For most of us, the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse for a Cure is a great chance to get inspiration on home improvement and interior design from some the area’s best home stylists. It’s also a golden opportunity to snoop around someone else’s house (C’mon - you know you want to).
But for those struggling with breast and prostate cancer, the showhouse is a beacon of hope. The Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse is an organization made up entirely of volunteers with no paid staff members; all of the funds raised by admission to the annual house tours remain in Wisconsin and benefit handpicked research projects at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Since its inception in 1998, the WBCS has become the second-largest philanthropic donor to the Medical College, providing over $4.75 million in funds.
The 2013 Showhouse, located at 2228 E. Newberry Blvd., will be open June 1-16. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. through 4 p.m. on the weekends. Tickets are available for $20 online or at any of the Showhouse’s community partners.
A special promotion runs Father's Day weekend, June 14-16: for every visitor who donates a tie, Harley's For Men, 3565 N. Oakland Ave., will donate $5 to breast and prostate cancer research. It's a great and easy way to make your visit even more meaningful.
Every year, the WBCS locates a homeowner interested in donating the use of their house for the event. "It’s an act of generosity on the part of the homeowners to do this," said Ellen Irion, a member of the WBCS Board of Directors. An invitation-only open house is then hosted for local interior designers, who submit three choices for a desired room along with 3-5 sentences on their vision for that room.
The homeowners pay for all construction and also have the opportunity to purchase items from individual designers. "And they get a vision of their home – an opportunity to see how it could look," said Irion.
The 2013 Showhouse on Newberry Boulevard was built in the 1930s and boasts over 4,500 square feet, five bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, a two-car garage and a charming outdoor deck and patio area. The homeowners opted to have their kitchen entirely redone by Crestone Construction in collaboration with Joy Peot-Shields of PeotShields Architecture, a project they financed personally; otherwise the cost of decorating the rooms was donated by the spaces’ individual designers. This ensures that, other than a few event expenses, the WBCS can funnel the admission funds back to cancer research.
Claudia Francis of Sturgeon Interiors created the decor for the house’s front sun room. Sturgeon Interiors and its founder Betsy Hoke have been involved in the Showhouse for years.
"When we came through we really liked the sun room; it was very inviting and it has a lot of windows," said Francis. "The windows have nice light detail; it has a very nice architectural terra cotta floor so we were kind of drawn to it from that standpoint. We like to use a lot of bright colors so it lends itself for that type of design."
The walls were painted an intense yellow by the homeowners, and Sturgeon Interiors decided to channel the brightness of the room. "We kind of worked our colors to go along with that," said Francis. "There’s a little kind of a greenish gray in the ceiling that we used to pick up the terra cotta in the floors."
The sun room is accentuated with white rattan chairs and bold red pillows. Francis said that, when styling a smaller space, it’s important not to go overboard with the size of furniture.
"You need furniture to the scale of the room so that the room doesn’t appear overwhelmed with the furniture," she said. "In the sun room you want it to be kind of bright and cheery. Especially in our dreary climate, it’s a nice room to sit in the window and have a cup of coffee or read a book and enjoy the space."
Like Francis, interior designer Jim Jung of Boston Store Furniture Gallery was drawn to the Showhouse at its inception. He describes it as the perfect combination of charity and work fulfillment. "The Showhouse gives the designers a chance to support a worthy cause while showing their sense of style to the public," he said. "Who doesn’t like to pick up a few new decorating ideas while touring a historic home?"
This year, he created the third-floor bedroom for the homeowners’ live-in au pair. He wanted the decor to the occupant’s interest in architecture and interior design. To this end, he included pieces like a hand-carved wood three-panel screen enveloping a drafting table, mirrored nightstands flanking the bed and a rich pattern for the pillows. He also included ornamental light fixtures and a space in the room where she could relax and watch TV.
Laurie Wegner and Kristi Pross designed the house’s small third-floor bathroom adjacent to Jung’s, and like Francis, faced the challenge of being innovative with limited square feet.
"You have to work with what you have there, so that’s what we did," said Wegner. "It’s on the third floor and there’s that little dormer window, so there’s not a lot of natural light. But we knew we wanted to bring in a lot of reflective surfaces."
The pair decided on a Hollywood Regency theme, heavy on the glitz and glamor, to complement the strong blue tiles that were original to the room. They found a "gorgeous and theatrical" shower curtain that inspired the decor of the rest of the space, which includes portraits of starlets like Liz Taylor, Lucille Ball and Audrey Hepburn.
The focal point of the space is the vanity, situated in a tiny alcove. "It draws you in and you look around and you don’t see everything until you stand there," said Wegner. To create the illusion of more space, they chose a rich gold paint for the slanted ceiling. The walls were originally adorned with a pearlized stencil design, which they painted over with gold and white stripes; you can still see the stenciling beneath the paint.
"It looks a lot like wallpaper," said Wegner. "Stenciling as gotten a bad rap over the years."
The pair feel that the small bathroom shows that you don’t need a lot of money, or even a lot of space, to create a glamorous and luxurious retreat. "All you need is a vision," Wegner said. "Don’t be afraid to play with color and play with those odd pieces."
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.