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.
In our recently released aspire design and home Showhouse Issue, we sat down with Rachel Nelson of RL Concetti to learn more about her creative process in designing the Guest Bathroom for this project.
aspire design and home: How much time did you have to complete this room, start to finish?
Rachel Nelson: We had a unique challenge in which we completely reimagined the layout of the space. This involved closing off an existing entry and relocating all plumbing fixtures. We submitted the construction drawings in January but COVID played a large part in delaying the process. Once construction picked up again the entire space was completed in about a month.
aspire: What was your biggest challenge? Did you have a Eureka moment during the process?
Rachel: All bathrooms in historic homes often pose a challenge as the way in which we use spaces has changed greatly over the past 100 years and renovations can be particularly difficult. The original floor plan had a non-functional layout with a small footprint. The first task at hand was to create a functional layout with a large shower which required closing off one of the entrances and relocating all plumbing fixtures. We then had to work closely with the construction team to ensure we were paying homage to the existing architecture and preserving as many details as possible. Through the use of our signature RL Concetti renderings and detailed construction documents we were able to create confidence in our ideas for both the homeowner and the contractor so that they could execute the plans seamlessly.
aspire: What did you and your team accomplish that you thought would not happen in time?
Rachel: The RL Concetti team knew that we would get the job done… but I’m pretty sure there was some chatter on if we would be able to do it in time. We transformed the space from unfinished drywall to the completed space you see in the photos within 72 hours. With the right team, including some incredible trades, anything is possible!
aspire: What was your inspiration for this room?
Rachel: Detroit was once called the “Paris of the New France.” RL Concetti was inspired by this history and chose to honor it through the oversized mural of Claude Monet’s Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt supplied by Detroit Wallpaper Company. Blending Parisian influence with the existing architecture of the Bingley Fales House resulted in a space saturated in intricate trim work, arches, color, and of course the signature white marble.
aspire: Did you step out of your comfort zone for this project, and if so, why?
Rachel: There are no comfort zones at RL Concetti. We’re constantly looking for unique ways to put a twist on today’s trends while honoring traditional design techniques. This space was a unique blend of traditional materials like chrome plumbing fixtures and marble tile, with modern details such as the wainscotting profile. We’ve never been one to shy away from color but covering the entire space in Benjamin Moore’s Waterbury Green was a risk that we definitely think paid off.
aspire: Despite the fact that there were so many designers involved, there is an inherent cohesiveness to the home. Did you all converse / collaborate? Was this a completely individual process?
Rachel: This was a very individual process although we were all working for the same homeowner. The unique ways in which each designer interpreted the homeowners’ taste was what really made the showhouse so successful.
aspire: Describe Detroit in one sentence
Rachel: Detroit is unapologetic, resilient, proud of its history, and gritty – we never shy away from the hard work.
Photography by Kris Ilich.
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