The Art of Design: Palmer Woods Moderne

Kizzmett and Harold Collins walk us through their midcentury home, designed by famed architect Irving Tobocman, and dressed up with the help of designer Jeanine Haith and a thoughtful sprinkling of African art.

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Photos by Beth Singer

When Kizzmett and Harold Collins walked into their Palmer Woods home for the first time, in 1999, they were awestruck by the space. Harold – a retired city of Detroit environmental health and safety manager who now practices as a criminal attorney – and Kizzmett – a 40-year veteran of DTE where she is an information tech manager – had been searching for a home in Palmer Woods but were not attracted to the typical Tudor-type homes that populate the historic neighborhood.

The 3,600-square-foot home, built in 1959 with its distinctive midcentury façade, was the first commissioned residential design by famed Detroit architect Irving Tobocman. Tobocman designed more than 400 residential and commercial structures in the U.S. and around the world during his long and celebrated career.

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus movement, Tobocman’s designs often featured flat roofs, floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights. The architect oversaw every detail of the Collins home and worked tirelessly to integrate the outdoor space with the interior.

Every room has a door that leads to the outside allowing the inhabitants to access the outdoors throughout the house. Tobocman continued designing well into his 80s and remained at the top of his field. He was tragically killed in a car crash in 2017 at age 84. His rich body of work in the residential field, and the many stores, restaurants, synagogues and commercial buildings that he designed, leave a rich legacy and cement him as a master of his craft.

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Although the property has had multiple owners over the years, very few and only minor changes have been made to the original structure. Harold and Kizzmett raised their now 25-year-old daughter in the home and, over the years, amassed a collection of African and eclectic art during their travels and decorated the home with furnishings sensitive to the home’s midcentury moderne architecture. “One of the most special pieces in the house to us is the piano, mostly because it belonged to Harold’s mother,” Kizzmett says.

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For many years, members of the Palmer Woods Homeowners Association urged the couple to open their home to the Palmer Woods Home & Garden Tour. Although they were flattered, Harold and Kizzmett thought the home was not exactly showhouse-ready. In 2018, they were convinced that the time was right. The couple was introduced to interior designer Jeanine Haith and charged her with helping them to prepare the home for the 2019 tour. 

Haith – who spent the early years of her career in advertising and sales at Ford Motor Company – has loved design since childhood. She would spend her vacation time traveling to global showhouses and antiques fairs, finding inspiration in unique and one-of-a-kind items. In the evenings, she would complete coursework in design and art history.

After renovating and designing her own historic home in Indian Village, she decided to enter the interior design field full time. Haith opened a home furnishings store in Grosse Pointe in 2007. It was a gutsy move for a Black woman to open a retail establishment in the midst of a financial downturn – but she was determined. 

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“I always wanted my store to be authentic, unique and different. I didn’t want someone to walk in and say that they saw a piece in another retail store or gallery,” she says. The retail experience was vital to Haith’s growth, but working with clients in their homes was where she found true satisfaction. The store changed locations in 2012 and morphed into a full-fledged design studio, ShowHouse Interiors.

Because of her keen eye for unique and eclectic furnishings, art and decorative objects, she became highly sought after by homeowners across the region. Along with her design assistant Kristen Booth, the studio currently operates out of its metro Detroit location and has expanded to Greensboro, North Carolina.

When Haith met with the Collins for the first time she immediately fell in love with the home, saying that, “The bones were spectacular.” Humorously, Harold admitted that he assumed this entire exercise would consist of making some minor cosmetic changes to the space – but Haith had a slightly grander vision. She was drawn to the homeowners’ collection of furnishings and art, knowing she could help them to elevate the space in a way that wouldn’t take away from their personalities and lifestyle.

Over the five months that followed, the homeowners lived in the house while Haith and her team went to work. One of the first improvements was to replace the existing floor coverings. The designer worked with Stark Carpet in Troy and sourced heavy-duty wool, salt-and-pepper, wall-to-wall carpeting. This treatment unified the design from room to room and provided the neutral pallet that would enable the furnishings and art collection to take center stage. 

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Haith then added drama with wallpaper by York Wallcoverings – available to the trade from the Michigan Design Center – as well as paint treatments in the dining room. This provided a focal point for the large space, which spills into the great room. A faux fireplace added by a previous homeowner was removed from the living room, returning the area to the original design intended by the architect.

The custom draperies in the great room were provided by Eve Draperies in Sterling Heights. The simplicity and sheer elegance of the fabric allows light to stream through while providing privacy when needed. Haith was able to maintain many of the anchor furniture pieces that the Collins had collected over the years, including the large sectional in the great room. She worked with Harper Upholstery Workroom in Detroit to reupholster some of the existing furniture. Fabrics by Fabricut, S. Harris and Stroheim were used throughout the home.

The Asian-inspired chairs in the entryway had been purchased by the couple for their previous home 30 years prior but fit beautifully into their new home. A beautiful baby grand piano that had belonged to Harold’s mother anchors a corner of the great room. The couple’s collection of predominantly African art mixed with eclectic pieces provided the springboard needed for Haith to supplement with unique pieces that she curated from her expansive network.

The designer called on her friend Marvin Nash at Marketplace Antiques to procure the paintings in the stairwell along with other unique items. Eric’s I’ve Been Framed in Detroit was enlisted for custom art framing throughout the home. The monkey coffee table was found at Odd Fellows Antiques in Berkley and the Lucite dining chairs had been in Haith’s ShowHouse Interiors private stash for years. The designer also worked with Bernard Davis Estate Sales in Detroit to provide additional decorative items. 

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As the date of the home tour approached, in true Extreme Makeover: Home Edition fashion, Haith ordered the couple to vacate the house for 24 hours in preparation for the big reveal. She and her crew worked through the night, placing furniture, installing art and attending to the finishing touches. 

Neighbors reported a frenzy of activity to Harold and Kizzmett. The next day when the interior was revealed, the couple was thrilled with the results. Their dream home had been transformed into a true showplace. “It was quite exciting to see their reaction. That’s what we live for!” Haith says. The designer successfully utilized furnishings and artworks the couple had lovingly collected and supplemented with exciting new pieces that complemented the home and its origins perfectly.

The goal of having the interior reflect the family’s history, lifestyle and interests was achieved while honoring and respecting the architect’s original vision for the home. The 2019 Palmer Woods tour was a huge success and hundreds of curious metro Detroiters had the opportunity to see inside this midcentury masterpiece. 

Check out more photos of the home shot by Barbara Barefield.

Where to Shop 

Jeanine Haith is known for her keen eye and ability to procure unique, one-of-a-kind items for her clients. Here, she shares some of her favorite local spots.  

ShowHouse Interiors

377 Fisher Road, #J, Grosse Pointe (also in Greensboro, N.C.)

313-444-9551                                                                                                    

Stark Carpet

1697 Stutz Drive, Troy

248-643-6255                                                                                                                   

Eve Draperies

(By appointment only)

248-225-6313

Eric’s I’ve Been Framed

16527 Livernois Ave., Detroit

313-861-9263

Harper Upholstery Workroom

14534 Harper Ave., Detroit

313-822-1348 

Marketplace Antiques Gallery

2047 Gratiot Ave., Detroit

313-567-8250

Odd Fellows Antiques

3248 Twelve Mile Road, Berkley

248-399-6098

Another Bernard Davis Estate Sales

313-415-7477   

Michigan Design Center

1700 Stutz Drive, Troy

248-649-4772 

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