The White Horse Inn Gallops Back to Life
For the people of Metamora, Michigan, The White Horse Inn has served as a gathering place for more than a century—a base for weary travelers brought to town by stagecoaches, a rumored stop on the Underground Railroad, a place to share a fountain soda.
Until recently, though, the only memories Victor Dzenowagis and his wife Linda Egeland had of the circa 1850 structure, which had been Michigan’s longest continually operating restaurant, were of a deteriorating eatery.
But when the previous owner abandoned the property in 2012 and grants from community groups became available, Dzenowagis and Egeland, who operate four other restaurants in the area, decided to embark on their first historic rehabilitation. “Once a place like The White Horse goes away and a carwash or an Applebee’s goes up in its place, something’s lost,” Dzenowagis says.
The couple preserved parts of the building, including the original windows and the 1929 sign. They also removed elements that had been tacked onto the original tavern, constructed a fireplace with stones from a nearby 1860s dairy barn, and sorted through salvageable wood from the demolished sections.
“We couldn’t use our garage for a year and a half because it was jammed full of this old wood, which we knew we would somehow repurpose,” Egeland said.
Those two-by-fours became the restaurant’s bar. Doors that once opened to the inn’s sleeping quarters were reused on bathroom stalls. Shards of old china inspired Egeland to track down dishes with a matching pattern.
Egeland and Dzenowagis weren’t the only ones who wanted to take part in the transformation. Though their work typically runs beyond the restaurateurs’ budget, Royal Oak, Michigan, architect Tomas von Staden and acclaimed local woodworker and craftsman John Yarema offered discounted services; Yarema created an eye-catching inlaid tree design for the floor. After she saw his work abroad, Egeland reached out to artist Jean Louis Sauvat, who then traveled from France to paint the dining room’s equestrian central mural (also at reduced cost).
The White Horse reopened in the fall of 2014. “In this project, it was all about the right way, the authentic way, the way with integrity,” Dzenowagis says. “And that’s always harder. It takes longer and it’s more expensive and it’s more stressful, but in the end the payoff is certainly there.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Preservation magazine.