Cool Spaces: This Avondale house is an artwork in progress, covering 1,800 square feet
Updated Feb 21; Posted Feb 21
By Mary Colurso
Zoey the cat strolls through her home in Avondale, nibbling on plants, nuzzling the legs of her family members and keeping an eye on songbirds from a sizable screened-in porch.
The fluffy tortoiseshell probably doesn't realize it, but she's living in one of the coolest spaces in the neighborhood -- a yellow wood-siding house that's been personalized, top to bottom, by its creative owners.
Veronique Vanblaere, an artist and the founder of Naked Art Gallery, bought the house in 2004 and immediately began to transform it to suit her needs, tastes and talents. Clint Coopersmith, a handyman and electrician, moved into the house in 2013, adding his skills, ideas and aesthetic.
The two, now married, regard their home as an ongoing art project -- their favorite canvas, Vanblaere says -- and their collaborations can be seen in just about every room.
"It's constantly evolving," says Vanblaere, 47. "And now that I have a partner in crime, it's really great. It's kind of nice being married to a handyman. He has fantastic, creative ideas, too, so between the two of us, we love to go to lunch and eat sushi and brainstorm."
Inspired by maki and nigiri, Vanblaere and Coopersmith draw sketches, discuss materials and decide on priorities for their 1,800-square-foot residence. This work in progress might never be finished, but that's actually the beauty of it.
Vanblaere and Coopersmith are makers, in the best sense of the word, and change is an essential part of their outlook. There's always room for one more artwork, one more refurbishment, one more tweak and one more passion project in the place they call home.
"A lot of our time and energy goes into it, but we have a such a distinct place to live, that makes it a lot of fun," says Coopersmith, 40. "I'd never seen a house quite like this one before. Now that I've been living here for several years, I keep thinking of more things I'd like to add to it."
As the owner of a company called the Boutique Handyman, Coopersmith works on custom jobs, most of them relatively small, for folks who have specific needs in their homes. He's been able to showcase his abilities in the Avondale house -- using reclaimed wood to build rustic kitchen cabinets, for example, and repurposing tin ceiling tiles in arched doorways.
Vanblaere has filled the 10-room house with artworks -- her own works, pieces by artists who show at her gallery and more -- and she's adept at using recycled materials to create boho decor. Lamps and light fixtures, for example, have been cleverly fashioned from items such as a vintage blender, a colander, a bait bucket and a ticket wheel plucked from a restaurant kitchen.
In the master bedroom, there's an elegant chandelier crafted with burned-out light bulbs, illuminated by a compact fluorescent bulb at its center. A retro globe illuminates a sleeping alcove in the spare bedroom, giving the space a serene glow.
"I'd rather buy a used lamp and make it look better, because it's so easy for me," Vanblaere says. "It's also a budget thing, because when you're an artist, you work with an artist's budget."
In general, Vanblaere avoids buying things that are new, preferring to remake, redo, recover or reinvent items from thrift shores, yard sales and the like. She's an environmentalist at heart, using her artistic gifts to salvage everything from living room furniture to glass containers for spices. (She loathes plastic.)
"I know right away when something is right for the house," Vanblaere says. "It's like seeing a plate at the thrift store. I have to have that plate. That's why all my plates are different and all my glasses. I don't care that it's not matching. I love every one."
Although their design sensibilities aren't identical, Vanblaere and Coopersmith have learned to mix and match, meld and blend, compromising for a harmonious whole.
Warm colors (reds, oranges, earth tones) adorn most walls in the house, with cool colors (blues, greens) used as accents. Original hardwood floors gleam throughout. Armoires, theater seats, vintage sofas and wooden stools are used as statement pieces. Reclaimed wood is their material of choice, culled from pallets, old houses and other sources.
Bicycles are a recurring motif -- Vanblaere and Coopersmith are avid cyclists -- and two-wheeled machines hang from the 12-foot ceilings, are mounted on walls or simply wait for the next ride, resting in the wide central hallway.
"When I walked into this place for the very first time and saw this huge hallway, I was like, 'It's an art gallery!' So I think I felt at home right away," Vanblaere says. "It felt good right away. I looked at so many houses, and it was either not right or it was too expensive or it was too small. But this one, man, I walked in here, and I was like, 'That's it.' Of course, the price was right, too. And then I grew into it."
She and Coopersmith are proud of a major project they've nearly completed in the kitchen, a compact space that emphasizes his penchant for rustic decor. Reclaimed wood is the dominant theme, neatly combined with signs, window frames, red vinyl LPs, a vintage washboard and other items for the cabinets. There's a tea caddy on a pulley, small stainless-steel appliances, a tin-ceiling backsplash and an automatic hot-water dispenser at the single deep sink.
One element is pending: a blue glass countertop created by a fellow artist and friend, Amy Soverow. "It'll have circles of glass in different sizes, like different stones. We'll grout it like a mosaic, and it will absorb light during the day and glow at night," Vanblaere says, smiling with anticipation.
Another recent collaboration: The couple designed a record center in their dining room, reconfiguring an existing bar and transforming it into a slimmer, more functional area that holds a cherished LP collection and 1980s stereo equipment.
"There had been a bigger bar here, made of of plywood," Coopersmith says. "We stripped that down and combined it with some reclaimed pallet wood and framed it up in our own funky-rustic decor. Vero did most of the staining, and I did the framing, and now we've got a centerpiece."
The record center is one of many striking elements in the dining room, which resembles an intimate cafe. The space -- the couple affectionately calls it "Casa de Loco" -- holds small wooden tables and chairs, dripping candlesticks held by empty wine bottles and a wealth of colorful artworks celebrating the Day of the Dead.
"I've always had a big fascination with Day of the Dead," Vanblaere says. "It's been over 20 years that I've been collecting Day of the Dead artwork. I had bought a piece from an artist that said 'Casa de Loco' on it, and that's where the name came from. A lot of it is Mexican influenced. ... We cook a lot together, and we have wonderful little dinners here, with our candles and our music."
This unique house, with its abundance of artwork and flickering candles, might not seem like an ideal place for a cat, but Zoey, who has one eye, tends to be respectful of the objects in her domain. Coopersmith says she rarely tries to leap on tables, swipe at shelves or otherwise impose on the decor.
In fact, the atmosphere at the Vanblaere-Coopersmith home seems as close as you can get to domestic bliss. Ask what the two like best about their house -- which dates back to 1910 or earlier, by the way -- and here's what Vanblaere has to say:
"It's our abode. It's our safe place. Everything we want that is important to us is here. It always feels like a home, a true home. Everything works so well together. Everything's so functional for us. It's customized for our needs. It's perfect."