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     Some houses are an attractive sum of all the "important" elements: trend, pedigree, and return on investment. Others are lovely because they reflect the owners' personality and evolving sophistication.

     The home of Sally and Don Kutil emerged in layers, like the rings of a tree, as their children grew and then returned with their own loved ones, and the couples vacation wanderings influenced their aesthetic perspective.  Sally, who has a natural affinity for design, says homeowners should trust their own taste. "I just get the things that I like, and I like old carved furniture," she says. Her style has been shaped by travel-- to Italy in particular. "Don and I like to drive all over and look at things," she says. "I like Tuscany."

     She also pores over design books for inspiration. "I showed the books to the architect and said, 'I want this,'" she says. Sally found a kindred spirit in Bloomfield Hills-based architect Michael Willoughby, who also is drawn to the landscape of Tuscany. "I think of the house as Italian, country Italian, if there is such a thing," Willoughby says. "Sally has an eye that's spot-on. She and I spent a lot of time researching Italian things."

     Willoughby, the Kutils, and the contractor, James Jenereaux, of J. Willis Co. in Commerce Township, strove for authenticity while enlarging the home. Additions were finished in real cement plaster, like the rest of the house. "We were careful in terms of making it seamless," Willoughby says. "We maintained proportions and brought some of the details in from the original-- or reproduced the sense of them."

     The Kutils have a sensibility that echoes the mindset that has helped preserve so many centuries-old European structures. As the third owners of the '20s-era house, they regard themselves as stewards of its integrity. As a result, their home of 40 years feels a world apart from the traffic, strip malls, and big-box stores along the nearby Waterford Township thoroughfare.

     "They don't want to tamper with it," Willoughby says. "They've been in love with their home for many years."

The overhead wood beams cam from a 200 yr-old Pennsylvania barn and were reclaimed by a New York company that specialized in the dismantling and resale of old structures. 

The new kitchen has an Old World look with brick walls. rustic beams, and a vaulted ceiling with skylight. The kitchen sink and counter are copper, which are visually appealing, but require regular upkeep, the homeowner says. Though the bricks have a reclaimed look, they're actually 1/2 inch thick "English Schoolhouse" veneer manufactured by the Robinson Brick Co., Jenereaux says.






     In the American South and along the Eastern seaboard, it’s not uncommon for homes and homesteads to be handed down from elders to children.

Michigan has its centennial farms, of course, and cottages tend to be inherited. But in terms of old family homes being kept among kin, interior designer Ann Heath says, “We’re not that generational here.”


     So it was a rare opportunity for Heath when she was asked to help a third generation move into a Bloomfield Hills estate, a home that had been in the same prominent family since 1919. “I had my own antiques store to deal with,” Heath says, referring to the household contents. The attic and living spaces were filled with furniture and art that Heath used in the décor. “I’ve never in my life had so many accessories to work with,” she says. Part of Heath’s challenge involved helping the third generation merge their existing household with the belongings left by the matriarch, when they moved in. The effort reminded Heath of Sister Parish, a noted 20th-century interior designer (she worked on the Kennedy White House). Parish used a tray system, putting worthwhile “keepers” on a tray for the homeowners as a way to sort — and prune — household accents. 
The other challenge involved respecting the history of the home while allowing the third generation (and their fourth-generation children) to tailor the home to their more casual lifestyle.


     In addition to the shuffling and reshuffling of furnishings, architectural changes were made to the home. A family room was built, and a mudroom, bathroom, and office were added to the kitchen area. “I call it the control center, because women are the CEOs of the house and they need an office,” Heath says.

Heath confesses admiration for the new woman of this house because, as she put it, “She was giving up a lot of herself” by moving into her husband’s venerable boyhood home. But she liked what her late mother-in-law left behind and was willing to use it. Though they were obviously familiar with the home, there was a bit of an archeological excavation about the process of getting settled in. And there were the usual family stories, including one dating to when the first generation moved in.

As Heath heard it, the husband gave his wife cash to go and buy furniture. He came back to find a flip-top table in the foyer, which still occupies that space. When he asked if she was going to buy furniture, she replied, “I did. I’ve decided to do the house in antiques.” Decades later, the new occupants regularly open their doors to various philanthropic events. Those visitors, along with the current family, are breathing new life into the old estate.

"The refrigerator drove the kitchen," Heath says of the original units. "Jim Jenereaux did a lot of research to bring that back. Now the homeowner gets a workout opening them; no need to go to the gym." They also added sub-zero freezer drawers. Jenereaux built the kitchen cabinetry. They are painted M.L. Campbell 2229 "Gravel".


In all the years that Tom Hitchman and Keith Hewitt had bought grapes at an Oakland County vineyard, they'd never spotted they'd never spotted the owners' unusual home obscured by a thicket of semi-rural brush. 

   They only learned of Karl and Elisabeth Bailey's classic modern residence when the for sale sign appeared among the rambling vines. 

   "we've been involved with winemaking for quite some time, and Bailey's Vineyards is where we'd go to pick our grapes," Hitchman says. When the sign appeared, Hitchman and Hewitt learned they liked the vintage of the house as well. They bought the Bloomfield Township residence in 1993. The home-- vild in 1936 by George Brigham, a University of Michigan professor and architect of 66 homes in southeastern Michigan -- featured a mix of innovative materials and modern design that highlighted his philosophy of focusing on function before form. Its metal roof, cantilevered fireplace, corner windows and exterior cement panel-board sheeting were indicative of Brigham's emerging architectural signature. The Baileys, who owned and operated the vineyard until 1993, also had hired Genevieve Gillette, founder and first president of Michigan Parks Association, to help design a landscape plan for the nearly 2 acre grounds. A horticulturalist, Karl experimented with dwarfing apple trees and identifying hybrid grapes, adding to the already existing mix of greenery.  "It's kind of like being in the Garden of Eden," Hewitt says. "It seems secluded without having to be 50 miles out there." The 

Minimally changed from its original design, the living room's corner fireplace and birch plywood panelling was designed by George Brigham. The library (background) replaces a screened porch that was added after the homes initial construction.

dwarf apple-tree orchard, original grapevines and raspberry patches remain on the grounds more than 20 years after Karl's death. After purchasing the house from Bailey's widow, Elisabeth, Hitchman and Hewitt were introduced to Robert Metcalf, retired dean of College of Architecture at the University of Michigan. Metcalf had been a colleague of the homes original architect, and had, fact, worked with Birmingham on 30 projects. So it was poetic that he would be the one to begin working on plans for an expansion of this Brigham home. Within six months, however, Hitchman received an offer he couldnt refuse. His employer, General Motors, offered him an assignment in Switzerland. "It wasn't a mandate," he says, "but we didnt turn down the opportunity." That three year assignment grew to five years and was followed by a term in Cairo, as well. During their seven-year hiatus, Hitchman and Hewitt kept in touch with Metcalf.  Their ongoing plans were influenced by extensive travel throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Ans those new ideas were quickly relayed through an ongoing correspondence. Metcalf's original plans were amended to accommodate their newly acquired African art collection and fondness for saunas, for example. When they had returned stateside, Hitchman and Hewitt began working actively with Metcalf. "We spend many weekends out at his studio, where he'd as us 20 questions about our lifestyle and how we live," Hitchman says. "He designed the house around that." The home's Spa, sauna, second floor gallery, wine cellar, and tasting room were the result of Metcalf's inquisitive Socratic approach.    Despite drastic changes to the original home, Hitchman and Hewitt take comfort in knowing that Elisabeth Bailey approved of their plans shortly before she died in 1997. As for Karl, the homeowners hope they have honored his vision. "We just hope nobody ever says that he wouldn't of liked it," Hewitt says. "Nobody ever has."


Not included in their original plans, the second floor gallery was added to accommodate the art collection Hitchman and Hewitt acquired in Africa. Metcalf designed the room's windows to allow for ample light and uninterrupted views of the home's natural setting. 

The cabinetry is accessible from both the kitchen and dining room. making efficient use of the space. The pantry, (not pictured) is nearly 12 feet high and utilizes the otherwise dead space between the original and expanded construction.

Extraordinary Craftsmanship











J Wills Company


Fine detail, extraordinary craftsmanship, and personalized service are hallmarks of the J. Willis Company's exceptional new home, remodeling and renovation projects. Led by third generation builder, Jim Jenereaux, J. Willis company is comprised of a team of experienced, skilled employees and tradespeople dedicated to transforming the design visions of their clients into gorgeous residences they can enjoy for a lifetime. Each J. Willis Company project is a one-of-a-kind jewel , reflecting the meticulous workmanship, individualized design, and quality materials that meet the needs of each particular client and residence. 

   "Our attention to detail is a signature of our company," Notes Jim Jenereaux. "We spend a great deal of time taking care of what many builders consider 'small things.' Customers want to feel that their builder is going to do what they expect them to do with their new home or remodeling project. So we understand that prompt, ongoing communication is vital to keeping the customer aware of what is happening on the job site. Though we have on-site supervision, I always interact personally with the customer when making decisions that affect their home. We work very hard to make sure our customers are not disappointed with our work."

   Jim Jenereaux has been surrounded by the construction business since childhood. His grandfather was an exquisite cabinetmaker, and his father was a manager in the commercial construction sector. Jim entered the construction business in the 1970's, working as a site supervisor, carpenter, and cabinetmaker. in 1983, he funded J. Willis Company, focusing on high-end residential renovation and remodeling. A unique attribute of the company is their in-house team of carpenters and the ability to create and install custom trim work and cabinetry fabricated in there 3,000 square foot workshop.Jim states, "We have found that we have a greater control of the material quality and scheduling by building and installing cabinetry and trim ourselves. It is a service we offer to all of our clients. If a customer visualizes something for our cabinetry or trim, we don't have to send a design out and wait several days for a sample. We can create it in our own workshop usually within a couple of days. So the customer is working directly with the person who is creating their custom cabinetry or trim, which is a great example of advantage for everyone." 

   The remodeling project featured in this article displays a wonderful example of the beautiful cabinetry and woodworking resulting from this direct builder and client interaction. The cabinetry is quarter-sawn oak with an elaborate distressed finish that was painstakingly created through an eight-step process. The molding in the kitchen was replicated by the J. Willis team from a piece of trim the homeowner discovered in a classic home in Detroit. 
    Jim states, "We have a tremendous variety of material sources we can call on for each project. We also often

integrate materials the homeowner has found into the design. Utilizing our in-house staff, workshop, and team of sub-contractors we can relocate or create the materials that will best fit the job and the customers budget. In a custom renovation, our goal is to make a new structure blend so well with the exist structure that it is very difficult to tell we have been there at all. Thats what we do best."

    J. Willis Company also brings this same level of dedication and detail to their new home projects. Currently the team is creating a spectacular, Country French style home in the Bloomfield Hills area that features a stunning stone and stucco exterior, and memorable interior details such as gently arched passageways, masonry fireplaces, and custom built cabinetry. "Our designs begin with our customers ideas and desires," states Jim Jenereaux. "We then work with several area architects, and based on the customer's needs we refer them to a few architects that we feel suit those needs. It is important to have the right combination of client, architect and builder on the project. This team works much like a family over the duration of the project, and it is vital everyone is able to communicate comfortably and work together effectively to do the best possible job." Jim adds, "Near the end of the project everyone typically wants to see the job wrap up as quickly as possible, but that is the time when it is even more essential to  take the time necessary to ensure it all comes together the way the customer envisioned. So we try to be very realistic from the beginning about the time frame it will take to complete the job. We also understand that it is important to keep the job sire clean, especially when working on an existing home.." 

The exceptional homes created by the J. Wills company are not a well kept secret. Most of the companies work comes through referrals from previous clients, and they often do several projects for a single client. Its a stellar reputation Jim Jenereaux is proud to have earned and is eager to uphold in the years to come. "This business is a passion for me," states Jim. "I always get excited by a new project and new challenges. Our entire team thoroughly enjoys working with our new customers in building the unique new homes and renovations they envision. Every day has something new to offer. 

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