Color Me Happy

Happiness comes from within, and inside this Raleigh family's home, happiness abounds.

FIRST CLEVELAND, THEN PHILADELPHIA, then Germany, then back to Philadelphia and Atlanta and back again to Philadelphia. After relocating seven times in sixteen years, Bridget and Michael Wendt moved into their Raleigh forever home last year.

“This was our hardest move,” says Bridget, whose children are now fifteen and twelve. “We wanted to get settled in so our daughter felt like these were her roots before heading off to college in just a few short years.” Their new home built by Rufty Homes in Raleigh’s Sunset Hills neighborhood made that possible. Filled with bright colors and bold patterns, it’s an expression of Wendt's design style that’s evolved over the years.

“My style has grown and matured with every house—and so has my confidence,” Wendt says. Her willingness to embrace her bold design instincts started when she made the risky decision to hang red Scalamandré zebra wallpaper in her last mudroom. The bold pattern was a total departure from the home’s neutral palette. “We were worried about resale, and we made a lot of safe design choices based on what the next buyers might want.”

But for Wendt, the red zebras were worth the risk. “That was my big daring moment,” she says. “I realized it’s okay to be daring if you love it.”

In Raleigh, the Wendts were able to build their home from the ground up, and with the new blank slate, Wendt changed her approach. She decided to go with her gut and decorate their home with the patterns and colors she loves. “I chose things that make me happy.”

One piece that makes Wendt happy is the multi-colored painting in their foyer, an original Hapi Art piece from Chicagobased Kristi Kohut. “At first, I thought I’d do a mirror and dresser-combo, but I really wanted something whimsical and fun,” she says. “I like how the painting works with the hand chair to make this space an unexpected catch-all.”

Throughout the house, Wendt used colorful art to push the limits. In the downstairs mudroom, a bright “Happy” print seems to describe the whimsical birds swooping across the walls and overhead. “I love how the beautiful print envelops the whole room,” Wendt says. “It puts a smile on my face every time I walk in the room.”

Early in the design process, Wendt enlisted the help of Cameron Jones, a Raleigh-based decorator known for colorful, eclectic designs that mix patterns, periods, and styles. “When we first talked, I told her I wanted our house to be mine—I didn’t want it to feel like someone else decorated, and we just moved in,” Wendt says. “I am so lucky to have found her. My husband calls her my ‘phone a friend,’ but she’s become so much more than that.”

When Wendt spotted a pillow she loved at a local antique shop, Jones not only helped her source the floral fabric but also suggested a complementary print for the window seat, matching benches, and the room’s other throw pillows. “Once I find that inspiration piece that immediately speaks to me, it’s easier to build the whole room,” Wendt says.

In the dining room, the wallpaper by John Derian served as inspiration ground zero. “I’d struggled to find the perfect wallpaper and almost compromised with a previous option,” she remembers. Jones insisted she hold out. “Cameron brought me a couple of samples, and when I opened this one, I said, ‘That’s it!’ I’m trying to learn to follow my gut.”

Throughout the design process, the Wendts discovered that pushing color boundaries sometimes meant trusting the power of black and white. “I knew I wanted to have a black kitchen in this house, but it was important to choose a black that had some depth,” Wendt says. She pored over numerous samples to find the right fit. “On our front doors, we have a really sharp black. But in the kitchen, it’s a muted, soft black that changes with the light throughout the day. The room doesn’t feel dark.”

Because Michael is the house barista, the pantry wallpaper reflects his preference for neutrals—and their happy memories of a family pet who passed away a few months ago. “The dog wearing a tie that’s laying down reminds me so much of Barney. And the greyhound sitting up and yawning reminds me of our lab/greyhound mix—how he sits, and his coloring. It’s nice that our guys are represented.”

Also in the pantry, Wendt hung a framed sugar cookie recipe from her grandmother. “She had six grandkids, and we were raised as siblings. Every time we’d go to her house, we’d go straight to the cabinet that always had a tin of sugar cookies waiting for us,” she remembers. Now when Wendt walks in the pantry, she’s immediately transported to her grandmother’s house.

This past Thanksgiving, the Wendts were proud to host the entire Wendt family in their new home. “We love living in Raleigh, and it’s felt like home much faster than any place we have lived before,” Wendt says. “When people ask our children where they are from, they struggle to answer. But our hope is that this house will make it easy to answer proudly: Raleigh.”