Previous designer helps homeowner create youthful space

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

This creative collaboration would mark the second time around for Karen DeBenedet and her designer Tracey Garcia, owner of Farmington Hills-based TG Designs. The two had already developed a good rapport while working on DeBenedet’s previous home in Northville.

DeBenedet describes her former residence as a wonderful-place-to-raise-your-kids colonial. Eight years ago, the empty nester moved to a 2,275-square-foot detached condo in Livonia. “I downsized to a bigger house,” she says.

Though it has two floors and a partially finished basement, the master bedroom and main areas are on one level. “Living on the first floor is pretty critical to baby boomers,” says DeBenedet, a retired nurse and co-founder and co-owner of Patient Advocates MI, a company that helps people with health care, especially physician/patient conversations.

Just because you’re aging in place doesn’t mean you have to play it safe with color. “This was about having Tracey help me make my house not show my age,” says DeBenedet. “I didn’t want the house to look 66.”

With her energy, her eye and her shopping abilities, DeBenedet knew Garcia would be up to the challenge.

The youthful vibe that’s easy on the eyes is very livable, too. “I wanted it to be casual and comfortable,” says DeBenedet. “I don’t want a museum.”

As Garcia explains, her client’s dining room storage wasn’t meeting her needs. “We couldn’t find the right piece, so we decided to build cabinetry,” she says.

DeBenedet didn’t think the cabinets could hold everything she once kept in her French provincial armoire, but she was pleasantly surprised. “I had room to spare. I was shocked,” she says.

A compact dining set from Leon & Lulu in Clawson holds another surprise with a pullout surface beneath the glass top that expands to accommodate 10 people. “That’s more than I could seat in my other house. It’s great for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says DeBenedet.

The metal orb chandelier from Ballard Designs that hangs overhead is one of many unique lighting sources throughout and it doesn’t obstruct the view, says Garcia. It also honors her client’s request to replace the builder’s fixtures with more attractive styles that are easy to clean.

Some of the paint colors from Sherwin-Williams are repeated from one space to the next, like the Network Gray in the dining room and the home office. “It almost looks different because of the light,” says DeBenedet. The powder room wears the same Wall Street hue as the office ceiling.

In the breakfast nook, slipcovered chairs from Ballard Designs with a subtle leopard print surround a table from the Salvation Army that Garcia embellished with a compass motif. “I like to repurpose things,” says the designer who often relies on her artistic skills and the magic of paint for stunning transformations.

Pops of color enliven the living room where vintage swivel chairs from a resale shop make a statement by the fireplace. “I think they’re the most comfortable chairs in the house,” says Garcia. Newly reupholstered in velvet that sports a polka dot pattern, the pair ties nicely with an old footstool covered in the same fabric.

Other than an avocado-colored accent wall, the rest of the room is painted Brookside Moss, like the foyer. A red sofa from DeBenedet’s previous home plays well against the shades of green and the floral-themed canvas art from Leon & Lulu that hangs above.

Newer finds include a leather recliner, lacquered side tables and a storage piece intended for a home office that resides in the hallway. “It worked better than any entertainment furniture we could find,” says Garcia.

Mercury glass lamps join other striking light fixtures strategically placed around the living room. “I like to mix metals,” says Garcia.

The alluring lighting winds its way to the master bedroom where a capiz shell ceiling fixture adds an elegant touch.

In this room, Garcia gave a red table a new identity. “We wanted to keep everything tone-on-tone in here,” says the designer who sanded, primed, and painted the piece a soothing white. “It’s a good way to repurpose something,” she says.

A juju hat from adorns the wall above the bed that wears the same Portobello shade as the ceiling. Existing built-ins on either side feature slide-out trays that serve as nightstands.

The master bath that was completely gutted now offers a spacious shower that’s a big hit. “My grandkids love it. They used to play in the huge jetted tub. Now they think they’re at a waterpark. They like to come just to take a shower,” says DeBenedet.

Heated floors, sconces integrated into the mirror and a bench from Ballard Designs are among the highlights in the newly renovated space.

When searching for the right item, Garcia supplements local sources with online finds. Though she suggests buying big-ticket items like sofas in person, she often scores lighting, hardware and accessories online.

Still, you have to be careful. “If it’s priced too good to be true, it’s probably not that good,” says Garcia, who always reads the customer reviews.

Resale can be another great resource. “Don’t be afraid to look at consignment shops,” she says. “Everything can be changed, like the paint color or the upholstery. The styles are so cool and they can look fresh and new.”

Just like these surroundings, for which the homeowner credits her designer with another successful outcome. “She’s budget conscious, she never pushes me into anything and she’s very talented,” says DeBenedet.

The designer has praise for her client as well, “The thing about Karen that I love is that she’s open to trying something new. She never wants to have what everyone else has. She likes to hear my ideas and she trusts me enough to try things. She’s open to going beyond the basics.”

Their work is ongoing as they tend to tackle one big project per year in the colorful condo that reflects DeBenedet’s exuberant personality. “She’s just a fun person and she likes her house to be fun,” says Garcia. “Karen is a testament to the fact that life is too short to have ugly light fixtures.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at