Project Spotlight: Preserve & Progress

Mosher Dolan and CBI Design upgrade 1930s home to accommodate modern lifestyle.

February 26, 2014

Searching for a home to refurbish, the clients identified this house in Bloomfield Village, Mich., as a possibility and—based on referral—sought out Mosher Dolan, a building firm in Royal Oak. Doyle Mosher, co-owner of the company, reached out to local architect Robert Clarke, principal of CBI Design Professionals, to help determine whether the house—built in 1936—would befit the clients’ vision.

After walking the home with Clarke, the clients became concerned about the second-floor master bedroom and its ability to accommodate them as they aged. Moving the master suite to the first level would become cost prohibitive, so the clients decided to examine a newer house in a different part of town. Clarke, who again accompanied them on the tour, encouraged the clients to reconsider the first home.


Company: Mosher Dolan
Owner: Doyle Mosher; Todd Dolan
Location: Royal Oak, Mich.
2013 sales volume: $8 million
Projected 2014 sales volume: $10 million

“That home had such great design opportunities. It was extremely well-built and it had been owned by only two prior owners in its history,” says Clarke, whose recommendation persuaded the clients to purchase the first house. “The design characteristics on [the second home] were just not nearly as enticing as what we had to work with on the house that we ultimately renovated.”

Although the neighborhood surrounding the home upholds strict requirements to preserve historical quality, Clarke and Mosher drew on their past work in the area to fashion a modern house that maintains the charm and character of the original structure, satisfies the community’s mandate for continuity, and enables the clients to reside there for the rest of their lives.

Interior integrations

Homes built around the time of this house often relegate the kitchen to a more service-oriented area, and the space proves too small and cramped to meet the needs of today’s family. Because the kitchen essentially functions as the command center in contemporary home design, Clarke knew he could sell the clients on his new conception as soon as he convinced them the space could be opened up to the dining and family rooms. “It was the critical link to the whole house,” he says.

Using perpendicular axes, Clarke designed the kitchen as the focal point of the first floor, with sightlines into the relocated dining and family rooms. He expanded the kitchen by about 7 feet in width and more than 4 feet in length, and removed all of the walls separating it from a nook at the rear of the house. That uniform back wall now incorporates numerous windows, which adds to the airiness of the space. “It really set the house up beautifully,” says Mosher, who has worked with Clarke for more than 25 years on several different projects.

The project team shifted the formal dining room toward the front of the home, where a maid’s room had taken up a significant amount of space. In place of the dining room, the firms crafted a family room that leads out onto an extensive back patio replete with a new hot tub. The patio and family room also can access a new covered porch on the rear of the house that replaced an old screen porch. “From the kitchen you’ve got a commanding view of probably half of the main floor, but it still looks like separated individual spaces,” Clarke says.


Cabinets: Custom
Countertops: Custom slab marble
Doors: Custom
Kitchen appliances: Sub-Zero; Lacanche
Millwork & Moulding: Custom
Windows: Marvin Windows & Doors

On the second floor, workers extended the master bedroom by about 3 feet in length and carved out his-and-hers closet spaces. The firms also devised his-and-hers bathing areas, which are connected by a central shower that allows for ideal accessibility and mobility—important considerations, especially for down the road. The clients previously wanted just to create a shaft for an elevator, so in the future they could install one that would allow them to travel seamlessly between the basement and the second floor. But eventually the clients decided not to wait and asked Mosher Dolan and CBI Design to install the elevator during construction, despite the additional expense.

“The disruption at a later date usually trumps the initial cost,” says Clarke, who encourages his clients to go ahead and install the elevator during the initial project.

Community considerations

While the clients dictated much of the interior design, the neighborhood governed any changes in the home’s exterior, which could have included the color of trim, addition of shutters, or shape of columns, among others, Clarke says. “These communities have a tendency to be extremely sensitive to change,” he adds. “Everything that we do has to go through a public hearing even if it meets all their ordinance requirements.”  

The original home had only a single-car detached garage, but the renovated house would need at least a two-car attached garage to be functional for today’s lifestyle. In Bloomfield Village, garage doors cannot face the street even on the side of the house, so Clarke had to respect that stipulation when enlarging the structure and remaking its approach. “We had to have enough space to be able to take a driveway and go around the rear of the garage but still have an attached garage,” he says. As a result, the firm produced a two-car attached garage with ample storage.

Perhaps the most tedious aspect of the remodel centered on blending and matching the existing architecture—in particular the exterior elements—so that the clients, neighbors, and anyone else could not readily tell the difference between old and new. In many instances, the firms tried to reuse as many pieces and parts of the original house as possible in order to minimize discord. “We had to make sure that there’s the continuity with the neighborhood and that it aligns with those things that are critical to them,” Mosher says. In fact, the firm kept a weather vane from the old garage to use on the new one, and repurposed faucets from the outdoor hose bibs as hooks in the home’s new mudroom.

The duplication of existing moulding and millwork became a key consideration because those styles remain specific to the era in which the home was built and are no longer readily available. “I had stacks of mouldings in my office for months that were 4- and 5-feet-long sections,” Clarke says. The firm even brought in a painting consultant to match colors on both the exterior and interior and ensure the house appeared completely authentic. “All of that was done to make sure that we had a home that looked like it was 75 or 80 years old when we got done,” Clarke adds.

Lasting impressions

Upon completion of the job, the clients invited subcontractors, trades, neighbors, and friends to the home for a welcoming party. Although neither firm specifically recalls gaining a referral or recommendation from that particular gathering, both companies believe the work spoke for itself—they conceived a modern house that looks as if it were built in the 1930s. Despite adding almost 1,700 square feet and nearly doubling the size of the original home, Clarke and Mosher encountered minimal resistance from the neighborhood and zoning committee because they were familiar with the community and, thus, adequately prepared.

The historical obstacles in this type of project can often limit the design and scope of work, but they also force the remodeler and architect to think outside the box and come up with better—and often unique—solutions for their clients. “Every dollar they spent was good value for them,” Mosher says. PR

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