Brighter Living: A Healthy, Sunny Home in Ann Arbor, Michigan

A laid-back family designs healthy living and community connection into a sunny home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  • Tom McMurtrie and Genia Service say their home's sunny design, ease of maintenance and bright colors lead to high spirits and good health.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • Swaths of aniline-dyed cabinetry in blue, green and brown offer a colorful yet neutral palette in the kitchen. The home's south-facing windows allow sunlight to warm the concrete floors in winter, helping to reduce heating costs.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • Playful use of colors lines, shapes and materials lend an artistic, treehouse vibe to the home's interior .
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • Tom and Genia collect vintage furnishings and decor items, both passed down from family and hunted at area antique stores.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • The home's open floor plan makes it easy to welcome guests. The couple's son, Gary, enjoys a meal with his grandmother, Francoise McMurtrie, who lived with the family for several years, and a cousin visiting from France, Benoit Moison.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • The home's open floor plan makes it easy to welcome guests. The couple's son, Gary, enjoys a meal with his grandmother, Francoise McMurtrie, who lived with the family for several years, and a cousin visiting from France, Benoit Moison.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • The ADA-accessible home enables the family to comfortably welcome any guest, and helped them build a multigenerational community within their home (from left: visiting cousin Benoit Moison; Genia; Tom's mother, Francoise McMurtrie; Gary; and Tom).
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • A bird's nest makes its home in the native flowers planted beneath a tree.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie
  • The deck is made of Behr board, a product containing recycled materials.
    Photo By Roy Ritchie

The way we design our homes and gardens often determines the lifestyle we live. For laid-back environmentalists Thomas McMurtrie and Genia Service, creating a healthy, relaxing home helped them achieve their dream lifestyle. In their sunny, passive-solar home in a cozy neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the couple and their son, Gary, live well in an easy-to-clean, low-maintenance, colorful home that is modern in design yet tied to nature and history. 

When Tom and Genia got married more than a decade ago, they both owned Victorian-style homes—charming, but filled with tiny windows and dark, tucked-away spaces. Instead, the couple dreamed of a modern, sunny home that would enable them to create the efficient, healthy and low-maintenance life they envisioned for themselves. Although they wanted to create their own space, the two also hoped to maintain close ties with their community, to be surrounded by neighbors and near enough to walk downtown, to work and the farmers’ market. 

When Genia and Tom came across a sunny urban infill lot—a vacant lot in the midst of a city’s developed spaces—they knew they had found the perfect place to design their dream home. Along with using healthy, low-maintenance and salvaged materials, they incorporated a variety of energy-efficient and functionality components, which enable them to live more comfortably and affordably.

The Living’s Easy

Tom and Genia hired architect Tonino Vicari of Tectonic Design, a then-recent graduate of the University of Michigan architecture school, to help them design a loftlike home that flows from space to space for maximum ease and usability. One of the couple’s main goals was to create something low-maintenance that would help reduce daily stress. “I lived in California for 12 years, and it’s kind of that vibe,” Genia says. “It’s really casual.” With an open floor plan and tons of storage space, keeping the home clean and clutter-free is easy. “Everything stores easily here,” Genia says. “It’s easy to make it look good, so at the drop of a hat we can host a barbecue or have kids come over to play games.” 

In contrast with her former Victorian-style home, Genia loves how everything in her modern home is at her fingertips. “There is easy access to our computer. We have a grand piano in the big, main room. In the winter when you have all this snow gear, we have an entry that’s big enough for you to take off your snow boots and hang everything up. It’s planned so that in every season it’s easy to navigate through our house.” 

They also chose materials that would minimize the amount of upkeep their home required. With corrugated steel siding and reclaimed barn wood on the exterior, the home will never need repainting. With native plants, prairie grasses and a rain garden, the yard is designed to avoid mowing and weeding. “Any house—even ours—is a lot of work,” Genia says. “Anything you can do to keep maintenance down, keep weeding down, ensure you don’t have to paint the outside, those are the things that enhance life and make less work. When you raise a family, there are so many things you have to do. It’s my philosophy that you should do anything you can to make things easy and functional. Our house functions like a machine.” 

3/20/2014 5:28:44 PM

Would love to have seen pictures!

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