Years ago, it was an ordinary home.
But for Mary Ewers, driving by the home was like love at first sight. The moment she bought the house was the magical moment that The ‘Buena Vista’ home was born, right on the streets of Hillsdale.
Ewers, director of parent relations and the President’s Club, bought the Oak Street house called Buena Vista in 2003 and worked on different renovations, creative projects, and additions to the house up until 2019.
The house was built in the 1940s in the New Orleans style, and Ewers was immediately drawn to it. The house had six sets of french doors, a double balcony, turquoise shutters, and a pink roof, but it had a good foundation for a future home, Ewers said.
“It needed a lot of work, but it had good bones,” Ewers said. “I had done a lot of renovating in my life, so this was not my first rodeo.”
Throughout the entire renovation process, Ewers redid the entire kitchen, renovated five bathrooms, tore down and rebuilt the garage with a merlot-colored roof, and put in a completely new terracotta driveway and back patio.
Though most people look for open floors plans, Ewers said, she loved the separate and unique spaces throughout the house. She saw the potential of what the house could become and set to work with multiple projects in mind, all while adding her own creative style.
“It really wasn’t about my creativity as much as the house just screamed for it,” Ewers said.
Through the first set of french doors, Ewers quickly noticed that the walls of the house would be a blank canvas for her. She set out on a painting escapade, but not by herself. Ewers reached out to Kate Lundberg ’10, a Hillsdale fine arts student at the time, and asked for her help with painting the walls.
“Mary is a very visual person, and when it comes to interiors, she loves taking an unconventional sort of twist on things,” Lundberg said.
This was Lundberg’s first big interior artistic venture, and who better to tackle it with, Lundberg said. Lundberg would often go to the house to paint, many times in the middle of the night after a full day of classes, and would even stay the night at Buena Vista. The project lasted all the way until Lundberg’s graduation, and was a perfect experience to have under her belt for a post-college career.
“Kate is just marvelous, and of course I got to love her more deeply than I already did during that time,” Ewers said. “Watching her creativity was very inspirational to me. I chose what she was going to do, but she would always add her flair.”
During the entire process, Ewers was never afraid to use bold, dynamic colors. In each room, Ewers wanted to paint the walls with colors from her thick, Persian rugs that lined every floor to compliment each other. She even matched colors with the deep, dark oak floors. The different spaces had combinations of metallic silver and aquamarine, violet and copper penny, and especially red, Ewers’s favorite color.
Almost every surface was covered in paint — even the ceilings. But the metallic paints in particular were a painful process for Ewers because the chemical process of the paint wouldn’t adhere to the ceilings. But after many coats, and many tears, Ewers was finally satisfied with the beautiful, metallic coloring.
Kate also decorated certain walls with Van Gogh-esque sunflowers and big, decorative bible verses. Inside the kitchen, just above the sink, Ewers requested Isaiah 49:16: “See I have inscribed you in the palm of my hands.”
“Between the two of us, it was magical,” Ewers said. “The sunflowers were glorious, and Kate did it all freehand too.”
In another hallway, Psalm 73:25 – 26 rests on the top of the walls: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”
“God is the central point of my life,” Ewers said. “I don’t know where I’d be without God. He has been beside me the whole time.”
Lundberg echoed Ewers’s sentiment of her faith, and said that Ewers’s strength and the way she carried herself inspired her daily. The Buena Vista home was a tangible display of Ewers’s faith, and if someone were to walk into the house, Ewers’s character, thoughtfulness, and love for the Lord would be evident, Lundberg said.
“The house would say that this is somebody who is bold and willing to take bold risks and choices in interior design in order to express themselves more fully,” Lundberg said. “Both her and her house are whimsical. Mary is unashamedly and unabashedly herself.”
Ewers’s daughter, Natalie Holt, made the move into the Buena Vista house during her eighth grade year and had to adjust to the new space. The renovations began immediately, but Holt was used to Ewers’s energy and passion for creating a house, and still felt right at home.
“It was a different phase of life, so it was hard but it also became a home very quick,” Holt said. “It was like a storybook house. It’s such a sweet little house and it became home quickly.”
Ewers added many details to the home that truly made it into a storybook of a home. Holt remembered bunnies painted all over the kitchen walls, and the bold, heavy colors that Ewers would incorporate into every room.
Before moving to Hillsdale, Ewers would make the drive from Brooklyn, MI for her work and her kids’ school. Holt remembered driving past the original Buena Vista house before they bought the property, and the amount of times Ewers wished the house would go up for sale.
“She would drive me to school, and she kept saying, ‘I want that house so bad if it ever goes for sale.’ And then one day, it went for sale,” Holt said.
After that moment, the house became their home, and their home became the storybook that Ewers had wished for for so long.
Once her kids moved out of the house, Ewers began renting it out to families for Parents Weekend and different events. Since Ewers often travels for her job, the Buena Vista house became a home not just for her, but for guests as well.
“You feel like you’re at home. Not her home, but your home,” said Kati Molloy, a Hillsdale parent.
Molloy has stayed at the home multiple times for the phone-a-thon and Parents Weekend. She has stayed in every room of the house, but her favorite room is the kitchen. Often the women who stayed there would get together and share cups of coffee in the morning before heading out to work.
“I would work with Mary to do training with her, but then to come to her house with a group of people doing the same thing — the camaraderie there was fabulous,” Molloy said. “You really got to know the people you’re working with so much, it’s just such a warm, welcoming environment.”
Ewers offered her home many times as a space for parents helping with the phone-a-thon, creating an environment of vibrant conversation and peaceful decompression after a long day at work, Molloy said.
“Mary never quits,” Molloy said. “She is just on fire for Hillsdale and she knows all things about Hillsdale. She is just absolutely engaging, and then you go to her house and you get to see that creative, energetic side of her.”
Once inside the home, the character of Mary is evident, Molloy said.
“When you walk in, you know who she is,” Molloy said. “She’s a woman of faith, a strong Christian woman, and she’s passionate about life and her home. I think the house totally speaks to her, and it is fun to find out what drives them when you go to their house.”
Now, Ewers has moved to Nashville to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. She still plans to keep the house and continue renting it out to families visiting Hillsdale. Though she won’t live in the house anymore, Ewers is forever grateful for the time she had there.
“God gave me that house,” Ewers said. “I had nothing, and He gave me the house. I did not deserve it, but He gave it to me anyway. It was such a mark of His loving kindness and favor.”