Ask most 6-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and their answers will be fairly predictable — “astronaut,” “veterinarian,” “police officer.” And then there were young Grant Jeffries and his cousin Brad DeVries, who’d have answered with the same unlikely reply: “architect.”
Jeffries discovered the field while watching Steve Martin play architect Newton Davis in 1992’s Housesitter. When he asked his parents about Martin’s role, they told him an architect’s job was to design buildings. “At that moment, something clicked,” he says. “I knew that was what I wanted to do.” Before long, his growing fascination had rubbed off on cousin Brad, his now-partner in the Ferndale architecture and design studio Five-Eighths.
Because their mothers were quite close, the boys saw each other regularly as kids growing up in Oakland County and came to feel more like brothers than cousins. Naturally, DeVries looked up to Jeffries, whose one-year seniority made him the big brother. When Jeffries introduced him to design, DeVries quickly took to the idea. “He wanted to be an architect, so I wanted to be an architect,” DeVries says. “Luckily, it suited us both.”
The cousins spent entire weekends erecting Lego monuments together in their basements. By 12, they were fantasizing about co-founding a firm. After going on to study together at the University of Michigan, they went their separate ways. DeVries left for a job in Los Angeles, while Jeffries found work at a firm in Royal Oak. But before long, Jeffries had earned his architect license, and DeVries had outgrown his position in California. So, just five years into their careers, they decided to take the leap together.
The cousins launched Five-Eighths from Jeffries’ dining room table in 2015 and soon began leasing their current Ferndale studio. The 35-year-old Jeffries and the 34-year-old DeVries now sit comfortably at the helm of a company whose portfolio features some of metro Detroit’s most popular and most Instagramable spaces. Among them are Michigan and Trumbull Pizza, seafood restaurant Voyager, and the downtown burger joint Lovers Only.
Despite their progress, there’s much Jeffries and DeVries still hope to achieve. “We’re just now getting a handle on what we want this business to be and starting to establish more curated business practices,” Jeffries says. One of their immediate goals is to become more selective about the projects they take on, accepting only those that offer maximum design potential. “We want to push the envelope of what design can do,” he says.
But they aren’t stuck on a single aesthetic. While their preferences skew modern and Scandinavian, DeVries says, “We don’t have an overarching style.” Recurring details — such as clean lines, pops of color, and graphic elements — permeate their work, but it’s their faithfulness to each project’s distinct character that’s the hallmark of their vision, Jeffries says.
Their ongoing renovation of a 110-year-old Detroit firehouse — soon to be Ladder 4 wine bar — offers a prime illustration. The pair has opted for a minimal approach, drawing inspiration for each design choice from the existing structure. The result features various reclaimed elements and French pivot doors that nod to a firehouse aesthetic. This stylistic flexibility is one aspect of Five-Eighths that Jeffries and DeVries have no desire to update. Another is the surprisingly small size of their staff — just two additional employees — which they say has proved ideal for the volume and scale of their projects.
The cousins are enjoying both business success and the kind of deep satisfaction that comes with fulfilling a childhood dream. “After six years, I can count maybe three days I didn’t wake up super excited to work,” DeVries says. “I’m just thankful there are people who actually want to pay us to do what we love.”
Design Dos and Don’ts
When designing your own space, the duo behind the design studio Five-Eighths recommend abiding by these rules
1. Build your space around a neutral and natural color palette. Bold patterns and pops of color should be isolated to easy-to-change accessories, such as rugs and throw pillows.
2. Determine which design feature(s) is/are most important to you. Splurge on those, and practice frugality with the rest.
3. Establish a single overarching theme or idea, which you’ll reference for each design decision.
4. Coordinate metal finishes on all hardware throughout a space, including plumbing and light fixtures.
1. Use imitation materials if you can avoid it.
2. Start tiling from the edge of a room. Instead, begin by aligning the center of the floor with a grout line or with the center of a tile.
3. Be afraid to use standard building materials as finished surfaces, such as walls and floors. Think sealed oriented strand board (OSB), which lends warmth and texture to a space — plus it’s wallet-friendly.
4. Mix multiple flooring materials within a single level. The entire main floor should be done in tile, for example, while the stairs or second level may be hardwood, carpeting, etc.