Tag Archives: Garden Tour

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.

Cranbrook Garden Tour, Toast Birmingham

25 Jul


What would you say if I told you you could spend an afternoon at a European estate for only $6, well sort of…… All you have to do is drive to Bloomfield Hills and take Lone Pine Road to the estate of the late George & Ellen Booth, also known as Cranbrook.   Cranbrook House and Gardens began in 1904 when newspaper magnate George Booth and his wife purchased a neglected, barren farm. They hired Albert Kahn to design their home, and scores of landscape architects, gardeners, and laborers to create what is now known as Cranbrook Educational Community. Today you can tour the 40 acres of gardens surrounding the house or take a tour of the house itself, either way you will feel as though you have been transported to the English village of Cranbrook without ever having to get a passport.



Begin your tour at the Gate House, this is where you will buy your ticket and pick up the self-guided tour map. Wind through the entrance path surrounded by woodland plants and wildflowers, you will notice the temperature is a bit cooler here, cross the bridge and arrive at the La Bocca Della Verita fountain, it’s a nice place to sit and listen to the trickle of the water while looking at your map. Over to the side is the bust of Zues, one of the stones in front of him will make him weep, see if you can find it.



As you enter the main courtyard of Cranbrook House stand for a minute and take it all in. The house is an amazing example of the Arts and Crafts Style of the early 1900’s, everything was beautiful then, even the most ordinary utility item was decorated. Imagine what it must have been like to live in this extraordinary home; to be surrounded by nature and elaborate gardens, fountains, scenic vistas, art and sculpture. One look at the Sunken Garden with it’s intricate floral pattern made up of red, white, and pink Begonias will take your breath away. I like to stare it it from above for a while before taking the stairs to walk alongside it. Each year it is made up of different flowers and colors, I think this years display is one of my favorites, Oh how I love a beautiful garden! The Phlox were in full bloom; pinks and white, their perfume intoxicating, standing side by side with Purple Cone flower and Daisies, producing  a magnificent display. The herb garden is such a contrast to the floral displays, but still maintains that formal feeling; a marble sculpture of Ecolo keeps watch, the scent of the herbs is quite pleasing too. There is a Well Wishers Garden and Fountain off to one side, just a small space to enjoy a little peace and quiet before you happen upon the Turtle Fountain.  It is actually a copy of the La Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome, and is marvelous. Have a seat and take in all the details, you can almost see the turtles moving. Just beyond the fountain is an impressive peek at Kingswood Lake. Remember; this was barren farmland at one time, every detail of this majestic estate was painstakingly planned out, the final result most impressive. The Reflecting Pool is a picture of elegance, the still water reflecting against the blue of the sky, so simple and yet so awe inspiring, spacious, lush lawns on each side. Here again, take a moment before descending the stairs to walk beside the pool and garden. Plantings here are more monotone; greens, yellows and white. At the end of the pool is Mario Korbel’s “Harmony” fountain, quite striking in such a setting.



Take the stairway at the end of the Reflecting Pool down to Kingswood Lake. You can walk the perimeter and observe even more splendor. There was a family of Swans gracefully crossing the lake, we stopped to watch the parents and youngsters pass by, looking so regal as they did. The Oriental Garden is delightful; the bright red bridge standing out among the green of nature. Don’t miss the Pewabic Tile Rainbow Fountain, it’s gorgeous, the tiles finished in their signature iridescent glaze. You will truly feel as though you are somewhere else, there are no sights or sounds anywhere to remind you have only ventured to Oakland County.  




Birmingham is a mere hop and a skip from Cranbrook and boasts a large selection of restaurants. The heat of the day put us in the mood for something cool and refreshing such as a salad or sandwich, Toast would be perfect. Located on Pierce, this “neighborhood joint” serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a quirky and fun atmosphere. Outdoor seating was plentiful, but out of the question, give me air conditioning! We scored a window table with a great view of the busyness of the day; lots of people on the sidewalk, most with a cold drink in hand. Somewhere along the way our appetites changed from lunch to breakfast, so we picked two items to share. The first was a Granola French Toast; soft challah bread cooked to a golden brown, topped with vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. The second item was the Breakfast Burrito, it is quite large and stuffed with all kinds of goodies; eggs, chorizo, beans, cilantor sour cream, topped off with house made salsa, yum. This is a fun place to have a meal, seating varies from standard table and chairs, to couches, booths and armchairs. Portions are generous and the menu features unusual ingredients. The decor is a mix of vintage and contemporary and looks great, if you like something a little different, try Toast.



The day had passed quickly and it was getting to be time to get back. As we walked back to our car we stopped at the newly renovated Shain Park  located on Merrill St.  This large expanse of public space has a little bit of everything; a large water fountain shooting sprays of water high into the air, it seems a favorite gathering place. The children’s play area was also popular while we were there; things to climb on and through, including a real tree. Cement and granite pathways lead you past a performance stage, the Marshall Frederick Statue, and a variety of benches; I liked the Butterfly bench, there’s also a xylophone bench, which seemed to be well-liked too. It was nice to sit back and watch folks take time out of their day for a little pleasure.