Romancing the Revival
In a historic Detroit neighborhood of 100-year-old manses, the heartbeat’s back — and one new homeowner is in heaven
Photos by Jeff Garland
It was love at first sight when Dottie Adair peered through the leaded-glass windows of the stately house on West Boston Boulevard and saw the wide entryway and long hall that led to an inviting breakfast room at the end. Once inside, she also fell in love with the fine lines and details, and the charm that this five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot 1922 Georgian Colonial exuded.
She had never lived in an old house before — let alone a two-and-a-half-story home with lots of stairs. In fact, her move in January 2015 was a giant leap from the new-build ranch home on 50 acres that she had shared with her late husband near Corpus Christie, Texas. Adair says she knew little about Detroit, although she had invested in residential properties that she rehabbed elsewhere in the city, but Boston-Edison — a four-street, 36-block area in the center of Detroit — felt like home, and she knew this house was the winner.
Once upon a time, Detroit Tigers’ baseball great Ty Cobb lived in the neighborhood and used to toss a ball to area kids in the yard. Five-and-dime tycoon Sebastian S. Kresge and many other big names in the auto, civic, and entertainment worlds also lived here, where about 900 individually distinct residences were built in the 20th century. In the past few years, particularly in warmer months, the streets have been alive with the sounds of rehab.
Adair knew going in that many windows — about 80 percent of them — would have to be replaced, but she hadn’t calculated that their replacements would have to be OK’d by the Boston-Edison Historical Commission. “That wasn’t an easy thing,” she says of the laborious process that included finding a qualified contractor and getting a building permit approved.
She ended up replacing all of the windows using Kelly Windows on Linwood, a family business recommended by the commission. She also had to replace what she thought was a sturdy roof; when the snow melted, Adair realized it was a crumbling mess. The asphalt driveway, too, was in dire need of repair. The external renovations included porches, iron railings, paint, and a new garage door and side door, because the existing door had been screwed shut.
The sumptuous living room is now serene and sophisticated, with curved couches, luxe leather, and a large painted cabinet that the homeowner’s sister gave her. Beyond is the TV room.
To help refurbish the interiors, Adair found Kathleen McGovern, of Grosse Pointe’s Kathleen McGovern Studio of Interior Design. McGovern impressed the new homeowner with her 25 years of experience working with 20th-century home restoration and renovation, including her own residence.
“When Dottie purchased this home in 2014, the total renovation wasn’t yet on her radar,” McGovern says. “I took one look at the interior of this beautiful home and knew we were in for a long haul.”
Before the renovations could begin, Adair and McGovern had to find the right team to do what the designer calls “the ultimate face-lift.” The first person they called was McGovern’s trusted longtime painting contractor, David Bishop.
“Let’s just say there was a lot of hesitation when I described the condition of the interior finishes,” McGovern recalls. “But David’s always up for a challenge, and with a career built on renovation and restoration, he signed on for over a year’s worth of stripping, sanding, replacing, polishing, and painting.”
The staircase — one of the details of the house that Adair fell in love with — was white-washed and needed immediate attention. Adair wanted to have it stripped and brought back to its original glory. “The beautiful architectural details that attract buyers are frequently the things that end up being the most costly to repair or restore,” McGovern notes.
At lEft, This charming galley-style kitchen is small but extremely efficient. Every cabinet is fitted with pull-out extension drawers, the appliances are top-notch, and the layout works fine. Right, The painter cleaned up the rust and paint layers of the second-floor bathroom mirror and returned it to its home like new. He also stripped the radiator. McGovern found the Deco-looking sconces, along with new flooring, a soaker tub, a sink, and a toilet that all fit the small room size and era.
The job required scraping off many coats of paint, repairing loose spindles, and fixing sizable gaps in the risers; McGovern says it took so long, they almost scrapped it for a new staircase. In the end, however, everything worked out. With the top handrail now showing the wood — a beautiful, hand-rubbed mahogany — Adair calls the staircase her shining jewel.
She also adores the upstairs soaking tub in one of her four full bathrooms, which replaced a rusty maroon model whose cast-iron innards had to be cut, smashed, and heaved from a dust porch to the trash bin below, along with the tile flooring. Finding what McGovern calls “a Pygmalion-size” tub for the 42-square-foot bathroom took hours of research. Bishop, the painting contractor, also restored the fabulous round medicine cabinet in the same room.
Another savvy part of the team was Handyman Ministries, located on Mack in Detroit. “They brought a wealth of renovation knowledge, along with their experience with decades-old plumbing, electrical, and heating,” McGovern says. “Vantay Draperies of Madison Heights and Ferndale’s Detroit Wallpaper Co. were also invaluable in helping us finalize our vision.” Adair herself scoured warehouses near Michigan Avenue and found the antique brass hardware needed for some of her interior doors.
“We learned quickly that the scheduling had to be very fluid, and patience on everyone’s part was critical,” McGovern says. “By the end of the project, though, everyone was like family. I also loved working with a homeowner with very traditional taste who was willing to step outside the box and incorporate modern pieces.”
This dining space at the end of the hallway is luxurious, with wall coverings and matching drapes by Detroit Wallpaper Co., a built-in banquette, and cushy roller chairs that move easily.