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Designers' Show House Showcases Pewabic Tile

Want a glimpse of Detroit's artistic past? Check out the stunning, several-decades-old tile work during the Detroit Junior League's stylish house tour in Grosse Pointe Shores.

Soon, the Junior League of Detroit (JLD) will open the doors to its 2012 Designers’ Show House, located at 22 Webber Place in Grosse Pointe Shores. The massive 10,304-square-foot house, which was built in 1928 as the home of Oscar Webber, nephew of Joseph L. Hudson, is undergoing a magical transformation, thanks to design specialists who hail from everywhere from Ferndale, South Lyon, Plymouth, Royal Oak and Birmingham to Rochester, Clinton Township, Grosse Pointe and Troy.

For several weeks, dozens of interior designers, painters, electricians, power washers, boutique staff and more have been working at the renowned home, designed by architect Leonard B. Willeke.

Open to the public May 5-20, the Show House features seven bedrooms, a third-floor ballroom and hand-carved wood and plaster throughout, to name a few highlights.

But one, or I should say, 17, of the most head-turning highlights are the spaces that feature Pewabic tile, showcased in 11 bathrooms and six fireplaces.

"We were thrilled to find a home with so much Pewabic tile,” Show House co-chair Kristina Acheson said. “It gives the home character and has a special historical tie to the area. We know our house tour guests will love to see all the different tile featured in the home and how our various designers have showcased it."

Pewabic’s Past

Ceramic artist and Pewabic Pottery founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton’s passion for and commitment to pottery astounds. As a single woman in the early 20th century, she, with partner Horace Caulkins, ran an extremely profitable art business. Not only was she able to make a living as an artist, but she also was able to inspire so many others about architectural tiles and the crafting of custom works. At that time, Mary's extraordinarily large undertaking was astonishing, considering she was a single woman at the time.

Mary was born in Hancock in the Upper Peninsula and later moved with her family to Ann Arbor following the death of her father. Then, as a blooming artist and teen, she and her family moved to the Detroit area, where she attended her first art classes at the Art School of the Detroit Museum of Art. She followed that with two years of studies at the Cincinnati Art Schoolfrom 1887-89.

She was initially involved in china painting and was actually prominent in that area of the arts, traveling to the East Coast selling kilns and teaching people there about china painting. There’s an example of the type of kiln Mary sold in Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery museum. Called a Revelation Kiln, it’s a small-capacity, kerosene-burning oven designed for the hobbyist.

Eventually Mary abandoned that type of painting (china painting) when she became interested in pottery and the chemistry of glazes. She soon became very inspired by the American Arts and Crafts movement and how the hand of the artist is evident in every work.

Mary founded Pewabic Pottery, with Caulkins (he oversaw the kiln-manufacturing side of the business), in 1903. She named it after an oldcopper mine in the area where she was born. Pewabic is a Native American word that is said to mean “clay with a copper color.” Pewabic's first home was a stable on Alfred Street in Detroit. Four years later, the pottery business moved to East Jefferson into a new, Tudor Revival-style facility designed by architect William Buck Stratton. The facility is now open to the public and is a National Historic Landmark.

Under Mary's leadership, Pewabic Pottery produced architectural tiles, lamps and vessels. The facility became known far and wide for its iridescent glazes, and its creations adorned churches, libraries, schools, and public buildings throughout the United States. Some structures, such as the Guardian Building in Detroit, feature not only Pewabic pottery, but other styles as well.

Mary eventually married Stratton (the man who designed her studio) in 1918, when she was 51 years old. The wedding took place at Horace Caulkins’ home, and the couple was together for 20 years before Stratton died from an unfortunate streetcar accident.

Tile Style at the Show House

So what is it about Pewabic tile that is so alluring? Feast your eyes upon the smooth, cool-to-the-touch turquoise tiles, for example, that adorn the Show House’s bathroom off the “Dressing Suite,” both designed by Elisabeth Meda of in Grosse Pointe Woods.

“We wanted to showcase the tile, to allow it to pop,” explained Meda, who has been an interior designer for 22 years. She first had the trim and ceilings painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Ivory White (925),” in the dressing room and used a whiter white for the bathroom to complement the turquoise tiles. “The ceiling in the bathroom was darker and a bit depressing, so the white really helped,” Meda said.

She and her assistant, Cathy Hubmeier, then added several vanity adornments, including crystal and sterling silver pieces. “The crystal brings reflection to the space and doesn’t detract from the tile itself. Plus it makes the space more feminine, but still sophisticated.”

One need only touch the richly colored tile to feel the multi-layered Pewabic history. What defines a Pewabic tile? For starters, to be considered Pewabic, a piece has to be made at the pottery. The pieces generally are softly contoured and feature a variance of glazes that are hand-applied and custom-made.

Artist and entrepreneur Anne Held Reeves of Ana Designs is a fan of historic tiles. “I love the historical significance of Pewabic Pottery – it’s a commitment to art in the middle of an automotive hub,” said Reeves, a Troy resident.

Mary, who worked at the pottery until her death in Detroit in 1961 at the age of 94, would certainly approve of how area designers have transformed this home, paying special attention to the Pewabic accents.

Just as the special Pewabic glazes provide a unique look to each piece, so do the inspirations of the various designers each enhance the Pewabic tile vignettes. And each is committed to the quality and essence of the original Pewabic tiles. Mary, in fact, would be pleased to see the home’s interior design. For her, it would be good to know that the tile and its Detroit-born heritage continues to give artists — the JLD Show House designers — a creative voice.

This is the second in a series of stories on the Designers’ Show House, which will be open for public tours May 5-20.

About the Show House tours

What: Designers' Show House

Where: 22 Webber Place, Grosse Pointe Shores

When: May 5-20. Hours of operation will be 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; noon-3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On weekends, hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

Preview Party: May 4

Cost: Tickets to tour the decorated house will be $15 if purchased in advance, or $20 at the door. Group tour specials are also available. Tickets will be available throughout the area at local retailers; contact the JLD office at (313) 881-0040 or visit jldetroit.org for more details and ticket locations.

What is featured: Fully landscaped gardens, a boutique, café and a greenery garden area, with items for sale. The home will be open to the public May 5-20; admission prices go toward programs for the DJL. Publicist Caroline Marks explains that the Show House tour is a No. 1 fundraiser that helps provide opportunities for families in the city of Detroit, for the JLD, which started in 1914.

A Pewabic Pottery stop

While at the tour, consider dropping by Pewabic Pottery, 
a National Historic Landmark, at 10125 E. Jefferson Ave., 
Detroit, (313) 822-0954,www.pewabic.org. Pewabic is located 1.5 miles east of the Belle Isle Bridge, at the corner of Jefferson and Cadillac avenues, across from Waterworks Park.

Or, shop for the pretty Pewabic Pottery at  in Berkley or at the Detroit Shoppe, , Troy.

Other nearby places to find Pewabic Pottery

  • Scandia Home, 237 Pierce St., Birmingham
  • Leon and Lulu, 96 W. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson

A complete list of Michigan retail locations

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