This article is from the January 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
“Prohibition modern” is how one local couple describes the interior design of the condominium they purchased in downtown Grand Rapids in 2014. Their objective? The feel of a speakeasy merged with a sense of modernism.
Theirs is a one-of-a-kind location, with a two-story advertising mural discovered on an exterior wall of the former Herpolsheimer’s department store building extending from the front sitting area to the kitchen, into to the butler’s pantry and then to the main level bedroom. The painted brick advertisement features a woman in wide-brimmed hat with the words, “Ira M. Smith Fifty Money Saving Departments.” While the precise age of the mural is uncertain, it’s estimated to date to about 1907. While the mural predates prohibition by an estimated 13 years, the stately woman in cold weather apparel would have watched over the city during that era, had the construction of the Minnhaar Building in 1914 not blocked her from view until about 2004. It was then that the mural was discovered and became part of the interior design at 49 Monroe Center.
To create the prohibition modern look the family desired, they hired interior designer Deidre Remtema, owner and principal interior designer at Deidre Interiors.
“It’s a mix of two opposite styles,” Remtema said. “Prohibition alludes to that speakeasy feel, you had to go underground. It’s a little more vintage, vintage style with modern elements: stainless steel, cleaner edges.”
The door to the condo opens into a modern kitchen and a thick wood-top dining table made from wood salvaged from the Heinz pickle factory and a vintage metal base obtained from a local metal company. Original thin-plank flooring reminiscent of a school gym floor extends throughout much of the main floor, with a mix of area rugs in the living room that offers a unique upper-floor view of Monroe Center.
Citing the importance of lighting choices, Remtema pointed out a sizable globe-hanging fixture in the butler’s pantry, as well as a nearby chandelier and simple, modern lighting over the dining table.
“I love big lighting; I tend to push the limits as to how far I can go. We needed a big light there, the globe light almost has a vintage feel to it, like it came from a movie theater, but it’s actually new,” Remtema said.
Continuing the eclectic feel of prohibition modern design, a mix of metals including gold, brushed nickel and stainless steel provides a sense of hardware and accents that have been acquired over time instead of all at once. Wood colors also are mixed, with black doors framed by walnut-stained moldings in a room with light wood flooring.
Working with the majestic mural, Remtema selected an Ann Sacks tile for the kitchen with a pattern that includes a green hue to complement the colors in the images and lettering. Green paint also was chosen for the cupboards in the butler’s pantry, where a portion of the mural is the focus from the hallway.
Yet, there were challenges involved with wanting to showcase as much of the antique advertising as possible. This required expertise in designing kitchen cupboard space for optimal storage without installing cupboards that would cover much of the image.
“In traditional kitchens, you have base cabinets and upper cabinets,” she said. “I didn’t want to put in upper cabinets (so we could) show off the (painted) brick. We installed base cabinets and then upper cabinets above the stove — that was one challenge, how to get enough storage without losing the cool look.”
One of the condo’s focal points is the industrial design stairs in stamped, antiqued metal that rises from the main floor living area to the upper level. The stairs have a modern, almost suspended look.
The homeowners, who purchased the condo — their offseason home — for a reprieve from driving in from their home near Lake Michigan during the winter months, have settled in and love the ease of living downtown.
Photos by Johnny Quirin