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Staycation inspiration: Metro Detroit Airbnbs offer design ideas close to home


Tired of being at home but aren't ready to travel just yet? 

There's an alternative that could leave you feeling relaxed, renewed and inspired: a design-focused staycation.

Metro Detroit is filled with unique Airbnb and rental properties oozing good design. You'll get a break from home and ideas for your own space, more than you'd likely get at most generic hotel chains.

There's a 2,000-square-foot one-of-a-kind house in Ann Arbor designed by America's most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, that offers the incredibly rare opportunity to actually spend the night there.

Another Airbnb in Ferndale calls itself the "Rock House" and has a funky, fresh style to match. 

And another is a 1920s home on the west side of Detroit that's been featured in commercials. It bills itself as the "Blue House" because of the cool blue exterior inspired by one of the owners' Brooklyn childhood. 

"Rehab Addict" Nicole Curtis also rents out many of the properties she renovates on Airbnb so if you've ever wanted to not just see one of her transformations in person and stay there, you can. One of her most popular properties is a house she renovated in Birmingham.

Here, check out a variety of properties in a range of styles that will make you completely forget you've been home for the last 14 months and give you ideas for your own space.

Rock House

Evan Derian and Tamela Ekstrom's 1928 Rock House just north of Nine Mile in Ferndale lives up to its name. The exterior is covered with fieldstone hauled from the Pontiac River.

Inside, the same fieldstone covers the living room fireplace hearth but "rock" could also refer to its super cool vibe created by Ekstrom, a self-taught designer and the owner of Haven Real Estate + Design, and Derian, a graphic designer and comic book artist.

The couple's art covers the walls. One of the coolest spaces is a bedroom with custom wallpaper by Detroit Wallpaper Company featuring a blown up image taken by Ekstrom's brother, Lee, of coffee stirrers.

Ekstrom, who loves to change up the decor, said they're gradually shifting to an “industrial global modern" look.

"We're taming with the color which will be more muted and soothing," said Ekstrom. "Lots of textures in gray, griege, black and slate.  I also have a project in mind for a metal ceiling treatment, collaborating with Clark’s Fabrication."

The Rock House, which sleeps 4 with two bedrooms and 1 bathroom, draws guests from all over the world. The nightly price varies. Go airbnb.com and search "Rock House Detroit" as your location.

Palmer House

For Frank Lloyd Wright fans, few opportunities exist to actually spend the night in one of his creations. But that is the case at the Palmer House in Ann Arbor.

No wonder it has drawn guests from all over -- 39 states, nine countries and six provinces to be exact, though many also come from Michigan, said Gary Cox, the house's caretaker along with his wife, Sue.

"We found an awful lot are staycations," said Gary, whose son and daughter-in-law, Jeffrey and Kathryn Schox, bought the Palmer House in 2009. "About a third of our clients are Michigan residents."

Originally built in the early 1950s for Bill Palmer, a University of Michigan economics professor, and his wife, Mary, it was one of Wright's last residential properties. Wright died in 1959.

The house, which is not far from the Ann Arbor Arboretum, features no right angles and one of Wright's signature cantilevered roofs. All of the furniture inside is original, even the beds which are irregularly shaped parallelograms. Ceramic blocks with birds in flight motif create really unique shadows in the house.

"The light changes as the sun sets," said Cox. "...It's kind of amazing."

A cool bonus feature to the Palmer House is a teahouse outbuilding built after the house was completed, designed by Wright's chief design apprentice. It's open seasonally for guests to use.

The current owners, Jeffrey and Kathryn, who live in California, still fly back to Ann Arbor regularly to stay at the house but otherwise, it's open to fans of Frank Lloyd Wright (and in the hands of Gary and Sue to be cared for).

Jeffrey's "plan was to make it available as a vacation rental so people could actually experience and live in it and immerse themselves in the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright," said Gary.

The Palmer House, which sleeps six, is $375 on weekdays and $550 on weekends. There's a two-night minimum. Go to flwpalmerhouse.com or search "Frank Lloyd Wright Palmer House" in the location field on airbnb.com.

Southwest Detroit

Husband-and-wife duo Thomas Falkenstein and Carla Degan are based in Miami but in 2018 they discovered Detroit and fell in love with it. Since then, they've been investing in historic homes, focusing primarily on Southwest Detroit.

The first house they finished is an eclectic townhouse in the city's Hubbard Farms neighborhood. Falkenstein and Degan did all the decor themselves, curating every piece in the home and drawing inspiration from Detroit itself, said AnneMarie Bott, the house manager.

"They sourced most of the furniture from local vintage and antique stores such as Woodward Throwbacks, Fred’s unique Furniture & Antiques, Eastern Market Antiques, and Detroit Antique Mall, said Bott.

The property has three bedrooms and space for eight people. Pricing depends on availability. 

Detroit's Blue House

Jon and Inna Hardison never intended to set up their first Airbnb in Detroit in the middle of a pandemic. But they did. 

After raising their kids in Florida, the couple wanted to live in a diverse community with "actual seasons," said Jon, and decided on Detroit.

Their house, built in the 1920s and south of Detroit's University District, is called the Blue House because of its pale blue exterior. 

"It’s also a reference to my childhood in Brooklyn where a blue brownstone, also named the blue house, was a hub of activity for every hippy and their children," said Jon. "For me, the blue house was a safe place full of love and kids and parties and activism."

At his and Inna's Blue House, the couple worked with Florida interior designer, Joanna Shirin, to create just the right look. And while the house isn't perfect with its squeaky floors -- "we refer to it as charm," said Hardison.

"Everybody loves it," said Hardison, who lives upstairs with Inna. "We love it."

The Blue House sleeps eight; pricing depends on dates. Go to airbnb.com and enter "Blue House Detroit" in location field. 

Rehab Rentals

Curtis, who grew up in Lake Orion before hitting it big on HGTV, rents several properties on Airbnb. 

One of those is a 1904 cottage that was close to being torn down before Curtis bought it. Featured on Season 8 of the "Rehab Addict," it has two bedrooms, hardwood floors, and of course, Curtis's signature design.

The cottage sleeps 4. Pricing depends on availability. 

mfeighan@detroitnews.com