Michigan Design Center hits 40 with ‘Celebrations’

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The Michigan Design Center is officially over the hill — and that’s a good thing.

Forty years after father and son duo Marvin and James Danto first opened the design center in Troy as a go-to spot in the region for high-end furniture, wallcoverings, textiles and more, it has tripled in size. There have been peaks and valleys, but now it’s celebrating a serious high point: turning 40.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in this market,” says president Jim Danto. “We’ve had one of the toughest markets in the country. But we’ve survived and we’re still here.”

To celebrate four decades in business, interior designers from all over Metro Detroit have created 25 vignettes for an appropriately named event “Celebrations Around the World.” It opens to the public Friday for a special open house and presentation (see box for details).

Inspired largely by celebrations held around the globe, there is everything from an Indian Sangeet Celebration with jewel-toned saris (borrowed from designer Tiffany Barnes’ friends) hanging on the wall to a broader vignette that celebrates global diversity.

Many designers infused personal touches into these celebratory vignettes. Jane Synnestvedt of Jane Synnestvedt Interior Design used sea shells from her childhood growing up in the Bahamas in her beachy vignette, which she co-designed along Dennise Vidosh of Green Acres Tree Farm.

Designer Maha Jano of Maha Jano Interiors used vintage rose-hued crystals glasses from her own collection to give a sense of elegance to her dramatic Carnevale di Venice vignette.

“I just wanted something theatrical — something people don’t do every day,” says Jano.

But while many of these displays are party-themed, there are plenty of ideas you can use for your own home, whether you’re celebrating or not.

Julie Byrne of Julie Byrne Interiors created a French-themed vignette inspired by Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France, a celebration of the first harvest. She carefully curated two etageres with books, wine bottles and other accents. Byrne says one of the challenges a lot of her clients have is they simply have too much stuff.

“I’ll go into someone’s house and the first thing I do is take things away,” says Byrne. “They’ll say, ‘What did you do differently?’ I just took things away.”

Here you’ll find a peek at some of the many vignettes on display. And if you’re in a celebratory mood — or simply want to get some ideas for your own home — stop by the design center.

Looking to the next 40 years, Jim Danto says he has no idea what’s ahead. What he does know is that the design center has endurance. “I think we are here to stay,” he says. And that’s something to celebrate.


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An Indian celebration

There was a reason Tiffany Barnes of Beckham-Barnes Interiors chose to do an Indian celebration in the Decoroom showroom (Suite 37). “We wanted to do something colorful,” Barnes said. “I immediately thought of Indian culture because their colors are so vibrant.” And it doesn’t get much colorful than jewel-toned saris, which Barnes borrowed from friends. “It makes it a little bit special,” she says. From there, she pulled small details — beaded place mats from Pier 1, tableware from West Elm, vintage glasses from a Turkish bazaar, and colorful macaroons hand-painted with Henna designs from an Etsy.com artist. “You can find the coolest things on Etsy,” Barnes says. The table and chairs are from RJ Thomas.

A dramatic ‘Carnevale’

Inspired by Carnevale di Venice, the Italian festival known for its distinctive masks, designer Maha Jano mixed crystals and black to create a dramatic vignette in the Robert Allen showroom (Suite 28). Dozens of shimmery opera masks that Jano special-ordered from New York hang on fabric panels, Beacon Hill’s Massimo, enclosing the space. For a pop of color, she used a pink rug from Ghiordes Knot and rose-hued vintage wine glasses from her own collection. “It’s Venice after all,” says Jano. Fresh calla lillies and orchids bring the vignette to life. “I just wanted something theatrical — something people don’t do every day,” says Jano.

A wine cabinet focal point

A handcrafted wine and liquor cabinet by Michael Alessio of Alessio Custom Interiors in Howell was the starting point for Julie Byrne’s French vignette in Decoroom (Suite 37), which pays tribute to France’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France. “You can make it any size, any color, any style,” says Byrne, running her hand over the oak cabinet. Anchoring the vignette is a Ghiordes Knot rug, on which sits a dining table from Keystone. Two garden stools offer extra seating and a custom-made trellis woven with faux grapevines and twinkle lights gives the space a very French feel. Byrne says she wanted to create a space that feels like it could work indoor or outdoors. The Decoroom bookcases, meanwhile, “give the space an edgier industrial appearance and mix up the style with the more modern rug and table,” Byrne says.

A celebration of diversity

With the world seemingly divided in so many ways, friends and designers Margaret Skinner and Ann-Marie Anton wanted to create a vignette that celebrates one of our strengths: our diversity. “It just seems like so much of the world is divided on whatever it may be and we wanted this to be that kind of relaxing space that is accepting of whomever you are,” says Skinner of Margeaux Interiors. The starting point of their very zen space in the RJ Thomas showroom (Suite 82) was a custom-made mural made by the Detroit Wallpaper Co. It features headshots of people of all ethnicities and the word “diversity” spelled out. “We just found a snapshot online and he blew it up for us,” says Anton of It’s Personal Design. Panels made from recycled barn wood by Lars Dundas of the Wood Shop at Far End almost enclose the space and a wood trough with rocks and candles runs along one wall. A gorgeous Currey & Company chandelier from RJ Thomas and textile panels perches above the space.

Let’s go ‘glamping’

Designers Terry Ellis and Meagan Argenti celebrated the great outdoors with their vignette in the RJ Thomas showroom (Suite 90). Inspired by California’s Big Sur and the glamping trend — glamorous camping — a custom-made tent by Jane’s Custom Draperies takes center stage. “The inside of the tent has a very high sense of luxury and glamour and outside it’s a little more rustic,” says Ellis of Room Service Design. The entire vignette consists of warm whites and golds, from the bedding to accents. “It’s a very on trend color scheme right now, whites and golds,” says Ellis. “We’ve tried so hard to move away from silver — which people still love — but golds are just a fresh, new kind of a look.” Ellis and Argenti paid attention to all the details, even creating a fire pit and piping bird sounds into the tent to simulate the outdoors.

An ode to island life

Designer Jane Synnestvedt worked with Dennise Vidosh of Green Acres Tree Farm to mesh the indoors with the outdoors in their fun beach-themed vignette in the Virginia Tile Company showroom (Suite 100) that pays homage to Synnestvedt’s childhood growing up in the Bahamas and time Vidosh spent in Mexico. “We had this commonality of loving the water, sand and the peace that the islands bring,” says Synnestvedt of Jane Synnestvedt Interior Design. Dozens of plants and trees fill the space, including Japanese white pines and a gorgeous fern leaf beech espaliar that Vidosh created. An espalier is a process of training trees, shrubs, or woody vines to grow against a flat surface by pruning and trimming them. Vidosh also pleached two European hornbeam trees to create an arbor. Most of the furniture, including a vintage Indonesian patio set, is from Judy Frankel Antiques. On the table are sea shells from Synnestvedt’s childhood. People think the islands just have palm trees “but it’s not like that,” says Synnestvedt. “You have all these different types of plant elements.”

A Big Easy bash

Visitors to the design center can look down one hallway from the entrance and see a massive oil painting in the Schumacher showroom (Suite 110) that depicts New Orleans’ exuberant Jazz Fest. That’s what designers Laura Zender and Tiffany Kapnick of Birch Monarch Interiors in Ann Arbor wanted. “We wanted to make sure what we did made a big statement,” says Kapnick. It does. The large 6-by-8-foot painting by Alfred Huber, which belongs to Kapnick’s mother, is the focal point of the vignette which has Southern touches throughout. It inspired the color palette with blues, reds and blacks. And flanking the painting on both sides are two custom-made wood panels covered with a fun Schumacher fabric. “The Croswell Opera House in Adrian made those,” says Kapnick who is from Adrian. “We wanted it to feel like a jazz club.”

‘Celebrations Around the World’

Check out 25 designer-created vignettes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Michigan Design Center, 1700 Stutz Drive in Troy. At 1 p.m., Patrick Zaremba, a landscape designer and owner of Zaremba & Company, will present “Accessorize Your Garden.” Tickets are $10 and will benefit the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. Call (248) 649-4772.