When touring a historic estate, you can, of course, expect history and opulence. Unlike many estate tours, however, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is very accessible. While you are directed through the house by a tour guide, the path taken through and between rooms is surprisingly unrestricted. In fact, there are no protective mats or obvious security measures. Visitors walk right over original rugs and right next to priceless works of art. There is undoubtedly some kind of security system to prevent accidental breakage and theft, but it is accomplished without Plexiglas or the over use of velvet-rope dividers.
Architecture and Decoration
The 60-room , 30,000-square-foot house was designed by Albert Kahn and built in the late 1920s. It has an incredible amount of decorative detail throughout, especially in the elaborate plasterwork of the ceilings and woodwork of doors and moldings. There are also several architectural elements (fireplaces, paneling) that date back several centuries.
That being said, the Modern Room on the first floor was decorated in the Art Deco style with parts from automobiles and leather walls. Additionally, a couple of the bedrooms on the second floor are decorated in the more modern style of the 1930s, and Eleanor’s bedroom was decorated most recently in the 1950s.
One of the variables that can make or break a tour is the personality and knowledge of its guide. In addition to being animated and knowledgeable, our guide was able to paint a picture that transformed the historic house into the childhood home of the Ford’s four children.
Through charm and humor, he was also able to transform a few of the more obnoxious adults in our group into respectful listeners who eventually kept their fingerprints off the valuables.
While several of the original works of art in the house now reside in the Detroit Institute of Arts (and are represented in the house today as reproductions), many remain. The Fords’ eclectic collection has pieces from several centuries and from around the world. The works are scattered throughout the house on walls or tables – probably knick knacks to the affluent Fords. For instance, there is an original painting by Paul Cezanne still adorning the wall in the Drawing Room, “Cactus on the Plains” by Diego Rivera in the Modern Room, and an original Henri Matisse painting (Anemones) in Eleanor’s Sitting Room upstairs.
Proof of affluence
Lest you forget just how influential and wealthy the family, take note of the following:
- Eleanor Ford had a couple of vases from the Ming Dynasty made into lamps.
- In an era before stainless steel, the counter tops in the main kitchen are done completely in German silver.
- Family pictures scattered throughout the house often include notable dignitaries or famous celebrities.
- Admiral Richard Byrd (of North and South Pole fame) named his airplane after Josephine Ford, Edsel and Eleanor’s only daughter. An American flag that accompanied him on one of his famous journeys is framed above the fireplace in what was Josephine's bedroom on the second floor.
- What looks like a guest cottage on the grounds surrounding the main house is actually a two-thirds scale playhouse with four, full-functioning rooms.
The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is accessible from Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores. As the mansion of one of Detroit’s most renowned families, it should come as no surprise that the estate is situated directly along Lake St. Clair with spectacular views. In the summer months, the gardens surrounding the house are their own draw. In fact, they are one of the Detroit area’s better-known Public Gardens.
While the estate is listed as one of the area museums that take part in the Detroit Adventure Pass, call ahead to double check. On our visit, only the grounds qualified for free admission, and we were asked to donate an additional $5 a person for the house tour – still a savings from the usual $12 admission price.
The tour starts from the Activities Center. From there, you board a bus for a five-minute ride to the house, where a tour guide directs your exploration.
Worth a Repeat Visit
Different facts about the house come to light depending on the guide and the time of year in which the house is visited. For instance, the house is decorated in keeping with Eleanor’s traditions at Christmas time and there are also special candle-light tours.