Inside Scoop

Interior design ideas have never been more accessible to homeowners addicted to Pinterest, Dwell magazine and the endless stream of catalogs choking the region’s mailboxes.

This access means design typically seen on the coasts is seeping into northern Michigan, an area still rife with what one designer calls “Home Depot chic.”

Architecturally, northern Michigan homes are skewing slightly smaller, yet every square foot counts. The grand two-story foyer is shifting to an entrance that features a cozy reading loft instead of empty space.

Local design experts chime in on what homeowners are clamoring for – with both new and remodeled interiors.

Kenneth C. Richmond, AIA
Richmond Architects

It seems spaces are being asked to do more than they used to do; by that I mean we

are making more out of less.

Formal areas like the dining room are long gone, but what we are seeing is

multifunctional kitchens that include areas to track bills, incoming/outgoing mail,

leave messages for family and watch TV. Again, it’s a more complex use of space

because maybe we are budget driven or there’s an emerging consciousness: Why

should we build so much house for only two or three people?

For us there’s been a real trend toward clients sourcing their own materials such as

countertops. There is a sophisticated knowledge, for example, of drawer hardware.

It’s really good that people are so educated, but on the other hand it means

people are drawn increasingly to the same designs presented by Dwell magazine,

Restoration Hardware or It becomes the lowest common denominator.

Just because you find it online doesn’t mean it’s the last word.

Another thing I’m noticing is that we are literally creating outdoor rooms with

furniture, rugs, lamps, chairs, lighting, heating and sound systems. They’re great fun

because they’re becoming more of an interior space. Even on modest homes we’re

including these.

Not quite as fun, but important anyway, is the really sophisticated and technological

heating and ventilating systems we’re installing. They’re great; the cleaning and

filtering is necessary because we build our houses so tight, we have to clean the air

and make it fresh.

The more technology driven we become, the less we are connected to the outdoors.

My clients almost always say they want to commune with nature, but the [building]

codes require that we literally seal nature out.

Another conundrum is all of the space age materials we have available to us that

are usually not very green. They’re usually a petroleum byproduct. I am happy to

see that there is less Ikea being used, which is great because Ikea is horrible for the


One item bridging the technology/green gap is light fixtures, some of which are

beautifully inspired by a certain period, but also modern. They’re techy, low voltage

and beautiful.

An Inman Company-designed kitchen and dining area.

An Inman Company-designed kitchen and dining area.

Shane D. Inman, CKD, ASID, IIDA
The Inman Company – Residential and Commercial Interior Design

Locally, I’m seeing a lot of good homes from a lot of good builders, but the problem

is people don’t hire interior designers on the front end. By default, this makes the

builder the interior designer.

People often need to redo kitchens and bathrooms; fortunately for them, these are

the rooms with the highest return on investment.

I also notice that people seem enticed to build larger homes than they can afford

and their interior details suffer. So they end up doing “Home Depot chic.” However,

HDTV and Shelter magazine have educated all of us to spot Home Depot fixtures and


I have clients who purchase homes for $500,000, then put $1 million into them

because they enjoy good design. In the kitchen, for example, we won’t use tile,

but maybe galvanized metal. In the bath, maybe we use barrels or repurposed


The 21st century footprint is always an open floor plan where the kitchen, eating,

gathering areas are combined. People are working at home and monitoring their

children. In Traverse City, we knock out a lot of walls to achieve this footprint.

I have two types of clients: Design-savvy clients that ask for less square footage, but

nicer fixtures and finishes, or the client who sees everything as a cost. One is money,

money, money, how much is it? The other has a wish list and spends according to


There’s a lot of psychotherapy that goes into design.

For my East Coast clients, everything is gray, stainless and glass. Furniture is very

small and there’s not a lot of it. Since one-bedroom apartments can be $1 million or

more, contemporary design is popular because it’s less expensive; you don’t need

moldings or casings. It’s cut and dry.

People are also loving transitional furniture that is utilitarian. You don’t do matching


With each project, both here and in New York, I always start with the foyer because

it sets the stage to the entire home. It’s your first impression. I also like to focus on

the powder bath because you can express yourself here and show some creative


For renovations, no matter what the client wants, I suggest they save their money to

do the kitchen and bath first. These rooms always make you the happiest.

Trust me, it pays to hire someone to help you make these decisions. Five percent of

every remodel is usually spent on mistakes. You think I’m expensive? Wait until you

make your first mistake. You will lose your sanity.

Gretchen Knoblock
New Leaf Interior Design and Home Staging

Things have been changing fast in our market as the economy has improved. My

business has tripled from two years ago.

My clients are not building the biggest house on the block, but they are smarter.

There’s this huge trend in small spaces, but it doesn’t mean giving up your creature

comforts. It’s more about being conscientious about space and money … getting

more bang for your buck.

By paying attention to wasted space, I mean things like the big bonus room over the

garage. No one knows what to do with it.

It’s important to think about how you live: What do you do when you walk into the

house with groceries in hand? Mudrooms. Pet areas. Man caves. These things are

no longer tucked away; they are sophisticated design elements integrated into the


Man caves are now featuring their own wet bar space, pool tables and even mini-
craft breweries. Mom’s office is now off the playroom or kitchen. Both of these

spaces are convenient for them, which says we’re pushing function out into the

home in a thoughtful way.

While I enjoy new construction, I absolutely love remodels. The number one

remodel challenge I see time and again is that homeowners hate their fireplace

walls. This is a very common thing we rip out and start over.

A typical northern Michigan hearth has its fireplace box on the ground. I like to raise

it up so it can be enjoyed in an open floor plan. Then, I like to integrate storage,

include a deep hearth to sit on, and add texture and focal points. I think it goes back

to the primal instincts of man; that’s why it’s a constant in almost every home.

Since we like our homes to blend in with our natural surroundings here, neutrals

are very important now. People also like the flexibility neutrals afford, meaning

artwork or collections can add the pop of color.

I’m not afraid of color, though, and I truly believe that our spaces tell us what they

need to be if we just listen. With that said, blacks and grays are both huge right now,

with black being the great neutralizer in lamps, legs on tables, even exteriors.

I’m seeing a lot of taupey neutrals with a warm edge. Any neutral with a slight gray

tone is clean and sophisticated.

Fundamentally, people want design to carry them through their retirement. Now

that northern Michigan is considered the number one retirement area, you will see a

huge surge of universal design, or design that is appropriate for any stage of life.

New kitchen area by BAC

New kitchen area by BAC

Marty Rhein
BAC Design Group, Senior designer

In the past, we created these huge homes but only use the smallest space. Now,

people are shrinking their footprint so that they utilize the entire space – and have

money left over to upgrade appliances and focus on special trim details.

People love details, such as really nice doors and trim instead of off the shelf

molding. The trim is especially important: We use multiple layers to create

highlights and shadows, making a room much more interesting.

In northern Michigan, the kitchen is where people begin and end. It’s the heart and

the hub. My clients say that they don’t use a dining or living room anymore.

That being said, it still is all about the great room, where people watch the game

from the kitchen island or enjoy the water view. I’ve also noticed that clients are

asking for island seating at counter height for the kids and grandkids.

One of the biggest trends we’re noticing is people building homes they can age

in, rather than having to downsize and move again. Young families are doing

something similar by building so that they can sleep on the second level now, but

can eventually move to the first floor as they get older and less inclined to use the


Although there are those who build these big mansions, then only live in a small part

of the house, most of my clients are rethinking these big spaces by adding dormers

and capturing that open air. We see a lot of gaming areas or seating areas outside of


Other things we are seeing are clients bringing in personality through color, the

integrated laundry/mudroom, and the continued “spa mentality” in the master

suite. People want a respite, a retreat. It’s indicative of how little time we all have