A serene yet quirky garden room off the front parlor of the Junior League of Detroit’s Designers’ Show House was named “The Sanctuary” by designers Chatham House.

A serene yet quirky garden room off the front parlor of the Junior League of Detroit’s Designers’ Show House was named “The Sanctuary” by designers Chatham House.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


To keep hungry kids fed, the Designers’ Show House must go on

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2020

 The back parlor of the Junior League of Detroit’s  Designers’ Show House, designed by Whitetail Farm/Home and Lifestyle, features natural tones and a mounted bison head.

The back parlor of the Junior League of Detroit’s Designers’ Show House, designed by Whitetail Farm/Home and Lifestyle, features natural tones and a mounted bison head.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

DETROIT — COVID-19 has caused the cancellation of scores of important events, but the Junior League of Detroit’s 23rd biennial Designers’ Show House isn’t one of them.

A fundraiser for the JLD’s Project EAT — which includes a food pantry and related programs for Detroit families in need — this year’s Designers’ Show House will take place Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 at the Bingley Fales House at 1771 Seminole St. in Detroit’s historic Indian Village neighborhood.

“There was a lot of question about whether this was going to happen,” said Julia Keim, one of the designers co-chairs. “But we decided to sally forth. There’s too much need not to.”

This is the JLD’s second home in Detroit; the first was the Charles T. Fisher Mansion in 2018. This year’s home was designed and built in 1907 by Chittenden & Kotting for Bingley Fales, who worked for Thomas Edison as a lawyer and assistant general manager for Edison Illuminating Co. Set on a 2-acre parcel with formal gardens and a Pewabic tile reflecting pool, the 16,000-square-foot home is the largest one in Indian Village. It has 10 bedrooms, five full bathrooms and two half-baths. East and west wings were added in 1917.

One of seven children, Fales was born in Belding, Michigan, in 1866. A member of the Naval Reserves, he served aboard the USS Yosemite during the Spanish-American War’s Battle of San Juan. After getting his law degree, Fales spent five years in New York pursuing an acting career before returning to Detroit. He died in 1913.

Twenty-seven acclaimed local and national designers signed on to redo 33 interior spaces, with many mixing luxe traditional and modern pieces. Many rooms feature soft neutrals, like gray and cream, while black and white are prominent elsewhere. Although the designers worked separately, common themes quickly emerged, including the use of green, from deep hunter to pale mint. Wallpaper as art is another trend; one bathroom even features a reprinted Monet painting in wallpaper form. Dark wallpaper with woodland creatures such as owls, deer and foxes covers the nursery ceiling.

Texture is noticeable as well, from animal hide floor coverings and faux fur blankets to fluffy chairs and throw pillows made of sheepskin. Plants and reclaimed wooden vessels are also common.

Jeanine Haith, principal designer with Grosse Pointe City-based Show House Interiors, re-envisioned a couple of spaces, including the foyer. Inspired by Arte International’s aristo quagga wallpaper — named after an extinct half-horse/half-zebra — Haith incorporated malachite and other rare elements.

“My thought process was to create a refreshing and energetic take on traditional meets modern,” Haith said.

Because of the pandemic, this will be a different show house experience. Only 30 tickets will be sold for each one-hour time slot, and tickets will only be available online. JLD officials worked closely with the Detroit Health Department’s environmental health general manager, who oversaw the city’s COVID-19 preparedness response plan, and it was determined that the show house fell into the same classification as libraries and museums. On an exposure scale of lower, medium and high risk, the health department placed the show house into the lower risk category.

“The one thing they asked us was to keep all of the windows and doors open,” said Liana Dabir, a general co-chair along with Anne Reese and Diane Bostic Robinson.

“As the JLD’s primary fundraiser, the Designers’ Show House is a crucial component to ensuring our ability to continue supporting philanthropic efforts in the greater Detroit community and the state of Michigan,” JLD President Kayla Roney Smith said in a press release. “We are confident that we have safety protocols that will keep our guests, volunteers and partners safe, and are excited we can offer an enjoyable experience everyone can look forward to.”

COVID-19 restrictions mean that fewer visitors will be able to tour the house in person. Dabir said if every time slot sells out, they’ll be able to have a maximum of roughly 2,600 over the run of the show house. In contrast, she said they had an estimated 10,000 for the Fisher Mansion. The JLD is also doing a walk-through video tour and a New York magazine is shooting every room.

“We’re trying to maximize opportunities to see the house,” Dabir said.

To reduce the number of volunteers inside, there’s a downloadable audio tour for visitors.

Organizers are grateful that all of the designers and all but one sponsor stayed on board, even after the show house dates moved from spring to fall.

“I really do feel this is our best ever,” Dabir said. “The designers have given it their all.”

JLD officials said tickets were selling quickly. Show house tickets cost $35.

For tickets, visit junior-league-detroit.ticketbud.com/cal. For more information about the JLD, visit jldetroit.org or call (313) 881-0400.