House Party Crashers

The doors swung open at 40 Detroit homes last week to host some of the 700 guests invited to Crain's Detroit House Party. The citywide event, held in conjunction with the weekly business report's 'Living and Investing in the D' special section, started with cocktails in a Detroit home, then ended with a big gathering at the Renaissance Center.

The idea was to get people into neighborhoods to see firsthand the kind of living Detroit offers.

Model D crashed the party. OK, we were invited, but we sent out four intrepid writers (one of whom was hosting) to capture the homes, the neighborhood feel and the reactions at the parties.

Whether we were in Woodbridge, Midtown, Arden Park or Corktown, and whether we were in a mansion, loft or house, there was a genuine wow-factor.

Some of the parties felt like a reunion of longtime Detroit residents, activists and cool kids, but many reeled in suburbanites — some not well versed in Detroit living. It seemed everyone was genuinely awestruck by what they saw.

Here's a recap.

Corktown rehab

Our house is modest, especially compared to the architectural magnificence that rules places like Indian Village and Palmer Woods. So when my husband, Ryan Cooley, said we'd be hosting one of the parties, I wondered why anyone would choose our cute Corktown Victorian from the impressive roster of grandiose mansions and swish new condo buildings.

Sure, it’s historical, and we’re infinitely proud of the hard work we’ve put into our top-to-bottom, six-month-long rehab. But there are no grand staircases or elegant ballrooms, no Pewabic tile fireplaces or rooftop decks with city views to showcase.

We were in for a surprise. Most of the 20-plus guests, while certainly impressed with the inside, were far more interested in what was happening outside. “What neighborhood are we in?” asked one. “It feels like Chicago.” Our neighbors, many just getting home from work, were dickering in their flower gardens, sitting on front stoops, and chatting with the bright-eyed kids who bring a sense of playfulness to our charming block. The homes are quaint, the residents friendly.

“I had no idea,” said Linda McGilland, who handles PR for GM. “It’s so nice to see young people moving into these houses. You just don’t see the neighborhoods when you work downtown.”

Which is exactly why one guest, Larry Lipton, who works at Smith Barney, signed up for the event. “You always see and hear about what’s new in the entertainment district, but I didn’t know this even existed in Detroit,” he said. “It’s exactly what Detroit needs. I’m so surprised about the sense of community here. It’s so rare to really know your neighbors anymore.”
The buzz was universal. Guests from Novi to Plymouth to Ypsilanti used words like “flabbergasted,” “unbelievable,” “eye-opener,” “vibrant."

“I will mention this neighborhood anytime someone is talking about great homes,” Lipton said. “It’s just as neat as Indian Village.” — Meghan McEwen

Midtown luxury loft

Sitting at the front door of longtime Midtown developer, pioneer and enthusiast Bob Slattery's personal unit in his Springfield Lofts development, you could hear oohs and ahhs. "Oh my." "That's so cool." "Did you see those carved wood doors? They're original!" "This was a morgue?"

Slattery doesn't hide the fact that yes, this 10-unit, two-story structure once was a Wayne State mortuary science building. And to see the place, you'd have to agree there's nothing morbid or spooky about it anymore. (And other than the elevator that serves his two floors and basement, and the old metal-door frame around his closet, there's nothing institutional about it either.)

Exposed brick walls and concrete ceilings frame a two bedroom, 2 ½-bath space that oozes luxury. Huge granite countertops. Viking stove. Home theater in the basement. Huge whirlpool bath you could almost swim in. Expansive rooftop deck. Enormous flat-screen TVs everywhere. Two-car attached garage.

"I have loft lust," said one guest, Susan Schmidt, who is director of food service and catering for The Henry Ford and lives in Grosse Pointe Park. She said she daydreams of living in a place like this. (Units are still available. Click here for info.)

Phil Grier, an engineer for AT&T and developer of nearby Waldorf lofts and condos at 4120 Cass, said that he hears the same reaction a lot, even from people already familiar with the area. "It's the last thing they expected," he said. — Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey

Woodbridge renovation

We were told we'd be visiting a lovingly restored historic home in Woodbridge Farms, but what we found at the century-old home on Lincoln was a pleasant surprise.

The handful of guests – among the more well-known were David DiChiera of the Michigan Opera Theatre, and George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. – discovered that while owners Angela Topacio and Matt DiDio maintained the 3,500-square-foot home’s traditional exterior, the interior was now modern and ultra-customized.

“I really liked the Woodbridge neighborhood. … It is community-oriented and close-knit, and I loved the house, but I wanted something modern,” said Topacio, principal of Gyro Creative Group in Detroit.

Earlier this year the couple finished a 12-month renovation that involved a 400-square-foot addition, complete interior makeover of the main house, and construction of a two-story carriage house.

On a tour of the three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home, DiDio pointed out the home’s custom extras: hickory floors, a steam unit and in-floor heating in the master bathroom, and an array of drawer-organizers and closet systems. Behind the house was a beautifully landscaped backyard with a small pond.

“The house is fabulous,” said Duane Fueslein, a residential designer. Fueslein, who lives in Detroit’s North Rosedale Park, especially liked the mix of old and new and the prevalence of texture and light in the house, saying the sophisticated look is popping up more and more in the city. “It just proves what’s happening in Detroit. Not what’s going to happen; what’s already here.” — Jaime Pfeffer

Arden Park mansion

Sitting in Doris and Gary Green's pleasant library with a roaring fire enjoying a glass of Chardonnay, I began to wonder…about windows. Having just gotten a (jaw-dropping, in my estimation) quote for replacement windows for my 1,300 square-foot home, I had an uncontrollable urge to ask my hosts how many windows opened this 5,000 square-foot Albert Kahn mansion to its Arden Park world? Answer: 102.

Windows aren't the only massive feature of the Greens' home: there's the kitchen with a secondary prep area, the four furnaces, the sunroom, the workout room and a fur safe-cum-wine cellar. Even the garage, which was recently constructed to the architect's original specs, is massive.

Doris told guests how she fell in love with the home 16 years ago, despite the Smurf color palate and fuzzy wallpaper it then sported. She recalled a moving day mixed with excitement and apprehension — her mom bawling into her friend's arms, "Take care of my daughter! She doesn't know what she got herself into!"

Doris now laughingly agrees with her mother, but she and Gary, who were married in the house 10 years ago, characterize themselves as the type of people who enjoy their never-ending renovation project. "We don't want to sit around and do nothing," he said. — Kelli B. Kavanaugh


Sarah Lurtz in Midtown at the Springfield Lofts, Copyright Brent Bacher

Sabra from the LoftWarehouse at the Art Center Townhomes, Copyright Dave Krieger

Guests at Arden Park, Copyright Brent Bacher

Greeting at the Springfield Lofts, Copyright Brent Bacher

On the deck at the Art Center Townhomes, Copyright Dave Krieger

At the Piano in Arden Park, Copyright Brent Bacher

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