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City Cool

Written by Jane Trabert Schmitt
Imagery by Sandra Kicman

Trinkets and treasures from trips around the world add an international flavor to the downtown Buffalo loft of Paul and Sandra Wilkins, a couple whose thirst for travel has taken them to 34 countries and counting.
    Their home artfully displays everything from paintings, photos and sculptures to an antique assortment of magnifying glasses, cigarette cards, food weights, musical instruments and first-edition classics by Charles Dickens and others. It’s all a reflection of their lives, loves and travels, and there’s a story behind every single element of the decor.
Trinkets and treasures from trips around the world add an international flavor to the downtown Buffalo loft of Paul and Sandra Wilkins, a couple whose thirst for travel has taken them to 34 countries and counting.
    Their home artfully displays everything from paintings, photos and sculptures to an antique assortment of magnifying glasses, cigarette cards, food weights, musical instruments and first-edition classics by Charles Dickens and others. It’s all a reflection of their lives, loves and travels, and there’s a story behind every single element of the decor.
    “This is my home,” Sandra says, welcoming a guest for a recent visit. “Let me turn on some lights so you can see how cool it is.”
    Indeed, this is no ordinary place. Open and spacious, it’s sun-drenched in many areas yet dark in others, with an eclectic mix of furniture, accessories and finishes. Renovating the space was a multi-year project and a labor of love, they say – and something they’d do again in a heartbeat.
    “I literally sealed every brick,” Sandra points out, running her hand along an original brick wall. “I lost seven pounds! I got a wire brush, scraped and washed them and then sealed them. My husband put in the pine floors, I beat them up to look old and then we stained them.”
    You get the picture – this is an energetic duo who gave their all during the renovation process and now get to enjoy the fruits of their labor: a one-of-a-kind residence where they can relax by the fireplace with a glass of fine wine or entertain family and friends for murder mystery-themed dinner parties.
    Sandra discovered the three-story building in the 500 block of Main Street while scouting locations for a Parisian-style restaurant they longed to open. In 2011 they bought the corner building, which dates to 1864 and overlooks a small park called Roosevelt Plaza.
    Though it once housed a florist, a drugstore and a furrier, the building had fallen into disrepair. The Wilkinses had a vision of what it could be, however, so they sold their large home in the suburbs and got to work, using many of the skills they honed from designing two new-builds over the years. Every element from the original building that could be recycled or repurposed was incorporated into the new design, including old beams and doors they found in the basement clutter. Even old, discarded pipes became railings for the stairs leading to the third-floor master suite.
    Fast-forward a few years and one thing is abundantly clear: Dreams do come true. Sandra and Paul, both IT professionals and now empty-nesters, opened the French-themed Raclettes, a lunch and dinner bistro, on the ground floor and made the upper two floors their home.
    “I love it, ” Sandra says.  “We couldn’t be happier.”
    Moving to the city satisfied her craving for a walkable community where she and her husband could visit nearby theaters, art galleries and restaurants. The view from a series of oversized windows in her funky kitchen is of a revitalized Main Street, a sure sign that her beloved Buffalo is on the way back after years of decline.
    She and her husband, a native of England, are doing their part: Their restaurant business has added to the buzz by attracting people to the downtown core and one look at this stunning loft has others reconsidering their suburban lifestyles.
    Step inside and you experience a creative mix of ultra-modern and traditional. There’s a home theater – complete with retro movie posters – that doubles as a guest room. The walk-in closet on the third floor is quite likely the largest you’ll ever see. The dining room fireplace stretches nearly to the ceiling and there’s a cozy seating area off the kitchen whose backdrop is an oversized colonial sideboard.
    The kitchen is the center of this home – warm and welcoming, with a massive island topped with granite called Yellow River.
    For this couple, a framed print in that room says it all:
“Life’s a journey. Enjoy it.”  

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