Northville family gets own colorful, personalized look

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Struck by the key features of the contemporary colonial, like the airy catwalk and the decorative front door, Lisa Aragon and her husband Eduard were sold on their house in Northville, but there was still something missing. “We wanted to put our fingerprint on it and make it feel like home,” says Lisa, who enlisted the help of Dan Davis Design after an online search.

What impressed her about the Ferndale-based firm owned by Dan Davis and Paul Johnson was the presentation of different portfolios on the Michigan Design Center and Houzz websites, and she could tell by the photos that they sought to understand the needs of their clients. “We wanted something that would reflect us,” says Lisa. “It was important to me for the design to match our lifestyle. We have a very busy family with lots of activity, and with our daughter and pets, it had to be easy to keep up with.”

Fresh perspective

Along an expansive wall in the family room of the 3,900-square-foot residence, custom bookshelves display a mix of new and existing pieces while housing a TV and incorporating plenty of cabinets for concealed storage. This fulfills Lisa’s wish for their daughter to be able to play nearby without visual clutter afterward.

“It integrates all of our lives that way,” she says.

Though Lisa had a lot of creative input, she credits her librarian friend with the concept of the library ladder. “It’s interesting and functional,” she says. Distinctive Custom Furniture in Ferndale built the bookcase, the ladder and the wainscoting in the dining room that were all designed by Davis and Johnson.

As Davis explains, the color palettes for each room began with the rugs. Sofas covered in neutral upholstery pop with an artistic array of pillows while a cranberry-colored chair and ottoman from Robert Allen sit beside a metal garden stool. The updated fireplace features stacked stone.

The design process began with some homework for Lisa who was asked to note her likes and dislikes in magazines. “It was an interesting exercise,” she says. “Dan came back to me and said there was no theme or pattern. I am very eclectic in my taste.”

Since becoming a mom, she has been more open to bright colors inspired by the whimsical patterns from Matilda Jane Clothing that her daughter wore.

So, the designers were determined to perk up her palette and give her some versatility, too. In case she ever gets tired of something in the future, there will be a minimum amount of change required to get a fresh look.

Besides trying to understand their clients’ personal style and lifestyle, Davis and Johnson also like to push them out of their comfort zone. “You shouldn’t feel too comfortable. Then you get bored with it,” Johnson says.

Casual comfort

The book page art along the ledge in the dining room shows a bit of the whimsy that Lisa likes, says Davis. She had a specific vision for the space that included the craftsman-style wainscoting. “I love spending time in that room,” says Lisa, who often has friends over for dinner.

Warm gray walls surround the distinctive contents like the dining table and chairs, chandelier and rug that were chosen for the space. All of the lighting in the home is new. “Each fixture is like a piece of art,” Davis says.

Though most of the rugs in the home were recent purchases from Ghiordes Knot at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, Lisa wasn’t ready to part with the one in the front room because it was an investment. She also wanted to incorporate the red chest, the paneled mirror and the leather chair that remain. “They were able to pull it all together with a fresh look,” she says.

“It’s a good example of how to take a traditional rug and make it more contemporary,” says Johnson.

Though the architectural light fixture above is nothing like the original idea Lisa had in mind, it has become one of her favorites. “It looks like a lotus,” says Davis. “It’s very hard to find a fixture that has such a short drop and has that much impact.”

Other unique details include a decorative birdcage positioned between a pair of colorful upholstered chairs. The pairing of red and turquoise in the room delivers a winning combination. Pieces of rooster art in this space and beyond pay tribute to Lisa’s late mother who favored them in her décor.

An eye-catching salon-style grouping in the hallway combines family photos with three-dimensional objects and original art. Some of the paintings, like the one shown here, came from Key West where Davis scouted them in advance for Lisa who was going there later. “I think the wall plays to her personality a lot. It’s playful; it’s a lot of fun,” he says.

All together now

Custom draperies and wood flooring are among the many updates made to the home.

Significant improvements were also made to the spacious master bedroom that pairs rough wood with crystal light fixtures for a striking effect. A new fireplace surround that features arabesque tiles complements other upgrades, like the wood accent wall, built-in bookshelves, hanging light fixtures, ceiling fan and rugs. A shapely chaise beckons by the window while the convenient floating nightstands conceived by the designers were made by a friend.

With a few exceptions, Lisa tackled the lower level on her own. The cozy gathering area is filled with furniture from their former home along with new additions like the sliding barn doors. The designers helped with the grasscloth wallpaper and the art placement.

Keeping some existing pieces can be an advantage. In fact, Davis says he’d much rather face a challenge than a blank slate. And Johnson says, “It’s a more interesting design project when there are fixed elements that you have to work around.”

Now the home fits the family that lives there. “It had none of her personality before,” says Johnson of the rooms they now describe as transitional, eclectic and colorful. “There’s lots of color in the house and it has a very warm feel. You feel comfortable when you walk in,” Davis adds.

Because Lisa had her own ideas from the start, the project was a team effort. “Better design comes out of collaboration,” Johnson says. A special bond can be an added bonus. “I found them online and yet we forged this friendship,” says Lisa. “We roll with laughter regularly.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at