Home Office Ideas

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Photo of me by my lovely friend Amanda 

I have a ton of books.  Like, a TON.  In the photo above, what you don’t see is the top row of books on the super tall book shelf, another overflowing book shelf next to it, or the other two book exploding shelves across (you can see the side of one on the left of the picture).  Add to that a growing sample library, project files, and notebook collection.  My office, which is half library, half museum, is becoming just a tiny bit out of control.    Continue reading “Home Office Ideas”

Project Snapshots

I realize I don’t put a lot on this blog about the things I’m working on, and so I’d like to share some tidbits from a project I’m wrapping up.  A few months ago, I was contacted by a lovely family who purchased a second home in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood and needed their new empty condo completely furnished.  Sound like a dream?  I know… Continue reading “Project Snapshots”

Dining Room Rug

The other day, we made a quick jaunt out to Ikea (our favorite spontaneous weekend activity), and came back with more than we needed – as usual! Ikea is like Target for me – it doesn’t matter if I only need one thing, somehow I always end up in the check out line with a full cart!  (As AirBNB hosts we always have a need for something, plus MJ loves Swedish Fish..)

My absolute favorite section is the As-Is, where they put discounted merchandise that’s often perfectly good.  I’ve gotten lucky so many times, with so many different kinds of products.  We’ve found complete duvet sets that were previously on display, large picture frames for $4 because they changed the packaging and wanted to get rid of the old ones…. you get the picture.  This time, we came away with a sisal rug that I’d been eyeing!  I wanted to buy it anyway, but at 40% off how could I say no?

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Continue reading “Dining Room Rug”

Home Maker

These last few weeks have been a strange mix of emotions.  I yo-yo back and forth between terror, acceptance, denial, anger, disbelief, and so on.  It has been so difficult for me to return to normal after the election and pick back up with a chippy attitude on social media and here on this blog.  It’s almost as if I suddenly feel that the things that used to interest me have lost a bit of value in recent weeks.  What difference am I making in the world by choosing someone else’s furniture for them on Pinterest?  What does my future as a luxury service provider look like if the economy tanks?

I know that is not the way to look at things.  I know that what I do matters – if not to everyone, it matters to the people who I do my work for.  Now more than ever, I think the idea of staying home is appealing to me – and it’s not just the colder temperatures.   And making this home of mine one that I am happy and comfortable in is increasingly important.  I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

For now, I will keep working, and do what I do as best as I am able.  I make my home the one I want to be in.  I help others create the backdrop to the stories of the lives they want to lead.  Whether it’s their first home, a second home, or an update, this is something that will always be important, no matter the state of the world outside.  To be at ease in a safe and comfortable space is a feeling that is sought after again and again.   I have been living in the same apartment for 4 years and constantly rearrange the items on my shelves, moving plants from one room to the next.  Every now and then something crashes to the ground and I start all over again.   My home is more than the rooms I inhabit.  It is a state of being, a reflection of both who I am and who I hope to become.

 

A New Season

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March 2016

Back in early March, I was sitting on my sister’s couch, crying my eyes out in the middle of the night.  Things were horribly, yet inexplicably wrong at my job (my dream job!) and the anxiety of returning to a toxic workplace had ruined the end of my week long vacation in Phoenix.  The feeling crept up on me, until it had totally overwhelmed me and stopped my ability to enjoy a single moment of the day.  Imagine Sunday Anxiety x 1000.

Earlier that day as we wandered through the aisles of a Native American Market, I felt lost and hopeless, touching every stone and asking what they meant.  Where was the thing that would purify my soul?  Where was the thing that could protect me?  I allowed my mom and sister to dawdle at the booths and rushed ahead of them so they would not see that I was crying.  Something in me had cracked and broken, but I did not know what it was.

Continue reading “A New Season”

Writer’s Theater in Glencoe, IL

The other day while I was out doing some site visits in the suburbs, I stumbled across the brand new Writer’s Theater in Glencoe.  When I say it’s brand new, I mean it’s not even done yet, but that didn’t stop me from rushing in and taking photos.  The gallery catwalk is protected by the wooden slats to prevent birds from crashing into the windows. The firm even labels the project as bird safe on their website.

As someone who just recently had to rescue a frightened bird from the jaws of my cat, I can definitely get behind some bird-safe windows – especially if they look like this!  (Side note: the bird was fine, but it will likely never come near our windows again.)

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The catwalk was closed, since it is still under construction, but I tried to press as close to the glass as humanly possible without getting it dirty.
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Even the ceiling is a work of art.

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Sadly  I did not get to tour the inside of the actual auditoriums, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back for a play!

If you are not familiar with Studio Gang’s work, please take a moment to peruse their portfolio, and then book the next flight out to Chicago.  Jeanne Gang is a certifiable genius, and her work was a constant source of inspiration for me while in design school.   Everything she touches becomes beautiful.

Pleasant House Pub

When I first moved to Bridgeport from the north side of Chicago (most recently, 3 years in the ultra-cool Logan Square), a major selling point was that I would be living less than a block away from a cool coffee shop, a really cool bar, and an awesome restaurant, all at the same intersection.

MJ and I would go on “Bridgeport Date Nights” where we’d walk into Pleasant House, place an order, and then walk next door to Maria’s to get drinks. Pleasant House would then deliver our food to us at the bar. The people who worked at Pleasant House were neighborhood people, and recognized us despite little personal conversation.  When the girl behind the counter saw I was engaged, she was excited and approached MJ to congratulate him when they happened to both be in the coffee shop a few days later.  It was that kind of amazing customer service and friendly neighbor experience that made me love Pleasant House with all my heart. Oh yeah, and their food is delicious.

So imagine my dismay when they announced they were leaving the neighborhood.  Yes, their old location had a gross looking exterior and tiny interior space, but it was charming!  And so close to my house!

They ended up moving to Pilsen on Halsted Street, taking over the mysteriously vacated Nightwood restaurant space.  The menu is essentially the same, and now they offer an assortment of beers and wines as well.   Their interior is like an expanded version of their old location, featuring dark wood paneling in contrast with marble table tops and crisp white paint.  Throw in some taxidermy and dangly plants, and it has a cozy, hip vibe without feeling too trendy.  Oh and their outdoor space is going to be open year-round!

Even though I can no longer walk here, I definitely approve of the upgrade.   Now, if we can only find a way to get cool businesses like these to stay in Bridgeport instead of fleeing to the more hipster neighborhoods…


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Obligatory food pic!

Master Bath Update

A few months ago I posted some inspiration for a master bath I’m currently working on with another designer.    Well, construction has finally begun, and we’re past the point of no return!  While it’s just a routine renovation, this project is especially exciting for me due to my level of involvement.

You know when you work for a big company and you do all of the lame boring grunt work and then your boss swoops in with the flair and puts her name on everything?  Well it’s not like that this time and I couldn’t be happier.  Even though the project is through another designer’s company, I’m involved every step of the way, and getting valuable experience (and credit for my work) that I never before received while working at a big firm.  It’s refreshing!

But experiences aren’t all super exciting.  Some of them are painful and awkward, and I dread making the phone call, and even worse, leaving the voicemail to tell someone I’m really mad and not happy with what they’ve done.

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Not sure if you can really tell, but that’s my drawing up there with a contractor’s markup  changing the design.  And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they built it.  Without asking me, or the client.  Not cool!  Their reasoning behind the change made it clear they wanted to do things the easy way, and if I wasn’t so invested in the project, I would probably have let it go.  Give it to the boss to deal with and move on with all the other fires I had to put out that day.

But this time it’s different.  This time, it’s personal.  This is my portfolio they are messing with!  If I wanted there to be an ugly tub situation I would have drawn it that way!  So it was on me to send the stern and chiding emails, and make the round of phone calls to ensure that this got taken care of the right way (aka my way!).   And it worked. This morning’s site visit left me reassured that there was a remedy for the error, and all would be done according to plan.

This is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone in the design world.  Stuff gets messed up ALL. THE. TIME.  The color is wrong, something came in broken, it doesn’t fit through the door, the electrician put the plug in the wrong place, etc. etc. etc… Anyone who says they’ve had a project where something didn’t go wrong is probably lying.   Interior designers are constantly freaking out and fixing problems big and small on a daily basis.  In the grand scheme of things, this problem was a pretty small one.  But for me, this was a big step in my independence and professional growth.  I’m celebrating the fact that I dealt with the icky feelings and said what I needed to say without disaster or compromising professionalism.

It’s not all bad though.  Just look at this gorgeous stone we’re getting for the counter tops:

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I have to admit, I drove all the way out to the suburbs, and am a teeny bit disappointed they didn’t give me a hard hat to wear in the warehouse.   But this slab is amazing, and worth the missed opportunity for a hard hat selfie.  Maybe you can’t see it from my iPhone pics, but the stone is satiny soft, and glowing with magical powers.  I can’t wait to see it installed and share with you!

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!

The End Goal is Never The End

During these last few months I have really been thinking hard about what I want, and what I need to do to get it.  I waver back and forth between finding a mentor to guide me for a few years and taking a leap of faith to go out on my own.  Currently, I’m straddling that line with freelance work.  I’ve taken the steps to register my own business (no easy task with the way Illinois government offices are designed to provide confusing information), but fallen short on actually starting.  In a way, I see this blog as a step towards my goal of total creative independence, but I have days where I’m unmotivated, or question what my purpose is.   And then I remember – I specifically set out to have no purpose so that this project could evolve along with me.

Part of my problem is that I’m always looking to others to determine what I want, and using their accomplishments as a scale to measure my own success.   Of course I’m never going to feel good about how I’m doing if I only look to others how they are now, and ignore their process along the way.   I am trying to remind myself in moments of frustration that everyone at the top had to start from somewhere, and the most important thing was that they started.  Easy, right?

The below quote has lately been popping up all over the internet in various forms, and I think it’s applicable in so many ways.

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Image via Pinterest

I am majorly guilty of spending way too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.  What starts out as something that is fun and inspiring, usually leads to me sinking into a black pit of despair.   My life and accomplishments are not picture perfect, and therefore unworthy.  It doesn’t even matter if what I see online isn’t what I wanted for myself.  Someone else has it, and now I can see that I don’t.  Sigh… 

My career path has taken many twists and turns over the last few years.  Some of it has to do with the fact that if something is not in line with my end goal, I find it hard to continue on that path.  Some of it has to do with the fact that I made incorrect assumptions about how I would feel and what I would learn while pursuing certain opportunities.  I was lead starry-eyed into a hot young design firm, and killed myself trying to fit into their mold.  It wasn’t me.  It wasn’t right.  Generally, my fight or flight response defaults towards flight, and I flew.

So here I am, attempting to stick with something I decided to do, even if I don’t exactly know what that fully entails.   Below are some key points I’m trying to remind myself of daily.

  • Small triumphs still count.  Why do I have to wait until I’m world-famous to feel like I’ve had a successful career?  Can I stop for a moment and feel good about how I handled that client meeting last week?  Can I be proud of the hard work I do on a daily basis?  Pretty sure the answer is yes.
  • The end goal is never the end.   Thinking only about the end goal is often enough to stop me in my tracks.  I imagine this state of perfect satisfaction once I achieve X in my career.  But that imagined state is just a snapshot, and not the full picture.  What happens when I get what I wanted?  Experience tells me I’m going to want something else, and the cycle will continue.  I have to be ok with how things are in the present, and if I’m not, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my priorities.
  • I can appreciate what others do without being convinced that I should do the same thing.   This is a huge one or me.  Earlier this week, I listed to the FOMO episode of Andy Miller’s Creative Peptalk podcast.  It was perfect timing for me, as I do tend to see other successful creatives, and feel pressure to do as they do.  What’s great for someone else is not necessarily great for me, and vice versa.

I’d love to hear from others – what are some key things that helped you through a turning point in your career or personal life?