It’s easy to look back on our city’s past and see that we’ve rewritten our future more than once. Our French roots, Motown, and the rise, fall, and renaissance of the automotive industry are just a few pieces of Detroit history that have made both tangible and intangible impacts.
As a Detroit-founded interior design strategy studio, we’ve played a part in the continual revitalization of the city since 2014. We often choose design elements that pay homage to our community’s history, but here are three prominent examples of how we infuse our city’s past into the present through conceptual design.
Dapper in Detroit
Located in Detroit’s historic Garden Court Apartments by Architect Albert Kahn, we worked with our client to lighten and brighten his bathroom while elevating its functionality and storage capabilities.
Inspired by the building’s spot on the National Register of Historic Places, our client wanted the space to give a truly historic feel while offering the comfort and convenience of modern design. Retro materiality like a midcentury-inspired vanity and sconce selection helped achieve this vision. However, it was the meticulous tilework that makes the bathroom feel as though it’s a perfectly preserved piece of history.
Tile selection and application were often more intricate 100 years ago than it is today, and this bathroom includes a bit of everything – London trim, pencil details, soldier-stacked vertical tile, a floral yet masculine mosaic floor design, and more. We also chose an accent tile for the niches with a terrazzo pattern reminiscent of the style dating back to the time the apartment was constructed.
We also found a retro black and white print of a sailboat on the Detroit River to show some subtle love to the apartment’s Rivertown location and tie it all together.
Paris of the Midwest
Detroit’s “Paris of the Midwest” moniker, stemming from the city’s centuries-old French colonial heritage, has taken on new meaning over the years. Detroit began adopting French architectural styles at the turn of the 20th century as well as broad, radial avenues like those found in Paris.
When the Junior League of Detroit approached us to be a featured designer in their show house raising money for Project EAT, the goal was to pay homage to Detroit’s rich history while showcasing local artisans and modern convenience. We gravitated immediately toward the “Paris of the Midwest” moniker and chose to honor it through the oversized mural of Claude Monet’s Sunset on the Seine at Lava Court supplied by Detroit Wallpaper Company.
French architectural influences can also be seen in the intricate trim work and arches, which serve as a more understated homage to Detroit.
Parisian culture is hardly the only one permeating Detroit’s past, present, and future. Detroit’s Mexicantown is home to one of our most historically rich projects to date: The Murray Apartments.
Originally built around 1916, The Murray stood vacant for nearly twenty years…until one day, a group of high school students approached Mayor Duggan with safety concerns about walking past the abandoned building on their way to and from school. Shortly after, renovation plans began to unfold.
We embraced the challenge of enhancing previous historic details as we restored it to its former glory as a bustling multi-family housing unit. For example, we kept as much of the original hardwood flooring, molding, and exposed brick as possible. After learning that Hubbard Farms is one of the few predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Detroit, we drew inspiration from traditional Hispanic artwork and textiles to marry the design aesthetic with the neighborhood’s current cultural representation.
This representation can also be found in the kitchen backsplashes which honor the pattern repetition often seen in both Hispanic and 1915-era designs. Other tilework included a custom mosaic designed in penny tile on the bathroom floors while a classic subway tile was applied in a way that mimicked applications of the past.
Whenever we had no other choice but to update certain elements like wallpaper and flooring, we worked with local vendors to make period-appropriate selections like the custom wallpaper sourced from Detroit Wallpaper Co.
Although the Murray was once deemed a safety concern, it reassumed its role as a positive force in the community thanks to the action of passionate Detroiters. This project and many others, along with our studio’s very existence, are perfect reflections of how far a city can go with some spirit, resilience, and a sense of community.