A sensitive renovation, done in phases, helps a 1960s Dearborn ranch embrace its roots while updating it for modern living
In an updated Dearborn home, a custom-made oxidized steel mantel surround “makes the family room a little more masculine,” interior designer John Rattray says. “It’s more of a space for him, but both of the homeowners use it.”
Photos by Justin maconochie
There’s Mid-century Modern, and then there’s mid-century mediocre. Unfortunately, homes built during the 1950s and 1960s can have elements of both, says John Rattray, of Birmingham-based Serba Interiors.
A 1968 Dearborn ranch on an enviable lot that the designer was enlisted to help update in 2013 was no exception. “When I first saw the house, the homeowners had just recently purchased it. The kitchen and some of the bathrooms had undergone some slight updating in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but the backgrounds and materials were dated.
“The exterior, for example, was a brown, marbleized brick that washed the house out.”
The home’s strengths, however, included “clean lines, simplicity of details, and open interior layouts with great flow,” Rattray says. Add a cool front courtyard; a spacious kitchen, living room, and family room; and lots of large, floor-to-ceiling windows, and it was clear to both the homeowners and the designer that the four-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot residence had more than a little unrealized potential.
The homeowners contacted Serba Interiors after a referral from a family friend. “They had a contractor lined up and were ready to get started,” the designer says. “Their priorities for phase one were to completely update the exterior of the house with new paint, a new roof, and new gutters, and to renovate the kitchen and living room.” Phase two, started about a year later, included the family room, the master suite, converting a small bedroom to an enviable office, and adding a walk-in closet.
In each phase, Rattray kept the vintage home’s existing floor plan but updated most of the main rooms. Interior changes included taking out an awkward partial brick wall and fireplace in the living room, painting the seafoam green walls, adding new floors and trim throughout, and replacing blond wood built-ins (“they were funky and had to go,” the designer says) in the family room, which also benefited from a new oxidized steel mantel and warmer tones in the fireplace bricks and furnishings.
The living room’s design features great flow and an open layout. One of the space’s changes included taking out an awkward partial brick wall and fireplace. The renovated living room features a custom leather bench and artwork by local artist Maudie Collier, along with a neutral palette that uses a bit of green.
Rattray united the home’s public and private spaces with a pleasant gray-and-taupe palette, contemporary clean-lined furnishings with punches of geometrics, and works by local artists. “I wanted updated versions of Mid-century Modern,” he says. “I didn’t want the house to look like a museum.”
The designer is perhaps proudest of the kitchen, which had been renovated sometime in the 1990s. “The old kitchen had an odd, two-tiered peninsula that jutted out,” he explains. “We changed everything within the space, including the island, countertops, floor, backsplash tile, and all of the appliances, but kept the existing birdseye maple cabinets. They were of great quality and in very good condition and, in the end, I think they were the highlight of the whole renovation.”
The master bedroom had two small “wing” walls that were removed to make room for a king-size bed and small nightstands, the designer says. The master bathroom (Pictured Below) and closet (top right) are among Rattray’s favorites. “I started with a blank slate in those two rooms, which is always fun.” From bottom left, the family room and the living room.
Rattray has worked on many older homes, he says, but hasn’t dealt with a lot of Mid-century. “It was important to me to keep the architectural style in mind when designing built-ins and cabinetry and selecting the furnishings,” he says. “My ultimate goal was to create interior spaces that reflected both the tastes of the homeowners as well as the architectural style of the home.”
Renovating in phases worked well for the homeowners, who lived in the home during each of the renovations, Rattray says, confiding “It was nice for them to have a break in between.”
While the team has transformed most of the house, there are a few rooms left untouched. Rattray is looking forward to updating the remaining bedrooms and powder room in the near future. “That’s phase three,” he says.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” was the modus operandi for this home
Designer John Rattray says he always starts a project by asking the client what they need. He then gets to work to create a pleasing and practical combination of open and closed storage. Here are a few places he incorporated custom storage into the Dearborn project, and why:
Kitchen: A new island includes a dishwasher, sink base, and pull-out trash receptacle in the center, along with drawer storage on each end. Shallow cabinets along the back provide additional storage for placemats, platters, and baking items that aren’t used daily. A low corner desk was replaced with a more functional base cabinet that has large pull-out shelves behind cabinet doors designed to store large cooking equipment such as mixers, slow cookers, and mixing bowls. Open shelves were added above to make the room feel more open, and to provide a perch for cookbooks and family photos.
Bird’s Eye View
The renovated kitchen includes eye-catching birdseye maple cabinets that were added during an earlier renovation. “We talked to John Morgan of Perspectives Cabinetry and he said he did them about 20 years ago,” designer Rattray says.
Master closet: The homeowners requested that the closet space also double as a casual home office. Rattray achieved this by designing a peninsula that would act as a desk, with concealed pencil drawers along the apron. “I carefully located electrical outlets in order to create charging station areas for smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers,” he explains. He disguised an odd asymmetrical window with floor-to-ceiling sheers.
Family room: A new bar cabinet needed space for wine and spirits, and needed to have a durable surface. Rattray designed closed storage below, to conceal bottles and provide a cleaner look. He opted for open shelves above, to hold accessories. —KSZ