Labor of Love
Newlyweds inject a dose of modern into their 1950s Colonial, but still retain bits of its traditional feel
Niki Serras had a mid-century modern ranch-style home on her wish list when she and her husband, Adam Post, went house-hunting a year and a half ago. But that’s not what the newlyweds ended up with. Instead, they purchased a 1956 three-bedroom Colonial located in Grosse Pointe Woods, within a two-mile radius of many of Post’s family members. “We tried to go modern, which is my aesthetic, but …” Serras says with a laugh.
“If you stand on the porch you can see Adam’s grandmother’s house,” Serras happily adds — but says it wasn’t just family that drew them to the area. “When we initially walked through, we could envision how it might look,” Serras says. With cove ceilings, original wood floors, a clean and dry basement, a sound brick structure, and a relatively accommodating layout, Serras and Post could easily imagine the perfect roost. Not to mention that Serras, who is co-owner of Scavolini Detroit and Chicago (a kitchen/bath design business), knows a thing or two about renovations; her business has won several Detroit Home Design Awards over the years. Before purchasing the home, the couple consulted with Serras’ sister and her husband (also co-owners of Scavolini), and their assistant, Nicole, who all agreed the residence could be the home of their dreams.
NEW LIFE: The renovation included refinishing wood floors (natural oak treated with a water stain to create lightness). Family room greenery from Planterra, West Bloomfield, brings the outdoors in (Pearl the cat appreciates that).
So how did these newlyweds (she describes herself as “neurotic and super organized” while he, a lawyer, is more “chill”) retain the home’s Colonial heritage while reflecting their modern taste and manage to live happily ever after, even during the renovation? “We had a lot of changes to make, for sure, as the home wasn’t exactly cared for,” Serras notes. In the kitchen, they added a huge island, removed soffits, tore out a walk-in pantry and replaced the space with a refrigerator and ovens, added a new kitchen tile backsplash (from Ann Sacks), and purchased all-new Miele appliances and cabinetry. Serras opted for specific hinging, integrated appliances, a spice storage pullout, bifold upper doors, and plenty of pull-out drawers for the kitchen.
They also refinished all of the wood floors (natural oak treated with a water stain to create “lightness” and make them nonglossy and durable — “if you scratch them, it doesn’t show”).
Blowing out a walk-in pantry so there would be room for a refrigerator and ovens made better use of space, and tearing down a kitchen/dining room wall created a vantage point leading to the dining room. “Just that slight manipulation created a dramatic difference,” Serras says, “so we now have a semi-open floor plan.” The couple agrees that “semi-open” is all they wanted — not only because it helped them stay within their budget, but also because “we didn’t want to destroy that 1950s look,” Serras says. Adds Post: “I like open kitchens, but not the current trend of a completely open first floor. Maintaining a separate family room makes the home feel open and comfy.”
For the powder room and foyer, Serras and Post chose a pentagon-themed Hastings floor tile. “Those rooms are next to each other, so it’s nice for them to have the same tile. The design is reminiscent of a 1950s shape,” she says. Serras also chose a textured geometric tile style for the kitchen’s backsplash.
“There’s so little texture in the home, so we made a special point to use it where we could.” The master bath, which was “Pepto-Bismol pink,” Serras says, now has porcelain gray Hastings tile. “We ordered all of our kitchen and bathroom cabinets (from Scavolini, of course) right after the home’s closing, because it takes four months for delivery since everything is made to order in Italy,” she notes. In the living room the walls were painted and new tile was installed inside the fireplace. An overarching lamp with a curved stand is a clever nod to the 1950s. More vintage-style lighting also speaks to a ’50s vernacular, including a dining room chandelier by Foscarini Lighting and a foyer chandelier by George Nelson.
The homeowners used mostly white paints for walls and ceilings. “The only crazy color (custom, by Sherwin-Williams) I chose is in the powder room — a super dark black/magenta, which is offset by the tile and the cabinets. I painted the interior side of the door in the same color, so you feel like you’re completely enclosed.”
New windows also were on the renovation list, as was an updated basement where the couple had the drop ceiling torn out and painted, and changed light fixtures to can-style lighting.
Serras is appreciative of her husband’s flexibility when it came to making design decisions. “He’s a total sport, and pretty much allowed me free rein. I would give him three choices and he’d like them, but he let me choose.” One of her decisions — black kitchen cabinetry — wasn’t readily embraced, though.
Before the renovation, left, and after. In the kitchen, the couple added a huge island, removed soffits, tore out a walk-in pantry and replaced the space with appliances, added a new backsplash and cabinetry, and more.
“I’m incredibly decisive, and the matte black glass was a serious design move. White is a nice and timeless way to go, and black — well, it’s a risk. After they were ordered, I showed Adam a sample, and his eyes got huge. He said, ‘I don’t know, Nik, it’s real dark!’ Now he loves it.”
As much as he may have been a bit leery about his wife’s cabinet selection, Post is grateful for her logistics skills. “Niki knows the proper schedule for renovation; she had everyone scheduled and updated constantly.”
As for kitchen countertop selections, Serras intended to avoid anything dark. “I grappled with it, as I was considering going really light,” Serras says. “I took a cabinet door sample to Ciot and they looked at it and suggested a dark granite — the complete opposite direction! I love quartz, but went with this particular granite because it’s beat-up, pocked, and marked with indentations. It’s got grit.” Serras explains that’s precisely why it complements the clean look of the rest of the kitchen, and says that’s what convinced her to go with something that hadn’t even been on her spectrum of possibilities.
These days, you’re apt to find the two in the kitchen, relishing that “beat-up” countertop and cooking up a storm, at least for weekend breakfasts. “It’s eggs over easy, toast, and bacon, which I always cook in the oven,” Serras says. And a nice oven, at that.
Survival Journal From the Homeowner
» Overall goal: Stay true to our design aesthetic: ‘livable modern.’ But remember that we live in Michigan in a Colonial home, so straddle that line — contemporary, but not cold.
» No work stoppage — try to have at least three separate crews: bathroom, kitchen, painting, etc.
» Get three quotes for major expenses and don’t always listen to our friends and their recommendations; go with gut!
» Move in around Easter?? Can’t use kitchen until June. Make a half-kitchen with microwave, coffee pot, and refrigerator.
» Make a separate living area in one of the bedrooms upstairs for Pearl during the one month or so after we move in, as some construction will still be going on. Keep her safe, out of harm’s way.
Niki Serras and Adam Post
Jan. 15, 2015
» Demolition day! The big moment! Our first look at when it really seemed like a renovation. After the demolition, we could see studs everywhere, and where they ripped out carpet in the den — there’s no turning back! I actually think I screamed when we first walked in.
» Remember to find places for ‘texture!’ How about kitchen backsplash (geometric), kitchen countertop (pretty organic?), and, of course, the wood floors (be sure there’s no shine!). It’s getting a little messy. So this is what my clients go through ... dust, construction, and people in and out throughout the day and into the evening. We seem to be making selections of materials and decisions about layout in a vacuum, because you never know exactly how it will turn out.
» Majority of paint work is complete! Windows changed out in a couple of weeks.
End of March
» Whatever we budget for, it seems we always need more! Example: The floors beneath both toilets were rotted! We had to re-pour floor, something we didn’t budget for. And the shower wall in the master was rotted away, too.
» Floors are getting refinished. Cabinets should be here by the end of the month. It’s getting overwhelming; as we get closer to move-in, it seems all the bills are coming at once — tile, cabinets, appliances, countertops, paint.
» May 2-3: Move-in weekend! We’ll be here for the last month of construction. It’s almost a relief that we like it so much.
» We are about 90 percent finished! Still to do: backsplash, base mouldings, chandeliers.
» Ta da! The best part — this home is now completely us. It’s the way I wanted to express myself through the design of my home. Adam loves it!
» What’s next? Landscaping in the back. Work on the Florida room?