David Newman had been contentedly living at 5000 Town Center Condominium in Southfield for 10 years, enjoying a decent view, entertaining friends, and basking in his remarkable art collection. But the day he discovered that a condo 10 floors above him was available, he knew his vistas could go from nice to spectacular.
“I snapped it up immediately,” says the retired teacher, computer-company owner, and management consultant. “My new home layout is identical, physically, but it’s higher up (on the tower’s 22nd floor), so I get a great view, including the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit.”
He also looks out on a nine-hole golf course, the condominium community pool and tennis courts, a vintage bright-red barn, a white 1850 farmhouse, fields of produce, a library, and more. With Detroit’s skyline in the distance and the hints of pastoral beauty just below, it’s almost surreal.
Newman was movin’ on up, so to speak, and couldn’t wait to make the space his own. His goal was to bring a mid-century modern look to an extremely outdated condo, which had become somewhat ragged around the edges.
He called on Shirley Maddalena from Maddalena Design, Ltd. in Birmingham — initially to assist with appliance selections and a few details. But as things often go in the design world, what was supposed to be a simple update turned into a detailed renovation, replete with gorgeous cork flooring, retro composite countertops, sleek cabinetry, custom built-ins, and furniture overhauls.
“I was looking at his furniture and I said, ‘David, why don’t you refinish the furniture and reupholster it as well? These are a family legacy,’” recalls Maddalena. Newman agreed immediately.
She also took note of Newman’s extensive collection of art and sensed that the only way it could be properly showcased was with attention to detail and a specific plan.
The two decided that the most important goals were to create a home for Newman’s cherished mid-century tables and chairs that he inherited from his parents and his expansive art collection.
The homeowner and designer spent nearly half a year turning the living space into a tower showpiece. Not to say that it’s showy at all. Showpiece, yes; showy, no. It’s more simple and refined, with attention to art, history, and heirloom furnishings.
The end result was so successful, Maddalena won in a few Detroit Home Design Awards categories last year. The annual competition is judged by designers and architects from around the nation.
In the dining room, which flows from the kitchen and into the living room, Newman happily enjoys meals in a chair and at a table that was in the home where he grew up in Detroit near the University of Detroit Mercy.
His mother, who was an artist, and his father, a former stockbroker, along with his brother, often would enjoy Friday-night chicken dinners at that very walnut table. His parents bought these pieces in 1954 at Grand Rapids Bookcase and Chair Company in Hastings. Designed by William Pahlmann, a New York-based, mid-20th-century interior designer who popularized eclectic design, the table, chairs, and sideboard now are again strikingly handsome, thanks to a renovation by Guaranteed Furniture in Berkley, which spent nine months stripping them to bare wood and restaining them.
Maddalena and Newman chose Knoll archival fabric for the chairs. “It was important to both of us to use the correct textiles that go with that era,” Maddalena says.
The furniture fits so well with the layout it’s almost uncanny. Mid-century modern architecture puts the accent on clean simplicity and structures with ample windows, open floor plans, and bringing the outside in. And the condo does just that. Large windows circle the living and dining room spaces, allowing Newman and his friends to take in magnificent sunrises, incoming storms, intriguing cloud patterns, and more.
He’s Gotta Have Art
When it came to Newman’s art collection, which includes sculptures, watercolors, and works done in gouache paints, and beyond, Maddalena reviewed all and then contemplated how each piece should relate to another.
“The art was in boxes, some was out, it was everywhere,” Maddalena recalls. Adds Newman: “I took 71 pieces to be framed. I knew what I wanted to do frame-wise, but the rest was Shirley.”
“Each is different but is connected to the other in a way, and that is the challenge when placing them,” Maddalena says.
Today, when the two review the art, they see the relationship that Maddalena was after. “It’s as if they each hopped up on the walls, found a suitable place for themselves and stayed there,” she says.
Cuban-American artist Hugo de Soto’s work, for example, shares the home with pieces by Susan Bolt of Michigan, and is just inches from works by other artists whom Newman and his family knew. (De Soto won a scholarship to Detroit in the 1940s and studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.) “He (de Soto) met my parents when he was here and they mentored him a bit,” Newman recalls. “We stayed in touch.”
Stoneware created by Newman’s mother also graces the living room. Newman had one of his favorite pieces crafted by his mother wired and fitted for a lamp that casts a glow on the sofa.
Because the ceiling is a cement slab, they couldn’t install canned lighting. “We ended up with surface-mounted lighting,” Maddalena explains, “with a remote power source, a great solution.”
Newman’s other favorite items include books. “I used to have a wall of books, but had to cut it back and just choose the favorites,” he says. Those made it onto a shelving unit (“functional art,” Maddalena says) that was custom-made for the condominium.
A Bachelor’s Pad
Other custom features that suit this fuss-free bachelor include a pull-out pantry, a storage “closet” in the kitchen between the drywall and the wall; a pull-out drawer for his photo collection beneath his bed, medicine cabinets that are built into the wall instead of hanging on it; and a nifty pull-down bedroom closet/cupboard that disappears into the wall. Each room flows into the next with similar wall colors and material selections.
“When you use similar materials throughout, it makes a small space seem bigger,” Maddalena says.
In the bathroom, they purposefully chose the same tile work for throughout, black-matte and black-polished in a 60-40 mix. “Using the same gives it more depth, but the mix makes it more interesting.
“It’s much more difficult to design a small space than a larger one,” Maddalena says.
The key is simplicity.
Newman really wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t like overly ornate or overly designed,” he says, looking at smooth kitchen cabinetry that lacks distracting hardware. His composite countertop is “sort of retro,” Maddalena says, in keeping with the home’s furniture and the man himself.
In his office, an Eero Saarinen-designed reading chair with Knoll archival fabric takes center stage with its bright-hot, orange-red shade. “A hint of that color is picked up in a nearby painting and a sculpture on his desk, so it makes a nice composition,” Maddalena says. Newman also wanted to have a stand-up work surface, so “you’re not sitting down all the time,” he notes.
“David wanted to plan this by the inch, to know what it was about,” Maddalena says. A great tool for the duo was a 3-D rendering created by Maddalena’s associate. “We understood what David was trying to say,” Maddalena recalls. “With the rendering, he was like a bird flying over the space, looking at it all.”
As committed as Newman is to building and architectural details, so is he with various furnishings and objets d’art. Unlike when most homeowners work with designers who often bring in additional pieces to complement the homeowner’s taste, Newman incorporated a variety of items that he already owned and loved. “It was hard for him to bring in anything that he didn’t have a direct relationship with,” Maddalena says.
Indeed, the home reflects the man, and the man the home. Listening to his music (classical and folk, for the most part), reading his books, roasting the occasional chicken, enjoying a champagne toast with friends, and taking in his vast art collection … nothing could be better, except, perhaps, the view.
“It’s a forever place,” says Newman: “I’m happy as a clam at high tide.”