A peek inside West Village’s historic Frederick Stearns House
“Old wood to burn, old friends to greet,” reads the inscription carved into the historic hearth’s wooden mantle. Frederick Stearns House in Detroit’s West Village, which opened to the public in June.
“You don’t see a lot of fireplaces with fireplaces,” says Innkeeper and President Rachel Mitchell. “It’s so cozy and warm.”
It’s also a fitting introduction and a fitting sentiment for the story. bed and breakfast – especially in the fall, when the trees and gardens surrounding the Tudor-style structure on East Jefferson Avenue turn golden and a chilly feeling fills the air.
Undeniably large at approximately 16,000 square feet, stucco and wood historic mansion was built in 1902 for Frederick K. Stearns, a pharmaceutical magnate and a key player in the city’s turn-of-the-century cultural scene.
Active with the Detroit Orchestral Association (later renamed Detroit Symphony Orchestra) and the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of the Arts), Stearns also donated more than 900 vintage musical instruments from around the world to the University of Michigan, laying the foundation for the institution’s prestigious Stearns Collection.
The Inn’s ballroom – originally the Stearns family’s music room and now available for private dance lessons – once featured a balcony overlooking the space, but was torn down in the 80s by a fire that destroyed a significant part of the paneled room.
“We did our best to make everything look original,” Mitchell says of the couple’s restoration philosophy.
The home’s details are distinctive, but Mitchell says one of the best qualities is the layout, which was ahead of its time. Based on this, the couple removed the offices and returned the house to residential status.
They rearranged the spaces as needed, adding bathrooms as well as new heating, air conditioning and electrical systems. They worked with the Detroit Historic District Commission outside the house to make sure things were appropriate for the period.
Mitchell decorated the home with the same guidelines in mind, stocking it with artwork, antiques and other pieces discovered at estate sales or on Facebook Marketplace.
“The scavenger hunt was part of the fun,” she says.
The Mitchells’ experiences staying at other bed and breakfasts are evident in their attention to detail, from the silky bamboo sheets on the beds to the breakfast menu, with its signature dishes such as the lemon French toast (my pick decadent), blackened shrimp and grits in Cajun oil, smoked salmon or prosciutto eggs Benedict with champagne hollandaise sauce and seasoned red potatoes.
All are cooked to order by Shannon Tabron, the inn’s private chef. Guests can choose to enjoy their morning feast (included with accommodation) in the dining room, the nearby breakfast room, or the sunny enclosed porch – where I chose to dine – which overlooks the houses history of the West Village.
The 10 rooms of the inn are named after flowers. It’s a choice that reflects Mitchell’s love of gardening, which can also be seen in the extensive landscaping around the building. Perched on the third floor overlooking Jefferson Avenue, Zinnia Room, a spacious, soft-green room I stayed in, features a white-brick fireplace, elegant marble bathroom, and serene sitting area. Loofahs and hand cream in a basket atop the vanity are another thoughtful touch. The occasional noise from passing traffic was the only reminder of my proximity to downtown.
Another standout room is the Rose Room (aka the Presidential Suite) on the second floor, which has a salvaged fireplace and a sleek bathroom bigger than my entire New York apartment.
The Lily Room, decorated with Asian antiques, is a nod to Mitchell’s Chinese heritage. After all, it was the influence of this heritage that allowed him to recognize and appreciate the rough diamond.
“In China, we have great respect for history and tradition,” she says.
The Stearns House is available for special occasions including bridal showers and small weddings. There is a new membership program which includes dinner in the lower level pub, jazz nights and other events.
“Word is starting to spread,” Mitchell says of the inn’s growing popularity. So far, the majority of guests have been Michigan locals, but the hostel has also hosted travelers from Atlanta and even as far away as France.
The night I stayed, in mid-September, Brenda and Mike Zemmin from Bloomfield Hills were celebrating their 54th birthday by staying in the Rose Room.
Mike, who had grown up in the east side of town, remembers driving on Jefferson Avenue over the years and was thrilled to stay at the hostel after witnessing his transformation.
“You have to take your hat off to the attention to detail,” he said, marveling at the sleek interiors. Brenda said the hostel was the perfect place to celebrate. “We loved the size of our room, the comfortable bed and the relaxing seating area. We will absolutely be back and try to bring some friends next time too.”
Restoring the house has always been a labor of love, despite the challenges along the way.
“The house has wonderful feng shui,” says Mitchell. “It gives you a good feeling and a sense of peace. The original owner left such a legacy. We wanted to bring it back to life and continue that legacy.
This story is from November Hour Detroit magazine 2022 issue. Find out more in our digital edition.