Cover Story September 6, 2013

Family Turns Farmington Hills Home Into Summery Retreat

story by Jeanine Matlow of Detroit Freepress

Detroit News

It’s always summer at the beach in the Farmington Hills home of Martha Leever, her husband Martin, their four daughters and two dogs. Martha, left, and her designer Tracey Garcia sit in the newly remodeled living room that features an architectural wall and built-in bookshelves. Both were inspired by magazine images. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Summer may soon be coming to a close, but at the Farmington Hills home of Martha Leever, her husband Martin, their four daughters and two dogs, it’s just another day at the beach.

“It’s very summer-like in here,” says Leever about the 2,100-square-foot ’60s colonial that was recently renovated with the help of Tracey Garcia from Farmington Hills-based TG Designs and David Oliver with Oliver Construction in Berkley.

Still, she doesn’t stick to a theme. “It’s beachy, but not ‘themey,’” Leever says. Garcia adds, “It’s cottage-like. It feels very comfortable.”

The first stage of the five-year project involved some kitchen updates, like a banquette to accommodate their growing family.

Next, they did the downstairs for the kids. “I wanted a place they’d want to be that didn’t feel like a basement,” says Leever. “It looks like a family room down there,” Garcia says.

Leever’s goals for the main level were sensible. “I wanted it to be livable because of all the people, traffic and friends,” she says. “It had to be resistant to pets and kids.”

Durability, price point and low maintenance topped the list.

Opening up the rooms led to a better flow. “She’s so good at entertaining,” says Garcia. “This is completely different. It’s like a brand new house.”

“It became a place where everyone could gather,” Leever says.

Paneled walls in the family room were painted silvery blue, which provided a soothing backdrop for the laid-back space. The same shade appears on the living room ceiling. Laminate floors from Sam’s Club resemble hand-scraped wood.

Woven blinds contribute to the casual vibe, while crown molding adds a nice update, Leever says.

The tired brick fireplace gave way to a marble surround with blue-gray tiles laid in a herringbone pattern. An adjacent guitar mount made from reclaimed wood turns the instrument into a work of art.

A leather sectional from Macy’s joins a rug and storage ottomans from Joss & Main. Kitchen stools came from When asked about buying seating unseen, Leever says, “I’m not that fussy.” Though Garcia wouldn’t suggest buying a sofa without trying it, she says an occasional chair that gets less use is fine.

Unique light fixtures from places like Pottery Barn and Shades of Light adorn the main floor.

A desk surrounded by storage creates a convenient hub near the kitchen. The tall cabinet holds backpacks and other kid gear. Quartz counters are the same on the desk and the nearby island, tying the two together. The cabinetry is consistent, too.

Marble subway tile creates a classic backsplash in the kitchen. Though the fireback above the stove is easy on the eyes, it wasn’t so easy to install. “We liked to challenge the contractor whenever we could,” Garcia jokes.

The reclaimed wood posts were not part of the original plan. “It was a happy accident,” says Garcia who used the material to cover two support columns and added one more to be cohesive.

“We handpicked all the boards. It was a fun road trip,” says the designer about their visit to 2nd Chance Wood Company in Corunna, Mich.

A beverage center for the kids fills a niche in the island. “It will someday be my wine fridge. You’ve got to think longevity,” Leever says.

The raised counter hides dirty dishes and built-in cubbies hold bottles. The table in the eating nook is new. Garcia painted the old one and put it in the living room. “You have to repurpose when you can,” she says.

The same concept applies to the buffet in the dining room.

When their search for a replacement was unsuccessful, Garcia opted to work with what they had. She gave the piece some personality by painting the base in a blue-gray and the top to mimic metal. Updated hardware adds character.

The designer, who is known for painting anything that doesn’t move, also treated the dining chairs to a crisp navy blue with a glossy finish and some new cushions.

Amy Butler wallpaper livens up the dining room. “It’s a happy print,” Leever says. The metal light fixture is from Restoration Hardware.

A wall that once separated the dining room from the family room was partially removed and accented with reclaimed wood. “You need walls for furniture,” Garcia says. “You don’t necessarily want to see the back of everything.”

For many, Garcia says, the design process is fun at first, but the quest for products and services makes the thrill fizzle out. “There is no way I would have the interest level or the time to do it myself,” says Leever who gathered magazine images to provide inspiration for key features, like the built-in bookcase and the architectural wall in the living room. The designer and her client did lots of shopping. “There were many retail therapy hours,” Leever says.

Leever’s husband left the design decisions up to her. “All he wanted was for me to be happy,” she says.

In the living room, Leever says they could never figure out how to arrange the seating, so everything was up against the walls. Now, a cozy grouping consists of upholstered pieces from Crate and Barrel, art from Joss & Main and pillows from a variety of sources.

With four kids, Leever and her husband, a professor at University of Detroit Mercy, needed a space to call their own. So, the living room was dubbed a kid-free zone. “It’s my sanctuary,” she says. “The blue ceiling is just my favorite thing in there.”

Medium-density fiberboard creates a rectangular pattern along the wall. “We originally wanted to put art on the wall, but decided it wasn’t necessary,” says Garcia. “It acts as its own architectural feature.” A jug that belonged to her grandmother strikes a sentimental note and a combination chair/library stool is something Leever has owned for years. “I’ve had good taste for a long time. I wanted to back it up,” she says.

Not only is the style relaxed, but the process was, too. “I never asked when it was going to be done. It’s just a false number,” Leever says.

“She was very calm and open to ideas,” says Garcia. Leever would show Garcia a photo and the designer would know where to go, like Virginia Tile in Farmington Hills. “They have the best snacks,” Leever says.

“Martha knows what she likes,” says Garcia, who would help her sift through the choices and narrow them down.

Her new surroundings remind Leever of the beach in the Chicago suburb where she grew up. But, it’s more than the look that makes a difference in their daily lives. “Just having more counter space in the kitchen made making lunches in the morning an enjoyable process,” she says.