Labor of Love

Niki Serras had a mid-century modern ranch-style home on her wish list when she and her husband, Adam Post, went house-hunting a year and a half ago.
Labor of Love - Dining Room

PLEASE BE SEATED The dining room’s leather chairs with velvet backs are unique, while abstract art from Hawaii has a lava-flow appeal.What began as a builder’s spec home in Birmingham can now best be described as vibrant after a major transformation guided by Dan Davis and Paul Johnson, owners of Dan Davis Design in Ferndale. Their client, Joe Luther, who lives in the house with his wife, Sonya, says he discovered his love for color along the way. “I’m partial to nature and art,” Luther says. “Dan and Paul really helped me develop that theme in other ways, and I began to blossom with some of my decisions.”The 4,200-square-foot home had fine features and finishes, but its neutral palette didn’t reflect the owner’s personality. Fortunately, his fondness for bronze, wood, and substantial objects like geodes, crystals, and sandstone would solve that problem.“What Paul and Dan really did was to help me to get past my hesitation to buy art when traveling or in a gallery without knowing where it would go,” Luther says. “For instance, I saw the sandstone piece that’s now behind my desk in New York and thought, ‘I love this, but I have no idea where I would put it,’ so I wrote it off. Dan said, ‘If you love something, get it and we’ll figure it out.’ ”Johnson says their client also came to know his aesthetic, which is eclectic, colorful, and naturalistic. “Colors have to feel natural for him, even if they’re bright,” the designer says.A CALL FOR UNITY The homeowner calls the family room a “hybrid space.” A custom rug ties everything together.Luther appreciates his design team’s creative approach to the living room/family room he calls a hybrid space. Rather than choosing to divide or unify the area, they suggested a custom rug that ties the entire room together, while allowing it to function as one space or two.The expansive rug also connects the colors that awaken the long and narrow space, including orange and teal. On one side of the room, an amethyst geode sparkles on an old woodworker’s table, while native art from Sedona, Ariz., strikes a colorful note above the mantel. "Colors have to feel natural for him (the homeowner), even if they’re bright.” — Paul Johnson In the dining room, leather chairs with velvet backs surround a custom table made from reclaimed wood from Detroit. Abstract artwork from Hawaii simulates a lava flow.The existing kitchen was beautiful, but neutral. “It had no color. It didn’t feel like Joe,” Davis says. “He likes rough metal and a rustic feel.” New light fixtures and some fresh paint in a mid-tone sea green for the island and hood, with a custom copper overlay, did the trick. Accents and art add more color, while metal counter stools with leather seats lend texture. “Joe was in the scrap metal business. He loves metal,” Davis says.THE RIGHT TONE From top: Shades aplenty provide interest in the kitchen, home office, sitting room, and Zen room.French doors lead to Luther’s home office, where a custom adjustable desk joins a chair he already had and the substantial sandstone displayed on the wall makes a great conversation piece. Urban art and a cowhide rug are among the highlights in the colorful seating area.Distinctive guest rooms are defined by unique wall treatments, from woven wood to a mural wallcovering in soothing shades of blue. Existing furniture was incorporated into the mix whenever possible. “Just changing a few key things completely transformed (one of the guest rooms),” Johnson says. Davis adds: “The whole room was beige.”INTRIGUING DETAILS Pretty wallpaper adds beauty in a bedroom. An amethyst geode sparkles in the family room. The home office features a collection of pottery, books, and art.In the master bedroom, warm gray walls act as the perfect backdrop for the new window treatments, a custom nightstand, and the bed. The designers stood in line to get first dibs on the walnut slab with a live edge, from Long White Beard, that became a handsome headboard.A custom rug made from marine-grade fiber defines the luxurious space that was mostly white before blue was introduced to key features.BOOK IT! The sitting room, from another viewpoint. The homeowner says this is his favorite room in the winter.In the end, the team’s creative endeavor led to a special bond. “Joe is one of those rare people that, as you get to know him, it becomes less about the project and more about the friendship,” Johnson says.Davis adds: “This was really just a journey. In the beginning, he didn’t know to trust himself. We really pushed him, and he pushed us, and we grew at the same time.”The results speak for themselves. “When we walked in, it was a gorgeous home and we thought, ‘Why are we here?’ ” Davis says. “Now it’s gorgeous and has a very different vibe.”GEM-LIKE BRILLIANCE From top: The master bath’s Ghiordes Knot rug cozies up the space, while the master bedroom features lots of wood and vibrant earth tones. A television room is yet an additional playful spot for relaxing. Another perspective of the master bath.Winter Haven Other than the hot tub out back, Joe Luther says the sitting room, above, is his favorite winter retreat. A custom bookcase and a metal chess set that reflects his penchant for the material are among the details. Color comes from the warm gray walls, framed artwork, and a richly-hued rug.“I love to be able to sit in a comfy reading chair, look out the front window, and have the view outside and be cozy inside,” he says. “I like to read there and take phone calls. I want a place to feel grounded. It’s my favorite little spot, sitting on one of the chairs in the room.” — JM 

Niki Serras had a mid-century modern ranch-style home on her wish list when she and her husband, Adam Post, went house-hunting a year and a half ago. But that’s not what the newlyweds ended up with. Instead, they purchased a 1956 three-bedroom Colonial located in Grosse Pointe Woods, within a two-mile radius of many of Post’s family members. “We tried to go modern, which is my aesthetic, but …” Serras says with a laugh.

“If you stand on the porch you can see Adam’s grandmother’s house,” Serras happily adds — but says it wasn’t just family that drew them to the area. “When we initially walked through, we could envision how it might look,” Serras says. With cove ceilings, original wood floors, a clean and dry basement, a sound brick structure, and a relatively accommodating layout, Serras and Post could easily imagine the perfect roost. Not to mention that Serras, who is co-owner of Scavolini Detroit and Chicago (a kitchen/bath  design business), knows a thing or two about renovations; her business has won several Detroit Home Design Awards over the years. Before purchasing the home, the couple consulted with Serras’ sister and her husband (also co-owners of Scavolini), and their assistant, Nicole, who all agreed the residence could be the home of their dreams.

Labor of Love - Family Room
New Life – The renovation included refinishing wood floors (natural oak treated with a water stain to create lightness). Family room greenery from Planterra, West Bloomfield, brings the outdoors in (Pearl the cat appreciates that).

So how did these newlyweds (she describes herself as “neurotic and super organized” while he, a lawyer, is more “chill”) retain the home’s Colonial heritage while reflecting their modern taste and manage to live happily ever after, even during the renovation? “We had a lot of changes to make, for sure, as the home wasn’t exactly cared for,” Serras notes. In the kitchen, they added a huge island, removed soffits, tore out a walk-in pantry and replaced the space with a refrigerator and ovens, added a new kitchen tile backsplash (from Ann Sacks), and purchased all-new Miele appliances and cabinetry. Serras opted for specific hinging, integrated appliances, a spice storage pullout, bifold upper doors, and plenty of pull-out drawers for the kitchen.

They also refinished all of the wood floors (natural oak treated with a water stain to create “lightness” and make them nonglossy and durable — “if you scratch them, it doesn’t show”).

Blowing out a walk-in pantry so there would be room for a refrigerator and ovens made better use of space, and tearing down a kitchen/dining room wall created a vantage point leading to the dining room. “Just that slight manipulation created a dramatic difference,” Serras says, “so we now have a semi-open floor plan.” The couple agrees that “semi-open” is all they wanted — not only because it helped them stay within their budget, but also because “we didn’t want to destroy that 1950s look,” Serras says. Adds Post: “I like open kitchens, but not the current trend of a completely open first floor. Maintaining  a separate family room makes the home feel open and comfy.”

Labor of Love - Bathroom
Bathroom furnishings are from Scavolini.

For the powder room and foyer, Serras and Post chose a pentagon-themed Hastings floor tile. “Those rooms are next to each other, so it’s nice for them to have the same tile. The design is reminiscent of a 1950s shape,” she says. Serras also chose a textured geometric tile style for the kitchen’s backsplash.

“There’s so little texture in the home, so we made a special point to use it where we could.” The master bath, which was “Pepto-Bismol pink,” Serras says, now has porcelain gray Hastings tile. “We ordered all of our kitchen and bathroom cabinets (from Scavolini, of course) right after the home’s closing, because it takes four months for delivery since everything is made to order in Italy,” she notes. In the living room the walls were painted and new tile was installed inside the fireplace. An overarching lamp with a curved stand is a clever nod to the 1950s. More vintage-style lighting also speaks to a ’50s vernacular, including a dining room chandelier by Foscarini Lighting and a foyer chandelier by George Nelson.

The homeowners used mostly white paints for walls and ceilings. “The only crazy color (custom, by Sherwin-Williams) I chose is in the powder room — a super dark black/magenta, which is offset by the tile and the cabinets. I painted the interior side of the door in the same color, so you feel like you’re completely enclosed.”

New windows also were on the renovation list, as was an updated basement where the couple had the drop ceiling torn out and painted, and changed light fixtures to can-style lighting.

Serras is appreciative of her husband’s flexibility when it came to making design decisions. “He’s a total sport, and pretty much allowed me free rein. I would give him three choices and he’d like them, but he let me choose.” One of her decisions — black kitchen cabinetry — wasn’t readily embraced, though.

Labor of Love - Kitchen Before
Before the renovation.
Labor of Love - Kitchen After
In the kitchen, the couple added a huge island, removed soffits, tore out a walk-in pantry and replaced the space with appliances, added a new backsplash and cabinetry, and more.

“I’m incredibly decisive, and the matte black glass was a serious design move. White is a nice and timeless way to go, and black — well, it’s a risk. After they were ordered, I showed Adam a sample, and his eyes got huge. He said, ‘I don’t know, Nik, it’s real dark!’ Now he loves it.”

As much as he may have been a bit leery about his wife’s cabinet selection, Post is grateful for her logistics skills. “Niki knows the proper schedule for renovation; she had everyone scheduled and updated constantly.”

1: The Bernard End Table from The Victory Oak Collection by Theodore Alexander is rustic oak-veneered with a chamfered edge. $1,470, Theodore Alexander, Michigan Design Center, Troy,, theodorealexander.com2: With a faux shagreen texture and a gorgeous gray finish, Worlds Away’s Tilly GRY buffet is a modern classic. Local retailer, Jones-Keena & Co., Birmingham,, worlds-away.com3: The Horizon Lighting Collection by Robert Abbey puts a modern spin on a classic beehive glass. $412.85, RJ Thomas Ltd., Michigan Design Center, Troy,, robertabbey.com4: Hickory White’s Gigi Sofa is pure glam! $6,045, RJ Thomas Ltd., Michigan Design Center, Troy,, hickorywhite.com5: Bliss Studio’s Dadist Bench boasts a rustic iron finish with hand-forged texture. Suggested retail $2,145, to the trade, blissstudio.com6: Dyed fibers are woven to create beautiful medallions and borders for Old-World appeal on this Avant Garde Rug from Surya. Prices vary, surya.com7: Kravet Furniture’s Edge offerings include the Putnam Chair with its fan shape. To the trade, Kravet/Lee Jofa/Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy,,

As for kitchen countertop selections, Serras intended to avoid anything dark. “I grappled with it, as I was considering going really light,” Serras says. “I took a cabinet door sample to Ciot and they looked at it and suggested a dark granite — the complete opposite direction! I love quartz, but went with this particular granite because it’s beat-up, pocked, and marked with indentations. It’s got grit.” Serras explains that’s precisely why it complements the clean look of the rest of the kitchen, and says that’s what convinced her to go with something that hadn’t even been on her spectrum of possibilities.

These days, you’re apt to find the two in the kitchen, relishing that “beat-up” countertop and cooking up a storm, at least for weekend breakfasts. “It’s eggs over easy, toast, and bacon, which I always cook in the oven,” Serras says. And a nice oven, at that.

Niki’s Notations
Survival Journal From the Homeowner

December 2014

Niki Serras and Adam Post
Niki Serras and Adam Post

» Overall goal: Stay true to our design aesthetic: ‘livable modern.’ But remember that we live in Michigan in a Colonial home, so straddle that line — contemporary, but not cold.

» No work stoppage — try to have at least three separate crews: bathroom, kitchen, painting, etc.

» Get three quotes for major expenses and don’t always listen to our friends and their recommendations; go with gut!

» Move in around Easter?? Can’t use kitchen until June. Make a half-kitchen with microwave, coffee pot, and refrigerator.

» Make a separate living area in one of the bedrooms upstairs for Pearl during the one month or so after we move in, as some construction will still be going on. Keep her safe, out of harm’s way.

Jan. 15, 2015

» Demolition day! The big moment! Our first look at when it really seemed like a renovation. After the demolition, we could see studs everywhere, and where they ripped out carpet in the den — there’s no turning back! I actually think I screamed when we first walked in.


» Remember to find places for ‘texture!’ How about kitchen backsplash (geometric), kitchen countertop (pretty organic?), and, of course, the wood floors (be sure there’s no shine!). It’s getting a little messy. So this is what my clients go through … dust, construction, and people in and out throughout the day and into the evening. We seem to be making selections of materials and decisions about layout in a vacuum, because you never know exactly how it will turn out.


» Majority of paint work is complete! Windows changed out in a couple of weeks.

End of March

» Whatever we budget for, it seems we always need more! Example: The floors beneath both toilets were rotted! We had to re-pour floor, something we didn’t budget for. And the shower wall in the master was rotted away, too.


» Floors are getting refinished. Cabinets should be here by the end of the month. It’s getting overwhelming; as we get closer to move-in, it seems all the bills are coming at once — tile, cabinets, appliances, countertops, paint.


» May 2-3: Move-in weekend! We’ll be here for the last month of construction. It’s almost a relief that we like it so much.

June 8

» We are about 90 percent finished! Still to do: backsplash, base mouldings, chandeliers.

July 22

» Ta da! The best part — this home is now completely us. It’s the way I wanted to express myself through the design of my home. Adam loves it!

» What’s next? Landscaping in the back. Work on the Florida room?