Touching the string lightly with her fingers, Gilbert, the wife of billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert, says she’s worn these strings only twice in her life. The second was when her husband suffered a stroke in late May.
“The entire family has these,” says Gilbert, speaking in the lower level offices of the commercial design firm, Pophouse, she helped found in the former Dime Building in downtown Detroit. “It was a way to connect all of us.”
Connection is important these days as Gilbert and her family move forward from Dan’s stroke, which hospitalized him for several days before he went to an in-patient rehab facility this summer in Chicago. Gilbert says her 57-year-old husband, now home, “is improving every day” though he still isn’t back at work.
“With stroke recovery, it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” she said. “But every day he’s working hard, and every day we’re seeing improvements. He’s encouraged. And he’s up for the challenge.”
Her husband’s health crisis forced her to step back from her role at Pophouse (previously known as dPop). She says the summer was “definitely challenging,” but it was nice to have her children home, especially the three who were away at college, so they could be there to support their dad.
The Gilberts, who live in Franklin, have five kids, four of whom have graduated from high school. Their youngest is 13.
” Even though her husband isn’t back at work, “hes definitely involved,” she said. “Hes aware of everything thats going on. We anticipate what we know hed want to make decisions on.”
She said as a mom of five, she’s always had to multitask, but after her husband’s stroke she’s multi-tasking in a different way.
The first was when her son, Nick, had brain surgery
“As you go through life, you re-prioritize with what’s happened,” she said. “. . His recovery and our family and making sure our kids were good was the biggest priority.”
But with her husband’s health more stable, Gilbert is stepping back into her role at Pophouse, taking on the official title of creative director, as the firm expands its mission — designing not just workplaces, but other commercial spaces. The firm has done the interior design for a large portion of her husband’s Bedrock properties.
“Designers are part of creatives and artists are part of creatives,” said Gilbert. “We’re all attracted to a blank canvas, about taking something, and evolving it and solving problems. I think Detroit is just a natural place” to attract creative people.
And Gilbert knows about the power of creativity. Shes the chair of the board of governors for the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. Shes also brought the work of artists from around the country into her husbands properties, from the 17-foot sculptures at Campus Martius Park by the Brooklyn artist KAWS to a custom-made paper sculpture inside the former Detroit News building by Detroit artist Leon Dickey.
Susan Ewing, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, says Gilbert has been an “incredible thinking partner” during Ewings tenure at the school, which started in 2018.
Speaking to The Detroit News in a rare interview last week, Gilbert, 51, reflected on her husband’s recovery, her evolving design firm and why Detroit is so attractive to what she calls “creatives
“We have a shared vision of embracing new technology and entrepreneurship while staying true to Cranbrooks roots, which is experimental design, craft and making with the hand,” said Ewing in an email.