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There's More to the Motor City than Meets the Eye
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Now that you've read our Design Confidential feature in this month's issue, you're ready to head out to the Motor City: We've told you about the landmarks, the eateries, the cultural icons (like the Detroit Institute of Arts shown above), and elegant antiquarian shops. But hang on! There's more-smart furnishings stores, fabulous florists, places to grab a bite or snap up a more-than-desirable retro look. From florists to hip furnishing stores to garden outfitters of the first quality, the city has so much to offer. Come with us, deeper into Detroit. They've got what it takes and what you need.
Photography: Gordon Beall
Produced with Sandra Mohlmann
Let's start downtown at the Motown Museum. If you come to Detroit, if "My Girl" makes you smile and The Supremes ruled when you spun a few discs, you need to know more.
Motown, formed by Detroit native Berry Gordy, Jr., was the most successful black-owned record company and one of the most successful black-owned corporations in US history. Motown's output was fundamental to the sound of the 1960s.
Gordy ran a jazz record shop in the mid-1950s, but his potential customers preferred rhythm & blues. So he left the retail record business, took a day job in a Ford factory, and began writing songs; one of his first big hits was "Reet Petite" for Jackie Wilson. In 1957 Gordy met Smokey Robinson, changed the name of Robinson's vocal group from Matadors to Miracles, and leased their records. Gordy, who had only wanted to be a successful songwriter, realized that the true way to reap the rewards meant starting a record company and publishing the music himself, so he formed Motown Record Corporation (short for Motortown). Artists were paid salaries until they had hits, but were tied to the company and subject to Gordy's whims. Motown became a family operation tightly controlled by Gordy, and soon dominated the decade's black pop, seriously challenged only by the Southern sound of Stax in Memphis and the Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals. None of the Motown hits were ever certified gold because he would not allow the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) to see his books.
Motown stars included Mary Wells, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Temptations, the Marvellettes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Junior Walker, and many more. Acts were taught deportment and stage movements, and touring Motown shows were also tightly chaperoned. But the proof of Gordy's genius in the studio, and deciding who should do what, was in the hits: at least 110 singles made the Billboard pop top ten from 1961 through 1971, and are still selling today in countless compilations and anthologies. The hits of the Motown decade are perhaps the ultimate party music, and more than that, thanks to Robinson's songwriting. In 1973 Motown grossed $40 million and employed 135 people, but by then it had moved to California. When Motown left Motortown it became just another record company. (Read more about Motown's legacy of stars.).
Motown Historical Museum
2648 West Grand Blvd. 313/875-2264
On the Web, visit Motownmuseum.com
Grosse Pointe on Lake St. Clair is just a skip away from downtown. When you get there, head to Flowers by Gabrielle to gather a bouquet for a hostess gift, a corsage for a swanky evening out, or just to buy a cheering posy if, like me, you enjoy bringing fresh flowers into your hotel room to give it a touch of home.
Gabrielle Reilly and Carolyn Withers go for fresh and seasonal to fashion distinctive floral décor for any occasion.
The flower shop's front window is itself a source of inspiration, and the window box, too, offers ideas for exterior flower arranging-like a row full of frilly ornamental kale.
Flowers by Gabrielle
15029 Kercheval, Grosse Point Park
For orders and inquiries, visit flowersbygabrielle.org.
Grosse Pointe is also the location of one of the finest landscape parks in the USA. Surrounding the Cotswold-style mansion of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, it was designed by Jens Jensen as a private garden. Jensen was the man who put the prairie in Prairie School and is best known for designing a number of major public parks throughout the Midwest using native prairie plants to create naturalistic planting schemes. He was instrumental is establishing the Illinois Forest Preserve system. Visit jensjensen.org for more information on Jensen.
Now open to the public, the Ford house was built in 1928 to a design by architect Albert Kahn. The Fords traveled with the architect to England to survey various styles of residential architecture. They selected the Arts & Crafts style found in the rural Cotswold villages of western England, and translated it into a 60-room house. The finished structure looks like a small village complete with shingle roofs and ivy covered walls. But the walls were hung with paintings by Cezanne and Matisse, and Walter Dorwin Teague designed four Art Deco rooms. It is open as a house museum now, archiving the history of the Ford family and their contribution to American life.
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
1100 Lake Shore Rd, Grosse Pointe Shores
On the Web, visit Fordhouse.org.
Returning to Woodward Avenue, the main drag recommended in our story as the Design Trail, head north toward Lathrup Village to find Michael's Lamp Shop and over 4000 lampshades as well as lamp bases edgily new or divinely antique. From left to right are owners Mel and Michael Bowlds and David Findley. Interior Designer Sue Burgess is on record as saying, "Give me the name and phone number of THAT shop!" Yes, ma'am.
Michael's Lamp Shop
17621 West12 Mile Road at Southfiel Lathrup Village
On the Web, visit michaelslampshop.com
Many cities these days are experiencing a design-led renaissance that bubbles up from a character-laden district where chic rubs shoulders with funky. In New York there's Tribeca and SoHo; in Austin it's SoCo, in Des Moines it's the East Village. In Detroit, it's Royal Oak. Billing itself as "A Trendy Tradition" (downtownroyaloak.org), here are some of Detroit's groovier design stops and relaxed eateries.
A great spot for a filling lunch and refreshing pint, Bastone, a Belgian-themed brew pub housed in building that retains its 1939 exterior, is just the place to stop to soothe the inner shopper. Go for the traditional moules frites (mussels in a wine sauce with a side of outstandingly fresh French fries), with a glass of the brewmaster's recommendation.
419 S. Main St.
Around the corner from Bastone (or next door if you approach through Bastone) is a tiny café that prides itself on its Cuban cuisine. This being Michigan, blessed with good fishing waters and with fresh fruit and vegetables readily available, you'll know what to order. Detroit's Metro Star gives both Bastone and Café Habana 4 stars for food and service.
Café Habana Cinq.
109 5th St.
Continuing on this international theme, check out Paris Antiques. It's right around the corner from Bastone. If you've ever been to the Paris flea markets, or whiled away a few Euros in a village brocante, you'll recognize this shop's appeal immediately.
An Aladdin's cave of bling-worthy décor and dresses, contemporary and retro, Paris Antiques is where you can find just-the-right handbag (like I did), an Art Deco bibelot for a dressing table, or a fun little notebook to record your own Detroit finds.
112 East 4th St.
Noelle Aittama, owner of Larsen at Home, is a Traditional Home reader (she's even designed a room for a client inspired by one of our house features). And like all our readers, Noelle is discerning when it comes to selecting furnishings for her home, a policy she practices in selecting items for her store. She travels the country seeking out designers and manufacturers who are producing the best in home furnishings today. So if you want to see what "Classic Taste, Modern Life" can do for you, Noelle and Larsen at Home define it perfectly.
Larsen at Home
501 S. Washington
Trundling further out on Woodward, you come to Birmingham and a cluster of not-to-be-missed interior furnishing stores, including The Italian Dish, whose motto is, "When you can't live in Italy, have Italy live in you." They help make this happen by offering fine Italian-craftmade ceramic, art, furniture, and gifts.
288 East Maple Rd.
On the Web visit theitaliandish.com. Next door is Woodward & Maple, who are sure to have exactly the special little something you're looking for to give that the more-than-special person in your life. Discerning taste has been exercised in pulling together this choice selection.
Woodward & Maple
266 East Maple Ave.
Cristion's Fine Linen and Down is where you can source everything from the bed skirt to the canopy to make the perfect bed-an island of calm and soothing solitude, or a place where the whole family gathers, with the dog, to read the Sunday comics. They've built a reputation as manufacturers of the world's finest European bed linens and accessories for hotels; bring some of that luxury home.
Cristion's Fine Linen and Down
205 North Old Woodward Ave.
On the Web, visit cristions.com
Kevin Serba, owner of Serba Interiors, has the knack of blending clean and contemporary furnishings with natural and organic forms to bring out the best in both. Find his design company at Serba Interiors.
2233 Cole St.
Further down the same street is Jones Keena & Co., who have an eye for the eclectic. Interior designer Lucy Earl's design studio is a great inspirational source.
Jones Keena & Co.
2292 Cole St.
Though the name has garden in its formulation, and landscaping is unquestionably their business, Detroit Garden Works has become a destination for Detroit's top designers as well as for designers from outside Michigan. It is unquestionably one of the coolest shops in town. Go for plants, go for decorative objects, go for the incredible buzz of inspiration you'll get the moment you cross the threshold.
Deborah Silver is the doyenne of Detroit Garden Works, and her background as a painter and printmaker is evident in the pictorial quality found in many of her garden designs: They are spaces to be lived in and enjoyed, sure, but they are also elegant images of pastoral beauty, soothing to the eye and complementary to the homes they embrace.
Rob Yedinak has been with DGW since 1992 and is responsible for traveling to Europe to acquire the exceptionally fine garden antiques that feature in the store's vignettes and in clients' gardens. Choose from a selection of antique or excellent reproduction urns, fountains, and other garden furnishings to set your garden apart.
In addition to the brought-in stock, Detroit Garden Works has a fabrication division called Branch. The designers and craftsmen there will come up with just-the-right-size table or a pack of life-size dogs cast in concrete to liven up the garden scene-or the dinner table. As Deborah says, "For me, the most powerfully evocative element of a garden is its objects and architecture-that physical presence that stirs up mystery, memory, romance. Gardeners understand this." Detroit Garden Works can help you bring the best out of your site and put the finest garden experience into your life.
Detroit Garden Works
1794 Pontiac Drive
On the Web, visit detroitgardenworks.com.
Just for fun, and just because we have it, here's one more photo from Detroit Garden Works.