Building with Conscience

An Ann Arbor couple focuses on the environment for their dream home | Photography by Jeff Garland
Exterior beauty features fabulous landscaping by InSite Design Studio in Ann Arbor.

When a couple who’d been in their Troy home for 27 years (minus a three-year period in Japan) decided to move to Ann Arbor to be near family and enjoy the city’s cultural offerings, its walkability, and its mass transportation, they had a crystal- clear vision of what their home, its grounds, and each of its rooms needed to provide.

As co-founders of Detroit’s Green Garage, a business incubator community supporting “triple-bottom-line” practices (good for the environment, good for the community, fiscally responsible) and its sister project, the El Moore (an ecologically renovated apartment building and urban lodge), the most important requirement for the couple’s new home was that it be built as sustainably as possible.


“Through our interest in ‘green’ building and living, we learned about Meadowlark Design + Build in Ann Arbor and (discovered they had won a) Green Leader award,” the homeowner explains. (Green Leader awards underscore the compatibility of entrepreneurial ventures with environmentally sustainable practices and were presented by the Detroit Free Press.)

“Doug Selby (Meadowlark’s co-owner and sustainability director) became our project developer and worked with our designer, Philip Melcher, who helped with every selection we made.

CHARMED, I’M SURE The front door (above) of this Ann Arbor home is arched, with bubble art-glass windows and surrounding arched niches — “charming touches, and perfect spots for decorations,” says designer Philip Melcher.

“In a neighborhood we really liked, we found a possible home, but the style wasn’t what we’d been looking for. It was an L-shaped, Mid-century ranch, and with significant amounts of mold, it couldn’t be saved. We decided to take the home down and rebuild, keeping the L-shape and reusing as much of the material as we could. We met once a week for a year before deconstruction began.”

“At one of those meetings,” adds Melcher, of Woodbury Design Group in Birmingham, “we were requested to design the house as Tudor-style and given a conceptual floor plan, drawn up by the husband, who’s a brilliant guy and has experience in civil engineering and remodeling vacation properties.”

POST MASTERS Classic custom millwork adorns the home, including along the stairway.

In this neighborhood, where many of the homes are more than 100 years old, the couple wanted passersby to wonder: “Is this home new, or not?”

“Each brick was handmade and, to make the brick look older, we had to really work on color,” Melcher says. “We asked the mason not to do a ‘perfect’ installation, but to include some irregularity.

“We wanted the rooms to evoke a sense of history, and of outdoor space brought inside — like the feeling of a screened-in porch that was later incorporated into the house.”

The sunroom’s design, with its heavily wood-clad, leaded glass floor-to-ceiling surround of windows and a windowed nook with a table for working or playing games, quietly provides just such a feeling.

ELEMENTS OF SURPRISE Walking through the home, guests get a sense of surprise upon entering each space. “You don’t see the whole house when you walk in,” designer Philip Melcher explains of the foyer.

“The whole time we were isolated during COVID-19, these rooms have been everything we wanted. We felt part of the outdoors, part of the world,” the homeowner says.

Currently in their mid-60s, the couple also mindfully made design decisions to enhance aging in place.

“We had an awareness of what people need as they get older,” the wife explains, “and in this room, you can sit and still watch people go by; you can watch activity.”

Another room designed for such connection with the outdoor world is the kitchen.

“If this was an older home, there would be plasterwork ceilings,” Melcher says, “so we created highly textured ceilings throughout the home (including in this living room) from high-density fiberboard.”

“I’m in the kitchen a lot,” the wife shares. “I like to bake and cook. I want to see the life of the neighborhood passing by, so this room has a large window overlooking the street. It’s separate from the living area and it’s a beautiful, private, and quiet work area.

“For 27 years, we had more of an open floor plan, and I could hear and watch the kids while I cooked. But for this house, I wanted a number of smaller rooms, with everything we need on the main floor.”

The home’s entranceway offers visitors a calm, gracious, and relaxed elegance, with soft rosy-cocoa walls, favorite items from the couple’s stay in Japan, an armoire instead of a closet, and two arched doorways that provide a gentle entrance into the living room — where a television, although present, isn’t the first thing that’s seen. Down a charming hallway passage with a built-in linen closet, in the quietest area of the house, is the master bedroom.

DINING DELIGHTS The dining room (above) features an arched entry and a bay window that overlooks the neighbor’s garden.“This is a dining room you can use every day,” the homeowner says. “I always encourage homeowners to have no appliances on their island,” designer Philip Melcher shares. “Then you have a space for anything.”

What provides the most comfort to this couple is knowing their home is extremely energy-efficient, with the lowest of carbon footprint levels.

“The owners did everything exactly right to make this house as ‘green’ as possible,” Selby says. “They used reclaimed materials throughout; their equipment and appliances are electric, using heat pump and geothermal technology. The multilayered walls provide an extremely efficient ‘building envelope,’ with minimal energy leakage.

“Marrying the technology with the beauty of this home’s design was so satisfying,” he says.

Adds Melcher: “It’s amazing to say that, as extremely energy-efficient as it is, I happily came away thinking of it as an old house instead of a new build.”

CALM & COLLECTED “We flirted with the 1930s here,” designer Philip Melcher says, referring to the wood molding and ceiling trim design.


Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor,

Cabinetry – Custom, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Ceiling Treatment – Custom, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Countertops – Soapstone Honed Quartz, Pascucci Marble & Granite, Ann Arbor
Flooring – Honed Crema Marfil Marble, Ciot, Troy
Mirrors – Robern
Sconces – Chatham Single Sconce, Restoration Hardware, Troy
Sinks – Kohler, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, Ann Arbor
Wall Treatment – Madagascar by Chivasso, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy
Window Treatment – Hunter Douglas Heritance Hardwood Shutters, Delux Drapery & Shade Co., Ann Arbor

Chests, Bedside – White of Mebane
Drapery – Delux Drapery & Shade Co., Ann Arbor
Dresser – White of Mebane
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Headboard – White of Mebane
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Sandy Brown (with eggshell finish)
Window Shades – Delux Drapery & Shade Co., Ann Arbor

CLOSER LOOK In the master bath, the tile design hints of a floor runner, and the built-in shutters on the narrow windows switch from open to privacy with a flick of a finger.

Cabinetry – Saloom, Gorman’s Home Furnishings & Interior Design, Grand Rapids
Chairs, Dining – Saloom Furniture New Castle Collection, Gorman’s Furniture, Grand Rapids
Decorative Chest – China
Decorative Plates – Tokyo, Japan
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Rug – Tokyo, Japan
Sconces – Bistro Sconce, Restoration Hardware, Troy
Table – Saloom, Gorman’s Home Furnishings & Interior Design,Grand Rapids
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Brick House Tan (with eggshell finish)

Artwork, Chair, Lamp, Rug, Table – Tokyo, Japan
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Sconce – Restoration Hardware, Troy
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Timson Sand (with eggshell finish)

FIT RIGHT IN A bedroom office is a “miracle of ‘happy happenstance,’ ” says designer Philip Melcher, pointing out that the tansu (stairstep drawers) from Japan fit.

Backsplash – Glossy Subway Tile in Natural, Beaver Tile & Stone, Farmington Hills
Bar Stools – Manchester Backless Leather Bar Stools, Pottery Barn
Cabinetry – Custom, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Ceiling Treatment – Custom, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Countertops – Polished Granite, Pascucci Marble & Granite, Ann Arbor
Double Ovens – Dacor, Big George’s Home Appliance Mart, Ann Arbor
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Hood – Zephyr, Big George’s Home Appliance Mart, Ann Arbor
Island – Custom, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Lighting, Ceiling – Semi-Gloss Shade, Eastmoreland, Rejuvenation
Lighting, Sink – Parisian Architectural Milk Glass Ecole, Restoration Hardware
Sink – Kohler, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, Ann Arbor
Stove – Dacor, Big George’s Home Appliance Mart, Ann Arbor
Window Treatment – Hunter Douglas Designer Screen Shade, Delux Drapery & Shade Co., Ann Arbor

Artwork –Tokyo, Japan
Bookcase – Tremont Triple Bookcase, Arhaus, Troy
Fireplace – Delux Drapery & Shade Co., Ann Arbor
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Lamps – Adams Swing Arm Floor Lamp, Crate and Barrel
Rug – Tokyo, Japan
Sofas – Elinor Sofa, Hickory Chair, Michigan Design Center, Troy
Table, Coffee – Hutton MTM, Hickory Chair, Michigan Design Center, Troy
Wall Lighting – 20th C Library Double Sconce, Restoration Hardware, Troy
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Brick House Tan (with eggshell finish)

WONDERS OF WOOD The original 1950s ranch had huge beams of pristine Douglas fir that were salvaged and used in the sunroom.

Chest – Custom, Antique, Step Tansu
Flooring – Red Oak Hardwood
Vases – Japan
Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Brick House Tan (with eggshell finish)

Doors – The Design House, Troy
Moldings – Metrie Interior Mouldings & Doors, Taylor
Wood – Douglas Fir, Salvaged from the Former Home, Stained On Site, Metrie Interior Mouldings & Doors, Taylor

Brick – Manufactured by Old Carolina Brick Co., Low Country/Bessemer Gray
Landscaping – InSite Design Studio, Ann Arbor
Masonry – Hohmann & Barnard Inc., East Lansing
Patio – Vliet’s Mason Construction, Howell
Siding – Manufactured by James Hardie, Installed by Meadowlark Design + Build
Windows – Michigan Window & Door Co., Windsor Select, Whitmore Lake

Architect – Brian Burkett, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor (the architect is now with Aspire Architecture, Ann Arbor)
Designer – Philip Melcher, Woodbury Design Group, Birmingham
Designer – Melanie Grabarkiewicz, Meadowlark Design + Build, Ann Arbor
Doors, Exterior – Ray Hanson, Antil Window & Door, Troy
Painting, Exterior and Staining – Rob’s Painting, Ann Arbor
Painting, Interior – Bell’s Painting, Dexter