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Rustic Retreat
Smart design and carefully curated interior selections shine
in this family-friendly River Hills abode.


Dec. 2017

The family room’s rustic beams inspired many of the home’s interior selections,
says interior designer Karen Sullivan.

Tucked into a secluded, River Hills lot is a recently renovated home inspired by its woodsy surroundings. Wild pheasants and turkeys roam the property, and rustic touches, like the family room’s overhead wood beams, bring the outdoors inside. “Having grown up in Milwaukee, in the North Shore area, I have a certain respect for the feel of that kind of home,” says Karen Sullivan, an interior designer with Haven Interiors Ltd.

Construction on the home began earlier this year, and Sullivan was brought in to help with selections soon thereafter. “The homeowner and I spent an afternoon at our (East Side) studio sharing thoughts,” Sullivan says. “To prepare for that meeting, I filled our design table with rugs, paints, fabrics and furniture ideas, from traditional to more contemporary. The homeowner (then) shared his thoughts on the options.


A homeowner favorite, the dining room table is both modern and durable. Banquet seating adds drama to the space.

“… Almost every room has something in it that the homeowner had a strong, positive reaction to,” she continues. “I took those one or two things and created the spaces out of them.” She points to the recliner’s buttery-soft leather fabric and the pedestal-style dining room table as examples. The gray, mohair upholstery covering the family room sectional reminded the homeowner of the family dog, so Sullivan readily embraced the fabric’s color and texture, which both lend to the space’s laidback, family-friendly vibe.

To connect the dining room and kitchen, Sullivan used the same fabric to cover the dining room chairs and the kitchen island bar stools. A muted gray color palette lends to the home’s
casual yet timeless feel.

Navy hues were used to ensure a nearby antique dresser (also a family heirloom) and its maple color remained the focal point of the room. A pair of colorful throw pillows adds additional pops of color.

For Sullivan, engaging the assistance of an interior designer early on the construction process is key. “Getting expert help in the beginning is worth its weight in gold,” she says. “(Items that are) custom and unique, the drama — that’s what a designer and his or her resources can bring to a project that retailers can’t. … We know when and where to break the rules or do something a little quirky, without it being silly looking.” Armed with a keen eye for spatial planning and recognition, Sullivan also welcomes the opportunity to review floor plans before the construction phase begins. “I’m a mother of four, and I know how a kitchen (layout) should work,” she adds with a laugh.


The home’s neutral color palette continues into the bathrooms, with a statement-making vanity top sourced through Blackstone International.

What’s more, an early hire ensures the home maintains a certain sense of cohesiveness — one in which all elements, from hardware and paint colors to furniture and hardscapes, complement each other and create visually appealing spaces, as was the case with this River Hills home. “Since the homeowner and I had our initial inspiration meeting very early in the process, I was able to share color and fabric selections with those helping us in order to come up with exceptional products for the spaces,” Sullivan says. She is quick to credit these vendors, many of which she collaborates with regularly, and their detailed knowledge of their respective trade or craft. “They all make me look good, and I couldn’t do my job without them,” she adds. “The project isn’t right without their expertise.”

Sullivan says a project’s success is ultimately based on the client’s happiness with the end result — and the trust formed between homeowner and designer. “The most important thing that made this (project) work is that the client put trust in me,” she adds. “That’s hard, as a designer, to achieve.”

Resource Center: How to Re-Create the Look

»Interior designer Karen Sullivan collaborated with Kate Shortall of Blackstone International for hardscape selections, including the kitchen’s quartz island top and the bathroom’s black-and-white vanity top.

»Hardware found throughout the home, from knobs to pulls, was sourced from Neu’s Hardware Gallery. The company has locations in Menomonee Falls and Brookfield.

»M Design Build served as the project’s general contractor.

»All light fixtures were sourced from Wauwatosa-based Elektra Lights & Fans, another vendor Sullivan began working with early on.

»Able Wisconsin handled the project’s plumbing needs.

This story ran in the Dec. 2017 issue of: