Design for a Cause

With more than 20 designers, the annual Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse brings an array of designs to one home for a cause.


“My favorite part was choosing the prints for the gallery wall,” says designer Amanda Lewis from Modern Health and Living newspaper. “I chose pieces that I reacted to and then mixed them
in so the colors and textures would flow and keep the eye interested.” The first piece she fell in love with was the silver couch, but Lewis admits to having a love affair with many of the
pieces in her room.

“One of the things that I have found is that houses speak to you and rooms speak to you. Places speak to you,” says Ellen Irion, board member for Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) and one of the many talented designers participating in this year’s showhouse design.

Every year designers from the Milwaukee, Madison and northern Illinois areas travel to transform a room into a unique vision all for a good cause.

The volunteer-run program, which receives help from almost 1,000 volunteers, works with generous homeowners to transform the space, bring their visions to life and raise money for cancer research all at the same time with the WBCS’s annual Showhouse for a Cure.

This year’s three-story home is sure to wow the crowd with a total of 15 rooms, one full bath, two half baths, a kitchen and three foyers. Some of the many talented designers include Elements East, Ethan Allen, Fringe Home Furnishings, Laacke & Joys, The Virum Collection and many more.

When asked about the design process, Irion says for many designers it just comes to them, and sometimes those designs can hit a snag in the process that may need a change or two to bring the full idea to life.

“I think every designer has the experience where they have a vision in their head, they bring all the items together and they put them together and (then) it doesn’t meet
their expectations and they have to tweak it,” Irion explains.

Some designs, though, just come naturally after seeing the space or learning more about the homeowner. Designer Amanda Lewis of Modern Health and Living newspaper
references both her and the homeowner’s love for art as an inspiration for her modern sitting room.

“The homeowner owns an art gallery and I am an art lover. The paneling is perfect for a gallery wall,” Lewis explains. “I thought it would be cool to wrap around floor to ceiling art inside each panel using white frames to keep it clean and let the prints be the focus.”

The white paneling keeps the spacious feel of the room, and sticking to the contemporary color scheme of white, black and silver maintains the clean, contemporary vibe, but Lewis also added wood art and brown tones to give the room a warmer feel.

Karalyn Ochalek and Gene Berube of the Virum Collection picked out several pieces with a story, including the almost 200-year-old Danish chandelier and the antique chest of drawers
that originally shipped over from Germany and belonged to a family of Jewish refugees that landed in Milwaukee.
The paneling on the ceiling brings in an eye-catching texture
that draws attention to the chic chandelier. Designers
Karen Sullivan and Anna-Marie Miles of Haven Interiors, Ltd.
picked the modern high-backed chair to play off the traditional
trellis pattern of the windows, effortlessly combining a modern
and vintage feel.
“When I started designing the nursery, I wanted to create a
space that would be a respite from the hustle and bustle of city
life for both mother and child,” Marcia Sweigert of
Marcia Swiegert Interiors explains. She purposefully picked
fabrics and décor that could continue to decorate the room
even as the child grows up.
“It was obvious that it was either a cutting room or a potting
room, or both,” says Ellen Irion, board member of the Wisconsin
Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) and co-designer of the
garden room shown here in this year’s Showhouse for a Cure.
Along with Therese Armbruster, the duo from Landscape by
Design took this entry nook and made it the perfect gardening
room. Complete with plenty of natural light, access to an
outdoor patio, a cabinet transformed into a counterspace,
a chalkboard for a gardening to-do list and the beautiful
table for potting, this room will motivate anyone to embrace
their green thumb.

The dining room, done by Karen Sullivan and Anna-Marie Miles of Haven Interiors, Ltd., combines both a modern and a classic feel. The design includes bold printed chairs around a unique table, a bright pop of color with a blue ottoman, classic paneling and a chandelier.

“We really wanted to play off the architectural details of the house while making it relatable and comfortable with an easy elegance,” Sullivan says.

“We first dreamed up the layout of the space with the goal of creating something unexpected,” Miles adds. “Taking a traditional space and creating a room that can be used everyday, we were able to achieve that comfortable elegance. The pieces just fell into place from some of our personal favorites.”

Sullivan notes her favorite part of the room is the ceiling wallpaper playing off the chandelier and wall paint. Miles says her favorite piece is the tall, open-back chair and the way it plays off the trellis pattern of the windows. “The little details like that really makes the room flow,” Miles says.

The third-floor bedroom designed by Gene Berube and Karalyn Ochalek from the Virum Collection also plays with details to bring a room together. With vintage and antique furniture and accessories in brown and gold hues, the room exudes a warm, welcoming feel. Velvet curtains, gilded rods and mirror, and a 19th century Danish gilt-metal chandelier can transport anyone to a time rich in history and culture.

The chest of drawers in the room, Berube explains, is about 250 years old and once belonged to a Jewish family who was exiled from Germany in the 1930s.

“They were allowed to pack two containers and as refugees they came to Milwaukee and only one of the containers ever arrived and in that container was that chest. Whoever that was, I don’t know any names or who that family was,” Berube says. “Evidently there was no one in the family who wanted it. So it’s kind of a sad story, but certainly interesting in poignance.”

Another room that can encourage nostalgia is the pastel nursery by Marcia Sweigert, principal interior designer of Marcia Sweigert Interiors.

In addition to some sentimental pieces from her own home, Sweigert’s daughter, Maddie Danley, created the drawings of the mother and baby bunnies and the duck and duckling.

Another sentimental factor was the baby portraits of her late mother and aunt, both of whom battled cancer. “To have (their) portraits displayed in the room is so meaningful to me. I think she and my mother would be so proud of the work I’m doing in support of the WBCS,” she says.

The designs in the home range from modern to vintage to practical, but in a home where each room, hallway and foyer holds a completely different design, the spaces still work well to complement each other.
“It works. It doesn’t look like 25 different designers did it. We don’t know how that happens, but it happens. It just works. Again, spaces speak to you, houses speak to you, and although we have very modern bedrooms and one very traditional bedroom, it all works,” Irion muses.

The Showhouse is open to the public June 2 to 17. Advanced tickets are $25 and tickets at the door are $30. Visit for more information.