Beauty & Function Combine With 'Convenient' Design

A basement water leak doesn’t sound like it would lead to a major remodeling job. But for Ann Wisniewski, ASID member and president of AJW Designs, Inc. in metropolitan Atlanta, that particular basement project led to a whole-home remodel.

When Wisniewski helped the homeowner of the 1970s-1980s era bungalow in Sandy Springs, GA select colors for the basement, she asked her to keep her in mind if she needed any other work done.

At the time of the project, the homeowner’s mother was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. “My client, a single mother of three boys, wanted her mother to move in, and she was concerned about her safety in the existing environment,” she explains. The upstairs bedrooms were accessed via a steep, narrow staircase, and the overall home layout featured rooms that were closed in and sectioned off.

The client turned to Wisniewski and her husband Jan, who served as the architect on the project, to do what was essentially a whole-home makeover. Changes to the home included a new master suite addition on the main floor for the homeowner’s mother – complete with a bedroom and a bath that incorporated Universal Design elements such as a curbless shower, shower seat, large vanity, and grab bars around the toilet; a new kitchen where the dining room previously existed; and a new master bath upstairs for the homeowner. Other changes included converting the existing powder room and small bar area to a walk-in pantry; incorporating a mud room and new powder room; and adding a front entry to create a foyer.

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Overall, Wisniewski was asked to open the small spaces to provide a more functional layout and a Universal Design solution for her client’s mother. “It was quite an undertaking,” she says. “But, the more we talked, the more she wanted an open space that was easier for her mother to navigate.”

While Universal Design was an important focus, Wisniewski prefers to refer to it as convenient design. “It isn’t just for the elderly,” she says. “It’s for everyone. You never know when you might need to use crutches or a walker to maneuver around your home, even if it’s only temporary.”

She focused on incorporating ‘convenient’ design elements, such as wider openings – 36" whenever possible; adequate lighting – including under cabinets; and drawers with pull hardware rather than knobs. “All of these elements are essential,” Wisniewski says. “Incorporating aging-in-place features is important because it’s healthier for people to stay in their homes as long as possible. You need to make the spaces safe and convenient so people can do that.”

In the kitchen, Wisniewski added an island, making sure to locate it conveniently for easy maneuvering throughout the kitchen. She equipped the Brookhaven Heartwood Maple cabinets – which serve as the island base and are used throughout the rest of the kitchen – with plenty of drawers as well as waste and recycling cans. The cabinets are topped with honed Typhoon Crema Bordeaux granite.

The island’s custom green color, which is topped with Espresso glaze, was ‘stolen’ from the slate mosaic used in the backsplash behind the cooktop. “My client really loved slate and wanted to use it somewhere,” Wisniewski reports.

In addition to the island, the entire cooktop area serves as a point of interest, including the faux stone hood. “It looks like the real thing,” she says, “and it gave the client the Old World look she desired.”

This Old World feel needed to blend with two elements the homeowner wanted to keep: an antique stove, and antique doors that lead outside. “The stove was a centerpiece for the kitchen,” notes Wisniewski, “and she didn’t want to lose it.”

The same held true for the doors. “They were original to the house,” reports the designer. “I had an artist repaint them, bringing in a texture and finish that coordinated with the kitchen.”

Incorporating the unexpected into her designs is important for Wisniewski. “I like a little pop of the unexpected, whether it’s a contemporary piece of art or accessory, or a collection,” she says. “With this client, those doors and the antique stove serve as the unexpected.”

Bringing it all together

Wisniewski’s goal with the homeowner’s master bath was also to make the space more functional and bring everything into one place, since the tub she used wasn’t located in her original bathroom.

After rearranging the upstairs, the resulting master bath brings it all together…a tub, shower and private toilet area as well as a large vanity.

“Because the space is narrow, we used frameless glass in the shower,” Wisniewski says, “separating it with a half wall to keep the space as open as possible.”

Aegean travertine graces the floor and shower, while Delicatus Splendour granite tops the vanity. Rohl faucets grace the shower, sink and tub.

Wisniewski included ‘convenient’ design elements in the master bath as well, such as a seat in the shower area and a handheld shower.

Elements of surprise in the space include a chandelier, which was moved from the dining room during the renovation.

The pale blue walls add to the tranquility and tie in with her client’s bedroom, while a large mirror – rather than two smaller versions – better reflect the area and help make it look larger.

“The bathroom is now a restful space that gives the client the opportunity to relax,” Wisniewski says.

Overall, this project was about creating a safe space, a home that would have a lot of function with all of the client’s wishes included. “At the end of the day, I can walk out the front door, but my clients have to live in their spaces, and those spaces have to function for them,” notes Wisniewski. “My goal is to create functional spaces for the way my clients live.”