After living in a clean-lined home with an open floor plan, Muir Frey and his partner, Pamela Herbster, were ready to head in a different direction. Their wish was granted when Frey came across a French Provincial-style house in Ann Arbor on the Huron River in the Barton Hills neighborhood. The couple purchased the home, which Frey describes as “traditional and warm,” in 2015.
The scenic setting of the 5,200-square-foot dwelling — including the lower level — was an added bonus, as was the fact that the personal effects Frey had inherited from his parents would be well-suited for the environment. But first, there was work to be done. “It was very eclectic, but dated. We knew we needed to redo the master bedroom and bathroom,” says Frey, who had architect Carl Hueter, of Carl Hueter Architecture in Ann Arbor, draw up the plans for both spaces.
He also reached out to Ann Arbor-based Laura Zender, an Allied ASID member and principal/owner of Laura Zender Design. “I’m really good at execution, but I’m not so good with colors and schemes,” says Frey, who acted as general contractor while Zender focused on the decorative finishes for the master bedroom and bath, powder room, great room, dining room, loft office, and kitchen, with help from design assistant Tiffany Edison.
The finished project exudes a timeless quality, with intriguing interiors and a masterful mix of distinctive details — like Frey’s family heirlooms, which add a very personal note. “After moving out of a sleek house, they really wanted all the (design) elements front and center,” Zender says.
Zender says the jumping-off point for her color scheme came from the artwork passed down from Frey’s parents, which feature a lot of pinks and purples. In the powder room, a mirror the homeowners already had hangs above an existing pink marble sink, while new wallpaper with an Asian influence ties everything together. A barn-style window is original to the home, along with the substantial molding that frames the silver ceiling.
“Because a lot of the existing architecture is so unique, I just tried to calm the house down and simplify the palette,” Zender explains.
The master bathroom, which was gutted down to the studs, now has a spacious shower, quartzite counters, and a porcelain floor. Café curtains add character. “They’re one of my favorite window treatments and they’re very functional,” Zender says. “They allow light up top, and they’re easy to open and close. They have a nostalgic feel, but can be modernized with up-to-date fabric.”
An upholstered bench has a pop of pink, while a shapely chair facing a recessed mirror is part of a set Frey inherited. “A lot of (what’s in) the couple’s house is an homage to his parents,” Zender says. The remaining chairs from the set found a home in the dining room, where cosmetic updates complement the existing hickory floors, and slipcovered host and hostess seats bookend a barnwood table.
The nearby kitchen received a partial renovation. New elements, like the subway tile and the marble counter on the peninsula, join original cabinets that were salvaged. Once again, it’s the unexpected blend that makes a striking statement. A freestanding island left behind by former homeowners graces the graphic black-and-white tile floor, another holdover from the past.
Family heirloom tins and a still-life painting by Frey’s father are lovingly showcased in the kitchen. An existing hutch sits beside new cabinetry that includes a pantry and drop zone in the hallway. Other stylish additions include stainless steel appliances, a light fixture, and a hood. Zender says it helped that the timber frame home had good bones, like the unique ceiling in the great room where comfy furniture surrounds a fireplace wall she redesigned.
Her asymmetrical solution for the space, which perfectly accommodates the TV, turned out to be just right. “The homeowners spend a ton of time there, but they definitely live in all of the spaces,” she says.
Another redesign involved the master bedroom, which features a seating area and a partition wall that separates the dressers from the rest of the room. Newly acquired and reupholstered pieces blend with inherited artwork.
For Frey’s loft office, a repurposed sofa and wing chair mingle with new finds like the pillows and a cowhide rug. “All we did was take the good stuff he had and position it,” Zender says.
Frey says he thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative experience, and admits he gave Zender free rein. She then took his ideas and expanded upon them. “I incorporated the best of what the client has with new and vintage, and edited it. It’s all about putting together the pieces of the puzzle and finding the best fit,” Zender explains.
The couple loves their new surroundings. “It came out really well,” Frey says. “Once the sun has set and there’s no view of the water, I can lower the blinds, turn the fireplace on, and sit down on the couch with Pam and our two dogs. It’s a really warm and comfortable place to be.”
Pops of pink join versions of Pantone’s color of the year — Ultra Violet — to create a seamless merger
“We found a lot of purple and pink in the homeowners’ existing artwork, and Pam (Pamela Herbster, see accompanying story) loves color, so we tried to incorporate those colors as a unifying palette,” says interior designer Laura Zender. “Sometimes a pop of something from room to room helps unify spaces with disparate furniture styles.”
Wallpaper with pink tones covers a section of the dining room, while the remaining walls are done in a dusty purple similar to that found in the great room. Pink also makes an appearance on a bench in the master bathroom and an accent pillow on the olive green couch in the loft office.
In the master bedroom, the dusty rose found on a pair of reupholstered chairs is paired with satin draperies in a shade Zender describes as “somewhere between rose and purple.”
There was a lot of discussion about getting rid of the pink marble sink in the powder room, but in the end Zender thought it should stay. Now, with a new skirt, it’s perfect for the updated space, where the soothing shade can also be found in the wallpaper.