By: Ian Thibodeau

DETROIT, MI – Scaffolding, hard hats and construction workers bustling around Detroit’s buildings might not seem like anything special, but those redeveloping some of downtown Detroit’s oldest and most unique buildings are pulling out plenty of tricks to revamp the area.

Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group gave a tour of three of their downtown projects Thursday, showcasing styles that ranged from what they called “renaissance revival” to Art Deco exteriors with contemporary designs inside.

Their biggest project, the $92 million David Whitney Building redevelopment, featured some of the group’s most intricate work, which involved peeling back time to bring back the building’s architectural history, they said.

Brian Rebain, architectural director at Kraemer Design Group, said the group aimed for the 1940s with their designs for the building’s exterior.

Restoring the facade of the building involved replacing brick work and the cornice at the middle and top of the building.

“We typically don’t do this because it’s a lot of money,” but the expensive overhaul was the only way to get the look of the building right, Rebain said.

Rebecca Savage, historic preservation leader with Kraemer Design Group, said the work on the exterior of the building is vital to bringing the beautiful interior back.

“People couldn’t appreciate the interior because the exterior had gotten so ugly,” she said.

Rebain said work on the Daniel Burnham-designed building’s lobby focused heavily on repairing the massive glass-capped atrium.

Other hidden gems, like the ornate golden elevator doors, and terracotta, marble or mahogany details took a keen eye from the design team, but ultimately were in good shape.

“It really just needed to be cleaned up a bit,” Rebain said. “We usually don’t get that in Detroit because the buildings have been empty for 30 years.”

Less than a block down Woodward Avenue and across the street, Savage and Rebain highlighted two other buildings at 1528
and 1520 Woodward Avenue that Kraemer Design Group had recently redeveloped.

Though smaller projects than the Whitney Building, both projects offered unique design approaches.

Like the 1520 Woodward space currently occupied by Detroit Labs, a 70-employee company that develops mobile apps.

Rebain said taking a totally decimated shell of a building and crafting it into something that fits the company that will occupy the space while maintaining the historical integrity of the space is a good challenge.

Starting with a “total shell gives more flexibility for design,” he said.

The Detroit Labs space combines a modern contemporary industrial flair with a polished look, mixing exposed brick and original wooden trusses in the back of the office with stark white walls in the front.

Kraemer’s final collection of buildings surrounds Capitol Park a few blocks away.

The Farwell Building, a location along Griswold Street and The Albert are all being redeveloped by the group, which plans to make all of its projects around the park into apartments.

The Albert, which is already at 85 percent occupancy, is still being worked on. Apartment rentals start at $1,295 for a one bedroom.

Both Rebain and Savage stressed throughout the tour that Kraemer Design Group strives to turn back the clock on the history of many of the buildings they redevelop.

Of the Whitney Building Rebain said: “We wanted to pick a point in time and kind of recreate that period in history.”

Apartment rentals in the Whitney Building will start at around $1,000, toeing the coveted $2 per square foot threshold.

Kraemer Design Group operates out of an office space on Broadway Street in downtown Detroit.

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

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