Kathryn and Jack Garniewski of North Wilmington: Delaware Home and Garden
His & Hers: When it comes to their home, she’s in and he’s out—outside, that is.
Jack and Kathryn Garniewski and their dog, Autumn, relax in their personal Eden.
photo by Thom Thompson
At a Glance
Who Kathryn and Jack Garniewski
What A large home built in 1937 on a one-acre lot
Where North Wilmington
For more than 30 years, Kathryn and Jack Garniewski have been blissful partners in marriage and the happy pursuit of creating a gracious home together.
She takes care of the inside of the house. He tends to the grounds and gardens.
The arrangement works beautifully.
“We talk about everything in great depth,” Kathryn says. “But we give one another the freedom to handle the things we do best.”
In 2000, the Garniewskis bought a big, grand house in a sylvan neighborhood in North Wilmington. Built in 1937, the house sits on a one-acre lot, which gave the couple plenty of room to further expand their home and develop a series of open-air outdoor rooms in a sumptuous garden.
“There is nothing we enjoy more than entertaining our family and friends,” Jack says. “This property gave us the opportunity to do just that.”
The previous owner had already added an informal dining area and a gathering room that are open to the kitchen. The spaces were attractive, but the flow wasn’t conducive to large-scale, multigenerational socializing because the floor plan funneled guests directly into the kitchen.
So, the Garniewskis put on their thinking caps and came up with a series of solutions. After all, why gut the space when it had so many positive attributes?
To prevent bottlenecks in the kitchen, they relocated the entry to the dining area. They also installed two built-in buffets topped with granite on either side of the dining space for serving and storage. Flatware and table linens are right at hand. Built-in trash and recycling bins streamline cleanup.
“As the project evolved, the ideas started coming to us,” Kathryn says. “It’s good to move slowly; it gives you the opportunity to correct things.”
The Garniewskis relocated a Wolf professional-style range from the refrigerator wall to the peninsula, so Kathryn can chat with guests as she cooks.
“People aren’t in my workspace—but we are still connected,” she says.
The warm palette and textures were inspired by travels to Tuscany. Copper cookware is displayed in glass-fronted cabinets. The upper cupboards are pale wood, while the lower cabinetry is stained a rich, deep brown. Counters are topped in an exuberantly veined chocolate brown marble.
“I roll my pizza dough and pie crusts right on it,” she says.
The centuries-old practice of covering floors with decorative canvases gets a fresh twist with floor cloths painted in a black-and-white checkerboard motif and renderings of colorful roosters.
“I think of it as art for the floor, plus they are extremely easy to maintain,” she says. “Oriental carpets aren’t practical for me because I’m a messy cook.”
The Garniewskis expanded the gathering area with the addition of a conservatory, accessed through French doors in the family room. Most of the year, the space is used as a sunroom, a bright and cheerful space to read or chat.
At the height of summer, the couple takes out the cushioned seating and brings in tables and chairs so guests who enjoy the outdoors but don’t care for heat can dine in air-conditioned comfort.
“We love to have people over and use different spaces for different reasons,” Kathryn says.
As for the Garniewskis, they enjoy the entire house and grounds, all year ’round. In winter, they light a fire in the formal living room and set up a table for an intimate dinner for four.
Jack loves the outdoors so much that he dug a path in the snow to the outdoor fireplace, set up a bistro table and two chairs, and served his wife a romantic dinner in front of the crackling blaze.
Inside and outside the house, trusted professionals helped along the way. Michael Biliunas of Renovate in Middletown served as general contractor on a two-story addition that turned a small porch into a media room and enlarged the master suite above it. (Bricks salvaged from the demolition were incorporated into a garden path.)
That addition included soundproofing the ceiling in the media room, the favored hangout of the couple’s son, John Paul, and his friends.
“We didn’t want noise from the TV encroaching on our rest,” Jack says. “I would recommend insulating the ceiling beneath any bedroom.”
Joanne Sanders, a decorator with Country Curtains in Greenville, collaborated with Kathryn on fabrics. In the living room, they decided to re-cover a large cushion on a window seat in a classic stripe. The existing plaid silk was repurposed into small pillows placed on each chair in the adjoining dining room.
“The fabric was in perfect condition so I was happy to find a new use for it,” Kathryn says. “A little lumbar pillow feels good if you’re sitting around a dining table for a few hours.”
Sonny Ray Ramos, artist and artisan, created the mottled plaster finish on the family room walls, as well as fanciful trompe l’oeil vignettes depicting birds and flowers perched above two sets of French doors on either side of the room.
“They are painted on panels, in case someone decides to take them down some day,” Kathryn says.
To transform his vision of open-air terraces and walkways into brick and stone, Jack turned to Dana Ressler of Keener-Sensenig Co. in Newark, a specialist in hardscaping.
His first major project was beautifying a large plot of fallow ground behind the conservatory. Kathryn called it “The Waste Land.”
Jack envisioned a terrace and formal, English-style garden with meandering walkways, manicured boxwood hedges and statues of the Four Seasons. In the Garniewskis’ personal Eden, there’s a big table where friends can gather and enjoy the soothing trickle of a fountain. Arugula and tender lettuces are ready for picking. Delphiniums have just been planted in the cutting garden.
“I couldn’t resist that blue,” Jack says.
GARDEN OF DELIGHTS
Each year, the gardens grow to reveal a new delight. A lonely patch of lawn behind a stone wall in the front of the house has been transformed into a private courtyard, “a great place to greet people with a glass of Champagne,” Kathryn says.
Wisteria climbs on a pergola that defines an open-air seating area in front of an outdoor fireplace. The back of the fireplace forms a stone wall, a rustic backdrop for a small flower bed where a statue of St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, stands sentry with his spade. An open expanse of grass is a velvety playing field for Wiffle ball or bocce.
Hardscaping is the backbone of the garden, an infrastructure of pavers, bricks and stone that supports outdoor living. Herbs thrive in a kitchen garden, in easy plucking distance from the grilling station. A large terrace serves as an open-air living room. Kathryn hangs fluttering curtains on a secluded, wrought iron pavilion that is warmed by a fire pit on nippy nights.
Maintaining the setting takes lots of hard work, typically 12 to 15 hours each week. Jack views gardening as a great way to decompress from life in the corporate world. “When I get burned out from gardening, we go to visit a wonderful garden,” he says. “It rejuvenates us and gets us excited about new ideas.”