Whimsical. It’s the word a friend once used to describe the 1916 Indian Village home that Donna Terek shares with husband, Paul “PJ” Ryder, and it’s guided her interior design ever since.
“Whimsy evokes feelings of playfulness, imagination, and creativity,” Terek explains. “I never had a big-picture plan, other than to avoid making our home look like a period museum. We love old things, but I think they become more interesting when foregrounded by contemporary elements — and that’s where the playfulness comes in.”
Terek did the interiors of the 4,000-square-foot, Federal-style residence herself, with the help of interior designer Rick Carmody of Au Courant. They didn’t always agree, she says: “I was a very bad client sometimes.”
Room colors were inspired by the feel Terek wanted in each space. “The dining room faces north and was dark and cold-looking,” she explains. “My solution was to paint it red, to warm it up.” She also wanted to make the most of the house’s natural light — not surprising for an artist, writer, and retired Detroit News photographer who covered fashion, interior design, and feature projects and was the author of the national, award-winning multimedia column, Donna’s Detroit. PJ is the “very hands-on” owner of PJ’s Lager House in Corktown.
The result is a highly personal and completely charming combination of art and antiques that enhances the historic home’s vintage architecture. “I’m really eclectic,” Terek admits. “I like the mix of antiques and contemporary.”
The works of Detroit-area artists are peppered throughout, from an arresting painting over the living room fireplace by local painter Bertha Cohen to nearby framed polka dots and a painting done on a former cabinet door by Heidelberg founder and friend Tyree Guyton. “Artists are invigorated by appreciating each other’s work,” Terek explains of her choices. “We’ve been lucky to know some wonderful artists and to have been able to bring some of their work home with us. The ‘Face of God’ by Tyree Guyton had been part of his installation the Heidelberg Project, which is just minutes from our house … having a little piece of his universe in our home is a thrill.”
Looking around, it’s hard to believe that the home was once “really dark and depressing, with very heavy curtains and layers of brown smoke,” Terek says. During the couple’s 1995 walk-through, “My husband was appalled and said to the realtor that he wouldn’t give him $30,000 for the house,” she recalls.
She, however, felt differently: “I walked out the front door saying, I love this house.” They bought it, she says, in part because it had everything on her wish list — high ceilings, French doors, a fireplace, an intact butler’s pantry, and the original pedestal sinks.
She still loves the home, despite challenges along the way, including a year-long renovation and an unexpected house fire caused by a contractor. “We had to move out of the house for six months while the damage was repaired,” she remembers.
The good news, she says, is that the fire pushed up the restoration, with “90 percent accomplished in six months instead of the six years we’d projected.” Since then, the house has been featured on the Indian Village home tour four times, and has been showcased on HGTV’s “Restore America” and in Michel Arnaud’s book, Detroit: the Dream is Now.
Whimsy also has an element of serendipity, Terek says, and that’s something which has also played a part in the home’s interior design. When painting the kitchen a deep cobalt blue, she was surprised and gratified to find a similar hue from the home’s earlier life buried under years of paint.
The house has evolved naturally over the more than two decades the couple has called it home. “Decorating was a no-rules kind of thing,” Terek says. “Rooms came together over several years as PJ and I collected things we found beautiful, meaningful, or just fun.”