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Few people would buy a house without seeing the inside. But then Arya Afrakhteh isn’t exactly your average homeowner.

The longtime Birmingham resident, trained engineer and owner of Brandywine Construction and Management had lived in other nearby houses – including another one on Quarton Lake and one he built downtown -- when he heard in November of 2017 that his current lakefront house was for sale. Unfortunately, he was out of the country.

That didn’t stop him from making an offer.

“Yes, I bought it sight unseen,” he admits of the 3,200-square-foot, Shingle-style house, which will be on the Michigan Design Center’s upcoming Designers' Own Homes Tour on Sept. 21 (details below).  “We definitely bought it for the location. I knew what the location had to offer and what I could do with it once it was mine.” 

Built about 20 years ago, the old house had replaced an even earlier one.  “It didn’t look anything like this when I bought it,” he explained during a recent tour, adding that it was a more traditional style and layout, with smaller windows throughout as well as an unusual third-floor cupola. “It had a bit of a cruise ship look."

Inside, the floor plan was choppy, with lots of angles, says interior designer Katie Rodriguez of Katie Rodriguez Design, who Afrakhteh and his wife, Sohaila, brought in to help with the project. “There were a lot of walls, so everything was very compartmentalized,” she remembers. 

The team’s goal in renovating the house was simple, Rodriguez says. “It was definitely to maximize the view,” she explains. With the Afrakhtehs youngest child having just left for college, it also qualified as their “empty nest house,” the builder confirms.

As such, it reflected their changing priorities, something that can be clearly be seen in the home’s layout and its interiors, he says. “There’s no formal living room or dining room… we wanted to make the most of the view and for the interiors and layout to be very comfortable and casual, with one big open area. Basically, all we kept of the old house was the shell.”

Not that the openness was easily achieved. “It was a challenge,” he points out, adding that they basically gutted the house and kept the shell. Because the original residence included heavy support beams in the ceiling and structural columns, the homeowners consulted with two architects – Kevin Akey of AZD Associates and Joseph Mosey of Joseph Mosey Architecture – on the renovation.

Other changes included playing musical chairs with some of the rooms, moving the kitchen to a new location along the outside wall and opening it to the adjacent main living area that now looks out over the lake.

“We wanted the house to be timeless, not trendy, and we didn’t want it to get old in five years,” the builder says.  

The couple’s earlier homes had been more traditional, the designer points out, adding that walnut floors and cabinetry were chosen to warm up the new home’s more modern interior and keep it from feeling stark. “Their earlier homes had a lot of warmth, so the walnut was a nod to that and helped it feel like less of a change. This house has been a beautiful transition.”

A highlight is the innovative walnut panel that defines the entryway, appearing as a floating wall on one side and hiding a built-in refrigerator on the other. “It gives you something to look at but doesn’t distract,” Afrakhteh explains. The material blends well with the home’s white marble, as seen in the kitchen’s waterfall island and countertops.

The clean lines continue throughout the rest of the space. “I tried to get away from things like crown molding and wainscoting,” the homeowner explains. “I wanted clean lines but still elegant.”

Rodriguez worked hard to translate that philosophy into the design, which is purposely simple. “The house has a modern classic and tailored point of view, and that was really intentional,” she says.  “The goal is to create a clutter-free space and a clutter -free mind so you can move on to better things.”

Three floors of vertical living space include the first floor open kitchen and living area, three upstairs bedrooms with a large master suite, Jack and Jill bath and nearby laundry room, and a third floor home office. The 1,650-square-foot lower level has a large seating area with a fireplace, a bar/kitchen, a large wine room and a guest suite.

Extending the porch to take in the lake views was also important. “The old patio was a small space,” the builder says. “We wanted to extend it as far as we could.”

The couple enjoys watching both the wildlife and the people who frequent the lake. “We get a lot of weddings and prom photos, there’s even a yoga class… it’s really a nice place to sit and relax,” he says of the new waterfront patio.

They moved in last spring, so are looking forward to seeing the changing seasons on the lake.

“We always used to walk around the lake,” he explains of their previous home nearby. “We realized we missed the lake and the view.”

They’re happy to be back, he says and are enjoying life in their empty nest now that the 18-month renovation is complete.   “Katie did a wonderful job bringing it all together and it’s better than I expected.  I’m not a formal type of guy,” he explains. “I always wanted a nice condo in Birmingham but my wife didn’t. This is a nice condo alternative that makes us both happy.”

Open House

Both the homeowner/builder and designer have had work featured on other home tours, but this is the first time they’ve participated in the Michigan Design Center’s Designers’ Own Homes tour, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The tour includes the homes of designers Kevin Serba, Pamela Singer, Kristin Smith as well as the Afrakhteh/Rodriguez project. Tickets are $35 each, or two for $60 and can be purchased online through September 10. Afterwards, remaining tickets will be available in person at the Michigan Design Center. For more information, call (248) 649-4772 or visit

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