Rhapsody in Blue

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.

Kathleen McKay

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.

Rhapsody in Blue - Collage
Rhythm & Flow – Shades of blue and various textures mingle in the living room. A bright-blue chair complements an antique window, from Saline. McKay custom-designed this wine cabinet, which cleverly stores her Flow Blue china, glassware, wine, and more. The entryway features a mixed-media painting by visual painter and musician Kevin McKay of Ann Arbor (McKay’s son).

“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.

Rhapsody in Blue - Music Room
Music Room

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.

Rhapsody in Blue - Master Suite
Rooms with a View – Homeowner Kathleen McKay designed rooms so that from various perspectives, you see a pretty vignette. For much of the lighting, McKay carefully chose natural materials, and colors and shapes that create a romantic ambiance. Think capiz shells, blue glass, wood beads, fascinating metals, natural stone, and Murano glass.

Dear Mom, Today, I am baking an apple pie. As I rolled out the crust (cheated, with box mix!) and sprinkled the apples with a bit of extra cinnamon, I thought of you — your blouse sleeves rolled up to your elbows, your sneakers, your trusty rolling pin, and your smile.I thought about the cinnamon crisp we used to make with leftover crust dough. And I can’t help but think about how lucky I am to have had a mother like you — always home, always cooking something great, always cheerful. Our home — and kitchen — was and still is the center of my being. I love you and your apple pie. Thank you. MeganI wrote that letter to my mother on Nov. 1, 16 years ago. I found it a few months ago among her items, while moving her possessions from her home after she died this past March. She saved a stack of letters written to her over the years from her eight children. As I was sorting through that pile of stationery and cards this month, the apple-pie correspondence really hit me. Our home — and kitchen — was and still is the center of my being. Profound, but what did I mean? Simply that growing up in a home with a parent who cooked and baked somehow contributed to my overall well-being and happiness. I wanted her to know that baking is so much more than baking.Her very act of cooking centered me, as did just being in a warm and busy kitchen. My mother was constantly whipping up magical flavors; it seemed mouthwatering scents were always wafting through our home. In the fall, when I’d dash straight to the kitchen after the school bus dropped us off, I’d cherish the sight of a jar of cinnamon and our big yellow Pyrex bowl out on the counter, because I knew that Mom must be baking one of her renowned apple pies.I remember how I’d ask her if there was extra dough and she’d say, kiddingly, “Well, let’s see,” knowing that there would be. I’d watch her carefully place the upper crust on the pie, hold up the clear-glass pie dish almost to eye level, spin the pie around slowly and, with a knife, slice off the extra dough. It’d plop to the floured countertop and I’d thank my lucky stars, as that extra dough — along with a little lump she’d already put aside — meant we’d get to make what we called “cinnamon crisp.”Basically, I (and my younger brothers) would roll out the leftover dough, dot it with butter, and then sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. We’d bake it right alongside the pie. Cinnamon crisp was the perfect after-school treat: warm, crispy, flaky, and oh-so-cinnamony. The taste of autumn.That recurring pie-making scene is paring-knife sharp to me, as are the surroundings of all four of my childhood kitchens: The little radio Mom would have on for background music or a baseball game; our dogs’ food and water bowls on the floor, which we’d constantly trip over; the traditional cabinetry. Our last house’s kitchen suited her best, as there was an actual indoor grill. (We were the only ones in the neighborhood to have such a thing, indoors, in the kitchen!) In later years, she had a nifty rolling kitchen stool she’d use to prevent her feet from hurting. (Lest you think she spent all her hours there in oven-central, no, she did not. She played golf and tennis, enjoyed card clubs, and traveled plenty.)In this issue, the kitchens we feature also suit their owners, and were designed for serious cooking and with family in mind. You’ll see that each of these cooks had specific preferences when planning their kitchens, for everything from grill-tool drawers to countertop garages for baking items. The homeowner in the condominium renovation story made her first priority her kitchen. A baker from way back, Kathleen McKay even made an apple pie the day before our photo shoot (the pie stars in the last story of the magazine, This Season). I asked her about the significance of the pie. She told me she comes from a long line of bakers. “We baked up a storm when I was growing up,” McKay shared.My kids are gone, but in a week or so I’ll be making a little visit to a certain college student’s house. I’ll bring a homemade pie (Mom’s apple pie recipe, of course) ready to be baked, so he can take in the wondrous aromas. And maybe we’ll make cinnamon crisp together!

“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.”

Rhapsody in Blue - Master Bath
Master Bath

Boutique Beautiful

Rhapsody in Blue - Kathleen McKay & Client
Designing Women – Interior designer Kathleen McKay selects various materials for a client with assistant designer Ashley Neely at Kathleen Design, a design and retail boutique in Plymouth.

We stopped in at interior designer Kathleen McKay’s two-room, less-than-1-year-old renovated studio — Kathleen Design — in downtown Plymouth to ask her about renovation details and what she sells there.

Q: This is a beautiful space. Talk about taking 850 square feet and making the most of it! What was it before?
A: It was an electronic parts company with green carpet, a gas station-quality bathroom, and dilapidated ceilings. I looked past that and thought, “I can change it!”

Q: How did you transform the drab environment?
A: We painted the walls and ceiling. We ripped out the carpet and replaced the flooring with our luxury wood vinyl plank flooring. We wallpapered the back wall with Schumacher foil-and-painted wallpaper. We also put up a mirror-look wallpaper in the bathroom. I designed a petite coffee/wine bar area with penny tile, created by Douglas Madaras Design, an artistic architect I work with.
We installed enough electrical capability to display 15 chandeliers. The building’s exterior was painted, and I added boxwood landscaping, a window box, and garden bench.

Q: What can walk-ins expect when they visit?
A: Personal, nonintimidating service and full-service interior design with myself or my senior designer, Ashley Neely. We carry more than 30 companies and have samplings from all our vendors. The boutique changes continually, as everything here is available off the floor, yet we specialize in custom orders tailored to our clients. We sell furniture, unique chandeliers and lighting, rugs, carpet, pillows, artwork (including a lot of original and local art), accessories, florals, window treatments, and an exclusive home fragrance and candle line. This fall and preholiday there will be even more chic gifts.

Rhapsody in Blue - Kathleen Design
Kathleen Design, once an electronic parts company, underwent a major overhaul.

Whenever my husband and I would leave my in-laws’ home after picking up our young sons from some time spent with Grandma and Grandpa, we would always notice them standing in their doorway, watching. Framed by a solid-brick façade, they’d gaze out at us as we buckled the boys safely into their car seats and arranged their various bags of stuff.If it were winter, there would be a Christmas wreath on the door and Grandma Jane would peer around it, sometimes adjusting a red bow or rearranging a bough. If it were summer, they’d scurry out to the front steps and perch next to a large cast iron flowerpot brimming with bright orange-red geraniums.They’d stand like sentinels, arms folded in front, waiting until we pulled out of the driveway and were headed back home. As we’d disappear from their view, I’d turn my head and there they’d be, waving and smiling, and then finally shutting the door. That scene would repeat itself for years to come, and I admit I often thought they were wasting time standing there doing nothing but peering out. I’d think, Why aren’t they getting back to what they were doing, catching the last of a television show or racing to finish the dishes, or getting ready to hit the hay?You’ve heard the phrase, “Seeing them off”? My in-laws defined that phrase, literally. And now we do. We see people off. We stay right by the door until we catch the very last glimpse. I now understand why my husband’s parents were compelled to always, like actors in a play, get to their “stage left” goodbye spots.Fast-forward about two decades and my husband and I are participating in a revival of that same scene, which often stars our sons bolting out the door, down the driveway, and into their cars, off to whatever adventures lie ahead. The tradition continues as we stand in the doorway, often clutching Kleenex while their cars zoom down the street.Enter a home, and there are happy greetings all around. Then comes the exit — pulling away, waving goodbye. Growth. Passages.After our sons are gone, the same unspoken words and emotions begin to swirl around the entryway like a flurry of old leaves dancing across the walkway: I’ll miss him. When will I see him next? Will he be safe? I hope he’ll come back soon. That visit was way too fast. Silent prayers for safety and good health are quickly said, then it’s, “Yikes, this door needs to be painted or replaced. The pots need watering. The glass is so dirty — get the Windex out. That front-porch bench needs a makeover!”No makeovers are needed for the cool entryways you’ll find in this issue. Check out the cover story home’s front steps, which are straight from the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose Woodward Avenue entrance underwent a renovation in the 1980s. The steps were salvaged and now grace a gorgeous lakeside Oakland County home. Oh, and the block pavers that lead to those stairs? They were reclaimed from a bridge in Europe! Then there’s the Detroit apartment (it’s technically a condominium, but the owner likes the apartment term much better, as it’s more citified) that’s featured in another story. Just steps inside the home, you find yourself in a fascinating foyer whose main attraction is 300-year-old wooden sugar grinders from the Philippines. Imagine the hellos and goodbyes that are said amid such inspirational environs!Emotional farewells and important life passages mingle with physical elements. We associate things — whether ornate, historic, or simple — with feelings.When I see a pot of orange-red geraniums I recall my mother-in-law waving, her beautiful smile lighting up the doorway. And that’s a wonderful image — and feeling —  to carry with me.

Q: What types of items are in the second room?
A: It was a large office that wasn’t really necessary, as we do so much via computer. Clients wanted more furnishings and accessories, so we evolved in that direction. kathleendesign.com
—By Megan Swoyer

OPEN HOUSE: Kathleen Design, 470 Forest Ave., Plymouth, is hosting a Fall Open House from 1-5 p.m. Oct. 14. Check out new furniture, accessories, and lighting, as well as original furniture and artwork. Refreshments served. Desserts by Kathleen.