There is a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to classic European homes — be it the quiet grandeur, the rich history, or the allure of the perfectly aged architecture. These were homes built to live in and use — for generations. Homes built for growing families, like that of Chris and Therese Pero. So when it came to renovating their standard 1959 two-story, the Peros, wanting to create their own Old World beauty, set out to capture the enchantment and inviting ambiance that’s the signature to the styles seen in England and France. Purchased in 2005, today the manor-like home — a stop on this year’s Birmingham Home Tour Sept. 22 — is in stark contrast to its former self.
“We had young kids and we wanted to get into this (Birmingham) neighborhood,” Chris says. “We bought it with the understanding that although it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, a few years down the road we (would be able to make) the changes we wanted to.”
The original façade was a combination of white aluminum siding and brick. “I could see the potential,” Therese says. She explains that she could envision how the mid-century Colonial-style home could take on a more sophisticated look.
In 2012, the dramatic redesign began. The Peros enlisted the help of longtime friend and interior designer Richard Ross, of Birmingham-based Richard Ross Designs, who had worked with the family on several previous homes.
“We did the first phase just to paint it, change carpets, and make things look pretty,” Ross says. When the family decided to begin the major renovations, Ross suggested they work with Glenda Meads of Glenda Meads Architects in Birmingham.
A top priority during the home’s overhaul was to evoke the charm and splendor of the idyllic, older homes Therese cherished in her native England and in Europe — both on the exterior and inside. Among the inspirations for the front’s striking transformation was an image Meads had shown Therese of a courtyard in Paris.
To give the standard two-story house its French finish, Meads says “we had to bring the ground floor out flush with the second floor.” Expanding the main level forward by about 1 foot, while no easy feat, made it possible to add brick where the siding once hung. Therese had also requested that reclaimed brick be used, to achieve the older look she loved. Locating the reclaimed brick to match the existing brick, however, posed a challenge.
“The original brick on the house was already reclaimed,” Meads says. That made it even more difficult to create a seamless blend.
“I didn’t want to compromise because I think brick totally changes the feel,” Therese says. “Then finally we found it, and it’s perfect for the look I was going for.”
Adding limestone quoins to the windows, door surround, corners, and at the dormers was integral in recreating the stately charm the homeowners were looking for. The steep, hip roof — an impressive architectural addition — offered an even more authentic European feel to the home. Also true to the aesthetic: natural gas lanterns, as well as a sizable front door complete with a center-placed door knob straight from England.
“The door is influenced by doors Therese had seen in Europe, so I designed it to mimic those and had them custom-made by Hardwood Door and Bevel (in Auburn Hills),” Ross says.
The classic-yet-contemporary updates continued indoors.
Of special note are the arches: “It was something that Therese showed us,” Ross says, “and we made it happen. It gives character and some interesting architecture. You can see how beautiful the door looks at the end of the hall. We built it to mimic the arches, so it would tunnel right through.”
“It just gives the home this cozy feel,” Therese adds. It’s a feeling that’s carried effortlessly throughout the home with soft, subdued tones; stained oak floors; calming white-noise machines; and dark frames on the newly updated and lengthened windows — a design element Therese suggested during the renovations.
“It really adds dimension and that feeling of old metal windows,” Ross says. In addition, “all of the casings and base mouldings are new throughout the house, so it really feels like a new house all the way through, because everything has been changed to flow.”
The Peros say the juxtaposition of new and old elements adds to the splendor of the home. The ambience can truly be felt in the family room, located at the rear of the home. Previously, the space was a smaller, step-down-style room. It was lifted, and today it offers plenty of seating for entertaining, a honed marble fireplace the busy family of five uses year-round, a built-in bookshelf, 8-inch coffered ceilings, a reading nook favored by the family’s petite pup, Tilley, and a mix of artwork including a set of photographs Ross commissioned Boswell Creative to take of the fashionable streets of Paris.
The entire back wall was pushed out 10 feet, allowing for this expansion, the addition of a vestibule, and the complete redo of the kitchen and eating area — something that was among the family’s top priorities.
Ross took the former kitchen and reworked it into a user-friendly pantry, mud hall, and powder room. For the new kitchen, he chose a “dressy and subdued” style, with hidden appliances and custom two-tone cabinetry by EuroCraft. Grainy white marble “that feels very European” to Therese tops an oversized island made to look like a grand piece of furniture. To add to the Old World allure, Therese suggested a drip edge be added along the marble — a feature Ross says was once standard in older homes.
The eating area includes a round Hickory Chair dining table and banquette seating suggested by Ross “that the kids love” Therese says. “We’re in the kitchen all the time, whether I’m cooking or not. And that’s what Chris and I wanted.”
The first level addition allowed for an overhaul upstairs. On the second floor, Ross reconfigured the main bathroom with a new layout. While the update meant the loss of a window, adding a skylight kept things airy and light.
The main agenda upstairs was to create a gorgeous master suite. The addition over the garage and the repurposing of a fourth bedroom resulted in a laundry room, large closet, and a luxurious bathroom complete with an air tub, marble counters, and a double-door shower, as well as a foyer leading to the suite.
“That’s another thing I find really important in a house: a foyer to a master (suite). I like walking into the bedroom,” Ross says. “It gives it more separation.”
Therese and Chris agree: “It feels like you’re in a hotel,” they say.
The master suite, a favorite family hangout, includes a polished marble fireplace, large windows, and a dramatic ceiling that reaches nearly 13 feet. With the master suite located over the new construction of the kitchen, “it permitted us to do a higher ceiling that could extend up into the roofline,” Meads says.
“A lot of designers or people don’t know where to stop, and that’s when a project gets heavy,” Ross adds. “We kept it clean.” Ross gave the children’s rooms subtle updates such as the addition of a vanity in daughter Olivia’s en suite bathroom — formerly a Jack and Jill in the old master bedroom. Therese encouraged her children to choose the art in their rooms. The couple’s eldest son, Evan, now 11, selected stunning photos at the Birmingham Art Fair of items that depict Detroit. “I was surprised,” Therese says. “He was about 9 when he chose them. It was sophisticated but age-appropriate at the same time.”
Throughout the home, Therese’s array of sculptures and artwork adds refined European appeal. Two works by artist Bowen are favorites. “He’s kind of quirky and weird-looking,” Therese says of one of the painting’s subjects. “It doesn’t all have to be so pretty.” There’s also a gallery wall of prints depicting scenes in Provence, a surreal image of the Michigan Central Station, a third Boswell work of an architectural detail in Paris, and statues and images of horses. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m so drawn to horses. They’re calming to me,” Therese says.
While the design of the home reflects Therese’s heritage and love of Europe, it was the warm and inviting setting she and Ross created that stands out. “I think every house has a feel, and this house had such a warm feel,” she says. “From what I heard from the neighbors, the man who owned this house before us really loved this house, and you can feel it.”
Birmingham Home Tour Lowdown
The annual Community House Home Tour, presented by Hall & Hunter Realtors, runs 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sept. 22. It will feature seven unique homes — including that of Therese and Chris Pero. The featured homes range in style from traditional to contemporary. Tickets are $40 in advance and $45 the day of the tour. Lunch will be served at The Community House from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ($55 in advance/$60 day of, including lunch and the tour). For reservations, contact The Community House, 380 S. Bates St., Birmingham, 248-644-5832 or visit tchserves.org. Proceeds go toward various Community House programs.