Digs 2020

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By Ginger Goldmine

OUR DIGS 2020 FEATURED HOME IS THE ROCK HOUSE, located in Ferndale at 519 W. Maplehurst.

Tamela Ekstrom and Evan Derian have lived here since 2011. Evan is an artist, graphic designer, and comic book creator. He creates a comic book/graphic novel series called Miserable Americans.

Tamela owns HAVEN Real Estate + Design, helping people buy and sell homes in our community. The design element to her business helps homeowners stage their properties to sell for more money.

What is one word you would use to describe your vibe or style?

TAMELA EKSTROM: Juxtapose: I like to mix furniture styles and textures to create a soulful space, artfully combining the aesthetics of modern decor with vintage spin. Flashes of metal next to rough wood. I think it’s all about balancing the space so it’s appealing to the eye. I don’t like anything too cluttered. I want that modern look to have a cozy feel. Visitors often say our home is even better in person. I usually pick some colors for a season and then curate the art from ours and our friends’ work. We are both artists, and somehow our work looks very good together. Evan can tell which color combos I’m starting to eye, and I get lucky and end up with pieces that work with that. Our home is ever-evolving. I feel space needs to be ever-changing to transform its inhabitants.

What are some design strategies you would share?

The homes in our neighborhoods were built in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and tend to have smaller rooms. So raising and widening doorways creates a whole new and airy space. I’m attracted to black or darker walls and moody spaces to sleep. I try to place the darker colors in satellite rooms, like bedrooms that are contained.

In our main space, I painted every wall a similar neutral shade. This opens up the small rooms so they flow into each other and appear larger. We recently updated the paint in a few rooms to a very light, warm color called “Gray Owl” from Ferndale’s Benjamin Moore dealer, Paint Stop. Colors contained within art and pillows absolutely pop in this hue.

I also raise the curtain rods above the windows and buy 95” curtains. This really lifts your eye up and visually creates a larger space. When we are selling homes at HAVEN we offer free staging advice, and one thing that creates compelling photos are when contrasting pops of color are used. This anchors photos and creates visual interest. Pick a color palette, match a couple of pillows with a print or art piece and suddenly you have an exciting visual story.

What are some of your favorite local artists?

I love Detroit artists and vendors! We are so lucky to have so many artists in our neighborhoods. Some that come to mind while I’m looking around my house:
• My hubby, Evan Derian (IG:@evan_k_derian) of course. He’s incredibly talented at illustration. He has his own graphic novels, but he also paints a lot of rock stars’ portraits and offers affordable, limited edition pieces.
Robert Mirek (IG:@robert_mirek) creates totem pieces out of many mediums. I find them mysterious and I’m always into his color combinations.
Eastworks Detroit (IG: @EastworksDetroit) satisfies my love for industrial lighting.
• My friend Karen Larson (IG:@karen.larson.patterns) is a graphic designer and creates patterns for custom wallpaper.
• My friend Susu (@Susu.Detroit) creates many different items, she’s now in a phase of making incredible purses and art from dolls and rough and shiny crystals. I have a piece with leather, chain, and a shard of raw crystal that is functional as a tiny vessel but also art. It’s so pretty I have it hanging on the wall and I stare at it all the time.

Do you have any special or semi-secret spots you frequent that you’d like to share?

Ok, this is big, because I’m giving up my favorite stores to you guys.

Nine Furniture and Design (IG:@ninefurnitureand design) hand-makes furniture and decor, and also sells vintage. So it’s pretty much one-stop shopping for me. I’m fascinated at how quickly Keith and Evan create these affordable, inspired pieces. I just received the curved whitewashed coffee table in the photo you see in this article. Another item hand-made by them is the large cross-hatch wood mirror you see in the living room photo.
• We have many pieces from Vogue Vintage (IG:@voguevintage). Their mid-century lighting, cabinets, tables, and chairs provide pieces to promote our modern aesthetic.
Western Market (IG: @westernmkt) for ferns for our porch and Featherstone Garden (IG:@featherstone.garden) for healthy houseplants.
Nadeau (IG:@nadeaudetroit) makes my heart beat real fast. When I moved here, I searched and searched for Asian style modern furniture, as I could find in San Francisco. After a few years, Nadeau opened up and I hope everyone shops there so they stay around forever. They have solid wood and metal furniture and home goods. I have lots of pieces from their industrial line.
Leah’s Closet (IG:@leahsclosetroyaloak) is my friend’s vintage clothing store, however, she also carries curated home items. I am constantly changing my barware, and I usually get it from Leah. I also bought these incredible beaded tassels I use on the silver glass shard lamps you see in the photos here. Sometimes she has some really great textiles and mid-century artwork as well. She’s great about posting on her Instagram.
• And then, I should mention one more shop I love, my friends’ Tanda and Lauren own Free Phoenix (IG:@shopfreephoenix). They have pillows, trays, glasses, throws, and art. Owner Tanda’s design sense is very organic and earthy and her curated pieces add texture and warmth to spaces.

YES, YOUR FURNITURE MAKES YOUR HOME DISTINCTIVE, whether you shop at Ikea or the Art Van going out of business sale. Painting in just the right color furthers the statement. Now it’s time for the cherry on the top: The right art.

The Ferndale Arts & Cultural Commission (FACC) reminds you that there are many places in the city to select beautiful art. Long time favorites like the Lawrence Street Gallery shares Woodward with Level One Bank’s Community Arts Gallery. A more comprehensive list follows. Then, of course, there is the Funky Ferndale Art Fair and the DIY Street Fair (the DIY is canceled this year due to the health crisis).

What’s the difference between shopping at a gallery and at an art fair? Many art lovers do both as they each have an advantage. Galleries give you an ever-changing, carefully curated selection. You have one or two people that can learn your taste and preferences and help you find exactly what you are looking for. Many can even advise on the framing and matting, which can make a huge difference on how the piece appears.

Art Fairs are also curated, but don’t include the expert advice. Mark Loeb of the Funky Ferndale Art Fair suggests that there are some other advantages. “At art fairs you will meet the artist and have time for a conversation. I feel that a big reason people go to the fair is to get the full story of the art they plan to display. For example, when your friend comes by and admires your new sculpture, you can share the story of the artist. The experience of the art fair becomes a memory for you and your loved ones.”

Why not just buy art at those aforementioned furniture stores or even Walmart? You certainly could, and it likely will be simpler. You will have something that tens of thousands of others will also display. While not all art appreciates in value, no department store pictures ever will. And don’t forget that if you love art, supporting the artists becomes an important mission. Going to the shows is not demonstrating your love of art nearly as much as buying art. Only when you buy something do you actually support the artist, and allow them to continue creating.

What happens when your walls are full and there’s no space left on the floor? Many collectors rotate their art. Every month or season they replace a few items with another favorite. Others start buying smaller items that fit in between the cracks. Loeb suggests that the next step is to “replace your mugs, flower pots, dishes and more with items created by favorite artists. Why not have a table as individual as you are?”

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WHETHER YOU HAVE AN ESTABLISHED GARDEN, A HOPEFUL STRIP OF DIRT WAITING FOR YOUR TROWEL, OR JUST A POT OR TWO, you can grow easy-to-care-for plants to brighten your yard and your plate. You can also skip spraying your lawn and harvest delicious edibles from it instead. (Not applying pesticides is better for bees and other pollinators, plus you’ll save money and won’t be contributing to pesticide run- off flowing into city water systems.)

When pondering what to plant, non-invasive native species are always a good idea since they’ll thrive all on their own. Noninvasive imported plants work well, too, assuming that they’re suited to our hardiness zone. In most of Oakland County, that’s Zone 6, with a few areas being Zone 5.


Although lots of veggies are relatively easy to grow, lettuce is by far the easiest, especially if you’d like to grow something from seed. Unlike tomatoes and beans and peppers, lettuce doesn’t need any kind of support structure, and it doesn’t need as much sun, either. One caveat: lettuce needs to be protected from voracious bunnies!

An outdoor bistro table or chair makes an excellent lettuceperch, or you can use an outdoor plant stand to get your lettuce off the ground and away from marauding rabbits. (If you have a surplus of large pots, turn one upside down and put another one on top of it — filling it with dirt should make it stable enough to plant your lettuce in.) Fencing in your lettuce also works, but another advantage of using pots is that you can move your lettuce from one spot to another if it seems to be getting too much or too little sun.

Lettuce comes in many shapes and shades: closed-head varieties (crisphead, iceberg), looseleaf (red leaf, green leaf), and in between (romaine, bibb), and in hues from pale green to deep red. The more loosely the lettuce grows, the more nutrients it contains — a greater number of exposed leaves means the plant has to have a stronger immune system to defend itself from bugs and fungi that try to attack it. Deeper reddish hues also offer more nutrients in terms of anthocyanin content, which is a pigment that functions as an antioxidant. Another nutritional bonus: Lettuce is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. The flavors and textures of different varieties of lettuce vary, but they’re all easy to grow.


Like lettuce, herbs also grow well in pots. Large-leafed herbs like basil and mint also have especially high amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. (And come in many different varieties! Purple ruffled basil, anyone? Or how about chocolate mint?) In terms of culinary applications, you just can’t beat fresh herbs that you can snip whenever you like. Plus, you can dry them at the end of the season to enjoy your garden bounty even in the winter months.


If you’re looking for something pretty and practical, plant edible flowers like nasturtium, violets, pansies, and roses. Flowers from herbs and alliums are also edible and often stunning in their own right, so even if you don’t eat them, you can enjoy looking at them. (And chives are possibly the most hands-off perennial plant you can have.) Herbal flowers like lemon balm, lavender, are particularly beloved by bees, too.


The biodiversity of an unsprayed lawn is stunning, and a lot of it is edible: Dandelions (the flowers, leaves, and roots), red clover flowers, wood sorrel leaves (wood sorrel kind of looks like shamrocks and is tangy with vitamin C), violets, plantains (aka psyllium in health food stores), purslane (an incredible source of omega-3s), and many more valuable “weeds.”

Don’t spray your lawn — eat it!

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IF YOU’RE OF A CERTAIN AGE,YOU PROBABLY REMEMBER being told when you were a kid, to “Go outside and play!” Well, it’s still valid advice, no matter if you’re a kid or an adult. Michiganders don’t get much premium outdoor weather, so let’s enjoy it while we have it! It doesn’t take much to make your backyard an inviting place to be on sunny days and breezy nights.

Just relax. If you have two sturdy trees about 15 feet apart, hang a hammock and put a little table next to it. Perch a tropical drink on the table, pull up a reggae station on Pandora, and pretend you’re slung between palm trees on the beach. If you don’t have ideally-spaced trees, a hammock stand works, too. Or if you’re into home spa treatments, sprawl in a chaise lounge and let your hair, nail, and facial treatments sink in and do their work while you enjoy the outdoors. (Just be sure to scoot into the shade if you’re using products that shouldn’t be in direct sunlight, like retinol and alpha hydroxyl acids.) In the evenings, laze next to a firepit.

Commune with nature. Many pollinators are attracted by certain plants, including hummingbirds and butterflies. If you’d like to be able to observe pollinators going about their busy business, Google “plants for [insert your favorite here]” and create your own nature center to encourage visitors. (Bonus: many flowers that draw in pollinators are also delicious for humans, like lavender and squash flowers.) When dusk arrives, download a stargazing app and puzzle out some constellations. You can even go camping in your own backyard if you have a tent handy.

Play games! Ever seen those giant life-sized games at summer festivals? You can whip them out in your very own backyard to entertain folks of all ages. Classic lawn games like croquet and bocce are perennially popular, too, or you can hang some water-filled balloons from a tree and have a piñata party. Got hula hoops? Use them in a hip-jiggling competition. Or cut out about a quarter of each hoop, sink the ends into the ground, and play kickball croquet.

Be handy. Even if you don’t have mad carpenter skills, you could probably build a teepee out of long sticks and some leafy branches. If you are DIY-inclined, then you might want to transform a shed into a reading nook or build a free- standing Tiki bar. Want to expand your gardening and carpentry skills at the same time? Spend an afternoon putting together a greenhouse kit and then enjoy fresh veggies and herbs year-round.

Get creative. Bet you’ve seen some fun, quirky items at art fairs that made you think “Hey, maybe I could do that!” Whether it’s a funky plate perched on a stick or a birdhouse made of corks, outdoor items are a lot more rustic and less complicated to make compared to items you would want to showcase inside your house, and if you do your crafting, then it’s fine if you spill paint or glue. Chances are you already have plenty of oddball items you can use as art supplies.

Try out your hosting skills. Haul out a card table, plop it in the grass, and invite people over for a Euchre party. Or depending on your group of friends, perhaps a BYO tea party would be more appropriate. (In that case, also haul out a pretty tablecloth and your best china, then pluck some nearby flowers to make a quick bouquet.) If you have a deck or patio, string some lights on whatever hooks/umbrellas/railings are handy and host a cocktail soirée.

Summertime is party time!