Lakeside showstopper overflows with design ideas

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Just yards beyond a regal 1927 mansion in Grosse Pointe Park, the waters of Lake St. Clair roiled and rocked on a recent spring day, sending white caps cascading into the sea wall.

There was a time just months ago, though, that you couldn’t see this idyllic view. It was blocked by roughly 20 trees.

“Once the trees went down, we said, ‘There’s the rest of the lake!’” says Ann Baxter, co-organizer of the 2016 Junior League of Detroit’s Designers’ Show House, which kicks off with a preview party tonight.

Removing the trees was just part of the process of transforming this 5,300-square-foot English Tudor originally built for Colonel Jesse Vincent, an aircraft designer and vice president of engineering at the Packard Motor Car Company, into something much bigger – a show house.

Now, nearly every square foot has been brought to life by a team of interior designers from across Metro Detroit, from a peacock-inspired dining room to a basement tavern. Twenty-one spaces will be on display during the Show House, which opens for tours Saturday and runs through May 22 (see box for details) and raises money for the Junior League’s Project EAT.

One of the most unique features of this year’s show house actually wasn’t touched by an interior designer at all. It’s a dry dock – think your own personal Soo Locks – that runs right from Lake St. Clair to underneath the living room for boat storage. It’s possible the same space may have been used for boot-legging from Canada during Prohibition to a basement tavern in the house, though that hasn’t been confirmed.

Vincent, who invented the Liberty motor used in airplanes and started Gold Cup boat racing in Detroit, “had his hands in cars, planes and boats,” says Baxter. “He was a motorhead.”

Water – and the color blue – figures prominently throughout the house’s decor, which is fitting given its proximity to the water. Just inside the foyer hangs a crystal schooner chandelier. The ceiling, meanwhile, is painted by Royal Oak painter Julie Albanese to look like an aged map with silver-leaf compass roses.

“Every room had that level of thought and detail,” says Baxter. “This has been a phenomenal show house in terms of the level of detail.”

And the details shine in a variety of unique rooms. One bedroom has been transformed into a woman’s dressing room. There’s also a textured, but modern gentlemen’s room; a game room; and lovely Parisian-inspired third-floor apartment decorated by designers at Ethan Allen.

Here are some of my favorites, but every room has a unique theme from which you can draw inspiration for your own home. And most maximize the incredible view. Thank goodness you can finally see it.

(313) 223-4686

The living room.

Tri-color living room

When it comes to a designers’ show house, one room may be the most daunting to decorate: the living room. This year’s house was no exception. With dark wood original paneling and wood beams with a high ceiling, at first “it was depressing,” says designer Jeanine Haith of ShowHouse Interiors in Grosse Pointe. But Haith used color and more contemporary decor to bring the room to life. Inspired by yellow, lilac and teal stained glass in the leaded glass windows, she carried those colors throughout the room with custom-made silk window treatments, a chartreuse silk arm chair and throw pillows. She mixed styles – everything from mid-century modern pieces to art deco – to give what could be a very traditional space a more modern spin. “I knew I could make it very lively by just lightening it up,” says Haith. Haith used Robert Allen fabrics to create custom sofas and chairs. She used details and art to bring the room even more to life, including a 1944 Picasso print that inspired other accents.

The dining room.

Peacock power

The dining room decor started with a fabric: Peacock from Schumacher’s Miles Redd Collection. As soon as they saw it, designers Gordon Robinson, Victoria Strickler and Colleen Wagner at Scott Shuptrine Interiors in Grosse Pointe knew it was what they wanted, using it for the window treatments and chairs. “This fabric was really the beginning,” says Robinson. “It’s a respite, relaxing and soothing.” And since people don’t use dining rooms like they used to, a large china cabinet wasn’t necessary. Instead, they used a curio case and console from Kindel’s Dorothy Draper collection. Robinson says there’s a difference between decorating and designing. “Decorating is about adding. Design is about editing,” says Robinson.

Parisian studio apartment.

Parisian apartment

What was once a ballroom is now a serene multifunctional, third-floor Parisian-inspired studio apartment designed by Ethan Allen. The large space has a seating area, window seat, sleeping area, dining area and desk. The walls are painted with an unusual ombre effect. “There are nine chandeliers that were brought in,” says designer Ena Stewart who worked with fellow Ethan Allen designers Michel Weston, Gabriella Anderson and Colleen Gahry. The reason they decided to create a Parisian space is “when we got up here, it just lent itself to it. The walls (which are curved) hit me immediately,” says Stewart. “We needed that intentional old feeling to it and the palette grew from there.”

A basement tavern called the Hoist.

The Hoist

Just when you think you’ve finished the 2016 Designers’ Show House, there’s a final treat: a basement tavern called the Hoist. Once dark and dingy, designer Sarah Rozewicz of Mimi LaRou Design & Decor in Roseville spent days scraping acoustic tiles off the ceiling to create a vintage nautical space with touches of Detroit history. “Being so close to the dry dock, I wanted it to look like a space (where) a bunch of guys would want to hang out.” It now looks like a space anyone would want to hang out in. Much of the furniture is from Detroit Artifactry and Shelby Township’s Before & After Interiors. In the kitchen area, Rozewicz sanded down the counter and added more lighting. The Hoist has a dual purpose during the show house: It’s also the cafe.

What was once four rooms is now a spacious kitchen, butler’s pantry and breakfast room designed by designer Brian Clay Collins. Several walls were widened to maximize the view.

Kitchen transformation

One of the biggest transformations in this year’s show house is the kitchen, designed by Brian Clay Collins. Once an outdated space with 1980s appliances and linoleum tile, Collins worked with a team of collaborators and opened up four rooms – the maids’ dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry and breakfast room – to maximize the water view. Visitors can now see “straight through to the water from the laundry room,” Collins said. Cabinets were custom made by Ken Leiter of Leiter Woodwork Design to look like the original cabinets. And as much as he likes white kitchens, Collins says he’s seen enough white kitchens. He painted the ceiling Benjamin Moore’s Summer Blue and the cabinets Admiral Blue. “We wanted to do something more dramatic,” says Collins. Glass from the home’s original windows is now used as leaded glass cabinet door inserts.

The sunroom.

Sunroom gives ‘infinity’ illusion

Designer Jennifer Duda-Imamura was so conscious of the beautiful water view in the sunroom off the living room, she didn’t want anything to obstruct it – even the furniture. “We wanted to bring the outside in,” says Duda-Imamura of the Velvet Plum in Plymouth who used glass, Lucite and minimalistic drapes to “create the illusion of infinity.” The only color really comes from an embossed wallpaper on the ceiling. Hand-blown crystals hanging at different heights from the ceiling add another visual element, again without blocking the view.

Gentlemen’s Club Room.

Gentlemen’s Club Room

It’s called a gentlemen’s club room, but this bedroom-turned-lounge is a textured mix that would appeal to anyone. And it’s full of surprises. Take the window treatments: They’re actually Ralph Lauren men’s trouser fabric. Designed by Laura Zender and Tiffany Kapnick of Birch Monarch Interiors in Ann Arbor, the space mixes patterned geometric grasscloth wallpaper with furniture upholstered in lush mohair, cut velvets and wools.

Junior League of Detroit’s 2016 Designers’ Show House

■15500 Windmill Pointe Drive in Grosse Pointe Park

■Officially opens Saturday and runs through May 22. Hours of operation: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings; 10 a.m-5 p.m. Saturdays; and 12-5 p.m. Sundays.

■Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 if bought by May 6.

■For the first time, docents will not be in place; the Junior League has developed an app for smartphones so patrons can tour the show house at their own pace and listen to a history. Tour booklets also will be given out.

■Call (313) 881-0040 or go to for tickets.

■Proceeds support Junior League’s Project EAT for needy children and families in Detroit.