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Picking out a material to cover the wall surrounding the gas fireplace in their new loft above their flute business in Royal Oak, Ervin and Susan Monroe knew what materials they didn't want.

They didn't want brick or stone. "I thought it would be too traditional," says Susan.

What they got was something completely unexpected, an idea whipped up by architect Keith Phillips and his team at Think Shop Architects in Brighton: specially molded cement panels that together depict an aerial image of the city of Royal Oak. It covers the entire wall behind the two-way gas fireplace.

"This is where we are — right here," says Erv Monroe, pointing to a spot on the mantel with a laugh. "... Everything else was crazy (here). Let's keep it crazy."

Crazy or unexpected — or both — the cement panel system is one of many unique details in what was once two abandoned warehouses. Designed by Phillips, who also served as the contractor, it's a modern marvel with angled walls, black walnut panels, cement floors and floor-to-ceiling windows.

It's the kind of house, with its bright red-and-white metal exterior, that catches your attention from the side of the road and doesn't let go. It's one of several on the June 27 Royal Oak Woman's Club Home Tour (see box for details).

On the 5,200-square-foot first floor, Erv, who was the principal flutist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for 40 years before retiring in 2008, and Susan, a retired school psychologist, run their flute business, Muramatsu America. They're the sole distributors of Japanese-made Muramatsu flutes in North and South America (thus the name, the "Flute House"). They also have a publishing company, Little Piper, which sells flute music worldwide.

What's interesting is that the Monroes say they didn't set out to build a modern, sleek space to live and work. Living in Bloomfield Township and driving back and forth to their Ferndale warehouse for their business, their original goal was to simply consolidate the business.

"The last thing we ever dreamed up is buying something on Main Street," laughs Erv.

But their realtor convinced them to look at two old warehouses and also directed them to Phillips. Phillips designed an addition to the warehouses for their loft, using structurally insulated panel systems, pre-cast concrete planking and steel structure.

Their previous home in Bloomfield Township had a more traditional style, as did a previous house in Indian Village.

"I don't know if we have a particular style," says Susan. "But we like things that look dramatic."

And that's exactly what they got. The Flute House, which took four years to finish and was completed in 2012, is filled with design elements inspired by music and movement. Custom-made birch plywood cabinets in the first floor work space represent rhythm and measure. Perforated black walnut panels cover the walls, showing the layers beneath. LED lights are inset in each one.

"Those are actually car lights," says Erv.

Phillips, the architect, says the challenge with creating a space where the homeowners also run a business is defining the barrier between the two. To do that, there's actually an 18-inch gap between the first and second floors, which provides an acoustic buffer, says Phillips.

And "locating the stairs outside...allows for visual separation," he says.

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the entire upstairs with natural light. The same black walnut panels used downstairs separate rooms upstairs. The entire 2,600-square-foot living space features interesting lines and angles.

"There are all these angles that you don't even realize," says Erv. "... We live here and sometime we have visitors who will point out things."

Several design elements create the illusion of floating. There are custom-made platform beds in each of the two bedrooms, floating zebrawood shelves in the flex room, and a floating bathroom vanity in the master bedroom.

The kitchen features zebrawood tambour cabinets, a deep sink and cement counters. "We wanted something I could chop on, put hot pans on, something very durable," says Susan of the counters.

But in a house full of unique features, the cement panel system behind the fireplace stands out. Phillips and his team collaborated to transform a map into a 3D representation of Royal Oak, which was then fabricated using computer controlled milling to create polystyrene molds for the cement pours.

"The panels create a visual and tactile texture," says Phillips. "... The map acts as contextual stamp of the area and a reminder of the unique city that Royal Oak is known to be."

The panels — which open to reveal a TV and cabinet space — each weigh 300 pounds.

"It took three guys to get some of these in," says Erv. "....They slide in and they have to match perfectly."

Outside, the front and side gardens are a beautiful mix of hostas — more than 125 varieties — and other plants, designed by Erv, an avid gardener.

Susan admits at first, she wasn't sure how she'd adjust to living in such a modern space. But now, living right on Main Street, the couple can walk everywhere — to the bank, post office and restaurants — "we love it," she says. "It's just the proximity to everything, the walking."

And they can enjoy sunsets and sunrises from the large balcony right off their flex room. Radiant heat keeps it clear year-round of snow. "We have incredible sunsets," says Erv.

And if they ever get lost wandering around Royal Oak and aren't sure exactly where something is, they have a very detailed map nearby — made of cement — to guide them.

(313) 223-4686

Royal Oak Woman's Club

Home Tour

The Flute House is one of six homes on this year's home tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 27. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the tour. The tour starts at the Woman's Club, 404 South Pleasant. To purchase tickets online, go to For information, call (248) 904-8670.

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