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A home with white vinyl siding at dusk. The front porch is lit with strung Edison bulbs. Photos by Kate Gowman

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Renovating with respect

How a couple redid a North End home—and preserved its history

On the surface, the case of 515 Rosedale Court in the North End might seem like your classic home flip. A white couple buys a house from longtime residents, makes some improvements, and four months later puts it up for sale.

But that’s far from the whole story.

Yes, Kate Gowman and Robby Graham bought the house four months ago and are now selling it. But the couple undertook a painstaking rehab, preserving important original features where possible while introducing thoughtful new ones. And they did so while respecting the neighborhood’s character and the legacy of the previous owners.

For example, with the fireplace, they researched the tiles’ origins—most likely a manufacturer from Ohio popular in the late 1800s—and restored each with a straight razor and warm water to remove the synthetic coating. The house was built in 1906 so the tiles are at least 113 years old. They also kept the fireplace’s iron grating and the unique upper metal cabinets in the kitchen.

They fussed over every little detail in the house, like the bathroom tiles, hardware, and fixtures.

“It’s almost like a classic car,” Gowman says. “You just have to eventually stop and let the next person do what they need to do.”

All this for a home that, while nice, isn’t notable for its architectural significance—it’s quite similar to a lot of others in the North End. But it’s clear that Gowman and Graham have a deep respect for the neighborhood and the home’s previous owners, and wanted to honor their history in the renovation.

The house was owned for almost exactly 50 years by Rosa Mae and Louis Hill, who raised their three sons there. While clearing out items in the attic, Gowman and Graham found old photographs of the family listening to music in the living room, proudly wearing suits on the steps to the front porch, dumping a cooler full of fish on the backyard lawn to grill.

They also got to know neighbors, attending a local Fourth of July celebration and other events, who told them stories about the home’s longtime residents.

“Almost everyone we met on the block lives in a family house,” Gowman says. “They answered questions for us and told us nice stories about who lived there—that’s how I know the Hills loved gardening.”

Photos courtesy of the Hill family

Gowman installed Edison lights under the awning by the garage. Every time she needed to use power tools, she worked there. “It was shady, it was nice,” she says. “There’s lots of electrical outlets, so I know the dad did his work there as well. It was a pleasure to work on the house and be there.”

Despite all the work and money they put into the house, they’re selling it for a reasonable price: $118,500. There aren’t many comparables in the North End, though similarly-sized ones on Philadelphia Street listed for $185,000 and $175,000.

The house does need kitchen appliances, but comes with an adjacent lot and huge yard.

They’re also not listing it, but instead doing a silent sale. All inquiries can be made through their website, Haus Werk.

Gowman and Graham were born and raised in Detroit—Gowman recently moved back after being away for 20 years—and feel a sense of duty to find a buyer who will harmonize with the neighborhood.

The couple has enjoyed the process so much that they may take on similar rehab projects in the future. Though they’re definitely going to miss the Hill house.

“The other day [Robby and I] were running errands in Hamtramck. We got some fruit and said ‘Hey, we’re so close to Rosedale, let’s sit on the porch and eat it.’ So we sat there, saying ‘hi’ to neighbors; one was sitting in his car listening to Motown music and singing along. It was just such a nice atmosphere.”

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