Modern twist on a classic Craftsman

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Craftsman bungalows are known for their abundant woodwork, dormer windows and sweeping porches, but when it came to creating just the right look for HGTV’s new “Urban Oasis” in Ann Arbor, it was about putting a modern spin on that classic look.

Designed by architect Dawn Zuber of Studio Z Architecture in Plymouth and decorated by HGTV designer Brian Patrick Flynn, this “Urban Oasis” mixes old and new to create what Flynn calls a modern Craftsman look. Outside it looks like a classic Craftsman, but inside it has a 21-foot vaulted ceiling and surprisingly open floorplan for a 1,500-square-foot house.

Flynn loves the woodwork in a traditional Craftsman, “but it’s very heavy. So we got rid of that. And instead we played more with super clean lines,” he says.

The result is a house that could fit any small family – empty nesters, a young couple with children or two young professionals. And that’s the point, says Flynn, since the house will be given away for free later this year as part of the latest “Urban Oasis” sweepstakes.

Valued at $700,000, the contest runs until Nov. 22 (see box for more details).

HGTV says they chose Ann Arbor because it’s a hip, trendy area with the University of Michigan and its vibrant downtown.

In the past, “Urban Oasis” had been apartments in high-rise buildings in cities such as Atlanta, Boston and Chicago.

But last year, the network decided to redefine “urban” and shift more to what HGTV does with its shows, which is remodel homes. Its most recent giveaway was in Asheville, North Carolina.

“What we do on the network is we remodel homes and flip homes so we wanted to make ‘urban’ closer to what we’re actually doing day in and day out on the network and our digital assets,” says Robyn Ulrich, HGTV/DIY’s senior vice president for home promotions and consumer products. “So we said, ‘Let’s flip the whole concept’ and Asheville was our first one.”

For Ann Arbor, HGTV tapped Zuber of Plymouth to create just the right design. Zuber said the network actually reached out to her after finding her on She called it an “awesome opportunity” but the timeline was very tight.

“They hired me just before Thanksgiving...and I finished the construction documents on New Year’s Eve,” Zuber says. “That’a process that would normally take about four months minimum but we did it in a month.”

Zuber says the network gave her specific guidelines: they wanted an updated Craftsman and they wanted two master suites. To do that, Zuber removed the attic and added a second story. She also bumped out the back on the first floor and added about 120 square feet. Dormer windows were installed.

“On the exterior they wanted a more traditional look, but on the interior they wanted a more modern twist,” Zuber says.

Today, Zuber architectural drawings are now art inside the house. They’re framed and hanging on the wall leading up the staircase to the second level.

As far as creating just the right look inside, Flynn, whose mom grew up in the Detroit area, knew immediately he wanted to use green. He’d only visited Michigan once as a teenager, but he remembered how green the landscape was.

“So before I even set foot on the property it was all about green,” says Flynn. “Blue skies, lush green evergreen everywhere.”

But after visiting Ann Arbor, Flynn shifted away from using bold green.

“Ann Arbor seems very sophisticated and scholarly and almost subdued,” says Flynn. “So the bright greens didn’t make sense.”

What Flynn settled on are more subtle, relaxed greens that fit with the historic palette of Craftsman-style homes, but also fit Michigan.

“If you were to actually look at a cart of historical colors for Craftsman houses, a lot of these fall on that,” says Flynn, pointing to a sage green color used in the living room.

Gray-green hues are really hard to get right, Flynn says, because it hinges on how your home is situated.

“Depending on how your house faces, it can either be super warm, and read kind of brown, or it can read super blue,” says Flynn.

The “Urban Oasis” house faces north so “at night it gets more in the brown world, so we knocked this down to a lighter green,” says Flynn.

The entire house was furnished by, down to the tile that covers the soaring, 21-foot fireplace surround in the living room. In keeping with the Craftsman look, Flynn says nothing is flawless. The floral imprint tile has a slightly bumpy look to it.

“In the Arts and Crafts movement, nothing is perfect. Everything has a handmade quality to it,” says Flynn. “...Everything in here has a look as if it was by an artisan. That’s a recurring theme throughout the house.”

The most modern room is the kitchen. The counters are poured concrete. Lou Lou Designs in Whitmore Lake made the custom Roman shades. The appliances are called a black stainless and tie in with the backsplash.

In the two master bedroom suites, every nook is utilized. There’s a desk area for working from home and a built-in seat for extra seating.

“There are extra places for storage everywhere you look,” Flynn says.

Flynn, meanwhile, was very creative with the art, evening using a round throw rug in the upstairs master suite as art on one wall. It’s mounted to foam core.

“The whole trick to art is to vary shape, size, scale and pattern,” says Flynn. “Most of the time when you find art, you’re going to find stuff that’s rectangular or square. Since this room is just a bunch of rectangles with triangles at the top, we need roundness.”

Throughout the decor, there are nods to Michigan and Detroit. A large painting of a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon by artist Celery Jones hangs in the living room.

Outside, a screen porch just off the garage offers another large space for entertaining or watching the big game. The screen porch is separated by a glass garage door, which makes the space feel even bigger.

“Because this is such a college football town, the idea was to have spaces that will allow a lot of people to hang out,” says Flynn. “During game season, this is phenomenal.”

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Twitter: @mfeighan

“Urban Oasis” giveaway

To win the HGTV 2016 “Urban Oasis,” go to Viewers can enter twice a day. The sweepstakes ends Nov. 22. See the website for officials rules.