Recent feature in Buffalo Spree featuring the design work of Michael Donnelly

by Donna Hoke (From Buffalo Spree | March 2014)

What do you do when the thought of moving isn’t even on your radar, but somebody makes you a great offer on your beautifully redone Park Lane condo? If you’re designers, you start thinking that you’d like more autonomy than offered by condo living—and that maybe it would be fun to adapt a space to your needs. And so it happened that Michael Donnelly and Tony Rogers found themselves owners of an 1,800-square-foot Elm-wood area townhouse that hadn’t had an update since it was built in the seventies.

In March 2013, despite its prime location, ample space, and off-street attached garage parking, the townhouse had been on the market for at least three months, a fact that surprised both men. “Tony wanted to run away, but I just saw it with all the walls removed on the first floor, and with the front window opened up to the garden,” Donnelly says.

“We instantly knew that the amount of space was good, the garage parking, the outdoor space, and just the ease of living here had a lot of potential,” Rogers adds. “Michael was measuring, already deciding on which walls he could take out, how to open it up some more.” By the time they closed on the house in May, Donnelly had the new design set in his head, and they went to work.

“The first comment made was there was not enough light so that was a top priority—to make it as light and bright and airy as we could,” Donnelly says of his plan, which involved a lot of reconfigured space. For practical purposes, the former front closet is now the powder room, and the former powder room is now a pantry. And to open space and decrease visual restriction on the first floor, new windows and a glass door were added at the front, all doorway heights were raised, cutouts were added to some walls, the wall between kitchen and dining room was removed, and the railing between living room and dining room was replaced with glass.

“Even on the gloomiest days, it’s not dark,” says Rogers, who adds that an antique chandelier and recessed lighting additions also brighten the space. “The lighting was basically designed to make a nice even feel when they’re on, and really to highlight the art.”

The art collection, culled by Rogers and Donnelly over the years, represents many local artists, including Virginia Cuthbert, James Havens, and Martha Visser’t Hooft, as well as newer pieces—like the paper sculpture on linen above the fireplace—that were purchased for their Hertel Avenue store and then appropriated as they began decorating. The art, in turn, determined the accent colors in Rogers’ and Donnelly’s signature palette.

“We played off the colors that came from the paintings, specifically the three that are in the living room,” Rogers explains. “The pottery are pieces I picked up at random, and that’s the palette we gravitate toward. We’ve been together twelve years, and it’s just things that seem to end up in these color tones whenever we bought them. Michael uses color sparingly when he decorates, and he doesn’t use a lot of bold colors. Basically, we try not to be too trendy so something painted a trendy color isn’t obsolete in a year. For ourselves and our clients, we go for a timeless look based on comfort level.”

The kitchen, a narrow space that is smaller than their previous kitchen, is nonetheless luxurious with a double oven, double dishwasher, Subzero refrigerator, Brookhaven cabinets, and little extravagances like a dual zone wine cooler and coffee grinder that makes individual servings. “We wanted to make it convenient and usable and functional in the narrow space, and also make it open to the living area, so that wall came out,” Rogers says. “We really downsized our kitchen to make it as useful in a smaller space and I think we succeeded; it’s very comfortable to work in and easy to clean up.” Adds Donnelly: “I like the openness; We can cook a meal ,everybody can be in the same room, TV can be on, everybody can be talking.

In the adjacent dining room, new built-in bookshelves hold Donnelly’s collection of decorating books—“we take those wherever we go,” Rogers says—and the furniture throughout is a mixture of old and new, accented by Donnelly’s thirty-year collection of antique wood boxes. A space-saving magazine basket under the living room coffee table is filled with Architectural Digest,Elle Décor Traditional Home , and Buffalo Spree, natch.

When it’s too dark to see out the magnificent window-wall to the courtyard, the polished-and-lacquered wood living room fireplace—one of Donnelly’s favorite touches—becomes the focal point. “The mantle and stonework were there,” Donnelly says, “and we definitely wanted to do something with it, but we didn’t know what. I just started going through magazines—I have an archive for inspiration—and saw something similar that I thought would work, so that’s what we did.”

Upstairs, more space-optimizing changes were made. The original closet was used to create a new master walk-in, and the corner closet was opened to create a larger bath suite with steam shower and rain showers. The tile here matches the tile in the living room, but is polished instead of honed. In the second bedroom, a new cedar closet was added, and a second full bath was updated.

While Donnelly had been envisioning a new indoors, Rogers had his eye on the courtyard patio, which was in rough shape. Now completely redone, it hosts a container garden with hosta, clematis, ferns, a weeping cherry tree, weeping red bud, and a fountain. For Donnelly, there is a built-in grill. Honed tile in the living room creates continuity between indoors and outdoors.

Everything was done by November, just in time for the holidays. And though it wasn’t something they’d planned, the couple couldn’t be happier with their new custom digs. “Having never had a garage in my life, it’s awesome having an attached garage in the city,” says Donnelly. “I like that a lot.” Adds Rogers: “This is always fun and a challenge, so we didn’t mind doing it. We walk to restaurants; my favorite spot to sneak away to is Yotality. It’s a very comfortable and simple place to live, and easy to maintain.”

Donna Hoke is the editor of Buffalo Spree Home.