A Birmingham house custom built for a family of four
When it comes to creative cabinetry, Lauren Tolles knows what she’s doing.
Tolles, an architect and the owner of Maison Birmingham, a design-build firm that specializes in cabinets, has custom cabinets woven throughout the spacious home she shares with her husband Bryan and their two young children, Matheson, 5, and Piper, 1.
Chic, sleek cabinets conceal the television and toys in the family room and small appliances in the kitchen. They’re so integrated into the design that it’s often hard to tell what is a cabinet in the house and what isn’t.
“They’re such a useful tool. They can really make a huge difference,” Tolles said. “This area that we are sitting in right now is where our children play most of the time. But you’d have no idea because their toys are hidden behind these solid black doors (in the family room).”
In fact, cabinetry is one of the main reasons why Tolles, a northern California native who moved to Michigan for grad school at the University of Michigan, started her firm in 2016. When she was doing architecture and interiors, she found she was often creating elaborate drawings of millwork and cabinetry. But when she approached cabinet companies to create her designs, she was often told they couldn’t be done.
“I was frustrated,” she said. “With architecture, I do have some engineering and I knew how it would work. So a lot of the reason why I started Maison was to be able to offer a place where if you find a picture somewhere, we can figure out how to build it. I’m not going to tell you no.”
Throughout the Tolles family’s 6,000-square-foot home with six bedrooms — which was featured earlier this fall on the Birmingham House Tour — their creative approach to custom cabinetry is on full display. The home’s overall aesthetic was inspired by the couple’s travels to Scandinavia. The floors throughout the house are a light oak, a stucco covers the brick outside and it’s open concept.
And while much of the house has a neutral color palette, modern abstract art — much of which Lauren and Bryan commissioned — brings the house to life with bold colors. Pieces by artists such as Boswell Hardwick of Oak Park and Olivier Vracken, a Dutch graphic designer and painter, are display in nearly every room.
To create just the right look with the furniture, Tolles turned to several designer friends, Wendy Silverman and Jennifer Loftis, along with Detroit interior designer Patrick Thompson, to get feedback.
“It was really nice to have a sounding board and a fresh perspective,” said Tolles.
The kitchen — which has a full chef’s kitchen for Bryan, who loves to cook — is ground zero for clever storage. The cabinets have a catalyzed lacquer finish, which gives them a more furniture-like look, and the counters from Ciot are quartzite, a type of natural stone.
“I didn’t want a white kitchen,” said Tolles.
A large cabinet with retractable doors conceals a nook that tucks away small appliances and Matheson’s books. Even the refrigerator is covered with walnut so it blends seamlessly with the rest of the kitchen’s design.
“We’re pretty practical people,” said Tolles. “We know that we have to have a toaster oven. We know we need to have a coffee machine. Our son practices his letters at night. These things have to be here. But I don’t want to stare at them all day.”
At the front of the house is an enclosed office with chic walnut paneling and an open concept dining room. Just off the dining room is the living room, which Tolles refers to as the “conversation room.” One wall is covered in a unique vinyl beaded wallpaper from Elitis, a French company, which meshes with a teal green sofa. A large set of doors opens to a connected patio, which is great for entertaining.
The living room is “where we go at night to have a glass of wine,” said Tolles. “Patrick was a huge help in that space.”
Upstairs, a nook for Matheson and Piper to play or draw features a built-in desk (of course with more cabinets from Maison Birmingham) and more modern art and chairs from a furniture line by artist Shepard Fairey. A black and white mural by Detroit artist Mike Han is painted right onto to the wall.
“We’re hoping that having some artwork and creative stuff around here will inspire the kids,” said Tolles.
The kids’ bedrooms, meanwhile, are designed to age with each child. Matheson’s features a dark blue masculine grasscloth wallpaper by Philip Jeffries with rivets and an iconic Womb chair by Knoll.
“We wanted to give him something older and different and not babyish,” said Tolles.
Piper’s room, meanwhile, was designed in Tolles’ head the moment she found out she was having a girl.
“I told Bryan I know exactly what her room is going to look like,” she recalls with a laugh. “He said ‘Are you open to suggestions?’ I said, ‘It depends on what you suggest.’”
The hand-painted wallpaper by Martinique was inspired by the time Tolles spent at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles where she spent a decent amount of time for work before grad school.
“I saw this paper and loved it there and was never able to use it with a client,” said Tolles. “It’s a very specific print. I just knew I wanted it for Piper’s room. In her room, I saw glam and elegance and this retro tropical vibe.”
Tolles considered variations of the iconic wallpaper but decided she had to have the original. A blush Gus sofa compliments it perfectly. And the light fixture is from Serena & Lily. The dresser is custom made by Maison Birmingham.
“I like this room,” Tolles says simply.
The finished basement is another kid-friendly but super modern space. Designed with what Tolles calls more of a “rock and roll” vibe, it has a large sectional that offers plenty of seating for movie nights in front of a big screen TV. Behind it is a sleek kitchen area with glamorous light fixtures.
For a family that loves to entertain, options abound from the basement to the backyard which has an outdoor fireplace and patio. It also has a super cool shipping container playhouse for the kids. It was customized with doors, windows and outside mural painted by artist Jesse Castle.
And even though both Lauren and Bryan aren’t from Michigan — Bryan is from Florida — they’re not going anywhere. Their home is custom made for them.
“We love it,” Tolles said.