A Farmhouse With Attitude
The house near 50th & France glows in the late afternoon sunlight. The gleaming white exterior is punctuated by windows and doors outlined in black. At certain times of day, expanses of glass on all sides allow views through the first floor. The wide, welcoming front porch suggests classic farmhouse—an impression that evaporates as soon as Kathy and Keith Nelsen open the front door.
Inside, this home is all about open space, high contrasts, and glam finishes. Exactly the look Kathy wanted: a sophisticated fusion of acrylic, crystal, bold neutrals, and strong geometry. “Transitional glam, with a little rock ’n roll,” says Bill Costello, the division director of Elevation Homes who worked with the Nelsens to build the house.
Both Keith and Kathy credit the Elevation team and architect Andrea Swan with making their experience a smooth one. In fact, the story of this house seems filled with happy accidents, from beginning to end. The Nelsens lived a block and a half from here for nine years. On the search for a new home, they knew they wanted to stay in the neighborhood and narrowed their builder preferences to a handful of choices. When Elevation offered this infill lot, the deal was sealed. Keith and Costello quickly discovered they’d grown up a mile from each other in Green Bay—and bonded immediately over their love of the Green Bay Packers. The camaraderie and friendship made “the whole process so awesome,” says Kathy.
The Nelsens knew they wanted their new house to be full of light. “Our old house was very dark with walnut everything—floors, baseboards, cabinets.” she says. The floor plan was so compartmentalized, they lived mostly in the back third of the house. “At the first meeting, Elevation asked, ‘What do you like about this house?’ We said, ‘Nothing. Well, maybe those chairs ….’” (In the end, they brought one of them to the new house—it’s in the basement) and, she jokes, “the dog.”
The front porch was also a priority. It was to be a wraparound, but since the house sits on a corner, the required setbacks would have taken more space from the interior than the Nelsens wanted to lose. The deep porch across the front of the house is a worthy substitute. “We use it all the time,” says Kathy, a native Floridian well versed in the lure of the porch. “We use the front porch more than the back patio.”
The size of the lot and setbacks limited the footprint, says Swan, but the Nelsens knew their priorities. They opted to integrate the kitchen and dining room to create as much livable space as possible. Costello developed the bumped-out windows on the south side of the house, an unusual feature that adds interest inside and depth outside.
“A corner house has two faces, and it’s really important to get them both right,” he explains. “As a team, we were trying to make this perceived side of the house as pretty as the front. Windows would have been on a plane with the wall; bumped out, they create a layer of depth on the side, just like the porch on the front.”
Thanks to the open floor plan and well-designed spaces and traffic patterns, the family lives in the entire house now. The dramatic front foyer is open to the great room, which is open to the kitchen and dining room. Interior designer Marita Simmons of Kipling House Interiors assisted with selections and Tim Ricker of At Home and Co. with furnishings. “I love everything about At Home,” says Kathy of the nearby store.
She wanted to maximize seating in the great room and use a neutral color palette so it would be easy to change out accent colors. With Ricker’s help, she did it. In the end, she says, nearly every piece of furniture, window treatment, rug, and accessory came from working with him. “He understood my vision from day one. And we had so much fun!”
Throughout the process, Costello advised and guided. “We’re the editors, making sure the architecture, the interior design, the furniture, and the lighting all come together,” he says. “Kathy’s imprint is really strong in this house. She had a very clear vision of what she wanted.”
Just as Kathy envisioned, there’s plenty of seating around the square coffee table in the great room—seating for 10, in fact. A pair of exceptionally comfortable swivel chairs—“The Voice chairs,” they call them—are Keith and Kathy’s favorites for watching TV. And they turn toward the kitchen or dining area for easy conversation when the family entertains.
“It’s really one big room,” Kathy says, making the space comfortable for two or for 40—necessary flexibility for an active and social family that includes teenagers Gracie and Max, impromptu meals, sleepovers, and hockey parties. Between the room they call the “Tree House”— a.k.a., the Xbox room between the kids’ bedrooms upstairs—and the enormous basement, there’s plenty of space for both kids and their friends.
Still, it’s not all about the kids, though Keith jokes he needs a sign-up sheet to reserve what was supposed to be his man cave in the basement. It includes a bar, exercise room, guest bedroom suite, game-size TV, and plenty of Packer paraphernalia. On the main floor, a wet bar and beverage center just off the kitchen are handy for entertaining and grilling on the back patio. Upstairs, the master suite includes a sitting area, two walk-in closets, and his-and-hers vanities.
The kitchen island seats four at one end, ensuring an unimpeded prep and cooking area. It’s topped by a slab of Leathered Infinity quartzite. The nearly black stone, an emergency substitution when a matching stone destined for the hearth broke during milling, was another happy accident. “Turned out, we liked this stone better than the original,” says Kathy.
Nearly every room and every selection in the house has a story, all with happy endings. No wonder a sense of joy permeates this light-filled home. Even passersby sense it. “It’s surprising how many people drive by and stop and take pictures,” says Keith. “And go around the corner and stop. And pull out the camera. It’s probably a dozen a week.”