Wonderful Wallpaper

Behind a nondescript storefront in Ferndale, a not-so-quiet revolution is taking place.

Like many homeowners, the residents of this eye-catching new-build on West Bloomfield’s Walnut Lake spent a lot of time dreaming and planning. “We had a certain idea of how we wanted it to be built,” the owner says of the more than 10,000-square-foot (including basement) residence, completed in 2017. “We spent a lot of energy thinking about it and working on it,” he admits, adding that the project became “almost a full-time job.”When it came time to turn dreams into reality, one goal took priority: Making sure there was plenty of natural light. “We believe the sun has a huge effect on how you feel,” the husband explains. “We wanted a house that accentuated the light throughout.” Merging indoor and outdoor spaces was another design goal. “This is such a beautiful spot, we wanted to bring the outside in — not just through the light, but through the materials we chose, too,” he says.The family of five purchased the property in 2012 and began looking for an architect who shared their vision. “We love contemporary style and we were very clear about what we wanted,” the homeowner says, adding that he and his wife believe “less in a house can be more” and “simplicity is good.” Neither philosophy is unusual among homeowners who’ve lived in Europe, as this family has.While a calming, contemporary design and energy-efficiency were givens, the homeowners also wanted to be sure the house didn’t feel stark — which is a tendency among some modern designs.The choice of architectural style ultimately led the couple to their architect. “There are really just a handful of architects in town who do what we wanted,” the homeowner says. After considering a few options, the couple decided on Kevin Akey of AZD Associates Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, who had worked with a business associate, and Bob Watson of Watson Custom Builders in Rochester. “We loved Kevin’s design right from the get-go,” the husband raves. “It was such a fun project to work on.”Fun, maybe, but not always easy. When work began in 2014, the initial plan included renovating the existing structure, a modern 1950s ranch, “but it just didn’t make sense,” the homeowner explains, adding that among its many shortcomings, the existing home had 6-foot ceilings in the basement. The couple ultimately decided to start from scratch and build the warm contemporary home they’d long envisioned.Akey designed a soaring four-story structure that takes full advantage of the light and the enviable lot, which includes 130 feet of frontage. “It was a nice, wide lot with a view of the entire lake,” Akey says of the land, which boasts northern exposure on the water side. Unfortunately, the property also had one problematic feature: it was very steep, which presented a building challenge. “It probably deterred a lot of people,” Akey says, explaining that the steepness made building a standard two-story home with a walk-out difficult.His solution was an innovative 20-foot bridge that provides both an eye-catching entrance and abundant light in the lower levels. Flowing from the front exterior into the house, the bridge allowed Akey to add glass to the front of the lower level and flood the interiors with southern sun most of the day. “It’s about as dramatic as a house can be when you walk in,” the architect says of the entrance, a feature the homeowner says garners raves from visitors of all ages, who he says are “blown away.” Flat roofs on the garage and what Akey calls “ribbons of glass” on the front exterior allow even more light into the kitchen, which is where the family spends most of their day.Once inside, the house spreads out over four levels. Two bedrooms and a master suite occupy the top floor, while the main level features the kitchen, family room, and dining and great rooms, as well as a guest suite and study. Stairs lead down to a walk-out level with a private gym and spa, home theater, and bar, complete with a pizza oven. The lowest level is home to an approximately 2,000-square-foot indoor roller blade hockey rink and storage space. While the family’s life “happens in the kitchen,” the lower-level spa is a welcome retreat and “so refreshing,” the homeowner says.Other highlights include a covered three-season porch with views of the lake (and a door and retractable screens) off the kitchen, a walk-out pool and hot tub (with a special energy-efficient day cover that extends the season), and unusual floating stairs between levels. Akey describes the home’s design as “warm industrial,” noting that the natural materials used on the exterior, such as cedar and limestone, continue into the interior and complement the homeowners’ extensive art collection. The homeowners also credit “lighting expert” Bob Scherer and Arkitektura’s Lori Winslow Gordon with helping them with the interiors.With its warm woods throughout, the house even appeals to people who don’t generally like modern styles, according to the architect. “People come to us because they want something out of the ordinary,” Akey says. “This is definitely one of our more unique homes.”That’s exactly what the homeowners had in mind. Nearly four years after moving in, they’re still basking in the home’s sunlight — and its success. “We really love the house and enjoy it every day,” the homeowner says, adding that living in it “just makes you feel good.”BUYER’S GUIDE ARCHITECT Kevin Akey, AZD Associates Inc., Bloomfield Hills, azdarch.comKITCHEN Cabinets – John Morgan, Perspectives Cabinetry, Troy Countertop – Porcelain, PMP Marble & Granite, Troy Flooring – Cercan Tile, Gabriel Granite and Marble, Bloomfield Hills Shelves, Floating – John Morgan, Perspectives Cabinetry, TroyPATIO Masonry – Drystack Thin Veneer, Flores Masonry, Capital Stoneworks, Bridgeport Tile, Terrace – Cercan Tile, Gabriel Granite and Marble, Bloomfield HillsSITTING ROOM Ceiling Treatment – Clear Douglas Fir, Watson Custom Builders, Rochester Chairs, Dining – Kartell, Arkitektura, Birmingham Doors, Sliding – Matt Butcher, B&B Glass, Rochester Hills Flooring – Cercan Tile, Gabriel Granite and Marble, Bloomfield Hills Sofas – B&B Italia, Arkitektura, Birmingham Table, Coffee – Poltrona Frau, Arkitektura, Birmingham Table, Dining – Kartell, Arkitektura, Birmingham Wall Treatment – Thin Veneer Limestone, Flores Masonry, Capital Stoneworks, BridgeportSTAIRWAY AREA Chairs, Dining – B&B Italia, Arkitektura, Birmingham Floor Treatment – Cercan Tile, Gabriel Granite and Marble, Bloomfield Hills Hallway, Glass – Gen-Oak Fabricators, Lake Orion; B&B Glass, Rochester Hills Lighting, Table – Nemo, Arkitektura, Birmingham Railing – Stainless Framing with Stainless Cable, Walnut Top; Mike Fox, Crazy Metalz, Grand Blanc; John Daiek, Daiek Woodworks, Bruce Township Wall Treatment – Clear Vertical Grain Cedar, Dillman & Upton, RochesterEXTERIOR Exterior Insulation and Finish System – Ky Kessler, Superior Designs, Oakland Charter Township Manufacturer – Watson Custom Builders, Rochester Metal Panels and Trellis Work – Mike Fox, Crazy Metalz, Grand Blanc Paint Color – Sherwin-Williams, Limestone Gray Stone – Mackinac Limestone, Flores Masonry, Capital Stoneworks, Bridgeport Windows – Aluminum Storefront/Curtainwall, Matt Butcher, B&B Glass, Rochester Hills Wood Siding – Clear Vertical Grain Cedar, Dillman & Upton Lumber, Rochester Wood Siding Treatment – Sikkens ButternutADDITIONAL PROJECT CONTRIBUTOR Builder – Bob Watson, Watson Custom Builders, Rochester

Behind a nondescript storefront in Ferndale, a not-so-quiet revolution is taking place. It has to do with something fairly traditional that, for decades, has gone in and out of fashion: wallpaper. Except The Detroit Wallpaper Co. is anything but traditional. The company’s unique approach to producing a classic design element is helping to establish it as a go-to source for those interested in innovative interiors.

Take their “Music Wall” design, which features depictions of vintage guitars, amplifiers, and turntables. “We love music at The Detroit Wallpaper Co.,” writes co-founder Josh Young in their catalog of designs. This will “make your walls sing.” (The guitars on the “Music Wall” design can be pink instead of gray, if you prefer, because every design is customizable.)

For those who love to buy local, here’s another thing to sing about: The Detroit Wallpaper Co. produces every roll at the company’s small warehouse space in Ferndale. The paper is eco-friendly and tear-resistant, meaning it can be stripped off in whole pieces rather than coming off in bits when you try to remove it. And if you’re not interested in breaking the bank, you can buy one roll at a time.

“This is not your mother’s wallpaper,” says Andi Kubacki, Josh’s business partner and the chief creative mind behind the company’s designs. “We’ve got a punk, DIY aesthetic.”

Of course, if punk doesn’t match your style, there are countless other looks, like the “Botanicals” series. Poppies, willows, palms, and onion skins — to name a few — can be ordered to look as traditional or edgy as you want, depending on the thousands of color combinations available. The “FABric” series is a collection of traditional patterns like herringbone, houndstooth, paisley, and lace that can become more modern with exaggerated scales and updated hues.

While the owners of The Detroit Wallpaper Co. have no plans to move their operation — both Kubacki and Young say they are inspired by the “soul” of this city — their work is gaining national recognition. The duo has been dogged in their pursuit to get their story out to designers across the country, and it seems to be paying off; several restaurants in Tampa, Fla., now sport Kubacki’s original wallpaper designs.

Kubacki first started the company as a super-specialized “wall art” firm that largely catered to one-time artistic projects. He is a mechanical engineer by training and a fine artist by birth. Did someone want a picture of the family dog plastered from floor to ceiling? Kubacki could do that. Commissioned murals? Sure. An exact replica of a favorite wallpaper print from the 1960s? That was easy, too.

“We found that a lot of people had no idea that this kind of stuff could be done,” Kubacki says.

But as artistic as the work seemed, Kubacki — who is also a master of graphic design and branding — longed for more creative control. The DetroitWallpaper Co., which launched last November, is the result.

Kubacki and his team create each original design. Producing each roll in-house keeps prices affordable (covering one 10 x 8 wall will run an average of $450). To top it all off, the client still has a say in the final product because of the availability of so many customizing options.

As Kubacki and Young point out, this is unheard-of in an industry that has traditionally produced thousands of rolls in foreign factories that must be bought in bulk. Wallpaper shouldn’t be treated like a commodity, the pair says.

“What we’re really trying to do is elevate wallpaper to an art form,” Kubacki says. “It’s what you can do to really transform any wall in your house into a piece of art.”