Southfield collector restores '50s home, fills it with eclectic art and mid-century design
Collector and art enthusiast Jeffrey Lygon calls his Southfield house “mid-century modest.” Step inside the 1,400-square-foot 1953 home, however, and it quickly becomes apparent that there’s nothing modest about it when it comes to design or vision.
“It's one of the few Japanese Modern inspired homes in the Detroit area, and was entirely hand built by its owner, Glenn P. Crandall,” Lygon says of the home’s early history. “Crandall was, from what I was able to find out, a WWII vet who served in the Japanese Theater, and fell in love with the clean lines of Japanese design and incorporated that into his hand-built home.”
Lygon called Crandall “the original recycler,” and found hand-written 3 x 5 cards detailing his plans at the county permit offices, including reusing the wood from a large red oak on the property in the floors. “I’m particularly fascinated by the fact that the guy built the house himself,” Lygon admits. “The house was obviously built on a budget, but thoughtfully and sturdily.”
With his vast knowledge of Detroit history and architecture, Lygon, a mid-century modern dealer and Southfield arts commissioner, was the perfect caretaker for the property, which he purchased in 2009. In the decade he has owned it, he has embraced and replaced rather than erased the three-bedroom home’s original mid-century design, thoughtfully updating what he had to and sensitively restoring the rest.
At the top of the list were the bathroom and kitchen. “I restored the original bathroom which had an unfortunate renovation in the 80s, and brought it back to 1953 with vintage fixtures and vanity,” Lygon explains. “The original kitchen was missing as well, so I replicated that, combining an adjacent utility room to enlarge it.” He also expanded the master bedroom by combining two small bedrooms which creates a vista from front to back, he says that includes views of both the street and the garden.
Once the home’s footprint was established, Lygon filled it period furnishings and decorative arts from his enviable collections. Among them is a cache of Higgins Glass, a Chicago-made art glass created by husband and wife team Frances and Michael Higgins, founders of the American studio glass movement in the 1940s. Lygon became friends with the couple when he lived in Chicago and gives their products a place of honor in glass-front cases in the breezeway-turned-den, which Lygon clad in period cornice boards and knotty pine.
Everything in the house is thoughtfully chosen. “I tend to gravitate to good form and quality materials first,” Lygon explains. “Then color. I like to imagine what the designer was thinking when they designed something,” adding that he especially admires great designers of the past including William Pahlmann, Richard Himmel, Billy Haines, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings and Billy Baldwin. He is the first to admit he’s not a minimalist. “I find too many things interesting to keep it simple, or well edited. It's who I am.”
He recommends seeking out originals instead of modern copies. “Ultimately they will have more value in the end,” he explains. “The older stuff only gets rarer because there’s less of it and more people are collecting it. I’d really rather have the integrity of something that’s of the period than something that’s merely a shadow.”
Lygon grew up in Algonac and Grosse Pointe with parents who loved to bring back things from their travels. He later moved to New York, Chicago and Miami, where he was one of the first dealers to specialize in the emerging mid-century modern genre from 1995 to 2010. “Those were good years for me,” he remembers.
His current business is “Belvair for Modern Living.” Besides selling online at chairish.com, he also has a physical space at Odd Fellows Antiques in Berkley. He shares the colorful ranch with his two cats – Mrs. Robinson and Marcella, named after Marcello Fantoni, a favorite Italian sculptor, whose work graces the master bedroom in Lygon’s Southfield home.
But maybe not for long. After years back in metro Detroit, Lygon is considering a move west, possibly to Palm Springs in California. He’s excited about starting fresh. “I’ll be sorry, absolutely,” he says about leaving the ranch and his home town. “There’s no hurry. The timing and the buyer have to be right.”
It’s not surprising that he’s planning to take a few treasures-- but maybe not as many as one would think, he says.
“I have really have only a handful of items that would probably go with me wherever I moved,” he explains. “A 12-light adjustable multi-color cone chandelier by Stilnovo from Italy, a Clairtone Project G2 stereo, a pair of Robsjohn-Gibbings strap armchairs, a pair of Venetian glass table lamps by Luciano Gaspari for Salviati, a sculptural coffee table by Frederic Weinberg. Also a Cubist pottery figure by Marcello Fantoni ranks right up there, and a small collection of salt glazed pottery by Guido Gambone.”
Wherever he lands, there’s no doubt his next home will also be a reflection of his ever-evolving interests. “Homes, I think, should be a reflection of ourselves,” he explains. “Living with what pleases you is the best advice.”