For Milford couple, once is not enough

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
  • Couple%3A If you love it%2C you can make it work
  • House was featured on the Milford Home Tour last month

Roger and Sharyn Mertz of Milford have a design mantra: If you love it, you can make it work, whatever your style is.

Take the solid wood door Sharyn found when the couple bought their house in downtown Milford nearly 10 years ago. Sharyn, who has an art and design background, didn't just want to just use the hand-carved door, original to the house, for its intended purpose. So she and Roger, an engineer, turned it into a tabletop, attaching it to a piece of furniture to create a freestanding kitchen island. It's now painted white with an oil-based paint and Roger added framing.

"I don't believe there is a piece of furniture that can't be painted or slipcovered," says Sharyn, who has a graphic arts degree and now works with clients on staging and design. "You have people that say, 'I love that piece of furniture, but it doesn't work in this room.' If you love it, we can make it work."

In fact, looking around her home, it's hard for Sharyn to find a piece of furniture that hasn't been touched up, repurposed or reimagined in some way in the couple's 2,300-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two full baths. The house was featured on the 38th annual Milford Home Tour last month.

Something "might be the wrong color or wrong fabric," says Sharyn, who used to own a store in downtown Milford called The Village Peddler. But "if you can reuse something, use your imagination. Think outside the box."

Roger and Sharyn both grew up in Detroit, but Sharyn's love of old homes really came from Charlevoix, where her parents had another home.

But after getting married and having two kids, the couple actually lived in a newer home in the West Bloomfield Township area, where they stayed for the schools and beautiful lakes.

"When my youngest left for a college, I said 'That's it! I get an old house now,' " laughs Sharon.

Drawn to downtown Milford because of its sense of quaintness and community, they bought a house just blocks away from downtown, originally built by William Grieg. Grieg operated a furniture, carpentry and undertaking business in Milford. The house has the first cement foundation in the village of Milford.

In the 1920s, it was converted into a duplex. It stayed that way until the late 1990s, when it was restored to a single family home. The original staircase near the kitchen was reopened, and the upstairs was reconfigured.

Redone and repurposed

Today, nearly every inch has been redone with each renovation carefully considered. Sharyn, who describes her style as European country, says she and Roger thought a lot about size, scale and "the bones of the house." Moldings were remilled so they'd match the way they were in the house originally.

The decor, meanwhile, is a carefully curated mix of vintage and new. In the dining room, which has a crisp, clean blue and white color palette, is a large collection of blue and white china that all began with a salt and pepper shaker Sharyn and Roger's daughter bought in elementary school.

"She bought me those when she was in kindergarten," says Sharyn, of her daughter, Ashley, now 29 and living in New York as a fashion designer. "It's been just this growing thing that we do."

And it's all about thinking outside the box and repurposing in their own unique way. Behind the sofa in a front sitting room, old metal grates hang on the wall as art.

Above the fireplace in the living room, wood blocks normally used for window trim are now in a diamond pattern behind the mantel, giving the wall texture.

And in the sunroom — which was once a bedroom that Mertzes completely redid by raising the floor to match the rest of the house, installing a new ceiling and adding beautiful french doors that overlook the backyard — old wood found in between the walls is now a rustic faux mantel.

"The room needed a focal point," says Sharyn. "... It's such a nice room to sit in now."

A team effort

Decorating is a team effort for Sharyn and Roger. She comes up with the ideas, and Roger, a mechanical engineer who works for General Motors, executes them — sometimes quicker than Sharyn expects.

In their first house in Orchard Lake, he suggested tearing down a wall that separated the living room from the dining area.

"I went shopping with my mother, came home two hours later and it was gone," she recalls. "I said, 'I thought we were talking about this!' "

For his part, Roger views Sharyn's projects as a challenge.

"Lately I'll tell her to draw me a picture," he says.

But sometimes, by the time he's figured out how to accomplish a project, "I'll have it figured out and go to the store, come back, and she'll say, 'I changed my mind. I had another thought.' "

Still, their successful collaborations are clear throughout the house. What was once a leaf to a dining room table is now a small table after Sharyn asked Roger to add legs to it. Recently, Sharyn asked Roger to convert an old lantern into a lamp. Roger found a way. It now sits on a nightstand in a spare bedroom.

Let there be light

Still, their home has a casual, cottage style that doesn't take itself too seriously. An upstairs corner sitting room is painted with wide pale blue- and off-white stripes like a circus tent.

"When we first moved in, it just reminded me of a tent," says Sharyn.

Stripes also make an appearance in the redone kitchen, which has one wall painted black and white.

Sharyn says wide strips are easier to do. For anyone doing their own, she suggests using a level.

"Especially in an older home, because the walls aren't really straight," says Sharyn.

And throughout the house, repurposing is on full display.

Lovely print tablecloths the couple bought in Florence, Italy, are now curtains in the dining room. Vintage doorknobs are now the hardware for an upstairs dresser. And molding that once went around a closet is now a faux headboard in a spare bedroom.

When it comes to decorating and styling your home, Sharyn say it all comes back to getting the bones of a house right.

"There's a lot of thought that goes into scaling and proportioning any home," says Sharyn. "If you keep the bones right, you could put anything in here. You could be sitting in here with Victorian furniture or go super modern and it will make sense because the bones are right."

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