Susan Ekizian became an interior designer over 20 years ago, inspired by the excitement she felt in transforming homes, giving each one its own personality. She has a gift for spotting potential, and she immediately knows what beauty can be born out of the shell of a home.
Follow the winding road that leads up to the five-bedroom home she remodeled in Fontana, and you’ll see that it feels more like the Cotswolds in England than it does Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with its hills and valleys, and its green landscapes sprouting with flower beds and wayward vines.
Ekizian first spotted the home, located on Lower Gardens Road, with the help of a local Realtor who knew Susan needed to live on the other side of the lake in order to be closer to her daughter’s high school. The brown siding, coupled with light yellow interior walls might have caused many to keep shopping but Ekizian looked deeper. Where most would see “rustic countryside” she envisioned the home with a modern, Mediterranean feel.
Susan moved into the Fontana home in February of 2019. “The home needed some love. It just needed some charisma and character,” says Ekizian.
“The stucco on the interior walls was my inspiration for a Mediterranean style, but the exterior did not resemble that at all,” says Ekizian. This presented her first challenge. “How can I give this house a Mediterranean look even though this house was built in the early ‘80s?” she recalls asking herself. She began by painting the interior walls white, including the vertical wall panels in the sunroom, resulting in a shiplap look, and choosing white siding for the exterior of the home. The wood beams on the ceiling were stained a dark brown, removing the lighter hue that didn’t quite reflect the Mediterranean theme.
She also changed the aesthetics of the fireplace, by removing the pink granite surface that remained and adding brick, which she painted white and distressed, “to make it look like it had been there for years,” says Ekizian. The effect of this was that the living room immediately felt cozier. “The mantel was then created with a large piece of dark stained wood to complement the wood beams on the ceiling,” Ekizian adds.
Viewing the outside from this new angle, she continued to soften the curb appeal by tearing out the circular drive in favor of landscaping. She also brought in a gorgeous front door with a dark stain from California. Next, she completely renovated the kitchen, making it a focal point, by swapping out the white cabinetry for a dark and dramatic look and adding pendant lighting that resemble gas lanterns. “The opening from the kitchen to the sunroom contributed to the inspiration of the Mediterranean design with soft, round arches,” says Ekizian, and it’s no exaggeration, for the arch truly is stunning. Inspired by a recent trip to Norway with her close friend, she adorned kitchen barstools with faux sheepskin throws. Two bathrooms were also completely remodeled to match the homes new atmosphere, removing dated items like sliding-glass shower doors for walk-in tiled showers and adding pops of color with unique tile flooring.[metaslider id=”3579″]
Ekizian became a more well-known interior designer in the area by accident when her “farmhouse glam” infused property at 134 N. Lake Shore Dr in Fontana attracted a buyer. The home had been sitting vacant for 15 years beforehand. “It did very well,” she says of that particular property. “That started my side job, [and] gave me the confidence boost that I was on the right track.”
Through her business, named Fine Design, Ekizian juggles between five and six projects at a time. Any more and she fears losing deep connections with the client. “There’s a lot of humility in what I do,” she says. “[I’m not your typical interior designer]. I pick up a hammer. I know how to cut wood. I know how to change out a toilet. I get fully involved in my projects.”
Susan compared the process of decorating this home to decorating a cake. “I had to build a really good cake before I could put the icing on it,” she says. “If I’m selling a ‘flip,’ I want to make sure the cake and the frosting are just as good.”
Her humble upbringings taught her the value of a good deal and making do with less. “I was going to garage sales before garage sales were cool,” she says. “I think that contributed to my creative edge. Anyone can do wonders with a million-dollar budget,” she says. Susan’s projects typically range from $5,000 for smaller projects, to whole-house makeovers.[metaslider id=”3587″]
She is a firm believer in learning as you go and following your instincts. “Schooling might get you a degree, but it’s the passion [for what you do] that matters,” says Ekizian. Part of what makes her a successful designer is her eye for beauty, even in the rough and tumble atmosphere of an estate sale or the cluttered online marketplace. “There’s always something I pick up in my travels,” she says. Searching antique shops, estate sales and thrift shops has led her to beautiful treasures as well as craftspeople she’s commissioned for furnishings. “I’ll pick up stuff and have no idea where I’m going to put it, but then I find the perfect spot for it along the way,” she says.
For example, the vintage doors located just inside the entryway were sourced from the Bishop of Rockford’s Mansion and the hanging pair of antique oars to the left of the winding staircase were found at a resale shop in Woodstock, Illinois.
Sometimes Ekizian will even infuse her own art into the decor, like the painting above her desk in the upstairs alcove, which she created on a canvas with an old cheesecloth and some paint. It is details like these that make her work so very unique. But for Susan, it’s not about the money. “I do it so I can spend time with my kids and to travel the world,” she says humbly. But there’s certainly no denying that being able to beautify a home and infuse new life into it is a great talent, and Susan is lucky to have discovered it within herself.
By Kristine Hansen
Photography by Matt Haas