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Worlds Collide
Home design inspired by traditional elements of Western architecture and Eastern objects

Photos by Lacy Landre

September 2014

A series of Sputnick chandeliers stand out against the original ceiling beams that were painted white for a fresh look. Other updates to the room included installing a new floor and repairing cracks in the original plaster walls.

In searching for an older character home in a walkable community, Sharath and Nirmal Raja narrowed in on a 1920s English-inspired white brick house on a double lot in Whitefish Bay. But before they made an offer to purchase, they walked through the house with Nathan Gabor of Gabor Design Build to discuss a potential renovation.

"My wife has an eye for the possibilities," Sharath says. Nirmal is an interdisciplinary artist whose media include drawing, printmaking, painting and video installation. "I am interested in duality and dichotomy in my work and life, and that spills over to my decorating style as well," Nirmal says, though she is quick to note that she and Sharath like the same things. "He has an intuitive sense for design and appreciates good art," she says.

A bold blue accent wall highlights the custom molding on the ceiling. Existing kitchen cabinets and counters were repurposed in the new layout.


In the move from Mequon to Whitefish Bay, the couple wanted a house with a neighborhood feel, but also wanted their new house to have the same amenities as the one they were leaving. Their initial thoughts on renovation included turning a three-season sunroom into a mudroom and laundry room, expanding one of the bedrooms for their son and finishing the basement. As the plans evolved, renovation work touched on nearly all the rooms of the house as well as the exterior spaces. "We plan to be in the house for the foreseeable future and we wanted to make it fit our needs," Sharath says.

The kitchen had been remodeled previously and the cabinets and countertops were reused in a revamped layout that included an island with bar seating and a better connection between the cooking area and the dining space. Nirmal was inspired by a molding detail she had seen somewhere, and Neuís Building Center and Gaborís carpenters translated it onto the kitchen ceiling and on the second-floor landing.

A three-season room turned mudroom and laundry room features in-floor heat.


Turning the unfinished 1920s basement into an inhabitable space posed the biggest challenges during the renovation. Work included digging out the old slab and 8 inches of soil, vacuuming out the pea-soup-textured sludge and installing new sump pumps, waterproofing and preparing the site for a new slab. Now, the water-free lower level is a favorite hangout for the coupleís teenage son. (They also have a college-age daughter.)

A custom contemporary wrought-iron railing in the entry stands out against the white walls and traditional architectural details. The existing floor looks like new after it was resurfaced.


The Rajas both say they enjoy the light-filled living room the best. "I find myself going there to read or work on the laptop," Nirmal says. "I like bright airy spaces and cannot bear dimly lit rooms during the day, and especially in the cold Wisconsin winters."

In every room of the house, the eclectic design creates an interesting marriage between modern and traditional. "I love to combine really old, well-used objects with modern classics, and very traditional Eastern functional objects and artwork with contemporary streamlined furniture," Nirmal Raja says.

It works, Gabor says, because the traditional elements, such as the millwork, provide a uniformity to the house. "The Middle-Eastern or Asian artifacts are more of an architectural centerpiece," he says.

"Mainly," Nirmal says, "Sharath and I want the home to be welcoming and interesting, a space where people want to linger and feel comfortable enough to do so." m



This story ran in the September 2014 issue of: