Final Penthouse Pictures!

I realize I never shared the final photos of my penthouse project.   This was my first time doing a “turn key” furnishing project.  Turnkey is in quotes, because I didn’t go so far as to pick out their silverware, dishes, etc before they moved in, but we did prep all of the furniture and bed and bath linens so that when they arrived for Christmas, they had one less thing to stress about.

The client had a pretty modest budget – he purchased the condo for his two grown children to live in post college / law school, and so he didn’t want to spend a ton where it wasn’t necessary.  We kept the furnishings and decor modern and youthful, but sophisticated enough so that they had room to grow up.

I had a lot of fun working on this project.  Because they lived in DC, they relied on me heavily to make decisions and it was exciting (and scary!) to be flying solo.  I’ve only ever worked on a team, so this was a true test.  I’m pretty happy with how things turned out – especially considering we knocked this out in 2 months with a limited budget!

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One thing I definitely need to work on is accessorizing and styling for photos.  It was tough because we did our shoot before the client moved in, so there were zero personal affects laying around for us to play with.   My photographer and I lugged in bags and bags of accessories and books up to the unit for this shoot, and it still felt like we didn’t have enough.  This is one aspect of not having a team of people working with me that I really felt the most.  But that’s ok!  It was my first solo project, and I am pretty happy with it.

Photography by Amanda Freeman

 

Woodland Theme Nursery

When my friend Brooke told me she was expecting, I was so excited!  She and her husband had just moved into their amazing new home in Palos Heights (aka the middle of the woods, right outside the city) and a few of the rooms need some updating.  What better excuse than a baby on the way?

She asked if I could help create a woodland themed nursery and work with a modest budget (the initial wallpaper I showed her for inspiration was over $500 a roll – whoops!).  So I found a toned down, simple room for inspiration that would be easy to interpret and personalize, and put together the below purchasing package for her.  I think it’s pretty darn cute, and because of how simple it is, it doesn’t necessarily scream “baby”.  Her little boy will be able to live in the space for a few years before outgrowing it – especially as the crib adjusts and converts to a toddler bed.

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I had so much fun putting this together for her.  I love getting caught up in all the sweet little details that come with styling a kid’s room.

What do you think?  What are some other themes for kid’s rooms that you like?

 

Wedding Recap

And just like that, it’s all over.  18 months of engagement, planning, saving, freaking out, agonizing, and anticipating, has all evaporated into the past tense.  And now, the one day that I looked forward to for a year and a half has come and gone just like any other day.   There’s no special potion to make the magic last longer than it does.  All I have left to keep are the memories and the man.  Oh yeah, and photos!

It is so difficult to decide which are my favorite pictures, and I’m sure as time passes and I revisit them I’ll see new things and have new favorites.  Just as I looked forward to the day of to see the whole thing come together, I looked forward to the photos to see all of the moments of the day that I missed.  I spent so many hours crafting paper garlands and hand writing signs, and arranging the flowers, and I hardly noticed them during the wedding.   I made mini-bouquets to tie on the chairs, and walked right by them on the way down the aisle without a second glance!  But I don’t regret spending the effort- it was fun time I spent with my mom and my friends that helped me mentally prepare for the day.  Each item I crossed off of my crafting to-do list helped me feel more grounded and prepared, and ready for the party!

Another major source of unnecessary agony was the rain.  The first weekend in June is still a little risky when it comes to Chicago weather.  Day after day, I checked the weather apps – and as it got closer, several times a day I was hitting refresh on the radar map.  We were planning to do our ceremony and first dance outside, but the threat of rain necessitated a big tent, and that whole plan fizzled.  I was so worried about it, I wanted to have my dance out in the garden under the twinkly lights.  Or rather, I wanted photos of my dance out in the garden under the twinkly lights.  I actually didn’t want to do a first dance at all – or any of the typical traditional wedding things that necessitated all eyes on me.  It wasn’t until a few days before that we decided to write our own vows.

We called our vows “proclamations”, and excerpted a children’s book called “I Like You”, reading reasons why we like each other back and forth.   Of course, I gave myself all the funny parts and got all the laughs.  It helped me feel less nervous to know that people were enjoying the ceremony instead of waiting for it to end!  I heard from several friends and family that they cried – something I came close to several times, but magically refrained from.  I had my fake eyelashes to think of!

We had the ceremony and the party in an old firehouse on the North Side of Chicago.  The walls were the original white subway tile, making the perfect blank canvas.  I knew I wanted the look to be simple.  Since I was making most of the decorations, I worried about it looking too DIY, but in the end, I’m pretty happy with how it all came out.  Outside, the walls of the building were covered in ivy, providing a lush early summer atmosphere.   Tent or no tent, the scale was perfect.  We had about 70 guests, but because the venue was so intimate, it felt full the whole time.

The night was magical.  We were surrounded by our family and friends, eating and drinking delicious foods and cocktails, dancing the night away.  I was in a cloud of happy, not a care in the world, and I was celebrating the beginning of the next stage of my life with all of the people who I hope to be a part of it forever.

Apologies in advance for over-sharing, but I can’t help it!

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My little brother was so emotional!

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A friend of ours made the cake.  Recognize the logo?

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Photos are by our amazing photographer, Anna Sodziak.   Wedding ceremony and reception took place at Firehouse Chicago.   Seriously amazing catering by Huegah Catering.   My hair and makeup was done by Kate at ChromaK8 in Lincoln Square.  My main dress was from Jade Bridal in Pilsen, my party dress was Ralph Lauren on sale at Macy’s, and my shoes were from Banana Republic.  (They were super comfortable – I danced in them all night, and not a single blister!!)

Never Work For Free

As someone working in a creative industry, it just about sets me on fire to know that day after day, designers and other creative professionals are exploited without shame.  For some reason, creative work is not valued among non-creatives, and it is accepted as totally reasonable to them to ask for free services.  Case in point below:

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< Insert string of angry expletives here. >  The people posting the ad had enough money to buy a new construction home in a wealthy area of Chicago.  They have a budget for an entire house full of furnishings in the “modern luxe style” but ZERO for the professional help they want to put it all together?  Instead, they are preying on students who need portfolio projects in exchange for real compensation for their work.   Sorry, but no thanks!  An experienced designer would charge tens of thousands of dollars in time alone for the work it would take to handle a project of this scale.  4,000 square feet is HUGE, and specifying furniture, accessories and logistics takes weeks of detail oriented work!

I urge anyone who sees this type of ad who is need of building their portfolio to stop and think about what they are doing.   People who ask for free services usually get them because there is always someone wiling to do the job.  But when you agree to work for free, you perpetuate the culture of creative exploitation, and actually make it harder for others to be fairly compensated.

Creatives, do not undervalue yourself!   The commercialization of the internet has created a world of writers who are asked to create click bait content for bigger websites in exchange for exposure.    Anyone with a laptop and a few software programs can pose as a graphic designer.  And while it’s nice that technology has made it easier for more people to pursue their passions, the competition has gotten out of control.   It’s tempting to take a job that promises to build your portfolio, but you do NOT want to work for people who do not value you and the work you do.  Would you ever go to the dentist and ask for a free root canal?  Would you dare to tell your nanny that she is lucky to wipe your kid’s butt in exchange for the experience?  NO.  You worked hard to get your education and training, why are you going to give it away?  I know you have bills to pay, but taking on a commitment to someone who doesn’t care about your bills means you have less time to find work for someone who does.

When people agree to work for “experience”, they are sending out the message that asking for free creative services is acceptable.   Professionals who have invested years and money into their educations, equipment, and reputation are often overlooked by those in favor of someone with less experience who can do “the same job for less”.  I encountered this when planning a wedding and lamenting over the costs.  I now am so happy I decided to hire a professional photographer to document my day – she was worth every penny!

But I need to build my portfolio!

I totally understand that everyone has to start from somewhere, and that place is usually the bottom.  But there are other ways to develop a body of work that you’d be proud to show other people without totally screwing yourself financially, and stripping yourself of personal integrity.  For instance, find someone you know who has something you want, and offer a trade.  My good friend is a working professional photographer who has traded services with other creatives in order to build her portfolio in the direction she wants to grow.   The difference with a barter is that you initiate the trade, you set the terms, and you gain something that you value and otherwise would have to pay for.

Another option is to take (or keep) a job that’s not really what you want, and create the work you want to show on the side.   This takes a real commitment to your craft, whatever that might be.  Another friend of mine started a natural beauty line in her kitchen.  Six years later still runs it our of her apartment, all in her off-hours while working a day job. Every day she gets closer to making it her full time job, but for now it is her passion and her patience is paying off.

If you have a passion for something, you will find a way to bring it into your life.  You do not need anyone to tell you they are helping you by letting you work for free.

To those new homeowners, you get (and deserve) what you pay for.   When you seek out an inexperienced college student to handle an important and life changing project, you will  likely get student quality work – even if that person is talented.  Many interior design students may work while in school, but entry level positions usually entail working in a resource library tucked far out of sight of any client.   Their interaction with contractors and vendors are limited at best.  When you are not willing to pay a professional, you are also sending out the message that you are not seeking someone with high standards for professionalism, integrity, and accountability.   You are saying you don’t place a value on the experience of the designer who has solved countless problems in the real world, and you don’t care whether or not they have an extensive network of other contacts built up over years in the industry.   And that’s a huge mistake.   And you deserve to make it if you’re asking someone to do valuable work for free.

My views on this issue are nothing nobody’s heard before.  You can learn more about the struggles of being a creative freelancer at Freelancers Union, as well as what you can do to help make change.  It’s a great resource for the independent creative to learn about their rights and how to navigate difficult situations that arise while doing business.

For everyone out there navigating this type of situation, stay strong!

Grandmothers

This week, MJ’s grandmother passed away.  After what seemed a steady decline and a move into a therapy center, she suddenly sprang back to life and returned to her own home.  So while this was an expected event, the timing seemed off.

I only met her one time.  It was last year on Mother’s Day, which coincided with her birthday.  Her living room was filled with flowers from friends, family, and adoring neighbors.  She seemed to have a story about every single person who called to wish her a happy birthday.  It was nice to imagine that while MJ and I weren’t the most attentive to her, she had a circle of people in her life that cared for her.  She seemed like the sort of woman I imagine anyone’s grandmother to be – at times a little bit difficult, but full of sweet memories, a bottomless vault of unheard stories.  She had saved a plastic bag from years ago, from a day when MJ delivered her newspaper (not a normal occurrence) and wrote a message on the bag.  I thought it was the cutest thing on the planet.

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At the burial, I was surprised to find myself wiping away tears for a woman I hardly knew.  We spent a grand total of a few hours together in the same room, but somehow I was stricken with the sense of loss.  A relationship that I would never get to have, memories I would never get to form – with her as well as with my own grandmother.  And for a few moments, I allowed myself to mourn the loss of these women who have touched my life so briefly, and yet somehow, so deeply.

I grew up with only one living grandparent in my life, seeing her only about one time a year.  She lived in California, and we’d make a point to visit her and my dad’s side of the family during our summer break.  Because of the long spans of time between visits, she cherished the time with my dad (her only son), and they would spend hours catching up in Spanish, which we as kids did not speak or understand.  I really can’t recall a single conversation with her in detail, but more general specifics.  She called me Yackie, and always asked me if I had a boyfriend, even when I was 8 and the thought of boys liking me was absurd.  She made the most delicious food on the planet – even the way she made Malt-o-Meal was incredible and impossible to duplicate.  None of her meals came with a recipe and I will never taste the flavors of her kitchen ever again.

My grandmother was silly and dramatic – or at least that’s how I interpreted her.  Since I couldn’t understand most of what she said, I took my cues from her wild arm movements and passionate manner of speaking, often followed by fits of laughter.  She loved her novellas, believed in ghosts, and took her teeth out and put them into a cup while she was sleeping.  She had a picture of a pig on the toilet in her bathroom, a life sized stuffed doll of a chef (I think she made it herself) sitting on an otherwise unused exercise bicycle in the guest room, and those plastic finger hooks that held her kitchen towels.  She painted their nails red.

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As we got older, we became more entrenched in our own lives across the country.  Summers became more about lounging poolside, making knotted bracelets with friends, and less about visiting our family that we didn’t really ever know that well.  Since all of our California cousins grew up together in close proximity, they had actual relationships with each other, but we were the strange ones landing only every so often, to shyly enter the play circle.  I regret that we grew apart, but at the time, as a child growing into a teenager, the avoidance of those awkward interactions was more preferable to developing lasting relationships with my blood relatives.  I still don’t know them well and I’m sorry about it.  I doubt I will see any of them at my wedding next month and I’m sorry about it.  If they come, one day won’t be enough to change the fact that for the last 29 years I have been a stranger.  It’s not really my fault but still somehow I’m still sorry about it.

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I remember as a kid thinking that the ideal grandmother wore glasses and an apron and made apple pies and lived somewhere close by where we could see her all the time.  I remember having this total misconception that all white grandmothers were like in television commercials, and that that was the only  kind of grandmother that was worth having.  I don’t really know how this thought got into my head, but I guess it was based on the feeling that I was missing out on something important.  But even with that knowledge, I never did anything to change the situation.  I never reached out to her, and she stopped reaching out to me when I was around 12.

My grandmother died in 2013 – the day before her 84th birthday –  after several years of troubled health, slow and steady decline followed by a rapid nose dive.  Her funeral was the first time I saw that side of my family in over ten years.  They had all grown into people that I did not recognize, and once again did not know how to communicate with.  I felt like an impostor crying at the eulogy, imagining everyone judged me for my long absence from my grandmother’s life.  While I thought of her often, I know that wasn’t enough.  In high school, I won an award for a poem I wrote about her, and never shared the news – or the poem – with her.   It just never occurred to me. We weren’t raised to think that way, and I now know how much I’ve missed out on.

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Being present at family events with MJ makes me realize how much I’ve missed out on with my own family, as well as in my role as a new member of his. I accidentally introduce myself to people I’ve met before, and forget names and associations.  He has a giant network of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and we spend almost no time with any of them.  I think about the fact that if we have children someday, they will be younger than all of their cousins, and be left out of the growing up together.  I think about the fact that we live so far away from my parents and siblings, and the possibility of us ever being together again as a tight knit group is unlikely.

As I wiped away my secret tears in the cemetery, I cried from the sadness of these realizations.  From knowing that family is something that is so important to me, but somehow so impossible.  I think about the ways that I can change that, and it seems like any other challenge I’m currently facing – huge, daunting, and not entirely up to me.

Master Bath Inspiration

As I write this, I’m sitting in a client’s home, waiting for some contractors to finish taking their measurements.  We are redoing the whole house, starting with the master suite.  There is a lot of work to be done, and I thought I’d share some progress updates here as we go along through the process.

Here’s a peek into the existing master bath:

Crappy iPhone picture quality aside, this place is in need of a serious makeover.  I don’t even know where to begin!  The black marble, the sea of 12″ x 12″ beige tiles, the weird tiny vanity shoved in the corner… it’s all going bye bye.

The client wants his bathroom to have a spa-like feeling.  We came up with two concepts for him: a light palette (Day Spa), and a darker palette (Sexy Man Spa).  Below is some of the inspiration imagery that I pulled together from Pinterest.*

1st Option - Shelving
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1st Option disc
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1st Option master bath color and vanity ideas
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The Day Spa focuses on light, natural wood finishes, light stone tiles, and light stone, or concrete counter tops.  Clean & Serene.  We’re showing stand alone tubs, to free his bath of the tiled deck and make it feel more spacious in the room, and turn the bathtub into a focal point.

2nd Option darker version mixed with lighter wood
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2nd Option Master Bath more of a rustic spa look mix of materials
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2nd option master bath tile-
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2nd option vanity deisgn  color
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The Sexy Man Spa includes darker, slate tiles, interesting patterns and textures, and darker wood finishes.   This look is a bit more masculine, but still serene and clean – perfect (I think) for his bachelor pad.

Collecting concept images is always fun, since it means you’re at the point where the project could go in any direction.  The hard part is picking a direction, editing out the ideas you love but have to let go of, and making a final decision from a sea of endless possibilities.  For every image you see of a great idea, there were probably 500 other great ideas that never came to life!  You can follow me on Pinterest for a more in depth look at my design style.

What do you think?  Which bathroom would you choose?

 

*Note: I’ll always do my best to credit the image sources, but in some cases it’s difficult to find the original source, due to the nature of how we consume images on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr.  In that case, I’ll link to where I found the picture.  

Happy V-Day!

Two things I don’t often get super excited about:

  1. Having my photo taken.
  2. Valentine’s Day / Holiday Sentimental mush.

But this year is a little different.  We recently did our engagement portrait session, and received the photos back from our amazing photographer, Ania Sodziak just in time for Valentine’s Day sharing! I found Ania through my caterer’s website  as a recommended vendor, and instantly clicked with the vibe of her portfolio.   I knew that if there was one thing I cared about for my wedding, it was the photos, since (aside from the husband) it’s the only thing from that day I’ll get to keep forever.  And while an engagement session always seemed like a cheesy idea to me, I came around to it.  The wedding day is going to be so hectic and crazy, and I’ll be dressed up in a fancy costume that I’d never wear on any other occasion.  Doing the engagement session was a great way to capture us as we are all the time, without the presence of family  and friends, and the stress of a big crazy event going on around us.

Ania did a great job of putting us at ease – and captured some really lovely moments between the two of us.  So in honor of Valentines Day, and because I now have a catalog of photos I’m not 100% sure what to do with, I’d like to share a few of my current favorites here:

Happy Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day, Palentine’s Day, and or whatever you like to call it!

Swap-o-Rama 

  
I am a born bargain hunter.  I love vintage stores and resale shops and thrift stores and flea markets and yard sales.  Something about the search really gets me excited, about knowing that amongst all the weird junk is a treasure waiting to be found. 

My most recent prize is a pair of brand new Cole Haan booties for $40.  I walked around looking at my feet all weekend saying “What a good looking pair of boots!! What a great deal!!”.  MJ loved hearing it, all 500 times.

We decided to go to the Swap-o-rama on a bit of a whim.  We are in the market for some new side tables, and some promo for a show on HDTV had me saying “Where are all the good flea markets, anyway ?”. To me, a good flea market has to have a lot of variety.  Not just power tools and lawn mower parts and knock off grocery store products, but there should also be a good selection of weird shit you can only find in a dead persons house.  Their secret collections and prized possessions cherished and hidden away for private joys.  If a taco stand is on the premises, even better.

Swap-o-rama is not really a good flea market. $2 admission gets you in to a giant labyrinth of booths selling products of questionable origins.  Half empty paint cans, fancy audio equipment, crappy jewelry, knock off designer sneakers.  The market continues outdoors where there are people selling rusty old appliances, broken furniture, Levis with the  JC Penny tags still on them and used (most likely stolen) bikes.  I am convinced my landlord buys his materials here.      

    
    
  
While we didn’t find anything to bring home with us, we had fun looking at all the weird collections of things.  Someone had bags and bags of Michael Jackson and Culture Club buttons.  A food vendor was selling bags of congealed blood. My favorite was of course chatting with the lady selling taxidermy.  If I didn’t already have a borderline obscene collection of deer heads and animal skulls, I’d have been bringing home a coyote pelt.  

The search continues for the perfect market with pristine vintage furniture being sold for below market value by unassuming little old ladies.  Where do you go to find a good deal?  Are there any local markets in your area with great treasures?   

 

To New Beginnings

In the last few months, or even over the course of the last few years, depending on how you look at it, I have fallen into a sort of creative rut. I let my old blog die, started new ones that never went anywhere, stopped writing in my journal, and most recently I stopped posting as frequently on Instagram. I became obsessed with how I appeared online and what people knew of my real life. All of this embarrasses me to admit, but it is real. I just stopped trying. To be a ghost was easier and more acceptable than to be obviously failing.

So here I am.  January First (though by the time I hit publish, it will be the Second), starting a new blog post.  A new beginning, a fresh start.  When will I learn that New Years Resolutions never stick?   When will I learn that trying to change myself and almost everything about the way I operate is never going to work unless I still somehow feel like I am my own true self?

In the last few months, or even over the course of the last few years, depending on how you look at it, I have fallen into a sort of creative rut.  I let my old blog die, started new ones that never went anywhere, stopped writing in my journal, and most recently I stopped posting as frequently on Instagram.  I became obsessed with how I appeared online and what people knew of my real life.  All of this embarrasses me to admit, but it is real.  I just stopped trying.  To be a ghost was easier and more acceptable than to be obviously failing.

In general, I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the sudden explosion of “young talent” and “content” that was taking over the internet, and felt like my voice was just a squeak in the cacophony of louder, more confident voices.  Inside me, I was growing a sickening jealousy of people I’ve never met before: #authentic hipsters with no discernible employment and endless time to explore the outdoors. The Instagram pixie girls drinking tea in their beds with perfectly messy hair.  The lifestyle bloggers with endless brunch budgets and paparazzi husbands.  I was obsessed, and couldn’t stop myself from feeding the beast.  I would spend ungodly amounts of time scrolling through feeds to analyze and tear apart people who I thought were somehow better than me.  The real problem started when that jealousy began to extend to my personal life, and it would pain me to even be around friends who I thought had it better than I did.  I became a fan of Carles and started to believe that Nothing Matters.   (Just looking for the link nearly sent me into a downward spiral of self-doubt and desire to give up before I’ve begun.)

But begun what?  I think that’s the question that has kept me from starting for so long.  What do I have to say?  What do I think will happen this time around?  How do I brand myself when I am not trying to sell anything?  Most importantly: How do I escape the negativity that I have recently associated with doing a thing that I once loved? 

I learned in grad school that an easy way to help define what something is is to first explain what it isn’t.  So with that in mind, here’s what I’ve got so far:

This isn’t a lifestyle blog.

This isn’t a style blog.

This isn’t a design blog / food blog / photography blog / [insert here] blog.

This isn’t a for profit blog where I write fake content to get free stuff from companies.  All of my words are my own, even if they make me cringe to put them out into the world.

I am not a crafter, artist, maker.  I have nothing to sell.

I am not a professional blogger.

I am not a professional photographer.  Any images will most likely come from my phone.

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What I am and what this is… well that’s still a work in progress.   To be determined.   But I miss having a record of my life.  It upsets me when I look in a notebook and see large gaps of time between journal entries.  It feels like that time slipped by me and I took nothing from it to keep.  So because this is the internet, this will perhaps be a more curated record, but a record nonetheless.  Of the thoughts that I have and the things that I’ve seen, and the person that I am, and was, and will be.