Buy this, not that. The Bar Cabinet

Need a bar cabinet? No. You don’t. No one NEEDS a bar cabinet – but we certainly WANT a bar cabinet. But really? I know. Priorities.

It’s true – I’ve had by eye on the sexy Clive Bar Cabinet from Crate & Barrel for the past two years. It’s a beauty and I’ve recommended it to clients because, well, it’s a beauty. But at $2,499 it’s a hefty commitment, especially for a recreational beverage-related casegood. Granted, it has some bells and whistles, like its mirrored interior and (not just one, but two) drop-down shelves. But sheesh! That price hasn’t changed once in all the time I’ve seen it at C&B. Still, the Clive taunts me with its come-hither looks, its promise of sweet industrial chic.


Clive Bar Cabinet from Crate & Barrel, $2,499

But then something happens. The internet gods lead me to this. The Clive rival.

Pub Bar Cabinet

Pub Bar Cabinet from Living Spaces, $750

It’s the rugged good looks that first catch our eye. He’s nameless (“Pub Bar Cabinet”). That’s cool. And after a closer look, we learn there’s no mirrored interior. Only one fold-down shelf, not two. But the reviews are good and what it does share with Clive is the same industrial chic that reminds me of a loft in the South Loop. But what really seals the deal? The price. $750 at Living Spaces. Now you can stock your bar and have it too.

Fireplace Surround (the driftwood edition)

I’m so grateful for having this place to share my behind-the-scenes stories.  I just finished a project for a great client who has agreed to let me post these pics of the project in progress (thanks Sara!). She wanted that comfy cozy farmhouse look that has become immensely popular. She brought me in to pick paint colors and make suggestions on furnishings, lighting & area rugs. Then she showed me the fireplace. It was so… well, see for yourself. Here’s the before pic:

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 7.20.30 PM

Before. Silently begging for a makeover.

The wall colors we chose would lighten the space a lot, so painting the brick white was a no-brainer. It’s not something I always recommend (once you do it, it’s very very hard/impossible to undo), but she wanted it done and I completely agreed. But what to do with the mantel and surround?  I suggested we transform it using paint. Get a driftwood look going, maybe let some of the dark wood show through a bit.

Fast forward a few days and I get a message from Sara saying that before she could stop him, the painter had mistakenly put a coat of white on the mantel too. Oops.


This is how I found the fireplace when I began the project. That brick is so much better!     And the brass went away too.  But that surround… Can you tell where she stopped him from painting?

But all was not lost. Our goal was to give the surround a coastal, driftwood-like feel.  So I got to work. I taped everything to protect the new paint job on the walls and brick, then applied two coats of Annie Sloan’s French Linen chalk paint. If you’ve never used Annie Sloan products, they are quite lovely to work with. A little more expensive than the competition, but lovely.

IMG_4722 Using a combination of techniques, (rag, foam brush, & dry brush) I applied Country Grey chalk paint over the French Linen to create a distressed, aged look. In places, I rubbed the French Linen away to reveal a little of the painter’s white coat underneath. A little bonus from the painter’s mistake. I finished by buffing in clear wax and voila, the fireplace is transformed!

Note – We stopped at one coat of clear wax to keep things lighter overall, but you could go further with detail by adding a bit of dark wax over the clear wax (always apply clear wax before doing dark wax!). The dark wax would provide even more depth, shadow and distress.

We love how it turned out. We’re so thankful to have been able to help transform a space like this. Happy new fireplace!


Base of French Linen with a dry brush of Country Grey


After. Ahh, much better.

The Family Gallery Wall

I’ll never forget the look of joy and relief on my client’s face as she saw her family photos up on the wall. She had 20 or so of them, in frames of all different shapes and sizes. Antique black & white photos, school pictures, professional family shots, precious candids. Earlier, I watched and listened as she pulled each framed piece from a large cardboard box, describing the members of her family, and when/where each photo was taken. Each shot had meaning and memory and love. My mission was to group these snapshots into a family gallery wall. As I worked, I’d check with my client, making sure I wasn’t stirring up any feuds by putting certain relatives too close together (you never know!).  At the risk of tooting my own horn, the end result was amazingly beautiful. To view them felt like diving into a family tree. My client’s relief came from no longer keeping these amazing memories in a box for 15 years, from no longer feeling paralyzed by not knowing how to begin the process. Seeing them up on her wall brought her to tears of joy. What a gift it was to create her family gallery wall.


My Grandma Anne, circa 1917.

Let’s face it. Family photos are tricky. Growing up, my grandparents would fill their stairway with an endless row of school photos of us grandkids, at various stages of gap-toothed awkwardness. Looking back, their pride in family was beautiful. But of course, my 20-year-old self would cringe, consoled only by the fact that my cousins joined me on those walls, in all of their double-knit, polyester-wearing glory.

I am often asked “where should I hang family photos”?  I always answer with “how do you want your guests to feel in your home?”  My family tree client chose an upstairs hallway that was visible from a family room below. The family grouping would be present, but not overwhelming. It would be seen from a space shared with friends and family alike. To see detail, you’d need to take the time to go upstairs, study the faces, hear the stories. Its location helped to give the grouping both importance and privacy.

Most of my clients who ask me to create their family gallery wall are like my family tree client – they’re paralyzed. They promise to get to it one of these days, but lack of time and a fear of “doing it wrong” keeps those photos in the box. The memories that the photos conjure can even play a factor. Sometimes, hiring someone like me is the best solution. But if you do have the time, here are some tips to help you transform your box of family photos into something you and your guests can admire.

Choose your wall. Assuming you have a large number of photos to display (over 12, let’s say)… you’ll need a large, blank wall that is not just a passageway. Your gallery will be a focal point, so it needs room to be viewed.  A hallway T-intersection or the top of a landing are favorite spots. Family rooms can also work nicely for a family grouping, especially to provide balance to a fireplace or other large focal point.  In my opinion, free-standing family photos that can be propped on a side table or bookshelf are good for bedrooms, but the walls of bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms should be reserved for artwork.


A gallery of artwork can work in almost any room of the house – we placed these in our client’s guest bedroom. But family photos work best at hallway T-intersections or landings.

Frame your photos. You can: a) choose exactly the same frame and mat style for all of your photos (a black frame with a white mat is a classic, no-fail option), or b) mix up your styles. When you mix styles, let the photo lead you to the right frame. Is it an outdoor, woodsy shot? Consider a reclaimed wood frame. Grandpa’s military photo could look terrific in a simple metal frame. Wedding photos will pop when surrounded with engraved detail. Take your photos with you to the store to help you choose.

Resist the temptation to frame your photo without a mat.  A mat helps to draw your eye to the image and will always make your framed photo look more polished.  Of course there are exceptions – don’t risk ruining an antique photo just to replace an old frame that has no mat. If you really want to reframe it, bring it to a professional who will help restore and treat your family heirloom with kid gloves.

Mix it up. Unless your photos are all identical in size, choose different sized frames and mats. Let the size of the photo lead you to the right frame. But if you have a very small photo that you adore, don’t let it get lost. Shine the spotlight on it by placing it in the middle of an oversized frame and mat.


We created this artwork gallery wall in a dining room. Mixing sizes and shapes makes a black and white theme even more interesting.

Add other images. Consider bringing in images that have meaning to the family. That picture of the family farm from long ago. The shop that great-grandpa opened. A sunset you enjoyed on your honeymoon. An old porch swing. Even a quote that mom used to say. Adding unexpected elements to your gallery wall can spark conversation and create some visual interest.

Measure. Determine (and measure) the space on your wall that you’ll be using for the grouping. Decide the width you’d like your grouping to have. You don’t have to take up the whole space, but if you do, leave at least 6 inches on either side of the end of the wall (or light switch).

Check your time. Before starting the process, make sure you have time. It takes me about 60 – 90 minutes to arrange and hang a grouping of about 12-15 pieces. So give yourself a nice window of time where you’ll be uninterrupted and won’t worry that people will tromp by and step on your photos.

Start arranging. When you’re ready, arrange your pieces on the floor in front of where you’ll hang them. Measure to make sure the width of your grouping matches the space you’ve determined for your wall. Adjust accordingly.


A “before” gallery, arranged on the floor.

When you arrange your photos, keep them close together – typically, around 2-2.5″ apart on all sides. And unless you’re creating a perfect grid, the arrangement should have movement – one of my clients calls it “controlled chaos.” This is where it gets a little difficult to provide instruction. You’ll need to rely on your own intuition and creativity. Pay attention to where your eye travels as you look at the arrangement on the floor. If a photo is getting left out, switch things around until you feel a good flow to the story. Some pieces will always feel less important than others but grouping them thoughtfully can make all the difference.

Take a photo. When it’s time to hang, snap a photo of your arrangement. Take several photos from different angles. Trust me, you’ll use them for reference!

Mark with pencil. Find and mark the middle point of your wall. Find the middle point of your grouping and start by hanging the piece (or pieces) in the middle that will anchor your grouping. Work your way outwards from there. Measure twice, nail once!


The same arrangement, up on the wall.

Use the right tools. You’ll need nails (I like wire nails with a nice flat head), a hammer, measuring tape, picture hanging hooks of various sizes, and a level. If your pictures are small, I sometimes just use a single nail without a hook, especially if a hook might be seen above the frame once its hung. If you’re putting your gallery up in a high traffic area or where the walls sometimes shake, invest in a little putty to stabilize each piece once it’s level. There is also a handy tool out there that I highly recommend when hanging a gallery wall – it’s called the Hang and Level. If you use it, work your way up the wall, rather than down, so you have room for the tool to do its work – it’s a huge time saver.

Have fun! Remember, if you don’t like where you hung your pieces, don’t stress. A little spackle and paint will cover any mistakes. And as your family grows, you can swap out photos or add to the mix. Be creative and enjoy the result.

The Desk Rescue

photo 1-69My kids and I like to visit garage sales. One late Saturday afternoon, we’re  out and about, but many of the sales have already packed up. The piles at the end of driveways are starting to appear –  the stuff no one wants, the stuff destined for a landfill.  As we drive, we notice one such pile in the distance. I get closer (cue the angelic choir) and spy this sad little desk. Abandoned, peeling, in need of some serious love. It’s made of real wood. The perfect size for Z’s room. And FREE. I see its potential. We bring it home.

Such a sad little desk, isn’t it?

I clean it up to get the peeling paint under control. As long as it isn’t flaking paint anymore, it can be used. So it makes its way to Z’s room, still very sad and not so pretty. Until the other day, that is!

I’ve been working on refinishing a piece for one of my clients. It’s an old dresser that’s getting a new life with several coats of Amy Howard’s spray lacquer in black. So I ask Z, “would you like me to do this for your desk?” A huge smile crosses his face. Within minutes, that desk is emptied and sitting in my work area. After sanding and cleaning, the process is simple and very quick, since lacquer is fast to dry. It takes about a day to get it done (in the midst of everything else I do, and weather permitting). I also let the paint cure for 48 hours before considering it useable. (Definiltely give it a day or two to make sure the paint smell dissipates before bringing it back into the house.)  Silver knobs from Menards replace the boring wooden ones. Two cans of lacquer and one can of varnish later, he has a beautiful little work space!

photo 1-72

Dawn & Water

I’ve come to appreciate the many uses of Dawn dish liquid. Just a drop of the stuff is all you need, but it’s easy to use too much unless you find another way to dispense the stuff. For years, I’ve used a glass olive oil pourer, but it’s heavy and slippery! One of these days, I’m bound to lose my grip and it will break in my sink, cracking all my dishes in the process.

So I got very excited when I spied this clever solution while visiting my Aunt Laura. (Check out that gorgeous quartzite countertop while you’re at it – it’s indestructible).  She just took an old Method spritz bottle, filled it with equal parts Dawn and water to make a spray-able dish soap. Lightweight, easy to grip and dispenses just the right amount. We had to pass the tip along!

dawn and water

The Closet D.A.S.H.

Your closet is full. No. More. Room. And yes, we’re happy to help you organize.  But if you’re up for the challenge, you can do it yourself in about an hour.  We call it the D.A.S.H. Method. Why? It’s quick and it’s an acronym so you’ll remember it. Hold onto your hat and get ready because you’re in for a ride.


Our very own “Before”.  Ack!

Follow these steps:

  1. Set up four containers. Label them “Donate,” “Alter” “Sell” and “Hangers.” (D.A.S.H., get it?) I like big Rubbermaid tubs but big corrugated boxes. laundry bins or garbage bags work just as well.
  2. Next, take 10 minutes to identify all of your favorite clothes. Yes, I said favorite. Set a timer and work quickly. As you find your faves, pull them completely out of your closet, keeping them on the hangers. Set them on the bed. What are “favorites,” you ask? Favorites are what you’d wear today, what you wore last week, what you intend to wear tomorrow and what you just love to wear anytime or on special occasions. Note: it’s not clothing you wish you could wear again. It’s okay to have a lot of favorites, you just can’t say all of them are.  Twenty-one is a good number to shoot for. Why?  It is a perfectly acceptable number of clothing to have (as a nation, we typically wear only 20% of our existing arsenal), plus 21 is easy to remember.  Time’s up or reached the magic 21?  Good, now stop.  Smoosh all of your clothing to the front of your closet to make room in the very back. This is where your favorites will go for the time being.  They’ll make their way back to the front again. Trust me.
  3. Now…working your way backwards (from your favorites to the front of your closet), take ten seconds for each non-favorite item and decide to either donate, alter or sell.  Notice one of the choices here is not “Keep.” That was Step 2. We’ve moved on. We’re in Step 3 now. This is your moment to seize, to step up and be brutal. It’s not the time to remember when you bought it or where you wore it or who you were with when you got red sauce on the cuff.  This is the time to recognize that THIS PIECE OF CLOTHING IS NO LONGER YOUR FAVORITE.  Take it off of the hanger, say goodbye and put it in a Donate, Alter or Sell container. Put the hanger in the Hanger container. Done. The first couple of items you do this with will feel liberating. The key is to stay with it and maintain momentum. Ten seconds for each item will go quickly. In 30 minutes, you can get through 180 articles of clothing this way!   SIDE NOTE:  We also took the time to remove our least favorite hangers from the bunch (see picture below). These evil little buggers bother us to no end – they’ve got a little tabby thing on the front. The tabby thing is great for ribbons that keep our clothing straight on the hanger, but we also discovered that it just hooks onto the hanger next to it, wreaking all kinds of havoc when trying to pull down one piece of clothing. So we said bye-bye to these suckers in today’s purge.
  4. Time’s up? Take a look at what you decided to Donate or Sell.  If you feel a twinge of regret, choose three items you just can’t live without and put them back in your closet.  Yes, you may have three.  See, I’m reasonable! (For the record, I had no twinges of regret with the items below.)
  5. Grab a cool glass of water, relax and admire your handiwork. Your closet is now bursting with only your very favorite articles of clothing.  Congratulations!  You have our permission to go out and reward yourself with a new favorite. But before you do…
  6. You’re not quite done. Take those tubs out to your car. You now have thirty minutes to drive the Donate & Hanger bins to a local charity that accepts clothing, take the Sell bin to a consignment shop and the Alter bin to your local tailor. If these places are more than 30 minutes away, please don’t speed to make your deadline.  But you get the idea!
  7. Well done. You have successfully purged your closet in less than an hour.  These are our very own before/after photos from today. Feel free to post yours and tell us how it went!

Ahhh, that’s much better!

A Before & After – the Power of Pillows

One of our clients needed to spruce up a guest bedroom. The daybed cover wasn’t doing the room justice, but it was made specifically for the bed and finding another (or having another made) would have been costly and time consuming.  We brought in a few comfy, affordable pillows found at HomeGoods & Target to help!




and After…


We love how the center accent pillow brings out the colors in the painting.  The gold, quilted pillows mirror the pattern of the quilted daybed cover to make the daybed cover somehow less noticeable.  (It’s our “go with it” philosophy. Don’t fight against what you can’t change. Instead, dive in and “go with it.”)  At the same time, the gold color complements the picture frame.  Our client already owned the neutral pillows on the ends – and they work perfectly here to complete the grouping. 

What a difference – and for less than $25!

Summer Treats

We love finding ways to freshen up our home… but we also think a cool, fresh summer beverage deserves its own spot in the sun (more on that below)!  Treat yourself to one of these summer recipes, straight from our kitchen to yours.

Mama’s Mint Lemonade
4 lemons, sliced
4 sprigs of mint, with a few more to garnish
6-8 cups water
1 cup sugar (optional) – we like ours unsweetened
Serves 8

Slightly bruise the mint leaves using a pestle or wooden spoon. Add the bruised leaves to your pitcher of water and refrigerate for an hour.  Remove the leaves and add lemon slices to the mint-infused water. If you prefer a sweetened version, dissolve 1 cup of sugar into a cup of warm water to create a sugar syrup, then stir in before adding lemon slices. Serve over ice, garnished with a sprig of mint, of course!

Simple Sun TeaImage

So easy… just requires a few bags of your favorite tea, a big glass jug or extra large canning jar, water and the sun!  You can get fancy and add herbs or fruit too… but the basic recipe can’t be beat.
Fill a large covered glass container with water and place tea bags with the tags exposed for easy removal. Fasten the lid and set the container outside on a sunny day until the water is a pleasing caramel color. Remove the tea bags, serve over ice, garnish with a sprig basil or rosemary and enjoy!

Watermelon Limeade
One half of a seedless watermelon, cut into chunks
Juice of 4 limes
Lime wedges for garnish
Optional sugar syrup to taste (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water)
Serves 4-6

Combine watermelon, sugar syrup and the juice of 4 limes. Puree in a blender until smooth.  Serve in chilled glasses, garnish with lime wedges.

Happy summer sipping!

Far From Home – The Zen of Selling

In the mood to recycle an article – this was originally published in 2009, but it’s still one of my favorite bits of staging advice.  Please pass it along to anyone thinking about putting their “home” on the market…

for sale

Far from Home – The Zen of Selling

What you used to call home has just become another listing – one of many, many properties up for sale. So how will you stand out from the crowd? You’ll spend money fixing it up, getting it ready. You’ll throw a new coat of paint on the walls. You’ll invest in a professional stager and maybe an organizer to help you de-clutter. But there’s one improvement most people neglect to make and it’s the least costly of them all. It’s also arguably the hardest to-do on the list.

What can you do to improve your chances of a quick sale that costs nothing?

Stop calling it “home.” Really. Remove the word from your vocabulary and from your mind. When you leave work at the end of the day, head back “to the house.” When you tell people you’re selling, say your “place” is for sale. It may sounds crazy, but once you stop calling it your home, once you detach yourself from those four walls, something mystical happens. Call it the Law of Attraction, Zen, Fred, whatever name you want to give it – once you stop referring to your home as “home,” buyers start appearing.

Ask any realtor – they’ll swear they sell more property when the homeowner is out of town, on vacation (and hard to reach). When the homeowner is detached, distracted from the stress of selling – when they are far from “home,” things begin to happen. So when you’re getting ready to sell, move that bike out of the kitchen, take the photos off the mantle, and depersonalize your vocabulary too. It costs nothing to do and just might make all the difference.