Color Your World

Color is one of the most important essentials to a well-designed home and choosing color schemes is one of the most exciting decisions a homeowner can make. I have never met a color I didn’t like – or would not like if paired with a complimentary color.  I’ve always had favorite colors.  I remember as early as age 5 always selecting the chartreuse crayon out of the Crayola box.  Still today, I am often attracted to shades of green.  

This year it seems that all you have to do is watch the awards shows like the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, no doubt the upcoming Academy Awards, to get the current sense of color forecasting.  There seems to be a resurgence of pastels.  Notice the shades of corals, icy blues, turquoise and melon tones in starlets’ dresses.  As corroboration, I recently read a quote from one of Benjamin Moore’s design pros, “The palette is shifting from super-saturated and strong hues to softer, lighter pastel shades.”  Benjamin Moore’s top color for 2013 is “lemon sorbet”. It’s described as “the ideal transition color as we move from the more vibrant spectrum and mid-to-deep tone hues that we’ve been experiencing in home furnishings and fashions.”

In my work, I have read and studied a great deal about color theory. For more than 25 years, I’ve helped clients determine their color schemes for their homes. Through the years, here are some of the things that hold true: 

  1. Always choose colors to which you are naturally drawn.  Do not feel forced to follow the trends.  
  2. If you get bored with certain colors easily, then keep a neutral palette and vary your accent colors. You can accomplish this by changing out pillows, adding new art pieces and through colorful accessories. 
  3. Decide on your neutrals first.  For your trim colors, are they bright white, soft white or off white? Another option with trim is to paint it the same as the wall color but change the finish.  I suggest this often in condos or lower levels for a cleaner, more unifying effect.
  4. Fall in love with something complex. By this I mean sometimes the easiest way to begin a room is to find or design an area rug or purchase a painting that inspires you. It could also be a particular pattern of fabric.  If you are doing new construction or a complete renovation, then your choices of tile, stone, counters or backsplash can be your way to drive a color scheme.
  5. Of particular emphasis, take into consideration the architectural elements of your space to plan your color scheme. As an example, use the colors in your fireplace or flooring to drive other color choices.   
  6. Color trends for homes often follow the fashion industry. As gray crept into the fashion scene, it likewise appeared in the home design industry. 
  7. Be bold in rooms like guest bedrooms, powder rooms or lower levels.  If you’re somewhat timid about flying your color flag, these are spaces where you may dare to be a little bolder. 
  8. Consider the colors that favor you in your personal style of dress for the palette in your home. You are always the star of your living space. Some may be comfortable with the dramatic, while others prefer softer or more balanced tones. 

Your wall and trim colors, kitchen counters and cabinets, flooring, furniture, rugs, art, drapes, pillows and other accessories – think of all the possibilities to bring beautiful color into your home design. Color is your opportunity for self expression. Regardless of your personal color scheme, a well done space will endure the test of time.

Paint cans


Starting the New Year in Good Order

Happy New Year!  The past few weeks, I skipped blogging to enjoy the holidays with my family. I hope your holiday season brought you great happiness. I am so looking forward to this new year.  Since it may align with one of your New Year’s resolutions, I wanted to start out my 2013 blogging on the topic of  “household organization”.

As I was growing up, I had some wonderful examples of how to keep a household organized.  First and foremost was Grandma Mary and her ability to keep “everything in its place”.  She had one of those bungalow-style homes with a bedroom that featured a walk-in closet.  All her jewelry was stored in neatly-labeled boxes, and shoes were lined up like soldiers waiting to salute.  But it was her kitchen pantry that my brother and I found to be a wonderland.  There wasn’t an item you asked for that she could not immediately put her hands on.  Jars and boxes were neatly lined up on shelves that were lined with contact paper, with ruffles thumb-tacked along the edges.  Of course, there was a large cookie jar brimming with treats for us.  

There was also my cousin Linda.  She lived above my Grandma and she too, from a very early age, had a gift for organization. Her bedroom was spotless; all her sweaters were folded neatly in their drawers.  Since I was a few years younger, I looked up to her and was inspired.  Last but not least was my Mom.  Like her mother before her, she was able to find a place for everything. Our home was immaculate and very organized.  When I was 12, we lived in a small house, with me and my three siblings sharing one bedroom.   Soon after, we moved to a four-bedroom home and I thought we were very lucky to share a bedroom with just one sibling. My Mom was a great example to show me how no matter the size of your living space, you could manage to keep it always looking tidy and orderly, and of course, warm and beautiful.

Now fast forward to today and my household organization style. How do I manage to complete my work, stay current on personal business and the household to-do list, keep up with family, entertain and hold on to my sanity?  Well, simply put, I do the best that I can.  I do aspire though, to always do better.  Sometimes I get in such a mood to tear apart a closet or two to declutter and update; while other times…ehhh.  Over the years, I’ve found these four simple things to be helpful in wrestling the “clutter demon” and staying organized:

1.  Conduct a “weekly review”.  Inspired by personal productivity principles in the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, my husband and I sit down weekly for a discussion to review all the key household areas in our lives. For us, this includes topics like household tasks and errands, personal financial/legal, health, family topics/events, transportation/auto, travel/vacation, holiday planning and calendar review. We’ve made a simple MS-Word document that we go through and update during our 30-60 minute meeting, usually conducted on a Saturday morning. You would be amazed how helpful it is to focus a short time each week to review a categorized list of the major and minor things in your household life that ebb and flow regularly – to stay on track with your personal and family business. New items are added as completed items are deleted, and those tasks or things that get deferred, well, we’re current on those too and in sync on the reasons why. This has been an incredibly powerful approach for us to minimize some of the stress that comes with living the modern daily life. 

2. Declutter. Guided by popular organizational expert Peter Walsh and tips from his books, especially “It’s All Too Much”, each new year we plan out the time that we will dedicate to declutter our common storage spaces. These include clothing closets, linen and bathroom closets, bookcases, our pantry, kitchen drawers, file cabinets and drawers, the garage, you get the idea. And we typically use the “four piles” approach – one pile each for items to Keep, Give Away, Sell or Toss. Using a simple but systematic method, and especially not tackling the whole house all at once, but scheduling out over certain weeks, weekends, or months, will really help you make great strides in the decluttering process.

3.  Tame the the “paper strangler”.  Assign one location (and use an office inbox or rectangular basket) to collect your incoming mail and household paperwork. Immediately toss junk mail each day.  Process mail and paperwork right away that may only take a minute or two, e.g. quick reads, things to file for future action or reference, etc. For bills and items with deadlines or key action dates, establish your system for timely processing of these items. If you impement a household weekly review as suggested above, you can also use that time to review your ongoing progress on these types of personal business actions.

4.  Follow my Grandma Mary’s “1-2-3”  rule.  Seriously, there we would all be, looking at mounds of dishes after a Christmas dinner and Grandma would say “1-2-3, we will be done before you know it.”   So, after entertainment events in my home, or honestly any dinner, I say this mantra to myself, enlist as many people as I can to help, and proceed to just get it done.  My husband and I have been known to put on music and drink a glass a wine while we clean up the remains of a party. As you tackle any significant household task or project, from cleaning up those stacks of dirty dishes to organizing a long neglected personal office space or storage closet, feel free to try the “1-2-3″ motivation method, and see if you don’t somehow find a higher gear to shift into to get those things done. 

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote, ” Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.”  I believe when designing beautiful spaces, that some thought should be given to  organization and storage.  You cannot underestimate the feeling of well being that an organized  space will provide, not only to you but to all who enter your living space.  Over the long run, maintaining an orderly and organized home, will save you time and allow you to live a more rewarding and balanced lifestyle.  The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is, where do all the socks disappear to? Honestly, does anyone know where all those socks go?  Is there some sort of secret socks underworld…still a mystery to me.  Again, here’s wishing you a most happy and successful 2013. I hope you also consider how these organization thoughts and tips can help to make this coming year even more productive and rewarding for you.

‘Tis The Season

Entertaining during the holidays can add stress to anyone’s life, but ultimately it is so rewarding to welcome family and friends into one’s home, repeating traditions and creating new memories. 

In my family, we have a tradition where we open our gifts on Christmas Eve.  It must have started when I was a little girl, because that is when Santa always came to our home.  My cousins and I had to each make up an act of entertainment and that is where the tradition of the family Talent Show started.  For years we would do this.  There was tap dancing, singing, even comedy acts. One memory for me was when I danced to a Shirley Temple song “On the Good Ship Lollipop”; or the time when all my children’s generation did a rap song for Grandpa.  Flash forward, and through the years, the Talent Show dwindled, but still every other year, we take a crack at our showmanship.  There was a recent year my parents did the tango.  That was a treat.  Another year, my dad sang to my mom the song “I Have But One Heart” – now that brought tears to everyone’s eyes.  But my all-time favorite was when my future daughter-in-law came to her first Christmas Eve with us and was told she had to participate.  She had nothing planned, so she simply performed a gymnastic split. My goodness, that silenced the crowd. And then simultaneously we all responded with “AHHHHHH”.  You see, none of us has great flexibility or could easily do the splits…picture the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.  We were all in awe. She got quite the applause.  This is of course one of our silly fun traditions, and even though we all will be sticking to our day jobs, it brings a smile to my face to think “Hmmm, what should I do this year?”

On a design note:  I have included photos of my Christmas tree, table setting with vintage dishes and glassware, and a new-look wreath.  In my lower level, I decorate a traditional  tree in red and green, and hang all the fun ornaments collected by and for our children through the years. On the main floor, my larger tree features additional meaningful ornaments and is done in colors that match the colors of the living room – black, white, silver and green.  Handling all of the ornaments is like a trip down holiday memory lane, each one triggering a particular fond memory. So if you have Christmas traditions, then certainly continue them; and if not, then by all means, start a new special tradition for your family. You just may find yourself crooning a romantic song or dancing a soft shoe.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the all the best of the holiday season.  Now go do a little tap dance!

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A modern wreath on a vintage mirror.

A modern wreath on a vintage mirror.

Bring Out Your Buried Treasures

Do you have personal or family treasured items that you’re not exactly sure how to incorporate into your home design?

A good rule of thumb is to group like things together. So let’s say you collect plates, Lladro figurines, specialty mugs, etc. You would not want these strewn about your home, but grouped and artfully displayed so they make the greatest impact.  In addition, you may have something treasured from a family member that you might like to display but are not sure where or how to do this.

Case in point:  I was at a client’s home and we were discussing how to treat an important wall that was like a crossroad to the foyer, kitchen and family room. We were brainstorming, and then she showed me a drawer that was filled full of some very old copper molds and some oversized copper keys that were handed down from her grandfather.  As it turns out, her color scheme was plum and terracotta tones, so the copper worked in nicely.  I had them framed with a shadowbox-like effect on soft toned velvet with gold framing.  They have hung on this wall for the past 15 years.  Later she found some old Victorian greeting cards from her grandmother and we did a small grouping in her bedroom. 

I myself found that my husband had a collection of German steins passed down from his father that he kept packed away in a box; so I grouped them on our bookshelf along with other personal memorabilia. This made him very happy.  I am not found of clutter; however, I do think family treasures can add ambience and character to a home. Bookshelves are a great place to put things that are meaningful, as well as hallway walls  that lead to bedrooms. They are a great place for old family photos as well as treasured items. 

Do you need more accessories?  Before you rush out on a shopping spree, check and see what might be lurking about in those old attic boxes or perhaps something stuffed away in a drawer.  You might stumble upon a treasure!

A collection of framed copper molds and keys on display






A treasured stein collection – out of the storage box, and now on display





Design Mixology

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what is the best way to mix styles of furnishings in a tasteful way?” Let’s face it, over the years we all can inherit a treasured family item, or merge with a partner that has collected various pieces of furniture and in some cases, we truly prefer a collected unexpected design.

As you walk through a home, you might ask yourself, “why does this space feel so good to be in?” Many times it is the combination of just enough repetition versus contrast to integrate rooms, and also remain interesting. This principle can apply to my theory of design mixology.  Color placement can be key in integrating space, while style choice can work as a contrast.  Case in point – perhaps you have a sleek neutral contemporary-styled sofa in your living room, strewn with solid and print pillows that are turquoise and orange.  In the adjacent dining room are your French dining chairs that you inherited from your grandmother.  You are considering spraying the chairs in a lacquered orange finish. Repetition was accomplished with repeating the color orange for the French-styled dining chairs contrasted with the contemporary sofa in the living room, creating an interesting mix.

Often I’m challenged with helping people downsize, where my client has to choose which items not only can fit in the new space, but also work well within the design concept.  Shown in the photos is this very example. A client purchased a home less than half the size of her existing residence.  The new waterfront home was more casual, reflective of a contemporary cottage in style.  We carefully selected some of her existing Asian pieces to use as accents, and added transitional upholstery along with traditional painted wood pieces with a cottage flair.  This contrast in styles was pulled together with carefully chosen color placement, an interesting collection of modern art, and an occasional botanical.

Creating your own mix of furnishings can keep your home fresh, with a livable feel and a one-of-a-kind look.

A transitional sofa, with a straight simple arm, is mixed with a gray reclaimed barnwood chest. To the left is an Asian armoire. In the background you can see the traditional kitchen dining ensemble with the table top finish mirroring the color of the adjacent TV. This same chamois gold color is also found in the top right portion of the modern art piece in the foreground.

The walls are featured in a chamois gold color found elsewhere in various rooms. Black and ivory colors are placed carefully throughout the entire first floor. Note the transitional banquettes mixed with the traditional painted chairs.

Chamois gold repeated on painted end table. Traditional plaid wing chairs with a modern painting above. Red is used as an accent color.

Designing a Nursery for Twins

Some of you may already know, as of last week, I was privileged to become a grandmother to twins!  We welcomed a gorgeous girl named Vivienne and a beautiful boy named Will.  My family is thrilled with our new arrivals.

During the past nine months, with input from my son and daughter-in-law, I thoroughly enjoyed designing the nursery. We decided that we would go with a vintage look. It began with the white Jenny Lind cribs.

Color inspiration was found in the multi-colored fabric with its playful undersea creatures, featuring a variety of fish, boats and even a pink octopus.  For the overall color scheme, I suggested a pale blue wall; and then placed a bright coral as contrast-banding on the lead edges of the drapery and on the rocker fabric. Kiwi green was used as an accent.  Using the fabric to design drapery that surrounds each crib gave the room a focal point, since the window was small and in the corner.  While vacationing in Cape Cod, we stumbled upon a set of two perfect fish prints to hang on the wall – one in coral and one in blue!

My daughter-in-law and I had a fun-filled day while we shopped locally at vintage stores in LaGrange IL for the chest and dresser.  We previously looked at all the typical stores that feature baby furniture, then decided to go for something more unique. We wanted to be able to repurpose the dresser and chest in the future for the children’s rooms. I had Will’s dresser painted white and it doubles as the changing table. Vivienne’s dresser was painted coral with ballet pink accents.  The chandelier was a find at Costco and the repurposed shelves were painted white and used for both storage and display space for treasured gifts.

Life does come full circle.  I remember many years ago, when I designed the nursery for my own children. How could I have imagined this latest project which needed to accommodate two babies into one space? With my son and his wife as Daddy and Mommy, this was truly a “labor of love” for all.

The window in this room was small and in a corner. I created a focal point using aquatic-inspired fabric to embellish each crib.

Existing brown shelves were repurposed, painted white and used for storage and display.

It’s Time For “A Nice Cup Of Tea”

There’s a Japanese proverb that says “If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.”  Now there’s a saying I can connect with.

Tea and afternoon tea time, and of course the teapots, cups and saucers, have been in my life since my earliest memories. My first memory of tea time was when I was about five years old.  It was a hot summer day and my mother spread ice cold butter on saltine crackers with strawberry jam.  She would serve tea with a bit of sugar in it with her fancy dishes, a beautiful table setting, and the silver teapot. The best part was her company and being together. In time, it became our family tradition to have afternoon tea time on vacations at various hotels, tea shops and on cruise ships.

How fortunate for me that my husband also loves tea and the whole experience of tea time. On our honeymoon in Paris, we visited a grand “Maison de The” of one the world’s greatest tea merchants – Mariage Freres. What an experience! The selection of teas and their wonderful scents, the beautiful cups and teapots, the elegant tea experts, it was all simply stunning. I fell in love with a particular cup and saucer they sell…yes I do get happy over a simple teacup….that is in the style of what was used on cruise ships. The white porcelain cup is enhanced with delicate silver edging; and the cup nestles into the center hollow of the saucer, so as not to move around, giving sea voyaging tea drinkers a steadier setting.  

In the Chicago area, one of our favorite local tea shops is Todd & Holland in Forest Park, Illinois.  Try their Mauritius blend, a strong brew of finely chopped black tea leaves and vanilla.

Over the years, I have had many tea parties (as seen in the accompanying photos) and have helped in the planning of tea-themed events such as Christmas teas, bridal teas, baby teas and birthday teas. I have collected so many kinds of teapots – silver-plated, antique, ceramic, hand-painted and Japanese styles to name a few. To me, it is a time to share thoughts, relax and simply enjoy living beautifully.  Whether you’re having tea for two or sipping tea in solitude…there is something so settling and civilized about having tea.  So go start the water boiling, and make yourself a cup of tea!

This table was set for a twins baby shower themed “Tea For Two”.

This was for a “spring tea” – notice the floral glassware.

This was for a bridal tea – notice the cookies are shoes and purses.