Dream Big When it Comes to Small Bathrooms

“Big things come in small packages” (at least that’s what my mom used to say), which is why I always go for the small box during Christmas raffles! Sometimes smaller spaces have their perks, too. If you have a smaller bathroom, there are several things you can do to maximize its space and functionality. In addition to lower-cabinet storage, consider vertical storage on the top part of your vanity or next to it. Built-in medicine cabinets are always a win, especially when installed mirror-on-mirror; that really can explode the space.

Using the same-type and same-size tile on the shower walls as used on the floor can enlarge the space and make a difference in fooling the eye. Sometimes you can gain space by adding a tray or skylight to a ceiling. Large-scaled wallpaper can also create spaciousness, as well as add a great deal of style to the overall design.

For a very teeny-tiny bathroom or powder room, this is your chance to show off your design savvy by turning it into a jewel box that is unforgettable. It isn’t a primary goal to always make a space look larger. First, decide how the bathroom is dedicated. Is it your master bath where storage is at a premium or is it a guest bath or main-floor powder room where dramatic aesthetics are the primary concern?

Regardless, bathroom design has come a long way. In addition to natural stone, there are available a myriad of porcelain tiles with some that mimic wood flooring to give spaces a “spa”-like feel. To score extra points for originality, consider rice paper or bamboo textures if it fits the overall look you want to achieve.

If you want to “get your glam on”, then look for tiles with metallic overlays that can add to the glamour and create a modern aesthetic. Some of the more recent things I have seen in bathrooms are rectangular-shaped tiles versus square, polished chrome versus satin nickel, hidden storage and drywall niches along with anything that can mimic a spa-like experience.

Good design can trump any trend, so no matter what the trend, follow your heart and go with what you think you might want to see every day. Just like the little black dress in your closet that you always go to, you want something that feels comfortable and classic, and then you can add all the bling and style with accessories, mirrors and art.

As designer Paul Rand famously said: Design is everything. Everything!”

Master bath BEFORE: The homeowners were aware that their master bath seemed tight. They wanted a larger feel for it.

Master bath AFTER: Notice the vertical storage on the vanity, and the mirror-on-mirror medicine cabinet. The pretty containers on the shelving also act as storage for makeup. By adding a skylight, we brightened up the dramatic space.

This recently completed small bathroom doesn’t appear that way at all! I used large-scale floral wallpaper, which added to the drama and scale of this bathroom along with the tray ceiling where a chandelier can be placed.

This powder room is a “jewel box.” The art, mirror and rug add to the overall glamorous feel.

This bathroom shows the same type of floor tile on the shower wall.

Pictured here in this same bathroom are vertical storage and the mirror-on-mirror feature.









How to Treat a Fireplace

September 17, 2012

Fireplaces warm your home in more ways than one. Over the years, one of the challenges homeowners have mentioned to me is how to accessorize a fireplace. A fireplace is often a focal point in any given room. Personally, I am not fond of placing plasma televisions over them. However, it certainly is an option. I think how to approach it depends on the style of the fireplace, the function of the room in which it is located, and — most importantly — if it has a mantel or not.

The surround of the fireplace can be made out of wood, natural stone, cast stone or simply tiled and trimmed. As for hearths, they can be raised or at floor level depending on the firebox, and they can incorporate contrasting materials or match. It is about the overall look. More often than not, clients will select gas fireplaces over wood-burning. In addition, you may want to consider one of the newer fireplaces, which have become quite popular, such as “Heat & Glo” fireplaces.

Remember: If you are renovating or doing new construction, consider the option to place at least one outlet discreetly over the mantle for Christmas lights or even lamps. When you have completed art and accessories, you then have the challenge of looking for a screen. Sometimes the screen itself can be a work of art or very understated.

Regardless of your final selections, the ambience and warmth that a fireplace brings a space is well worth the challenge.

Rather than one large painting, we stacked four botanicals and added charm and warmth to the room with books and pottery. The fireplace surround is cast stone.

By placing two electrical outlets directly above the mantle, we were able to add lamps. The chocolate brown faux suede luster and stone finish set off the oil painting.

We found this huge original painting that fit into the recessed area with only one inch to spare. This created tremendous drama in the room and balanced the equally dramatic drapery.

We did an insert for art with the drywall and kept a simple contemporary look.

Here we have simple glass tile for the surround, great art and perfect lighting.

Ciao Chow — Winsome Western Magnetism Meets Iconic Italian Tradition

September 4, 2012

Food Memories Then and Now: Part II

It’s always exciting when the first of your friends gets married. I was 20 years old when I had dinner at one of my first-to-be-married friends’ homes. Kathy was three years my senior and it was fun to see a girlfriend play a real-life “homemaker.” Because I grew up with my grandmother, mother and aunties always entertaining, I had high expectations. Hosting a dinner – however large or small — can be a daunting task for a young woman. Kathy prepared a dinner for four at her new home, and I can still remember the menu and the table setting to this very day. Everything looked perfect to me: cutwork table linens, including cloth napkins that were handed down in her family, with blue-and-white dishes that sat under a blue-and-white chandelier — and of course there was candlelight.

I was amazed that this friend who was now oh-so-grown-up; after all, this was the same friend with whom I had shared dating tales, shopping excursions and deep- as well as light-hearted discussions on the meaning of life. This was the first time I tasted chicken cordon bleu served with twice-baked potatoes and green beans with a touch of bacon fat and onions. The dessert was an unforgettable family-recipe cheese cake. I loved it, and I have to chalk this up as a wonderful food memory. It also confirms in my mind that how you serve food is as important as the food itself.

Fast forward a generation. One of Kathy’s four terrific sons was about to get married. In her home in Colorado, Kathy was making preparations for the rehearsal dinner. I would like to share this with you because it stuck with me as yet another lovely memorable night of food and entertainment. The challenge was met of intertwining the western location of Colorado for the rehearsal dinner, and the location of the marriage, which was to take place in Italy.

In the photos below, you will see cowboy boots filled with sunflowers and earthy Italian Chianti bottles dripping with candle wax. The table settings included rooster-stenciled tablecloths in the colors of sunny Italy, as well as the mason jars for drinks with burlap and raffia to finish the look. Throughout the evening, the background music reflected some Italian songs mixed with spaghetti-western style instrumentals. This fabulous event is engrained in my memory as a Western welcome with an Italian twist.

We grazed on such hors d’oeuvres as Colorado buffalo satay, petite Navajo elk tacos and Italian sausage pinwheels. The entrée included herb-rubbed choice beef tenderloin with huckleberry sauce, farfalle pasta with cream sauce made of applewood-smoked bacon, sweet peas, tomatoes and parmesan cheese, and of course abundant fresh salads and delicious vegetable side dishes.

I challenge each of you to shake it up in your home and try something you have not done. Stretch. Heck, I once collected 20 tin cans, took off the labels and served homemade chili in them and used pie tins for trays where guests could place cornbread and crudités. It was unexpected. I would like to thank all my friends and family who open their homes to share a bite to eat and good conversation. I have learned not only from my wonderful mother, sister, sister-in-laws and aunties, but also from so many dear friends.   Thank you, Nancy and Pam, for first introducing me to buttery chardonnay. Thank you, Joyce, for your wonderful focaccia sausage bread. And, Laurie, where is that crab quiche recipe? Terry, remember your carrot cake? Debi, your Asian dinner party will never be forgotten. And thank you to so many other friends who have both surprised and taught me the art of entertaining. We can always go to a restaurant, of course, but opening your home is far more intimate and rewarding. Let us share with our daughters and sons so that they, too, can feel the reward. Oh yeah, the only bad thing: washing the dishes! : )

Your table settings and themed party décor can be something original you create from inspiration. At a spectacular wedding rehearsal dinner in Colorado I attended, this cowboy boot at the front stoop immediately conjures up a Western welcome with a Tuscan twist.

Check out the sunflowers set in straw hats, as well as the mason jars for drinks.

Here’s an overall shot of the Western-meets-Tuscan themed wedding rehearsal dinner at my friend’s home in Colorado. You can see how the Western-inspired rooster-stenciled cut tablecloths work great with the red and yellow hues of Tuscany.





Provence, Part III: Dining Delight for Foodies — “Joie de Vivre”

August 20, 2012

One of the tenets I try to follow daily is also — coincidentally — a popular French saying: joie de vivre”, which means joy derived from life. I believe it’s our day-to-day experiences that give us the most happiness throughout our lives. This was amplified immensely during my stay earlier this year in the South of France.

After settling into the house and finalizing some of the accessories for this project, my husband and I decided to explore the local region and visit some neighboring small villages. I would like to share with you some of the design elements both small and large that were memorable for us.  Of course one often hears about towns such as Avignon, Marseille and Arles, which were lovely, but I would like to share with you some smaller, out-of-the-way villages that gave us some stellar experiences.

Up on a small mountain was the town of La Garde Adhémar. The residents there are famous for homemade wood-baked pizza with paper-thin crusts and delicate toppings. The adjacent, more formal restaurant had a collection of vintage plates that would make any dish collector swoon. This town with a population of about 8,000 was so charming, and was also home to a beautiful medieval church.

Another local town that might otherwise be missed is Uzès. Here we had the most artfully displayed ice cream I have ever seen served up in a Murano glass dish with fresh fruit. I do believe good design applies to all things — even ice cream!

In the town of Saint Paul Trois Chateaux, the chef at one of the local restaurants made Bouillabaisse especially for us. It was interesting how the broth came out first (served separately) followed by the shell fish along with a whole fish as well. The added saffron to the broth was wonderful.

In Grignon, we found a charming tea room with homemade orange and lemon tarts. Many of these small towns have weekly markets to visit, and offer products flavored with their famous lavender. Lavender honey, jellies, soaps, syrup and more were in abundance. This is where I purchased some of these fabulous things.

All in all, it has been very rewarding to see how happy my clients are with the results of this project. I am constantly learning and inspired from my travels, which, in turn, hone my design skills. So I thank you for following my journey to Provence and do wish you, as always, to “vivre admirablement” – live beautifully!

We felt so incredibly special as a chef in Saint Paul Trois Chateaux made an amazing Bouillabaisse dish for us. The same chef also created this tortellini salad masterpiece, which was beyond delicious. You can do this at home, too! Included in this salad pictured above is cheese tortellini, prosciutto, fresh peas, asparagus, peppers, lettuce and cucumbers – all topped with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve chilled or room temperature.

We found this gem of a meal in La Garde Adhémar. In a word: superb. Travelers come from far and wide to taste this scrumptious wood-burning oven pizza for which the town’s residents are famous.

Here’s an example of beautifully served ice cream in Uzès, France. This was one of the most marvelous desserts I’ve ever seen presented, and the sweet and refreshing taste was out of this world. It was served in a Murano glass dish topped with fresh fruit.

Our time in Grignon allowed us to see this wonderful lavender field. The town’s weekly markets offer an abundance of lavender products, including honey, jellies, soaps, massage oils, syrup, pillows and more.

Provence, Part II: Arriving and Accessorizing After “Virtual Design”

August 6, 2012

In my first blog post about designing a client’s vacation home in the South of France, I shared some overall thoughts about virtual design and how meticulous, organized and team-oriented you have to be in order for it to be successful. In this second installment, I’m excited to talk about the accessorizing we did in the home once we arrived. It reminded me of the famous quote by American writer, producer and film director Robert Harling, who wrote Steel Magnolias: “The only difference between us and the animals is our ability to accessorize!”

Having done this project virtually, it was such a treat for my husband, Bruce, and I to see the results in person. At first, what struck me most was how seriously old the village was in which this home was located. The charm and quaintness of the town was intoxicating. Once inside the home, I was so pleased to see how all the furnishings fit the space perfectly. I then realized it was time to accessorize and tweak things.

First, I addressed the mantel on the lovely French fireplace (seen in my July 23rd blog post) and found a local antique dealer where I could purchase some leather books that would support an original oil in a creative way. I then added a candle holder and vase of flowers and — voila — suddenly the room began to feel inviting.  Nothing like books and flowers to warm up a space!

In the kitchen, we selected the broken joint tile for the backsplash from a local shop near my studio in La Grange, IL, and had the cabinets built locally as well. I added some old copper pieces that had great patina to bring a dash of warmth and character. I also visited some linen shops for tea towels and napkins. My clients had already selected some lovely dishes.

On to the bedrooms: Appropriately placing a vase here and there, as well as straw hats (all used by the owners), and detailing an empty bookcase became my next goal. For the bedroom bookcase, I collected all the pamphlets about the region, some picture frames, miniature oils and small accessories to add charm to the space. The bookcase was from a resale shop near my design studio that we had refinished and shipped over. We also had all the bedding made in the USA and shipped over as well. At the end of each day, we would have a glass of local Rose wine, some great cheese and bread and just kick back. Stay tuned for a taste of the local color in my next blog post.

The cabinets and broken joint tile for the kitchen backsplash were from the United States. The old copper pieces were purchased upon my arrival in France, and my design-savvy clients found the perfect dishes. Looking at this photo makes me want to make homemade ratatouille followed by crème brulee for dessert!

All of the bedding was made in the United States and shipped to France. In this bedroom, the existing exposed beams lent themselves as a great architectural backdrop to complement distressed-looking furniture. The nightstand you see in this photo and the smaller nightstand in the second bedroom pictured below are actually new pieces made to appear antiqued.

We accessorized by purchasing French vases and French home accents. The casual placement of the homeowners’ straw hats made for great styling in this picture, don’t you think?

For the empty bedroom bookcase, I collected all the pamphlets about the region, picture frames, miniature oils and small accessories to add charm to the space. The bookcase was from a resale shop near my design studio in La Grange, IL, that we had refinished and shipped over.

Provence, Part I: Virtual Design – Embrace it with Passion!

July 23, 2012


One of the great things about interior design is that I get to become a part of my clients’ lives. I love being a trusted part of their extended circle of friends. You can imagine how thrilled I was when one of my Chicago-based clients told me about their vacation home overseas, and asked me to spearhead its re-design – ooh la la!


It was a “magnifique” opportunity to help my clients create a getaway place in Provence, or as it is also known: the South of France. This was a team effort with the client, the designer (me : ) and an American contractor working together along with some French locals. The project took about 18 months to complete.


Working internationally was quite an experience. Logistics came into play with a lot of “how tos” and “when”, but we persevered and the end result was very satisfying for us all. We filled our 40-foot container with both construction materials as well as all of the furnishings. This was all carefully orchestrated and timed.


Some of the construction materials included doors and flooring from an Amish supplier, tile, kitchen and bath cabinets, and much more. The furnishings sat in storage in Marseille while the rehab took place. Measurements were taken to perfection. How? We chose to send our contractor there in advance so I could create accurate space plans.


Our vision was to preserve what we could of this 500-year-old building located in an 1,100-year-old village and replace what was required. The beams, fireplace and a few other things were kept including most of the walls. We added new flooring, doors, and kitchen and bath cabinets, along with tile and paint. The staircase was also replaced, including new iron balusters.


My clients already knew they wanted a soft palette for their French getaway. The color scheme of pale soft aqua blues, seafoam greens, butter cream and caramel were inspired by the area rug and the desire to create a restful retreat.


Space planning the living and dining room was quite the challenge. This was a long, narrow room and we wanted to make the most of the space. Placing the table against the wall and under the mirror was my first suggestion. The rectangular shape maximized the space and the mirror gave it some depth. I did not feel a rug was necessary under the dining table so we chose upholstered chairs for texture and warmth.


Since the fireplace was a focal point and the room had an existing angled armoire, we decided short-backed swivel chairs would be great for additional seating without taking away from the fireplace. So basically we created a conversation area across from the sofa while still maintaining the ability to look at the television and enjoy a fire during the winter months.


The secret I have is that I did not go to this project until it was completed! I successfully did all of this work and planning with great “before” pictures and video … so you might say it was my “virtual project.” Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will tell you about my visit to the project to see the results in person!

Here is the front entry of the 500-year-old home that was redesigned in Provence, France. The rich, chocolate brown-colored entry door was one of the items we shipped overseas from the United States.

Shown here is the narrow dining room in my client’s vacation home in the South of France. I love the combination of muted aqua blue and seafoam green with espresso brown. Notice the original beams in the mirror’s reflection.

For the living room, we continued the color scheme of pale soft aqua blues, seafoam greens, butter cream and caramel, which were inspired by the area rug and the desire to create a restful retreat.

Here is one of my favorite images from my client’s vacation home in Provence, France. What more tranquil a feeling is there than sipping French wine next to a warm, crackling fire?

Shown in this image is the front patio table of the retreat in the South of France.

Here is another view from the front patio.



Design Plea: In Defense of Drapery

The color palette and draperies in this air-conditioned sunroom reflect this client’s fearless desire for color. We delivered with a bold scheme of persimmon, orange, lime green, and fuchsia and turned this room into a favorite gathering place for entertaining and TV watching.

Draperies for Sunroom

It was a challenge to find durable fabrics that were also playful with deep vibrant hues. I chose an ultra-suede for the lower portion of the drapery and contrasted the top in an indoor/outdoor colorful plaid. The weight of the fabrics draped well together and the satin finish of the ultra-suede worked well with the soft finish on the acrylic plaid. The casual ripple fold allowed for a minimal stack back that was easy to operate.

There are so many aspects of design I love: from designing a bathroom and space-planning a room to creating custom drapery and selecting the perfect furnishings for clients – and everything in between.

Having a passion for fabrics and a background in textiles, it’s natural for me to want to create beautiful window treatments. On the other hand, perhaps it was that scene in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett dramatically ripped down the drapery that piqued my interest!

Over the years, I have found that just the right drapery can become the connecting design element that is needed to complete a space. Of course there are times when doing nothing on a window may be the best solution, or something as simple as installing a shutter. In most settings, drapery can be like underlining a sentence and punctuating what’s in the room. Generally I find that drapery fabrics and style evolve after other elements of the room have been determined. Draperies can be strictly decorative by adding color, texture and warmth to a space. They can also be functional by blocking out light and helping with energy consumption.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of receiving national awards for some of my drapery designs. In the sunroom picture below, the lime green ultra-suede fabric along with the colorful indoor/outdoor plaid are resistant to sun damage and can open and close depending on television viewing. In addition, the color pulls together all the other elements in the room.

My design in the elegant condo photo creates strong vertical lines with an architectural presence giving both warmth and color to the space without interfering with the view.

And in the traditional terra cotta-and-gold-toned room, the oversized quilted cornices and panels (nearly 20 feet tall), transformed the space adding warmth, texture and color.

Each room with windows has its own drapery design story that ultimately depends on the view, the size of the window, the function of the space and of course the client’s taste.

This living room’s draperies are elegant and work perfectly with the layout of the space.

The draperies in this great room are dramatic and beautiful, and follow its existing architectural features. The end result provides a true “wow” factor!