Charles T. Fisher mansion goes from drab to dreamy for Designers' Show House

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Just inside the newly transformed Charles T. Fisher mansion in Detroit’s historic Boston-Edison District, a massive sparkling gold chandelier glimmers in the two-story foyer. It’s made from automobile sprockets, a fitting material for the original home of a man who helped start the Fisher Body Co. and put the world on wheels.

The library inside the Fisher mansion.

Read More: Charles T. Fisher mansion to open doors as show house

The Sprocket Chandelier is a new addition to the foyer but nearby is an item that is anything but: a pipe organ, a nearly original feature of the house, installed for entertaining just a year after Fisher and his wife, Sarah, moved there in 1922. 

The chandelier and organ reflect two features from two different eras, now blended together. Both are part of the newest chapter for this iconic 18,000-square-foot home, the largest in Boston-Edison, after a dramatic makeover for the Junior League of Detroit’s 2018 Designers’ Show House. It opens Saturday to the public and runs through Oct. 7.

Roughly 40 interior designers from across the country, including many from the Detroit area, were tapped by the Junior League to transform 44 district spaces in this historic home.

From a “queen” inspired library to a lower level ballroom transformed into a chic salon, every space now offers design ideas and inspiration for visitors to use in their own homes.

“I think there’s something for everyone in the house from a design perspective,” said show house co-chair Liana Dabir. “And I think they’ll have a wonderful example of how to take a beautiful, historic, landmark home and make it livable for a young and modern family.”

The mansion, now owned by actor Hill Harper who agreed to let the Junior League host the show house there, also went through major structural renovations, including a new kitchen, floors and a completely overhauled second floor. Hill worked with architect Chandra Moore of Detroit’s coG Studio.

And while there were certainly hiccups along the way— some designers didn’t get into their spaces to work until a week ago — the results seem to be worth it.

“So many people brought their hearts to this project,” said Harper.

The show house is expected to draw as many 10,000 people and marks the first time in the league’s history it’s been held in a Detroit home. Its previous 21 show houses have all been in the Grosse Pointes.

“Now is the time to do it” in Detroit, said show house co-chair Cynthia Menna. “With the evolution of the city and all the things going on, it’s such a hip, happening place.”

The show house also has a national media sponsor for the first time, Aspire Design and Home Magazine, that really wanted to spotlight a home in Detroit. Several other companies sponsored materials, including Ciot, Kohler, Benjamin Moore and Scavolini Store Detroit.

Aspire’s publisher, Steve Mandel, said they’ve done many show houses, but nothing like the Fisher mansion.

“This is absolutely amazing,” he said. 

For many designers, the challenge was respecting the mansion’s architectural integrity and history while giving it a modern look. Many didn’t shy away from using bold colors, such as blue, green, even black.

Birmingham interior designer Corey Damen Jenkins brought the living room to life with modern furniture, case goods from Theodore Alexander, and a navy and white geometric rug from Stark.

“My position is this: The living room’s architecture tells a story already,” said Jenkins. “So my job was not to erase and rewrite what had been done before, but rather to simply add a new chapter for the 21st century.”

And this latest chapter is a good one. 

Harper, who will likely keep the first level for entertaining and use the second as his private living space, thinks the renovation will go down as a great project in the city of Detroit once it’s fully completed. And he hopes it will inspire more homeowners in the city to do the same.

“This is Detroit’s White House,” he said.

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Twitter: @mfeighan

2018 JLD's Designers' Show House

  • Sept. 15-Oct. 7.
  • Advance tickets are $35 if purchased through 9/14; $40 at the door.
  • Proceeds support Junior League of Detroit's community projects and programs, including Project EAT to promote health eating.
  • Go to for hours and other events.