In Residence: The Detroit Institute of Arts' Elliott Broom

A former nomad finds a sense of community in Midtown



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Elliott Broom spent much of his adult life working in boutique-hotel management in such luxurious settings as the Four Seasons Los Angeles and the Hotel Monaco Chicago before ending up at the Detroit Institute of Arts as vice president of museum operations.

Hints of future domesticity appeared early on, however, when Broom was just starting out as a bellman at the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn.

“Here I am, a bellman, and they had an auction in the ballroom,” Broom recalls. “I went and stood at the back of the ballroom and just watched. After the auction ended, I talked to the auctioneer about what happened to pieces that didn’t sell. Our conversation led to my offer to purchase [a] piece on the spot.”

The abstract Marcel Mouly lithograph Broom picked up nearly 20 years ago now hangs in the hallway of his ground-level unit in the Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown Detroit. The colorful Cubist piece, which was an outcast at that auction, is now a steadfast member of Broom’s evolving, eclectic collection.

“My art kind of guides me,” Broom says of his décor. “I find works of art that I like, and then — once I buy it — I find a home for it. And it doesn’t always work out.”

Today, it works out more often than not in the airy 1,800-square-foot loft Broom has called home for the last two years. After closing on the unit in August 2008, he waited nine months for his new home to be designed and built-out. That blank-canvas aspect is what drew him to the Willys. “The beauty of this building is that you sit down with the architect once you sign, and you design the space,” Broom says. “I really liked the thought of building a place from scratch — kind of like building a new home, only the bones were already in place."

Broom uses the second bedroom (above) as a den. "When I'm just hanging out at home alone, I hang out in this space," he says. "I can just kick back and watch TV. It's cozy."

 

That existing structure includes an 18-foot-high concrete “martini” column in the main hall. The building was constructed in 1917 as the sales-and-service facility for the Willys-Overland Motor Co. “For that reason, you had to have these massive columns to support the weight of vehicles stacked four floors up,” Broom says.

Behind the column hang a pair of works by Detroit artist and Kresge Arts Fellow Cedric Tai, whom Broom frequently encounters in the common area of the building. (Re:View Contemporary Gallery, an art space that showcases local and national artists, is one of Broom’s neighbors on the Willys’ main floor.)

Although it was the space that attracted Broom to the Midtown loft, he says it’s the community that has most impressed him. “Midtown is the closest thing Detroit has to one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods,” he says. “This is a real community, I have to say. It seems as though everybody knows everyone else. Even if we aren’t the best of friends, we all know one another.”

That newfound sense of belonging is something new for the native Detroiter whose career had him living a transient life. But at age 46, a career change brought him full circle.

Now settled in with a mix of furnishings collected during bivouacs from Los Angeles to Dallas, Broom says, “I planned on this being a long-term home.

“I bought something that I could design around my lifestyle,” which began back when he was a fledgling bellman with dreams.

The master suite (above) in the two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit features an exposed-brick wall, which Broom is fond of.
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