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Living in Color: How one couple stepped out of their off-white comfort zone into a brightly colored, delightfully casual new phase of life

Living in Color: How one couple stepped out of their off-white comfort zone into a brightly colored, delightfully casual new phase of life
July 2021

Plus designer Angie Hranowsky shares her tips for working with vibrant hues

The monochromatic scheme wasn’t cutting it. “We hadn’t been here long before I realized, this isn’t going to work,” Rebecca Ufkes says of the off-white, traditional furnishings that had populated the Snee Farm home where she and her husband, Phil, had raised their two kids. They’d brought the furniture with them when they moved to this marshside abode on Sullivan’s Island nine years ago, at a transition point: The kids were off to college, and Rebecca and Phil had sold their engineering company, which meant early retirement for Rebecca. “This house signaled a new phase for us—one all about fun and relaxation,” she says. Only their holdover décor wasn’t exactly screaming “fresh start.”

Rebecca knew her limitations. “I knew what look I wanted, but had no idea how to get there. I’m an engineer—I can barely get dressed in the morning,” she laughs. So she started poking around online, looking for local designers whose style appealed to her. “I was exploring what was out there, what vibe I liked,” which is how she stumbled upon Angie Hranowsky, whose signature boldness and ease with making chic contemporary feel comfortable caught her eye.

“I think it was the first time a client found me via Google, not through a referral,” says the Charleston-based designer. Despite the cold call, they immediately hit it off. “When Angie came over to meet us and take a look, she was so fun, so casual. She just saw it,” says Rebecca, of Hranowsky’s in-sync vision for what her home could be.

What Hranowsky saw mostly was a house that didn’t make much sense. “It was very ‘builder,’” she says, noting how the living room was oriented around a wall of built-in bookcases rather than the spectacular water view and that the kitchen was neither user-friendly nor space efficient. For example, the refrigerator door opened the wrong way, blocking kitchen access, and a mini-fridge had been shoved in a pantry cabinet to suffice as the bar. “Nope, that’s not going to work,” Hranowsky said. The home had likely been built as a spec house, and its first owners bought it as a second home, which they evidently used infrequently—a manufacturer sticker was still on the stove.

The initial scope involved turning a primary bedroom and a large guest bathroom on the first floor into a den and home gym and cosmetic spiffing up for the first floor, including new paint, lighting, and furnishings. “I was drawn to Angie’s confidence and fearlessness. I needed someone to push me beyond my comfort zone, to get me out of my off-white box,” admits Rebecca.

But that proved easier said than done. When Hranowsky suggested a wood-grain, greenish-blue wallpaper on the living/dining room ceiling, Rebecca did her share of second-guessing. “I kept texting Angie, ‘Are you sure about this?’” she recalls. “It freaked me out. Phil finally said, ‘For God’s sake, if you don’t like it, we’ll take it off and paint. You hired Angie because she’s a pro, let her do her thing.’ So I did. And I love it.”

Hranowsky, meanwhile, had no doubts about adding color and depth on the ceiling, nor about fabric and furniture selections in a vivid palette of jewel-toned purple, burnt orange, and teal that would infuse a soft swankiness—gently edgy yet not overdone—to invigorate the open living space. She also saw potential beyond the project scope, particularly when it came to the kitchen, which the Ufkeses weren’t initially planning to change. “I convinced them to at least consider new backsplash tile,” Hranowsky says, hoping that might entice them toward a full overhaul. Once the living room bookcases came out and it became evident all the floors needed replacing, however, Rebecca and Phil indeed began to rethink their decision.

“When Rebecca texted me late one night asking my thoughts on tackling the kitchen too, I was all over it. I’d already designed it,” says Hranowsky, who replaced a clunky high-step island with a sleek marble one, added open shelving to show off the geometric Ann Sacks-tile backsplash, and designed custom cabinetry crafted by her carpenter. And yes, the refrigerator now opens properly, not blocking kitchen access.

The cozy sitting area by the kitchen, where a blue linen sofa and two swivel rattan chairs nestle near a bay window, is Rebecca’s favorite perch. “I enjoy my coffee here, read some in the morning—it’s my reward after years of flying out the door first thing,” she says. Phil’s office, outfitted with a custom desk and a mod mid-century leather wing chair that Hranowsky found at 17 South, is where he often gravitates. But the evenings are all about drinks on the back porch or movies in the den, stretched out on a delicious plum-colored Montauk sofa, basking in the glow of evening island light bouncing off a hand-troweled wall glaze by Suzanne Allen.

For this relaxed island home, comfort and function rule, but Hranowsky’s maximized minimalism offers delights at every turn. Even the small powder room, doused in radiant wallpaper with a gilded mirror that fits so perfectly you’d think it was custom-made (but discovered at John Pope Antiques), is a tiny dazzling oasis. Upstairs, Hranowsky turned what had been the son’s teenage “man cave” into a lush guest bedroom, with a mirrored rattan screen cordoning off a small home office for Rebecca. The master bedroom features grasscloth walls with an overlay of diamond stencil-work by Allen and a showstopping teal velvet chaise.

“Once I said, ‘Okay, I trust you, let’s go for it,’ I had so much fun. I’m ready to do it again,” says Rebecca. “Who would ever have thought that I, the queen of monochrome, would have blue, purple, and orange sofas and teal ceilings? But Angie did a great job pulling it all together. She exceeded our expectations in creating a unique, uplifting, and relaxed atmosphere that we appreciate every day.”

The Bright Side:
Angie Hranowsky’s tips on incorporating color into your decor

  • Pull a color or colors from something in your room. “The palette has to start from somewhere. Work with what you have—a pillow or sofa fabric, a rug, artwork, etc.— to begin.”
  • Always test colors before you paint. “On some occasions I’ve tested 10 or 15 shades of the same color to get just the right hue. Test often and paint once.”
  • Warning: bright colors can be great in the right environment, but they can also go very wrong. “To be safe, try a more muted tone of a color or at least test the more saturated and the muted versions.”
  • Don’t be afraid to add color to the ceiling. “If you’re worried it will be too dark, you can play it safe by tinting a can of white ceiling paint with 10 or 20 percent of the wall color.”
  • Use a flat finish on most walls and eggshell in kitchens and bathrooms for easy cleanup. “Don’t paint satin, semigloss, or gloss on walls. Those finishes are for wood and trim work. The higher the sheen the more you will see every flaw.”