Inside a Historic Detroit Charter School That Takes Cues From Wes Anderson


For Gensler, one of the biggest challenges was getting the building up to date without disturbing the character that had originally fascinated the company. Rather than hiding all of the electrical systems in a false ceiling, John and his team decided to keep the corridors as open as they were originally built. The hardwood floors have been salvaged and stained darker, although luxury vinyl would have been cheaper, and all of the classroom fixtures were retained and modified to match the number of students in today’s classes. Minimalist lighting has been added to bring out the charm of 20th century design.

The updated tiles throughout the room add a fun charm.

It’s clear that Kyle wanted every corner to be full of joy.

Yes, much of the budget went into new plumbing and electrical installations, as well as reinforcing the roof with structural steel for the seven-ton HVAC units, but that just meant Gensler had to get creative. “We kept as much as possible, even if it looked raw,” says Waller. “It was important to respect and maintain these details.”

Preserving the building’s history was important to Kyle, but she also wanted the space to feel joyful. During a sleepless night with her newborn daughter in February 2019, her exhausted brain connected “all parts” and a palette was created. Looking at the whimsy of Wes Anderson films, she now knew how to approach the interiors.

Sophisticated design and elementary schools don’t often go hand in hand, but why shouldn’t they? “We didn’t want it to be sterile, and we wanted to activate as much space as possible for learning,” she says. The entire interior design, from hallway details to colors and stains to the expressive bathroom tiles, was done by Hudson and Sterling.

The renovation was made possible by generous donations from the community, including lighting from WeWork and tiles from Beaver Tile & Stone.

Pastel blues and yellows, colors that were already present on the second floor, can now be found throughout the building in their original hues, as well as a soft purple and mint green. (Sherwin-Williams Paint donated 200 gallons of paint.) Fireclay Tile, a partner Kyle raves about, donated $ 150,000 worth of tiles to further beautify the rejuvenated building. “They really came shoulder to shoulder with us and immediately understood why this project is important,” she says. (Thanks to the relationships between brands and the interior design firm, the school has received over $ 200,000 in donations like this one.)

After: “Kyle is a force for change,” says John. “Nothing is going to stop them from achieving their goals, and it’s pretty powerful to align with someone like that.”

After: The corridor on the second floor is shown here. It took nearly two years to complete the design and construction, and some final improvements are still being made on the third floor.

The office’s large round desk, also designed by Hudson and Sterling, is modeled on one in the Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Charles Dickens anthologies are piled high, with lots of vintage photographs, accessories from a local real estate sale, and pieces from Target, Article, and Wayfair. The framed art, printed directly from the Library of Congress, was donated by Framebridge.

Thanks to Framebridge, the school was able to showcase some bold framed artwork.

Follow Ali to find your way to the water fountain.

The community aspect of this project and the amount of support Kyle and her team have received continue to astound them. They started out with the goal of saving this architectural masterpiece, but the school “breathed life into the neighborhood and represents the true meaning of the word regrowth,” says Integrated Design Solutions engineer Dominic Paone. The building, which is over 100 years old, is now a home for Detroit school children for future generations. Who wouldn’t want to study in this cheerful, charming building?


Dusty Kennedy