When these homeowners moved to Ann Arbor, they bought a modest little 1950s atomic ranch as their starter home. Situated on nearly an acre of land, the house was convenient to natural areas and close to Ann Arbor’s downtown. Yet, the quaint house featured tiny rooms and small windows that had a “cramped brick fortress” quality.


The homeowners never expected to stay in the house for long, but after a few years they added a cedar sunroom. It was a lovely addition, and it opened up the house to the backyard, which they had started to garden. The sunroom made a world of difference to their enjoyment of the house.

The couple eventually decided that they should either move out entirely or renovate the home and bring the outdoors in. By this time they were so attached to the garden, they couldn’t imagine giving it up, so they chose to renovate.


Finding a Design-Build Company

The homeowners wanted to combine their love for their backyard with the serene warmth of a traditional Japanese aesthetic. They imagined a sanctuary that opened the indoors to a profusion of natural outdoor light—a simple, open design accented with cherry wood.

“No one else seemed to get that, except Giraffe,” one homeowner said. “Martin (Giraffe’s owner) loved that aesthetic and he had guys on his team who were able to do traditional Japanese joinery.”

The effort was highly collaborative from the start. Martin solicited the homeowners’ ideas and incorporated them in innovative ways to realize their vision for their home.

Related reading: Transforming a Drab Basement into a Warm Sanctuary


Renovating with Giraffe


interior of renovated home

Even when you trust your design-build firm, construction can be a stressful process. For these clients, Giraffe made it easier.

“Before construction began,” she said, “Giraffe promised us that they don’t leave people hanging for weeks on end, like the horror stories some people have about renovations. They said that once they commit to a project, they’re there everyday until it’s done. They were here promptly at 8:00 every day.”

It can be scary to embark on a journey this big, because you can be surprised by unexpected issues. But having a collaborative partner provides a security that you won’t be left alone to deal with roadblocks. “They were partners from the get-go,” one homeowner said. “Very respectful in listening to our input, and putting everything together into a plan that made everybody happy.”

She also loved watching the project come together under the mastery of a skilled crew. “They’re so skilled and confident in what they do,” she said. “One of the guys was skilled in Japanese carpentry, and he built a live edged bench for us and some shoji screens by hand, using only Japanese tools. It was a fascinating process to observe.”


Delightful Results


exterior of renovated home

Giraffe added three spaces to create a peaceful, zen-like retreat: a vestibule, a dining room and a kitchen.

The Japanese-inspired interior spaces are connected by a square grid pattern that is used throughout the addition. A grid of 16 large windows in the dining room look onto the gardens and a smaller grid of windows runs along the front of the house. A cypress front door incorporates the grid pattern, which is repeated on the kitchen cabinets.

Other features include:


  • A built-in bench in the foyer, made from a solid piece of cherry using traditional Japanese hand tools
  • A beautiful Brazilian walnut front deck, reflecting the Japanese tradition of using materials from nature
  • A natural stone path that greets visitors, winding through the garden to the front door
  • A simplified traditional Japanese fence for privacy

“We were astonished by the beauty of it, and we still are,” the homeowners said. “It’s exactly what we wanted. It’s simple, elegant, and it brings the outdoors in. Everyday, we feel happy to be there.”

Years later, neighbors still stop by to share how much they enjoy the renovation. Even strangers from other towns have stopped by and left notes of appreciation.

Moments like that mean a great deal to these homeowners, because it was a priority to add a built environment to their diverse neighborhood that would bring joy and delight to others.

Dreaming of your own inspired living space? Giraffe Design Build is a client centric, design driven company motivated by the belief that the built environment profoundly affects people’s lives. Together with our clients, our collaborative team of designers and craftsmen transform existing spaces into healthy, joyful sanctuaries where families celebrate daily life.

Call us today to start a conversation about your dream renovations.