BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
BIRMINGHAM – When disaster struck the Gilliams family, Bob Kupfer and Tim Robinson rushed to help.
The pair, owners of Tiffany Florist in Birmingham, heard about the Armada Township family’s plight when Kupfer and Robinson were contacted by the Extreme Makeover Home Edition TV show.
The program, broadcast on the ABC network, brings together a team of designers, contractors and other workers to rebuild, landscape and decorate a residence for a deserving family in just one week.
When the Gilliams bought a 120-year-old house in Armada, firefighter David Gilliam got to work, trying his hand at renovating the 900 square feet late-19th Century farmhouse to make it livable for his wife and six young children.
Then David Gillam died suddenly on Christmas day in 2005.
According to the Extreme Makeover web page, the home’s basement had been contaminated with toxic spores.
“It reminded me of our childhood,” said Robinson, a Bloomfield Hills resident. “My father died after our house burned when I was 7.”
When his father started working on repairing their home, plaster dust overwhelmed his lungs, already severely compromised by an undiagnosed cancer.
“His friends all came together and helped finish the repairs to our house from the fire damage,” said Robinson.
Robinson was shocked when he got a call from the Extreme Makeover production company on Aug. 10, asking the florists to come to Armada and add a touch of color to the Gilliam home.
“I’m a big fan of theirs,” he said. “I appreciate their working with families that have problems and helping them out with their houses.”
He drove out to the building site that day and saw a vast array of trailers and tents used by the more than 3,000 volunteers and workers on the project.
“Everything happened really fast,” he said. “The next day I went shopping for the things we didn’t have. Saturday we assembled all the arrangements. We delivered them on Sunday.”
Fresh and welcoming
The designers working on the home asked for contemporary floral bouquets.
“We did a lot of small things in glass cubes and clustered the cubes together,” he said.
Robinson and Kupfer brought armloads of summer flowers, including dahlias, roses, lilies, irises, hydrangeas and delphiniums in every color from pinks and purples to yellows and oranges.
They whipped up a special composition for the dining room table – zinnias and other flowers mixed with miniature eggplants, peppers and green beans.
“I stood them up in the cubes,” he said. “We did a couple of small potted trees in the garden room.”
The pair chose the flowers, plants and grasses they used after they were told the home’s primary colors – reds and burgundies, and saw a floor plan of the sprawling six bedroom house while it was under construction.
“I looked at the market and brought things I thought would be fresh looking and welcoming,” he said. “In the master bedroom we had tall vases with grasses almost three feet tall.”
The florists were selected for the job on the advice of an unknown admirer, said Bob Kupfer, a Bloomfield Hills resident.
They were asked to fill the house with flowers, he said.
The pair also piled their van with fichus trees, peace lilies, orchid plants and other greenery.
The Gilliam residence was built in record time.
“The house was done by Sunday at noon where there had been no house on Thursday evening,” he said. “There was furniture in the house and paintings on the walls.”
Workers were hanging light fixtures and adding final touches when the florists arrived with their vases, pots and arrangements, Kupfer said.
“There was a crew of people cleaning while other people were making a mess,” he said.
Kupfer said the pair decided to donate their time – and thousands of dollars worth of blossoms and blooms, for the project because it sounded like a nice thing to do.
“It’s a really good warm feeling,” he said.
Robinson shared Kupfer’s joy at helping others.
“I think it’s important for communities to come together,” he said.
While Kupfer and Robinson said they’d have to wait until the show airs sometime this fall to see the family’s reaction to their new home, a blog at http://blog.project403.org, details volunteers’ experiences on the project and the Extreme Home webpage, http://extremehomedetroit.com/gallery.aspx, gives a photographic sneak peak of the house under construction.
Tiffany Florist is located at 784 South Old Woodward in Birmingham. Store hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. You can reach them at (248) 646-0333 or visit them at http://www.tiffanyflorist.net.