How one couple merged two homes into the perfect oasis
By Julie Baumkel • Photographed by Jerry Zolynsky
The scene is stunning. A mélange of images attract a visitor’s eye: a massive wooden door, stone underfoot, white walls adorned with vivid paintings and sculpture bursting with color. However, the subdued, neutral furnishings direct the view to where it belongs — a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows offering a breathtaking view of Orchard Lake, its waves rippling in the sun.
It looks like heaven, but Jodee Smith says she wasn’t initially convinced they would ever get to such a place of peace and beauty.
“My husband, Mark, felt an attraction to this home from the beginning,” she says. “We had looked at more than 200 homes by then. I knew he felt drawn to this home. He kept coming back to look at it. I was willing to go with his gut feeling, but all I could see was the orange brick and a dirty house that needed renovation. I remember standing with my architect and designer, just us three women on the lawn after we bought it, and thinking, ‘What did I just do?’”
Luckily, Mark’s vision supplied Jodee with the home she’d always dreamt of, greatly assisted with a lot of inspired design, work and guidance from Birmingham architect Glenda Meads and interior designer Michelle Mio, a principal of Birmingham-based Rariden Schumacher Mio Interiors.
Time for a cool change
It was quite a dramatic slog and the distractions were intense — especially since Smith was also planning the wedding of her oldest daughter, which ended up taking place nine days after the couple moved into their last and “retirement” home.
“We had really enjoyed our friends in the community of West Bloomfield where we lived then, and it was a great place to raise our daughters, but we needed something different for the next phase of our life. We had been commuting back and forth over the years from the West Bloomfield home to a home up north,” says Jodee.
“The kids were getting older and moving out, and I was just tired of spending Thursday getting ready and packing, going up, entertaining and coming back and unpacking, only to do it all over again the following weekend,” she says. “It was great fun, but our children’s lives were changing and so was ours.”
“I think our love of commuting had just run its course,” says Mark. “So I told her, ‘Why don’t we see if we can find something else around here?’”
Mark’s savvy and enthusiasm — and a solid price on the home — tipped the balance for Jodee.
The Smith’s offer on the short sale home was accepted in December 2011, notes Mark, a partner of Bingham Farms-based Mellen Smith and Pivoz, PLC, and former president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. He says they closed on the property in late 2012 and moved in November 2013.
Let the work begin
Mark says they had initially planned on a “fluff-and-puff” remodel. But Jodee said: “This place is really ugly.”
“I think the saying, ‘You should buy a house to marry, not to date,’ always resonated with me,” says Jodee. “We were referred to Glenda and we asked her to come up with two plans, one a fluff-and-puff remodel, and the other, a vision of what she saw here.”
“We knew the kitchen was bad,” says Mark.
“And we love to entertain,” says Jodee.
They both agreed that they needed a three-car garage. The fireplace in the middle of the potentially incredible lake view had to go. They also agreed they were not going to spend all their money on their house.
Architect Glenda Meads listened to their needs and desires, and brought two plans to them. She spread them out in the middle of the couple’s new home and the decision was immediate. No fluff-andpuff for the Smiths.
“We saw the rock star version of the plans and that was it,” says Jodee.
“We loved the redesign out of the chute,” says Mark.
Unveiling a dream home
Today, the 7,000-square-foot home is spectacularly spacious but unassuming from the street; although a massive door indicates some of the richness and layers of design yet to unfold. Despite its square footage, the genius of the home is that it still feels intimate, with some lower ceilings and cozy niches and levels that unveil themselves slowly.
The architect gave them the vision, but Jodee and Mark say their designer made it happen and the family gained a “BFF” in the bargain.
“It’s amazing what a great designer can do,” says Jodee. “Contrary to what most people imagine,
Michelle Mio actually saved us lots of money. Also, she was the ‘bad cop’ to the work crews, so I always got to be the good guy to the many crews who helped renovate our home. On so many levels, she helped us make the right decision at the right time. She got to know us before we began the project and was by our side every step of the way.”
The results of the “meeting of the minds” are sensational by anyone’s standards.
The main level, a few steps down from the entrance on the right, includes a custom kitchen with an island for food prep and another for keeping the cook (Jodee) company, with a bank of chairs facing her work area. This way, she can cook and be a part of the action.
Looking out from the kitchen on the right is a 10-seat dining area and the great room, with a fireplace along the left. The previous, view-blocking fireplace was painstakingly torn down. (“What a mess,” recalls Jodee. “Hard to imagine doing that again. Glad I don’t have to.”)
An entry from the three-car garage parallels the kitchen and includes a powder room, a first-floor laundry/“study” for Jodee and a hall that leads to a cozy sitting room that is in line with the dining area and also has spectacular lake views.
A few steps up from the foyer and main level, the couple converted an upstairs previously filled with bedrooms to a master suite beyond compare.
A sitting room with lake views is on the top level and leads to the master bedroom, which has a bank of windows facing the lake. Along the street-facing side of the home are his-and-her bathrooms, his-and-her toilets and his-and-her closets, with custom cabinetry at every turn to maintain a clean, contemporary feel throughout.
Steps down from the main level lead to other floors, one with two large bedrooms along the front of the house for their daughters, and a large lake view family room with another fireplace and a four-seat game table and chairs and more cabinetry for storage and display.
More steps down from the family room/bedrooms is an entertainment area and another kitchen facing the water with cabinetry for wine storage and a bathroom with a shower that services the dog efficiently as well as sandy visitors returning from lake sports.
Yet another level down, a splendidly large and well-appointed exercise room faces the lake with a pool table and cigar room running along the street side of the house. The same level also includes a large storage area for mechanicals, banks of cabinets and spaces for other home storage needs.
All in all, the Smiths feel the home renovation combines the best of both worlds for them: a low-maintenance, serene oasis where they can entertain their friends and family, and a lake lifestyle closer to home.
“The views are what are most satisfying to us,” says Mark, although Jodee notes he truly lives on the lake, on a range of boating vehicles from speedboats to kayaks, all summer long.
“I feel like I am on vacation 24/7,” echoes Jodee. “Sometimes we just pull out of the driveway and look back and think, ‘Who lives there? Oh, it’s us.’” NS