Rising from the Ruins

Photographs by Justin Maconochie

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and Matt and Kim Clayson are peering out the dining-room windows of their Indian Village home as company arrives. Sally Crapo Bullard, great-granddaughter of the home’s original owners, ambles in, along with Bill Morgan, founder of the Swartz Creek Historical Society, and his wife, Monte.

Bullard is a descendant of Henry H. Crapo, Michigan’s 14th governor and founder of the famous Crapo Farm. Morgan is hosting a reception for Bullard in Swartz Creek the next day, but she has taken a detour to visit the home her grandmother was married in.

“To know that you guys are breathing life into this house, it just means so much to me,” Bullard tells the couple.

Matt, 29, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, and Kim, 30, a bankruptcy-law attorney, bought the 7,000-square-foot “English country house” — as Matt calls it — three years ago, when it was in a state of near ruin. The first six months were devoted to making the nine-bedroom, five-bathroom home habitable again. A crew was hired to rebuild parts of the roof that had collapsed, and the copper gutters had to be replaced.

Bullard’s information has gaps between 1905 and 1912, but by the Claysons’ best estimates, the three-story, Arts & Crafts-inspired home was built in 1911. After its original owners, Stanford and Emma Crapo, left, the home changed hands multiple times, even serving as a boardinghouse for a period. In the 1970s, a prospector stripped most of the valuable architectural features from the Charles Platt-designed home and then defaulted on his land contract.

Today, the Pewabic-tiled foyer is still a work in progress, but much of the first floor has been restored. A brand-new kitchen — complete with Shaker-style hickory-wood cabinets and white marble countertops — serves as a popular gathering space during frequent neighborhood parties.

Matt calls their decorating style “basement/garage eclectic,” but “Detroit-centric” is also an apt description. A huge map of the city rests against a wall in the study, another one lies atop the Mason & Hamlin grand piano, and framed pages from a vintage yearbook hang in the living room.

They purchased the home because of its architecture, infrastructure, and location. But the added historic significance is “the icing on the cake,” Matt says.

Why were you looking in this specific area for a home?

We need to be by the river. And the people here are just very neighborly.

Describe your decorating style.

A lot of our furnishings and artwork came from relatives’ basements. … The rosewood square grand piano, Empire-style sideboard, and crazy console came straight out of our garage. We matched it all up with a few acquisitions from DuMouchelles and Macy’s in Eastland, and created a pretty comfortable home — despite it being in a perpetual state of construction/renovation.

How often do you entertain?

We’ve hosted maybe two or three neighborhood cocktail parties. We open up the house for different community receptions.

How big do your parties get?

We can fit about 50 to 75 people very comfortably. I think [for] our biggest one we had about 120.

What’s your favorite room?

Kim: [The library] is mine.
Matt: That’s why we actually got furniture for it [laughs].

Do you have a prized possession?

We like our garden. Kim got us into vegetable gardening. We’re part of the Detroit Agricultural Network, and we grow about everything.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in the area?

We’re [Detroit] Yacht Club members, so we like going [there] on Friday nights. We’ve been enjoying Roast a lot lately for their happy hour.

Tell me about your artwork.

The oils are from my [Matt’s] mother. My mother is an art teacher. The rest we get when we travel.

Has safety been an issue in the neighborhood?

We’ve been in the city for six years and never had a problem. … [Detroit Police] Chief [Warren] Evans has been amazing. He’s taken more of a community-policing model in the neighborhood.

What is your goal for completely restoring the home?

We had a five-year plan. We’re on year three now. It’s probably going to be more of a 10-year plan.

How important is keeping its original integrity?

Everything we do we try to keep it in feel with what it used to be. And if we can’t afford to fix it, we just leave it until we can.