Designer Brooke Cole brings a modern aesthetic to a ’90s-era home.
By Cathy Martin | Photographs by Erin Comerford Miller
It started with the master bedroom. Homeowner Michelle Gessner had donated her bedroom furniture to a family in need, anticipating she’d quickly find a designer to update the space in her new home.
“Literally, I had a bed with lamps on the floor,” says Gessner, an attorney and mother of three. But finding someone just right for the job wasn’t as easy as she expected. “When I moved in my house six years ago, I had looked [for a designer]. Many were one-size-fits-all, and I never really pulled the trigger,” she says.
She met Brooke Cole through a mutual friend. Gessner had helped Cole with the legal paperwork to establish her design business, Brooke Cole Interiors. Cole, a former fashion buyer for Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and others, had spent the last four years working at a local interior design firm before deciding to strike out on her own.
The house in Providence Country Club had all the design trappings of the 1990s: polished brass fixtures, faux-finished walls, a wall of white built-ins flanking the living-room fireplace. “I would say my house had really good bones, and I had a lot of really good pieces of furniture,” Gessner says. “But I didn’t have pieces that really pulled it together.”
Like many homeowners, Gessner purchased a few good basic pieces when she first moved in. “Functionally, it works, but it doesn’t really make a home,” Cole says. As life gets busy, she says many homeowners get stuck before moving on to the next phase of design.
With a houseful of teens, Gessner was looking to transform the master suite into a “glamorous but restful” retreat, Cole says. Dark eggplant walls and beige carpet were replaced with a soothing grey color palette with blush accents that can be changed over time. To add a touch of sophistication, Cole added a mirrored nightstand, crystal Jonathan Adler table lamps, a curved bench covered in cut velvet fabric by Duralee and a quilted velvet coverlet. Once the bedroom was complete, Gessner was so pleased with the result she tapped Cole for a first-floor redesign of every room except the kitchen.
In the formal living room, Gessner had purchased four leather club chairs, but the space lacked personality. To create a cozy space for entertaining or sipping wine by the fire, Cole added new window treatments, a hide rug, new lighting and an array of convex mirrors over the fireplace. The large giclees are prints of antique ledgers with abstract black paintstrokes, a nod to Gessner’s profession.
In the main living room, Cole painted the white bookshelves the same color as the walls to minimize their effect and give the room a more modern vibe. The shelves were lined with Thibault wallpaper that mimics the look of natural stone. The result is “interesting and subtle, but not dramatic,” Cole says. An antique mirrored light fixture by Currey and Company lends a rustic feeling to the space. The antelope print floor covering is made of polypropylene to withstand wear and tear from Sam, Gessner’s golden retriever, and her two teenage boys. Bolsters covered in a Peter Fasano damask pattern freshen up the client’s existing Chesterfield sofas, and Cole added all new accessories, including large framed maps of London and Paris and lots of travel books.
A previously unused sunroom is now a bright, coastal-inspired office providing Gessner a sunny spot to work from home. The roman shades are made from an outdoor fabric by Schumacher that resists fading, a common problem in older homes that weren’t built with UV-blocking windows, Cole explains. For that same reason, she chose Sunbrella fabrics for the Wesley Hall chairs.
“Brooke is very thoughtful in the way she approaches things,” Gessner says. “She’s not a cookie-cutter designer. What she put in my home is very personal.” For example, Cole knew Gessner loved spending time at South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, so she hung an abstract painting reminiscent of the area’s coastal marshlands above the bedroom dresser.
Gessner’s favorite room is the last one completed: In the dining room, she wanted to create an elegant but functional space that would be ideal for hosting family gatherings and other get-togethers. The curtain fabric was designed by Denise McGaha for Design Legacy, a Dallas-based interior designer. CR Laine chairs are covered in green velvet and a black-and-white twill chenille with an abstract design that ties back to the artwork in the living room.
Over the round dining table, Cole added a chandelier made from recycled wine bottles — each piece of glass is a slightly different shade of green, Gessner’s favorite color. “I always love statement lighting,” Cole says. “I feel it’s a great way to upgrade your interiors that’s not going to be subject to the wear and tear from pets and children.”
Gessner says the best part of the design is that her family now enjoys the whole house, including rooms they rarely used before.
“There was a time when I couldn’t wait to downsize. Now I hope I can stay [longer].” SP