By Ian Thibodeau | ithibode@mlive.com

DETROIT – It is hard to find a building Kraemer Design Group has not touched when looking around downtown Detroit.

Bob and Maureen Kraemer, principals of the group that opened up shop in Detroit 20 years ago, said the company’s history sort of set them for what Kraemer has become.

It’s a busy time for the Detroit-based architecture firm, which is one of the current leaders on historic restoration projects of all sizes in the city.

In downtown alone, the company has lead the restoration and renovation of the David Whitney Building, partnered on the interior design of the glamorous John Varvatos store on Woodward Ave., consulted on or redeveloped almost all of Capitol Park and reached up Woodard to Midtown for new construction on The Auburn.

And they’ve got an idea of what the future could look like.

The recent demand for housing in the greater downtown area has the Kraemer execs looking forward. The downtown core will run out of vacant historical buildings to turn into housing, Bob Kraemer said, and that will require things to be built.

The firm is currently involved with two apartment complexes going up soon in downtown Detroit, one on top of a parking garage.

“Right now there’s an excitement in Detroit, because (developers) all know there’s this huge market for housing, so everyone’s rushing,” Kraemer said.

The demand is making clients move quickly on projects. Brian Rebain, architectural director at Kraemer Design Group, said the rate of construction and redevelopment in Detroit over the last five years has “been sort of as fast as you can go, it feels like.”

“With this new year coming in…you still see clients who want to go fast, but they’re maybe pausing for breath a little bit to actually plan it a little bit more, to think about it more strategically than ‘we just got to open,'” Rebain said.

Kraemer said that some developers have gotten bitten by speed, rushing a housing redevelopment that gets beat up by those who decide to live there.

“It’s a sophisticated clientele downtown here,” he said.

Kraemer Design Group “probably (leads) the marketplace on informing people what we believe the market is,” Kraemer said.

Within the next few years, Kraemer said he expects to see developers moving away from large one- or small two-bedroom apartments. Developers will start to trend toward building new or redeveloping buildings into small one-bedroom units, two-bedroom two-bathroom units or large family-style three-bedrooms.

Currently, it’s difficult to sell bigger apartments at the coveted $2-per-square-foot mark, Rebain said.

Once the greater downtown area gets there, Kraemer predicts the new developments will gear towards condominiums.

Historic tax credits don’t work with condos, the team said. The buildings will more than likely be built new.

And that will require Kraemer to possibly move away from the business that they’ve become so well known for in Detroit.

When the economy tanked in 2008, the design firm moved toward renovating hotels. For nearly three years, the Kraemers’ team worked “picking up the really nasty, bad hotels” that needed massive restorative work. The work kept the company in business while Detroit went stagnant on development.

This set the firm up for all of the restorative work it has done in the city since 2011.

“We’re less preservationist than we are (geared to) rehabilitation,” Bob Kraemer said.

Rebain said Detroit is unique in that the historic buildings in need of rehabilitation are often in dire straits.

“These buildings…are shells,” Rebain said.

While Kraemer isn’t the only high-performing architecture group in the city, they’re unique.

They’re a 29-person team, and 22 of their employees are women. The strong interior design background at Kraemer puts them in a spot to work both the historic and modern ends of Detroit projects.

“There’s been a lot of creative firms in this town for a long time,” Kraemer said, “but our firm is very unique in the sense that we have a very large number of interior designers for being an architectural firm…These large renovation projects are equally architecture (projects) as they are interior design, and we don’t know really where to separate…”

Rebain said in buildings like the Whitney or Broderick Tower, the project was more about finding the right materials for existing spaces. Other reuses want a redesign that’s supposed to be more modern but still compatible with the building.

The main goals are to keep whatever is historic, and not to fake anything.

“That excitement that I have personally is to work on the really obscure…the nastier, the older the building all that, it’s more exciting,” Kraemer said.

For now, apartments are still lucrative for developers, and they will be for a few years, according to the Kraemer team.

Redevelopments are often opening at 100 percent full, so, while Detroit is a ways out from people not being excited about new apartments, developers are starting to see market trends at two ends of the spectrum.

People want more amenities, for example. Community presence is becoming important in complexes when only five years ago when redesigns for Broderick Tower downtown were finalized, no one cared about a communal space akin to that at The Albert, which Kraemer led the design on.

Broder and Sachse’s development The Scott and Brush Park has a rooftop pool and fireplaces in the design.

“That stuff is expensive,” Kraemer said. But developers realize now that there’s competition for clients in Detroit, and they’re becoming more in tune with what the young millennials flocking to urban living look for.

Kraemer Design Group has a lot of the Detroit redevelopment market in its grip, though. They handle everything from the initial designs to the furnishing of whatever space, Maureen Kraemer said.

That helps their designs take on a sort of Kraemer-esque feel, despite the many unique projects.

For now, the firm plans to continue everything from tenant work to historic consulting and new construction throughout the greater downtown Detroit.

Even if Kraemer isn’t listed on official releases on new developments, they’re likely involved in some way as a consultant, they said.

While the future of the city’s development projects might change gears within several years, Bob, Maureen and Rebain said they expect big projects to move up Michigan Avenue, Jefferson Avenue and Woodward, away from downtown, once developers start to move away from downtown’s buildings.

The city is a ways out from seeing another skyscraper go up, Bob said.

About Kraemer Design Group

Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group, PLC (KDG) is a leading, high-end architecture, interior design, and creative firm celebrating 20 years of experience in historic renovation and comprehensive architectural consulting. Serving the commercial, multi-family residential, hospitality and retail industries, KDG is the industry leader in outovation; combining highly technical industry experience with unparalleled creativity to create exclusive design solutions. For more information, visit www.thekraemeredge.com.

Ian Thibodeau is the business and development reporter for MLive Media Group in Detroit. He can be reached at ithibode@mlive.com, or follow him on Twitter.

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