Lucky Charm

Becoming a veritable ‘house detective,’ a homeowner stumbles upon a captivating discovery — her home is a 1921 Albert Kahn-designed beauty

In 1976, when she first laid eyes upon a charming home on a hill that had just gone up for sale, one Bloomfield Hills resident leaped into action. “I walked through it, saw the view from the patio, called my husband, and said ‘I have to have it,'” she recalls.

The home turned out to be even more special than she had originally imagined. While taking a class called “The Legacy of Albert Kahn” (legendary Detroit architect Kahn — 1869-1942 — also designed the Fisher Building, the Detroit Institute of Arts building, and Cranbrook’s Booth House), she recognized elements similar to her own house in the homes she was learning about. “I called Albert Kahn Associates; I figured it was worth a shot to try to find out if my house was an Albert Kahn,” she says. “Soon after, the archivist at Albert Kahn Associates, James Bouffard, arrived with the original 1921 blueprints of our house (first known as the Kohler Residence) as well as a letter that stated, ‘There is no doubt that the original building described is an Albert Kahn house.'”

Today the home’s initial footprint — as well as the thick stucco walls, high ceilings, oak floors, brass hardware, iron gates, gorgeous Flint Faience tile in the master bath, and subway tile in the guest bath — all remain. Only a few changes have been made over the years, and each was done in a way that preserved the integrity and style of the home.

When the kitchen was remodeled, the homeowners hired cabinetmaker Alan Kaniarz of AK Services in Detroit because he respected the house and understood its Arts and Crafts style. The result? A beautiful room featuring carefully crafted stained oak cabinets with glass inserts, green marble countertops, and a backsplash whose bisque-colored tiles are interspersed with vintage tiles inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish Arts and Craft-style architect and artist. Three glass-light pendants hanging over the island were custom-made to mirror the vintage Tiffany-style glass fixture that once belonged to the owner’s parents and now hangs over the breakfast table. The kitchen doors’ clear glass inserts were replaced with vintage stained glass inserts.

A multitude of treasures that further enhance its stellar architecture fills this storied home. In the living room, a Robert Motherwell print occupies space between a pair of chairs designed by Austrian architect and craftsman Joseph Hoffman, while a David Hockney drawing adorns the wall opposite the fireplace. A colorful Lester Johnson oil painting hangs above the fireplace, which is flanked by two crystal and black iron torchieres from France that were purchased at the Duke Gallery.

The homeowners truly appreciate how remarkable their residence is. “I love how (Kahn) designed this house,” the lady of the house says. “I call him Uncle Albert, and we’re not even related.”