How would you like to get a new, freshly remodeled house every year?
No, no one's that lucky, but the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse has gotten pretty close. They've been renting the living spaces of generous homeowners to showcase the remodeling and design prowess of some of the Milwaukee area's many talented contractors, interior designers and home furnishing professionals for 14 years now.
In the process, they've been able to raise major funds for breast and prostate cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"Over the last 15 years we have donated $4.4 million dollars to the Medical College," said WBCS volunteer Ellen Irion. "That has attracted an additional roughly $12 million or $13 million dollars in extramural money from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health to continue the research that those researchers have started."
The money comes from a mix of fundraisers – including the Tee Up for a Cure golf event, Pinktacular Fashion Show and Luncheon and Pink Tie Gala – but the annual showhouse is by far the most labor-intensive. Each year's event brings together thousands of volunteers, dozens of designers and a new featured house.
"All homeowners who are involved in this are extraordinary," said Irion. "They give us their home for four, five months and they let us do all these things to it. We take out all of their furniture, the designers come in and they do all sorts of things."
There are no freebies here though, Irion clarifies. The homeowner pays for all construction done, and the designers pay their own way or work with local vendors to decorate their spaces.
"The furniture, all the accessories, go away [after the showcase]. Except for paint on the walls, that's it," she explained.
They do, however, donate the most crucial part of the showhouse – the space itself. And in the case of this year's house, owner Andy Nunemaker has been particularly generous in his willingness to revamp the space.
"Andy has been really great to work with," said Mary Walgren, one of the 36 designers who each contributed to this year's showhouse. "I came in for measuring day, measured the space out and was walking out of the house when Andy, who was up there with his contractor, goes, 'Hey, Mary, do you have a second?' He pulled out these old, old blueprints – I mean the original blueprints – and said he wanted to open up the basement. So then the next question was, 'Hey, Mary, would you mind doing these additional rooms?'"
Walgren, who is now in her fifth year with the showhouse, found herself creating an additional pub, wine cellar and powder room on top of her work on the rathskellar. As a professor at MATC, she also pulled double duty as advisor to a group of students who were assigned to the basement foyer.
"My students have done a space every year," she said. "All I do is supervise and make sure they're following the process. I want them to experience a real-life design project."
That design process involves working with a variety of home furnishers to complete their vision, something that helps incorporate even more local businesses. Walgren, for example, worked with timothyj kitchen & bath and Flux Design to complete the downstairs pub.
Kim Temkin-Taylor, who worked on the basement's cabana space, had the advantage of also using many of the homeowner's collectibles to accent her space.
"He had actually lived in Indonesia," she said. "He has a lot of artifacts and some slides he thought would be interesting to use in the space. It's always different depending on the situation. He had a really definite idea of how he wanted the space to look and feel."
For Temkin-Taylor – who is in her second year working on a showhouse – and many of her fellow designers, the annual project offers many advantages beyond exercising their creativity.
"It's a way for me to give back; it's a way for me to do something for a cause that I really feel strongly about," she said. "It provides visibility in the community, a way to network with other designers, and it's just a nice opportunity to participate in something that's going on in the community."
The 2012 Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse kicks off with the Raise a Glass to Hope Gala Fundraiser June 1, followed by a public open house June 2-17. Admission is $20 in advance or $25 at the door. All proceeds benefit cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
For showcase hours and more information, visit breastcancershowhouse.org.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.