiles she’s collected all over the world. The guest room features an oversized photograph she bought in New York and paid for in installments.
Adams whitewashed the attic, turning it into a part-time guest room and part-time studio where she can photograph items for her company. Many of her favorite things also find their way to her online shop, where she shares products and suppliers she believes in with like-minded shoppers. “After so many years of pushing products editorially, I felt that I wanted to do something that mattered more and gave back,” she explains.
In late spring, once the weather got warmer, Adams set her renovation sights on her backyard. “By the end of the (summer) it will look like Paris back there,” she promises. She loves being able to take her laptop outside or onto her screened-in porch, adding that her Manhattan years changed how she looks at both her home and her home state.
“I used to work in 400 square feet in New York,” she says, adding that she hasn’t regretted making the move. “I’m just happy to be here. I’m happy in a way I didn’t know existed.”