The nature of older homes is such that every historic property comes with its own set of projects. Megan Brakefield, her husband Cleve, their nine-year-old daughter Abby, and Archie the rescue terrier-mix relocated from San Francisco not quite one year ago to a 2,700-square-foot 1927 Tudor in Whitefish Bay, WI. Neither Megan nor Cleve had ever lived in — or even visited — the Midwest before, but a job opportunity called, and after spending the last 20 years in both San Francisco and Manhattan, they decided to jump into a new adventure headfirst. Megan is starting a design business after spending a career in leadership positions with home furnishing and fashion apparel brands, and Cleve is an architect who develops retail spaces. When they found their home, like most Tudors, it was beautiful on the outside but dreary inside. With dark wood and textured walls throughout, the family sought to redesign for a lighter, brighter way of living. They also added a mudroom (which they learned is a necessity in midwestern winters), expanded the master bathroom, and brought the kitchen up-to-date. With the help of contractor Dave LaBonte of LaBonte Construction, Megan began developing plans, Cleve did the drawings, and demo started just before Memorial Day.
The homeowners favor modern design, but also wanted to preserve the positive, original attributes of the home. Good old-fashioned elbow grease brought porcelain and glass doorknobs back to life. Whatever the pair couldn’t refurbish, Megan sourced online and in vintage shops. For her, deciding on a design direction was overwhelming when local sources were lacking, and without opportunities to see items under consideration in person. She did instinctively know, however, that the house had lots of oak trim that made rooms feel shorter, so it all got painted a pure white to open up those spaces. She and Cleve also whitewashed the stair risers and stringer to lighten up the entry and stairwell (while taking some heat from traditionalists, but they still feel good about the decision). Pale paint colors in a matte finish dilute the highs and lows of textured wall surfaces. These two changes combined had a transformative impact.
The small-but-busy family wanted their home to function seamlessly, and as design lovers, to satisfy on an aesthetic level. The whole place needed to lighten up — literally — and every decision was made through that lens (save for the dramatic powder room where duskiness is emphasized in the patterned wallpaper and painted ceiling). The Brakefields set out to create a residence that would accommodate their modern family, but at the same time, respect tradition. This personal juxtaposition of timeworn architectural elements and new decorative details is what makes it all their own. —Annie
Photography by Hayley McCormick