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Showstopping Showhouse
Designers put 21st century stamp on stately East side home



Lower-Level Ballroom
Ken Michaels Furniture
Michael Carter and Cathy Williams

Designers Michael Carter and Cathy Williams bring a modern design sensibility to the ballroom to create a chic space for entertaining guests before and after a dinner party. They named the room ­"Vita — A Cocktail Lounge," with "Vita" being Italian for "life." Candice Olson furniture and lighting gave the room the element of luxury the designers wanted. Lush velvets, tone-on-tone prints and textured solids in silvers, creams and blacks were used as the foundation of the space. Strong, bold prints and patterns, along with punches of magenta, add a touch of the unexpected. The designers’ choice of magenta as the accent color was meant as a nod toward the purpose of the showhouse — fundraising to find a cure for breast and prostate cancer. Mike McGuiness of Caravella Paintworks designed and created the two murals in the room.

Months and months ago 38 designers looked at the stately 1917 home on Marietta Avenue to come up with their best ideas in transforming the 6,567-square-foot home into the 2011 Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse. They started with a house with great bones, ­from the Neo-Mediterranean Revival architecture by Robert A. Messmer to the wrought-iron work by world-renowned Milwaukee artist Cyril Colnick to the coffered ceiling by famous plasterer Matthew Orlandini. Their challenge was to reinvent the house without diminishing its historic features, in other words, transforming an historic home into a showhouse. Anne Wangman, owner of Forbes Design and chairwoman of the Design Review Committee, headed a 12-person group that coordinated the design work. She answers some questions about the showhouse.

Whose house is this?

The home is owned by Dr. James B. Stiehl and Martha H. Stiehl. James Stiehl is an orthopedic surgeon and Martha Stiehl is a former faculty member of UW-Milwaukee and professional musician with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Was there a challenge posed to the participating designers?

We try not to dictate to the designers once they are selected to participate. Of course we have certain guidelines, but the reason they participate is to show off their talents so we want to let them be creative as possible. However, we have tightened up the designer selection process on the front end. The committee worked really hard to ensure that the designers who were ultimately selected had a proven track record of great design and also presented ideas for their rooms that were in keeping with the goals of producing a top showhouse: cutting edge design, originality and respect for the character of the house.

Living Room and Conservatory
Boston Store Furniture Gallery
Glenn Mielke and John Anderson

The furniture grouping around the French mahogany fireplace is anchored by a hand-woven wool rug. The furnishings of midcentury design create a warm, inviting conversation grouping. Original artwork gives the space a stylized, updated flare. The designers were inspired by the classic architectural elements of the house and imagining how the original owners used the living room and conservatory for entertaining nearly a century ago.

Now that the house has come together, what’s the unifying feeling throughout?

If I had to define the overall feeling of the house it would be "tradition with a twist." Some rooms are transitional, some more traditional, others more contemporary, but it all works. We don’t want each room to look like the next one, and they don’t. I think you see the personality and style of each designer in his or her space. However, the most important unifying feature is that each designer has tried to respect the architecture of the house and that results in a certain flow. Additionally, you see a number of colors repeated throughout the house, and while they may or may not be used in adjoining rooms, visitors will be exposed to these palettes several times over, which is another subtle way of creating a unified feel.

How is the interior design respectful of the style of the house?

Our designers faced some unique challenges this year. Some were working in rooms that had all original details that have been lovingly maintained and were in top condition, like spectacular fireplaces, woodwork and windows. Others were in spaces that had been updated 20 years ago and were really tired. Still others were working with original features that were just plain and simply dated and not in great condition. Each designer had to work within the confines of his or her space and I think they all did an incredible job. What is really exciting is that this year we added "before" photos to the designer pages in the catalog so visitors will be able to see what the rooms looked like before the designers transformed them.

What is going to wow visitors to the showhouse?

It depends on each person’s taste. Everyone will find something to love. Additionally, everyone should be able to walk away with some great design ideas. Even though the house is a spectacular, elegant home that most people only dream of living in, our designers have made even the most formal of rooms feel comfortable, inviting and livable. Additionally, some of the designers have come up with unique and creative ideas that anyone can use at home. They’ve also solved some design problems that many of us face in aging houses. Honestly, each room has its own "wow" factor.

Master Bedroom
Thomasville Home Furnishings

Designer: Cathy Anthony

The master bedroom is styled in Drexel Heritage’s Philosophies collection, which features rich, savory colored upholstery, unique reflective surfaces and dark wood. "(The room) speaks an elegant, richly rendered language from an era of Hollywood glamour and opulence," Cathy Anthony says.

If this house were music, what kind would it be?

Probably the best word would be collaborative, which is really popular right now. I know I am dating myself, but it reminds me of the rock opera "Tommy" by The Who. It is really a marriage of traditional and contemporary elements, just like "Tommy" merged opera and rock. Even though "Tommy" came out decades ago, my kids tell me it is still relevant today because it was the predecessor to a lot of the collaborative efforts by today’s musicians. "Tommy" has a timeless appeal and so does the showhouse. Visitors will still love it years from now.

What’s the story about the lower level?

From what I understand, at one time in the house’s history, there was a little old lady who gave dancing lessons to the neighborhood children in the ballroom. That room in the showhouse is now known as Vita; that little old lady and her students would have their knickers knocked off if they could see it now!

How do designers marry the home’s Neo-Mediterranean Revival style and contemporary design?

There are many examples of this throughout the house but the one that visitors will notice almost immediately is Tom Hoffman’s stunning Tribute Foyer. This is one of the spaces that was very formal and has lovely original details like thick moldings, leaded glass doors and an elaborate crystal chandelier. Tom has completely respected these elements but has updated the space with a brilliant use of contemporary features. Two ornate gilded chests and amazing mirrors that belong to the homeowner flank each side of the foyer. However, he has turned the whole space on its ear with the use of a more contemporary, neutral color palette of soft browns painted in wide horizontal stripes on the walls. They draw your eye into the house and have a very clean, modern feel. Tom added clear glass lamps, sculptural striped vases and simple rugs to the space as well. But perhaps the most striking transformation is the chandelier. He placed uncomplicated brown shades over each of the bulbs and they give the whole fixture a completely different look. The chandelier really ties the whole space together. His juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern creates a dramatic tension that really speaks to the way much of the house has been designed for the showhouse. 

Master Bedroom Salon
Peabody’s Interiors

Designer: Greg Holm

Greg Holm describes the master bedroom sitting area as traditional with a twist. Furnishings are traditional; artwork is colorful and contemporary. The room houses the homeowners’ treasured book collection, and the bright book bindings inspired lively tangerine and magenta accents in the custom hand-designed rug, art and accessories. The Louis XV style-writing table is both classical and modern.


The 1917 6,567-square-foot, five-bedroom, three-bath Neo-Mediterranean Revival home was built by respected Milwaukee architect Robert A. Messmer for Christian and Amanda Kurth and their three children. It’s located near Lake Michigan in the Kenwood Park District on Milwaukee’s East Side.