A Well-Designed Life in Landfall

03 Jan 2024

This Wilmington designer helps a client downsize and upgrade her new Landfall home

By Brittany Conley.    Photos by G. Frank Hart

Moving isn't a pleasant experience for most people, especially if they have decided to leave a beloved home. No one enjoys deciding which things to keep and what to leave behind. Others may worry less about shedding possessions and more about sacrificing style and creature comforts they had come to love. But with the right designer, those things are not much of a concern at all, and settling into a smaller space may mean a big upgrade. This was the task Debby Gomulka Designs took on with a recent client–and they did not disappoint.

Originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Debby Gomulka grew up in a charming historic district surrounded by the stunning architecture of the famous automakers: the Dodge Brothers' twin mansions, and the home of Henry Ford. Her family also traveled extensively throughout many historic landmark towns across the country, from Charleston, South Carolina, to Williamsburg, Virginia, and Hyde Park, New York–each destination growing young Debby's passion for historic preservation. As a teenager, Debby and her family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina and soon after, her family began vacationing in Wilmington.

After completing the interior design program with a minor in art at Meredith College, she founded Debby Gomulka Designs in 2000. It was in 2005, though, that Gomulka's childhood dreams truly began turning into reality as she moved to Wilmington and set up her studio right in the heart of the historic district which first stoked her passion.

Someone whose ambition has roots that run that deep doesn't just tiptoe into town and start small. “Our first project [in Wilmington] was the Williams House,” says Gomulka, citing the project as significant and essential to the historic district. “We partnered with the Historic Wilmington Foundation on this three-year project, and we had a half-dozen home tours.” The Williams House project allowed Gomulka to cement her presence in the community as a premier designer who lives up to her brand's promise to “Elevate Your Imagination.” 

While proven adept at creating beautiful designs for a notable list of clients throughout the Carolinas and Florida, Gomulka takes great care in getting to know her clients. “The way I design is about the client, it isn't about me. It's about their travels, where they've been, what their favorite memories are. That's the vision,” says Gomulka. Taking the time to learn far more about her clients than only what their favorite colors and fabrics might be allows Gomulka to tailor a project so that every corner of a space feels personal and redefines a house into a home.

Having previously worked with Debby Gomulka Designs, homeowner Abigail and Len Mann knew the transformative work the firm could achieve so when it was time to transition into a new home in the prestigious Pembroke Villas, she didn't hesitate to give Gomulka a call. And Gomulka was excited to work with such a spectacular client again. “We originally met through a mutual friend, and we just clicked in terms of style,” says Gomulka. Right at the onset of the project, Gomulka knew her client would desire a traditional yet timeless style for her home, but that she would also be amenable to some truly stellar touches. Ideas began to swirl, but her intimate knowledge of her client's lifestyle allowed Gomulka, with the help of John F. Chaney Construction, to hone those ideas into a thoughtful design that isn't only aesthetically pleasing for the Mann family, but functions flawlessly so they can enjoy life the way they've
always desired.

The exterior of the home played a big role in the direction of the new interior. “The architecture is a really beautiful French chateau-style. We wanted to incorporate that into the design, so you will see some French and European influences,” says Gomulka, enthusiastically praising the bountiful nature surrounding the home. “If you look out of the great room window, you see a miniature lake surrounded by pretty trees…We brought the outside in with a soothing color palette of pale blues and grays that would highlight the lush greenery beyond the soaring span of windows in the main living area.”

Marrying the French chateau style with European Classicism further helped to guide the decisions that went into the home. “Originally between the entry and the dining room were sheetrock walls, so we designed a paneled wood arch that announces the entry in a magnificent, welcoming way. Reimagining the entryway into the main living area allows guests to experience the spectacular, updated European architecture of the coffered ceiling in the dining room which highlights the antique dining table and chairs, where many family memories are made,” says Gomulka.

After walking through the elevated entrance into the home, guests are warmly welcomed by the perfect balance of tradition and modernity that mirrors their hosts' style. The great room is where the Manns do a lot of their entertaining. The room is styled with iceberg blue velvet swivel lounge chairs and is further adorned with antique accent pieces and floor-to-ceiling windows flanked with pale blue silk damask draperies. But not everything is so traditional. One element in the great room equally adored by both designer and client is the modern, organic chandelier which resembles a gilded flower. “It is huge, but the room could handle it because of the impressive vaulted mansard ceiling that is highlighted by three shades of blue. We wanted a modern statement piece that would complement the stunning crystal chandelier in the dining room.”

As guests meander through the home, they may find themselves transported from the beaches of North Carolina all the way to the mountains–and not the Smokies. Gomulka designed a special room for the Manns, lovingly referred to as The Tahoe Room, that has the same cozy vibes as their home nestled in the Sierra Nevada, at Lake Tahoe in California. “A plaid Ralph Lauren wool sofa, high-gloss cabinetry calls attention to the stone countertop which is reminiscent of the exquisite, yet casual, Tahoe lifestyle,” says Gomulka, who adds that solid brass library lanterns line the cabinetry to enhance the cozy Tahoe vibe. This is a room built for relaxation and leisurely afternoons, totally tailored to the things the man of the house holds dear.

The kitchen, however, is the heart and soul of this magnificent home. And the one in the Mann's new home required a major overhaul. Originally a more closed concept, Gomulka and the Manns came up with a concept to dramatically change the layout of the kitchen. They removed walls and the peninsula countertops and opened up the space so Mrs. Mann could interact with guests who might be seated at her antique table in the dining room and the great room's windows could flood the kitchen with natural light. Taking top priority, though, was customizing the cabinetry and counter space so Mrs. Mann could easily and efficiently continue with her passion for baking. “She loves to bake, so we created a baking counter. She makes the most delicious cookies,” says Gomulka of Mrs. Mann. “We designed custom cabinetry that makes it easy to access all of her favorite spices, too.” While functionality is paramount, aesthetics cannot be sacrificed in a good design, and taking center stage in Mann's kitchen are the custom marble countertops. “Brand new countertops, [they look] like a gemstone. Almost looks like an opal. There are tones of pink sapphire, and aquamarine,” says Gomulka, who has been invited several times to dine with the Manns since they've settled in.

It takes a keen eye and an innate ability to read people, to get to know them not only by their lifestyle dreams and aspirations but to pick up on details that are never mentioned, to create a space that is unique to who they are. “I always watch the client at the first meeting, paying close attention to details, details that help uncover the journey of discoveries that become the design vision. You can get clues of their design sense by a beautiful piece of clothing, their favorite color, or an accessory,” says Gomulka. 

To see more of the incredible projects designed by Debby Gomulka, visit her online at DebbyGomulkaDesigns.com and across social media channels. Countertops: bluewatersurfaces.com

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