Take a look inside a Royal Oak bungalow bursting with color, character — and Andy Warhol
By Katherine Martinelli
Photography by Brett Mountain
Judy and John Davids like to think of their Royal Oak home as a jewel box: fairly plain on the outside, but filled with treasure within. Only a single slat on the front porch railing — which Judy permitted John to paint in a zebra stripe motif — gives any indication to the wild style within. “When the kids were little, there was zebra print everywhere in the house,” says John, who’s lived there for 30 years.
Today the couple’s two sons are grown and flown, and you’d be hard-pressed to find zebra print inside the house. But their home remains an expression of Judy and John’s bright and multifaceted personalities, as narrated by an impressive collection of midcentury furniture offset by funky wallpaper and pop culture knickknacks.
Walking through the art-filled, brightly colored five-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot bungalow is like unwrapping a series of beautifully packaged presents. Each room is thoughtfully and playfully decorated with a theme of its own (like baseball in the dining room — they’re diehard, lifelong Tigers fans), and no two spaces are alike. “Some people like a more open floor plan, but I like that there are so many rooms. It means each one can have its own personality,” says Judy.
Both Michigan natives, Judy and John married in 1981 and bought the house — which had been passed down in one family since it was built in 1916 — in 1990 for $82,000. They immediately got to work decorating. The pair didn’t have much money, but they didn’t have kids yet so had time and energy to spare. With John’s background as an architect and Judy’s training as an interior designer, they scored great stuff for pennies at the vintage and antique stores that they lament have all but disappeared from Royal Oak.
“Our taste is really eclectic,” says Judy, adding that while the house is packed with midcentury furniture, she and John lean toward a Pop Art/mod color palette. John loves George Nelson, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, she says. “I am more influenced by pop culture: Warhol, Pee-wee Herman, Barbie and Austin Powers.”
Every room in the house — every detail, even — tells a story. There’s the hand-screen- printed Andy Warhol hibiscus-flower wallpaper in bright greens, blues and purples (the couple custom ordered it from a company that has been granted access to much of the artist’s work by the Andy Warhol Foundation). The black and pink Eames for Herman Miller RAR Baby Rocker in the living room is a rare piece because it wasn’t sold commercially; it was an exclusive design that was gifted to employees of the company who were having a baby (the Davids snagged it at a furniture sale in Royal Oak many years ago). John scored the Eero Saarinen tulip dining room table with swivel chairs from his old architecture firm as part of an informal severance package.
Though the Davids’ collection of furniture reads like a design-museum catalogue (Nelson Marshmallow Sofa, Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair, Eames Potato Chip Chair), they don’t treat it as such and nothing was off-limits to the kids when they were growing up. John and Judy learned that yellow —the original color of their sofa — doesn’t withstand the test of time when two boys and a dog are involved. They finally had it reupholstered after the dog chewed up one of the sofa’s corners, a story they laugh about. “Over the years we have learned to accept small stains and imperfections,” says Judy. “We tell ourselves it is charming. If we didn’t we would go crazy.”
In the back of the house, a mod ’70s room features a fuchsia Bertoia Bird Chair and an elliptical Eames coffee table littered with pop art-inspired puzzles (puzzling is a hobby Judy picked up from her aging mother). Your eyes immediately go to the sizable sculpture in the center of the space made by young adults with special needs at Soul Studio in West Bloomfield. On the walls: bold paintings by friend and local artist Stephen Goodfellow; a piece by local graffiti artist Carson Matlock, whom Judy has been encouraging to express himself on canvas rather than public walls; and a shelf lined with crotcheted dolls (another hobby of Judy’s) modeled after famous artists like Frida Kahlo, Keith Haring and Salvador Dali.
The two guitars (a Gibson Les Paul Jr. and a Daisy Rock) hanging on the wall in this room are some of the only visual clues around the house to Judy’s rocker days. Though she’s now the community engagement specialist for the city of Royal Oak, as a young mother she got together with four other suburban moms to form a punk-inspired band called the Mydols. Despite virtually no musical training, the group saw great success — they even had a gig opening for the B-52s. Judy wrote about her experience in her 2008 book Rock Star Mommy: My Life as a Rocker Mom, now in development to become a Hollywood movie.
Judy and John joke that their furniture is beautiful and storied, but few pieces are actually comfortable. They fight over who gets to sit in the baby rocker — the most comfortable chair in the house — when they watch TV. Otherwise, they just pile together on the living room floor with a bunch of blankets and pillows.
And they have no plans to leave. John and Judy, both 60, are continually making little changes, finding new pieces to add here or there. They recently took down the wallpaper in John’s office to reveal the 1970s-era wood paneling below in perfect condition. These days, any renovations are done with “aging in place” design in mind, like the new walk-in shower in their bathroom. As John and Judy have watched their own parents struggle with things like bathtubs and basement laundry, they have taken note. “It just made sense that we should do it now while we are healthy, and I think we have done it in a way that doesn’t look like what it really is. It looks modern,” says Judy.
The couple never thought of their house as particularly unique until a friend suggested they participate in a Weird Homes tour (organized by a group that arranges self-guided tours of quirky homes nationwide). They worried they weren’t “weird” enough but were chosen for last year’s Detroit tour, and were buoyed by visitors’ comments that their home seemed like such a joyful, happy place. It turns out it’s weird in the best possible way. “Our house is a perfect reflection of who we are,” says John. “Our house makes us happy.”