A Place of Her Own

William and Jill DiMartino

Unexpected opportunities.

They’re what homeowner Janis Steinbrecher chooses to call those moments when life zigs instead of zags, when what you thought you knew exists no longer, but what’s yet to come is still unknown.

Such is the place where Steinbrecher found herself more than 15 years ago, after an automobile accident snatched away her husband Tom Sullivan during the prime of his life. Following a grief-ridden first year as a widow, Steinbrecher received a knock on the door of the Hallbrook home that she and Sullivan had lovingly built together. Unsolicited homebuyers wanted to know: would she consider selling?

“Just because you’re forced to take a different fork in the road doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad one,” says Steinbrecher, who now looks back on the moment when she chose to sell the couple’s abode and began to dream of a place that was all her own. “The houses we lived in had always been ours,” says Jan, “and I decided it was time for a place that was mine.”

And while there was still grief to contend with, Steinbrecher’s consummate desire to bring beauty from ashes and gladness from mourning soon found its manifestation in a new construction project: a charming golf-course-view Cedar Creek home, where Steinbrecher shares her creative energy, generous spirit, and rediscovered joy for living with all who enter its doors.

Completed more than a decade ago, the cottage-cozy home sits on one of Cedar Creek’s most coveted lots overlooking the 16th hole of Shadow Glen.

“I fell in love with the spectacular location,” admits Steinbrecher. And although she initially took up golf as a surprise for her husband—sadly, it was a gift he didn’t live to receive—Steinbrecher has since made her love for the sport all her own.

Establishing a place of her own also meant redefining her sense of style. As part of a couple, she had always lived in homes with traditional décor.

“With this house, I decided it was time for me to move on, to exert my own influence in decorating,” she says.

Neither wholly traditional nor wholly contemporary, Steinbrecher chose a transitional decor that’s as creative and inviting as her personality itself. While the home’s layout, ornamental crown moldings, and white window trims evoke tradition, natural stone floors, outsized ebony columns, and color-popping original art ring of something more modern. And then—as all who enter the home know—there are those lovely, label-defying walls and ceilings.

Much like in her own life, the magic of Steinbrecher’s walls and ceilings arose from “unexpected opportunities”—this time in the form of flaws in the sheetrock. To cover those flaws, interior designer Janet Alholm called in a team of surface design specialists, Michael Urso and Brian Barling.

“When Mike first started talking about what they wanted to do with the walls, all I could think was ‘ka-ching,’” says Steinbrecher, who initially allowed the team to demonstrate their custom layering and painting techniques on the walls of only one room. “But once I saw how beautiful their work was, I couldn’t stop it. You almost get addicted to it,” she laughs.

Luckily it was an addiction that Steinbrecher was willing to feed. The fortuitous grouping of talent soon transformed walls, ceilings, and even the cabinets of the home into elegant, ethereal, and exotic showpieces.

“They created something even better than we had initially imagined,” says the homeowner.

One need only look up from the kitchen’s sunlit breakfast nook to see a prime example of Urso and Barling’s handiwork: on the turreted ceiling floats a painted airy atmosphere with a bit of foliage curling around its perimeter.

“Even though we didn’t paint with blue, the nook’s ceiling still looks like the sky,” says Barling, who instead combined the neutral colors used in the rest of the home to create the atmospheric effect. “While we employed probably 60 different finishes in the house, we made sure they all flowed together,” says the painter.

Flowing through the home as well are Steinbrecher’s personal touches.

“Janis is delightful and has a lot of creativity herself,” says interior designer Janet Alholm, who helped the homeowner create a space where she could share her many loves—for cooking, entertaining, traveling, décor, music, books and gardening—with others.

As a result, Asian accents dot the house, books on side tables beg to be read, and exotic orchids flourish in many of the rooms. Feathery ferns hang from pots on porticos spanning two levels of the home, and garden benches nestle into green alcoves, beckoning guests to sit awhile.

“I’d love to have a greenhouse someday,” dreams Steinbrecher, who’s adept at coaxing verdant life out of plants in the 50 or so pots surrounding her spa pool and patio.

But because she’s also adept in her career as an internal medicine physician, Steinbrecher spends much of her time at home catching up on paperwork.

“No woman should ever go without a home office,” insists the doctor, who enjoys working in not one but two offices painted by Urso and Barling. Her main-floor workspace is enveloped in a velvety-chocolate wall-to-wall brown, while the lower-level study features a hand-painted antique map on its parchment-hued ceiling.

Equally transporting are other rooms where Steinbrecher and her team took creative risks that paid off: a dining room where metallic-infused woodwork and hand-painted scrolls raise the elegance quotient, and a powder room in which black-lacquered walls, peeled gold-leafing, and a custom chinoiserie-style vanity evoke exotic glamour.

But nowhere is the elegant, healing nature of Steinbrecher’s residence more evident than in her private quarters, where a spa-like dressing area awaits at day’s end. Replete with an overstuffed sofa, hand-torn natural fiber wall covering, a stocked breakfast bar, and direct access to a personal gym, the homeowner admits, “this room spoils me.”

But those who know her well would tell you that Steinbrecher’s greatest joy comes from pampering others. For this homeowner, opening both heart and home is a way of life.

Friends who are the recipients of Steinbrecher’s overflowing well of generosity will tell you why: she’s been known to whisk lucky pals away in limos for what she calls “la-dee-da days” of shopping and dining, host exquisite charity events for upwards of 300 people, and treat awestruck children to all-day craft and gift-laden holiday extravaganzas at her home. To many, Steinbrecher seems as creative with her generosity as she is with her home décor.

And while she insists that she learned generosity from her late spouse, friends say Steinbrecher has always been giving and open to new things, as evidenced by the healing she’s found in the home she’s made her own.

Standing in her living room—its elegant walls covered in torn tissue paper treated with rubbed wax—Steinbrecher gestures toward a Hessam painting that she purchased from a Seattle art gallery shortly after her husband’s death. Surveying its cheery, brightly colored female figures, she points to a nearby note from the artist. “May boundless imagination guide your life,” it reads.

“That just holds a lot of meaning for me,” says Steinbrecher.


Renew, Refresh, Resurface

We asked surface specialists Michael Urso and Brian Barling to explain some of the creative techniques they applied to the walls, ceilings, and cabinets in Janis Steinbrecher’s home. Here’s what they had to say:

435 South: The powder room looks exotic and glamorous, almost cheetah-like. What did you do?

Michael Urso: It’s a Japanese technique and we wanted the walls to look like crumbling gold. We used a black base, overlaid gold, and then peeled bits of the gold off to expose the black underneath. Brian also painted a pagoda scene on the vanity for a chinoiserie effect.


435: There’s a sheen and elegance to the dining room. How did that happen?

Brian Barling: You can use layering techniques to get an aged elegance that makes a seven-week-old house look 70 years old. We layered and distressed the metallics to tone them down for this room. I hand-painted scrolls on the walls and ceiling to complement the pattern in the drapes and carpeting, and we also applied finishes with a straw broom—just like the one you’d sweep your house with—to add texture.


435: The dressing room feels like a spa. Tell us how you achieved this indulgent effect.

MU: We covered the walls with an art paper made in India. It’s called Raja Straw, and it’s very textural and rough-hewn, with bits of organic material in it. We tore it and added stain so that the rough texture juxtaposed nicely with the smooth cabinets and marbleized columns in the room.


435: Why do you think this house turned out so well?

MU: We had a great team, including interior designer Janet Alholm, and we fed off of each other. The homeowner was so open to let us try new things—it was harmony.

To contact Michael Urso or Brian Barling, call (913) 915-4858 or 4859. To reach interior designer Janet Alholm, call (816) 223-1819.

Categories: At Home, Homes & Real Estate