A Labor of Loved Ones

For Sandy Grabowski, making her first home her own was absolutely a labor of love.

For Sandy Grabowski, making her first home her own was absolutely a labor of love thanks to her older sister, interior designer Shanon Munn, and her handyman (in his free time) fiancé.

By Jennifer Shapira  •  Photography by Robert Merhaut

Despite the kitchen’s desperate need for a redo (she didn’t even unpack upon moving in) and the obvious importance of personalizing the space, Grabowski says, with her 628-square-foot Rosslyn condo, it was love at first sight. It was so bright, sunny and open; she knew it was “The One.”

“You always hear about how it happens,” says Grabowski. “It sounds like a fable, but you know it when you see it. I felt that way about my wedding dress, and about this space. It just felt right.”

The kitchen was a complete gut job, but thanks to her close-knit resources, and a sisterly connection or two, she knew she could renovate on a less expensive scale than most people.

Otherwise, she says, “It had everything I wanted,” with two exceptions: there was no in-unit washer/dryer, and no outdoor space. But it turns out those two requirements were practically there anyway: the laundry facilities are steps from her door and, she says, “There’s an adorable little bench below my unit and a beautiful tree that’s gorgeous in the springtime.”

She got lucky on many counts. As it happened, Munn was redoing her own kitchen at the same time. Grabowski had always wanted white cabinets, and her sister’s were perfectly intact. So, together they re-imagined them in Grabowski’s tiny galley kitchen. They installed 15-inch-deep cabinets on the back wall and hung glass-faced cabinets above, to give the kitchen a “beautiful focal point at the end of the room,” says Munn, while creating additional—and crucial—storage and counter space. Here, every inch counts, she says. They chose a counter-depth Fisher & Paykel refrigerator to keep the room visually open and the tall backsplash in coppery mosaic one-inch tiles works to make the room feel bigger.

“The kitchen starts with darker colors and anchors the white cabinets,” says Munn. “The granite brightens the space with reflective surfaces,” she says of the chocolate and metallic countertops placed in an L-shape for ease of flow and maximum efficiency.

“I love the kitchen,” says Grabowski, although she freely admits the transformation from tear-down to tabletop was not always easy.

“I really got to know my fiancé,” she laughs, as she recalls their late spring timeline once the kitchen was stripped down to the pipes: eating take-out, unpacking the microwave, stocking the new fridge, and finally enjoying a functional space. With the exception of the plumber she hired to move the lines for the new sink and addition of the dishwasher, her fiancé did all the grunt work, from laying down the shimmery black floor tiles to putting in the cabinets. The glass-front cabinets showcase Grabowski’s Missoni for Target bowl collection, and on the walls behind the pieces, the sisters hung an IKEA fabric in a big floral print that shows through, adding even more personality.

A full-size 24-inch dishwasher and diminutive range were musts for Grabowski’s lifestyle. For easy access at the stovetop, an ingenious couple of inches were plotted out behind the range to hold her collection of cooking oils and vinegars.

“We also found an extra deep, extra large bar sink that works beautifully as her kitchen sink,” says Munn. And that false panel in front of most sinks is utilized here; Grabowski’s fiancé fashioned a clever flip-down storage tray for those all-important cleaning items like sponges and brushes. But they are very discreetly out of sight. It’s a simple tip, says Munn, something anyone can do to get more out of a typically non-functional space. For DIY-ers, such kits are available online and at home improvement stores.

The living room includes one of Grabowski’s favorite pieces: a slimmed down version of a Jonathan Adler buffet lovingly built to her specifications as a console by her future grandfather-in-law in Kansas City and later assembled by her fiancé. Constructed from Birdseye maple and acrylic, it fits her space just right.

A stylish, modern Jonathan Adler chandelier graces the round West Elm dining room table that can be extended to seat eight, an eye-catching, architectural mirror is mounted nearby, making the room feel at once larger and brighter. A green Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa seats three and a mid-century modern leather lounger provides additional seating in a sort of reading nook illuminated by an oval-shaped Jonathan Adler fixture. All the light accessories were purchased at warehouse sales; the rose-colored Donghia lamp was practically a steal—the sisters love to shop for bargains.

Hers is a fittingly functional and chic space for this style-conscious professional. As a fashion coordinator, Grabowski organizes fashion shows, traveling all over the country for Nordstrom in Tysons.

And she has a to-die-for customized closet to prove it: An entire wall in her bedroom is devoted to her clothing collection. “Floor-to-ceiling! I’m a girl who works in fashion, so I needed a big closet!”

She and Munn tailored to her tastes, choosing the Container Store’s free-standing elfa shelving, and avoided drilling any additional holes; the thinking being: have closet will move to larger digs—someday. A sturdy fabric screen from Arhaus hangs from an IKEA steel rod, so when Grabowski is entertaining, she can slide it to obscure her garments and shoes.

The original closet remains, and currently holds Grabowski’s spillover. But despite its important real estate value for the fashionista, and the start of their new life together, she will likely manage to free up that space for her fiance’s things. Even if it’s no small sacrifice.



(April 2013)