A Texas heart, a Detroit home

Maureen Feighan, The Detroit News

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the contractor's name.

Texan Dottie Adair is candid about her Detroit knowledge before she moved here in early 2014. She could barely spell it, let alone say where exactly it was in Michigan, Adair admits.

Adair was newly widowed and looking for something new to do with her life – she and her husband had previously run an oil and gas pipeline construction company that they sold before his death – when she took a cruise with friends down the St. Lawrence seaway. On it, she befriended a Detroit-area couple. Talking about the city and its challenges, “a seed was planted,” says Adair. That seed was Detroit.

Soon, the longtime businesswoman who’d never visited Detroit before wasn’t just looking at residential real estate properties in the city, she was buying them.

Then Adair, 63, went a step further. She decided she wanted to live there, too.

“I was spending 10 days to two weeks every month in a hotel so I thought, ‘I’m going to buy me a house,’” says Adair, who still owns a condo in Dallas, but spends the majority of her time in Detroit. “...I thought, ‘If I’m going to invest in Detroit, I’m going to live in Detroit.”

Today, Adair lives in a 1922 Georgian Colonial in the city’s Boston-Edison neighborhood, from which she manages a couple handfuls of investment homes in the city. Her 4,000 square foot house is one of five historically significant homes that will be featured on the neighborhood’s sold-out Holiday Home Tour Dec. 11.

For a home that’s nearly 100 years old, it feels surprisingly modern in its decor. Adair worked with interior designer Kathleen McGovern of Kathleen McGovern Studio of Interior Design in Grosse Pointe Park to create a comfortable but modern look, reupholstering chairs, mixing old pieces from her ranch in Texas with new ones and enhancing architectural features.

“I didn’t want to take it back (the decor) all the way back (to the early 20th century),” says Adair. “But I wanted it to be comfortable. And I wanted it to complement the house.”

Starting point

The starting point for the decor was a pair of wooden angel wings that Adair bought from a design boutique in Plano, Texas. On the aged wings hangs a cross, part of a large cross collection Adair has.

“That’s just very spiritual to me,” says Adair. “I said, ‘Look at these colors. This is is what I like. This is what I am.’ The closer you get, there’s more depth.”

McGovern says creating a modern look in an older home such as Adair’s is about not competing with the architecture.

“It may be a difficult concept to embrace if you are a traditionalist, but so worth it if you have great architectural detail to emphasize,” says McGovern. “Pairing modern style with traditional architecture gives you a great payoff.”

McGovern worked with Adair on most of the first floor, including the formal living room, dining room, breakfast nook and TV room. And while each room is distinct, they all work together to create a cohesive look.

Adair says she didn’t remodel her five bedroom home so much as she “re-autographed” it: “I wanted it to have my name on it.”

Texas to Detroit

Born and raised in Houston, Adair spent about 40 years in the Coastal Bend area, about 100 miles south of San Antonio, where she and Jimmy lived on a 50-acre ranch (which is considered small by Texas standards).

“I was used to an open concept ranch house before they called it open concept,” says Adair.

Still, she was smitten the first time she saw her future home in Boston-Edison. It was empty at the time.

“I looked through the window and fell in love immediately,” she says.

But the house, with its “little pockets,” posed design challenges, says Adair. She found McGovern on Houzz.com.

McGovern says it’s always a challenge to incorporate existing furniture into a new design plan, but Adair “embraced the new design plan.”

“The reality was that some (existing) pieces just didn’t work,” McGovern says.

First floor

A long hallway serves as the main artery of the first floor, off which flows the the dining room on one side, formal living room on the other and an adorable breakfast nook straight ahead.

A mahogany staircase leads to the second level. Adair considered stripping the railing to its natural wood look but decided to leave the spindles painted white and just strip the railing.

In the formal living room, a once-turquoise fireplace surround is now white. It’s the focal point of the room, but the two curved Thayer Coggin sofas that flank it complement it perfectly.

“I like conversation so that allowed that to happen,” says Adair.

The dining room, meanwhile, is a neutral mix of traditional and transitional. Adair removed wood trim and foil wallpaper to lighten up the space. An original plaster molding along the ceiling is still intact, though a painter stained it slightly to show off its detail.

The 72-square-foot breakfast nook and nearby TV room are two of the coziest rooms in the house. The breakfast nook, which was once an aqua hue, now features a built-in banquette, new French doors and custom window treatments.

Without natural light in the breakfast nook, McGovern says they decided to make it a cozy dining space using a toile fabric by Thibaut’s Rittenhouse.

“We loved the warmth of this toile ... the way it relates to the adjacent rooms,” she says.

The lining of a Burberry trench coat, meanwhile, inspired the custom brown plaid wallpaper by Detroit Wallpaper Company in the TV room. Plaid wallpaper has to be very carefully installed because if it’s not just right “the plaid can make you crazy,” says Adair.

Upstairs, Adair converted one of her five bedrooms into a large walk-in closet and worked with Renaissance Restorations in Birmingham to completely redo two of the bathrooms.

Moving to Detroit from sunny Texas has required some adjustments. Adair shoveled snow for the first time shortly after moving to the city in early 2014. And she just recently found a new church. She used to stream her pastor’s sermons every Sunday from Texas.

But now Detroit isn’t just a place to visit or run a business. It’s home.

“I just felt like I may not be able to do a whole lot but if everybody just a little bit, it’s like the statement when the tide rises in the harbor, even the smallest boat rises.’ So that was my venture,” says Adair.


(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan