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Ultra-Modern Ranch Getaway

A former art gallery is an architectural blank canvas--just right for creating a sleek studio with Green Bay views.
  • Light, open and minimal

    Tom and Alita Zabjek's Door County vacation home used to be a one-story, 2,000-square-foot art gallery. It had no kitchen, no bedrooms, no shower or tub--and no interior walls blocking views out windows stacked high up the 14-foot walls.

    The wide-open feeling inspired the Zabjeks to head straight into the 21st century with a renovation that's light, open and minimal. The main portion of the art gallery, for instance, is now divided into dining and sitting areas with a floating fireplace wall set on a 14-foot-long limestone base (left).

    The following slides show how Tom and Alita renovated the commercial structure into a sleek studio. 

  • Salvaging 'tear-down' material

    Many buyers might have opted to tear down the existing building (shown in its original condition at left). But the Zabjecks decided to keep what they could and to add on what they needed.

    "One of our goals was to save virtually all the materials," Tom says. They reused every window, sanded the original cherrywood floors, restained the exterior siding and kept the furnace.

  • Contemporary exterior

    Outside, the Zabjecks built a dramatic, oversize metal-roofed entrance (left) that's longer on one side to shade a southern exposure. Bold brackets create a modern arbor over the deck.

  • Dramatic interior

    Inside, the plan to convert the gallery into a home was fairly simple: Use the majority of the existing space for a wide-open living, dining and kitchen area that overlooks Green Bay, and carve out two guest bedrooms. The Zabjecks also added 800 square feet for a master suite, screen porch and wraparound deck.

    Contemporary design is highlighted throughout the home. For example, tall, angled fireplace (left) dominates the living and dining areas and mimics the off-center entry. The Italian "wave" light fixture above the dining table also brings in a sleek, contemporary vibe; an identical one hangs in the kitchen.

    "So many Door County homes are cottagey, but we wanted something different," Tom says.

  • More striking designs

    The gentle curve of glass blocks transforms a functional privacy wall in the great-room into a unique piece of translucent art (left).

    The home's modern furnishings include tightly upholstered sofas, armless chairs, a glass-and-steel coffee table and spare accessories. A color palette of greens, browns and creams draws inspiration from the woods surrounding the home, while a twig-brown, pink-flowered fabric on slipper chairs adds a shot of color to the natural mix.

  • Streamlined kitchen

    Black concrete counters line the perimeter of the open, streamlined kitchen (left). The centerpiece, a green-and-black marbled granite island top, reflects the colors of Green Bay on a stormy day.

  • Serene master bedroom

    Serene blues and greens reign in the master bedroom, part of the 800-square-foot addition. In keeping with her overall modern aesthetic, Alita arranges her bed pillows in a neat asymmetrical grouping.

  • Guest room charm

    Two bedrooms and two baths created from the original art gallery space provide comfortable guest quarters (left). The house fills to capacity when the Zabjeks' three adult daughters arrive with their husbands and children in tow.

  • Prime viewing

    The Zabjeks' deck (left) wraps around two sides of the house, providing a prime spot for watching the Fourth of July fireworks in Menominee, Michigan, 12 miles across the bay.

  • Perfect for napping

    A graceful chaise on the new screen porch (left) offers water views and the perfect place for an afternoon nap.

  • Shady woods views

    The wraparound deck and a stone patio let guests spread out when they want to relax and enjoy the views.

  • Open invitations

    Want a more open-feeling room in your own home? Pull it off with the Zabjeks' tips.

    Use less furniture. Built-ins add architectural interest while eliminating extra furniture pieces that might clutter a room. In the great-room, the two-sided fireplace wall divides dining from sitting areas. It has enclosed storage on one side (for a 52-inch plasma TV and stereo) and cubbies on the other to show off collected art pieces.
    Go bare. On the windows, that is. Privacy is not an issue lakeside, so the Zabjeks left most windows uncovered to enhance the connection between inside and out. Soft horizontal blinds are a good option where privacy is needed; they control light without disrupting architecture.
    Skip the trim. To keep sight lines sleek--and the eye moving easily through the space--the Zabjeks removed almost all trim around windows, ceilings and doors. They also have very few art pieces on the walls. "I wanted the eye to be on the artwork outside," Alita says.
    Give it some glass. Skip the dark hallway. A curved glass-block wall in the great-room hides the path to the garage while adding light and sparkle to the space.

    Pictured at left: A sun-filled corner in the great-room beckons readers.

    (A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2009.)

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