Designer Jen Childs sensed serendipity at work when she met Chef Jared Gadbaw at a fundraising event for a mutual friend in 2018. “Jared had just moved back to Michigan from New York and my husband, originally from Michigan, and I had just moved back here after working on a project in Shanghai,” says Childs, whose company, VERSA interior design, is based in Royal Oak. Gadbaw was looking for a designer for a restaurant and speakeasy-style bar he wanted to open in Detroit. “He wanted a designer with different perspectives,” Childs recalls.
She and her husband/business partner, Nick, visited the building (the historic building is a former film-processing center for Jam Handy, an event venue that’s located across the street and once was a renowned film production studio). Nick and Jen were blown away by its potential.
“The ceilings were incredible,” Childs enthuses, and says she began design work on the project almost immediately. The restaurant, Oak & Reel, opened in 2020 to rave reviews. At the end of 2021, the lower-level Upright bar, shown here, made its debut. “Jared wanted The Upright to feel intimate and classy, and almost like you had discovered a secret spot that had always been there, a hidden jewel,” Childs says.
Working with a small space of no more than 500 square feet, Childs fashioned a clubby feel with different seating styles including a curved banquette. “I love the back bar and the wood and the beautiful bronze mirror (all built by BJ Construction Inc.). And I love the wallpaper (from The Detroit Wallpaper Co. in Ferndale),” she says. They found an antique door at Hamtramck’s Woodward Throwbacks. “The space has a bit of a rustic feel, with open ceilings and concrete floors, which relates to the main restaurant upstairs,” she says.
Childs, who obtained an interior design degree from George Washington University and a master’s in historic preservation from The Savannah College of Art & Design, says the project was right up her alley. “We didn’t want to overdress it or ruin the Detroit aesthetic,” she shares, adding, “We didn’t want to cover up what was there.” The designer says she relished her time spent on the project. “The great historic buildings in Detroit are just waiting for someone to do something with them,” she asserts.