A historic home in Indian Village for the holidays
Shortly after Jake Whitman and partner Matthew Godlewski bought their new home in Detroit’s beloved Indian Village in the summer of 2017, they didn’t rush out to buy a new sofa or rug. Instead, one of the first things they bought was a photo of the colonial’s original owner, Judge Alexis Angell, for whom the house was designed and built in 1912.
“We had a photo of him that we found online framed,” said Whitman, who found the picture through the University of Michigan's archives. “We also have a copy of his official portrait — the original is stored at the Federal Courthouse.”
History has played a key role in not just decorating Whitman’s and Godlewski’s home, but bringing it back to life. They’ve combed through census records, ancestry websites and other documents to find previous owners and details and photos of the house, which was designed by architect William Stratton, to maintain its historic integrity.
“We wanted to be very careful to protect the history and the architect’s original vision,” said Whitman.
All their hard work – and that of previous owners; the couple is the 11th set of owners of the home – will be on display Dec. 7 and Dec. 9 as part of the Indian Village Holiday Home Walk. The preview gala is on Dec. 7 and the walk is on Dec. 9 (see box for details). All proceeds benefit the Artelia Brown Court Scholarship fund for needy students.
The 7,000-square-foot house has eight bedrooms, four bedrooms and two half baths. Pewabic tile is woven throughout the design – Stratton married Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry in 1918 – including five Pewabic fireplaces. Whitman said decorating the house has been about striking the right balance.
“Our goal has been if the original owner were to walk in, he wouldn’t be horrified,” he said. “But we also don’t want it to be Grandma’s house with doilies everywhere.”
Tracing their home’s history has connected them with not only previous owners, but also Judge Angell’s granddaughter, who now lives in Birmingham.
“She realized after looking at some old photos we had of the house after it was completed in 1913 that she still owns several pieces of furniture that were once in the house,” said Whitman.
Drawn to Indian Village
Relocating to Detroit for work from Washington D.C. and New York, Whitman and Godlewski, who also have a place in northern Michigan, thought they wanted to buy a condo in downtown Detroit. But they changed their minds after attending the Indian Village summer home tour.
“We were both drawn to Indian Village because of our love for history,” Whitman said. “...We looked at three or four before finding this one and instantly falling in love with it.”
Luckily, the house’s hardest days were behind it. Previous owners Vince and Teresa Muniga, who bought the house in the early '80s, spent years bringing the house back from its dilapidated condition. They stripped decades of paint off walls, sanded trim and caulked windows. They bought painting and cleaning supplies by the gallon.
“That first summer I stripped every outside window of 80 years of paint and old glazing compound to bare wood and re-glazed all exterior windows,” said Vince. “This required 24 cans of glazing compound.”
By the time, Whitman and Godlewski, who works in the auto industry, bought the house, they were able to focus on the two areas that needed the most attention: the kitchen and the third floor. They removed two walls to open the kitchen and a rotten floor. They also did extensive work to the butler's pantry.
“The butler’s pantry was in rough shape,” said Whitman. “Broomsticks were being used to hold up the upper cabinets, and the countertop was inexpensive Formica.”
The third floor, meanwhile, has been converted into into a welcoming TV area with plaid carpeting, another spare bedroom and a gutted bathroom.
To decorate the house, the couple worked with friend Deborah Slobin, owner of Keego Harbor’s Le Shoppe Too. Slobin helped them create a mix of mid-century and antique pieces. They also tapped the expertise of a friend in Chicago, John Blazey, who isn’t a designer but whose style they really love.
The couple used Farrow & Ball paints and wallpaper throughout the house. The dining room features one of the boldest prints, Farrow & Ball’s Helleborus.
“We went with the big print because we loved the look but it also felt true to the era of the house,” said Whitman. “Plus we like to entertain so we wanted a room that’s bold. You’ll see the color carries through to the living room.”
Woven throughout the decor, meanwhile, are fitting historic accents, from the framed photos of Angell to vintage Native American pieces that pay homage to the neighborhood and street.
Muniga said it’s wonderful what Whitman and Godlewski have done with his former home, “taking it to the next step.”
“Both have the same vision and determination that my wife and I had 37 years ago to restore this home and make (it) great again in the manner that was originally planned and built by Alexis Caswell Angell,” he said.
Whitman and Godlewski have found more than an old, but new to them, home. In some ways, they’ve found a calling.
“We realized our passion was in caring for an old home,” said Whitman.
Indian Village Holiday Home Tour
- Preview gala at 7 p.m. Dec. 7 includes first glimpse of four of the five homes on this year's tour; progressive dinner; and open bar. Tickets are $125.
- Holiday Tour from 1-4 p.m. Dec. 9; tours will leave promptly every half hour from Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran Church at 2411 Iroquois Avenue. Tickets are $40.
- Go to http://www.historicindianvillage.org/holiday-home-tour-2/.