A Barn Beckons

Fate inspires a local doctor to purchase a shed-turned-veritable-showhouse. Built some 80 years ago, the structure gleams, thanks to a few additions and the work of skilled interior designer Paul Feiten.


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If you were looking to buy a home and noticed that the address of one of the homes you liked was the same as your birth date, would you consider that to be a good omen?

That's exactly what Dr. Ray Hajjar thought when he noticed the address of a 1930s-era former barn on Chester Street in Birmingham was the same as his date of birth. Of course, Hajjar also sensed the home would be a perfect fit for him and his two teenage daughters.  

Converted from a barn into a home in 1964 (the year Hajjar was born — more good karma!), the structure once was part of a property on Bates Street, which runs behind Chester.

Between 1964 and 2011, a garage, a kitchen, and an adjoining dining room were added, along with an entrance on the east side of the original structure. The home's unusual shape and historic significance, the previous additions, and a new vision for even more beauty all inspired Hajjar to make it his home.  

In 2011, the homeowner commissioned architect Richard Zischke of Livonia to fashion a new master suite. To accomplish that task, Zischke and his team designed a stunning addition over the existing kitchen and garage.

Now all the single father needed was a proficient interior designer to bring about his desire for clean lines, a comfortable color palette, and simple-but-chic accoutrement.

That designer was Paul Feiten of Bloomfield Hills, a 30-year design veteran who also worked with Hajjar on his former, more traditional home. This time around, Feiten transformed Hajjar's close-to-downtown Birmingham residence into a barn-meets-industrial look featuring contemporary appointments galore.

"He wanted to go completely opposite in design from what he had before — very contemporary," says Feiten "And he's having fun doing it."

Think woodsy beams mingling with classic and modern-style furnishings and accents (from ceiling fans to Eames-style reading chairs to steel gears to chunky, distressed wood tables). A charming, uneven brick floor throughout the kitchen/dining area features some bricks with stamped words including "Nelsonville Block." These were likely constructed in an Ohio plant that made bricks from 1880 to about 1940.

The home's masculine color palette is evocative of a steaming cappuccino: strong, rich coffee hues sharing space with milky whites. Exterior paint and trim in a dark charcoal color shows up inside, too, with deep gray carpets and ceramic tiles that fuse with fresh creams — all cast in a contemporary, clean-lined setting. The walls feature putty and soft, cloud-white tones.

"My goal was to make the home contemporary and clean-lined but warm, as well," Feiten explained on a recent afternoon, while he was dropping off cushions for new chaise lounges.

Feiten, who grew up in Farmington, says he also aimed to create great bedrooms and bathrooms and a comfy hangout space for the homeowner's two daughters. The results? Welcoming bedrooms and baths that reflect the girls' personalities and a fun loft/lounge area where they do their homework, visit with friends, and watch television.

Feiten also needed to find a spot for the homeowner's father's desk chair. "He, too, was a doctor, and I think the chair is a reminder of the respect and love Ray has for his father," Feiten says. The old spinning, brass tack-trimmed leather chair now reigns supreme at the daughters' desk in the loft. (Perhaps the chair's medical karma will inspire the girls to consider a career in medicine.)

Because Hajjar attended Cranbrook schools, he wanted to incorporate a few furnishings reminiscent of his experience there. Mid-century appointments include an Eero Saarinen-inspired Tulip Table in the master bedroom (Eero's father, Eliel, was Cranbrook's first resident architect and the academy's first president and head of the architecture department). In the loft, photography featuring scenes from the Cranbrook campus grace the wall near the desk. An Eames chair in the master bedroom is a favorite perch for reading. The art aficionado also loves 20th century artists Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder; Feiten found the perfect spot for works by these masters in the homeowner's bedroom

The master bath continues the clean, streamlined look. Clear glass tiles appear to have an ocean-turquoise cast, due to the lead in the glass and its reflection. A freestanding tub exhibits graceful lines. In keeping with the nature of the home, Feiten and Hajjar decided upon sliding, barn-style wood doors for the master bathroom.

Other barn-meets-industrial-modern appointments include special touches like the retooling of the large round kitchen/dining table. Made of vintage distressed alder wood, the table's top "is farmish," Feiten says. "But the bottom now has a contemporary gate-leg base." (Feiten commissioned Gallery Steel of Waterford to design the base.) The living room cocktail table also exudes this feel, with its wood top and iron base.

Feiten has a knack for blending accessories and finds pieces all over, including at a flea market in Allegan, in southwest Michigan, where he spotted an intriguing wood pediment. "I had some vignettes in mind for Ray's shelves," he notes, adding that composition for displays is key. The wood accent adds texture and depth. Feiten also changed out the homeowner's picture frames for silvers and blacks, to provide consistency.

Some of the home's more unusual elements include a glass-door garage. Lights illuminate from inside the garage. "That idea was Ray's suggestion," Feiten says. "He thought lighting the garage from the inside would make it look cool from the outside." Indeed it does, as do various artistic accents such as a horseshoe imbedded into the patio, iron accents and sculpture on sloped terrain, contemporary patio furniture, and landscaping by Michael J. Dul & Associates.

"Working with Ray was great," Feiten says. "He's level-headed and makes sound, consistent decisions. There's no up-and-down with him."

You could also say he's intuitive. "With his birth date and address the same, this home was meant to be his," Feiten says. "That was a sign that he belonged here. Crazy stuff!"

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