A Loving Touch

Attention to detail gives a 1930s Ferndale Tudor a thoroughly modern renovation and addition that doesn’t change the vibe of the neighborhood // Photographs by Justin Maconochie
Chris Johnston’s grandmother’s embroidery decorates the family’s dining space.

If you’ve ever grabbed a beer at the Loving Touch lounge in Ferndale, you know the vibe is modern and laid back. It’s a great place to shoot pool or take in an indie band. But if you spend a bit more time there, you start to notice the details. Like the oversized painting of a biker with a frame that can seat two. Or the bar top that appears to be connected by large jigsaw puzzle pieces.

It’s with the same attention to detail that Loving Touch co-owners Chris and Krista Johnston renovated their Ferndale home. From the street, the English Tudor fits the vibe of the block and looks very much like it did when its original owners put the key in the door in 1936. Inside, however, the home has evolved with its new family. Have a seat at the massive maple dining table in the center of the house, and you’ll start to notice layer after layer of design elements slowly reveal themselves.

“This home is a reflection of who we are,” says Chris Johnston. “We designed it without any concern about the next owner. Resale value wasn’t important.” But that’s no problem; the Johnstons plan to stay for the long haul. With three successful businesses in Ferndale — the Loving Touch as well as the Emory and Woodward Avenue Brewery (known affectionately as “the WAB” by locals) restaurants — they’ve put down roots in the community they love.

The Johnstons lived in the 1,400-square-foot home for eight years before tackling their first renovation project — the kitchen. Walls were removed to open up the space, and arched doorways were installed to mimic the home’s existing architectural features.

“The renovation made the small house feel much larger,” says Chris. “It opened the first floor and changed the way we felt about the house. We knew we wanted to stay and keep working on it.”

Two years later, Chris dreamed up an addition while he was on tour with his alternative rock band, 19 Wheels.

“Our family was growing and we needed more space,” he says. “While I was on the road, I would look through home design magazines. I spent two years planning.”

In March 2008, Chris was ready to make his dream a reality; he didn’t have to go far for help — neighbor David Masko was an architect. Masko admits the relationship with his new client was unusual: “We lived next door to the Johnstons for 12 years,” he says. “I knew them, their home, and the street quite well.”

Left: The tiered front steps of the Johnston home provide the perfect place to watch the Ferndale Memorial Day Parade, which starts on their street. Chris Johnston tells friends “look for the bright green door” when giving directions to their home. Right: The heart of the home is the Johnstons’ the dining room, which is set off from the family room by a poured cement divider. Chris Johnston says the family room’s wood wall helps anchor the space.

Chris enlisted the help of another professional who knew him quite well: business partner Brian Reedy. Chris and Reedy had been friends since the ’80s while students at Seaholm High School in Birmingham. The duo had traveled the country as teenagers competing in BMX competitions. Reedy, the creative force behind the interiors at the WAB, the Emory, and the Loving Touch, is the owner of Wood Metal Stone, a Royal Oak–based company that recycles materials into artful furnishings.

“Brian and I work well together,” says Chris. “I come up with good ideas … he takes them and makes them five times better than I ever imagined.”

One of the main objectives for the Johnstons’ addition was to respect the home, the street, and the community. “We feel very connected to this area,” says Chris. “What we didn’t want to do was create an addition that screamed ‘Here we are!’ Our first thought was that our home should fit the neighborhood and the city.”

Chris had some loose ideas on how he wanted to organize the addition, which included a new dining space, family room, powder room, master bedroom, master bathroom, and deck. He came to Masko with 8.5-by-11-inch sketches.

“The Johnstons were interested in doing something unique and out of the ordinary,” Masko says. “For an architect, those are wonderful words to hear.”

The first challenge was to marry the Johnstons’ love of modern design with the charming, traditional style of the existing English Tudor structure.

Reedy, who had worked in construction for several years and had built multimillion dollar homes, wanted to temper the flow of creative juices. “I’ve seen additions that were well done and others that were not,” he says. “Chris wanted a contemporary space for the addition. I didn’t want the home to look like the Star Trek Enterprise had been snapped on to the back.”

Instead, Masko suggested expanding the home by adding simple forms that were contemporary, as well as compatible with the existing house. Two distinct styles were tied together through the use of material and color. For example, sandstone was applied at the rear side exterior to mirror the stone on the front of house. Instead of using brick for the addition, horizontal wood siding in the same rich color was chosen with the unusual detail of mitered corners that add a more contemporary look. Also, a copper roof was used on the addition as a nod to the copper gutters that existed on the original house.

Left: Brian Reedy sits at the dining table he designed and built for the Johnstons using wood reclaimed from a friend’s fallen maple tree. Middle: The bench at the dining table is made from the same ipe wood used in the courtyard. With a curved back, it was designed to look like a blanket being shaken out. Its deep color provides a nice contrast to the table and chairs, which were made from reclaimed maple. Right: Ruby and Mabel Johnston spend time in the family room. The Herman Miller sofa was a favorite find from Craigslist.

The house faces south and sits on a relatively narrow lot. The 1,200-square-foot addition had to flow into the shady back yard. Another design challenge for Masko was to bring natural light into house. He designed a split gable roof with a south-facing window that runs the length of the house and pulls natural light into the master bedroom — Masko calls it a “light scoop.” He also added large windows on the east side, which illuminate the new dining area.

Another light-capturing technique was a light well added to the flat portion of the roof. It brings in light to the first-floor dining area and allows natural light to enter the second-floor master bathroom through frosted-resin panel walls. “We could’ve brought light into the master bathroom by installing a skylight,” says Masko. “But the light well allows us to share light with the dining area.”

In addition to respecting the community, the Johnstons wanted to honor the earth. In fact, their businesses were recycling before it was mandatory in Ferndale. Much of the materials for the addition were recycled or brought in from sustainable sources. Bricks taken off of the rear of the home were reused around the foundation. And salvaged wood and hardware were reused throughout the home.

The Johnston home was also the first in Ferndale with a geothermal heat pump for heating and cooling. The system uses a well that was installed in the basement and taps into the earth’s constant 54-degree temperature. The air is pumped through the home using the existing ductwork. Johnston says the system cost around $20,000, but the investment will be recouped in seven to 10 years through lower heating and cooling bills.

“I believe in minimizing your footprint whenever possible,” says Chris. “We were doubling the size of our house … this (helped) make up for that.”

Once the structure was in place, it was time to focus on the interior. “We wanted details that people find, but that didn’t punch you in the face,” says Chris. He told Reedy to “have fun.”

“Chris and Krista gave me a lot of freedom,” says Reedy. “They wanted it to be special.”

Reedy built a large dining table and chairs using the wood of a maple tree that had fallen in the Royal Oak back yard of a mutual friend. He created a banquette-style bench from ipe, a sustainably harvested Brazilian wood with a rich brown color. It provides a sense of balance to the ipe deck located on the opposite side of the home. Reedy designed the bench to look like a blanket being shook out.

“It’s that form that happens when the first flip is made,” he explains.

Left: Krista and Mabel Johnston prepare lunch. Like many homes, the kitchen was the first renovation project. A wall was removed and the new arched opening was built to mirror the home’s existing doorways. Middle: Mabel Johnston gets ready for lunch on the deck.

Krista says Reedy wanted to get the curve of the bench “just right” to provide support for those seated there; she and Chris had several test drives until the curves were a perfect fit. A work of art, the bench is highlighted by lighting mounted behind the piece.

“It was an unexpected way to add lighting to the space,” says Mollie Clarahan, a Ferndale-based architectural lighting designer who worked with the Johnstons to illuminate their home in unusual methods. “It adds ambient lighting and highlights the bench, showing it in a three-dimensional way.”

A window fell inside the area where the bench was planned, so Reedy played with the frame, mimicking the angles. Chris suggested that Reedy paint the window frame red.

“When I was planning my addition, I knew I wanted one red window in my home,” Chris says. “To me, it symbolizes a heart.”

The existing home featured several arched shapes, and Chris wanted the addition to feature squares and rectangles. A long rectangular window sits above the bench; a rectangular console is mounted to the wall opposite the bench; and square recessed and pendant lighting is found throughout the new space.

Reedy added a poured-concrete wall as a separator between the dining area and family room. He included a rectangular opening in the concrete wall to complement the other rectangular shapes.

“Originally, the cutout was just for design, but it turned out to be functional,” says Chris. “If you’re seated in the family room, you can see through it to the front of the house.”

Upstairs, the addition includes a new master bedroom and bathroom. The large bedroom feels cozy because of its sharply sloped ceiling. Krista says the light scoop that Masko designed often lets moonlight flood the room. Pocket doors hide the couple’s closet and give the room a clean feel.

A balcony off of the master bedroom overlooks the backyard deck and neighborhood, and provides a great space for reading. The Johnstons and their two daughters, Mabel, 5, and Ruby, 11, have even slept there on occasion.

Left and right: The colors and materials of nature decorate the master bedroom, creating a comfortable atmosphere in which to curl up on the bed with a book. Middle: The family’s dog, Pooch, chews a bone on the courtyard deck, while business partner and designer Brian Reedy enjoys lunch with the Johnstons. Reedy handcrafted the red metal planter boxes, which are filled with Scottish moss for a maintenance-free garden.

The master bathroom features white Corian countertops and clear glass tiles, which play off of the light from the light well. Continuing his love of angles, Johnston found a square commode for this room. Four colored-glass tiles in the shower were placed at the heights of the four family members at the time that they were installed. The colors match an original stained-glass window at the front of the home.

“On the surface, it looks pretty, but there’s a deeper meaning,” says Chris.

A stool by Context Furniture of Royal Oak provides seating at the sink and includes another hidden detail. Etched into the underside of the seat is a drawing of the family done by 11-year-old Ruby.

Scattered throughout the home is the family’s eclectic art collection. A 3-D lenticular print by Detroit artist Chris Dean, titled Woodward Motel, hangs above the dining-room console. It features the cutout shape of a Transformer robot, which Chris says reminds him of his childhood. The “class optimist” trophy he got in 1984 when he graduated from high school dec-orates the powder room. A Beatles comb purchased on eBay hangs on the wall in the second-floor main bathroom. Citylights, an oil painting by Stephen Magsig of Postcards From Detroit, accents the master bathroom. Chris’ grandmother’s embroidery hangs in the dining area. And artwork by Mabel and Ruby is proudly displayed throughout the home.

“It would be easy to go to Crate & Barrel and pick everything out,” says Chris. “Instead, we use things only when we find something that fits and has meaning to us.”

Building the addition took about a year, and completing the interior and furnishings added another 18 months to the timeline. But the couple says the home will always be a work in progress.

“Our home is always evolving,” says Krista.

“It’s like writing lyrics,” says Chris. “They don’t always make sense at the time, but looking back, things fit. We love our home and wouldn’t do anything different.”

Left: The Johnston home looks different at night. Architectural lighting designer Mollie Clarahan used several types of fixtures to gently illuminate the home. Right: The Johnstons’ addition pays homage to the history of the existing home through the use of complementary colors and materials. The light well, located above the exterior stone wall, allows the master bathroom to share natural light with first floor dining room.
Food and product styling for outdoor scene by Rebecca Voigt. Special thanks to: Westborn Market for providing the flowers, food, and drinks; Crate & Barrel for the wooden tray; Ikea for the white plates and wooden bowl; The Italian Dish for the ceramic bowl, serving utensils, and cheese knife; and Target for the Ball jars.