The legacy that one of Milwaukee’s star designers, Jon Schlagenhaft, left behind is now being carried on by his family. Schlagenhaft and his partner, Curt Stern, were killed several years ago in a tragic small-plane crash; the designer had purchased Peabody’s Interiors, a home furnishings retailer in Milwaukee, shortly before his death. Today, his sister and her daughter have inherited Peabody’s, and have recently added Schlagenhaft Studio, a full-service high-end interior design practice, to the retailer.
Schlagenhaft’s niece, Kelly Boecker, the president of Peabody’s, shared insights from her journey into the design world, and her thoughts on keeping family first.
How does your work continue your uncle’s legacy?
Jon and our mutual cousin Wade Weissmann, an architect, traveled often together throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France for one of their clients. On one of those trips, they came up with the idea of building the Deerwood Studio to house both of their businesses. Jon was so proud… He would get so giddy talking about it. Sadly, the building wasn’t completed until several months after his death—we moved in fully five years ago. But there is so much of Jon in every part of it—the fine millwork that he loved, the Parisian mantelpieces that he bought. When his longtime clients come in, invariably they tear up. His spirit is everywhere.
My uncle loved to entertain and was always a gracious host, so we use the studio to entertain on a regular basis, whether it’s an art exhibition, a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Ballet, or just a fun party to thank our clients for their business.
Tell us about some of the designers represented. How did you recruit them, or did they find you? Are you actively seeking more?
Teresa Manns is a Parsons grad and a seasoned interior designer. She worked for S.R. Gambrel in New York for 12 years before relocating to Milwaukee to be with her husband. Teresa embodies everything my Uncle Jon was… [She has] a passion for design and architecture…and works nonstop with an intensity that reminds me so much of him.
Emily Winters came to Milwaukee 10 years ago from Tucson, yet another transplant to Milwaukee for her husband’s job. She has a terrific following in Milwaukee, Lake Geneva and Naples, Florida. Emily is sweet, energetic and fun to be around, but more importantly, has really grown into a powerhouse designer over the last several years. Clients will wait months to have her work on their projects.
Jennifer Schuppie has been in the Milwaukee area her whole life. She’s a graduate of Mount Mary College and has a terrific eye for color. We also just hired a young designer named Tami Stephens, who came to us from a Chicago firm, but also worked for an architect in Hawaii. We have a total of eight interior designers on staff. We especially look for talented designers who have a solid understanding and appreciation for architecture and construction. Most of the projects we work on involve comprehensive renovations, so it’s important that everyone in the firm knows how to work synergistically with architects and contractors.
What are some of the studio’s first projects?
We were just hired to design the interiors for a new lake house in a Milwaukee suburb. The home has a main residence and a guesthouse, totaling 14 bedrooms with over 20,000 square feet. It will also have two boathouses. We’re already collaborating with the architect, and we are very excited to see this project through. We are currently working on the largest residential high-rise in the state of Wisconsin, right on Lake Michigan, and an exciting new project for a TV celebrity in Nashville.
Where do you see the studio in 2017? In five years?
In the coming year, I see Schlagenhaft Studio establishing itself as a highly sought after firm for clients with discriminating taste and high expectations. My uncle’s legacy inspires us to reach for the stars. Five years from now? I’d love to see us get more work outside of Wisconsin. We already have projects in New York, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and Colorado, but I would like to see awareness of our firm grow even more. I want people to remember my talented uncle—and also be assured that we are continuing the journey that he started.