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Vintage find
Wauwatosa couple brings 'swing era' home into 21st century

Photos by David Bader

April 2015

The Sullivans’ expanded sunroom, aglow in natural light and combined with heated flooring, is a room they can enjoy year-round.

When Kim and Owen Sullivan of Wauwatosa found themselves on the brink of an empty nest, the parents of four wanted to find a home to emanate the next phase of their life. They mulled over a move west to Lake Country, then east to downtown Milwaukee, but ultimately realized they wanted to stay near and dear to their beloved Tosa neighborhood.

It’s only fitting that, at the onslaught of their decision, Kim discovered a for sale sign on a house just two blocks down from the Sullivan family home. Despite its proximity, the Sullivans had never seen the inside of the 1940s abode.

What they found inside was a shocking preservation of the swing era, down to the original wool carpeting, wallpaper, wood paneling and teal-and-tangerine color scheme. The only room that had been changed throughout the single owner’s tenancy was the kitchen — sometime in the 1950s. All of the appliances were intact.

The completely revamped kitchen now serves as an "entertaining hub" with open views of the family and dining room. A large kitchen island, floor-to-ceiling cabinetry, a custom metal hood, and pendant lighting further add inviting elements to the space.

"When we saw it, I was scared to death and my husband was ready to go," she laughs. "But from the moment I walked in, I could envision what I wanted to do. We always had a desire to rebuild or gut a house. We embarked knowing that everything would have to be redone."

Better yet? They knew they could stay in their original home while it was being done.

The Sullivans rallied Bartelt. The Remodeling Resource in Delafield for a full-scale renovation. Project designer Matt Retzak says the home’s original design, while intriguing, was nonetheless cramped and incohesive, and it certainly wasn’t conducive to the couple’s penchant for entertaining.

"Everything was very ‘vintage’ — besides the crown molding and the fireplaces, everything was a blank slate," Retzak says. "We wanted it to look like this was the way it was originally built, but wanted to increase the space quite a bit and update it to the way people live today."

The new family room features oak hardwood flooring, a coffered ceiling and a wet bar — perfect for summer with direct access to the outdoor entertaining area.

Retzak says they began by reworking the exterior of the home, where two-story columns and an odd stucco-and-lannonstone façade stood out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood. They also made room for a new detached and more functional two-car garage.

Once inside, it was clear nearly every room in the home would have to be "completely gutted" and updated, says Retzak. The home was completely rewired for audio and lighting systems, and concealed storage — such as floor-to-ceiling cabinetry in the kitchen — was a top priority.

The bonus room, once a vacant leeway above the attached garage, was transformed into a spacious master suite.

Among some of the remodeling challenges included tearing down walls between the existing kitchen and dining room to make an "entertaining hub;" moving the family room into the old attached garage, which required stripping it down to its foundation; and adding a master suite to the second floor, complete with a master bathroom, and, using a former bedroom, a walk-in closet. Part of the second floor was rebuilt and an addition was added to the home to accommodate the suite, Retzak says.

Part of the new addition, the master bath boasts a large steam shower, as well as a freestanding tub and "his and her" pedestal sinks. The chandelier above the tub was an original light fixture refurbished for use.

Downstairs, other additions, such as the double French doors, lent greater cohesion between the interior of the residence and the outdoors, where a fire pit, gardens and two patios were created. Kim says her favorite room in the house is the expanded sunroom.

A neutral gray-and-white color palette throughout the home gave the structure a classic, yet contemporary feel. Overall, the project took about six months, Retzak says.

"It was a great transformation," he says.



This story ran in the April 2015 issue of: