A Blank Slate

Interior designer Gail Urso imbues a beachfront cottage near Saugatuck with color, patterns, and year-round cheer.
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You can’t beat the Lake Michigan views, whether from outdoors on the deck or on the porch.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

Interior designer Gail Urso never grew tired of her commute to a Douglas cottage that she was designing. “I went there dozens of times,” recalls the Grosse Pointe Park-based professional. “It was pretty remote, but not far from Saugatuck. It was right on Lake Michigan, up on a hill, and just gorgeous.

“The client is wonderful, very open, and told me I had free reign,” says Urso, who runs Urso Designs Inc. “She knew of my work from other projects I’d done for her at The Homestead in Glen Arbor and at her home in Birmingham.”

You can’t beat the Lake Michigan views, whether from outdoors on the deck or on the porch.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

With four bedrooms and 5.5 baths, the Shingle-style home was once extremely basic, Urso explains, with natural wood and white walls. “I was very excited walking into it. There was no furniture, no art, no color. It was cold.” Urso had a blank slate.

She was immediately struck by the water views. “I wanted to focus on the views; they were everything. (With those kind of views), you can’t be overwhelmed by what’s going on in the interiors. But the thing is, the clients were planning to be at the home in various seasons. So, because in Michigan, it can be gray a lot of the year, I wanted to create warmth and make it interesting without distracting from great summertime views.”

The lower level welcomes family and friends with plenty of space. The greens and blues bring the great outdoors in.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

Her keen eye for design is innate, she says. “I had always wanted to be a designer, but I was a teacher first, in St. Clair Shores,” Urso shares. “My parents strongly advised me to be a teacher or a nurse — that’s how it was then.” With a mother who had a “good eye and worked with an interior designer in the home I grew up in,” Urso’s penchant for fabrics and furnishings never was out of the picture.

As for the color selections, Urso has made some intriguing observations over the years as a seasoned designer. “I’ve noticed that people tend to like colors in their home that they look good in,” she notes. “So when I’m working with clients, I can almost tell from looking at them what colors they may be comfortable with.”

The dining area features a wonderful view, and its adornments don’t distract from Lake Michigan beyond.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

The overall goal was to ensure that the look wouldn’t feel outdated over time. And with the classic appointments, like beadboard, it likely won’t, she says.

Urso sensed that one key to creating more warmth in the cottage was to paint all the “blond wood” white. “We refinished the floors in a driftwood color,” she says. She also used a lot of blue, to reflect the outdoors.

The colorful kitchen pops against the refinished flooring, which was stained a driftwood hue.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

One of the designer’s favorite spaces is the primary bedroom, which features luxurious fabrics from China Seas. Punches of tomato red brighten the space. In the kitchen, more color pops with a green island. “In addition to bringing the blue in from outdoors, we used a lot of green in the home, which also reflects the outdoors.”

Urso admits she likes to be a little brave with colors. “Chocolate brown is a wonderful backdrop for blues and greens. And art stands out so well when you have a brown background, or even eggplant or a dark green.”

The homeowner has quite a collection of pottery, which looks perfect in the cottage’s living room.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

For the children’s room, she found a fabulous fabric featuring a colorful bird motif for the window treatments and storage bench cushions. A rich cobalt blue paint was used on the bed frames and benches. And that aforementioned chocolate brown (a “yummy color,” Urso says) coats the wall behind the beds.

“That space has lots of color and is very uplifting,” the designer says. In a guest room, jaunty chocolate-brown-and-white stripes bedeck captivating window treatments, while splashes of brighter blue come into play with an easy-chair throw and accent pillow fabrics. Urso says she prefers to procure her furnishings and accessories from the Michigan Design Center in Troy. “That doesn’t always work out, but when I can, that’s where I go.”

A guest room features jaunty chocolate-brown-and-white-striped window treatments.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

The living room is awash in deep blues, and showcases gorgeous blue and green pottery. “The client is always picking up art objects. She loves art and spends part of her summer in Maine.”

Although the project was a little more than 200 miles from Urso’s studio, the entire process was enjoyable and “a labor of love,” she shares. She used some of her contractors from metro Detroit, including her painter, wallpaper installer, carpet installer, and window treatment and bedding fabricator.

The master bedroom is one of designer Gail Urso’s favorite spaces, with its pops of tomato red.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

Urso had all the furniture shipped to a warehouse in nearby Holland. “They delivered all the furniture to Douglas and were the best,” she says. Many of the contractors enjoyed the area as much as Urso. “Our painter, who did the whole house, arrived with his crew and spent a month there just painting. He and his team ‘camped’ at the home.”

“We wanted to create a well-designed home that was comfortable, livable, attractive, and functional,” Urso says. “There were animals and grandchildren to consider, sand and wet bathing suits, and crisp fall days and cold winter nights to plan for.”

There’s easy access to the great blue beyond from the wrap-around porch.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

There’s no doubt that the home has become a special gathering place for the family.

“As a designer, it was the project of a lifetime,” Urso says. “That’s because of the creativity I was allowed, the team I worked with, and the wonderful satisfaction of knowing that my clients are happy.”


BUYER’S GUIDE

INTERIOR DESIGN

Urso Designs Inc., Grosse Pointe Park, ursodesignsinc.com

The children’s bathroom is delightful, thanks to a cheerful, clever mix of window- and wall-treatment patterns.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

BATHROOM, CHILDREN’S  

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan  Design Center, Troy

Fabric – Alaxi Fabric,  Designer Furniture Services  + Fabrics, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Lighting – Lighting Concepts

Shade, Roman – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Sink – Kohler Wallpaper – Schumacher, Michigan Design Center, Troy

BEDROOM, GUEST

Bed Frame – McGuire, Baker | McGuire, Michigan  Design Center, Troy

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Chair – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Dresser – McGuire, Baker | McGuire, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Fabric – Pindler, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Lamps, Wall – Visual Comfort

Nightstand – David Francis Furniture

Ottoman – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Wind’s Breath

BEDROOM, PRIMARY

Armchair – Lane Venture, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Bed Frame – Hickory Chair, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Bedspread – China Seas, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Drapery – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Rug – Stark Carpet, Troy

Stools – Lane Venture, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy; Fabric, Romo, Tennant & Associates, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Table, Bedside – Hickory Chair, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

DECK

Fabric – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Furniture – Gloster

DINING ROOM

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Buffet – Maine Cottage

Chairs, Dining – Hickory Chair, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Chairs, Side – David Francis Furniture

Draperies – Pierre Frey

Fixture, Pendant – Juliska, The League Shop Inc., Grosse Pointe

Painting – TRA Art Group, Clawson

Rug – Stark Carpet, Troy

Table, Dining – Hickory Chair, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Bistro Blue

Wood Paint – Benjamin Moore, White Dove

FAMILY ROOM, LOWER LEVEL

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Chair, Lounge – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Chairs, Dining – Grange Furniture

Ottoman – Pearson, Hickory Chair, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Rug – Stark Carpet, Troy

Sectional – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Table, End – Custom, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

GREAT ROOM

Armchairs – David Francis Furniture

Bench – Rex White Custom Furniture

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Curtains – Pierre Frey

Fabric, Chairs – Brunschwig & Fils, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Lamps – Palecek, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Pillows, Throw – Custom

Sectional – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Table, Cocktail – Brownstone, CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Table, Coffee – CAI Designs, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Bistro Blue

KITCHEN

Backsplash – Virginia Tile

Stools, Bar – Mayland Court Fine Furniture

Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, Bistro Blue

Fabrics from Kravet and Gloster furnishings are the perfect combination for comfortable outdoor lounging.
Photography by Jeff Garland.

PORCH

Blinds – Conrad Shades, Rozmallin, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Chairs, Dining – Gloster

Chairs, Lounge – Gloster

Fabrics – Kravet, Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig & Fils, Michigan Design Center, Troy

Ottoman – Gloster

Table, Dining – Gloster

Wall Paint – Benjamin Moore, White Dove

ADDITIONAL PROJECT 

CONTRIBUTORS 

Art Installation – Rob Bitterburg Sr., Clarkston

Builder –Bill Monhollon Builders, West Olive

Flooring – Boven Hardwood Flooring, Hudsonville

Furniture Storage – Boer’s Transfer & Storage, Holland

Kitchen – DeJonge Kitchens, Holland

Rugs – Randy’s Rugs, Farmington Hills

Shades, Bedding, Pillows – Designs Designs, Wixom

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