One look at the Melchers-McIntosh residence gives us a glimpse back into 17th century Delft in The Netherlands, making it easy to imagine the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painting away in a golden sunlit upper floor studio. This house is in Detroit, Michigan and was renovated by architects of McIntosh Poris Associates starting in 2001. According to architect Michael Poris, the project took five years to complete, "since much of the time it was being lived in." Poris undertook the renovation with fellow architects James and McIntosh who were the owners of the home.
The original, Dutch-influenced home was built and designed in 1896 by Gari Melchers for his father Julius Melchers who was considered Detroit's first sculptor.
The restoration and renovation project involved a complete overhaul of internal mechanics, restructuring of dilapidated areas, new construction, and detailed restoration based on historic photographs.
Before the renovation, most parts of the house were abandoned and the back wing had nearly collapsed. After comprehensively revamping all of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, the back wing was lifted off its original foundations and reinforced with structural steel. A new cedar and copper roof replaced three other roofs layered over the original pine roof. The exterior wood clapboard was stripped of 20 layers of paint. Rotted perimeter eaves and inverted soffits were rebuilt. A meticulous restoration of the original Melchers hand-carved details was achieved by consulting historic photos of the house. The colors used on the exterior include colonial yellow with a cream trim accented with green tones to highlight details of the restored carvings.
Interior construction required establishing sectional relief where there originally was none. Three bedrooms evolved into the master suite on the second floor. A revision of the original sunroom created a two-story sunroom with views of the newly created courtyard and carriage house. A large family room was created on the third floor, where once three bedrooms existed, and a new third-floor balcony replaced unfinished attic space. A fourth-level loft overlooks the third-floor space and completes the complex relationship within the restored structure.
The renovated three-story structure includes a foyer, music room, morning room, sunroom, four new bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, master suite, three bedrooms, family room, balcony, and loft.
The foyer, music room, and dining room were designed to maintain original tones set in the 19th century. An intimate Dutch vestibule complete with antique Dutch courting mirrors flanking the split Dutch door, stands at the elegantly carved grand entrance and stair hall. A prismatic light fixture from the 1930s graces the entry foyer, while pocket doors cordon off the music room and sitting room. Off the stair hall is the original, restored marble butler's sink. A 1920s-era Steck player baby grand piano graces the music room.
The dining room's design includes the restoration of Gari's original corner cupboards and 400-year-old Delft tile imported from Holland. A century of paint was stripped from the ceiling, walls, and ornamentations to reveal original, hand-carved details. A blue porcelain finish completes the walls above the wainscoting, accentuating the hues of the Delft tile surrounding the fireplace. Two restored, carved heads flank either side of the window seat and are supposedly Julius Melchers' older children.
A new carriage house outside of the main house functions as garage, a courtyard, and a storage facility and takes advantage of the alley access to the home. The space comprises two symmetrical wings flanking a sunken courtyard. Each wing accommodates one car, with a storage loft located above. The connecting space between the two garages was designed to be a summer kitchen that can extend to the courtyard, which doubles as an alfresco dining room.
According the Poris, the biggest challenge was, "Probably living in the home the entire time during the renovation process."
The renovation was beautifully executed and although modern in all of the ways that matter, in design and details it brings one back to a more serene time in a faraway town in Northern Europe.