Blue ribbon home by any standard

Blue ribbon home by any standard

Joseph Pabst redefined an Eschweiler design

He bears a great Milwaukee name, but Joseph Pabst was once a guest in Brewtown.

Pabst is the great-great-grandson of Capt. Frederick Pabst, founder of Pabst Brewing Co.

I’m the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son, says Pabst, who also counts the Uihlein name (Schlitz Brewing Co.) in his family tree.

Despite this solidly Milwaukee lineage, Joseph Pabst grew up in sunny Arizona, where his parents, Gustave Pabst III and Audrey Pabst, moved in 1955.

And it never felt like home, he says. I went away to school when I was about 12, to New England — first in Massachusetts and later to New Jersey.

He lived in New York briefly, where he studied design at the Parsons School and finally moved to Chicago. That felt a little closer to home, he says.

Nudged by sweet memories of visiting Milwaukee as a child, he moved here about 14 years ago.

I remember coming here to see my great grandmother, Ilma Vogel Uihlein, who lived at 3318 N. Lake Drive — now the Uihlein Town Homes — when it was one house, he says. I had these wonderful memories of a childhood coming to visit her, and visiting other relatives. And I thought, maybe this is where I belong.

The return home

He first settled into a Tudor home at Lake Drive and Kenilworth. Dark, oak woodwork. It was kind of a romantic, moody house, he says. But he’s a dog lover — the owner of a black lab named Osa (that’s bear in Spanish), and Corgis named Bear and Sammie — and wanted a place with more space.

I wanted a pool. I wanted room for my dogs, he says.

About five years ago, his Realtor found a 1929 Eschweiler-designed home where Pabst could have his pool and his dogs, too. Pabst says he was taken by its classic Georgian appeal. And so he became the third owner of the 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, 3-bath home. The previous owner, a prominent local designer named Robert Forrest, had hardly left it in disrepair.

As lovely as it was, I embarked on a renovation project that lasted two years and three months — solid, says Pabst. It was a beautiful house. But it needed to be mine.

While the work was being done, Pabst lived in two bedrooms that had once been maids’ quarters. They’re now a nursery and guest quarters: I have three nephews, and two of them have children, so it’s a terrific place to stash them.

Renovations included a complete gutting of the kitchen. He put in custom cabinets made by local craftsman Tom Schroeder, of the firm Foret, painted the ceiling what he calls Campbell’s tomato soup red, added a small fireplace and put in Delft tile and Brazilian granite counters. All three bathrooms were redone with floor-to-ceiling black-and-white subway tile.

Pabst also enhanced moldings throughout the home, added mirrors in the entryway and shutters on all the windows. Throughout the home he unleashed an uncanny sense for mixing oddities (a wooden prosthetic arm) among classics (original Audubon prints). The walls of one guest room are decoupaged with a variety of prints: Shanghai grocery store posters, botanicals, seascapes, photographs, architectural images.

He also installed a geothermal system, drilling 10 wells that pump 55-degree air into the home — which can then be heated or cooled as needed.

Pabst frequently hosts fund-raisers at his home, particularly for LGBT causes and events, including a recent party for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s LGBT Film Festival.

His dogs pad up and down the expanded porch, which is anchored by a brick fireplace. On a pedestal nearby, a goldfish swims in a ceramic pot. Pabst always has a goldfish, he says, and he always names it after an heiress. The current goldfish is named Millicent Rogers, after the Standard Oil heiress. Previous occupants Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton were eaten by a raccoon, he says.

Pabst took some time recently to talk about the crisp Georgian house he’s made into his Milwaukee home.

Q. You have so much art and more than a few oddities — an English dental mold there on the table, a prosthetic wooden arm. Where do you get your stuff?

A. The chandeliers came largely from Brass Light Gallery, which is a wonderful local source. Some of the furniture is inherited, some are tag sale finds. I’m no stranger to Chattel Changers or Legacies (consignment and estate sale shops) or Schrager Auction Galleries. I love Riverview Antiques.

Q. You have a tray of veterinary syringes on a tray in the foyer. Why?

A. I like their form. I got them at Riverview Antiques.

Q. Who’s the lady in the big oil painting in the living room?

A. Isn’t that great? It’s kind of ridiculous, but delightfully so. I mean, she’s crocheting a bag. My grandfather bought it years ago. My family for years had a house in Mexico. That’s Queen Sophie of Austria, who was the mother of Maximilian, the ill-fated emperor of Mexico. Executed.

I remember it most recently hanging in the garage. My mother hated it, and so it was banished to the garage, and it was hung with a sheet over it….

My grandfather (Gustave Pabst Jr.) had somewhat of a temper, so it has a slight hole in it where a plate or something flew.

Q. Why the bookcase-print wallpaper in the living room?

A. I’ve known it all my life in one form or another. It lined a bar at my parents’ house. They’ve made it for 1,001 years, I think. Because I have small art, I wanted something to sort of hold the art.

Q. What are some of your favorite inherited pieces?

A. This chandelier (in the dining room). My grandmother — Ilma’s daughter, Louise — bought it in 1929 in Berlin, in a flower shop. She went in to buy flowers and instead walked out with a chandelier. It’s traveled all over the world — hence it’s a little bit smashed up. It went from Germany to Cuba to Peru to Washington to New York to Milwaukee.

The sofa (in the master bedroom) which is George III style in the French taste, belonged to my great-grandmother, and I remember it sitting en suite — I have the chairs in the living room. I remember it in her dressing room on Lake Drive. They were covered in blue silk.

And the painting in my dressing room, by Louise Lemp Pabst — she’s my great-aunt. The subject was a Paris model. It’s just a marvelous piece. She studied art in the U.S. and Paris. She did this portrait in the late 1920s, and she won an award for it in Paris.

Q. You’ve got a lot of color in your house, but none of it is harassingly bold. How do you choose color?

A. I like strong color, and I think the reason for that is that I grew up in households of painfully good taste: cream-colored walls, cream-colored upholstery. The color in a room was simply the art or a rug.

The way I live now has a direct correlation to that, where I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. I love saturated color.

Q. Tell me about the master bedroom. The walls are splattered with paint as kind of homage to Jackson Pollock.

A. I got the idea, actually, not by looking at a Jackson Pollock but rather marveling at painters’ pants after they’d been all slopped up with paint — or the drop cloths they work on. I think they’re just beautiful….

And the ceiling — I chopped out the ceiling and went into the attic. I created a study up there (in the third floor, with a balcony overlooking the bedroom). The third floor hadn’t been finished.

Q. Were there things you absolutely had to have in the kitchen ?

A. I wanted a six-burner stove. Alas, there was only room for four. So I got a magnetic cooktop on the island (which cooks with electromagnetic energy). It’s one of those marvels — it’s almost like magic — cooks without getting hot. Energy efficient, too.

And I wanted a giant sink that I never had to flip a roasting pan in. My chores as a child involved washing roasting pans. My mother was a terrific cook, but it was the kids’ job to do the dishes. And I vowed that I would have a sink big enough.

Q. What’s your most precious piece of family memorabilia?

A. I would say my memories trump any of my possessions. But I love the J.M. Tracy painting in the hall — the dog. It was my great grandfather’s favorite dog — Champion Trinkets Chief. And I love that he wrote on it, Favorite Pointer of Gustave Pabst So that’s pretty neat.

Know someone with a cool, funky or exquisite living space that you’d like to see featured in At Home? Contact Entree home and garden editor Tina Maples at (414) 223-5500 or e-mail .

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