A Row House Renovation

Zac and Renee Cruse, a general contractor and interior designer respectively, relax on the couch with their dog, Grover. It took the couple eight…
Zac and Renee Cruse, a general contractor and interior designer respectively, relax on the couch with their dog, Grover. It took the couple eight years to whip their terrace house in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood into shape.


For interior designer Renee Cruse and her general-contractor husband, Zac, the adage about the cobbler’s children having no shoes rings true.

“Since we do this for a living, we were the last client that got attention,” Cruse says, explaining why it took eight years for the couple to whip their home in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood into shape.

Their three-bedroom, 1,150-square-foot residence built in 1913 is one of eight terrace (row) houses in the historic enclave west of Midtown. The couple, who were already Woodbridge residents when they met at a neighborhood party, have lived in their current home for their entire 10-year marriage, first as renters, before buying it from the neighbor who owned it.

“Zac, as a contractor, really likes material like wood and steel, and you see a lot of that through our home,” Cruse says. “Our house has a bit of an industrial feel to it,” which is evident in the kitchen (left). In the dining room, a silver latex balloon wall was designed to mimic the grid of lockers on the opposite wall (right).

Purchasing it was a process in itself. “It took us a long time to buy it, particularly because we’re not a condo association,” Cruse says. “Lenders and insurers were very reluctant to deal with a unit that’s connected to others with no formal association.”

The shabby state of the house would provide plenty of work for the next eight years, as well as an unlikely silver lining: freedom. “We actually kind of love the fact that the house was in more or less disrepair when we bought it, so that we didn’t feel obligated to do a historic preservation,” Cruse says. “We were able to build the house for the way we live, creating an open plan downstairs.”

The open layout, which links the living room, dining room, and kitchen, is essential to letting light into the unit, which, because it’s in the middle of the terraces, has windows limited to the east- and west-facing walls. The shared north wall features exposed brick, a material that also makes an appearance in the master bedroom and bathroom.

ABOVE: The closets in all three bedrooms were ripped out to maximize living space. Cruse says much of their décor focuses on textures, including an exposed brick wall in the master bedroom. BELOW: The brick wall in the bathroom, which is shared with the neighboring unit, was not exposed when the couple bought the home. All the upstairs closets were gutted and one of the bedrooms was turned into a shared dressing room, where a card catalog stores jewelry and accessories. “I really like a neutral palette. To me, it’s really restful,” Cruse says. “With our house, we focus more on textures. It’s a really cozy house to be in.”

“We wanted to add texture, and not so much color,” Cruse says. “Because I work with color so much, I don’t like a lot of it in my home. That’s why you don’t see very many accent walls.”

That focus on texture shows up in a whimsical application of silver latex balloons, arranged in a grid pattern on the dining-room wall.

“A lot of people think they’re ceramics or something,” Cruse says. “My grandmother came over to see our lower renovation when we finished it; she looked at the wall and said, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe you stapled condoms to your wall!’ ”

On the second floor, the bedrooms were gutted and their closets eliminated. To compensate for that eliminated storage space, one bedroom was converted into a full-time shared dressing room. The third bedroom is used as a flexible space. “At Christmastime, it’s filled with gifts and wrapping,” Cruse says. “At different times of the year, we set it up to be whatever we want it to be.

“Because it’s a small house, we took the approach that every room has to be hard-working.”


ABOVE: The main floor embraces an open floor plan, connecting the living room, kitchen, and dining room. BELOW RIGHT: An Eames recliner and ottoman are the main pieces of furniture in the third bedroom, which the couple uses as a flex room. The glossy mesquite end-grain block floor is from Texas.

ABOVE: A display of champagne muselet furniture, created by houseguests throughout the years. BELOW: Cruse collected ceramic bells during her travels in Japan. The couple created the “installation” themselves.

The exterior of the Cruse’s terrace house, which is a middle unit. “Art is something that is really important to us. We have friends who are artists, and we have some of their art displayed in the house,” Cruse says.

Photographs by Martin Vecchio