Garden room, dance studio provide plenty of pleasure
There's no such thing as a "useless" room



Dale and Joanne Potratz of Brookfield turned a small, narrow “Florida” room into this beautiful “garden” room where they love to entertain. Bill Winters of Winters Design Group LLC in Wauwatosa was the interior designer for the new room.

A basement doesn’t have to be just a concrete box where you keep holiday decorations. A foyer or sun room can hold more than just a chair and a small table. With a
little remodeling magic, you can turn any defunct space into a very useful and integral part of the house.

Such was the case for Dale and Joanne Potratz of Brookfield. They used to have a small room called a “Florida” or sun room in their home right next to the great room. It was just eight feet wide and 20 feet long. It wasn’t equipped with heating or air conditioning, so they couldn’t really use it in the winter because it was too cold, and they couldn’t use it in the summer because it was too hot.

“We had rattan furniture in there, but we seldom used it,” said Dale Potratz. “In the winter, there was no way of heating it. There was an electrical heater, but it didn’t do any good. In the summer, it was hot because there was no air conditioning. Also, it was too narrow. You couldn’t do anything in that room.”

But the Potratzes loved to entertain and were becoming acutely aware that they needed more space in the house to do so. A bar separates the Potratzes’ kitchen from the great room, and whenever the couple entertained, guests would mill around the bar and kitchen area while Joanne was trying to cook. Something had to give. The couple turned their attention to the seemingly useless sunroom, which now presented itself as an opportunity for expansion.

Bill Winters, architect with Winters Design Group LLC in Wauwatosa was called in to rectify the situation. He expanded the small space into a 20-foot by 24-foot garden room, as he calls it, or bar room, as the Potratzes call it. The north, east and west walls are constructed almost entirely of windows and doors, giving the room plenty of sunshine and a panoramic view of the beautifully-landscaped and decorated backyard. Two French doors separate the garden room from the great room, and two more French doors lead to the brick patio outside.

The room is elegantly decorated with gold, black and beige colors. The bar is made of a golden, brown tiger wood. All the lamps and chandeliers are made of gold brass with black shades. There’s a cozy sitting circle with two beige love seats and two burgundy chairs. There are also four chairs and a glass table — a perfect area to have breakfast or play bridge, Dale noted.

“‘Garden room’ is a term I use to describe a room with a lot of windows looking out at the yard. It kind of brings the outside inside,” said Winters. “It’s nice even in the winter time because on a nice, sunny day, you almost feel like you’re outside, which does wonders for cabin fever.”

Now the Potratzes can sit comfortably in the room no matter the season because heating and air conditioning were installed. “I worked with the existing furnace and created a separate zone for that room,” said Winters, who also installed recessed lighting in the ceiling and walnut parquet tiled floors.

“There’s a nicely done wet bar with a granite top and mirrored back; upper cabinets with glass doors and lighting inside with a low voltage halogen lighting in the cabinets,” said Winters.

There was just one structural challenge during the remodeling job, Winters noted.

“The second floor of the existing house overhung on part of this room. The wall we took out was supporting that, so now there’s a huge beam up above the ceiling, supporting the second floor bedroom. That portion of the second floor room was there and was lower than we wanted the ceiling of this new room, so we dropped the ceiling in just that area. But it looks good. It accentuates the entryway. It had to stay, so we made it into a feature. We turned a negative into a positive,” he said.

The Potratzes echo the same sentiment about the entire room — that what was once a negative is now a positive. It’s now a fully functional and necessary space that fits perfectly with their lifestyle.

“It’s amazing how the room opens up the whole house,” said Joanne, adding that she’s pleased to finally empty the kitchen of her guests and have a perfect room in which to entertain.

Down and dancing

A dance studio is just about the last thing you’d expect to find in a person’s home. But Rita Pincsak said when she and her husband built their Brookfield home 12 years ago, they knew that was precisely what they had in mind for the basement. Both of their daughters, Leah, 15 and Hannah, 12, are ballet, tap and jazz dancers and compete on a national level. Because the girls take their dancing very seriously, the Pincsaks wanted to make sure their daughters could practice any time they wanted morning, noon or night without having to leave the house.

When they built the house, they rigged the basement for plumbing and electricity, had an area allocated for a bathroom, and made sure the basement would never have a flooding problem.

“We took precautions with gravel backfill all around the house, so we’ve had no problems with that,” said Pincsak.

But the basement remained basically barren up until three years ago, when they finally decided to make their original visions a reality. “There was nothing in it for years, just storage boxes,” Pincsak said.

Winters Design Group was the remodeling company called for the job because the Pincsaks had worked with them before and were pleased with the results. Winters took their unfinished basement and turned it into four useable rooms — a dance studio, a family room, a full bathroom and a storage room/art studio.

Winters said this was definitely an unconventional project. “A 14-foot by 26-foot area was turned into a dance studio. We don’t get much call for this, but they had done lots of research,” he said.

The floor in the dance studio, for example, had to be a special type for dancers — wood with mat cushions under it. The ceiling had to have special insulation and dry walling to contain the sound when the girls’ music is playing. One entire wall is mirrored; the other side of the wall has a ballet bar. There are custom-made birchwood cabinets housing the sound system; framed ballet posters on the walls; and a ballet dancer wallpaper boarder all along the ceiling.

What once was nothing more than concrete is now teaming with activity. The girls use the studio for dance and pompom practice.”The dance room also gets used for group numbers,” said Pincsak. “The girls will get their friends together and practice. It was well worth everything we put into it.”

But that’s not the only room in the basement that’s getting used to the fullest. Right across the way from the dance studio is the family room-complete with a desk and computer area for the girls to do their homework, a large-screen TV and a living area with kitchenette. It’s a great place to hold slumber parties, Pincsak noted.

“I made the cabinetry in this room in birch and the same style as in the dance room — a very traditional style with raised-panel doors,” said Winters. “This room is carpeted and has a lot of living space for a lot of sleep-overs.”

The stairs leading to the basement, the hallway and the family room all have kelly green carpeting. The walls and furniture in the family room and the bathroom are all done up in burgundy, kelly green and almond.

“I’m not afraid to go dark,” Pincsak said of her color choices. Now that the basement is finished, furnished and getting plenty of use, Pincsak said her favorite room is actually the storage room because it doubles as her art studio. Here, in this little part of the basement, is where she works on her pottery wheel.

“I love my storage room,” said Pincsak. “Bill customized it to fit 15 big boxes of all my Christmas decorations, but I also have my pottery wheel down there. It’s a big enough space to do my art work. It’s just a rough storage room, but, boy, I love it!”