"My inspiration and overall feel for the apartment
was to look clean and eclectic. It should appear
interestingly collected, yet uncomplicated,"
explains Jessica Bertoni, interior designer at
Fringe Interior Design, noting the room was to have
a sense of audaciousness, contrast, confidence and
For more than 20 years, the Wisconsin
Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) has offered visitors the
chance to meet interior designers from across the state
and view stunning redesigned homes — and, most
importantly, to contribute tens of thousands of dollars
in annual donations to the Medical College of Wisconsin
to support their diligent research to vanquish breast
and prostate cancers.
This year, WBCS is trying out something
both timely and new. PR Chair and Volunteer Coordinator
Linda Short says this year’s showhouse offers a nod to
national and local housing trends that see people of all
ages seeking upscale, city-centric apartments and
condos, and a more urban and walkable lifestyle. Instead
of a Milwaukee area mansion, this year’s designers
descended on seven apartments that the newly opened
Plankinton Clover Apartments on West Wisconsin Avenue
donated to the cause.
“This idea just started bubbling up
organically,” says Ellen Irion, WBCS board of directors
chair. “One of the designers suggested this; another
suggested another apartment
complex. And I think the designers are
very excited about doing something that’s different.”
“They’re more contemporary,” Short adds
of the new space. “And they’re brand-new. In the past,
there was leaded glass to worry about or the beamed
ceilings, or the special wood. We didn’t want to ruin
any of that; we wanted to emphasize it in the older
homes. This is completely brand-new and very
Home owner Laura Goranson says her goal for her room
in the showhouse was a cool, urban vibe. "We thought
we really wanted to showcase an urban oasis, [while]
also reflecting the Midwest and Milwaukee feel by
having natural wood and textures and things that you
would feel in the outdoors."
Kerry Dean Shannon
of Residence interior design says the living room of
his apartment was initially influenced by a Farrow
and Ball wallpaper he decided not to use. Instead,
Shannon pulled inspiration from the paper to create
the stunning color palette, hand painted in the
checked pattern shown here.
Of One’s Own — Plus a Sense of Community
Elements East owner Meg Hopkins and
designer Julie Zvi, two of the 18 designers
participating in this year’s showhouse, thrived in the
new space, noting that the apartments brought them “a
bigger canvas” this time around.
“Last year we had the entryway, so
ironically our space was greatly increased this time
around,” Zvi says. “The space was new, much like a clean
slate, as opposed to last year when we had the design
challenge of working around some of the existing,
Jessica Bertoni, an interior designer at
Fringe Interior Design, embraced the shift to an
apartment wholeheartedly and said it didn’t impact her
overall design. “I approach most projects the same way:
assessing what the best function would be and then
making that as creative and attractive looking as I can.
I want the look to feel right with the architecture and
the aesthetic preferences of the client,” she says.
In addition to the newness of the
apartments, the separation of the rooms offered the
designers more freedom to let their creativity shine.
Kerry Dean Shannon, owner of Residence
interior design, says, “It’s really interesting because
of the fact that when you’re doing a large house, you
have to be very aware of who your next-door neighbor is,
and this really allowed some gigantic creativity and
ability for design firms to kind of branch out and do
their own thing without having to look like their
G. Home owner Laura Goranson reiterates
that, in a shifting housing market, more people are
interested in downsizing and renting, especially to a
downtown area teeming with restaurants, shops, nightlife
and a unique sense of community.
“There are people who are just entering
into a housing market that have the desire to be
downtown, to be walking to things, to be in that urban
situation and in the hub of what’s happening in downtown
Milwaukee,” she says. “It’s fun just how that is
expressed by the designers — where you can imagine
different people of different ages and different
interests and styles living right next door to each
other. That is cool.”
“There’s a huge community of city
dwellers that enjoy all the city has to offer,” adds
Nick Konzal, owner of Nicholas Carl Design. “It felt
like a natural progression for the Showhouse to have a
year that focuses on this style of living.”
"When I walked into the apartment, I envisioned a
single, carefree person living in the space
with a dog. From there I just thought about what
would work for someone who fit that profile," says
Haven Interiors designer Karen Sullivan.
For this bathroom,
Meg Hopkins and Julie Zvi of Elements East were
inspired by combinations: East with West, modern
with antique, and Chinese and Moroccan cultures.
“The overall feel of the room was to be dramatic yet
inviting, while feeling accessible to all,” Zvi
Smaller Spaces, Bigger Ideas
Driven to support WBCS because cancer has
touched her own life, Haven Interiors designer Karen
Sullivan just completed her second year designing for a
cure. She says this year’s smaller spaces made designers
work a little harder to dream up the perfect design.
“As you walk through each of the spaces,
you will see how each one has its own personality and
function,” Sullivan explains. “Smaller spaces force us
all, clients and designers, to be creative and to make
the most of the space.”
Bertoni agrees, noting that the only
alteration she made to the entire apartment was adding
wallpaper to one wall of the bedroom.
“Excitement comes from all the other
pieces,” she explains.
“The rugs were critical to adding color
and richness to each space.
I didn’t need a ton of furniture to fill
the apartment; rather it had to be perfect pieces that
looked simple yet interesting, bold yet soft. It’s a
balancing act. Things didn’t feel ‘finished’ until they
were just the tiniest bit overdone. Every single piece
The designers also hope that the new
location encourages visitors to take notes and get
creative in their own spaces, whether they are
homeowners or renters and live in large spaces or small.
“The Showhouse this year helps people to
understand how to furnish and design your apartment home
in style,” Konzal says. “This show has so many ideas and
variations of design; it is truly inspiring what the
designers have done,”
“The whole proposition shows you what you
can do and still be a renter,” adds Residence interior
designer Michael Patrick McKinley. “You should customize
and make it your own, because it’s where you live, and
your home is an extension of who you are.”
If there are stricter rules on painting
in rented spaces, Michael Carter of Michael Carter
Design notes that renters should take advantage of
removable wallpapers or wall decals to add personality
and color to a space.
“Now there are tools to truly customize
your space,” he says. “All you need is some sweat equity
and a creative mind, or the mind of a creative
"This year I wanted to give people a glimpse into
high-style downtown living that has a chic but
attainable feel," explains Nick Konzal, owner of
Nicholas Carl Design, of his bright and beautiful
living room in this year’s Showhouse. "I believe
that no matter what the size of your home is, good
design can elevate your quality of living."
Whether it’s held in a mansion or an
apartment complex, Short says the WBCS mission wouldn’t
be possible without the selflessness of the designers
and eager volunteers.
“We say, ‘If it wasn’t for the designers,
we wouldn’t have a Showhouse. If it wasn’t for the
volunteers, we couldn’t run it.’ Because this takes
about 500 volunteers to make it work. This year is
different because we’re not a three-story mansion, but
it’s still time, and people come back year after year
because they love the cause,” she reflects.
“The experience has been great,” Goranson
enthuses. “The people organizing it and working with us
and providing access and information have been
fantastic. The Avenue has been great in terms of what
they’ve been able to provide to just let us use a blank
slate like that. So we’ve really enjoyed it. It was just
a great experience all-around.”
Visit this year’s Urban Showhouse from June 1-16,
Monday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.