Home Court Advantage

Whitefish Bay homeowners assembled a can-do team to update their home into a sport loverís haven.

BY NICOLE BELL   |  PHOTOS BY TRICIA SHAY


Chris and Nicole Mikel’s dedication to basketball, fond memories of Butler University and their kids’ passion for the sport led them to a half-court, designed and built by Sport Court Wisconsin to their home.

When Nicole Miskel and her husband Chris first saw the Whitefish Bay house they now call home, Nicole was skeptical after seeing the pastel pink stone on the exterior. “The house was great, the structure was great, and the location was fantastic,” she says, “but, in terms of the exterior color, it didn’t fit what we envisioned. It wasn’t a go if we couldn’t do something about the exterior.” 

Meg Baniukiewicz, architect and owner of HB Designs LLC, says that once the stones were stained a more neutral shade, Miskel was open to the property’s potential. 

Built in the 1950s, the home had small, closed-off rooms and dated details, so Baniukiewicz called upon Dave LaBonte, senior project manager at LaBonte Construction, to help transform the home and “push everything to the front,” Miskel explains. To create the perfect space, LaBonte reworked the house’s overall footprint, knocking down almost every wall and relocating the kitchen to the middle of the house, creating an open concept kitchen, living room and dining room that made the home feel open and airy.

Baniukiewicz proudly notes that Miskel was “her own interior designer,” falling in love with the first tile pattern she saw and planning colors, finishes and cabinet pulls around it. Using neutral hues, like subtle blues, blacks and grays, she also selected elements that added a modern aesthetic with the practicality her lively family required.

Miskel chose the first backsplash tile she saw for the kitchen, which then inspired other design features such as the cabinets’ color and hardware.

“This looking like steel is on purpose,” Miskel explains of the home’s flooring. “[We thought] what can we do to make it look as nice as possible, be durable, and not be constantly trying to clean up after [the kids]?” 

To complement the standout feature, LaBonte worked with Matt Scannella of Steel Farmer to create a custom, handmade banister for the staircase.

“There was a very traditional railing that went upstairs and Nicole did not like it, so Matt came up with that design, and it goes all the way up the stairs,” LaBonte explains. “So the structure of the stairs stayed the same, but the bannister and everything there changed too, which I think takes it out of that ’50s-style house,” LaBonte explains.

After months of interior renovations — and waiting for Wisconsin’s mercurial spring weather to cooperate — the Miskels turned to Mike Bohlen, president and lead designer of The Secret Garden, to revive the front porch and add a back porch and updated landscaping.

The home’s original cumbersome and closed-off floor plan was reimagined, allowing the Miskels to move freely throughout the first floor.

 

To enhance the front porch, Baniukiewicz created a large and open entryway with double doors to lead to Bohlen’s beautiful raised patio, which Miskel says is perfect for entertaining and taking in views of Lake Michigan. Off of the spacious living room, windows were replaced with patio doors leading to an elegant tiled patio, complete with gas fire pit and a pergola strung with lights.

Bohlen explains that the exterior of the home now matches Miskel’s carefully planned interior designs and makes the most of the available outdoor space. 

“We wanted to go much more contemporary and very linear — which actually works well because we have limited space out there,” Bohlen explains.

Then the sports-loving Miskels had another creativity-meets-practicality plan for their new home — an addition that would house a basketball half-court, designed and installed by Sport Court Wisconsin.

“My husband and I are big basketball people,” Miskel explains of their bold next step. “I grew up in Indiana and he grew up in Ohio and played basketball in Indiana. So we’ve always been around basketball and have always played it. Our kids have high aspirations of playing Division One basketball and beyond, and we spend a lot of time in the gym, so [I finally said], ‘Let’s create a space that makes access easy for them to put in time on the sport they love.’”

Though the original plan to build the court underground fell through, Miskel says the team was great about finding a way to make her dream come to fruition. Baniukiewicz notes how important it was to her clients that the addition blend seamlessly into the rest of the house.

Above left: Marble tile, a steel shower door and contrasting colors carry modern design elements into the first-floor bathroom.

 Above right: Dave LaBonte, senior project manager of LaBonte Construction, brought the Miskels’ preferred contemporary feel and neutral palette to life, tapping Matt Scannella of The Steel Farmer to craft a one-of-a-kind banister for the refreshed staircase. 


 Though Nicole had wanted “proper wood flooring,” the team explained that the fluctuating Wisconsin weather would cause the wood to shift in an uninsulated building and convinced her to use multipurpose tiles with a wood grain. The floor was then custom painted with court lines and a special, final detail. The Miskels sought and received the proper licensing to replicate Butler University’s logo in the middle.

“My husband and I met at Butler University where he played basketball and I was a cheerleader,” Miskel smiles. “So having a Butler gym, that just seems like home to us. We’ve lived a lot of places, moved a lot over the last 20 years, so settling down and having something that’s familiar around here is nice.”

And the Miskels didn’t stop there. They added artificial turf to the backyard that is both low maintenance and adds additional space for their kids to practice baseball and football

Left: The backyard patio provides a private place to relax and watch the kids play on the synthetic turf that is perfect for backyard sports practice and low maintenance too.
Right: Mike Bohlen raised the front patio to rework the front of the home and entryway,
in addition to providing a beautiful outdoor seating area with scenic views of Lake Michigan.

“This is one of the coolest projects I’ve gotten to work on,” LaBonte says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do it again. But hopefully.”

Miskel says she loves the final product and is happy she assembled the team she did.

“Everybody here did a fantastic job of staying on schedule and knowing what we were up against and figuring out the best way to make things happen,” Miskel says.

“Collaboration … in a project like this is imperative to its success,” Baniukiewicz agrees of working with LaBonte and Bohlen.

“I feel blessed every day that I get to work with people like this.” MKE

 

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