Inside three of the coolest residential spaces in Metro Detroit
By Nicole Frehsee Mazur
All That Jazz
Before he was a tech entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author and innovation expert collaborating with organizations from Coca Cola to American Express, Josh Linkner was a jazz guitarist.
So when the Franklin resident — who put himself through school at Boston’s Berklee College of Music playing gigs — began building his home a few years ago, he knew he needed to pay homage to the passion he’s cultivated for more than 40 years. The result: Tia’s Trance, a roughly 1,000-square-foot jazz bar nestled in his home’s lower level. “A lot of times, people who are serious musicians build a recording studio in their house,” says Linkner, who named the space after his wife. “I thought, what if we build a jazz bar instead?”
To design the speakeasy-style bar, Linkner looked to the many venues where he’d taken in shows — either from the stage or the audience — over the past few decades. The idea was to borrow elements from iconic jazz clubs around the world, including his personal favorites: the Village Vanguard, the Iridium and the Blue Note, all in New York. “I did this exhaustive research, looking at pictures and going into clubs,” he says. “I’d see a particular lighting fixture at a club in Toronto or look at how they laid brick at a club in New York.”
Linkner then partnered with a designer and builder to bring his vision to life. With its industrial steel beams, elegant chandeliers and a white marble bar (complete with Tia’s Trance-branded coasters, matchbooks and napkins), the space feels like a portal to bygone era — and that’s precisely the idea. “I wanted it to feel like a time machine,” says Linkner. “As you walk through the door, you’re transported 70 years into the past into New York’s vibrant jazz scene.”
The acoustics, however, are totally state-of-the-art. The room is long and narrow “with a lot of hard surfaces that [would make] sound bounce all over the place,” says Linkner, who enlisted a sound engineer during the buildout. The ceiling tiles are designed to reduce echoes and there’s also sound-absorption material in the walls, which means Linkner — who occasionally gigs at Detroit spots like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge and Cliff Bell’s — can have a full-on jam session without disturbing his 4-year-old twins upstairs. (His kids love the bar, too: “I put them on my lap and they’ll play the drums and go crazy.”)
Pre-pandemic, the Linkners hosted everything from charity events and performances to wine tastings with friends in the jazz bar, but as of late, the space has been the backdrop for some quieter nights. “Sometimes my wife and I will go down there and have a glass of wine together,” says Linkner. “It’s a nice escape from the world.”
Play It Again
When Dr. Susan Malinowski of Birmingham began designing a playroom for her two sons a few years ago, she looked to an unusual place for inspiration. “We wanted it to [seem] like the kids went to a junkyard or a place where construction scraps would be thrown,” she says, “and they found these things and made the playroom.”
Everything in the 13-foot-by-20-foot playroom is either reclaimed “or meant to look like it,” says Malinowski, who scoured flea markets for things like old oiler valves (which she had repainted), license plates (she had them cut up to spell her kids’ names) and plumbing pipes. She even scored spotlights from a 1950s-era police cruiser, which sit above a mural that Malinowski commissioned from a local street artist. “We wanted the feel of ‘reuse and repurpose,’” she says.
Assembling the industrial-themed room felt like a scavenger hunt, with even the builders getting in on the excitement. “They’d [go to the store and] be like, ‘We found lights!’” Malinowski recalls. “It was something different so they were all over it.”
Malinowski’s kids are 8 and 12 now, but she says they still spend time in the space — there’s a cubby under the elevated play structure that can be used for gaming or homework. She, too, still has a fondness for the room. “I’m an eye doctor,” she says, “but my passion is decorating, remodeling and building.”
Movin’ On Up
In 1995, Alex Begin heard the words that he says would change his life: “You have 30 days, take whatever you want.”
The message came from the owners of the J.L. Hudson building in downtown Detroit — the site of the iconic department store that shut down in 1983 — and it referred to Begin’s years-long quest to salvage the building’s 1920s-era elevators, which he’d been fascinated with since he was a kid. “These weren’t your garden-variety elevators,” he says. “They were antique, manually controlled machines that were elaborately decorated, and every one had an operator who was like the ambassador of the store.”
When Begin heard that the store was going out of business, he figured the building wasn’t going to last. “That’s what got me thinking, ‘We have to save these things,’” he says. After being handed the keys to the store, which at that time had no electricity, he went with his contractor (“a whole cosmic experience in itself”) and they selected two elevators to remove.
Decades later, both elevators sit in the Bloomfield Township home that Begin, who’s now in his late 50s, shares with his wife, Diane. One is still in pieces in his basement; the other is the house’s showpiece. In fact, the Begins, who began building their house a few years ago, designed the entire structure around the elevator. “Some guys go out and buy a Porsche or a Corvette,” says Begin, who worked with Birmingham architect Lou DesRosiers. “My midlife crisis toy is an old Hudson’s elevator.”
The two-year process of restoring the elevator to its former glory was a team effort: Detroit Elevator Company in Ferndale reverse-engineered the machine and got it up to code, while Vogue Furniture in Royal Oak to refurbish the wood panels and brasswork inside the cab. Everything works like it did in Hudson’s heyday, from the air-pressure-driven doors (Begin has an air compressor in his garage) to the pointer that indicates which floor the elevator is on.
While the elevator’s mechanical system is retro — it’s driven by cables with a counterweight in the shaft — “the controls behind the scene are all modern,” says Begin. “That’s more of the artistry. To connect all of this modern stuff to operate all this antique stuff, think about the level of engineering that was needed. [My engineer] told me he’s lost a lot of night sleep worrying about how to make this work.”
Once Covid-19 is no longer a threat, Begin hopes to offer tours to other folks who feel nostalgic for the old Hudson’s building. His post about the elevator on the J.L. Hudson’s Facebook page got upwards of 5,000 shares within hours; one man even said he’d fly in from Hawaii. “I realized that people really love this thing,” he says. “I feel like I owe it to my fellow Detroiters to have an open house.”
In the meantime, Begin — who, unsurprisingly, has become an elevator aficionado, even choosing hotels based on their elevators when he travels — will continue taking the elevator for frequent spins. “I ride it pretty much every other day,” he says. “It’s really wild to think that this is one of the most famous elevators in Detroit.”