Fantastic Living Spaces – #5 Artistic History


Written By: Carolyn M. Runyon

The West Village section of Detroit, adjacent to Indian Village and located three miles east of downtown Detroit, is a national historic district and holds a mix of single- and two-family architecturally significant homes built between 1890 and 1920. It appeals to an eclectic population including many area artists, musicians, and other lovers of city life and amenities.

It is no wonder that the West Village location attracted Douglas McIntosh and Scotty James when they were looking to invest in and restore a historic old home in which they planned to live. In 2001, they bought a neglected 1896 Dutch Colonial originally built by a well-known painter, Garu Melchers, for his parents. Melcher’s father, Julius T. Melcher, was a celebrated artist and sulptor who was known for his carvings on many historic buildings in and around Detroit. The nearly collapsed back wing of the house, the 20 layers of paint on the exterior wood clapboard, the rotted perimeter eaves and soffits and failed Yankee gutters were challenges rather then deterrents for McIntosh, partner in McIntosh Poris Associates architectural firm and a dedicated Detroit preservationist.

McIntosh was passionate about rebuilding Detroit’s historic neighborhoods.

Interestingly, the previous owner of the home was an architect with Albert Kahn Associates Inc.,  a prestigious architectural firm in Detroit. Kahn, who founded the company in 1895, had conincidently served as an apprentice to Julius Melchers. In fact, Kahn had engaged Melchers as a sculptor on several of the buildings he later designed. The firm’s archives had photos of the Melchers house and many other homes of the period. Photographs of the home were also found in the Detroit Public Library, including some in the definitive book on local architecture. The Buildings of Detroit: A History by W. Hawkins Ferry, originally published in 1968.

The restoration and renovation project involved a complete overhaul of internal mechanics, restructuring of dilapidated areas, new construction, and a detailed restoration based on the historic photos. Vintage replacements for parts that could not be restored were purchased from architectural salvage companies with an emphasis on authenticity. Woodworked and walls had a century of paint on them. Amazing hand-carved architectural details were revealed once the moldings and walls were stripped.

The restored foyer is graced by an Art Moderne prismatic light fixture from the 1930s and leads, through pocket doors, to the music room on the right and a sitting room on the left. Since many of the Yankee gutters had failed, there were severe watermarks on the walls of both of these rooms. McIntosh repaired the gutters and replaced the three old roofs on top of the original pine roof with a new cedar and copper roof to prevent further deterioration of the interior.

The music room is serene and refined with its wonderful gold-leaf ceiling, restored natural yellow pine floors, and a 1920s-era Steck baby grand player piano. A 17th-centry richly stained and intricately carved Jacobean chest, used to store the historic piano roll collection, anchors the room. The chandelier, with finely etched glass shades, is vintage and was purchased from an antique supplier in the area. The simplicity of the chairs and the calm of the cream walls and woodwork complement the architectural quality of the pictures in the room and the ornate detail of the chest and chandelier. The six over nine double-hung windows are original, as is the attractive diamond-patterned window light over them.

Across the foyer is the sitting room, which has a look and feel similar to the music room. A gold-leaf ceiling again contrasts beautifully with the monochromatic walls and woodwork. An antique carved chest stands weightily on one wall and resembles a chest the Julius Melchers had once carved. Elegantly uncluttered, the living room contains only two simple cream club chairs and a cleanly designed dark wood coffee table that sit across from the chest. But as you look past the simplicity of these pieces, a magnificent fireplace with a multitude of assorted original antique Delft tiles commands your attention. The 17th-century tiles that make up the surround were brought back from a trip to Holland by Gari Melchers. After surviving 400 years, they are still radiant and imposing against the 100-year-old hand-carved corbels and the mantel. The windows in this room are original to the house, as are the yellow pine floors that flow into the formal dining room next door.

Scotty James and Douglas McIntosh started the renovation and restoration in 2001 and completed it by mid-2006. Sadly, Douglas McIntosh was not to enjoy the fruition of his design and work for long. He passed away suddenly in July of 2006. McIntosh Poris Associates, located in Birmingham, Michigan, is a full-service architectural, interiors, planning, and urban design firm, whose goal is to transform buildings, communities, and urban centers with architecture created through vision and dialogue.