FEATURE | french-style manor
“Privacy and security characterize this French-style country manor home located on a private road in the Grosse Pointe area,” read the real estate brochure extolling the virtues of the 6,000-square-foot 1937 residence in Grosse Pointe Farms when it was for sale five years ago.
While the house clearly had a lot to recommend it, the dated interiors and floor plan weren’t among them, says designer Ian Hartwell of Birmingham-based Oliver Max Inc., who the family brought in to lead the much-needed update. “The house was in good shape overall, but it was very traditional with damask wallpaper and lots of yellow, pink, and green,” Hartwell explains.
That just wasn’t the look the homeowners had in mind. “She’s edgier than that,” the designer says of the wife.
While the home’s interior left a lot to be desired, the couple loved the exterior architecture, which includes timbered beams that remind them of Northern California and French manor houses. “I like a lot of light and it’s really bright,” the wife says. “We just needed to take better advantage of the house’s strengths.”
Working with John Smith and Ryan Groh with FC Construction, designers Hartwell and Michelle Tor, and Backer Landscaping, the team made their way through and around the residence, updating as needed to bring the home — built by noted architect Robert O. Derrick — into the 21st century. While structural changes were limited, just about every room in the house was tweaked, says Hartwell, to reimagine spaces for the way the active family — which includes two older teenagers and three dogs — lives.
“This is a family house, first and foremost,” the homeowner says, explaining why the once-stuffy formal living room on the front of the house has been loosened up and now serves as a relaxed family room. “We would never use a formal living room,” adds the homeowner, who says the easygoing and elegant space is now her favorite room in the house. “I love how Ian designed it to be casual yet sophisticated enough to serve as a room for entertaining.” While dramatic, the room’s dark carpets have another benefit: “They serve us well with the dogs,” the homeowner says.
A once-solid wall to the adjacent library now has a French door that allows easier access and improves the original floor plan. Formerly used as a den, it now showcases the family’s collection of antiques and art, including works by the homeowner’s sister, California-based artist Jayashri Triolo, over the updated fireplace.
Even the large formal entry hall has been reimagined and updated with a modern damask wallpaper by the Detroit Wallpaper Co. and a comfortable overstuffed sofa where kids wait for rides and guests perch with cocktails during parties. “This is also where the dogs play — it’s their runway for fetch,” the homeowner says.
The kitchen, once three cramped service spaces and now a gleaming and glamorous cooking center, was originally problematic, Hartwell says. “It had been updated through the years, but unsuccessfully.” An oversized 12- by 6-foot marble-topped island and nearby AGA range, a priority for the couple, anchor the room and are contemporary nods to the home’s traditional past. “It fit the feel of the house,” the homeowner says of the British range.
A few steps away, a mudroom was added by the back door, with ample storage space for dog toys and treats. Nearby is the updated garden room, where the family spends a lot of time and where expansive windows look out over the home’s renovated landscape and golf course beyond. The design team took out acoustical tile in the ceiling, removed dated sliding doors, and added a balcony. Now, most family meals — and even some holidays — are enjoyed here. “We like to have a fire in the fireplace at Thanksgiving,” the wife says.
The home’s clean, edited look extends into the garden. Working with Backer Landscaping, Hartwell and his team removed overgrown hedges and added structure with four new trees that now mark the front of the house and welcome visitors. The exterior includes a new paint color, fewer hedges, and an updated design. “There were a lot of wildflowers and big old bushes,” according to the designer.
The couple loves the home’s new indoor and outdoor look. “It just feels calm to me,” says the wife, who readily admits that she’s an “old-house person.”
“We’re in love with our home and how it turned out,” she says. “It makes me really sad when people buy a great old house and tear it down. I love traditional homes, but with a modern aesthetic. It’s definitely possible to make old houses more modern while still keeping what originally made them beautiful. This house is proof.”