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Downsizing retirees find peacefulness in modern aesthetic

Photos by Gary Bakic

October 2013

Interior designer Amy Carman of Amy Carman Design, Elm Grove, created a modern, soothing palette in the Waukesha condo of Dr. Michael and Mary Ellen McCormick. "The only things in there are those that matter," she says. "The perfect chairs invite you to sit at the fireplace, the artwork is well-placed, the fireplace owns the wall. Itís a really soothing environment." Carman incorporated much of the coupleís furnishings from their previous home in Oconomowoc into the design, including the grand piano, dining room table and artwork.

In a scene right out of an HGTV design show, Dr. Michael and Mary Ellen McCormick walked into their renovated condo greeted by their design team for the big reveal.

In the six months since the McCormicks had seen their newly purchased Waukesha condo, it had undergone a complete overhaul led by Wisconsin Kitchen Martís Russ Waters and interior designer Amy Carman of Amy Carman Design. "The last time they had seen it, it was incredibly dated," Carman says. "It was just a vanilla condo with boring finishes."

While the McCormicks wintered in Carmel, Calif., they trusted Waters and Carman to fulfill their goal of taking the condo out of the 1990s and bringing not only up-to-date, but modern up-to-date. "She wanted Dwell modern," Carman says.

Though they werenít allowed to change the windows, the rest of the condo was gutted and redone to provide more storage, improve the flow of the space and create a modern aesthetic. Russ Waters of Wisconsin Kitchen Mart has worked with the homeowners on renovations to their home in Carmel, Calif., and vacation property in northern Wisconsin, among other projects, and had the coupleís complete trust. "They gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. They let us choose the products and make a statement with them," Waters says.

"As long as we were making a change we wanted to make it different," Mary Ellen McCormick says of downsizing from their family home on Oconomowoc Lake to the condo. They chose this specific development for its size (just nine families), location (itís on a small lake) and to be close to longtime friends who already lived there.

There were emails and phone calls to keep the McCormicks in the loop but nowhere near the involvement her clients usually have in a project, Carman says. That might be because of the longtime working relationship between the McCormicks and Wisconsin Kitchen Mart dating to the late 1960s, making this their sixth collaboration. "They just trusted us completely and gave us cart blanche," says Waters, who has worked with the McCormicks for the last 15 years. Carman was added to the mix after the McCormicksí former designer retired. In addition to selecting colors, countertops, etc., Carman also went "shopping" in the Oconomowoc residence to select furniture, artwork and accessories that would mesh with the modern palette. "We were able to incorporate a lot of our furniture," McCormick says. "We just left behind what we didnít need."

"She had some really great pieces like the black buffet cabinet in the dining room. Itís a vintage piece thatís about 20 or 30 years old but looks as stylish as anything you can find out there today," Carman says. Looking at each item with an objective eye, Carman says, and putting them in a different context "just ended up giving all of those pieces totally new life."

Waters changed some walls in the kitchen and bedroom to improve the layout and give the couple additional storage, including a new closet in the master suite. And when it came time for the reveal, Waters admits he was nervous. "You just donít know how they are going to react," he says. "We had a bottle of champagne and gave them a tour of the condo. The just loved it from top to bottom."

Living lighter suits the McCormicks. "Itís so restful to live with fewer things and less clutter," Mary Ellen McCormick says. "There comes a time when you donít want to be burdened by things."

Carman says McCormick refers to the condo as her hotel. "She says itís the best hotel sheís ever stayed in."


This story ran in the October 2013 issue of: