This Michigan Photographer’s Family Home Has Charm, Character—and an Instagram-Famous Bathroom
Emily Berger-Crawford says that an old house was an all-but inevitable conclusion for her family. Growing up, Emily lived in a 1890s Victorian that her parents lovingly filled with antiques. Then when she and her husband Chris Crawford moved back home to Detroit, old houses were what was available to buy. “I love old houses, and in Detroit, there’s a real sweet spot from 1920 to 1940 when a big chunk of the houses were built,” says Emily.
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The 1936 Tudor-style home that Emily and Chris share with their 2 ½-year-old daughter Edie was a case of love at first sight. The couple immediately fell felt their home was “the one” even though it was in need of love. They’d also already fallen hard for the surrounding neighborhood of East English Village, after losing out on a previous house in a bidding war.
Once they became the owners, the Crawfords embarked on a whole-house deep cleaning. They refinished the floors, renovated the kitchen, and painted every inch of the original plaster walls. Over the years, other maintenance issues have popped up, but Emily says they feel like they were lucky to get a house that has all of the original details intact. Emily and Chris area also constantly making small improvements, like painting a foyer, building a backyard pergola, and rearranging furniture to suit their changing needs.
Looking at photos of their beautifully appointed home, it’s not a shock to learn that Emily, who is a professional lifestyle and food photographer, toyed with the idea of studying interior design before she landed on photography. It’s also not surprising that the experience of buying and renovating the home gave Chris a bit of a real estate bug. A musician and sound engineer, Chris had to shift gears last year when the coronavirus put a halt on live music performances, so he’s turned his love of homes into a new career selling real estate.
When Emily and Chris bought their home four years ago, they were a recently married couple hungry to own a home of their own after living in rentals in Detroit and Brooklyn, and considerations for family life weren’t top of mind. Luckily the house they chose has been an ideal place to start a family: with three bedrooms, a finished basement, a backyard, and a quiet neighborhood just outside their door, it’s been an ideal place to raise their daughter and hunker down for the last year. Here’s how they made an old house into a thoroughly modern family home:
On her favorite room: “I would say the family room is my favorite room,” says Emily. “I feel like our living room has some elements that are Edie’s, so it’s clear that a kid lives there, but it also a more adult aesthetic.
On the ever-evolving decor: “I crave change. I get bored, so I just constantly want to have a house project to work on,” says Emily, laughing. “It’s a real struggle sometimes. Especially right now, when we’re at home all the time.”
On the importance of good storage: “My number one, solution to all of that crap is to buy really good storage pieces to hide things away. My goal is that at the end of the day, after Edie goes to bed, we can hide the kid stuff away and not have to look at it for a few hours.”
On rotating toys: Leading up to Christmas, Emily and Chris hid away all the toys their daughter had not been playing with for the last six months. “We put them in a closet and brought up the new toys that she got for Christmas. Maybe we’ll swap them out in another month or two, so that we don’t have all of the stuff out at once.”
Her best decorating advice: “A few vintage pieces go really far to add character to your house, so take some time to look for and collect them.”
On her high-low kitchen renovation: When they renovated the kitchen Chris and Emily splurged on a few key things, like the tile behind the stove, light fixtures, hand-forged brass hardware, and a brass faucet, but saved on others, like the basic white subway tile. “A benefit of having a small kitchen and sticking with the same floor plan is that you can afford to splurge a bit on things like that.”
On trying new recipes: “I don’t like to repeat recipes unless it’s a recipe I just really love. So every week, we’re just trying to come up with some new things,” says Emily, who as a food photographer is surrounded by interesting food at work. “Right now when we aren’t seeing our friends family when we’re not going places it’s kind of a nice outlet to change up each day.”
On eating dinner together: A silver lining to staying at home this last year has been eating together as a family. “Now we eat dinner every night together, and that’s something I did with my family growing up. It’s just nice—a luxury even—because I know that not everyone has that privilege,” say Emily.
On one great piece of furniture: “I take a ceramics class is and I also like to collect ceramic, so I just have a ton of vases and bowls. Before they were on an open shelf and they were collecting dust. So I started looking for my dream china cabinet and I found that one on Chairish. It is the nicest piece of furniture we have (it might be the nicest piece of furniture we ever have!). It is my pride and joy when it comes to the house.”
On working from home: “I tend to end up working at the dining room table because it’s central and Edie can play, and I can work at the same time. Chris has a little bit more of a formal area to work set up in the basement,” says Emily of their current work-from-home scenario.
On her Instagram-famous bathroom: “There’s a love-hate relationship with that bathroom,” laughs Emily of her Art Deco-esque bathroom. “That pink tile is always a hot topic: people either love it or they hate it.” Original to the house, Chris and Emily have taken great pains to keep the pink bathroom. When the shower floor began leaking into the kitchen below, they hired a contractor who specialize in historic home renovations to do the repairs, and he was able to expertly replace the damaged 1930s tile with new black tiles. “He did an amazing job and making it look as original as possible.”
On gardening: “I would garden all the time if I could,” says Emily, who is counting down the days until spring. With the exception of one rental, she and Chris have almost always had some outdoor space together—even when they lived in a New York City apartment, but she says, “Not that I have any actual yard of my own, it’s become an obsession.”