‘Leisure Seeker’ author finds inspiration in bungalow

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

James Joyce wrote in bed, reports say, while it’s said that John Steinbeck kept 12 perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk for luck. Edgar Allen Poe could apparently write only if his tabby Catterina was nearby.

Ferndale-based Michael Zadoorian, however, pens his novels — including “The Leisure Seeker,” now a film playing nationwide, at a small mid-century modern desk he picked up at an estate sale, on a chair salvaged from Wayne State’s now-demolished Mackenzie Hall, surrounded by beloved books and postcard-size photos of literary and musical heroes.

Walk through his 1930s-era 975-square-foot house and it’s possible to trace his personal history, that of Detroit and the wider world he grew up in through his kitschy collections and retro-influenced decor. “I don’t mind a little patina,” he admits. “If something makes me happy, I’ll buy it. Collecting makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger.”

Zadoorian has been in the spotlight lately for his 2009 book, which was adapted into a film starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. The longtime Campbell Ewald copywriter and Wayne State grad has written two other novels, both from the small desk in his study, part of the two-bedroom home he shares with his wife, Rita Simmons, and their three cats, Cheeto, Junebug and Pickles. His latest effort, “Beautiful Music,” debuts next month (readings and movie information can be found on his website,

The couple walked by the house — which they suspect may have been a kit house sold by a prominent catalog company such as Sears or Montgomery Ward — for years while living in a townhouse nearby. One day, it was for sale and soon after, it was theirs.

They bought it in 1996. Luckily for them, Zadoorian says, the previous owner had done much of the serious renovation projects after they purchased it from the original owners. The couple had only to update the basement and make minor cosmetic changes. “We basically just painted and moved in our stuff,” he explains.

Part of the reason they had so little work to do was because they appreciated their home’s vintage interior instead of replacing it. The bathroom still sports its original pink and green tile as well as a fun and funky beaded curtain. The kitchen has white tile with red accents as well as 1950s wood cabinets, something Zadoorian thinks may have replaced the 1930s modular metal ones. “To be honest, I wish we still had those,” he says, a bit wistfully.

Collections feature prominently both in Zadoorian’s novels — especially 2000’s “Second Hand,” set in a Detroit junk shop — and in his decor. The couple decorated the rest of the house with a colorful palette and items they’ve amassed from family, estate and garage sale and local thrift and antique shops. The mid-century Heywood-Wakefield kitchen table is a favorite, as are the surrounding “dog-bone” chairs, named for the shape of the chair back.

Zadoorian’s father was an industrial photographer for Detroit Edison (“All Electric Kitchens!”) and examples of his work can be seen throughout the house, but he credits his mother for his sense of style and interest in collecting. She worked at downtown Hudson’s and liked Danish Modern, he says.

“She had really good taste,” he says of the house he grew up in on Detroit’s northwest side, near Fenkell and Evergreen. “I probably got the bug from her.” Her owl collection, in the same cheerful orange, green and yellow palette he now leans to in his own home, holds a place of honor over his living room fireplace. Bright colors can be found throughout the house. “I like lots of color,” the author says. “It just makes me happy.”

So do his other displays, including the funky Tikis beneath the living room television and on a basement shelf (the basement Tikis are the second-string ones, he says.) The Tikis, in fact, have been a longtime obsession and figure in his 2009 short-story collection, “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit.” He still dreams of acquiring a cauldron-shaped cup used to serve drinks at the short-lived Mauna Loa, a Polynesian-themed restaurant that once stood where the St. Regis is now.

The basement is fondly known as “The Lodge,” he says, because of its cool 1950s knotty pine paneling and nostalgic bar. “We already loved the house but the basement sealed the deal,” he says. “We’ve had some great parties here.” They even shot a Michigan Lottery commercial there.

While he obviously prefers older things, something new may be joining the home’s decor soon. Zadoorian was invited to the film premiere of “The Leisure Seeker,” where he spent some time in the Green Room with Helen Mirren. “Even saying that seems so strange,” the writer admits of the attention the film has brought. “So much of it has felt really surreal.”

Surreal or not, he’s considering seeking out one of the international posters from “The Leisure Seeker” as a souvenir and adding it to the study. “I would love to get a Chinese one,” he admits. “They’re pretty cool.”