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Friday, June 12, 2009Dressed for the times: Sears kit house in Birmingham gets a made-in-Michigan kitchen redoJodi Noding / Special to The Detroit NewsBill and Sandy Fullmer didn't set out to do a made-in-Michigan kitchen in their classic 1918 Sears kit house on a quiet street in Birmingham.

But once Bill, who works in sales, found "a prize piece of wood" from a Boyne City lumberyard that would blend with the other extensive woodwork in the home, the Fullmers and their design consultant, Kathleen Lanciault of Bloomfield Hills, decided they had found their theme.

"It's fun to hunt for those things," says Sandy Fullmer, a French teacher.

"It kind of makes it a game.

We fell into it, and it just kind of snowballed." Adds Lanciault, "I think we need to support Michigan products.

This is the time for that." But it's also practical for homeowners, she says.

"It's better to have somebody local to deal with.

The ability to always have somebody to talk to and be in touch with is important during a renovation." And being able to work with a local store owner makes a big difference when things don't go right, she's found.

AdvertisementEven the prices can be competitive.

"So many people just look on the Internet these days for things.

But you'll find many local stores will match prices if you ask," Lanciault says.

So the search was on for as many local products as possible.

The wood floor in the kitchen is from teardowns in Indian Village and elsewhere in Detroit to get a closer match to the time period of the rest of the home.

Lanciault brought in a carpenter to do the flooring and build a custom island with a sink.

To keep within a budget and capture the feel of the time, the countertop is a laminate that's edged with wood.

The cabinets are from Merillat Industries, a company in Adrian.

The cabinets conceal the dishwasher, and an appliance garage surrounds the new stainless steel refrigerator, cutting down on clutter.

Glassed-in cabinets along the top of the wall allow for display of family favorites.

Design by committeeEverybody got something in the redesign, they say, even if it took a bit of convincing of the other two.

Sandy got the taps in the island labeled with "hot" and "cold" in French.

Bill, the baker in the family, got a floor model Aga stove from a plumbing supply company that Lanciault was able to accommodate in the design by picking up the color on the far wall around the door.

And Lanciault won the Fullmers over to the idea of expanding the small galley kitchen 18 inches by taking space from a stairway and other room.

"It will change your life," she told them.

It allowed them to add the island and a small wood table and bench area in the corner, created from Bill's pine find up north.

With its wood and tile surroundings, and lighting touches, it's part dining area, part cozy getaway.

Other touches include an etched-glass design in the kitchen door and the side window designed by Lanciault and created by a local artisan, and striking Motawi accent tiles from Ann Arbor.

Music pipes in through concealed speakers high on the wall, and lighting fixtures throughout the kitchen add light and warmth to the design.

The end result now is a seamless flow throughout the downstairs, each part of the home looking connected to the other.

"Trust is the key issue," says Lanciault, when working with a designer.

"It's got to be the right fit.

They knew what they didn't want." 'An old friend'And what they didn't want was a repeat of the last time they did their kitchen, more than 30 years ago.

"The kitchen wasn't bad when we moved in," Sandy says.

But it wasn't long after they took over the five-bedroom, 1 1/2 -bath home in 1974 that she decided to redo it.

"It was a case of having some money and not doing the best thing with it," recalls Sandy.

"I was crying when the door shut" and the workers left, she says.

The French provincial redesign, done in lots of bright yellow, was all the rage at the time, but didn't fit the home.

"We made a lot of mistakes back then," she says, also recalling the shag carpeting they added that covered the wood floors throughout the house.

But in the 1980s, the couple started to realize that they weren't just living in a house, but in a bit of American history.

"Our neighbor across the street had told me this was a kit house," Sandy said.

"I said, OK, that's nice." But it wasn't until later -- after her two children were a bit older and she had time for some research and hosted devoted former owners who came back for visits -- that she discovered it was a Sears home, and started to understand that she was part of an exclusive and ever more rare club.

The Fullmers started to change the design to reflect the home's origins, and they started seeking out other Sears homes.

"Once you get the fever, you think, "Well, there's one, and there's one," she says.

In fact Sears, Roebuck and Co.

sold about 75,000 houses across the U.S.

from 1908 until 1940 through its Modern Homes catalog.

Buyers could browse through the catalog and pick options, and everything to build the house would be shipped via rail.

Mass production kept the costs low.

The Fullmores' model, called "the Ashmore," was sold from 1916 to 1922 and listed for $1,608 to $3,632.

Sandy laments that other kit houses "are being bulldozed at a regular rate." She estimates there are about five documented Ashmores left in the country.

"This house is like an old friend," Sandy says.

"It's built like a rock.

There's some history to this house, if the walls could tell you." SourcesCabinets: Merillat Industries 2075 W.

Beecher Road, Adrian, (517) 263-0771, www.merillat.comSpecialty tile: Motawi Tileworks, 170 Enterprise Drive, Ann Arbor, (734) 213-0017, www.motawi.comKitchen appliances and plumbing: Specialties Showroom, 2800 W.

11 Mile, Berkley, (248) 548-5656, www.specialtiesshowroom.comFaucet: Herald Wholesale, 20830 Coolidge Highway, Oak Park, (248) 398-4560, www.heraldwholesale.comCountertop: Wilsonart, 2400 Wilson Place, P.O.

Box 6110 Temple, Texas, (800) 433-3222, www.wilsonart.comEtched glass design: Kathleen Lanciault, Bloomfield Hills, (248) 853-5646 Etched glass fabrication: Debbie Christians Cut Glass, Davisburg, (248) 634-9500, www.clearcutetching.comCarpentry: Jerry Weinsheimer-Creative Carpentry by Jerry, (248) 496-3510 Jodi Noding is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
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