Saving History

A 1930s Ford estate cottage gets a thoughtful transformation. Take a peek at the updated kitchen, powder room, and laundry room. // Photography by Jeff Garland
he kitchen, powder room, and laundry room all underwent a design overhaul in this historic 1935 home, which was once the cottage of the head groundskeeper at the Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores. Orchestrated by Kathleen McGovern Studio of Interior Design, the renovation turned out superb and retains the character of the home.

When James and Megan McGovern purchased their home in 2017, they knew their kitchen and laundry room were not going to be functional. Their solution? Call Mom, of course! Enter James’ mother, Kathleen McGovern, right, a longtime interior designer who knew just what to do.

Built in 1935 and designed by legendary architect Albert Kahn, the little cottage was the home of the head groundskeeper and his family at Ford House (the Edsel and Eleanor Ford estate in Grosse Pointe Shores). Although the kitchen was renovated in the 1950s, McGovern — whose renovation results feel like they’re part of the original home — notes the space was in serious need of a modern update.

“The cottage-style home’s architecture is beautiful in its simplicity,” adds the designer, who runs Kathleen McGovern Studio of Interior Design in Grosse Pointe Park. She says the team was able to save the original quarry tile floor in the laundry room, as the material was very serviceable, like a utility tile. “It has a weather-permanence to it,” McGovern says.

An unexpected three-step stairway in the kitchen meets a staircase at the landing and  leads to the master bedroom and bathroom. “We wondered if we should close off that little kitchen stairway, but it’s part of the history and it’s lovely. Plus, it gives fast access to the second floor,” McGovern says. The decision meant the couple lost counter space, but they kept the cottage’s original charm. “When you’re transforming a home that has some history to it … if you can retain any or all of the architectural aspects of the house, like how we maintained that little staircase, you’re maintaining a bit of history,” the designer says.

Also saved during the renovation were the original steel casement windows. “These types of windows were all through the house, and they’re a beautiful part of the architecture,” McGovern says. “It’s a big decision for people with casement windows to keep them. They’re notoriously known as not weather-worthy.”

As for the color palette, the renovation is singing the blues. “My love of blue got passed down to all of my children,” McGovern says. “My son loves blue.” Using Sherwin-Williams’ Favorite Jeans in the kitchen creates a casual and peaceful mood — and it reflects the blue Lake St. Clair waters that splash along the nearby shoreline. “It’s beautiful,” she says, “and goes so well with the gray quartz countertops. We chose that color because it feels historic, and there’s a lot of gray in that blue. We felt those pigments are reflective of that time.” To give the cabinetry an even more historic look, the finish has a “bit of a rub through it,” McGovern says. “It feels like it’s been there a long time.”

A copper sink, copper plumbing, and copper light fixtures, as well as a hand-knotted rug from Yarmouth, Mass., purchased on a family trip, add to the cottage feel. In the laundry room, a different blue was used for the cabinetry, while a laminate countertop that looks like wood is practical and echoes the walnut wood used for shelving. “With a toddler, there’s lots of laundry,” McGovern says with a laugh.

The renovation team also opened up a wall, installed a pocket door, and squeezed in a half-bath. “The plumbing was somewhat there, and they really needed a half-bath,” McGovern says. Megan McGovern sourced the tiny 28-inch custom vanity and mirror. “She wanted something that looked cottagey,” the designer says. “The vanity goes from wall to wall, and it works well!”

As for the mother, son, and daughter-in-law design process, McGovern says it was fun. “It brought out some aspects that I didn’t know about my son. His interest in architecture and design is something I wasn’t aware of. My daughter-in-law has a real interest in how design affects function, because she’s an extraordinary cook and they entertain a lot. It was important to her that the kitchen was going to be useable and easy to maintain,” McGovern notes. “Many of the ideas came from James and Megan, and evolved from a lot of conversations about how they would use that house.”


“I personally couldn’t be happy without being surrounded by beautiful and robust color in nature, in art, and in textiles,” says interior designer Kathleen McGovern. “I am wildly happy when we can join up with a client who’s also a color-lover. Designing and living in one’s own personal palette is comforting, and can actually be joyful. And blues, with the biggest, boldest, brightest pigments, have become a signature for us. In our studio we laugh about our ‘blue addiction.’ It has become our No. 1- requested project color.” — MS


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