An Urban Edge

This year’s WBCS Showhouse for a Cure gives designers a new challenge.


“My inspiration and overall feel for the apartment was to look clean and eclectic. It should appear interestingly collected, yet uncomplicated,” explains Jessica Bertoni, interior designer at Fringe Interior Design, noting the room was to have a sense of audaciousness, contrast, confidence and humor.
Top: G. Home owner Laura Goranson says her goal for her room in the showhouse was a cool, urban vibe. “We thought we really wanted to showcase an urban oasis, [while] also reflecting the Midwest and Milwaukee feel by having natural wood and textures and things that you would feel in the outdoors.”

For more than 20 years, the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) has offered visitors the chance to meet interior designers from across the state and view stunning redesigned homes — and, most importantly, to contribute tens of thousands of dollars in annual donations to the Medical College of Wisconsin to support their diligent research to vanquish breast and prostate cancers.
This year, WBCS is trying out something both timely and new. PR Chair and Volunteer Coordinator Linda Short says this year’s showhouse offers a nod to national and local housing trends that see people of all ages seeking upscale, city-centric apartments and condos, and a more urban and walkable lifestyle. Instead of a Milwaukee area mansion, this year’s designers descended on seven apartments that the newly opened Plankinton Clover Apartments on West Wisconsin Avenue donated to the cause.

“This idea just started bubbling up organically,” says Ellen Irion, WBCS board of directors chair. “One of the designers suggested this; another suggested another apartment
complex. And I think the designers are very excited about doing something that’s different.”

“They’re more contemporary,” Short adds of the new space. “And they’re brand-new. In the past, there was leaded glass to worry about or the beamed ceilings, or the special wood.

Right: Kerry Dean Shannon of Residence interior design says the living room of his apartment was initially influenced by a Farrow and Ball wallpaper he decided not to use. Instead, Shannon pulled inspiration from the paper to create the stunning color palette, hand painted in the checked pattern shown here.

We didn’t want to ruin any of that; we wanted to emphasize it in the older homes. This is completely brand-new and very contemporary.”

Rooms Of One’s Own — Plus a Sense of Community
Elements East owner Meg Hopkins and designer Julie Zvi, two of the 18 designers participating in this year’s showhouse, thrived in the new space, noting that the apartments brought them “a bigger canvas” this time around.

“Last year we had the entryway, so ironically our space was greatly increased this time around,” Zvi says. “The space was new, much like a clean slate, as opposed to last year when we had the design challenge of working around some of the existing, beautiful fixtures.”

Jessica Bertoni, an interior designer at Fringe Interior Design, embraced the shift to an apartment wholeheartedly and said it didn’t impact her overall design. “I approach most projects the same way: assessing what the best function would be and then making that as creative and attractive looking as I can. I want the look to feel right with the architecture and the aesthetic preferences of the client,” she says.

In addition to the newness of the apartments, the separation of the rooms offered the designers more freedom to let their creativity shine.

Kerry Dean Shannon, owner of Residence interior design, says, “It’s really interesting because of the fact that when you’re doing a large house, you have to be very aware of who your next-door neighbor is, and this really allowed some gigantic creativity and ability for design firms to kind of branch out and do their own thing without having to look like
their neighbors.”

G. Home owner Laura Goranson reiterates that, in a shifting housing market, more people are interested in downsizing and renting, especially to a downtown area teeming with restaurants, shops, nightlife and a unique sense of community.

“There are people who are just entering into a housing market that have the desire to be downtown, to be walking to things, to be in that urban situation and in the hub of what’s happening in downtown Milwaukee,” she says. “It’s fun just how that is expressed by the designers — where you can imagine different people of different ages and different interests and styles living right next door to each other. That is cool.”

“When I walked into the apartment, I envisioned a single, carefree person living in the space with a dog. From there I just thought about what would work for someone who fit that profile,” says Haven Interiors designer Karen Sullivan.
For this bathroon, Meg Hopkins and Julie Zvi of Elements East were inspired by combinations: East with West, modern with antique, and Chinese and Moroccan cultures. “The overall feel of the room was to be dramatic yet inviting, while feeling accessible to all,” Zvi says.

There’s a huge community of city dwellers that enjoy all the city has to offer,” adds Nick Konzal, owner of Nicholas Carl Design. “It felt like a natural progression for the Showhouse to have a year that focuses on this style of living.”

Smaller Spaces, Bigger Ideas
Driven to support WBCS because cancer has touched her own life, Haven Interiors designer Karen Sullivan just completed her second year designing for a cure. She says this year’s smaller spaces made designers work a little harder to dream up the perfect design.

“As you walk through each of the spaces, you will see how each one has its own personality and function,” Sullivan explains. “Smaller spaces force us all, clients and designers, to be creative and to make the most of the space.”

Bertoni agrees, noting that the only alteration she made to the entire apartment was adding wallpaper to one wall of the bedroom.

“Excitement comes from all the other pieces,” she explains.

“The rugs were critical to adding color and richness to each space.

I didn’t need a ton of furniture to fill the apartment; rather it had to be perfect pieces that looked simple yet interesting, bold yet soft. It’s a balancing act. Things didn’t feel ‘finished’ until they were just the tiniest bit overdone. Every single piece was critical.”

The designers also hope that the new location encourages visitors to take notes and get creative in their own spaces, whether they are homeowners or renters and live in large spaces or small.

“The Showhouse this year helps people to understand how to furnish and design your apartment home in style,” Konzal says. “This show has so many ideas and variations of design; it is truly inspiring what the designers have done,”

“The whole proposition shows you what you can do and still be a renter,” adds Residence interior designer Michael Patrick McKinley. “You should customize and make it your own, because it’s where you live, and your home is an extension of who you are.”

If there are stricter rules on painting in rented spaces, Michael Carter of Michael Carter Design notes that renters should take advantage of removable wallpapers or wall decals to add personality and color to a space.

“Now there are tools to truly customize your space,” he says. “All you need is some sweat equity and a creative mind, or the mind of a creative designer.”    

Pretty Selfless
Whether it’s held in a mansion or an apartment complex, Short says the WBCS mission wouldn’t be possible without the selflessness of the designers and
eager volunteers.

“We say, ‘If it wasn’t for the designers, we wouldn’t have a Showhouse. If it wasn’t for the volunteers, we couldn’t run it.’ Because this takes about 500 volunteers to make it work. This year is different because we’re not a three-story mansion, but it’s still time, and people come back year after year because they love the cause,” she reflects.

“The experience has been great,” Goranson enthuses. “The people organizing it and working with us and providing access and information have been fantastic. The Avenue has been great in terms of what they’ve been able to provide to just let us use a blank slate like that. So we’ve really enjoyed it. It was just a great experience all-around.”

Visit this year’s Urban Showhouse from June 1-16, Monday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. MKE

“This year I wanted to give people a glimpse into high-style downtown living that has a chic but attainable feel,” explains Nick Konzal, owner of Nicholas Carl Design, of his bright and beautiful living room in this year’s Showhouse. “I believe that no matter what the size of your home is, good design can elevate your quality of living.”