After being longtime renters, Jamie Vander Broek and her husband, Izaak, wanted a place they could transform.

Nine years ago, they found it in a 1,600-square foot Cape Cod-style house on the far west side of Ann Arbor. Built in the 1930s, it was in great condition but needed updating, and the couple has been at it ever since.

Despite not having any formal renovation experience, the two did a lot of the work themselves, replacing the carpet with wood floors and renovating a second-floor bathroom. They hired an architect and kitchen designer to tackle some of the larger tasks.

Jamie Vander Broek, an art librarian at the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, and her husband are renovating a 1,600-square-foot Cape Cod-style house on the far west side of Ann Arbor. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)
Jamie Vander Broek, an art librarian at the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, and her husband are renovating a 1,600-square-foot Cape Cod-style house on the far west side of Ann Arbor. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

“An architect came to look at the house and give us a consultation, and he told me, ‘Your house is kind of a Frankenstein house.’ It’s very clear that the person who built the house made it for himself and adjusted it over the time he was alive,” she said. “That makes me feel better about making it what our family needs.”

Because the house was built from mismatched material and designs from different time periods, Vander Broek, an art librarian at the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, felt less pressure to restore original features.

“We haven’t been restoring it in a way that a restoration or a preservation person would,” she said. “In part, because it was an era of just ‘making do’ and our house is an example of that. If we wanted to go the restoration route, I think that we’d have to undo some of the things that make our house cool.

“I do feel sensitive to the pieces that are in the best condition and are things that the original owner did. Even changing it the way we’ve changed it, I feel this connection to the guy who built the house and hope that he’d be happy with what we did.”

It’s not unlike the connection Vander Broek developed for art books while working as a student librarian at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

She originally planned to study cognitive science in hopes of becoming a psychologist, but quickly fell in love with art while completing a work-study program as a student worker at the school’s art library.

“I caught this bug when I was a student and just kept doing it,” she said. “I was surprised to realize how much I liked helping people find things and helping people understand how to use the things they found online.”

From there, she began to take art history courses and eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts in art history. She worked in the Ann Arbor District Library for a few years before earning her master’s degree at U-M from the School of Information.

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Vander Broek became a librarian in 2010 after completing a fellowship during graduate school and five years later accepted a position as art librarian at the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library. As an art librarian, she works with the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design to curate collections, helps people research art and design, and buys art books and artists’ books for those collections.

“There are two categories of collections. Art books, which are full of exhibitions, or someone’s work,” she said. “When I look for art books, I try to match what we have to comparable collections around the country and also to tailor it to the students and the faculty.”

The other category she works closely with is the university’s collection of over 600 artists’ books. “They’re a subcategory of art books. They’re works of art in and of themselves,” Vander Broek said.

She has a different, more intuitive process for buying artists’ books.

“I’m really looking for something that’s going to connect with people in an immediate way,” she said. “They’re almost like conversation starters about what a book is or how a book can be a work of art.”

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