The Junior League of Detroit—veterans of almost five decades of showhouses—hosted its biennial event in September 2020, bringing together 27 design teams to reimagine the city’s historic Bingley Fales House. Migrating for the first time to Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood, the 2020 Designers’ Showhouse transformed the first two floors of a more than 100-year-old Georgian mansion into a dynamic mix of decorating styles. “The home has a very interesting history, and it has all its original features,” says charity chair Liana Dabir of the 16,000-square-foot estate set on over an acre of meticulously manicured land.
aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Jeanine Haith: This was a very unusual year due to COVID. We were assigned our room in late 2019 but we really did not get started onsite work until August. Considering all the delays we had over 9 months to plan and do our final install. It was almost too much time upfront to second guess and reconsider things.
aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a Eureka moment during the process?
Jeanine: My biggest challenge was trying to narrow down which room to submit a bid for. The house had so many wonderful opportunities. I was immediately attracted to the foyer staircase. However, I was concerned because the Junior League had defined it as 2 design spaces (lower foyer entrance and the upper staircase). I was turned off by this because I did not want to take on either the lower area or upper area knowing that it would have 2 different design directions and was concerned that the spaces might be too interrupted. After walking the house numerous times, I continued to come back to the stairs and then it suddenly dawned on me… simply request 2 spaces and design it as one. From there the opportunities were endless.
aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Jeanine: By far our biggest challenge was the paint requirements. The space was in desperate need of restoration. The walls were peeling and required a lot of plaster repair. With such a large space I was faced with the financial challenge of finding a paint team that was willing to take on the challenge under the conditions of COVID, the sheer size of the space and the time constraints once we got started on site. This is what kept me up at night. Every inch needed to be painted and I was set on having the spindles and stairs painted entirely black. I was nervous that my vision would be rejected. But in the end it worked out magically.
aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Jeanine: My first instinct was to create a space that you would encounter upon entering a chic boutique hotel. It had to have visual interest by creating and telling a dramatic story and transport guests into a feeling of luxury.
I had two objectives for the space:
- Take a large space in a historic home and make it relevant and approachable for today’s lifestyle. It had to be comfortable, functional and inviting. I wanted to create an environment that invited guests to linger.
- Celebrate the preservation of historic homes in Detroit. Showcase the struggle and endurance it takes to keep them standing.
ARTE International’s wallcovering from their Moooi Extinct Collection – pattern “Aristo Quagga” and Jim Thompson’s wallcovering “Tiger Fight” were the perfect pairing. Tigers fighting about in the wild and the animal print of the Ariso Quagga, an extinct animal from the 18th century told the story…we need to take notice of nature as well as historic architectural preservation. Without an appreciation and commitment to preserve, they will easily become extinct.
aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Jeanine: Yes. I usually want to embrace and take a modern approach in my designs. But in this scenario, I wanted to embrace some traditional elements to respect the age of the house. So, in designing the soft seating at the top of the stairs I went all out traditional and designed a custom built-in Camelback, Bullion Fringe, Jim Thompson Silk floral covered sofa. For the window treatments, I installed my very first balloon valance. I balanced the traditional elements of the room with the bold use of color, Black, Yellow and Green, and complimented the space with graphical contemporary abstract art.
aspire: Despite the fact that there were so many designers involved, there is an inherent cohesiveness to the home. Did you all converse/collaborate? Or was this a completely individual process?
Jeanine: Ironically, we did not have any conversation with each other. It is amazing that we often find so much harmony with each other during these showhouses. I truly believe the house has a way of directing us toward cohesion. I often tell my clients, “Of course I’m designing this house for you, but I must also listen to the house.”
aspire: Is your preference for a showhouse a small space or a large space? Does one or the other provide a better opportunity to stretch your creativity?
Jeanine: I don’t have a preference when it comes to large or small spaces. It is all about a feeling when I enter the space. Does the space speak to me and allow me to be expressive?
aspire: Describe Detroit in one sentence.
Jeanine: Detroit is survival!
This or That?
aspire: Paint or wallpaper?
Jeanine: Do I have to choose? I love both equally. But if forced, wallpaper for texture and instant gratification
aspire: Hardwood or rug?
Jeanine: Rug, but not wall to wall. Ideally a specular area rug over hardwood floors.
aspire: Beach or Mountains?
Jeanine: Mountains. I love the visual journey
aspire: Saturated Color or Black and White?
Jeanine: WOW. Isn’t Black and White a saturation of color?
aspire: Brunch or Dinner?
aspire: Midcentury or 18th Century?
Jeanine: This will sound weird from a person that likes modern design. But if forced I’d choose 18th century. I want the entire crayon box and I’ll reinterpret it my way.
aspire: Draperies, shades, or nothing?
Jeanine: Drapery without the fuss. Straight panels with no frills
aspire: 2001: A Space Odyssey or The English Patient?
Jeanine: English Patient
aspire: Week at the spa or Week of Broadway shows?
Jeanine: Week at the Spa.
Photography by Jeff Garland.
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