The (Awards) Show Must Go On

As I write this letter, my eyes are also scanning all the proofs of the design winners’ pages in this magazine. I’m awash with brilliant spaces, light-filled layouts, and verdant landscapes. It’s uplifting to see what the metro Detroit area’s design industry is up to, both residentially and commercially. I’m buoyed by so much creativity. Getting your work onto these pages required so much! The path to victory is peppered with hard work, mistakes, and tough decisions. Rarely, of course, is the roadblock something as devastating as a worldwide pandemic!

I know some of your entries were photographed during COVID-19, and I heard tales of homeowners being leery of allowing installations to occur or photographers to enter their homes. Who can blame them? Fabric backorders, construction-industry lockdowns, furniture-factory stoppage, and inventory woes also came to the forefront during these tough times.

Last year our newly branded Detroit Design magazine premiered in March. It was our Design Awards issue, and although the competition was held and the magazine was printed, we weren’t able to host the always-fun awards ceremony as planned. We hosted a virtual show instead.

When it was time to open this year’s competition, we decided, because of COVID, to extend the deadline and, rather than feature winners in our spring issue, we moved the awards into our summer issue.

Let me take you behind the scenes to meet some of this year’s winners. Note that upon receiving their letters of recognition, they didn’t know the exact results of the competition, as that’s kept a secret until the magazine is printed or the winners are revealed at the awards ceremony.

Giraffe Design Build, a sustainable design firm based in Chelsea that won third place in Contemporary Architecture (up to 4,000 square feet), shares some insights on the team concept. The firm’s owner, Martin Clarke, says the win was a team effort. “We’d like to recognize the hard work of our design and build team, who … brought this project to fruition,” he says. “This award acknowledges the ability of smaller firms to envision inspired design and provide excellence in craftsmanship.” The team reinvented an Ann Arbor home, transforming a dated and constrained footprint into a bold, modern, and spacious home perfect for a family of artists.

I also checked in with first-time entrant Merien Daka, of Merien Daka Design Group in Birmingham. She racked up four awards, including Contemporary Dining Room, Living Room, Master Suite, and Overall Home. “This is both exciting and overwhelming!” she exclaimed after receiving her letter of recognition.

Daka helped a family’s dream come true, executing detailed design work for a new build where the homeowners were looking for a more contemporary/transitional atmosphere, and weren’t afraid of color or materials. Daka combined her astute selections of glass, pattern, color, and textures to turn out stunning results.

Clarkston’s Steph Morris, of North + Birch Interior Design,won second place in Deck/Patio/Porch and Historic Renovation, both with Weberman Construction. This is the first time she’s been named a winner, and her second time entering. “The historical loft was such a wonderful canvas to work with, and our client’s enthusiasm to be part of Detroit’s rebirth was contagious,” Morris shares. Says awards judge Kayla Cooper: “Steph’s deck/patio is an adorable oasis above the chaos.” Adds competition judge Iantha Carley: “The entire home is the epitome of urban living.”

Morris has been in the local interior design industry for 14 years and has had our Design Awards on her radar since her internship days. “When I started my own design firm in 2017, I knew this was the necessary stepping stone to pursue the type of client work that would help me achieve my goal of being a Design Awards winner,” she says.

Stepping outdoors, I gathered some thoughts from veteran landscape star Sam Marino, of  Marino’s Landscape in Shelby Township. He won first and second honors in Residential Landscape (over one acre), and first place in Residential Swimming Pool/Spa, Commercial Landscape, and Deck/Patio/Porch. “We always put a lot of detail into our projects. Sometimes we’ve spent hours on end trying to work out the simplest part of a project, and to get a W for this is always motivating,” he says.

Congratulations, winners!