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Transplanted couple falls in love with University District house

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Vintage black-and-white photos and sepia-toned portraits line the stairway leading to the second floor in Miranda Steinhauser and Brandon Suman’s 1927 Tudor Revival-style home. Surprisingly, the images are of people the couple has never met.

The home of Miranda Steinhauser at 17405 Wildemere Street in the University District in Detroit, MI on October 17, 2018.

Most depict Ward Seeley and his wife, Marion, original owners of the couple’s restored house in Detroit's historic University District. The house was built for Seeley, a prominent doctor who ran the maternity ward at Harper Hospital. Honoring the couple and the house’s rich history is important to the new owners, both transplants from Ohio.  

The Seeleys, who lived in the house into the early 1950s, wouldn’t have recognized the house in 2016 when Steinhauser and Suman bought it. The years between hadn’t been kind. A later owner raised six children in the house but third-floor pipes burst after she moved into assisted living and the house was empty, ruining approximately ¼ of the house’s 3,600 square feet of living space, including the kitchen and an upstairs bedroom. In a strange twist of fate, one of those children grew up to be Miranda’s college professor, who recommended the couple consider the house when Miranda took a job as an automotive designer at General Motors and mentioned she was looking for a house in the city.

By then, they had attended many open houses and looked unsuccessfully at a variety of residences on the market, none of which were either in their price range or had been renovated to their liking. They had narrowed the search to Boston-Edison, Sherwood Forest, East English Village and the University District before the professor’s chance email pointed them toward the home near the University of Detroit Mercy.

While some potential owners looked at the rooms that had been gutted due to the burst pipes and saw a disaster, Steinhauser and Suman saw opportunity – to start from scratch, to get their hands dirty, to make the house into what they knew it could be once again. “There was so much potential and so much character,” Miranda says.

The couple closed on election day in 2016 and spent the next year renovating before moving in. Miranda chronicled the sometimes painful process on her blog, Between 6 and 7, a nod to the house’s west side location. In it she details their efforts to bring the historic house back to life, from removing shag carpeting and flocked wallpaper to restoring radiators. “We now know more than we ever wanted to about steam heat,” she jokes.

“The house had been through a lot,” she says of its state when they purchased it. Their goal?  Keep what original details and materials they could but update the house for contemporary living. “Historic Modern,” is what they were going for, Miranda says.

That included opening up the floor plan by combining small spaces and removing walls, removing the former maid’s staircase to make room for a spacious contemporary kitchen and eliminating a wall between the library and the dining room to create a lounge. Upstairs, they created a large master bath and closet out of a former Jack-and-Jill bath and a small bedroom and updated other rooms with fresh paint. Miranda calls their decorating “transitional,” adding that they like to mix and “didn’t want to commit to just one style.”  

They rave about their contractors, Calvin and Christian Garfield of Maxwell Construction, old house experts they found after hearing a speech by Amy Haimerl, who had restored a house in Indian Village. While the contractors handled the complicated construction, the couple did as much as they could themselves. “Just about everything that didn’t require a permit we had a hand in,” Brandon adds. “DIY is just code for my arms feel like they’re falling off.”

That includes clearing the house of the former owner’s furnishings, which came with the house. Most of it wasn’t salvageable, they say. “It took 9 people, 300 man hours and four dumpsters to empty the house of its contents,” Miranda recounts.

The couple recently shared the house and its transformation on the University District home tour, where comments were overwhelmingly positive. “It had sat empty for 10 years, so the neighbors were really happy to see us invest in it,” says Brandon. They love their neighborhood and would like to be a resource for other people who are considering restoring a house in the city.

“We hang out with our neighbors three times a week,” Miranda says. “We’re pretty bought in at this point. We love the city’s culture, its community and its grit. We wanted to be part of the action, not watch from the sidelines.”  They recently started renting a room on Airbnb and have already hosted guests from as far away as Russia.

“We enjoy being ambassadors and having a big enough home to have people come and visit us seemed like the best way to spread our love of the city,” Miranda says.