Matthew & Anna’s Corktown Curiosities

published Apr 16, 2015
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(Image credit: Mike Hetu)

Name: Matthew Milia and Anna Burch of Frontier Ruckus
Location: Corktown; Detroit, Michiagn
Size: 2-bedroom apartment
Years lived in: 1 year; Rented

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Matthew keeps close watch over me while I photograph his apartment. He takes turns peering around corners and sliding out of view of the camera’s lens. He explains, “I like to do this thing where I make people uncomfortable, but also charm them at the same time.” I hesitate before responding. “I’m not uncomfortable, but I’m not charmed either.” Luckily Matthew laughs at my blunt response. As the photo shoot progresses, Matthew’s charm and the apartment’s charming curiosities grow on me.

(Image credit: Mike Hetu)

In the living room, a ceramic trio of nuns references Matthew’s high school days at Brother Rice. And there is a pile of old magazines for guests to read, including a sad foreshadow for Robin Williams. In the kitchen, a 12-button tone dialing telephone sits on the counter. I notice the carefully-placed Post-It notes and pen, ready to take messages. “Do you have a land line?” I ask in disbelief. Anna and Matthew laugh and shake their heads. “No.” The phone isn’t plugged in. The tongue-in-cheek prop styling continues in Matthew’s bedroom with his bedside reading. In the dining room, the organ displays an autographed photo of Uncle Joey. When Matthew plays the organ, I can hear a fuzzy radio station fighting for attention. Find out why in the survey below.

Matthew and Anna are friends, roommates and band mates. Frontier Ruckus recently returned to Detroit from a European tour with stops in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. You can follow Matthew and Anna’s adventures in Detroit (and elsewhere) on Instagram (his and hers).

(Image credit: Mike Hetu)
(Image credit: Mike Hetu)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Nostalgic

Matthew: My great-grandparents on my mom’s side were all longtime Detroiters of Greek origin. Living in Corktown is extra special to me because it’s where my great-grandfather started his radiator shop in 1914 (which is still in operation on the city’s west side) and where my grandparents first raised their children. By the time I was a kid, my grandparents moved out to the suburbs. My grandmother’s decorative style was always very ornate and opulent – the velvet love seat in front of my bookcase was once encased in plastic wrap in her sitting room. She loved gilded table cigarette lighter statues, fake fruit in glass bowls and kitsch that emulated classic Greek and Roman designs. I still associate that showy grandmothery aesthetic with childhood comfort and can’t help my desire to implement it into my own living space. A love for golden tones, plush sofas, oriental rugs and hopefully tasteful clutter all came from my Yia Yia. Anna’s aesthetic is much more modern and minimal, which led to some welcomed streamlining when she moved in. Anna is also an expert at cocktails, so she came with some attractive kitchen equipment and a wine bar.

Favorite Element:
Matthew: The original woodwork, built-in bookcases, dining room chandelier original to building, claw-foot tub, original hardwood floors. We also now really like the quaint floral wallpaper in Anna’s room, which we initially fought over who would get stuck with it. The veranda out front has awesome views of the city and there is a second small balcony in back.

Biggest Challenge:
Matthew: Since this is an old building, there are sometimes issues with draftiness and insulation. Our landlords are wonderful though, and always working toward modernizing while retaining the historic integrity. The walls are all plaster, so we try to use wires and hooks to hang pictures by the molding rather than drilling.

What Friends Say:
Matthew: It’s definitely a place where our friends feel “cozy” and comfortable staying a while. Most people say it reminds them of their grandfather’s den or grandmother’s living room. It’s fun to entertain in this apartment.

Biggest Embarrassment:
Matthew: The pipes are very old, so at the moment, the bathroom sink is down to a trickle. But we’re working on it. The Lowrey organ also receives a signal from the Detroit classic rock radio station when turned on and amplifies it loudly.

Proudest DIY:
Matthew: I salvaged a chandelier from grandmother’s foyer and installed it in my bedroom. Our landlord Dave did an awesome DIY job modernizing the kitchen with dark wood cabinetry and marble countertops. He also extended the molding and woodwork to encompass the dining room to exactly match the one remaining corner where it was still in tact.

Biggest Indulgence:
Matthew: Books and records. I believe in the tasteful hoarding of comforting objects and media. I also tend to keep items like magazines positioned in very obsessive storefront-like displays, which is a bit of an unnatural indulgence.

Best Advice:
Matthew: Walkability and location are crucial in picking a place. Finding an affordable home in short walking or biking distance to amazing coffee, diverse eating options in various price ranges, soccer fields, the riverfront, fun bars, etc. was a dream come true. Living in an older building that might have some quirks and minor inconveniences is a good compromise to be willing to make toward the aim of living in a reasonably-priced apartment with lots of character. Many landlords feel justified in jacking up rents for places with less charm but with super modern finishes. I prefer to live in a more historic area and unit for less money, even if the windows rattle a bit or I have to take my recyclables personally to the recycling center on the weekend (which is a lot of fun). Corktown kind of bridges the great things in Southwest Detroit with Midtown and Downtown, making so many things very accessible as soon as I’m out the front door.

Anna: Meet your landlords and be nice to them. They’re more inclined to be flexible and help you out when you’re pleasant and humane. Be good to friends and family who help you move. My two brothers and my mom helped me out in almost every move I’ve made (which is an alarming number). I really tested their patience on the last one, and I know I’ll have some sucking up to do before they’ll help me in the future. Don’t be a passive aggressive roommate. I’ve had a range of experiences with roommates (from complete strangers on the internet, to friends of friends, to best friends), but no hard and fast rules about choosing someone to live with. No matter what your relationship is with your roommate, honesty and communication are important. Try not to get defensive when your own behavior is in question (this is difficult!). Matthew and I are incredibly close. We tour together and live together, so we’re basically in each other’s space constantly. It’s kind of a wonder that we’re as functional of roommates as we are. We both mess up (me more so than him, perhaps!), but at the end of the day we talk through it and have a seemingly endless amount of support for one another. And to my fellow Detroit renters: beware of bedbugs. I know too many people who have dealt with bedbugs and it sounds scary!

Dream Sources:
Matthew: We don’t have a TV and prefer not to, but I wouldn’t mind a nice digital projector to watch films on a bare wall. An adjacent practice space/music studio would obviously be ideal. Anna and I are often working on writing songs simultaneously in different rooms of the house, with the sound drifting into each other’s respective creative spaces, for better or worse.

Anna: I’m pretty much against the idea of going to a store and buying new things; there are plenty of amazing objects already in the world. I try to travel lightly, especially as an unsettled twenty-something. I can’t count on my taste or location to remain too consistent, so I don’t like the idea of having a lot of “things.” (I’m kind of the opposite of Matthew, the “memorialist” as he puts it). I joke about how controlling Matthew was in terms of the aesthetic of this apartment, and how I had to get rid of all of my furniture before I moved, but I actually enjoy the freedom of the craigslist life-cycle of things. I consider myself lucky to inhabit such a carefully-curated space by probably the most creative person I know. This place brings me comfort in its strangeness yet familiarity – like the way you feel when you visit your favorite grandparent’s house.

All that said, I would kill for a better movie viewing setup. I studied film, and I used to volunteer as a projectionist at Doc Films at the University of Chicago. Matthew has a few 16mm projectors lying around that I’ve been meaning to look at. I keep thinking about buying some old prints on eBay, or meeting an eccentric shut-in with an amazing collection.


(Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The long floral sofa came from an estate sale in Waterford, MI for $60.
  • The love-seat along the bay window came from the curb of an elderly couple in Matthew’s dad’s neighborhood.
  • The love-seat by the book case was Matthew’s grandparents’ – his grandfather’s favorite seat to sit in and do crossword puzzles.
  • The brass coffee table was purchased by Matthew’s other grandfather at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar in the 1950s when he was stationed overseas.
  • Pine bookcases: Craigsist for $15 each.
  • Stereo system/amplifier/turntable: all inherited from Matthew’s uncle and were top of the line in the 1970s. They still kick out the jams.
  • Portrait of Matthew’s golden retriever, Toby. As a toddler, Matthew used to try to ride Toby like a horse.
  • (Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The table is from Matthew’s childhood home, the one he grew up eating on.
  • Orange floral table chairs came the same neighbor’s garbage curb as the love seat.
  • The Lowrey organ came from a local church’s “going out of business” sale.
  • Vintage guitars accumulated over years of touring and travel.
  • All artwork in dining room came from Matthew’s aunt old house, which was across the street from Bob Seger’s home in Orchard Lake.
  • The lamp was a wedding present to Matthew’s parents from General Patton’s family. (Long story.)
  • (Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The wine bar was custom made in Chicago by Anna’s acquaintance when she lived there.
  • (Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The claw-foot tub and tile floor are original to the building.
  • (Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The desk was a Chicago craigslist purchase.
  • The chair is from an antique show on “the bluff” of Anna’s hometown of St. Joseph, MI.
  • The dresser was from an antique store in Grand Rapids.
  • The bedside table was inherited from Anna’s great grandmother.
  • The amp belonged to Anna’s grandfather. The amp is currently in a custody battle between Anna and her little brother.
  • The bass was a gift from Anna’s friend and fellow musician, Max Sollisch aka Dolfish. They have played a bunch of shows together over the years, and he showed up with the bass at Frontier Ruckus’ last show in Cleveland. Max is a sweetheart.
  • (Image credit: Mike Hetu)


  • The bed frame is from IKEA.
  • The oak writing desk was a gift from a friend.
  • The art deco dresser was $10 at neighbor’s garage sale.
  • The chandelier is from Matthew’s grandmother’s foyer.
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    Thanks, Matthew and Anna!