DETROIT: Mid Century

14 Aug

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Detroit’s Historic Palmer Woods is a 188 acre subdivision best known for its lavish homes, winding streets and early residents named Fisher, Van Dusen, Burton, Prentis, Sanders and Briggs. Landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds is responsible for the rural feel of the neighborhood; mature trees, no curbs, spacious, irregular-shaped lots, no two are the same. From the mid-teens to the late 1920’s this is where the rich built elegant (mostly) Tudor-style homes on streets called Wellesley, Suffolk, Gloucester, Balmoral and Strathcona, very England-like. After the war styles began to change; half timbers, steeply-pitched roofs, mullioned windows and high chimneys were replaced with concrete, pane glass, steel, brass and geometric patterns. Wealthy professionals were still lured to the beauty and seclusion of Palmer Woods, the houses they built distinctly reflect this new Mid-Century Modern design.

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It’s a beautiful July afternoon, we’re in Palmer Woods for the 2017 Home and Garden Tour; this year 5 Mid-Century homes and 8 gardens are open to the ticket-buying public. We pick up our tour map at the check-in station, after a quick look at the addresses we park in a central location and begin. Kris and I love mid-century design; clean lines, glass walls, open floor plans and organic curves. Homes such as this tend to be more horizontal, it’s gorgeous; deep,open spaces, the fireplace is long and low, white interior walls, columns add interest; unique sliding doors separate rooms. Glass walls bring the outdoors in, the pool and garden seem integrated into the house.

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Approaching the next house I point out the Modbox mailbox, it hints at what we will find inside… The interior is mid-century fantastic! It’s a time warp. Room decor and furnishings recreate the era perfectly, the recessed ceiling backlit in rose is outstanding. Blonde wood, slate floors, fabulous lighting, bold wallpaper, original built-in stereo, wow. Then we descend to the basement. Tiki Paradise. Seriously. Where should I begin? How about the exotic lighting, plant groupings, bamboo, thatch, tikis. How about the wall of Tiki memorabilia? More tiki mugs than I’ve ever seen in one place, hula girls, birds, vintage menus from the Kahiki. There’s a bar with cool stools, an awesome table and chairs and of course, a tiki chess set, more fabulous wallpaper, very Polynesian. In the backyard the mid-century theme continues, even the birds live in stylish houses.

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The map leads us past great Modern architecture, down pathways alongside houses into lovely garden retreats. Down the block a newly installed metal sculpture sits on the front lawn of the “Butterfly House” designed by William Kessler in 1956, beautiful gardens surround it. Stone benches, tall grasses, Cardinal Flower, Elephant Ear Caladium and grass pathways give the yard a naturalized feel. One of my favorite features of mid-century architecture is the courtyard; ivy covers the ground in this one, a delicate red maple adds color and interest. A peek through the back glass wall reveals a modern interior with colorful art accents.

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Moving on,  this house is a bit unusual in appearance but there’s no mistaking it’s modern influence. The docent standing near the front door tells us a bit about the home, we learn it was built in the 1960’s by Florine Mark, you know, Weight Watchers, that Florine Mark. We step inside and are awed by what we see. I would guess not much has changed since Florine lived here. Slate floor, dark wood panels, field stone half-walls with built-in planters, decorative aluminum screens and the bar….. This is one of the coolest built in bars I’ve seen, kind of triangular in shape with overhead panels, a column with shelves to hold glasses, even a place to rest your feet. Check out the parquet floor, the modern design of the plaster ceiling, love the corner fireplace. The dining room with the grass weave cabinets, the big brass round surround of the door knobs,how about that Nutone intercom, the double ovens, built-in speakers. The living room and family room are outstanding too, the ceiling fixtures rock;  like I said everything still looks original. One of the docents told us there are scales built into the bathroom floors upstairs, I guess that explains her trim figure.

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As we walk down neighborhood streets  I begin to notice a lot more of the Mid-Century homes, many have distinct features like wrap-around corner windows, fluted glass, teak wood and architectural details.We visit several beautifully landscaped gardens; mounds of Hostas, neatly trimmed shrubs, hydrangeas in full bloom, cozy seating areas, ponds and even a waterfall. The spaces are tranquil, peaceful, urban retreats.

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The last home on the tour is a large brick multi-level house with a huge front lawn. The interior retains many of the original features like the built-ins, field stone fireplace, paneling, indirect lighting, I’m not sure what the knobs in the wall do… Behind a pair of what appears to be closet doors is an awesome bar. Clearly having your own bar was a ‘thing’, this one is pretty sweet, love the mirrors. We exit the back door into a huge yard complete with an inviting in-ground pool. More field stone makes up a back garden wall, I really like the concrete dolphin, I wonder if it’s old or new?

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Our last stop on the tour is the garden at the Dorothy Turkel House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Detroit. Completed in 1956, it’s a 2-story beauty in the Usonian style. We are lucky enough to have been inside the house before, this is our first look at the recently completed gardens. The owners of this home also own Blossoms florist in Birmingham and Detroit so I’m expecting something spectacular—I’m not disappointed. The grounds are lush, art, statues and accents are tucked into the landscape.

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Hydrangeas strain to stand upright, metal-framed spheres add interest to an already beautiful space. Hostas form massive mounds, a pea gravel path leads us to a pond with a low fountain. Turquoise glass forms look like they are growing from the earth, abundant foliage provides a colorful background. Near the house a deer statue is perched on a pedestal. On the patio we study the Lego version of the Turkel House, it seems the builder has captured every detail; it looks like quite a soiree. We roam through the gardens again noticing things we missed the first time; shiny silver balls threaded on metal stakes, the rusty man near the tree. The simplicity of the of the house,  just glass and concrete, make it so visually appealing, it becomes part of the landscape, the way man and nature come together is truly stunning.

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We’re having a late lunch at Alley Taco . After operating out of Marcus Market they have a new space on Willis to call home. Serving up California-style Mexican food from tacos and burritos to tortas and melts they have earned a loyal following. The inside of the restaurant is a combination of reclaimed wood, blacktop counters and wheat-pasted newspaper and poster walls. The menu hangs behind the register, we order then take a seat on the patio. Before we know it plates of Mexican delights are placed in front of us. I try the bowl-ritto first, tasty shredded chicken, beans, tomatoes, cheese and herbs on a bed of rice, it’s really good. We chose the bbq sweet potato, chorizo and crispy fish for our 3-taco combo, each distinctly delicious. There are 4 salsas to choose from including “hot 2 death”.  This casual and flavorful eatery is a great addition to Midtown.

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