So often a dream house is just that – a dream. But for Royal Oak couple Michael “Chet” Chetcuti and Kyle Evans, they didn’t just imagine parking a vintage car in the living room or consider a kitchen big enough for a 20-person cooking party. They made it happen.
Located on East Fourth Street, the flattop residence is a renovated construction of Hinson Heating and Air Conditioning, built in the 1950s and redone California style. The couple snagged the 5,600-square-foot loft in 2007, modernized and moved in two years later. Since, the swanky residence has been featured in design and home magazines for its unparalleled uniqueness in the metro Detroit area. It even won a beautification award from the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce in 2012.
“We gutted the whole entire house,” Evans says. “If you see pictures of it, it looked like someone bombed it. We took it down to dirt floors; most of the windows are completely new. We opened it up so there’s just a shell of the building, but we tried to keep as much of the original cool parts of the building.”
The grittiness of the former industrial setting still exists – look up and there are steel beams in the ceiling – but, Evans says, they added insulation and other practicalities. “You know,” he laughs, “stuff that’s, like, pretty basic to living.”
The couple worked closely with an architect on the basic layout of the home, essentially purging the building into a big white box that could be stylized to their liking later.
“We could move in and live in here and then start to really design the fixtures, finishes, textures and colors,” Evans says. “That’s what I get excited about, and that’s what Chet loves doing. So whether it’s picking out some furniture or building some furniture, that’s what’s so cool about this place – it lets us build.”
Not to mention, the Mustang just hanging out in the front room.
“That was the whole gig, right?” Evans says. “I’ve always had a dream to have a car in the living room, and Chet was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds pretty kick-ass.’ We kind of designed around that, but we also designed around the fact that we like to entertain.” He laughs. “Chet likes to cook, I like to drink.”
When they’re not entertaining in the kitchen – or, this summer, in the courtyard they’re hoping to complete – guests often mingle on the upper level. Before they moved in, the upstairs was just a urinal and some filing cabinets. They built an upper level around what’s now a bathroom and turned the rest into a party deck, also their favorite brunch spot. Oh, and the urinal – it’s still there.
Then, they got creative. Using a dot pattern, they mirrored the trees that line the street outside the home and cut them into the metal railing. By settling for cheaper knockoffs of the Saarinen tables they wanted, and painting them lime-green to complement the bedroom trim, they saved themselves a couple thousand bucks. Old art-deco club chairs they bought were refurbished in all cowhide and silver piping.
“You get that mid-century modern feel, but it’s a different take on it,” Evans says. “We like to do that sort of stuff – and that’s what this place allowed us to do. We built the things that we couldn’t buy or find and put our own twist on it.”
It’s not like they hadn’t done this before. Evans is an exterior stylist for Chrysler and a transportation design instructor at the College for Creative Studies. Chetcuti heads Quality Metalcraft Inc., a Livonia-based stamping, engineering and development company founded by his father. A leader in the flexible manufacturing and automated assembly, the company is responsible for the massive renovation and interior design of the old St. Clair Edison Building in downtown Royal Oak into Cloverleaf Fine Wine and Craft Beer, which Chetcuti co-owns. He also is part-owner of Pizzeria Biga. The high-end pizzeria opened in April 2012 in the same space.
“I’ve been cooking since I was 15 or 16 years old,” Chetcuti says. “I’ve fought typical suburban kitchens and their amenities for most of my adult life – and the cleanup. If I go to my parents’ house and try to cook a meal, with the cleanup and the lack of space, sink sizes and counter space, it’s like, ‘This is work.'”
To eliminate such hassles, they turned their kitchen into a culinary kingdom that even Martha Stewart would gush over. They call it “kitchen stadium” for its enormous size and ample countertops, made of scrap metal leftover from the MotorCity Casino rooftop, that allows guests to observe the cook in action. They use the space yearly for an interactive meal-making party with a group of 15-20 close friends and family members.
“Having people here is one of the best parts of having this house,” Evans says. “It’s comfortable for us, but the whole point of it is to entertain.”
Or, you know, have Bill Clinton over. The couple hosted the president in October 2012 as a fundraiser for Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who was completely awestruck by the lavish Royal Oak home when she stopped in for an informal meet-and-greet. Stabenow loved the space so much that she suggested bringing Clinton there. The guys didn’t believe a visit could actually happen. Who would? But then it did: Stabenow called and told them they had six days to sell tickets. In less than a week, they had 167 guests and raised over $500,000 for Stabenow. And Bill Clinton was in their house.
“I was definitely blown away by Clinton’s reaction,” Evans says. “They basically told us, ‘Don’t think this is gonna be some lovefest between you and Bill Clinton.'”
Except it kind of was. On the way to the bathroom, the couple’s car emblems caught Clinton’s eye. “So, you’re car guys?” they recall him saying before they geeked out about their mutual auto infatuation.
“It felt like a half hour,” Evans says, “but it was probably eight minutes.”
More recently, they hosted Dustin Lance Black for a dinner to benefit the ACLU. Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” casually chatted about Hollywood, design and gay politics for several hours.
Chetcuti and Evans also opened their abode last year to the Royal Oak Woman’s Club Home and Garden Tour, where they were informed of other, uh, opportunities for such a big space.
Nearly 500 women walked through their home that day, gushing about the space and how they wished it were their own, but it was one lady in her 80s who had a very specific – and unexpected – vision for the home. Moving slowly up the stairs, she reached the top and looked around. “She looked at me,” Evans recalls, “and she goes, ‘You know, this would be a great place for an orgy.'”
Stunned, Evans asked, “Did you just say ‘orgy’?”
“Yup, that’s what I said.”
The home, though, isn’t just a suitable place for presidents, cooking parties and sexual rendezvous. It’s a testament to what the Motor City can do with its underutilized resources.
“It shows you what we’re capable of doing in Detroit with the automotive technology that we’ve known about forever, and that we do better than anywhere else in the country. We don’t have to just do cars.”
We can, though. Right in the living room.