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Pieces of the past decorate Milford home

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

‘Enter with a happy heart,” reads a small sign attached to the front gate leading to Linda Perry Cordone’s Milford house and garden. Wandering though the lush landscape, perfumed by flowers that are populated with busy bees and butterflies, it’s hard to feel anything but content.

Like too many of its kind, Cordone’s historic home, situated on a corner lot not far from downtown Milford, almost became a casualty of the 1980s. The classic Queen Anne farmhouse, which dates to 1858, was on the demolition list before it was purchased and restored by a young couple for their growing family. “They saved it and deserve the credit,” Linda says modestly.

They may have been responsible for its initial resuscitation, but Cordone, a former teacher, has kept it off life support ever since. She purchased the two-story structure in 1988, when the family outgrew it and moved on. She has spent the past three decades turning it into the charming showplace it is today, sharing it and the serene surrounding gardens on a number of home tours through the years.

The soft-spoken homeowner draws inspiration for her signature style – a combination of salvaged and collected goods as well as a few street finds – from favorite magazines. She enjoys the thrill of the hunt, adding new treasures to her home as she fits. “My style has definitely evolved,” she says. “When I moved in, the house was more country primitive, with stenciled walls and rustic pieces. I lived with that through the 1990s but eventually grew tired of it. I had a big garage sale and got rid of it all and started over.”

The turning point, she says, was the rise of “Shabby Chic,” Rachel Ashwell’s ground-breaking book and store that started a worldwide design movement. When she saw it, Cordone felt an instant recognition and connection to the look’s pale palette and faded elegance. She’s happiest in vintage clothes, collects anything handmade and gives family heirlooms a place of honor.

Linda says her mother was a collector, although she was attracted to different types of antiques. “She liked things pristine, whereas I like things shabby, in fact, the shabbier the better.” Anything showing evidence of its maker or carved with a date makes her heart beat faster, she admits, and she’s always on the hunt, haunting antique shops and estate sales for just-the-right treasure. “I even like things that are broken and have obvious repairs. I like the evidence of making do, and anything with a story behind it,” she explains.

The garden – once overgrown and overlooked – shows the same penchant for the salvaged and saved and was the site of her son’s wedding reception. At the centerpiece is an evolving structure built from recycled architectural items. A little bit of this and that, the charming space that Linda designed includes French doors from a yard sale (“I had them in the garage for a few years,” she admits) and others things she “scrounged” and repurposed. Leaded glass windows came from an antique dealer who used to stop by with a full van and give Linda first dibs.

These days, she enjoys sitting out there with her grandchildren, having tea in the morning or relaxing under the twinkle lights at night. The console table was made from the bottoms of two vintage sewing machines topped with a piece of wood. “I admit I often look at old pieces and find myself thinking, ‘What could I do with that?’ ” she jokes. More often than not, she finds an answer. Not far away is a 1970s Mediterranean-style fixture that once hung in her childhood home that her father repurposed into a garden light. “He gave it to me as a Christmas present,” she says. “He was a welder for NASA and very handy.”

She’s lost count of how many people have stopped to ask her about the three-season garden and the house. Prom and senior photos, wedding and baby portraits have all been photographed in her green oasis. “It’s been my pleasure meeting everyone,” she says. “One lady asked if she could just come and sit. She’d had some bad news and she just wanted to meditate and enjoy the peace and quiet. Things like that make all the work worthwhile.”

She grew up in Lake Orion but has enjoyed learning more about the history of Milford, incorporated in 1832 and named for the mills that once powered the city and its industry. Her house, she says, was built for Edwin Tenny, who owned the town’s woodworking mill. Throughout the house is evidence of Tenny’s hand-planing and wood remnants that Cordone says show he may have used leftover materials from other projects to build the house.

Her house and garden are definitely a labor of love, she says. When asked how many hours her garden takes each week, she is hard pressed to answer. “Sometimes I forget what time it is when I’m out there and time flies by,” she says. “I do admit to being OCD but at the same time, I really enjoy it.”

She’s not afraid to take matters into her own hands – literally. “There are times when I’m out there on a ladder with a chainsaw,” she says.

She loves thinking about the home’s past owners and their lives, feeling herself a part of a caretaking continuum that makes her feel connected to others through the ages. There are indentations in the stairs leading to the second floor. “When I go up them, I think about all of the people who have walked the same spot through the years,” she says. “If I can keep the house going for the people who come behind me, I’m happy.”

And there’s another, more practical reason, she stays put, she admits. “I do hate the thought of the packing,” she says with a laugh.

Secret Sources

Love the look? Linda Cordone recommends a few of her favorite spots.

 ■Odds and Ins, Highland

 ■Home Sweet Tree, Milford

 ■Uka Market, Milford

 ■Ann Arbor Antique Market, Saline

 ■Spanish Moss (online)

 ■Leah’s Closet, Royal Oak (for vintage clothing)