Local designers tap into Motor City cool

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

For those who have yet to see the striking vignettes in the new Theodore Alexander showroom at Michigan Design Center in Troy, there’s still time to visit the “showhouse with a showroom” created by area designers that will be on display and open to the public through the end of December. We caught up with some of the interior designers behind the stylish creations featuring Theodore Alexander furniture in the sophisticated setting that has more than one link to the Motor City.

The 4,200-square-foot showroom in Suite 30 is owned and operated by Michael Coyne Design, but it turns out that Coyne, who has a design studio across the hall, isn’t the only local tie to the Theodore Alexander brand.

Born and raised in Detroit, Los-Angeles-based Michael Berman, owner and principal of Michael Berman Limited, created the “Califolio” line for Theodore Alexander. The prestigious designer even appeared at the opening events for the showroom. Though he fell in love with the idea of immersing himself in a completely different environment years ago following a road trip to the West Coast, Berman says his hometown still influences his life today.

In fact, the interior designer credits his Detroit roots for his inspiration, beginning with the auto wrecking and salvage yard in Pontiac owned by his father and uncle that he frequented as a child.

“On Saturdays, I would go there and I became enthralled. From a junkyard of smashed cars, I fell in love with the nuances and the style of automobiles,” says Berman.

Looking back, he says the city was very fertile in the ’60s and ’70s. “It was a creative time to be in Detroit with the art, fashion and music,” he says. “That period of time is so indelible even to this day. When I’m sketching ideas for products, automotive design, especially vintage, is always a part of the inspiration for my work. I have that steel in my blood.”

New direction

As Berman explains, Theodore Alexander is an established brand known for their traditional furniture and their ability to reproduce antiques with incredible quality. With their 21st century designs, comes a completely fresh approach that takes them to the next level with more transitional styles like his “Califolio” collection.

“It’s really clean and textured and kind of organic. There’s a reference to something in the past, but it’s transitional and modern,” he says about his new line that works with a number of different looks, from Zen to Mediterranean.

Berman gets additional inspiration from his travels to intriguing places like Kyoto, Japan.

“My whole philosophy is functional, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing with longevity or shelf life,” Berman says.

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

The vignette by Jill Schumacher and Michelle Mio from Rariden Schumacher Mio in Birmingham was inspired by a dark moody dinner party. In theory, they invite others to join them in this spacious dining room where dinner will be served on a dark chorused oak table surrounded by linen chairs accented with mink pillows. “The wild floral arrangement sets the mood for an evening that is not your ordinary roses and chrysanthemums,” Schumacher says. “Get ready to partake in interesting conversations about art and design and explore cuisine that tickles your palate.”

Unique lighting and faux horn étagères with glass shelves round out the room covered in custom wallpaper from Detroit Wallpaper Co. done in a deep peacock green tone with gold highlights that keeps the substantial area feeling cozy.

Schumacher encourages others to take a risk in their rooms, “You can be simple and get bold by adding color to your walls, doing crazy flowers and putting accessories together en masse or by theme. It’s fun.”

On the cover

Wanting to show how to turn a small space into the perfect conversation area, Donna Connelly, Allied ASID, with Michael Coyne Design, says her cozy concept began with four chairs and grew from there with a console table and soft lighting.

“You can sink into the chairs and put your feet up on the unique ottoman,” she says. “The mirror reflects the bubble light fixture and soft lighting gives my space the warmth it needs.”

One of the goals for the living room vignette by Rita O’Brien with Rita O’Brien Design Group at Michigan Design Center was for the walls to be unique. The teal paint treatment, a two-day process that includes three different shades of blue with a drippy look was a big hit at the opening event where attendees thought it was wallpaper.

For another wow factor, the designer selected over-the-top furniture like the plush sofa and the red chairs that served as the inspiration for the color scheme. “I wanted it to be different and a little less conservative,” says O’Brien who borrowed some of the art from TRA Art Group in Clawson.

The L-shaped sofa accented with custom pillows gives her living room a Hollywood look, along with the dramatic chandelier that hangs above the substantial cocktail table. “Each piece of furniture was huge, but in a small space, it all fit beautifully,” she says.

For his urban loft vignette, Michael Coyne from Michael Coyne Design at Michigan Design Center, which also owns the new Theodore Alexander showroom, anchors the space with a flexible sectional in the middle of the room that can easily be reconfigured as needed. “Generally, when you have a wide open space, pieces need to be multidirectional so they can be moved around in multiple directions to accommodate the space,” he says.

The walls in the loft feature wallpaper with a brick pattern covered in plaster for a more realistic effect that resembles the look of aged brick. Existing hardwood floors were painted white and then distressed with black that gives them a more modern lived-in feel.

An intriguing array of accessories consists of a mix between the new pieces Coyne carries in his design studio and a handful of antiques. All of the items from Theodore Alexander are available for purchase off the floor or through custom orders.

The flexible sectional grounds the loft vignette by Michael Coyne that includes sleeping and living areas reminiscent of a city dwelling.

“It’s an incredible line of furniture with new products that are underrepresented in our area,” says Coyne. “We wanted the rooms to better highlight the products as they work together, so each designer put their own signature on the product. The response so far has been beyond expectation.”

Jane Spencer, owner of Jane Spencer Designs in Bloomfield Hills, created an inviting room to gather with friends and a great bottle of wine. Her timeless interiors, although “colorless,” are visually interesting. “Neutral doesn’t mean boring with thoughtful layering of various neutrals, textures and metal finishes,” she says.

For instance, a low-slung contemporary sofa with upholstered legs and a bench cushion joins a substantial, but sleek two-tone cocktail table and a hand-carved ivory painted buffet.

Textured wallpaper makes the sofa pop while adding a larger-scaled pattern to the room. “Don’t be afraid to mix. Different textures on the upholstered pieces, color changes in the stain/paint finishes and interesting art and accessories will make the room both personal and intriguing,” Spencer says.

Walls painted Benjamin Moore’s “Creekside Green” and natural linen sheers with bronze hardware and contrasting brass rings set the tone for the space by Anne Strickland with Birmingham-based PORT Mfg. & Design where many of the pieces are from Theodore Alexander.

She wanted to pull together elements that hinted at tradition, but in a fresh and current way. “Ultimately, I wanted people to walk into the showroom and feel invited to sit down and enjoy the space,” says Strickland, who was inspired by the concept of a cozy den that’s the smallest, but most lived-in space in a larger home.

Pieces with interesting finishes and materials range from the rich mohair sofa paired with a sleek horn coffee table, to the intricately carved chest, hide mirror and alabaster lamps. As Strickland explains, they are all individual layers that contribute to making the space have a familiar, collected feel.

Charles Dunlap from Dunlap Design Group LLC in Pleasant Ridge teamed up with Jimmy Angell from James Douglas Interiors in Birmingham to collaborate on three vignettes that consist of living, sleeping and working spaces with a grand chaise lounge connecting all three.

A custom fireplace by Richard Gage anchors the living area where Jimmy Angell framed laser-cut veneer panels, while Dunlap displayed original prints from Paris in a dynamic way. “We think it’s the artwork and the carefully selected accessories that add spice and speak to one’s aesthetic,” Dunlap says.

As part of their “organic modern” approach, they wanted the walls to be clean and white for a gallery-like feel with punches of color and pattern. Antiqued mirrored panels with attached sconces flank the steel fireplace. “The mirrors not only add a lot of depth (sometimes vignettes can look so ‘flat’), but also reflect the graphic wallpaper from the sleeping area. This visually connects the spaces,” Dunlap says.

Many of their pieces are from the Michael Berman Collection. “There is so much understated and finely crafted detail in the collection, we’re still noticing things,” adds Dunlap. “It’s about textural contrast.”

Contrasting textures and shapes include the high-gloss lacquered bedside tables that mix with fabrics ranging from luxurious velvets to rough cottons. “We wanted the spaces to have a clean, edited Zen-like quality,” says Dunlap. “In the end, we believe everything in the space feels ‘purposefully’ placed.”

In the sleeping space by Charles Dunlap and Jimmy Angell, a focal wall features a graphic wallcovering that Dunlap says really draws the eye in and creates an abstract backdrop to an otherwise calm, Zen-like space. “Because of the large scale of the wallpaper, we were able to hang some pretty big pendant lights on each side of the bed…so much more interesting than a couple of lamps,” he adds.