Artists and Craftsmen: We Say “Restore” Not “Repair”

Restore addiction treatment center for men

Summer has been a busy season for Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers. Our men’s facility, Sanford House at John Street, is opening its doors in September. For the past year, craftsmen, artisans, planners and surveyors have dedicated themselves to restoring the 20-resident home to it’s original, iconic beauty. The enormous home at John Street has a long history in the Heritage Hill neighborhood. July has been an exciting month as we watch the dust begin to settle.


Rick Bylsma of Bylsma Painting has been crucial to this process. If you’ve visited Grand Rapids, you’ve probably seen his craftwork; Bylsma’s team is knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced in historic restoration. And in a neighborhood like Heritage Hill, that’s important.




The streets of Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill district are lined with colorfully manicured homes. Neatly placed side-by-side, each structure is uniquely elegant and proud. This is one of the many charms of downtown Grand Rapids, and a draw to living and working in the area. Michigan truly is a magical place to reside, and Rick’s artistry accentuates West Michigan’s special neighborhoods.



Rick Bylsma and Charlie outside the entrance of Sanford House at John Street

Restoring Sanford House at John Street

When I sat down with Bylsma (and his Great Dane “Charlie”), I was struck by his enthusiasm for the project and the structure itself. “When we talk about our projects… we say we restore, not repair. There’s a difference: to repair is to fix what’s broken. To restore is to bring back.” (It sounds like a metaphor for addiction treatment.)


Like many of the homes in the area, Sanford House at John Street is eclectic in style. And this makes it difficult for restoration professionals, like Bylsma, to keep up: “As a home was being built, its family would travel… see the latest European designs. When the family returned, they wanted to imitate the architecture they admired overseas. The home became a collage of what they saw… with no regard for rules or matching. The entire neighborhood is a collection of what the new wealth were inspired by and excited by in the early twentieth century.


Bylsma Painting at Sanford House at John Street

Bylsma Painting accomplished a long to-do list at John Street, including restoring radiators, plaster ceilings, intricate woodwork and hardware; and painting the interior and exterior of the massive structure. The entire project took about 8 months to complete. There are over 20 rooms in the house. Most incorporate a different type of wood (and different shades of stain) and are painted a different color. But instead of unifying the interior, Bylsma respected the integrity of the home and kept each unique element intact. This attention to detail is what sets a restoration process apart from a traditional renovation.


Sanford House at John Street in Grand Rapids

The third floor turret – restoring the original wood finish…


“You can’t just come in and do what you want, redo everything… this is one of the challenging things about working with old homes,” says Bylsma. “We strive to make it look like it did in 1890, but need everything to function properly. We work with the old, and match new pieces with the existing and original design of the house.”

Restore historic men's treatment center

The coved plaster ceiling, signature to Sanford House at John Street.


Rick Bylsma has been restoring West Michigan homes since 1972. During that time he worked alongside fellow painters, restoration experts, and knowledgeable folks Bylsma describes as “the people who started the Heritage Hill movement” to perfect his craft. He’s had a hand in over 100 projects in the area, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House.

“These homes have had longer lives than we have… they were here before us. They deserve our respect. Working on Sanford House at John Street has been an honor.”

Bylsma Painting is located at 508 College Avenue SE. Rick Bylsma can be reached via his website,




Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.