Nature takes center stage around Bloomfield Hills 'TreeHaus'

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Shane Pliska doesn’t need art or sculptures to bring his unique Bloomfield Hills home to life. He has the ultimate canvas: nature.

Perched on a wooded, sloping lot, his 1956 home is surrounded by trees on three sides. Floor-to-ceiling windows let him watch Michigan’s constantly changing landscape year-round. 

“There are thousands of shades of green out there,” said Pliska, standing on a newly-installed path that leads to a pond adjacent to his property. As he talks, a family of swans floats by.

Pliska’s 2,000-square-foot home -- which has been featured in Dwell magazine and the Wall Street Journal -- has come an incredibly long way in the last five years since it was listed as a tear-down on a real estate listing. Pliska did the opposite, lovingly restoring the former summer cottage piece-by-piece. Friends call the house “TreeHaus.”

His newest additions include installing 50 steps to create the pathway down to the pond, a deck and a “council circle” made with flagstone, wood benches and a limestone retaining wall. Even auto pioneer Edsel Ford had a council circle – a fancy name for a fire circle – at his former home in Maine, now owned by Martha Stewart.

Shane Pliska of Bloomfield Hills has a name for his unique home perched among the trees: TreeHaus.

“What does it say that I put in a council circle before I built a garage?” laughs Pliska, president of Planterra, an interior landscaping firm and event space in West Bloomfield.

It says a lot but it’s not surprising for Pliska, who strongly believes in creating balance in one’s space and respecting nature. 

That means he doesn’t use chemicals inside or outside his home unless absolutely necessary (such as weed killer for poison ivy). And he aims to keep the organic, untamed approach to his backyard, filled with oaks, hickories and maples.

“People have asked why we don’t clear out more of the trees,” said Pliska who shares the house with his partner Karl Lievense. 

But Pliska is content with the wooded lot: “I really enjoy seeing the seasons change.”

Mies inspired

Pliska is a plant person to the core. His family founded Planterra in 1973.

No wonder plants are woven throughout the decor of his home. Huge Elephant Ear plants form a perimeter around the outside deck. More plants add texture throughout his living room.

But it took tremendous work just to make the house livable again. After buying the three-bedroom house in 2013, Pliska worked with Birmingham architects Ron & Roman LLC and completely overhauled the kitchen and bathroom. A new roof was added and the floors were redone. The seals around the windows were broken so all of the glass had to be replaced. 

Before renovations, the seals around all the windows were broken so owner Shane Pliska had to have all the glass replaced.

“It was in really bad shape,” Pliska said. 

The house was originally built as a summer cottage for Detroiter Leo Calhoun and his family. But the Calhouns quickly realized that a home with no interior walls wasn’t ideal for a family with three children so they sold the house after three years.

And while there was speculation for a bit that the house may have been designed by iconic architect Mies van der Rohe, it wasn’t. It was the work of Connecticut-based architect Edwin William de Cossy. 

A morning coffee nook near the master bedroom takes in the landscape.

Curious about his home’s story, Pliska actually met de Cossy, who is still alive, about five years ago. And when he asked the architect if he had been inspired in his design by van der Rohe, “he said ‘Absolutely not,’” Pliska said.

De Cossy more likely was influenced by architect Paul Rudolph, an American architect with a modern aesthetic for whom de Cossy had worked. Rudolph is known for designing many iconic buildings and homes in the 1950s in Sarasota, Florida – a period referred to as the Sarasota School of Architecture that emerged after World War II. It featured open-plan structures with large planes of glass to allow in natural light and ventilation.

Less is more

As for the decor of the house, Pliska takes a less is more approach. Throughout the house are textiles, pillows and other treasures, many of which he and Lievense have collected during their many travels.

Some pieces are from estate sales. A modern piece of art from the 1970s hangs above the fireplace.

The reality is you don’t need many accents in a house where nature is the star.

“It comes back down to the nature,” said Pliska. “This home would not be a livable space if it weren’t on a site that was surrounded by nature.”

Twitter: @mfeighan