Melanca Clark and her husband, Moddie Turay, prefer a midcentury modernist design aesthetic coupled with neutral color palettes. And when it comes to architecture, she defers to him. (“I trust his eye for all these things,” Clark says.) But Clark’s stamp can be seen throughout their Detroit home in the form of an impressive collection of art by primarily Black artists. As the daughter of abstract expressionist painter Ed Clark—one of the most notable African American artists of the 20th century, who died in 2019—she takes great pride in showing off his “never-for-sale” pieces. There’s also an impressive array of works by the elder Clark’s artist friends Beauford Delaney, Herbert Gentry, Sam Gilliam, James VanDerZee, and more. “The art for us is what makes our home,” she notes.
When the couple moved to Detroit from Washington, D.C., they bought a house in the city’s Indian Village neighborhood, whose history hearkens back to the heyday of the auto industry. Both Edsel Ford and Henry Leland, the latter of whom founded the Cadillac and Lincoln companies, lived there. The blocks, with names like “Seminole” and “Iroquois,” are shaded by grand homes in diverse styles set back from the sidewalk. Nonetheless, it was the neighborhood’s strong sense of community that most resonated with Clark, who is president and CEO of the Hudson Webber Foundation, which fosters economic development in Detroit.
“My actual work is investing in the dynamic people that are moving the city forward,” she says. “I find out about the wonderful things they’re doing. Detroit is an iconic American city. It’s also a Black city, a proudly Black city. For a long time the story of Detroit was [of the] many residents leaving. There’s a real feeling of folks who loved [Indian Village] and are invested in making it a beautiful, welcoming place,” she says. “There’s the Indian Village Association. Somebody drops a newsletter at our door every month about the goings-on in the three blocks of our neighborhood, which is sweet.”
Prior to the 2016 move, Clark worked in the Obama administration as chief of staff of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a division of the Justice Department. Turay, founder and CEO of City Growth Partners, a real estate development company based in Detroit, had been living in the city for a year when he found the couple’s Colonial Revival home. One reason that the 1916 seven-bedroom structure met their needs was that it did not require renovations. “Both of us had busy jobs,” she says. “There are a lot of wonderful places in Detroit that have not had recent love. Lots of people do these major rehab jobs [on them]. And we decided from the beginning that we absolutely did not have the bandwidth to do that at all.”
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Besides, Clark loved what was already there: the regal chandelier in the dining room, the long cabinets in the butler’s pantry, the Pewabic tiles in the kitchen, and especially the gas fireplace in the living room. “It is actually my second gas fireplace,” she says. “I grew up in [the New York neighborhood of] Chelsea. I was really lucky to have a similar fireplace. Some folks are fans of the real deal, but we like to press the ‘easy’ button, and that’s a gas fireplace—very easy.”