Photographer brings unique style to 19th century barn

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Linda Solomon may be a nationally known photographer who has worked with celebrities all over the world but when it comes to creating a personal space at home, she’s all about a bargain and do-it-yourself decor.

Solomon, a Metro Detroit native, loves scouring garage sales, flea markets and estate sales for one-of-a-kind pieces to incorporate into the decor of her Bloomfield Township home, a former 19th century carriage house converted into a home in the 1980s. And from her kitchen tile to her bathrooms — where she uses vintage linens as shower curtains — she’s created a look all her own.

“Everything I have in my house — except for two couches — was from a garage sale or flea market or antique store,” says Solomon, standing in her backyard as music hums from a CD player she bought at a garage sale. “I’m a strong believer in that. You don’t have to spend a fortune. I like the history (of pieces).”

History indeed. The house, originally built as a carriage house in the mid-1800s where horse-drawn carriages were stored on the lower level, still has its original foundation. Tethering rings that likely date back to the 1860s are still embedded in the solid 20-inch-thick stone walls.

Homes converted from barns “is maintaining part of our history,” says Solomon, who also founded Pictures of Hope, which uses photography to empower homeless children all over the country. “...If you can preserve history by living in a barn, I think it’s important. It’s part of our American heritage.”

The 2,950-square-foot house has three bedrooms and 21/2 baths. Its rustic, equine history is woven throughout Solomon and husband Barry’s decor. And yet it’s also modern and whimsical — and very personal.

The truth is Solomon says she and her husband weren’t planning on moving when she discovered her house in the late 1990s.

“It was on the market,” says Solomon. “I told my husband I found a historic house and I want to move.”

Just inside the spacious two-story foyer, visitors can look up and see the barn’s cupola.

“The soaring ceiling and light, it’s so cheerful — even in the winter,” says Solomon, who named the house Rainbow’s End.

Found objects and original pieces figure prominently throughout the decor. The house’s original wide plank pine flooring is still in place in the kitchen along with a barn door now on a sliding track. Old farm tools found throughout the property — both by Solomon and the previous owner — rest on a fireplace mantel. Solomon converted a ladder found on the property into a rack for pots and pans.

Nestled with the artifacts is Solomon’s distinct DIY touch. Vintage bar stools were reupholstered with her old 501 jeans. The kitchen tile now has pieces of her beloved Native American jewelry in the grout.

“When we bought the house, it had Formica and I thought, ‘I gotta change that,’” says Solomon. “I picked out this old broken up slate and I took a necklace of mine and I put all the turquoise in the grout — including an earring.”

“You can do things in grout to make it more interesting. All throughout the grout is fun stuff.”

The kitchen sink, meanwhile, is a vintage copper sink from Mexico. Solomon embellished it with turquoise, coral and sterling.

“It took me days to make,” says Solomon. “...It took forever. I wanted the design to be free-form — like a mountain. I just kept doing it. Every day, my husband would come home and it would change. I’d think, ‘Well, I’ll add another row (of stones).’”

The table is a garage sale find, along with the Windsor chairs in the kitchen.

“Everything on this table is from a garage sale — the dishes, the table runner — every single thing,” says Solomon, who says she usually has something in mind for the pieces she buys. “When you go garage sale-ing it just brings back great memories and makes you happy.”

But it isn’t just finding great flea market picks — it’s what you do with them.

In one of the full downstairs bathrooms — which still has a window original to the house — Solomon converted a cabinet bought at Hall & Hunter’s annual fall antique sale into a vanity with a copper sink from Mexico. A vintage linen tablecloth, protected by a liner, acts as a shower curtain. Mexican hand-painted tiles cover the floor.

“We didn’t want it too modern,” says Solomon.

Upstairs is one of Solomon’s favorite parts of the house and one of the reasons they bought the house — a secret room tucked behind faux barn doors with a guest bed.

“It’s so comfy. It’s great for reading,” says Solomon. “I called it my meditation room. It’s the most relaxing room.”

Outside are a series of living spaces or vignettes. In the sloping backyard, Solomon has what she calls a “she-shed” — a small open-air shanty — in the back made from northern Michigan barn wood. There’s another seating area near a small waterfall and stream that she and her husband installed.

“I wanted it to look like it had been here forever. I wanted it to look very natural,” she says.

All around the outdoor waterfall seating are paintings and art from flea markets and garage sales. Solomon says she keeps them up year-round.

“I always do outdoor paintings,” says Solomon, who says she got the idea years ago when she visited a woman in Birmingham who had outdoor art. “...I keep these all winter. It’s very cheerful. When we were on the garden tour – I had so many paintings outside. People were amazed.”

And while Solomon and her husband are now moving on — they’re selling their converted barn, which also had a large storage barn next door, and moving to a mid-century modern house nearby — they’ll take part of their old barn with them. They’ll take the old cutout horse, Trigger, on the barn next door and her other treasures. And Solomon says she’ll continue to have fun with her design.

“It’s very important just to have fun and believe in your own style,” says Solomon. “Don’t be afraid to express yourself. We’re all careful and we’re all on budgets and that’s why going to garage sales and flea markets and yard sales lets you really have a personal home without spending a fortune. It becomes really who you are. And this house became us.”

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