Unspouse your house: Making a home your own

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

When relationships come to an end, some have to adapt their hearts and their homes. That was the case for Carolyn Krieger who turned a rental house into her personal haven following a painful divorce.

After spending more than three decades with her former spouse, it would be a tough adjustment for Krieger, a PR consultant and president of CKC Agency in Farmington Hills: “Your whole life gets turned upside down. Unexpected changes can leave you sort of reeling.”

Having put her house on the market and seeing a condo that needed a lot of work, Krieger realized she wasn’t ready to make a major purchase. Then fate intervened when her Realtor, Melanie Bishop with Max Broock in Bloomfield Hills, not only sold her house, but mentioned a rental property she owned in Sylvan Lake had suddenly become available.

“As soon as I walked in, the wheels started turning,” says Krieger of the roughly 1,300-square-foot ‘50s ranch house that had been renovated. ““I love decorating and I love my space, whether at work or at home. I have an ability to visualize what will go where and I’m good at repurposing.”

Fresh start

Downsizing would mean saying goodbye to many belongings, which wasn’t always easy to do “I thought about all the love I had put into that house. There was a lot of myself there,” she says. Living with less storage space forced her to get creative with what she had, like an attached garage.

Her move was a mix of excitement and anticipation. “I’m starting a new chapter. On the positive side, I got to figure out what stays and what goes,” says Krieger. For instance, she knew her sectional sofa would fit in the family room and her dining room table would be right-sized for her new digs where it joins a repurposed rug from her former home.

Most of the pieces from her bedroom set were able to go in the master bedroom where one of several paintings she has by Yiannis Karimalis, a local self-taught artist, brings her joy. The spare bedrooms became a home office and a meditation/multipurpose room that holds the rest of her bedroom set.

Life by design

She appreciates the architectural angles in her new dwelling and the windows facing the canals leading to Sylvan Lake. “My home and office are where I spend most of my time, so my environment has to make me happy,” says Krieger, who lives with her rescue cat Dexter. “I’m excited at the prospect of re-creating my life.”

Lake living enhances the experience. “It’s a very communal way of life. Everybody looks out for each other. I love the camaraderie of this neighborhood,” she adds.

The kitchen is among her favorite places, featuring glass-front cabinets with display space for colorful accents above and an open layout. “It’s the perfect home for entertaining. You can see every room from here,” she says.

Her starting point for the modest living room was a hot pink patent leather chair from a client that pops against the black and white accents paired with the cheerful shade. “I’m proudest of this room,” says Krieger. “It’s amazing how much I have in here and it all works.”

A hot pink chair anchors the living room at the home of Carolyn Krieger, in Sylvan Lake.

A combination of local and online finds enliven the space, like the colorful folding screen that fills a tall niche by the granite fireplace and the graphic rug that grounds the room.

For the family room, Krieger knew she wanted a tropical feel. “I love palm trees, warm weather and sunshine,” she says. Beachy accents include a TV stand from Art Van Furniture that became a focal point for the space. A piece by her niece and a painting by Heidi Warg Dudgeon are among the featured artwork.

On the sofa, pillow covers from join a pillow that says: “celebrate everyday” a gift from a friend that came from Leon and Lulu in Clawson. A colorful blanket with the message: “Live by the sun, Love by the moon” was a housewarming gift from Fox 2 news anchor Monica Gayle.

For Krieger, these pieces go deeper than decorating. “I don’t care how pretty your home is; it can be isolating and lonely,” she says. “My friends and family held me up. They have been with me every step of the way.”

Gayle even arranged a “Ladies who Lake” gathering at the house with a small group of friends. “When you move, it’s a new home. I hadn’t made any history here,” says Krieger. “They lifted my spirits and helped me build memories here.”

The family room overlooks the canals leading to Sylvan Lake at the home of Carolyn Krieger, in Sylvan Lake.

Her entertaining often extends to the spacious deck that accommodates all of her patio furniture and fun accessories. “This is really an outdoor living space for me,” says Krieger, whose grown daughters bring their friends for fireworks, barbecues and kayaking. “I’m so comfortable here. I’m rebuilding my life, hosting holidays and meeting new people. I really see how healing this setting has been for me.”

In the end, her new surroundings reveal the comfy, bright and colorful place Krieger envisioned, while giving her the nudge she needed to turn the corner. “I ended up with this extraordinarily healing house, setting and neighborhood,” she says. “This house saved me; it helped with the transition.”

HGTV's take: 'Unspouse My House"

In HGTV’s new series, "Unspouse My House," (9:30 Thursdays) designer Orlando Soria works with newly single clients to overhaul their homes and their hearts. “Changing up your home space after a breakup can make a huge impact in the way you feel about yourself and your life,” says the HGTV host via email.

“Part of it is the process — planning and making interior design decisions is very forward thinking… so it gets your head out of the gutter of the past, where it often resides during a breakup. Renovating or redecorating a space post breakup is an opportunity to explore what your style is on your own, which can be incredibly empowering for people.”

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