Character Study

Just off the kitchen, in the new wing of the home, is the front room, as the owners call it because it faces the lake. It features limestone floors and a fireplace mantel fashioned from a 200-year-old reclaimed barn beam. The tie rod, visible at ceiling height, emulates 700-year-old buildings where they were used to keep the walls from spreading apart, Willoughby says. The homeowners requested steel windows to match the original construction. Jenereaux found a Canadian company to make the windows. Specialty Glass made the 1,500 glass panes. // Photograph by Beth Singer

Some houses are an attractive sum of all the “important” elements: trend, pedigree, and return on investment.

Others are lovely because they reflect the owners’ personalities and evolving sophistication.

The home of Sally and Don Kutil emerged in layers, like the rings of a tree, as their children grew and then returned with their own young ones, and the couple’s vacation wanderings influenced their aesthetic perspective.

Sally, who has a natural affinity for design, says homeowners should trust their own taste. “I just get the things that I like, and I like old carved furniture,” she says. Her style has been shaped by travel — to Italy in particular. “Don and I like to drive all over and look at things,” she says. “I like Tuscany.”

She also pores over design books for inspiration. “I showed the books to the architect and said, ‘I want this,’ ” she says.

Sally found a kindred spirit in Bloomfield Hills-based architect Michael Willoughby, who also is drawn to the landscape of Tuscany. “I think of the house as Italian, country Italian, if there is such a thing,” Willoughby says. “Sally has an eye that’s spot-on. She and I spent a lot of time researching Italian things.”

Willoughby, the Kutils, and the contractor, James Jenereaux, of J. Willis Co. in Commerce Township, strove for authenticity while enlarging the home.

Additions were finished in real cement plaster, like the rest of the house. “We were careful in terms of making it seamless,” Willoughby says. “We maintained the proportions and brought some of the details in from the original — or reproduced the sense of them.”

The Kutils have a sensibility that echoes the mindset that has helped preserve so many centuries-old European structures. As the third owners of the ’20s-era house, they regard themselves as stewards of its integrity. As a result, their home of 40 years feels a world apart from the traffic, strip malls, and big-box stores along the nearby Waterford Township thoroughfare.

“They didn’t want to tamper with it,” Willoughby says. “They’ve been in love with their home for many years.”