By John Gallagher
RISMEDIA, June 9, 2008-(MCT)-Roger and Edward Maki-Schramm weren’t sure about the house on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit when they first saw it four years ago. The house had been subdivided into several apartments years before, and there was plaster damage and other concerns.
But the home’s special points were too strong to ignore. Built in 1913 in the Arts & Crafts manner, the home featured all its original woodwork and windows, hammered metal fixtures, and a glorious fireplace and mantel.
“The house kind of kept haunting us throughout the week,” Roger recalls now, and within a month, he and Edward had purchased it.
Thus began their journey with one of Detroit’s finest Arts & Crafts houses. Anyone who buys an older house will face many of the same issues they did, including plumbing leaks and plaster repairs. But Arts & Crafts houses require a special commitment if the owners wish to maintain the integrity of the original design.
The Arts & Crafts movement flourished in Detroit and elsewhere around 1900. It refers not so much to a specific look or style as to the way materials were gathered and worked by talented craftsmen. The movement was meant to evoke an honesty and simplicity and to encourage a lifestyle in harmony with nature.
Arts & Crafts houses typically feature finely crafted woodwork, high-quality tile from producers like Pewabic Pottery, hammered metalwork, leaded glass windows, and large central fireplaces with elaborate mantels. Examples range from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style houses to snug bungalows in Highland Park and some much larger homes in Detroit’s Indian Village district.
Maintaining or restoring such a home can take lots of money and lots of time. Insensitive owners sometimes paint over hardwood or even strip out the beautiful woodwork and replace it with ordinary drywall. But the Maki-Schramms, both of whom are university administrators, were among the faithful who decided to do it right.
“We moved with a profound respect for the architecture of the house and wanting to preserve it,” Edward said.
Built in 1913 for a Detroit brewer and his family, the house had been converted to an assisted-living center in the `50s and later subdivided into apartments. It reverted to use as a single-family home in the `80s and had been owned by a local artist before Edward and Roger bought it in 2004.
Their first glimpse had intrigued them but left them with lots of questions. The previous owner, an artist, had little furniture and instead had filled most rooms with his artworks.
“We had to have a lot of vision when we saw it,” Edward said. “There was newspaper over the windows; there were doors we couldn’t open. And the rooms were so big, but because they were packed full of his paintings, it was hard to get a sense of how things would fit.”
The new owners set to work. They removed the extra kitchens installed years before when the home was cut up into apartments. They restored the classic look of the bathrooms.
Arts & Crafts homes require a fine, even finicky, touch. The tile they bought for bathrooms measured 12 inches square, but because that reflected a more modern look, they hand cut each tile to a more historic 3-by-6 inch format.
Plumbing caused the most headaches. Arts & Crafts homes tend to have an organic, rambling layout, and water pipes sometimes can be found where owners least expect them. The new owners broke one while working on one room and flooded their basement.
“We’ve learned that any time plumbing comes down, new plumbing must go up,” Edward said. “If we’re going to touch any plumbing, we never assume that we can put the old plumbing back. It’s all new.”
Edward and Roger initially paid $177,000 for their 5,000-square-foot house, and over the last four years have put tens of thousands more into getting it into shape. But if Arts & Crafts homes require dedicated commitment, the payoff is real. Arts & Crafts houses tend to be among the most beautiful on the market, and they make superlative places to entertain.
“We’ve had 50 people for dinner, and I have enough sit-down space for everybody down the central hall of the house,” Edward said.
The effort is worth it, said Ed Francis, a Detroit-based architect and authority on the preservation of historic buildings, who says the Arts & Crafts period was one of the best, if not the best, periods of American domestic architecture.
“What appeals to me most is that the Arts & Crafts idea integrated the practical objects of family life: landscape, architecture, furnishings, accessories, implements and graphics into a unified environment to serve and provide a domestic legacy,” Francis said.
Fortunately, there is help available for would-be buyers from associations in historic neighborhoods like Detroit’s Indian Village, just a few blocks from the home Edward and Roger bought. Edward and Roger quickly got on the Indian Village e-mail list.
“It’s sort of nice networking thing because they keep a list of contractors on there,” Roger said. “So you share ideas of who had good luck with a plasterer, or I need some leaded glass redone, what are the contractors that you’ve used, who’s giving you good quotes. So there’s that kind of networking of people with similar types of homes with similar types of issues.”
And living in the city instead of their previous home in Ypsilanti, Mich., has allowed Edward and Roger to embrace an urban lifestyle. They are a short drive from their church and attractions such as Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and the Detroit Opera House, where Roger performs as a bassoonist.
Their Arts & Crafts home, in other words, has been worth every penny.
“It’s been a great house to live in and entertain in,” Roger says. “We’re big entertainers. In Ypsilanti, we had a lovely home. It was perfectly big enough for the two of us, but we like to entertain and we have big families.”
© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.