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Rhapsody in Blue

This splendid condominium transformation ends on a high note. Bravo!

By Megan Swoyer / Published: September 25, 2017

After living for years in large houses with lots of decorative accents, interior designer Kathleen McKay decided to begin a new chapter in her book of homes. She did away with most of her furnishings and accessories, and kept only those items she loved and needed. Then the energetic McKay, who has two grown children, ventured to Plymouth where, about 14 months ago, she found the perfect condominium with just enough space. With 1,700 square feet, including a finished basement and a room that would be a perfect music room for her musical family (guitars, a piano, and various other instruments fill the space), she found the new living quarters extremely accommodating. “I got rid of 25 years of belongings and wanted a fresh slate — a home that reflects who I am now,” she says.

“I walked into the condominium and I saw all these pine trees. Since it was a tiny yard, I instantly fell in love with them and the view, knowing I would see green outdoors year-round. That, in part, is what sold it for me,” McKay recalls. “Not to mention that I can walk to downtown Plymouth in a matter of minutes.” That said, if she wanted, she could also walk to her design studio and home furnishings shop, as she also opened a studio on Forest Avenue (see accompanying story below) at about the same time that she moved to the condominium.

“Despite smaller square footage, I love the wide-open design of the condominium,” McKay says. Although the space was structurally great and Mother Nature’s beckoning pines were so very inviting, she realized it needed to be transformed into a home — and who better to do that than McKay, who has been such a successful designer that she was recently hosted at furniture maker Gabby’s headquarters in Alabama. (McKay is a top retailer for the line and was invited to preview its 2018 lineup before it goes to High Point Market.)

After living in the condominium for about six months, the designer, who owns Kathleen Design, embarked on a makeover journey that would take the space from plain to pretty. The end result is a home whose color palette of blues and creams flows from room to room like a peaceful river.

A marble fireplace with a dark navy wood surround; large windows; walls painted in a light, light, blue-green (Sherwin-Williams’ Sea Salt); crisp, white-painted trim; textural fabrics like worn velvets, hand-painted pillows, and area rugs; and contemporary art mixed with antique pieces make visitors feel as though they’ve stepped into a chic boutique hotel.

“I’m a blue person, can you tell?” McKay asks, laughing as she looks around at a symphony of blue, from a powder-blue velvet chair and aqua overhead light fixtures, to blue vases and royal blue hand-painted pillows. “A home’s color scheme can come from anywhere, but I sort of was inspired by this,” she adds, picking up a small arrangement of dried flowers in blues and greens with pops of deep violet and creams.

Flow Blue china pieces add touches of blue in the kitchen. “I’ve been collecting Flow Blue for more than 30 years,” McKay says. The china originated in the 1820s and was prevalent among the Staffordshire potters of England. The name comes from the blue glaze that “flowed” during the firing process. It fits perfectly into McKay’s design scheme.

The floors in the condominium were all carpet and tile, and McKay decided to replace most of it with a scraped vinyl from a luxury line (the name is Old Barn). “I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a condominium, and I knew it works well as this was the flooring I used in my boutique,” she says. Featuring carefully selected stone and wood patterns in natural colors, the flooring is also sold at McKay’s boutique. “I sell it, so thought I’d give it a go. It’s great in high-traffic areas and goes right over everything!”

McKay’s No. 1 priority was the heart of the home — the kitchen. After all, she’s a former bakery owner (her store was located in downtown Brighton) whose cookies were known near and far. She wanted a crisp look, so she says, “I had the cabinetry painted white (Benjamin Moore’s Simply White); they had been a dark cherry.”

She also added a tile backsplash and new countertops. “I’m a marble and Carrara junkie,” she says. McKay opted for a herringbone pattern backsplash using Carrara, and all of her countertops were replaced with Super White quartzite, a natural stone that looks like marble.

As for the angular peninsula, McKay admits it’s not her favorite. “I’m not crazy about these raised island bar things, but it works here (and in smaller condominiums) because it divides the space.” On one kitchen wall hangs a custom-made wine cabinet (just 6 inches deep), designed by McKay and fabricated by Connor Stone of Cutting Edge Enterprises in Ypsilanti. “He and I have worked on a lot of projects; I design and he builds,” she says.

Glasses and bottles fit perfectly amid the well-designed metal, glass, and wood unit. “The materials pick up on my hardware and flooring. I needed something great here and I have little space compared to houses I had before, so this is like a mini wine bar!” McKay explains that she has a similar custom piece in the works that will be used as a flat-screen television cover. “There will be a door that folds so when you’re not watching TV, it can cover the screen and you can put artwork or framed photos on it.”

“I actually designed my bedroom so there’d be a nice view of it from the kitchen …”

Kathleen McKay

Perhaps the most luxurious transformation took place in the master suite, which is now reminiscent of a fine hotel suite. And, oh, the millwork! What once was a plain, flat wall (behind the bed) is now a coffered wall with a geometric pattern that adds dimension and intrigue to the flow and takes the suite to an exquisite level. Hanging above the bed are two antique prints of fashion sketches. Plush bed linens in creams, tans, and navys complement the room, and texture comes into play with a variety of decorative pillows. Pretty lamps on bedside tables feature smooth cream bases and classic shades.

“I actually designed my bedroom so there’d be a nice view of it from the kitchen, so I can look in that direction and see something pretty,” McKay says. The designer added dollops of style in the master bath by replacing outdated materials and re-tiling. “We painted the cabinetry so I wouldn’t have to replace all the plumbing fixtures,” she says. Maldive Carrara marble was the tile material of choice. “It’s not a common Carrara color, but it perfectly blends grays, creams, and undertones of beige.” Quartz countertops also were installed. “The bathroom is now more open and has a small-spa feeling.”

Does she miss having more space? Not really. “Although the space is less than half the size of my former house, it really compelled me to pare my furnishings down to my favorite colors and my very treasured, most beautiful, and useful things,” McKay says. “At the end of the day, I feel cozy and content, relieved by the minimal upkeep. I designed my home to reflect who I am now, and I have a lot more time to enjoy my creative passions and be with my loved ones.”

Above: Interior designer Kathleen McKay, standing, selects various materials for a client with assistant designer Ashley Neely at Kathleen Design, a design and retail boutique in Plymouth, MI.