Airy Revival

Local pros transform a gloomy lake house into one family’s dream “forever home.”


Wanting to give the home a splash of color and a nod to the home’s proximity to the lake without a nautical feel, Suzan Wemlinger painted the kitchen’s second island a beautiful blue.

When looking for their dream home, one Lake Country couple wanted to stay close to their jobs, family and preferred school district, and have enough space to host family and friends. They searched until they finally fell in love with a house that had the ideal bones for their vision. To bring the rest of their vision to life, the pair brought Suzan Wemlinger of Suzan J Designs and Mike Farina of Gen III Woodworks along to the walk-through of their potential home before they even made an offer. 

“The location was perfect. It was a nice size, the layout, everything,” Wemlinger explains. “But it was 20, 25 years old. And being on a lake, it was very dark. It had cherry woodwork but [the] cabinets [weren’t] in great shape.”

But like the family, Wemlinger and Farina saw the home’s potential and worked together without a general contractor to bring the buyers’ light and airy design to fruition, ands make it a practical forever home that could meet the needs of their growing family. Wemlinger and Farina began by updating the layouts in addition to the aesthetics, the biggest change taking place in the kitchen. 

“The kitchen was weathered and the layout of the kitchen itself wasn’t very good,” Wemlinger says. “[There was a] tiny pantry kind of shoved in a corner. The island was too narrow to even put stools under, because it would have impeded the walkway. So it was odd things like that, because we were going to try and salvage the cabinets and just paint them. And the more we looked at it, we decided ‘No, [that] can’t be done.’”

To make the most of the spacious kitchen’s footprint, Wemlinger and Farina improved the functionality of the cooking area, building up two islands with plenty of walking space around them. An extra storage area was transformed into a wine and coffee bar that is perfect for entertaining. Wemlinger notes that the revised area feels wonderfully spacious despite a necessary load bearing post.

“There was just no way we could take it out, and so we had to design around it,” she notes of the existing feature. “We did, and it looks great.”

The duo salvaged as much cabinetry as they could, painting everything white and adding timeless white subway tile for a clean, airy feel. To break up any starkness, Wemlinger painted the smaller island a standout shade of turquoise for a subtle, charming nod to the home’s proximity to a lake. 

“I came up with a couple of different concepts, because the kitchen was so large that I didn’t want all white,” she explains of the decision. “We had two islands in there, so the smaller of the two that had the work sink in it, I picked out a really crisp blue and they loved it.”

Above: “I hand-picked the Cream City Brick [from The Brickyard, Inc.] for the hearth room. … I wanted to make that look a little bit more like it had always been there,” says Wemlinger, who notes that she wanted to be sure the bricks didn’t have too much yellow in them and keep the palette neutral.

Right: After the owners of this Lake Country abode came to Wemlinger with inspiration for a charcoal office, she tweaked the vision, painting the built-in cabinetry a vibrant shade of blue not too far off from the kitchen island.

A nearly identical blue was also carried into the built-ins of the home office, one of the first rooms guests see as they enter that also boasts white French doors custom created by Farina. Wemlinger carried the clean, airy palette into the “lake room,” the family’s living room that provides spectacular views of the water, adding a custom-made, 13-foot sectional and decorative shelving to the gathering place. To add a more updated flair, she reworked the mantle of the fireplace, adding an iridescent tile to pull in the subtle blues and greens of the sparkling lake. “We wanted to keep the traditional look of the home, but make it not too stuffy and a good fit for today’s living and for the family,” Wemlinger explains.


With the “lake room” being the popular gathering spot, Wemlinger ordered a custom 13-foot-long gray sectional with a performance fabric to withstand heavy use, and the durability necessary with small children.
Shiplap was added to the bottom half of this powder room for a subtle lake vibe, while a deep blue grasscloth on the upper half of the walls provided a stark contrast.

Taking note that the family wanted to plant roots in the home, Wemlinger also paid close attention to aspects that might prove troublesome in the future, like the open second level floor plan over the foyer that she says “was an accident waiting to happen” and noting that she could envision “boys throwing a football across it.” 

The team closed off the open area, creating a toy room that can grow with the kids. The second floor also featured one long, impractical bathroom that would need to be shared by the couple’s sons and daughter. Wemlinger and Farina split the space, giving the boys a bathroom to share and the couple’s daughter her own private space as she gets older. 

Having worked with the homeowners in the past and knowing their tastes, Wemlinger calls the project a collaborative effort — with the couple as well as Farina and the rest of their team. But, she says, what is more important is the new life given a good house and the family that will make it their home.

“It really was a great project and [it was] fun to transform a home like that, because you saw the great bones of the house,” she says.  MKE