Originally published in STIR®
Vivid colors and dynamic patterns give this Milwaukee home warmth and energy during gray winter months.

Julie Karnes adores the unusual geometric paint treatment in the living and dining rooms of the 1923 Prairie-style home she shares with her husband and children. But, she admits, "It's pretty crazy. It's not for everyone." Bohdan Gernaga, who created the design, doesn't agree with Karnes about the "crazy" part – he says it's "quite tame" compared with some of his other work. But he heartily agrees it's not for everyone – which, in his eyes, is a good thing. "All of my work is very personal," says Gernaga, owner of Chicago-based tymedesign. "I feel that my job as a designer is to go into a person's psyche and bring their needs into reality; each project is one-of-a-kind."

Gernaga began by asking the Karnes family to describe the emotions they wanted to feel in the space. He paired that emotional wish list – "vibrant," "movement," "soothing," "cocoon-ish" – with what the home was "telling" him through its architecture to create the palette and patterns.

For the living room, he chose gold and taupe to instill the warmth of the sun and created a horizontal striped pattern featuring four shades of light blue to suggest the ripples of Lake Michigan, which the home overlooks. "The striping is on an add-on where the original air-conditioning ducts were installed," says Gernaga. "Sometimes people try to hide those things, but I say, 'It's there, why not make it work?'"

Bright Rectangles

After concluding that the vaulted living-room ceiling was underserved by "developer white," Gernaga designed a diamond pattern to bring the eye up and emphasize the craftsmanship. "Where the vaults came together it wasn't a perfect point," he says. "So I created the red-orange rectangles to compensate."

The rectangles also link the living room with the adjoining dining room, which features a Mondrian-inspired ceiling design that incorporates the taupe and blue from the living room as well as several half-tones of the vibrant red-orange.

As in many of his projects, Gernaga wrapped the wall colors at different lengths in the dining room. "When people walk into a room, they see the corners first and know the space," he says. "With me taking that off, it gives the room a kinetic feel."

Gernaga's designs are often tricky to execute, and the Karnes residence was particularly challenging, according to painting contractor Todd Grunert of TG Painting in Cudahy, Wis. "The three vaults in the living room are handmade, and all are off-center," he says. "You can't use a laser level. You have to do it visually, make it all fit like a nice puzzle."

Grunert chose SuperPaint® Interior for the ceilings because its flat finish keeps light from bouncing off the design. For the walls, Jason Abbot, market manager for the Sherwin-Williams store in Cudahy, recommended Cashmere® for its smooth velvety surface, which hides imperfections and makes it easier to achieve a sharp line.

Speaking of lines, Julie Karnes thought Gernaga crossed a big one when he suggested the horizontal blue striping for her living room.

"It took a lot of convincing," she says. "And, ironically, it's one of the parts I love the most. On the gray days, I just love the movement."

Thinking Outside the Box

  • Identify the emotion you want to feel in a space before you begin thinking about color, suggests Bohdan Gernaga, owner of tymedesign.
  • Use color and pattern to highlight architectural details, but don't be constrained by them. In the Karnes residence, Gernaga painted over the picture rails in order to bring the wall color up to the ceiling.
  • Turn negatives – an air-conditioning duct, for example – into positives by emphasizing rather than hiding them.
  • "You, not the walls, make the space," Gernaga says. Wrapping color around the corners at different lengths creates movement and makes a room feel larger.