Photographer Kaleigh Gamache purchased a downtown Milwaukee studio without seeing it in person.

She was living in Jersey City at the time, so she trusted her good friends Mara and Geddy Krueger of Oak Trail Home to check it out without her. Gamache had two requests for their recon mission: The place had to be able to host her for part-time living, and it needed lots of natural light to illuminate her photoshoots.

When Mara and Geddy walked inside, they instantly recognized its potential. The unit was once a midcentury garage addition to an early 1900s automotive parts warehouse, and it had been converted into a studio with a lofted bedroom. It had high ceilings, concrete floors, and exposed Cream City brick—a pale yellow material made from local clay. And as an added bonus, it boasted a private entry on the building’s ground floor. “The bones and character that were already in the space were so beautiful,” Mara says.

Before

Beforehand, the kitchen was more of a kitchenette. There was a mini fridge, a dishwasher, and a tiny sink.

Beforehand, the kitchen was more of a kitchenette. There was a mini fridge, a dishwasher, and a tiny sink.

After

the renovated kitchen has open shelving and gray cabinets.

“It’s a small kitchen, but the way that it works together is incredible,” Gamache says. The Emliviar sconces overhead are from Amazon.

But that’s not to say that it wasn’t a fixer upper. “It was really brown and dated when we got there,” Mara says. She assured Gamache of its upsides as she viewed the site on FaceTime, but the detail that sold Gamache on the property was simple: It faced south. “For me, the main thing was the tall windows,” she says. “The space itself is less than 800 square feet, but a huge space wasn’t as important as the openness and the light.” 

“We all kind of knew it was the one,” Gamache says, so she put in an offer the same day as her virtual tour. From there, the group was able to collaborate on a budget-friendly renovation plan, and decided on an airy aesthetic that would highlight the existing elements. Their work started in the kitchen, and since Gamache wasn’t planning on moving in full-time, she didn’t need room for extensive cooking. So, the trio kept the layout running straight across the main wall, but with much more storage than its previous bare-boned kitchenette.

Before

the stairs prior to the renovation

“The original stairs were very clunky and right in the middle of the unit,” Mara remembers. “There was also an area behind the stairs that was technically considered a bedroom, but it was so incredibly dark.”

After

stairs after the renovation are against the back wall

Gamache contemplated both white and black for the railing color. Mara ultimately helped her decide to go dark and make it a statement piece.

To designate the area as a kitchen and increase its brightness, Geddy suggested a counter-to-ceiling backsplash featuring white subway tile from Floor & Decor and matching paint in Snowbound by Sherwin Williams. These two choices complement Gamache’s one must-have: a white SMEG refrigerator. “One of the first things that Gamache said she wanted was a SMEG fridge, which we were so excited about because it’s the coolest thing ever,” Mara says. 

Gamache also knew from the onset that she wanted to use Semihandmade cabinet fronts. She had photographed them in other projects Mara and Geddy had completed, and was taken by their style and quality. She thought Supermatte Desert Grey Shaker doors suited the kitchen best, and finished them with Half Moon hardware by Sarah Sherman Samuel and Park Studio.

“The surrounding brick and concrete reflect green, and that was why I picked the Desert Grey cabinet fronts. They just made so much sense with all of the reflections,” Gamache says. Mara couldn’t agree more. “The Desert Grey looked so incredibly perfect with the hint of green in the concrete floors,” she adds. 

The staircase was another overhaul that transformed the studio. “The original build was very chunky and came out far into the space, making the room look much smaller than it is,” Gamache explains. Geddy was able to completely rebuild the staircase along the wall using teak treads that cantilever on one side, and he stained them to match the Semihandmade shelves in the kitchen. “We tried to tie in every piece so that it all was cohesive throughout the entire unit,” Mara says.

Before

before bathroom

The wall between the shower and the toilet made the old bathroom feel tight and closed off.

After

after bathroom

The Moen rain shower system in brushed gold was installed in the bathroom as a pop of color that complements the exposed brick.

The new staircase meant that the original car siding floor had to be replaced, which no one minded. “The car siding floor was really goofy, so we installed vinyl planks,” Mara says. “It’s a white-washed finish that works perfectly with the concrete walls. We wanted to give Gamache something easy to clean for photoshoots.” And upstairs, the trio made one more change to the loft that involved wood: shiplap. Mara masterminded a shiplap headboard that cleverly hides the air conditioning unit and the radiant heat manifold behind. It also incorporates a hidden cubby for storage, which is scarce in an industrial building. “It went from something that was a huge eyesore to the main focal point in the loft upstairs,” Mara adds.

Toward the end of the project, Gamache asked if they could also overhaul her bathroom, since it was on its way to looking out of place amongst the rest of the home. “There was a bidet hanging from the toilet, like a hose, so that had to go,” Gamache jokes.

Mara and Geddy kept all the plumbing where it was, which saved time and money. They reframed the wall dividing the shower and toilet, and finished the partition in glass. “There’s no window in there, so we wanted to make it the least dungeon-like as possible,” Mara says. As with the kitchen, bright white is the prevailing theme, but brushed gold fixtures and black accents add some interest. So does the wall of Cream City brick, where Geddy built custom floating shelves and stained them to match those in the kitchen.

When the renovation was finished, Gamache made one more big decision about the property with Geddy and Mara—only this time, she was actually present. Gamache opted to move in full-time, and she’s since hosted numerous photoshoots in the space. “I could not be happier with this home,” she says. “It’s more than I ever could’ve imagined.”

B+A’s Before You Go…

For this month’s chat, Mara Krueger of Oak Trail Home discusses her favorite things as they relate to design shopping in Milwaukee, color palettes, and wind-down habits at the end of a long day. 

What’s your favorite room to renovate and why? The kitchen! Every kitchen is different and brings a new set of challenges. We love to play with layouts and different materials with every new project. It’s fun to push ourselves to maximize efficiency and functionality while still creating a stylish space. 

What are your three go-to, never-fail color palettes? Black and white is our all-time favorite palette. We love a crisp, bright space accompanied by black accents—whether that’s hardware, lighting, furniture, and so on. We also love earth tones mixed with warm metals and lots of wood. Lastly, we love some good jewel-toned or moody colors paired with bright brass or gold accents. Contrast is so fun to play with!

What are your favorite places in Milwaukee to shop for home goods? Brew City Salvage is an amazing local Milwaukee furniture store in the Walker’s Point neighborhood that offers tons of gorgeous modern and mid-century furniture and decor. We love to shop at Restore as much as possible, in case we can use any recycled materials they have, and we generally visit the many amazing antique stores throughout the city. We also love our local Milwaukee West Elm, and how they sell locally-made products.

How do you both like to unwind at the end of the day? At the end of a long day, one of our favorite things to do is take a walk together on the trail by our house with our little pup and just catch up. If we’re not doing that, then a good beer or a glass of wine on our front porch is our next favorite thing to do!

Where is your favorite spot in your home, and why? This is such a hard one! That being said, we’d have to say our kitchen. It’s really the heart of our home and where so many big moments have happened. 

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