From a House to a Home

Photography By Kayser Photography

When Nikolaos and Katherine Athanasiou bought their new home on Lake Beulah near East Troy, they knew they wanted to make changes. The home had a mixed architectural style — rustic on the outside, but traditional inside. Their primary home is in Chicago, so the Athanasious were looking for an escape from the city — a place where their kids, ages 8 and 5 could enjoy the outdoors.

Under recommendation from his real estate agent, Nikolaos Athanasiou got in touch with Chris Stebnitz of Elkhorn-based Stebnitz Builders, and after some research and a phone call with Stebnitz, Athanasiou was convinced he found the right company to complete their project.

Family-owned Stebnitz Builders checked all the boxes for Athanasiou. Their track record as a specialist in home remodeling and rebuilding projects in Walworth County and Northern Illinois was hard to beat.

As the chief operating officer for a company of over 3,500 employees, Athanasiou spends his jam-packed work days in meetings. “I don’t have time to micromanage projects, so it was important to have a firm we could trust,” he says. “We wanted to make sure we had a job done well, especially since we couldn’t be there to oversee it.”

With the help of Houzz, an online community that allows sharing architectural ideas through photographs, Athanasiou communicated with construction consultant and designer Jeff Auberger.

“It felt very organic,” Athanasiou says. “We felt almost instantly comfortable with Jeff. There was a lot of synergy in our ideas. A lot of his ideas were exactly where we were hoping to head with the project.”


Major renovations to the home focused on three main areas — the living room, the dining room and the master bedroom.

Walls were removed to open up and better unify the living room and kitchen spaces. One window in the living room became nearly a wall of windows to allow for better views of the lake, and two skylights added more natural light.

In addition, all the cherry stained millwork, baseboards and window trim on the first floor were painted. Workers installed wood ceilings and stained the new posts and beam structures. Doors, window sills and seats also received fresh stains. To add to the rustic interior, Auberger focused on details, such as the laundry room door just off the kitchen. There a rustic, wooden sliding barn door became an interesting focal point.

Auberger admitted it was a challenge to come up with a creative ceiling design that fit the intended vibe of the home. What he developed was enhancing a traditional tray ceiling design by wrapping it with solid wood beams and causing those beams to lie inside the tray ceiling and cross its opening. He focused on not allowing the beams to hang too low, which he says can make the room feel uncomfortable. The homeowners fell in love with the idea, and they chose to implement a similar design in the master bedroom.

“The family room really came out great,” Athanasiou says. “The lighting with the extra skylights and windows, the woodwork … When you walk in, it feels like you’re outside, so it ties in as an extension of the location.”

All wooden ceiling panels were also infused with indirect LED up-lighting. “It [the ceiling design] was more of an investment, but Jeff really thought they would tie the rooms together, and it really paid off,” Athanasiou says.


The entire first floor project took about three months, and with Stebnitz Builders’ expertise, the Athanasious are already working to renovate the lower level.

With the new project, the Athanasious hope to tie in the overall look and feel from the first floor. The lower level family room will include an entertainment and gaming space with a small kitchen. Athanasiou also is looking to create a “drop zone area” for summer lake gear or winter snow gear.

After trusting Stebnitz Builders to create a vision for his home, Athanasiou says his relationship with the company has moved beyond a professional one. “If people are looking to do a project right, not just in workmanship but quality of design and quality of people, I’ve never worked with anybody better,” Athanasiou says. “You can tell the company is really reflective of strong values and good people.”

Communication is key to maintaining the foundation of excellence Stebnitz Builders has established in its 45 years in business. The company has been named “Best of Houzz” in design in 2012 and in service in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and “Best of Walworth County” six times.

Auberger says using Houzz has become incredibly valuable in gaining trust because 60 percent of the company’s clients have a primary residence elsewhere. “It’s a great way to share ideas, likes and dislikes,” Auberger says. “It starts to put the saying ‘A picture’s worth 1,000 words’ into reality as we start collaborating.”

Stebnitz Builders also has worked to increase social media efforts and keep its website current, including professional photography of completed projects. The result has helped keep the company “blessedly busy,” Auberger says.

“I give a ton of credit to Stebnitz for building a great company, and Jeff for really being a huge part of what we’ve done,” Athanasiou says. “I think they’re fantastic. Any project I can use them for I’m absolutely going to do so.”


204 Commerce Ct. Unit 3 Elkhorn, WI 53121

P: 262-723-7232 | P: 800-410-8027 | F: 262-723-1088


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