Kelly Elliott and her son Mickey share a laugh in the original mid-century modern kitchen, which boasts pops of orange, red and yellow. Elliott shared that the kitchen is where the whole family gathers and that she still uses the original stove from the 1960s that came with the home.

Kelly Elliott and her son Mickey share a laugh in the original mid-century modern kitchen, which boasts pops of orange, red and yellow. Elliott shared that the kitchen is where the whole family gathers and that she still uses the original stove from the 1960s that came with the home.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Mid-Century Modern Architecture Tour returns to Southfield

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Southfield Sun | Published June 4, 2024


SOUTHFIELD — After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mid-Century Modern Architecture Tour is making its return to Southfield at 2 p.m. June 9, taking off from Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, 27375 Bell Road, with free parking on-site. The tour is possible thanks to the Southfield Historical Society, the Detroit Area Art Deco Society and the Friends of Southfield Public Arts.

“It’s sold out every time we’ve done it. So it was time to do it again. We’ve been doing this tour since 2013. And then, obviously, ’20, ’21, ’22 and ’23, we didn’t do it. So we had a four-year pause. But we’re back,” Southfield Mayor Kenson Siver stated. The iconic mid-century modern architecture has surrounded Siver since he moved to Southfield in the 1960s. He expressed that it’s hard to pick a favorite building.

“The two neighborhoods that we got national historic designations for, they’re on the federal government’s list of historic places — Northland Gardens and Plumbrooke Estates. But I would also add Cranbrook, because there’s so much history with how that neighborhood was developed.

“I like all of the buildings. We start at Shaarey Zedek, which is just a phenomenal piece of architecture.”

While the tour will enter six buildings, Siver and Darla Van Hoey, the president of the Southfield Historical Society, will guide the bus tour past iconic Southfield landmarks such as the Reynolds Aluminum Regional Headquarters, the Ira Kaufman Funeral Home, Smokey Robinson’s home and more.

One of the six buildings that will be entered is Kelly Elliott’s 1963 home, located off of Bell Street. Elliott is a former school psychologist and is a co-owner of Bowlero Bowling Alley on Coolidge Highway in Royal Oak. She has also been a member of the Docomomo Michigan Chapter since 2021. Docomomo is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods that were created during the modern movement.

Elliott is the curator, and her home is her mid-century modern museum. When she moved into the home in 2007, she was in awe that the original design elements remained intact, such as the Richard Harvey see-through bone walls, the Sputnik light fixtures, the travertine marble floors and the wall of mirrors designed by John Leslie, of Cranbrook. Elliott resides in her groovy oasis with her son, Mickey, fiancé, Rob Dey, his daughter, Estella, as well as their German shepherd, the Fonz, and Hank the cat.

Elliott explained that the house was only owned by two owners prior to her. The original owner was a housing developer who owned a company called Crescendo Homes and built houses in Warren and Sterling Heights in the ’60s.

“He built this house for his own family. So in 1963, he did all the things in this house that were cutting edge for design,” she said.

She joked that it was a miracle that the home’s design elements hadn’t been painted over during the shabby chic era. While touring other homes, the charm and character of this house stood out to Elliott.

“I’m picky and critical about design. Some of the things I saw that people have done in homes, it was like, why did you do that?” she said. “It was unfortunate to see that people have taken out original elements and tried to take out all the specialness that maybe the original designer had tried to impart into the design. That’s the other reason why I do this: because I want people to know and also not be afraid to design with color and put in what you love and what you think looks cool.”

The three-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath home, equipped with a mother-in-law suite in the basement, is lined with hues of orange, yellow and red. Elliott is intentional in her design choices.

“The house kind of begged for something bright. And the kitchen’s already red and orange — that came that way. So, it makes sense. Plus, many, many months of Detroit weather is kind of drab and dull. And oranges and reds are energizing, and I like that. I like to live around that and be around that. And Bowlero is also that color palette,” she said.

While her house is a mid-century marvel, she’s not afraid to switch things up or escape the era. She adds art and furniture that inspires her or simply because she likes it. In 2018, when redesigning Bowlero, originally built in 1957, Elliott sourced authentic vintage pieces from local antique malls and estate sales. Some of her favorite local vintage shops are Oddfellows in Berkley and Vogue Vintage in Ferndale.

Dale Allen Gyure is the chair of architecture and a professor in the College of Architecture and Design at Lawrence Technology University. Gyure teaches the history of architecture. He explained that before becoming chair, his favorite class to teach was 20th century architecture, since much of his research focuses on the 20th century. He added that he especially loves the ’50s and ’60s. Gyure stated that the clean lines and simplicity of mid-century modern design were born out of what was happening in the world at the time.

“In the early 20th century, the modernists were arguing to remove a lot of the clutter. Like, if you think of a 19th century Victorian house, there’s a lot going on there. The form of the house is really busy, there are parts sticking out and receding, there’s a really interesting skyline, usually lots of different roof angles; you go in the house, and there’s all kinds of furniture with lots of carvings on it and patterns all over the carpet — the walls, the furniture, had patterns. It was just a riot of visual stuff happening,” Gyure said. “So they start to try to create architecture that doesn’t reflect back on history on styles, and is cleaner and sleeker. And it gets a little bit popular. But then, the early 20th century is a disaster. There’s two world wars. There’s a Great Depression, and all these things really hurt architecture. So roughly between the 1930s and 1950s, hardly anything gets built. And then when the world comes back around after World War II, and particularly the U.S., modernism is the way to go. Nobody in the late 1940s, early ’50s, in architecture is saying, ‘Let’s go back to the styles.’ They want to move forward.”

According to Gyure, mid-century modern design spans from roughly 1950 to about 1975. He shared that one of the most influential architects of the day was Asian American architect Minoru Yamasaki, who was based in Troy and Bloomfield Hills for several decades and designed the Reynolds Aluminum Regional Headquarters in Southfield. Yamasaki is near to Gyure’s heart, and he wrote a book on the comprehensive works of Yamasaki called “Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World.”

Gyure encouraged anyone interested in mid-century modern design and architecture to take the tour. “Southfield has a great stock of mid-century buildings that are very fortunate to have a large number of commercial buildings, and not just by famous architects — sort of everyday commercial architecture from the ’50s, and ’60s. And you can see it all over the place when you drive up and down the main streets in Southfield. A lot of cities don’t have that anymore.”

With only 55 seats on the bus, tickets are limited. Tickets can be purchased for $40 in advance and $50 on the day of the tour if available. Tickets may be purchased through the Mayor’s Office at Southfield City Hall, 26000 Evergreen Road, or via PayPal to Checks may be made payable to the Friends of Southfield Public Arts.

Follow Elliott on Instagram @kellysue_decor_delight. For additional information, visit