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Progress and Preservation: Inside a Charming Pleasant Ridge Renovation

August 5, 2020

A Pleasant Ridge couple pays homage to the past and looks to the future while renovating their century-old home

By Carmen Nesbitt

Photography by Alicia Gbur

Featured image by Jesse David Green

When Alicia Gbur and Christian Doble first spotted their Pleasant Ridge home during a bike ride in 2014, it was love at first sight.

Then they went inside.

The gaudy, ’80s-style bathroom required a complete gut. The fireplace was an eyesore. And the kitchen? “It was pretty bad,” says Gbur, a photographer. “It was really chopped up and divided.” Even the cabinets were so outdated that they had to be relocated to the garage.

The house’s exterior, before.

While renovating their house, Gbur and Doble tried to retain the home’s original character while updating certain features.

Gbur working on the front door   which she and Doble scored at an antique store in Ypsilanti and refinished, adding new glass and a turn-of-the-century, hand-cranked doorbell. “I’ve dreamed of an old door like this for many years,” says Doble. “It’s possibly my all-time favorite find.”

Still, the husband-and-wife pair were drawn to the house’s historic charm — it was built in 1921 — and its “living and breathing story,” says Doble, a creative director in advertising, who read up on the home’s history. The couple knew they wanted to preserve these “signs of life” when they started a massive renovation six years ago. Now, the coastal-inspired craftsman home sports a reimagined interior layout, an enclosed porch and a refined landscape.

The house’s exterior, after, complete with a door rescued from an old farmhouse.

Doble in the back garden with the couple’s dogs, Ruth and Louie.

Updating the functionality of the home’s spaces while maintaining its rich history didn’t come easy. The toughest obstacle was softening an overwhelming ceiling-to-floor fieldstone fireplace, which sits inside the front door. “It literally divides the room,” says Gbur. The fireplace’s stones were carted in by horse and buggy from a nearby riverbed, says Doble. “Usually when you see fieldstone, they’re all large stones but ours seems to be a scattershot, whatever they could find. To me, that’s what makes up a lot of the character.”

The living room’s river-rock-studded fireplace.

Nonetheless, it needed an overhaul. The couple decided to cover the top portion of the fireplace with paneled wood and a mantle, which allowed them to keep it intact while minimizing the heavy stone aesthetic. “We didn’t remove that history,” says Doble. “If somebody wanted to pull that off down the road, they would find that underneath it, [the original] is still there.”

The dining room.

The master bedroom.

A built-in dresser in the master bedroom.

The master bathroom, which Doble says achieved its “open-air feel” with added windows and extra height thanks to a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Gbur and Doble, who are in a local indie-rock band called Fawnn, are used to taking on projects together. But the renovation stretched their creative chops. “When you have a challenge, you [have] got to think of how you’re going to solve [it],” says Doble. “Through that process, that’s where you find what makes your house unique and special.”

Take that gaudy bathroom. As Doble began tearing down one of the walls, something caught his eye. A message was etched inside: We remodeled a terrible 1950’s bathroom, it read. Before sealing the walls once more, he and Gbur left their own message: We remodeled a terrible 1980’s bathroom. “Some people say, ‘Oh, you know, you should leave things alone or try to make them exactly what they were,’” says Doble. “I think it’s a mix of both.”

The couple’s terra cotta collection.

Now the couple — whose renovation is nearly complete, save the living room — is leaving what Doble refers to as their “legacy” in other spaces. The renovation process taught them design was a shared passion. “It’s our favorite thing to do and so we started helping other people with their homes,” Doble says. To do this, they began their own design company called Boxwood Pine and are redoing a client’s lake house. “We’re always itching to do something,” says Gbur. “We’ve got some fun ideas happening.”

The library, home to a collection of “English vessels, wooden bowls and retired duck decoys,” says Doble. “It’s always changing up.”

In the meantime, the pair continue to be confronted with their home’s rich history. They recall the day in 2015 when an elderly couple knocked on their door. The husband was going blind and wanted to see his childhood home for the last time, so he and his wife drove all the way from Virginia. They later sent Gbur and Doble a letter filled with stories and old photos.

“We all know we aren’t here forever. But the fact that our house might be is part of leaving that legacy and leaving that stamp,” says Doble. “It’s like a time capsule. Who knows who’s going to open it one day?”

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