In Residence: Decor Showcase: North Royal Oak

After scaling back, Tom and Diane Schoenith treasure what matters most


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Tom and Diane Schoenith share a relaxing moment in their Grosse Pointe Shores living room. Next to Tom is a Maitland-Smith wood house that serves as a bar. The crystal is Steuben and Rosenthal. Tom says the Steuben goblets were bought by his mother in the early 1950s for $17 apiece. The sofa is Drexel Heritage; the tea table is Henredon. Opposite: A table in the library/den holds a collection of Limoges boxes.

 

It was a typically dreary, cold day in March when the deal closed. But for Tom and Diane Schoenith, owners of the Roostertail and metro Detroit’s best-known party hosts, it was a bright day, filled with celebration and mixed emotions. 

This year, on March 18, Diane’s birthday, the Schoeniths sold their Grosse Pointe home, which they bought 36 years ago, also on March 18.

Late last year, the couple decided to downsize, swapping their 28-room, 12,000-square-foot, French-inspired manor in the city of Grosse Pointe for a sleek, 50-year-old, white-brick home with black trim, awnings, and a circular drive in Grosse Pointe Shores. The new place has less than half the rooms of the previous residence and it clocks in at about 5,000 square feet.

“The kids are gone [they have three adult children: Michael, Mary Kay, and John], and the grandchildren are out of town,” Diane says. “We’re gone in the winter, and it just didn’t make sense to keep this huge house for just the two of us.”

In addition to condensing their life here, within weeks of the Grosse Pointe sale, they received and accepted an offer on their Florida home, a contemporary brick-and-glass dwelling with an enclosed swimming pool.

Aside from the emotional attachment, the couple agree that the hardest part was deciding what to keep and what to shed. Because of their design style, Tom was able to devise a method that, for him, made the decisions go more smoothly.

“I call our design style real eclectic,” he says. “We have things from Sotheby’s and we have things from T.J. Maxx. Guess what things were the first to go? This works for me, because now the new house has only the good stuff. The everyday water glasses are Steuben.”

For Diane, deciding what stays and what goes was not quite so simple.

“I’m not a pack rat, but I like keeping things that are meaningful,” she says. Among those things are all the dresses she wore to Motown Mondays, a high-profile era for the Roostertail during the mid-1960s when The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, and other Motown stars performed at the riverfront complex, with Tom and an always fashionably turned out Diane as the official hosts. She also keeps pretty and unusual bows for gift-wrapping and crayon drawings done by her kids when they were in early grade school.

The move from the big house was accomplished in an intensive two-week period that involved a day-and-night effort during which Tom and a staff of 20 packed, labeled, and shipped 250 boxes and then unpacked and placed those contents. Diane chose to spend that time at the Florida home.

Because Tom has a well-documented sense of style, finding an interior designer was never an issue. The toughest thing, he admits, is figuring out how to display the treasures they’ve collected over the years.

The black grand piano in the living room holds dozens of photos in expensive frames, most of them displaying the family and their celebrity friends. The focal point in the dining room is a wall of art from Roosevelt’s “New Deal for arts” era, featuring artists from the 1930s and ’40s. The paintings and drawings are cleverly arranged, overlapping one another to dramatic and elegant effect.

What was the fate of all the things that didn’t make the cut? The Schoeniths say much of it was given to charity. Some was used to redecorate the Club Room at the Roostertail, inspired by the Adventurers Club in Pleasure Island at the Walt Disney World Resort. The room at the Roostertail is the new home for furniture and objets d’art the couple has collected while traveling internationally. Other valuable items were packed away in storage and are being saved for the grandchildren.

“We couldn’t have a garage sale because so much of the stuff we had was given to us as gifts over the years,” Tom says. “Imagine coming to our garage sale and spotting the crystal vase you gave us for an anniversary gift five years ago.”

The key to successful downsizing, they say, is realizing where you are in your life and making decisions about what’s most important.

“We’re getting close to 70. What’s most important now is health and family,” Tom says. “All the other stuff is just that — stuff. It’s paper, glass, steel — material things. The Picasso we bought 45 years ago is nothing but paint on canvas in a wooden frame. Collecting, owning, buying — there’s a time in one’s life for that.

“Diane and I have been there, and now I can look back and say, ‘We had a great run.’ ” 

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