At Home: Decorator creates ‘dream’ spaces for sisters

One room has a planet theme; the other, a treehouse look

Christie Appelhanz sees a lot of sadness in her work as executive director of the Topeka-based Children’s Alliance of Kansas. So, she wanted each of her own three children to have a special bedroom to fit their individual personalities.

 

“A room where I can dream kids don’t get hurt,” she said.

Nine-year-old Wesley Eckert wanted a super-hero-themed room. Appelhanz felt she could handle that decor with paint and decals. However, the rooms for her 11-year-old daughter, Kate Eckert, and 19-month-old daughter, Liza Jane Eckert, were a different matter. Those spaces called for more decorating know-how than she possessed.

Appelhanz turned to Carolyn Ward, who works for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Foundation during the day but does decorating work on the side. First up was Kate’s room project last summer. Appelhanz told Ward that Kate was interested in planets.

Then she let Ward handle the details.

“I’ve known Christie long enough and do enough projects for her that I know her style,” Ward said. “She gives me a one-word instruction and lets me come up with the design.”

Ward has no formal interior design training, but art is a subject she has enjoyed since high school.

“I love the process — the beginning, middle and end,” she explained. “What I do for a profession is a never-ending process, so it’s nice to be able to see the before and after of a project.”

While Ward might enjoy the entire decorating process, Appelhanz is more than happy to stick to just the before and after.

“I pick a weekend when I’m going to be out of town. Then I tell Carolyn to do her thing. I have no idea what the room will look like until I get home,” Appelhanz said.

“It’s usually good she isn’t there because the process can look a little frightening,” Ward said with a chuckle. “But it always turns out.”

The result for Kate’s room was a space with walls the color of a deep dark-blue night sky. On one wall is a large decal of the solar system, as if you’re looking at it from the moon’s surface. Above the white twin bed is a sunburst mirror, a pattern carried over to the blue-and-white comforter. A miniature solar system hangs over the bed.

A fuzzy throw and area rug add texture to the space, and a metal tray on the wall behind the door holds papers, pictures and other items with planet magnets. Plus, for a bit of whimsy, long purple curtains with white polka dots cover the windows.

“It was not what I was expecting,” Kate said of her room. “I was thinking more cartoony, but I like how she made it.”

This year, it was little Liza Jane’s turn. Standing in the finished room, Appelhanz said, “Originally, it was going to be a Wizard of Oz theme, but then I found this bed.”

The bed looks like a child’s treehouse. It’s made with white-washed boards and sits on pillars about 2 feet off the floor. There is a ladder to climb up, cut-out windows, and an opening in the roof for stargazing. Ward put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling to complete the effect.

To continue with the treehouse theme, Ward added a gray bookcase in the shape of a tree, a small Adirondack chair, a dresser with a barn door, and a lamp with a rope base reminiscent of a tree swing.

An owl clock hangs on the wall next to the “treecase” and two cat poofs sit waiting for someone to lounge on them. On the floor is a vivid green shaggy rug to symbolize grass.

Ward said on one visit Liza Jane lay on the rug, moving her feet back and forth as if making a snow angel and squealing.

“I think that was a pretty good sign that she liked it,” she said. “Watching a kid squeal is pretty cool.”

While working on a project, Ward always keeps in mind that the inspiration for a space comes from the individual for whom she’s designing the room and not herself.

“If I can make the room more inviting, more joyful for them, that is satisfying for me,” she said.

Linda A. Ditch is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be reached at lindaaditch@gmail.com.

 

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