Usually, people want to escape from the city, but some like to escape to an urban environment, citing their second home’s proximity to cultural and sports venues, terrific views, and relative affordability
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Your Guide to: Urban Cottages
Sarah Ormerod is chatting on her cell phone as she leaves the Gratiot Central Market, where she likes that her regular butcher calls her “Baby.”
The topic of discussion: Why she and her husband, Mark, world travelers who are not from Michigan, bought a “vacation” condo five years ago in Detroit.
At that time, the couple (she’s from Colorado, he’s a native New Zealander) had been living in the Middle East, where they both worked.
“I read the Sweet Juniper blog,” Ormerod says. “I’d been reading it online for years and it paints a very accurate picture of Detroit.
“Mark thought if he brought me here, I’d stop talking about Detroit. When we got here, he was like, ‘We have to live here.’ ”
Through Ryan Cooley, owner of O’Connor Real Estate and Development in Corktown, they found a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath condo at Indian Village Manor that was affordable enough for them to pay cash.
Cooley helped them get a contractor to gut and redo the kitchen (which now has marble counters reclaimed from the former Cass Tech High School) and fellow O’Connor agent Lauren Bruyninga picked paint colors and light fixtures. “Thank goodness she overruled me,” Ormerod says. “She did an amazing job.”
Today, the couple, their young daughter, and the family dog spend summers and several weeks at Christmas in Detroit. They also have a home in Houston and will return to the Middle East, where Mark works as a geophysicist for Shell, before retiring, they say, full time in Detroit.
For now, they’re taking advantage of their summer home.
“We spend a lot of time out back on the RiverWalk,” Ormerod says. “It’s like every night is happy hour.”
They also frequent nearby Belle Isle, where they watch Detroit City Futbol League neighborhood soccer games.
“I have girlfriends who knit on Wednesdays, she says. “I’m trying to eat my body weight in Supino’s pizza; we do the Dequindre Cut [walking/biking path].” In short, she says, they found what they were seeking: “big-city stuff with a small-town feel.”
Before summer had even begun, Catherine Teifer and her husband had big Thanksgiving plans: watching the parade from their windows overlooking Woodward, attending the Lions game with more than 20 friends and family, and sitting down to a turkey dinner for 26.
All they needed was a location, which they’ll have just after Labor Day, when they move into their apartment on the 28th floor of the Broderick Tower downtown.
The Broderick will be the second Detroit pied-à-terre for the couple, who live on 10 semi-rural acres Downriver and also have a home in Florida, where Teifer’s husband, John Hancock, golfs.
Teifer says her affection for downtown dates to childhood, when she and her grandmother would board a bus in Trenton and ride to Hudson’s for a shopping excursion.
“In 2009, I started dreaming about having a place downtown — a place where we could be a part of the excitement, a place to entertain,” she says. They first leased at the Carlton, a building popular with musicians in the 1920s and ’30s. But while attending Tigers games at Comerica Park, she says The Broderick kept “looking over their shoulders.”
When they took a tour of the in-progress renovation project, they decided to combine two units, giving them three bedrooms, three and a half baths, and views of Woodward Avenue and the ballpark.
“The Broderick is perfect for us,” Teifer says, citing valet parking, three street-level restaurants, the People Mover, and Grand Circus Park across the street. Another plus, she says: “Most of our neighbors are young, and that’s what’s going to inject new life into the city.”
Bernie and Steve Olmsted are also anticipating Thanksgiving in Detroit. It’s the Southern California couple’s favorite weekend of the year. From their balcony at the Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown, they have a view of marching bands unloading in preparation for the parade.
Bernie, a Michigan native, grew up in Hartland and married a Californian. A place in Detroit suited their need to see family and their son, a University of Michigan student.
“My husband is like a kid in a candy shop here,” Bernie says. “This mature CPA wants to explore everything. To be a bike ride away from baseball and live by the parade — he loves it.” The couple, who visit their condo about four times a year, walk to the DIA, go to Henry Ford Museum, and “pub crawl” a bit downtown.
“We wanted to be part of the energy,” Bernie says.
Susan Taylor-Meyers and her husband, David, don’t need to book a flight to access their city escape. It’s a 30-minute drive from their Harrison Township home to their one-bedroom, two-bath condo in Midtown’s Park Shelton. They bought their unit five years ago after deciding against a cottage in Charlevoix or “the Thumb.”
During their regular Detroit stays, they attend games, go to the Hilberry and Bonstelle theaters, watch the Detroit Derby Girls, and participate in Noel Night.
“Last weekend, we went to the Tigers game on Saturday and Brunch with Bach [at the DIA] on Sunday,” Susan says.
Fellow Park Shelton residents Rich and Sheila Neuenfeldt drive from Grand Blanc to their 900-square-foot condo. They use the city address as a getaway together or separately and with their children.
“My husband likes to spend Friday night and get to Eastern Market early,” Sheila says. They go bike riding, he jogs, and they went as a family to see the Oscar short films at the Detroit Film Theatre inside the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“We use the roof every time we’re there,” Sheila says. “My daughter wants to have her 16th birthday up there.
“Last Sunday, I took a mat up there, sat in the sun, and organized my iPad.”
The couple say they will eventually consider full-time city residency, Sheila says. “That’s how we started out in Chicago.”
Dr. Rob Colen, an orthopedic trauma surgeon with a home in the suburbs, wanted a part-time residence convenient to the Detroit Medical Center, where he works several days a week.
“When the agent showed us the corner panoramic unit on the 24th floor [of Riverfront Towers], I remember just standing in front of the window staring at the incredible view,” he says. “All you could see was water and Windsor. The sensation was as if you were on a giant cruise ship.”
In the seven years since buying their 1,300- square-foot condo, he and his wife, Rita, have used it for entertaining as well as taking advantage of its proximity to work, sports, and events.
“Every year, we watch the fireworks explode right in front of us,” Colen says. “My wife and I always joke that when we take out-of-town guests to the condo, all we see is the back of their heads as they stare out the window at the incredible view.”