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Timeless Elegance
Restored Victorian is the stage for festive gatherings

Photos by Doug Edmunds

December 2014

Hackbarth and Nelson purchased the buffet in the dining room from Paris sight-unseen on eBay.

When Mark Hackbarth and Eric Nelson purchased their 1891 Victorian 10 years ago, it had good bones but no style, Hackbarth says.

They went to work painting the walls, restaining the woodwork, redoing the floors and replacing light fixtures. The house began to take on their style and, like the other places they lived, became a favorite place for family and friends to gather.

The couple most recently opened their home in support of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as this yearís Holiday House.


Timeless furnishings in the home of Mark Hackbarth and Eric Nelson have been collected through the years. Some are family pieces; others are antique and eBay finds. Hackbarth says a friend once described his decorating style as "Ralph Lauren on steroids."

But after the holiday decor has been packed away, the home remains a study in eclectic design, reflecting the styles of the homeowners. "Our tastes complement each other," Hackbarth says. "I like things that people donít expect."

Hackbarth began cultivating his design style as a child growing up on Lake Drive in Whitefish Bay. His father was a particular influence, he says. The late Milwaukee interior designer Jon Schlagenhaft was a friend whom Hackbarth loved to bounce ideas off of. "His taste was impeccable," Hackbarth says. "I learned a lot from him."

The 1891 Victorian in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Milwaukee served as this yearís Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Holiday House.


Rich walls and textiles create a sensual color story throughout the house. "Red is one of my favorite colors," Hackbarth says. "I like the energy of it. It looks good day and night and it doesnít wash you out."

After Hackbarth purchased a 60-inch Wolf range from a kitchen design showroom that was closing, the time was right for a long-awaited kitchen remodel. Renaissance Design and Renovation took on the challenge of updating the 100-plus-year-old space, replacing ancient plumbing and knob-and-tube wiring. Taking the walls down to the studs, Jody Ryg of RdR encountered a few puzzlers in the remodel. The walls were not square and the floors sloped a full 3 inches from one end of the room to the other. Ryg compensated by creating custom molding to disguise the deficiencies along the ceiling and on the island. Ryg also discovered a chimney right in the middle of a wall that ran the full four floors of the house. "I took a hammer to the plaster wall and realized the chimney was old Cream City brick," Ryg says. With the range and the windows being locked into the design and the expense of removing the chimney daunting, Ryg acid-washed the brick and designed a china cabinet around it. Itís now a focal point of the room where the homeownersí Versace dinnerware is beautifully displayed. An old radiator next to the chimney received a decorative makeover and a full-height bookshelf displays Hackbarthís cookbook collection.


Above: Renaissance Design and Renovation received a first place award for kitchen design from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, one of six awards the firm received in the 2014 regional competition. Cabinets: custom-designed Wood Mode; counters: white tundra granite; faucet: Sigma; chandelier: Savoy.

Now, when Hackbarth and Nelson entertain, their guests gather at the 11-foot long island, and Hackbarth couldnít be happier. "The kitchen is a dream come true," he says. "I truly love cooking and enjoy experimenting. Itís a kitchen thatís not just for show."

RdRís Kris Bilty says the project not only brought the kitchen up to date, but also preserved the homeís history. "I love that we brought the character back," she says. "I feel like that kitchen could have been there forever."



This story ran in the December 2014 issue of: