The 2023 Birmingham House Tour is a stunning mix of house styles and ages
BIRMINGHAM — Amy Kunga’s dream was to live in a 1920s Tudor-style home, but her husband, Stephen, balked at buying the century-old home and the maintenance it would entail.
“I love the 1920s Tudors, that’s my passion,” said attorney Amy Kunga. “We looked at a number of (Tudor houses) in Birmingham, and every time we found one, the ceilings were so low and he would look at the pipes and the wiring and say he couldn’t do it: Why would we buy a house? A 100-year-old house. When can we build?
Meanwhile, Cici Yellen faced the opposite problem. She and her husband, Brandon, decided that what they really needed was an older house, having already built a new one in Birmingham.
“I kept putting furniture in it and adding to it, and it never felt like home,” Sissy Yellin said. “I was trying to add character and it didn’t work.”
Both couples ended up getting what they wanted in 2019: The Kungas moved into a Tudor-style home that was custom-designed for them, and the Yellins moved into a 1917 Georgian Colonial in Bloomfield Hills.
Both homes are among six featured on the 2023 Birmingham House Tour, scheduled from 9.30am to 3.30pm on 14 September. The tour also features an elaborate garden.
“Even if you can’t live in a big, giant mansion, you can still take a piece of (what the homeowners did on the tour) and incorporate it into your home,” Tiffany Gleim, Birmingham House Tour events chair, said. “You see beautiful homes and wonder: What’s behind the door?” It’s just curiosity and it’s special to get a glimpse into someone else’s life, home and personality.
The Birmingham House Tour, now in its 34th yeary This year, it’s a fundraiser for The Community House and its programs that promote culture, arts and education.
Addresses of the self-guided tour are provided on the day of the event to ticket holders. Documents are available at each site to provide information about the homes. Tickets are $42 without lunch or $62 if participants purchase the meal prepared by The Community House’s executive chef.
In addition to the Kunya and Yelin homes, there are four other homes built in the 2000s on the tour this year. Both Kunja and Yellen provided sneak previews of their homes before the tour, sharing sneak peeks at residences that are works of art with meticulous attention to detail.
Talent for Tudor today
Kunja smiled as she sat in her favorite room in her 4,500-square-foot home: a library just to the right as visitors enter. The room has a chandelier and tall windows that highlight the dark wood color built into the floor. Bookcases extend to the ceiling, plus a faux stone fireplace. She said that every good Tudor household had a library, a reading nook in the room in keeping with the Tudor theme.
“Theodore is a feeling,” Kunja said. “I love the layered details of the Tudor style—everything from the millwork to the moldings. I love the nooks and crannies and you’ll find them in this home with a modern twist.”
She noted other Tudor touches as well, including “judges’ panels” on the walls, although lighter and brighter than those of the original Tudor, and dark stains on the wood floors upstairs. But recent fluctuations are also evident.
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Custom-made chandeliers reflect those the couple admired in favorite travel destinations, including Nashville and Las Vegas, and adorn many of the rooms. Konja has a penchant for Asian influence and Schumacher wallpaper too, which she has used to stunning effect on the paintings in her office and on the tray ceiling in the entertainment room.
The open floor plan of the dining area, kitchen and living room allows for easy entertaining and from the kitchen, a door leads to the loggia, which the Konja family enjoys for three seasons of the year.
“I got everything I wanted, everything I ever wanted, here,” Kunja said.
Classic century-old Georgian colonial elegance
Cissy Yellen has what she wanted, too.
After touring the 11,000-square-foot 1917 Georgian Colonial in Bloomfield Hills three times to understand the design, she and her husband bought the home in 2019 for $2.2 million. They proceeded to allocate more than $1 million toward renovations, using the same architect the two previous owners of the home had used when they remodeled a master suite, finished the basement and more.
The couple then filled the bedrooms with three children, and the result was a home where every space was exploited, and every inch of the house had an interior decorator’s touch. Two family dogs with their own walk-in bathroom were also considered in the second laundry room downstairs.
Yellen loves the millwork and materials used in her home, including oak and marble. While many of the finishes are new, they still feel relevant to the early 1900s, and the additions and updates to the home feel seamless.
“I love different spaces and different personalities in every room,” Yellin said. “It’s different than an open concept. I like the feeling of warmth.”
This is evident in her skillful decor – with beautiful historic wallpaper found throughout the house, with furniture upholstery often matching as in the Yellen family room, her favorite room, where a huge ottoman matches the gold and white wallpaper. Other features of the room include a stone fireplace, built-in bookcases, a beamed ceiling and whitewashed flooring.
Five bedrooms also have historic wallpaper and wool carpets. In the master suite, two chairs found for $10 each at a thrift store were upholstered to match the paper. The master bathroom has custom marble floors that mimic the style of the early 1900s, and all of the cabinetry in this room is handcrafted and painted a heather green.
Outside, the Yellen family continued the early 1900s theme when creating a new courtyard around the pool, including finding foundation molds from 1917 that are still in production. They used it for the patio’s built-in kitchen and fireplace, above which an all-weather TV was mounted.
“It’s nice to be the steward of this house because it’s a very lively place,” Yellen said. “Even though we had modern amenities, we wanted a touch of history.”
Other stops on the Birmingham House tour
In addition to the 2019 Tudor house owned by the Kongas family and the Yellen family’s 1917 Georgian Colonial, other homes to see on the Birmingham House Tour include:
- The Cape Cod was built in 1920 with several additions in the following years, including an expansion of the master bedroom overlooking the gardens, as well as two art studios for the artist who has owned the house for nearly half a century.
- The 2021 home was designed by architect Krieger Klatt and built by Hunter Roberts to be kid-friendly with a soaring entertainment room, TV/media room, large sitting room, exercise room, “hockey room,” kitchen with two islands, and living room with a cathedral ceiling and stone fireplace.
- A house from 2004 has sweeping gables and arches reminiscent of the late 1920s. A pair of Renaissance arches connecting the dining room, service hall and kitchen are just part of the complex interior architecture that brings together large and small spaces in which color is used everywhere to dramatic effect in fabrics, wallpaper, rugs, window treatments and furniture.
- A 6,000-square-foot home built in 2015 features a “grand” first-floor primary suite and a gourmet kitchen, plus amenities that include a bocce ball court, a theater room, and a gym.
- Finally, don’t miss the tour’s unique garden, located in Bloomfield Hills, where the homeowner cleared nearly an acre of grass and hand-dug a koi pond, waterfalls, and aquatic plants. The garden has winding paths and diverse perennial plants.
Contact reporter Susan Bromley at email@example.com or 517-281-2412. Follow her on X: @Susan Bromley10.