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Designers add modern touches to significant historical house

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 4, 2016


METRO DETROIT — The biennial Junior League of Detroit Designers’ Show House has featured some beautiful homes before, but this time, they’re partially responsible for saving one.

2016’s home, on Lake St. Clair, was in serious disrepair and could have faced demolition had it not been for a new owner — who asked not to be named — and the JLD. The historically significant 21-room dwelling is “the smallest (house) we’ve ever done,” said Designers’ Show House Co-Chair Ann Baxter. But the house — which has a canal that extends from the lake to a dry dock under the living room, adjacent to what was likely a speakeasy during Prohibition — has now gotten new life, thanks to 20 local designers who have revamped the rooms to reflect its colorful history.

The 5,300-square-foot English Tudor was designed by architects Benjamin and Straight in 1927 for Col. Jesse G. Vincent, an American aircraft designer and vice president of engineering for the Packard Motor Co. An inventor, Vincent co-designed the Liberty Engine circa the end of World War I, a 400-horsepower V-12 that was one of the most powerful engines of its time and could be mass-produced with interchangeable parts; it was also used in speedboats. 

Vincent’s other inventions included air conditioning for automobiles and power booster brakes. By the time of his death at age 82 on April 20, 1962, he had more than 400 engineering patents to his name.

Designers were equally inventive. A bedroom designed by Phyllis Whitehead, Lyzz Hope and Kate Nachwostach, of Fifi & Coco’s Galerie and Design in Birmingham, includes a framed Hermes scarf and pops of yellow among the black and white color scheme, and they painted the walls black and the ceiling white.

Despite the wall color, “It doesn’t feel dark,” said Caroline Marks, public relations chair for the JLD. “The black walls are so cool … (and) so chic.”

Loretta Crenshaw and her team, from Detroit-based Crenshaw & Associates, created a boudoir that features a closet for the man, complete with cigars, brandy and oversized designer fragrance bottles for display. The lady of the house has a Chanel-inspired closet, a Steuben lamp and a chandelier from the Book Cadillac in Detroit. Crenshaw envisioned the woman who would occupy this luxurious space, which is full of pearls, designer perfumes and other creature comforts.

“She is a woman who travels,” Crenshaw said. “She lives well. Her husband joins her occasionally (on her travels). He indulges her and adores her.”

The home’s original tavern has become the show house’s café, and designer Sara Rozewicz, of Roseville-based Mimi La Rou Design & Décor, has incorporated touches that reflect nautical and Prohibition themes and Detroit history.

In another nod to the home’s history, Grosse Pointe City-based Posterity Gallery created the Packard Hallway, featuring historic photos of Vincent and pals like aviator Charles Lindbergh, as well as a large shadowbox with a flapper dress, a cigarette holder, gloves, pearls and vintage sheet music.

“I like coming in here and seeing the designers push the envelope,” Marks said. “You can get inspirations for your home. … You (realize), ‘I can do a piece of this.’”

Living room designer Jeanine Haith, president of Show House Interiors in Grosse Pointe City, offers touches that can be replicated in real life, like putting large mercury vases inside the wood-burning fireplace — which is dormant in spring. She also divided the large room into smaller living spaces, including a corner office and a corner library. Inspired by the room’s original stained glass windows, Haith added accents of pale yellow, green and lavender, along with mixed metals and vintage lamps.

There are several recurrent themes, including blue hues, art books and textured wallpapers. However, all of the designers came up with their own visions independently.

“None of us had any conversations with each other about our color palette,” Haith said. “It was nice how it all flowed.”

The show house is a fundraiser for the nonprofit JLD. Proceeds will support Project EAT, a health and nutrition initiative for children and their families in Detroit. In partnership with Forgotten Harvest, Baxter said a greenhouse on the property is growing edible plants whose seeds were planted by kids in the program.

Baxter said they hope to raise around $250,000 from the show house.

“It’s our major fundraiser,” she explained. “Without that money, we can’t contribute to our mission to serve the community we’re in.”

Visitors can dine at the café and shop at a marketplace featuring items by local vendors inside the garage.

“The designers have taken this to such a (high) level, I think the public will want to see this house,” Baxter said.

Located at 15500 Windmill Pointe Drive in Grosse Pointe Park, the show house will be open May 7-22. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $20 before May 6 and $25 at the door. Parking will be available on Windmill Pointe Drive. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-0040 or visit or the JLD’s Facebook page.