The first time Jean McLemore saw the former Edward Fisher mansion in Detroit's historic Boston-Edison neighborhood, she didn't swoon, declare the house would one day be hers or start envisioning future dinner parties.
Driving by the house after looking at another property in the area, the former middle school assistant principal simply told her husband, Andrew McLemore Sr., "That interests me."
It's not surprising why. The 10,000-square-foot estate built in an Italian Renaissance style with 11 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms is incredibly interesting. Originally built in 1923 for Edward Fisher, one of the seven Fisher brothers who founded the Fisher Body Company, the house is a beautiful composite of lovely architecture, art and decor. Every detail, from moldings to doors to light fixtures, has been carefully considered.
And more than 90 years after it was built, those details still shine. The house will serve as the host home on the historic Boston-Edison's Holiday Home Tour this weekend. Tickets for the main tour are sold out (unfortunately), but they're still available for Saturday's VIP Preview Gala (see box for details).
In every room, from the living room to the den, incredibly detailed wet plaster, painted or carved ceilings still dazzle. Original light fixtures and paintings are still in place, as is a massive marble fireplace in the living room.
"Every ceiling is different," says Andrew McLemore Sr., the owner of A-Mac Construction Services, who is now retired. Jean died in 2000.
The home's exterior is limestone. Carved lions greet visitors as they come up the front walk.
Reportedly built for $600,000 for Edward, his wife, Adeline, and their three daughters, the house is the smallest of the Fisher brothers' mansions (four of which were in Boston-Edison) but is considered by some to be the most elaborate.
"During construction, the home was occupied by European craftsmen who were employed on the project and required to stay there until it was completed to the Fishers' specifications," according to tour program.
The Fisher family lived in the house until the 1950s when they donated it the Archdiocese of Detroit. It was then home to Jesuit priests for 16 years before it returned to a private residence in the 1970s.
McLemore says the first time he and Jean, who met at the University of West Virginia and moved to Michigan when their sons were young, saw the house in the mid-1990s, he had no intention of moving. Already living in a fully paid-for colonial in Detroit, he had no plans to leave. Jean had other ideas.
After they bought the house, it was actually a year before they moved in because so much work had to be done. The couple, who already had two grown sons at the time, had to replace the entire electrical system, much of the plumbing system, and rebuild the porch.
In 1997, the house was chosen as a designer show house for a fundraiser for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, with the McLemores approval. Roughly 30 designers swooped in for more than six months, working with Jean, who had a doctorate in home economics, on color palettes and transforming each room.
"It was great," says McLemore. "Everybody had a different idea and they had to run that all by my wife. She blessed eveyrthing and then she added things to their design. She had input in everything in the seletion of color, materials."
Much of that decor, which the McLemores later purchased, is still in place.
Just off the breathtaking foyer, which has an intricate wet plaster ceiling with painted cherubs, mythological ships, flower motifs and more, is a library on one side and the living room on the other. Upholstered chinoiserie club chairs warm up the living room and match nearby custom drapes, which hang from the leaded glass windows.
The focal point of the room is the massive marble fireplace, which supposedly came from an English castle, McLemore says. An original oil painting of that same castle is still in place on a wall leading to the kitchen.
Just off the living room is a den or drawing room, which has a gorgeous barrel-vaulted ceiling, and a three-season room that McLemore refers to as his African room. An original fountain mounted to the wall — no longer functional — has been repurposed as a planter. McLemore refers to the ceiling as the "Tree of Life," which has a vine pattern that wraps around the entire ceiling in a circle.
"The light fixture has the signs of the zodiac," McLemore says.
After the African room is the dining room. Jean worked with Detroit glass artist Ron Slater to create a custom made table that seats up to 18 people. It was a floral motif inspired by nearby china cabinets filled with Jean's extensive collection of crystal stemware.
Slater "did several pieces throughout the house," McLemore says.
One of the loveliest rooms is the breakfast room. An example of a bygone era, it has eight walls, overlooks the lovely backyard and has a beautiful hand-painted ceiling.
The kitchen has undergone the biggest transformation. Completely overhauled and redone before the show house, it now has a Tuscan vibe with custom-made cabinets from Pennsylvania, granite counters and limestone and wood floors. Divided into work zones, it flows into an eat-in breakfast nook. It feels warm and cozy, and it's where McLemore spends most of his time.
The second and third floors are all bedrooms. In fact, the second floor master bedroom was designed so Edward Fisher could see the Fisher building from his window.
"He wanted to see the shop from his window and he could," says Ray McLemore, McLemore's son.
On the third floor, a local painter painted a secret garden for McLemore's three granddaughters. It has a spare bedroom and play area complete with a stage, where his now grown granddaughters once staged plays.
Outside, McLemore says he and Jean completely redid portions of the tiered patio. The landscaping was custom designed and a long fountain still works. He and Jean hosted many parties outdoors, he says.
Now, McLemore will host his next big party on Saturday. He — and his interesting house — will be ready.
Historic Boston-Edison Holiday Home Tour Preview Gala
Tickets are sold out for the 40th Annual Historic Boston-Edison Holiday Home Tour on Sunday, but they are still available for the VIP Preview Party Gala on Saturday. It runs from 6-9 p.m. and include appetizers, live music and shuttle transportation. Tickets are $75 and must be purchased by noon Saturday. Call (313) 883-4360, visit historicbostonedison.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.