Northern Michigan Home & Cottage: Imagine Coco Chanel, the embodiment of mid-20th century casual-but-elegant style, breezing into the diminutive Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls in Harbor Springs and exclaiming, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”“Mais oui,” the owner Elizabeth (Dilly) Blair Kirby would answer—no doubt flashing her exuberant all-American smile—before pointing out the fine burled walnut Art Deco antique furniture she uses to display her internationally recognized pearl jewelry designs. Dilly would smile to herself, knowing that the great French designer would no doubt notice the shop’s French atelier drapes in traditional crisp blue and white stripes, and the room’s understated, exquisitely feminine color palette.
And now let’s make believe that Dilly invites Coco to her home located up the bluff a couple blocks. There, they might savor a glass or two of fine wine in the Kirbys’ tiny Paris-inspired yard, with its pea-sized dolomite gravel covering the ground, its rows of matching pear and cone-shaped cedar trees and its black bollards à la Place Vendôme. The conversation would be of what a fan Dilly is of Chanel style, and certainly Dilly would mention their shared birthdays.
Pretending is nigh irresistible among the glamorous settings that Dilly—with help and inspiration from her husband Richard—seems to create out of the ether. Take the couples’ home, for instance. What today feels like a bite-sized canapé of luxury was a plain, 1950’s white box when the couple purchased it in 2002. The Kirbys had been living in Florida at the time, having already launched glamorous careers; Dilly as a pearl jewelry designer with collections sold at upscale retailers including Neiman Marcus; Richard as a cruise industry CEO and ship designer, work that took him often to Brittany on the French coast. After 9/11, Dilly craved somewhere that felt peaceful and safe. Harbor Springs, where the couple had vacationed, felt just right. So did the little white house on the bluff.
Once the couple made the move to Harbor Springs year round, Richard, who’d long wanted a manicured French garden, went to work designing the yard—such as it was then, with enough mud slithering down the bluff for cattails to grow. A beautiful stone retaining wall fixed that, and it wasn’t long before the Kirbys found that the bluff buffered their yard from the lake winds, creating a microclimate perfect for their pear trees, grape vines and fabulous red Knock Out roses.
On the interior, Dilly went to work on the sort of detailing she says a jeweler would add: chandeliers, sconces, crown molding, luxurious area rugs laid over the home’s oak floors. And while Chanel is certainly her muse, Dilly’s choices were (and still are) even more directly influenced by the work of the international designer John Saladino, famous for his finesse at blending modern and historic styles. In the living room, Saladino-inspired wall colors of celadon and pale lavender pair with genuine Saladino furniture, including a sofa, a pair of villa club chairs and a pair of wingback chairs.
Petoskey builder James Cesario is at work on a new master bedroom suite for the Kirbys—the only addition to the home’s footprint. “It will be a soulful retreat that echoes our colorful yet tranquil living room vibe,” says Dilly. “We extended the rooms out toward the back garden, incorporating a raised patio for yet another place for dining alfresco—I love variety, so we have seven places to dine inside and out,” she says.
Which, of course, brings us to the Kirbys’ kitchen. Dilly worked with designer Liz Firebaugh to transform the 1980s kitchen into a fresh take on a traditional French look. Central to that is the La Cornue Château stove—made from cast iron, coated in porcelain enamel and boasting two vaulted ovens, one gas and one electric, that circulate heat like convection ovens. Opposite the stove is an equally impressive three-inch-thick quartzite sink and prep counter. More translucent than marble, the quartzite also doesn’t stain as marble does. Other custom touches in the kitchen include crossed mullions on the glass-fronted cabinet doors (“I worked really hard to get the crosses just right because if you don’t, they look like they belong in an old uptight British grandma kitchen,” Dilly says with a laugh) and extra drawers specially designed to hold Dilly’s five sets of cutlery. Yes, five sets. One never knows who is going to drop by.