Whether it’s entertaining a crowd around their supersized kitchen island or enjoying coffee for two in their third-floor bedroom suite, Sandra and Paul Wilkins are surrounded by the things they love: artwork, books, movies, music and a view out their windows of a revitalized Main Street that once looked more like a ghost town.
No longer. And the Wilkinses have been part of it since buying this three-story building in 2011. Their restaurant, Raclettes, a Parisian-style casual bistro, is on the first floor. They live on the two renovated upper floors.
He is from Manchester, England; she grew up in Niagara Falls and has two grown daughters. The Wilkinses, who met at Occidental Chemical in Niagara Falls and began dating in 1990, are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this weekend – as well as the second anniversary of the restaurant.
They previously lived in a house they built on Grand Island and, before that, in Wheatfield, where the girls grew up. Their large Grand Island home had a saltwater pool, an outdoor kitchen and a large organic vegetable garden.
“I do not miss it at all,” Sandra Wilkins said. “I love living in the city.”
The first floor of the 1860s building, which they purchased for $250,000, is the former home of Grever’s Flower Shop and previously an Arby’s restaurant. It’s located on the 500 block of Main Street, in the Fountain Plaza area. The large windows offer a view of the downtown Hyatt hotel.
The Wilkinses love to entertain and the layout is designed for this. They also enjoy walking and bicycling around the city. They have not owned a TV since 2002, opting instead to watch movies on a projection screen in their home theater, which houses their large collection of DVDs and is decorated with movie posters and a roomy sectional.
“We watch movies in the winter and go outside in the summer,” Sandra Wilkins said.
The renovation took four years to complete. The couple worked with architectural designer Benjamin Siegel of BMS Design Studio. The project also required an engineer, carpenters and heating, electrical and plumbing professionals.
As for the loft design: “I’ll give them the majority of the credit for it. They needed some very basic code-compliant drawings, and we discussed interior design and finishes and what they were going to do.
But for the most part, I laid out the space to make it functional for them and they just ran with it. They really created that atmosphere more than I ever could have. They had a vision from Day 1 and I ushered it in for them,” Siegel said.
The Wilkinses were hardly hands-off with the restoration work, either. They estimate they spent close to $700,000 on the building’s renovation and the residential features.
Paul Wilkins framed walls, replaced stair treads, installed pine flooring, built shelving, installed tile, assembled the Edison-style lights for the kitchen and, as Siegel said previously, was involved in the design process. This included planning the master bath layout using duct tape.
“I have different spatial thinking. I have always loved design,” said Wilkins, chief operating officer of credimac, a public benefit corporation performing debt settlements.
Sandra Wilkins, who runs Raclettes, took on the task of cleaning the interior brick walls of their new home, scraping brick after brick with wire brushes to remove the old plaster.
“I lost seven pounds – and got over my fear of heights,” she said. She also distressed the pine floors using chains and hammers to give them a weathered look before they were stained.
Among the home’s highlights:
• The kitchen area features a 16-by-5½-foot island. The top is “Yellow River” granite from the International Stone Gallery in Lockport. There are lower cabinets, drawers and a dishwasher on one side, and open shelves and stools on the other. Three seams are barely visible on the granite top. The name of the granite inspired them to place miniature boats here and there on its surface.
The Viking stove came from their previous home; a wall-mounted pot filler faucet is installed above the stove. The cabinets are IKEA with black wood fronts and oil rubbed hardware.
• The master bath is designed with a heated whirlpool tub, open shower, heated towel rack and double sinks. A professional installed the heated tumbled travertine floor. Paul Wilkins installed the tiles on the walls and tub surround.
• The couple wanted to recycle and reuse materials from the building. An old door that now pulls down to conceal Sandra Wilkins’ large desk area was hauled up from the basement and painted bright blue. Old window chains were used to support a hanging section of ceiling in the master bath. And old beams were repurposed by a carpenter as railings, tops of the fireplaces and even a narrow table overlooking Main Street.
One of the five grandchildren calls it “the people-watching table,” Sandra Wilkins said.
People-watching in one room. Movie-viewing in the other. And a whole lot of artwork, decor and architectural details to check out in a very cool setting.
The blue print
Sandra and Paul Wilkins bought this three-story building near the downtown Hyatt Regency Buffalo in 2011. It’s part of the 500 Block of Main Street Historic Preservation District. Their restaurant, Raclettes, a Parisian-style casual bistro, is on the first floor. They live on the renovated upper floors, in approximately 5,200 square feet of space.
Here is a peek inside:
Floor plan: Straight stairs take visitors from the street level to the main living area on the second floor. There’s a dining area with gas fireplace, large open kitchen with 16-by-5½-foot granite-topped island, sitting area, full bath and home cinema with projection screen. This room can be closed off as a guest room, with the addition of a rollaway bed. The top floor features large open bedroom and bath areas and a walk-through closet that leads to a home gym. There’s also a two-story outdoor space.
Furniture: A mix of modern and antique – with some pieces, including the dining room table, from their previous home.
Floors: Distressed pine. Heated tumbled travertine floor in the master bath.
Paint colors: To complement the exposed brick walls, the couple chose a warm palette for the dry-walled surfaces. Colors from Glidden and Behr included Sun Rays, Blue Artisan Water, Tawny Port, Cork and Saffron Strands – along with some black walls.
Window treatments: Large windows in the main living space facing Main Street are left uncovered. Blackout shades in the home theater. Pleated shades in master bedroom.
Lighting: A mix of modern and industrial.
Artwork and collections: A large collection of framed art, sculpture and decorative items from their travels around the world and local artists. Shelves of hardcover books. Colorful Le Creuset cookware and white dinnerware on open shelves in the kitchen. Pots and pans hanging on a ceiling-mounted rack.
Whimsical touches, including wine corks piled on the ledges above the kitchen cabinets, a wall of fish-themed artwork and a gecko lizard hung high on one wall.
“We have little hidden things all over the place,” Paul Wilkins said.
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