June 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm


There's no place like Indian Village

World travelers always return to Albert Kahn-designed home

Together and separately, Keith and Sally Wicks of Detroit have lived all over the world, but there’s only one place they’ve always considered home: Indian Village.

The couple, retired General Motors executives, have lived for 27 years in this beloved enclave of the city in an Albert Kahn-designed home built in 1914 on Iroquois Street.

There were certainly times they could’ve relocated. They hired house sitters when GM relocated them to Tokyo for three years. And now that they’re retired, a 6,000-square-foot house with five bedrooms is a lot of room for two people. But it’s home.

“Our kids are here, our granddaughter is here,” says Sally, who says she’s also within driving distance to her parents in West Virginia.

And it’s a home they’ve lovingly renovated, refurbished and restored for nearly three decades. As the house marks its 100th birthday this year, Sally and Keith are opening it to the public on Saturday’s Historic Indian Village Home & Garden Tour (see box for details).

“That’s why we wanted to be on the tour this year,” says Keith, who noted they were also on the tour in 1995 and 2001.

For Indian Village home tour regulars, they’ll notice differences since 2001 — the kitchen and master bathroom have been completely redone — and similarities. The beautiful quartersawn wood paneling in the foyer and library has hardly been touched since original owner Charles Butler, his wife, Emma, and their son lived in the house. Nor has the gorgeous wet plaster coved ceiling in the library, the Wicks’ favorite room.

“It’s wonderful,” says Sally. In the winter, “we shut the door and turn on the (gas) fireplace, and it’s very cozy.”

Butler was the owner of the Morgan Wright Tire Co., the largest bicycle tire company in the world, when he decided to relocate his company from Chicago to Detroit and built a plant (it later became U.S. Rubber) on East Jefferson in 1906.

Butler, already living in Indian Village but looking to build a new house, turned to the man who designed factories all over the world, including the expansion of Butler’s own factory: Albert Kahn.

“It was not unusual for him (Kahn) to design the home of a good client,” says Keith, who has researched the Butler family extensively and even met Charles Butler Jr.’s wife, who at one point lived in the house on Iroquois.

Kahn, who designed 16 homes in Indian Village, created a house that reflects the Arts and Crafts movement that was exploding in the early 20th century. It has a low hipped roof with deep, wide eaves and incorporates several different materials.

“Like most homes in the neighbhorhood, it’s a composite with a more British looking home,” Keith says.

Original details abound inside: quartersawn oak paneling in the foyer with two hidden doors for a coat closet and bathroom; Pewabic tile on the foyer and sunroom floors; and heat lamps in upstairs bathroom. In the foyer, there’s even a brass fitment for a central vacuum system (Hoovers weren’t prevalent in 1914).

Interspersed throughout the house are artifacts from Keith’s and Sally’s world travels: a Chinese wedding basket in the formal living room, Japanese apothecary cabinets that flank each side of the fireplace, and an extensive collection of masks from all over the world.

An original lithograph by well-known Japanese artist Toko Shinoda hangs above a console table in the foyer. Nearby is a large Chinese ancestral portrait of a man and woman, bought in Hong Kong.

“We always called it the Chinese version of ‘American Gothic,’ ” jokes Sally.

A neutral palette in much of the house lets accent pieces stand out, from the Asian-inspired throw pillows on the sofa to an extensive china collection.

The kitchen and attached butler’s pantry, cold food pantry and maids’ room has undergone the biggest transformation. Working with Birmingham Kitchens & Baths, Keith and Sally completely gutted the main kitchen, tearing down a wall that divided it and original maids’ room, to open up the room.

Today, it’s built for a cook — Keith loves to cook — with two islands and a butcher block table from Petoskey. A connected step-down table is where the couple shares most of their meals.

The original kitchen “wasn’t made for the owners,” says Keith. “It was for the servants. ... It really needed updating.”

Upstairs, there are three spacious main bedrooms, along with two smaller bedrooms once used for live-in staff. Emma Butler’s sewing room has been converted into Keith’s office.

In the master bedroom, a call phone like something right out of “Downton Abbey” is still in place. One of three in the house, it was used to call the servants’ quarters or the kitchen, says Keith.

Above the master bedroom fireplace hang two framed drawings of Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s major thoroughfares. Sally bought them when she worked in Barcelona. Two white-and-beige striped chairs, once peach but recently reupholstered, flank both sides of the fireplace.

“Everything has been covered at least once or twice,” says Sally.

The master bathroom also has been completely redone. Redesigned by Birmingham Kitchens & Baths about three years ago, the space was reconfigured to move the sinks to the opposite wall. An old radiator was replaced by a towel warmer. It has marble sinks and floors, along with subway tile.

Outside, Keith and Sally hired Mary McGraw of the Visiting Gardener to transform the front and backyard landscaping. A mix of native plants winds its way around an in-ground pool, installed sometime in the 1970s.

Looking at the house they’ve called home for more than 2½ decades, Keith and Sally say they live “gently” in the house. Still, they marvel at its craftsmanship. One hundred years after it was built, the floors are still solid. The windows haven’t warped. “It’s amazing,” says Keith.

41st annual

Indian Village Home &

Garden Tour

41st annual Indian Village Home & Garden Tour

■10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

■Tickets are $18 in advance ($20 for a guided tour); $20 day of the tour ($22 for guided tour); they’re available online at historicindianvillage.org. On tour day, tickets can be purchased at Christ Lutheran Church, 2411 Iroquois; Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church, 8625 E. Jefferson; or Nichols School, 3000 Burns.

■ Shuttle buses are available.

■Call (313) 922-1736 or visit historicindianvillage.org.

(313) 223-4686

The library has an ornate coved wet plaster ceiling and quartersawn oak paneling. It's Keith and Sally Wicks' favorite room, especially in the winter. 'It's wonderful,' says Sally. / Daniel Mears / The Detroit News