Decked out in the D

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to the Detroit News

The sold-out Dec. 13 Boston-Edison holiday home tour was less than a week away and Paddy Lynch had a living room ceiling with a leak and little time to deck his extensive 1915 halls. While some people may have stressed out, Lynch just called in reinforcements, a strategy that has served him well during his four-year renovation of the 10,000-square-foot English-style estate. “As the old saying goes, many hands make light work,” he says with a smile. “That’s something I really believe in.”

Lynch has always gotten by with a little help from his friends – and his ongoing home renovation is no exception. Friends and family (as well as a few good contractors, he points out) have been key to his success, he says, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t have taken on the project without them.

Renting the third floor and the carriage house of the sprawling residence also helps offset restoration costs, keeps him company and provides manual labor when necessary, he says with a laugh, including emergency Christmas decorating for the home that was to be one of the highlights of the Boston-Edison tour.

“I believe in hospitality,” the gregarious homeowner says. “This is definitely a labor of love and it takes many hands.” That same support group – more than 400 strong – helped him celebrate the house’s 100th birthday in October. “We had quite a bash,” he admits. “There was a DJ, karaoke, pinatas.”

The 31-year-old Lynch has a strong appreciation of the home’s rich history, one that surprisingly includes just four owners. Built for William Kirn, a Parke-Davis pharmaceutical executive, it is better known as the one-time home to Stanley Kresge of S.S. Kresge and later Kmart fame, who moved in about 1934. Later, it owned by Wayne State professor Robert Rubyan and his wife, Arsha, who lived there alone after he passed away. “She took incredible care of the house but in her later years it got to be too much for her,” Lynch says. The living room’s baby grand piano has framed photographs of the former owners, whose benevolent presence Paddy feels in the house.

When he looked at the property in the area known as Arden Park East Boston Historic District (a neighborhood just east of Boston-Edison) with a real estate agent in 2011, the house’s exterior was covered in ivy and hidden by overgrown trees. Despite its tired condition, he knew it was the one and purchased it for $125,000, the culmination of a longtime dream that started while he was in growing up in a 1918 home in Bloomfield Hills.

His family had long connections with the city (his family’s metro Detroit funeral home business, Lynch & Sons, was founded nearby and his mother, an opera singer, sang with the Michigan Opera Theater and worked with Aretha Franklin) and he remembers frequently going to open houses and estate sales. “I blame my parents,” he jokes.

He always had an urge to take on a big architectural project, he says, and found himself spending more and more time downtown, partaking in the city’s burgeoning art, music and restaurant scene. Eventually, he gave in. “It just felt like Detroit was where I needed to be,” he explains.

High school friend Mike Blough told Lynch he was insane for even considering it but later ended up moving in with him and helping with the restoration. The pair lived on the home’s third floor without heat for the first few months while they tackled the home’s most pressing needs – including stripping wallpaper, redoing floors and plumbing. “We had bare mattresses on the floor and could see our breath on winter mornings,” Lynch remembers.

Slowly but surely, he has worked through the house, preserving what he can and sensitively repairing and replacing what he can’t. Past work has included stripping wallpaper and redoing wood floors, landscaping front and back, repairing fallen ceilings and plaster in the former breakfast room, updating parts of the kitchen and baths. Recent renovations include the lower-level ballroom, painted with original frescoes. He credits contractors Fred Scipione, Chuck Armstrong and Fred Henry as being key to his success. “I spent $125,000 but have at least a couple hundred into it,” he says. “Definitely more than I paid for it.” Despite necessary work, he says, he was lucky that for the most part, the house’s history was intact. “For better or for worse, it had never been tampered with,” he explains. “Original mantels, sconces, hardware, lighting and kitchen cabinets were still there, even if some were in disrepair.”

While friends are always welcome, Lynch also hosts special events and fundraisers for organizations he is active in, including Detroit’s Cristo Rey, a Catholic high school in southwest Detroit that is part of a larger network of schools started by the Jesuits. He hopes doing so will encourage others to take on similar projects and give back to the city that he says has given him so much.

“I truly don’t consider it my house,” he says. “I don’t think a place like this can belong to any one person. I think it should be shared.”

Owning a historic home has been everything he expected and more. “It’s an adventure, that’s for sure,” he says, one he’d never trade for new construction in the suburbs. “Living in the house has done so much more for me than I’ve done for it,” he says. “A lot of people discouraged me but I have no regrets. I love being here.”