Oakland University President Ora Pescovitz makes Sunset Terrace a welcoming home, featuring furniture and art collections.
Photography by John McTaggart Oakland University
Dr. Ora Pescovitz, who became president of Oakland University in July 2017, also is a pediatric endocrinologist holding considerable administrative experience. Those who get an invitation to her home — professional associates as well as family and friends — know she also has a knack for interior designing.
Over the years and with career appointments that placed her in different cities, Pescovitz has planned out custom-made furniture and amassed a vast collection of eclectic art to display.
“I’m the decorator,” she says about her room arrangements.
Heading up Oakland University (OU) in Rochester, Pescovitz resides in the university’s Sunset Terrace, where her own furniture and art collection have been set out according to her sense of aesthetics. Along the way, she studied the history of the building, designed by architect William Kapp for OU founder Matilda Dodge Wilson and her second husband, Alfred Wilson.
Working with wall colors chosen by university staff as the residence was upgraded mechanically, Pescovitz decided to replace any OU furnishings with her own sofas, chairs, tables and art acquired from around the globe.
The paintings and three-dimensional pieces reflect her personality, interests and commitment to Judaism.
“I am delighted to be in this historic home although I was concerned about how it might get furnished because it’s a mid-century modern home that has no straight walls,” says Pescovitz as she recalls her first impressions.
“Every wall is circular, designed in 1952 by the same architect who designed Meadow Brook Hall. It has a Frank Lloyd Wright style as well as this unusual structure of circular walls.
“I was delighted to have a home with so much rich history and legacy for the university, but I was concerned about what it would be like to make it comfortable and continue that important history and legacy.”
At 12,500 square feet of space, the home could accommodate, without additions, all the furniture Pescovitz had in Indianapolis, where she was senior vice president at Eli Lilly and Company. A favorite easy chair remains her go-to place when, between 3-6 a.m., this early riser reads novels or newspapers and writes emails while sipping a cup of coffee.
All her furniture leans toward contemporary and showcases neutral colors to draw attention to the diverse art. Some of the furniture is upholstered in ultra-suede, a faux leather.
“I lived with all the furniture and the art for many decades because I designed the last home,” Pescovitz says. “One of the most remarkable things about this house is that it all looks like the furniture was made for it.
“The dining room is an example. It has a Norwegian granite round table 96 inches in diameter. That was custom-made for my dining room in Indianapolis, which was round.
“While this dining room looks like it’s round, it’s actually a horseshoe shape. Of course, it’s very rare to find a round dining room. The table and chairs are almost a perfect fit.”
Pescovitz, the daughter of a rabbi and the sister of a rabbi, designed the dining room table in part to accommodate her family’s lifestyle, which emphasizes celebrating Jewish holidays.
“I never wanted a regular table with a head and a tail,” says Pescovitz, also at ease hosting dinners for university guests about three times a week. “I’ve always wanted a round table so that everyone could be equal, comfortable and together. While there are 12 chairs around that table now, it can actually seat 18 comfortably.”
The art surrounding visitors, regardless of room location, does not give a complete sense of what she owns. There just isn’t enough space so some pieces are stored in the basement.
“I was married for 31 years to a wonderful guy who was a transplant surgeon [the late Mark Pescovitz, whose mother was an artist],” the OU president says. “The moment we were married until the day he died, we collected art together. We shared a passion for all kinds of art. We started collecting art before we ever had a dining room table.”
The collection includes five pieces by Chuck Close, including four self-portraits, a muscular body image by Robert Mapplethorpe and the abstract painting “Winter Solstice Cloud” by James Cunningham; its acquisition comes with a personal story.
The painter, right after selling this piece, was killed in a plane accident; the Pescovitzes promised the artist’s widow they would take special care of his last work.
A sculpture of a young girl reading has sentimental value because it came from the more realistic collection of the OU president’s in-laws.
In most rooms, there is an artistic mezuzah on the doorway.
“There’s a lot of art from Israel and a lot of local art as well,” Pescovitz says. “I have a trunk, covered with brass and bronze and maybe silver, with Passover words, that came from the mountains of Morocco.
“I was on a trip to Marrakech to give a talk, and we took a side trip into the Atlas Mountains.
“Many Jews lived in Morocco and left in the ’50s and ’60s for Israel. They left behind many belongings, including the Judaica they had. We were taken to a store where we saw hundreds of pieces of Judaica, and I felt like we were saving some of these pieces by purchasing them.”
Of more direct significance is a menorah made by son Ari, an architect and artist.
“This menorah is shown in a book called 500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art,” she says. “My son won an award for this piece — it’s made of silver, and the blue is expired suture material that my husband brought back from the operating room.”
The art collection, according to Pescovitz, probably expresses her curiosity and commitment to diversity, beauty, tolerance and warmth. When she wants an actual outside view, she can go to a window and see the top of the Meadow Brook Amphitheater.
“Sunset Terrace, the university home, is a wonderful place, and I enjoy seeing people there,” she says. “It’s a welcoming place for people to enjoy.”