Recreating craftsmanship

A Michigan contractor reroofs an HGTV-spotlighted building—the Cranbrook House

  • A No. 43 base sheet was installed on several roof areas. Photo courtesy of B & M Roofing of Colorado Inc., Boulder.
  • Forty acres (16 hectares) of gardens surround the Cranbrook House.Photos courtesy of Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
  • An Allen Brothers worker cuts clay tiles.Photos courtesy of Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
  • New Ludowici Roof Tile tiles replaced original 85-year-old tiles from the same manufacturer.Photos courtesy of Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
  • Scaffolding was erected around the Cranbrook House's west wing to protect workers and building occupants.Photos courtesy of Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
  • Hughes with his fiancé, Kim Gales.Photo courtesy of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Being involved with the roofing industry, you know the importance of stellar craftsmanship whether you are installing the most intricate roof system detail or repairing a leak.

George Gouh Booth also appreciated fine craftsmanship, and his love of the arts and crafts inspired him to create what would become Cranbrook Educational Community (CEC), Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The community is dedicated to art, education and science.

Booth, a former Detroit News publisher, was fascinated by the English Arts and Crafts Movement that started in the late 1800s. This fascination inspired him and his wife, Ellen, to found CEC, which got its start when the Booths' private residence, the Cranbrook House, was built in 1908. Booth asked Albert Kahn, a renowned Detroit architect, to design a house that reflected arts and crafts. The Tudor Revival-style house, which sits at the front of CEC's property, features ornate wood carvings and moldings, decorative copper gutters, a tile roof system, and handcrafted tapestries and tiles and is surrounded by breathtaking gardens. As the Booth family grew, a west wing was added to the house in 1918 and an east wing was built in 1922.

The house originally sat on 40 acres (16 hectares) of land, but the Booths expanded the property to 315 acres (126 hectares) so their arts-and-crafts movement could begin. After World War I, the Booths built a theater, boys school, girls school and church. Since then, CEC has grown to include the Cranbrook Institute of Science, a natural history museum; Cranbrook Art Museum; Cranbrook Academy of Arts, which offers Master of Fine Arts and Master of Architecture degrees; and Cranbrook Schools, which include a co-educational Lower School for kindergarten to fifth grade, Middle School with separate boys and girls programs for sixth grade to eighth grade and co-educational Upper School for ninth grade to 12th grade. The community has been named a National Historic Landmark.

The Booths lived in the Cranbrook House until the 1950s. Now, the first floor of the house is open to the public and features the Booths' original furnishings, as well as examples of tile, metal, tapestry and other crafts. The second and third floors include CEC administrative offices.

Although CEC's administration has worked to preserve the buildings' architectural endeavors, several structural problems have occurred, such as a weakened terrace, leaking roof systems and gutters, loose bricks and chimney problems.

Of particular concern was the Cranbrook House's west-wing roof system that was leaking and missing clay tiles. In the west wing, there is a family library that includes a large fireplace, priceless books, vaulted decorative plaster ceiling and carved wood pieces. Other items stored in the west wing that had to be protected include a piano played by Leonard Bernstein, furniture, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and some of Ellen's clothes.

Restoring the west-wing roof system was a priority for CEC. To help it fund the expensive project, the community applied for and received a grant from Save America's Treasures, a national trust of which First Lady Laura Bush is honorary chair. CEC applied for matching funds asking for $400,000 but received a $300,000 grant. The roofing project cost about $900,000.

To generate support for significant American buildings, Save America's Treasures teamed up with Home & Garden Television (HGTV) to promote 12 of America's most important historic places. As the oldest surviving manor house in Michigan, the Cranbrook House was named to the list as an "outstanding example of early 20th century design and craftsmanship." HGTV will air a show about the Cranbrook House and restoration project in June 2004.

Staff of NRCA member Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich., undoubtedly will be huddled around televisions during the show—the company was selected to reroof the Cranbrook House's west-wing roof system.

Allen Brothers was invited to the open bid because of its experience working on historical projects. Allen Brothers was named the general contractor and roofing contractor and was asked to remove the west wing's existing clay tile roof system and install a new one, restore and replace carpentry work, restore the deck and rafters, and install a copper gutter system. The company subcontracted chimney masonry and repair work to Grunwell-Cashero Co. Inc., Detroit.


The original 50-square (465-m²) roof system featured a tongue-and-groove deck with flat clay Ludowici Roof Tile tiles and copper gutters. Roof system problems included missing or damaged roof eaves, as well as overflowing and leaking gutters that were saturating surrounding stone, brick and stucco. Leaks slightly damaged a plaster ceiling.

After investigating the leaks, Craig Hoerhschemeyer, CEC's project manager in the capital projects office, says the clay tiles weren't the problem, the copper had failed.

"The copper flashings in the valley flanking the chimney and dormers needed to be repaired," Hoerhschemeyer says. "The copper had reached its lifespan. But besides a few broken tiles, the tiles were in good condition."

Allen Brothers says in addition to missing tiles, other tiles were damaged because of algae growth. Roofing workers also noticed some tiles had been patched to repair leaks, which accelerated tar and copper erosion.

Because some tiles had to be replaced, CEC investigated its options. CEC had a supply of replacement tiles, but it thought the supply would not be adequate to replace damaged areas, especially because some delicate tiles probably would be broken during the repair work. The other options were to purchase new, matching tiles to replace damaged tiles or reroof the entire west wing.

Before Allen Brothers was selected as the contractor, CEC determined the original tiles were from Ludowici Roof Tile. The community contacted the tile manufacturer to see whether the original tiles could be replicated. Ludowici Roof Tile had the tile molds to reproduce the same tile. The only problem was the tile color.

Hoerhschemeyer explains: "The clay source now is different, so a different color is produced. The original tiles were more orange. Because of the color difference, we couldn't buy a certain number of tiles to replace broken tiles because it would be too obvious that all the tiles don't match."

At that point, CEC knew a complete west-wing roof replacement was necessary. Because the new west-wing tiles do not match the rest of the Cranbrook House's tile roof system, an entire roof system renovation has been planned and should be completed in four years.

Improved look

Roofing work began on the west wing in May and was finished in September. During the project, Allen Brothers had to work around the Cranbrook House's administration schedule, as well as events, such as wedding receptions, regularly held at the manor. Daily tours of the house and gardens also continued during the construction work. To ensure Cranbrook House happenings were not disrupted, weekly meetings were held with Brian Marceau, operations manager for Allen Brothers; the owner's representative; architect; and subcontractor superintendents. On the weekends, roofing workers moved the Dumpster and equipment from the courtyard drive—the only area of direct roof access—to a marshaling area.

Scaffolding was erected around the west wing, and a fire-protection program was put in place. The scaffolding provided safe access for workers and allowed Cranbrook House staff to fully use the site.

A four- to six-member crew tore off the existing clay tiles in about two weeks. The tongue-and-groove deck was in excellent condition; the deck only had to be repaired in a few valley areas.

Carpentry repair work consisted of fixing decorative rafter tails.

"The exposed tails were split because of [being exposed to weather conditions for] many years," Marceau says. "We were able to repair all but one rafter tail, which had to be milled to match existing [details]."

The tear-off process was challenging because of roof access problems. Marceau says materials were handled two to three times before they were placed in a Dumpster.

Once the tear-off was complete, two layers of Grace Ice & Water Shield were installed on the eaves, ridges, hips, chimney penetrations, and wall and roof intersections. The remaining roof areas were covered with a No. 43 base sheet.

Next, a two-piece quarter-round flanged gutter system was installed.

"The outer gutter piece conceals the pitched inner gutter, giving the gutter system the appearance of being level," Marceau says.

The gutter system also presented challenges because the original gutters were made with tools used in the 1900s. To meet historical requirements, the new gutters had to match the original craftsmanship. And the company's equipment was missing an important component.

Marceau explains: "To match the copper gutters, it was necessary to fabricate them using the same equipment used [in 1918]. We have a computerized brake that can fabricate just about anything except a 1-inch (25-mm) bead role. However, through some contacts, we were able to find a sheet-metal fabricator who still had an antique bead roller with a 1-inch (25-mm) bar."

To complete the look, existing gutter brackets were restored and reinstalled. After the gutter system was in place, the clay tiles were installed. While Allen Brothers workers installed the roof system, Grunwell-Cashero workers restored the stucco and masonry areas on two chimneys.

The front door

What began as a rural manor in 1908 has turned into a unique cultural offering. CEC has surpassed the Booths' vision by educating and inspiring students and visitors. But if you ever visit the community, use the front door—the Cranbrook House.

Hoerhschemeyer says, "Cranbrook as an institution has quite an important place in American design, and Cranbrook House is central to that—[the house] is the front door to the entire community."

Kate Gawlik is associate editor of Professional Roofing magazine.

Project name: The Cranbrook House—west wing
Project location: Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Project duration: May to September
Roof system type: Clay tiles
Roofing contractor: Allen Brothers Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich.
Roofing manufacturer: Ludowici Roof Tile, New Lexington, Ohio
Architect: SmithGroup, Ann Arbor, Mich.


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