Take a peek inside some of the area’s most beautiful rooms, get inspired by gorgeous makeovers, and learn about sophisticated furniture designed by local artisans. Plus, a one-of-a-kind clock housed inside a wine cellar.
Living in Color
“I’m kind of a color junkie,” admits the owner of this 1930 colonial mansion.
It was built for Edmund Fitzgerald, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. chairman and namesake for the legendary sunken freighter.
But what makes this 6,462-square-foot home pop – even with its decorative moldings, arched doorways and French doors opening out to the yard – is the extensive art collection. It’s impossible not to feel joyous after entering the long entryway lined with, naturally, art.
“People are stunned when they learn it’s Wisconsin artists,” says the homeowner. Much of the art she owns is by artists in the Dairy State, purchased either directly from the artist or through local galleries, including Tory Folliard and Portrait Society. “I like knowing the artist,” she says.
The home’s Old Hollywood meets fun-and-funky style blends antiques with contemporary pieces. A dining room table once belonged to her grandparents. Two early-American twin beds from her parents’ home were joined together to create a king in what she calls “the green bedroom.”
With custom carpet from Carol Snyder & Associates – the homeowner chose blue, green and red hues to integrate the palettes of all the bedrooms – the bed takes on a new aesthetic.
The goal was to combine traditional furniture with items that would lend “an edge and color,” she says, adding that both her parents and grandparents collected early American and English antiques such as Queen Anne, Chippendale and Shaker. “I love using things that were used by my family,” she says. Friend and designer José Carlino helped her finesse this balancing act.
What drew her to this property 15 years ago was access to UW-Milwaukee (“I enjoy the energy of the university,” she says) plus the short drive to arts and entertainment. “It’s like living in River Hills but it’s right Downtown,” she says. Upon moving in – she’s the third owner – few changes needed to be made, thanks to the previous owners. “It was in perfect condition,” she says, although she stained the floors a darker hue and added reclaimed black-and-white marble to the baths. Her current project? Adding more period details to the baths, as if Fitzgerald were to waltz in at any moment.
A firm believer in cultivating an environment that’s neither fussy nor formal, her Samoyed dog – as well as children and grandchildren – get free roam of the house. “I don’t like a formal feel at all,” she says. “I like it to feel comfortable.”
Nowhere is that mantra truer than in the garden, where the homeowner hosted a “Summer of Love” dinner party series two summers ago, complete with a playlist she curated. “I sort of came of age during the Summer of Love,” she says. Local landscape designer Judith Stark modeled the gardens after writer Edith Wharton’s The Mount estate in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. “My garden has some of the sculpted whimsy but doesn’t come close to the size,” says the homeowner.
Mario and Cathy Costantini, La Lune, Milwaukee
Forty years ago, Mario and Cathy Costantini opened an interior design showroom next to the Pfister Hotel, almost on a whim. “We thought it would be fun,” says Mario.
In addition to their decorating services, Mario soon started crafting furniture. “My father was an upholsterer and I helped him after school, so I had a little knowledge of furniture construction,” he says. That’s how La Lune Collection was born.
Their big break came when Ralph Lauren’s interior designer spotted their rustic pieces in a New York City showroom and wanted them for Lauren’s home in Montauk, New York. (He’s still a customer today.) “We thought, ‘Hmm, if Ralph Lauren likes us, maybe we’ve got something here,’” says Mario, who still designs every piece. Cathy handles much of the office work.
La Lune sources poplar and willow from northern Wisconsin, and the designs are inspired by carpenters who “took wood in the raw rather than cutting it up in boards,” says Mario. “We’re more about the past than the future.”
Lisa Brobst, Square One Design, Cedarburg
“I’m not trying to design furniture that’s trendy,” says Lisa Brobst, owner of Square One Design in Cedarburg. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
Brobst views her handcrafted wooden tables, stools and benches as art first; the furniture function plays a secondary role. “Every piece is kind of a sculpture,” she says.
Brobst’s main inspiration is the work of the late American woodworker George Nakashima, who incorporated natural wood edges in many of his designs. But she also finds ideas for her work in unlikely places.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere, even a park bench on the side of the road,” says Brobst. “I’ll go walk the dog and tell my husband I’m working on a design.”
Ben Sherwyn, Snacks Modern, Milwaukee
After 16 years living in San Francisco and Oakland, Ben Sherwyn was ready for a change.
His girlfriend, Ella Dwyer, has Wisconsin and Michigan roots, so the couple relocated to Milwaukee in 2015, in search of lower rent and an easier way of life.
Under the Snacks Modern line, which he launched in the fall of 2017, he crafts mid-century-inspired furniture and lighting inside a former tannery in Bay View. “I can see the lake from my building,” Sherwyn says.
This fall, he released storage solutions in hand-carved organic shapes on which long lines from his gouges are left visible, creating rhythmic shapes.
“There’s such amazing access to lumber here. Suddenly I had access to elm and black walnut and all these other expensive woods,” he says.
And that name? “Snacks” is a slang reference he and Dwyer give to a cool find in furniture or art; the “Modern” describes his aesthetic.
In the Flow
When Kristin Altendorf set out to renovate the kitchen in her Lake Drive Tudor, she knew the project would entail much more than a cosmetic face-lift. But she was undaunted.
“It was a pretty closed-in kitchen,” Altendorf says of the original oor plan. “I opened it up big time.”
With the help of Gabor Design Build in Germantown, Altendorf took down two walls: one between the kitchen and dining room and one between the family room and kitchen, converting a four-foot hallway into additional kitchen space.
The new layout created space for a kitchen island and cleared a view from the dining room at the front of the house into the family room at the back, allowing light, and traffic, to flow throughout.
The new concept is so open that visitors don’t even need to ring the doorbell to announce their arrival.
“The UPS man comes to the door and just waves to me in the kitchen,” Altendorf says.
Altendorf was looking for a neutral, clean look in the new kitchen. The space features crowd-pleasing white cabinetry, but it’s not lacking in color or character. Brown-gray quartz countertops and glazed crackle subway tile create contrast against the cabinets, and a black kitchen island is the room’s dramatic focal point, topped with a gold-flecked granite countertop. The concrete light fixture above the island is one of Altendorf ’s favorite finishes.
A decorative inlay that was already on the dining room floor also serves as a natural transition from the kitchen into the dining area.
“It provides separation without a wall,” Altendorf says.
The remodel took months, but Altendorf feels it was worth the wait (and it was made easier by having a second kitchen in the basement, with two ovens of its own, which she used during construction). With six burners, two ovens and an open layout that encourages mingling, it’s now the perfect party space.
“I cook more now,” she says. “I didn’t like cooking before – I still don’t like cooking – but I love having everybody over and having this big island spread.”
Call in the pros, but stay involved. Look for a reputable design-build firm that’s received accolades for its work, and be sure your aesthetics align. “At the end of the day, the design is really what people are going to see,” Gabor says. Even though your contractors will keep the project moving along, don’t hand over the reins completely. Gabor says it’s important for homeowners to stay involved all the way to the finish to ensure the end result is what they want.
Bring your own ideas to the table. “From my experience, everybody has some inherent design inspiration,” Gabor says. Plan to collaborate with the designer on the project. But don’t get married to a certain look or style. If logistics get in the way of your vision, your designer can help create a custom solution.
Be flexible. If your project presents a major design challenge, you may need to up your budget. Gabor warns not to take shortcuts – increase your budget if you can, and remember that a quality renovation pays for itself. “Homeowners will get that money back when they sell their home,” Gabor says.
Let It Shine
In what had been a traditional dining room, interior designer José Carlino envisioned a sunroom that would bring a little bit of the outdoors in.
Carlino had been helping his clients redecorate the rest of their neo-Georgian house in River Hills when he showed them a deep purple wallpaper adorned with silk embroidery and hand-painted floral details that popped against the aubergine backdrop. His clients loved it.
“The wallpaper was the starting point, and then I built from there and shopped accordingly,” Carlino says.
The result is a traditional garden room with modern elements – an aesthetic Carlino dubs “new traditional.”
Every detail in the room draws inspiration from nature, starting with the rattan furniture and hand-woven jute area rug. The ceiling’s gold wallpaper creates a luminous effect.
“I wanted it to feel like a sunroom, so I did a raffia wallpaper that had a geometric design, so it looked like a lattice on the ceiling,” Carlino says.
For accent lighting, Carlino repurposed the parrot sconces made of rock crystal from the old dining room. Soft lavender trim and subtle striped lilac curtains bring levity to the space while remaining loyal to the room’s purple palette.
José Carlino’s tips for updating a room
Be realistic about how you’ll use the space. “Forget what it’s called, like a living room,” Carlino says. “No one uses a living room the way they used to be used, so I always just say, repurpose it. Make it a room you can actually live in.”
As you begin planning your design, consider how the room will relate to the rest of the house. “You don’t want to have a purple room off of a stark white house or something completely unrelated,” he says.
There’s a second of silence. Then two clicks, a whir and a clink. Repeat.
Mark Jungers has a wine collection of some 1,900 bottles in his River Hills home. But the fermented grapes play second fiddle in their own cellar to a 3-foot-wide, 7½-foot-tall clock.
Although the clock looks ancient, it was birthed in spring 2016. Treated brass tendrils reach out like tree branches.
It feels familiar but is near indescribable. It’s imposing but hollow. Awesome but airy. “It’s got this extreme delicateness to it,” Jungers says. “It’s masculine, it’s dark, it makes noise. But at the same time it has hundreds and hundreds of delicate flourishes.
What is Steampunk?
Originally a genre of science fiction based on the idea that electricity and plastic never caught on, steampunk inspired an aesthetic that combines modern-ish technology with the style of the Industrial Revolution, typified by gears, goggles and metal.
“I’m not comparing it to the Mona Lisa, but in a picture it’s one thing. Being in its presence, it’s another.”
The machinery is as impressive as the artistry. It took Detroit-based artist Eric Freitas one-and-a-half years to construct the 5,080-piece masterpiece.
“I kind of don’t know how to hold back,” Freitas says. “I really worked the metal until I knew I couldn’t do anything else with it.”
The clock is the epitome of a good centerpiece. It’s both a conversation starter and a conversation stopper. It’s a thief of attention. It makes you forget about the wine in a wine cellar.