Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Painting with all the Colors of the Wind

Hello Chickens!

Things are cranking along over here, so I thought I would give you a brief update...I'll be doing another video walk-thru in the next day or so, because things are HOPPING, and frankly, you don't want to have to read a zillion flowery words about my new windowsills or doorstoppers or how much I suddenly love plinth blocks.

But I did want to share something important with you all, because I know one of the things I loathe about the interwebs is this sense that everyone's life is either insanely perfect or a constant hot mess, with little in-between.  Except I think most of us live most of the time in the in-between, I know I do.  Has our renovation gone scarily smoothly so far, all things considered (knocking on things), yep.  Thank goodness.  Have we had the occasional snafu?  Absolutely.  (SEE MOAT)  But I'm not here to make you think that renovations are a lovely little bit of delightful, nor a constant source of horrible.  They are mostly in-between.

So this is my in-between update.

We are painting.  And by we, I mean the very nice team of guys who are actually painting right this moment while I stay safely and smartly upstairs where I don't ruin anything.  Remember all of our conversation about the ins and outs of paint?  And how excited we were to have our palette all picked out? 

So, here is how we are doing (please excuse terrible photography):

This is the hallway!  We are so excited at this bright white space, the Superwhite color looks really nice and wide and tall, and doesn't feel dungeony or basementy at all, which is what we were going for.  The trim is all in the same color, just in Cashmere Pearl finish instead of satin, and it is ready to get its second coat.  Gorgeous.

This is the passthru from the media room, which leads to the wine cellar and the exercise room.  (exercise is thirsty work, you know, so we thought proximity to refreshments would be a good idea!)  You can see how the Ceiling Bright White stays white even though the walls are dark.  Genius technology, that.  The room doesn't feel cave-like at all, despite that Peppercorn paint on the walls.  I love how the white trim makes it pop, and the wine cellar door, which is the only door in the basement that is stained instead of painted, looks fantastic!  We picked Sherwin-Williams Red Mahogany stain for that door as well as all of the trim on the windows, and it is such a close match to the original stained woodwork on the upper floors that the house will feel pretty seamless.

Can you love a soffit?  I do.  This one.  This is in the exercise room, which has a curved wall, so our contractor made the soffit curved to match.  I love how the Peppercorn plays off the white ceiling and the brick and stone.

And then this happened.

Remember the very awesome grown-up sophisticated elegant pink I wanted for the bedrooms?

Remember how I counseled you all to do samples of many versions of paint colors you want in your rooms before buying paint?  Do you recall how excited I was that Sherwin-Williams will let someone order 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of sample paints for just this decision making process?

Yeah, that in-between thing?

What is not as clear here as I might like it to be is the truly horrible a-My Pretty Pony-ballerina-threw-up-fairydust-and-strawberry-Quik-in-here color that is on these walls.  Looking at these pictures you might think we are fairly close.  You would be mistaken.  These colors are Blush and Bashful.  Disney would clothe a stepsister in them.


So, today I have called my guy Dennis over at the Sherwin-Williams store and ordered two quarts of new sample colors that the painters will slap up in hopes that we can find something that doesn't look like I've covered the bedroom walls in Calamine lotion.  The good news is that they are currently running a 40% off promotion, so if you need some paint, now is the time to do it!

Stay tuned, I will keep you updated on all the good, the bad, and the in-between.

Yours in (usually) Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some great news!


First off, you probably noticed that in order to get here you were redirected to the new domain!  Make sure to bookmark blog.polymathchronicles.net for the future.

Second, if you are in the greater Chicagoland Area, I am delighted to announce that the first event for Recipe for Disaster is coming!

And the best part?  It is an evening with me and my bestie Jen Lancaster!

Please join me and Jen in conversation about Recipe for Disaster, and her upcoming new memoir I Regret Nothing, and probably some other topics like Kimmy Schmidt and the enduring legend of John Hughes.

Thursday April 9
The Book Cellar
4736 N Lincoln

Both Jen and I will be signing books after the discussion.  Really hope to see you there!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Recipe for Disaster is Here!


Just a quick note to say that Recipe for Disaster is finally here!

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered, and if you never got around to it, you can absolutely order it today or pick it up from your favorite local bookseller!

If you want to make me the happiest author in the world?  After you buy the book, pop over and make sure you are following me on Twitter, Pinterest, and like my Facebook Fan Page.  We all know how social media numbers help, so if you haven't yet joined the team, I'd be ever so grateful.

And as always, if you read Recipe for Disaster and love it, please consider writing even a brief review on Amazon so that we can help other readers find it as well!

I will be having some upcoming events in the Chicago area, we are holding off a bit because we'd like the weather to break before asking you all to come out on a school night, so stay tuned for some exciting readings and signings in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, thank you one and all for reading, it means everything to me.

Yours in Humble Taste,
The Polymath

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tickled Pink!


Hello from the land of DRYWALL!  We are finished with the taping and mudding and sanding downstairs, having created an insane amount of dust, but we at long last have walls that are complete.  on the excellent advice of my mother, I have done my very first video tour of the space.  It is also my first video, so I hope you will bear with me from a quality perspective.  I tried very hard not to be too herky jerky or to pan around too fast.  But I'm no Scorsese, so please take it at face value.

Here is the basement:

If for some reason you are having problems viewing the embedded video, you want watch it on YouTube.

You will notice in couple of the rooms we have our paint samples still up on the walls.  For the media room and wine cellar, we were able to make our decisions very quickly...drumroll please...

Media room and Exercise Room:  Sherwin Williams Peppercorn, a wonderful deep dark charcoal gray

Wine Cellar:  Sherwin William Black Fox, a deep chocolate brown

As I mentioned before, the special pink we are looking to do in the bedrooms is a tricky one, and the lighting isn't making the decision easier.  Check out these three pics, which are not fantastic but should give you a sense of what we are dealing with:

With fluorescent bulb

Incandescent bulb

No overhead light, natural daylight
In the first picture, we have a compact fluorescent bulb overhead, in the second a regular incandescent, and in the third, only the light from the windows.  Now you can see why it is so important to check your sample colors in all sorts of ways, because the colors change A LOT.  And this is the time when you start to really get a sense of the rooms and the light.

Which means we are having our very first "uh oh" moment.

(Well, not including the Moat issue.)

Here was our original plan:  two basement guest bedrooms would each get a ceiling fan with a light in it.  We love a ceiling fan, especially for sleeping.  Most especially when it is Spring or early Summer, when it is still cool enough to not need air conditioning, we love to have the windows open for the breeze, with the fan circulating the air and creating some white noise sound that helps block the noise from the street.  So we thought that we would do them in all of the guest bedrooms throughout the house, so that when we have company, they can choose the fan experience if they like it.

We picked this one:

It is simple, reasonably priced, we would order it in white, so that it would disappear into the white ceilings, and has a halogen light fixture with dimming capability.

The plan called for this to be the only overhead lighting, since there will be lamps in the rooms as well, and the rooms are not massive, so installing a lot of recessed cans would look clunky.

When we did the walk-through with the electrician, there were no walls, only some framing, so there was full light bleed from the whole space, and the one center light seemed like it would be totally fine.

Except now that the walls have gone in, things are looking somewhat dim in the bedrooms, particularly at night, and we are a little bit worried.  Especially since the possible paint colors, which all look fantastic in the spaces where we have overhead can lighting, or upstairs on the first floor, are looking kind of generally crappy in the current light scenarios.  And of course, now we have fully drywalled, taped, sanded ceilings, so it is not really terribly convenient to start thinking about more recessed lighting.  It isn't that it can't be done, it is just a huge pain in the butt, a big unexpected expense, would throw off the timing of what comes next, and would still look clunky, which is why we didn't do them to begin with.

So, we are in the process of debating our options.  Halogen light, which is what we have in the fans that we bought, will mute color, especially when it is in a frosted housing, so we are going to try and temporarily install one of the fans so that we can get a true sense of the quality and amount of light it provides, and to see if the colors still all look crappy.  If the light seems sufficient, and we are able to find a color we love, we will stick with the original plan.

But in renovation, you have to be prepared to have as few sacred cows as possible, and to go with the flow.  If the fans don't provide enough or the right quality of light, we will scrap them for the basement bedrooms, and find a flush mounted ceiling fixture that will fix the lighting problem, and then as we move upstairs to the other bedrooms, we will know that we will have to add some recessed lighting cans to provide more light so that we can still have the fans.  It is a perfectly fine solution.  In our worst case scenario we'll still have three bedrooms with fans, two of which will use the ones we bought for the basement, so we won't be out of pocket on those, and we will just find some sort of great light fixtures for those two rooms downstairs.

I'll keep you posted as we finalize this decision, but I thought it would be a good story to share.  I now know that before I sign off on final overhead lighting for any room, I will need it to have all the walls in place, and if there are not finished walls installed, I will put up some tarp or sheets or something to block the light bleed from other spaces and get a truer sense of how the light will work in the room.  It is a good lesson for me, and something to put in your notes for your own renovations!

Stay tuned for the final decisions on lighting and paint, we still have to pick the final colors for the bathroom and laundry room, which we will probably do tomorrow.  But we are officially at the finishes and fixtures stage, everything from here on out is about stuff we can see and not infrastructure!

Also, do me a favor and let me know how you like the video.  Because if you don't love it, I can keep going with just pictures, but if it was helpful in any way to be able to do the space walk thru with me, I am happy to keep doing them!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Color My World!

Hello Chickens!

Sending greetings from the land of drywall.   Here are some in-progress pics...

guest bedroom


Media room...showing the exposed steel beam
These guys are amazing, look at what they have to do everywhere a wall meets the stone!

That is some seriously amazing hand-crafting right there!
You'll notice that we are two-toned, the drywallers are using the mold resistant stuff on the lower half in case we ever get water in the basement.  Always thinking, and you know our basement motto:  Better safe than soggy.  More next week when the taping is done!

First off, congrats to Bridget O'Neill who has won a copy of my new novel, please send your shipping address to me at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get it out to you.  For the rest of you, have you remembered to PRE-ORDER your copy of RECIPE FOR DISASTER?

(Okay, you don't have to order eight copies, unless you really want me to love you to bits, but one would be awesome!)

If you have been following along, you have heard that we have decided to be a top to bottom Sherwin-Williams house when it comes to paints and stains and finishes.  If not, check out the first paint post HERE.  And we have picked out the different product lines of theirs to use for the various types of spaces we have.  Which means it is time for COLOR.

And can I get an A-MEN.

I have some philosophies about color.  First off, while I love the moody greige Restoration Hardware Catalog as much as the next girl, when it comes to the spaces I am going to actually live in?  I don't want to be afraid of color.  And while my wardrobe might be 50 shades of gray, my tastes for interior design (not to mention books and movies) are a little more...singular.

I think unfortunately, we can all tend to go to extremes with paint color.  Either we get scared of color completely, and paint the whole house off-white figuring that our furnishings will provide all the color we need, which makes our spaces look generic and lifeless.  Or we go too far to the other side, and paint each room a different color without imagining how they relate to the spaces you can see or pass thru, making our houses look like fruit salad.

Here are my thoughts, and worth just what you are paying for them.

Just like you want to be careful about your flooring choices, since different flooring in every room is visually jarring, think about the flow-through spaces and ceilings of your home as your map.  By unifying those two areas, preferably with a neutral, you help the eye travel through your home.  We are using a Sherwin-Williams color called SuperWhite, which is specially formulated to minimize the reflection of other colors.  By choosing this crisp, pure white for all of our hallways, the stairwell, and all of the ceilings, we will have a bright clean palate cleanser for the eyes as we move through a home where we are making some bold color choices.  Keeping the ceilings this clean white will also help rooms with dark walls not become cave-like, and will help reflect light.

When it comes to choosing colors, think about each entire floor of your house as a palette.  You want to choose colors that are friends.  That doesn't necessarily mean that they all have to be different tones of the same color, which is certainly a choice you can make and can be very elegant.  It just means that none of them should clash when put next to each other.

Choosing the color for different rooms is actually a two step process.  First is to choose the general color:  deep brown, for example.  Then you want to get a few samples of deep browns that you like, and get them up in the actual space for a few days.  Lighting in your rooms is very different, even from room to room, and it changes at every time of day and night.  You want to make sure that the brown you choose doesn't go too black at night, or doesn't get too green in the light you have in that room.  Remember the napkin story?  Trust me, treat each room as its own environment, and let the colors live there for a bit before you decide.

Sherwin-Williams makes choosing color pretty easy.  First off, on their website for homeowners, they have a Color Visualizer that allows you to easily upload a photo of your room and try different colors on the walls right on your computer!  Once you narrow down your colors, you can buy a few samples and paint them right on your walls to test them out.  If you are working with an interior designer, or one of the designers at Walter E Smithe like we are, they can order you paint samples pages in three sizes, I like the 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheets, so that you can just tape them up on the wall.

You want to put up at least 3-4 versions of the color you want, and label them so you know which is which.  Then go look at them at several times of day...early morning, late morning, midday, midafternoon, sundown, night.  Rank them in order of preference at each of these times of day, and see if one stands out as being preferred the most number of times of the day, especially the times of day you are most likely to be in that room.  After all, if you are usually in your bedroom only early morning and late at night, how it looks at noon is less relevant.  But if you have a home office that you are in all day, those changing midday times will mean much more to you.  This process should allow you to pick the perfect version of the general color you have chosen.

When thinking about colors on a floor of your home, you can mix and match darks and lights, as long as they all go together.  I'll use our basement as the example.

We know the hallway and stairwell and ceilings will all be that fabulous SuperWhite.  We have some design challenges for the rooms, including the fact that the media room and exercise room share open arched entryways, and not doors, and that the wine cellar is also off of these spaces, albeit with a door.

Charming Suitor knew that he wanted a dark color in the wine cellar, after all, it is supposed to be cavelike, so in that room, we are also going to break from our rule of the white ceiling, and choose one color that will go on all walls and the ceiling as well.  And we knew we would want a dark wall color in the media room, since the primary function of that room is to watch movies and such, so while we will still do the SuperWhite on the ceiling for some brightening, we want the walls to be dark.  That meant we would simply paint the little hall that has the entries to all three rooms the same color as the media room, and would extend that color into the exercise room as well, so that the spaces flow.  We can use a different color for the wine cellar, since it has a door, but want something that will be friends with the other colors.

CS and I both love a deep rich dark molasses brown, which we used in our Kitchen Library upstairs:

Since it really looks great with wood, and the wine cellar will be covered in wood racking, he wanted to use a similar color down there.

With the gray floor and stone walls in the media and exercise rooms, we thought a dark gray would be a better choice, and luckily, gray and brown look elegant together, as long as you get the right ones!  Both brown and gray can lean yellow or green or reddish, so when choosing versions that will live right next to each other, you need to choose versions with the same base tones.  When using our Sherwin-Williams fan deck to pick samples, we choose them from the same section of the deck, to make sure that the undertones are the same.  Our Walter E Smithe designer Mary Jo helped us order several versions of each, so that we can find ones that will work well with each other AND with the rooms.  As soon as we get the drywall up, we can tape the samples to the walls and start our process of checking them out all times of day!

We have two guest bedrooms down there, and when it comes to basement bedrooms, my personal opinion is that you go light and bright.  Basements can get a little dark in general, so if you want the rooms to feel bigger and more open, a light color is the way to go.  And since these rooms are right next to each other, we wanted to unify them by picking one color that would work in both.  I didn't want to go white or off-white, I feel that they can too easily go yellow in darker spaces, I wanted something warm and welcoming.  Since those rooms each have a stone and brick wall, and the brick is sort of rosy, I though that a lovely pale pink with hints of gray in it would be perfect.  At first CS thought that pink would be a little girly and pastel, but then I showed him this:

 And this:

And this:

And he saw what I meant, that I wasn't talking about a girly babydoll ballerina pink, but a pale grayish pink that is very sophisticated and elegant.  We have ordered, I kid you not, about 10 different pink samples to test in these rooms because this is a color that if we get it wrong, it will be REALLY WRONG.  So we are going to get all of these samples up and check them out for the better part of a week before committing, I think it is going to be our hardest color choice to pull the trigger on, but I also think if we get it right it will be really fantastic and special.

The bathroom down there has very limited paint, since the walls get a tile wainscoting to nearly four feet high, but it is also a dark-ish room, so we are going to be looking for a light stone color that will go with the exposed stone and brick, something close to the color of the tile:

And finally, we have a laundry room, with two stone walls, and since we will be using the same Bath Paint mildew-resistant product in that room as we are using in the bathroom, we thought that we will use the same color as well.

So here is our basic palette:

Now, in conversation, if you said that on one floor we were going to use brown, gray, pink and putty colors, you might say that they were all too different and that it would be jarring.  But as you can see when you put them together, they are all friends!  It allows us to use deep rich colors in rooms that can take it, and pale colors that still have some oomph where we need lightness, and with the white unifying the hallway and ceilings, we should have a color story downstairs that is fun and interesting but not strange or incompatible.  We will be doing the same thing as we move up, floor by floor, in each case not shying away from using color, just being really thoughtful about the connection between the colors we are choosing to use!

Once the drywall is finished, I'll show you some pictures of the samples we are using at different times of day to show you how things change, and will let you know which specific colors we end up picking!

The last thing is about finish.  Sherwin-Williams paints come in nine different finishes, from Flat thru High Gloss.  Here are the ones we are using down there:

For ceilings, we go Flat.  You want light to reflect, but not create shine above your head.  This will be true of all ceilings throughout the house.

For walls, go Satin or Eggshell.  Still a matte surface, but has a little more life than the Flat, and is easier to clean.  There are a couple of rooms upstairs that we are planning high gloss for a really special look, but in general, Eggshell is our best friend.

For doors and trim, we are going with the Cashmere Pearl.  This is halfway between a Satin and a Semi-Gloss, and sort of just glows.  You want a different finish on trim and doors, especially if you are using the same color as the walls, which we are.  For me, I don't want the sheen of a Semi-Gloss here, but I do want a little more oomph to separate it from the walls, and the Cashmere Pearl finish is subtle, and lovely.

Next week I will have an update on the drywall and other finishing touches, and some pics of paint samples!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paint Me Excited!


So, one week from tomorrow my new novel RECIPE FOR DISASTER will finally be released!

The story of a home builder whose life implodes in one horrible day, losing her job, her fiancĂ© and her apartment, forcing her to live and rebuild her life in the half-finished ruin of her current project.  With a schnauzer that hates her. And recipes! I'm awfully proud of it, and I think you will love it, so I hope you'll consider a PRE-ORDER.  And be sure to read to the bottom to find out how you can win a copy.

As I write this, nearly 150 sheets of drywall are being loaded into the basement, and tomorrow, they are going to start rocking out these walls!  I don't know if you can fully appreciate how deeply soul-soothing AWESOME that is.  Because let's be clear.  While I have waited over 21 years to do this project, proving my patience, after 16 months of construction, WALLS ARE FREAKING AMAZING.  Seriously.  9 months living over an empty dirt pit, another 3 above one enormous concrete-floored room gesturing at where rooms would someday be, 4 months looking through framed walls into rooms beyond, being able to walk into an actual ROOM.  With four walls and a ceiling, that is enough to make my little heart go pitter pat like a Gene Krupa drum solo.

And with drywall going up?  That means very soon, paint is going on.  So today, I want to talk about paint as both a part of the design process, and as part of your infrastructure process.

Let's start with the whole "type" of paint thing, since that is less sexy, but frankly, the more important decision.  Because to be clear?  Any major paint company will be able to get you whatever color of the rainbow your heart desires.

But types of paint, quality of paint, that is a bigger deal than most people might think.  I know that your first impulse is just to say "paint is paint, I'd rather spend my money on furnishings!".  Which is perfectly fine if you are re-doing a room that will be done again soon, like a kids room which might need new paint every few years as they grow up.  But if you are doing a single room renovation, or more than one, this is where I am going to tell you to think about the investment of paint.  Setting aside whether you are working with a professional house painter (we are, and I am VERY excited about that, because I HATE painting rooms, and so does my back), good quality paint goes on easier, covers better requiring fewer coats, and ages MUCH better.  Buying cheap stuff doesn't really matter if it takes nearly twice as much paint to get the coverage you want, especially if you are working with deeper colors.  Good quality paint will age well without the color changing, which is important with lighter colors, because you really don't want that perfect creamy eggshell to go all yellow on you in two years.  And good quality paint will resist scuffing and staining when furniture and people brush against it, you can clean it with a Mr. Clean magic eraser without damaging the finish or removing the paint itself.

When researching brands, take into account that ideally?  You want to choose one brand that has a range of product lines that work for every project you have in mind.  It will make your life much much easier.  You'll be certain that all types of paints you choose will work well together.  If you are working on both regular rooms and hallways and bathrooms, as well as ceilings and trims, like we are, you want a company who has paints especially designed for great finishes, one that has mildew resistant paints for use in high humidity areas, one that has paints especially designed for high traffic areas.  We spoke with our painter and our general contractor and our interior design consultant, and did a ton of research, and came up with one clear conclusion.  We are going to be exclusively a Sherwin-Williams house.

They have a huge range of product lines, including many that are paint and primer in one, which is a time and money saver.  They have amazing colors.  Our painter loves working with their products, because they go on smoothly, have terrific coverage, and they really last.  After much discussion with everyone, we made some decisions:

For living space walls, we will be using their Emerald Line of paint and primer in one.  Since a lot of these spaces will get deep colors, this ultra smooth finishing paint will really sing.

For bedrooms, we have decided on their Harmony Interior Acrylic line, because it has zero VOC and actually helps improve indoor air quality!  We want everyone to be able to sleep in the freshest possible air.  This is also a great line if you have pets or kids, or if you smoke.  We will probably also use this in the kitchens where cooking odors can be a problem. Who'd have thought that your WALLS could help keep your air fresh???  Very excited about this product.

For all hallways, plus the vestibule, foyer, and mudroom we will be using their Duration Home line, also a paint and primer in one, and their most durable and stain-resistant paint for high traffic areas.  You have no idea how many guests will come to your house and accidentally brush against your hallway walls, or rub their coats and bags in your entryways.  You want really durable stuff in these areas!

For the ceilings we will be using their Eminence High Performance Ceiling Paint.  It is specially designed for one-coat coverage, with a formula that both hides existing stains and minor ceiling surface imperfections, and helps prevent future staining.  It also has high light reflectiveness, which is really important to make sure that the light in your rooms is bright and warm.

For the bathrooms, laundry rooms, closets and the wine cellar, which are all high humidity areas, we will be using their Bath Paint line, which is designed to be mildew resistant.

And for all of the painted trim and doors, we'll be using their Pro Classic Interior Acrylic Latex Enamel, which will go on smooth and resist yellowing.

While we will be keeping the original finish on all of the current wood, since we love patina, all new stained millwork will use their wood stains and sealers, and when we refinish the current floors, they will get the Sherwin-Williams treatment as well!  When it is time to look at exteriors, while we have few areas on this old stone and brick beauty, they have a full range for those needs.  It is really a one-stop for us, and we have invested in a fan deck so that we can do the fun part which is picking the colors!

Which I will tell you about in a couple of days, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, comment below with your favorite paint-related story or tip or trick, by 11:59pm CST on Wednesday February 26, and one of you will win a copy of Recipe for Disaster!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Love Pit- Part 2


By now you have certainly ready Part 1 of our media room adventure, and if you haven't, stop and read it right now, we will wait.

Okay?  All caught up?  Awesome.

So, when last I left you, Charming Suitor and I had identified, with the assistance of our Walter E Smithe design goddess Mary Jo, the worlds most perfect and squishy and super comfortable sectional sofa.  The U shaped sofa she helped us put together has four pieces.  Two long couch pieces, one of which creates one of the corners at the top of the U.  One curved wedge corner, which allows us to effectively deal with the one curved wall in the room.  And an armless loveseat that connects the wedge to the other corner couch.  They are a very simple design, with squared off arms on the two ends, no skirt, just basic stained wood feet.

Here is the style of the sofa, including the curved wedge:

So you can see how simple and straightforward we went with the look.

Mary Jo came to the house and took a look at the space.  She did some measurements, and I was relieved to discover we had measured correctly and we were looking at the right sizes of elements!  (More in the future on why Stacey shouldn't do furniture math.)  She also double checked with our contractor to make sure that everything will fit in through the doorways and make all the necessary turns to get the pieces downstairs, making notes to have the feet left off at the warehouse, for installation onsite.  Once we determined that we had indeed picked the right pieces, it was time to talk fabrics back at the Walter E Smithe store.  They have so many gorgeous fabrics, there is really something for any possible taste.  Solids and patterns, yummy velvets and durable denims, you could explore for hours.  Luckily, Charming Suitor and I had come up with some ideas about the room.

In any room, it is nice to have some sort of inspiration piece.  It could be a piece of furniture you already own that you need to design the room around.  It could be a wonderful piece of art, or even a funky fabric you'd like to incorporate.  But if you can find whatever that inspiration is for you, the rest of the room can come to life around that piece.  For us?  Its a flag.

CS and I found an old Chicago flag that used to fly over Navy Pier when it still belonged to the Navy. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicago flag, here it is:

It is a simple graphic design, two pale blue stripes, three white stripes, and four six pointed red stars. The three white stripes are the North, West and South sides of the city, the two blue ones are for Lake Michigan and the river, the stars are for Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire, the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  Each of the points of each star means something, but I have no idea what, and frankly, you probably don't really care.  The important thing is this:  CS and I are total Chicagoans.  We love this city like its our job.  We love our embarrassing politics, and our sports teams (regardless of current performance), and our architecture and food and culture and people.  So when we spotted the flag, all 7 foot by 11 foot of it, we knew it was just for us.

Yeah, 7'x11'.  We had no idea what we were going to do with it, until I suggested we hang it to cover one whole wall in the media room as an art piece, and design the room around it.  Since that room is really about the only room in the house where we felt like we could get a little funky and not have it fight with the aesthetics of the house, we decided to go for it!

We told Mary Jo about the flag, and that we had only one other color we had decided on for the room, and that was the dark charcoal gray FLOR floor tiles we were using for sound absorption.  We also knew that with one wall of exposed stone and brick, our best bet would be a gray wall color, so we didn't want to go with more gray for the sofa.  Our choice?


Deep, lipstick, make those stars pop red.  Because frankly, if you are going to go funky, don't half-ass it.  Whole-ass it.  Don't get the neutral sofa and think you'll make it pop with pillows, do the opposite, go big and bold with the sofa and tone it down a bit with the pillows, makes for a much more interesting design.  CS and I looked through the endless fabrics, finding a bunch of reds that were close, but not quite there, and then Mary Jo brought one over.


this is the fabric sample on top of the FLOR tile sample

The perfect red, plenty of blue in it, in a super-soft chenille, without too much sheen, and totally durable.  Nailed it!  Then the bonus?  Turns out the sectional we picked comes with a certain number of accent pillows per section, so with the sizes we were getting, we got 9 pillows included!  They do these custom for you as well, you just pick fabrics from their range, so off we went to dig back into the fabrics, and Mary Jo helped us find these gorgeous velvets:

The gray is a great match, and the pale blue will bring in the blue from the flag in a wonderful way, and since they are customized for no extra charge, we decided on 5 gray pillows with blue piping, and four blue pillows with gray piping!  Mary Jo asked whether we would be needing an ottoman for the center of the sectional, and we said that we would, but that a dear friend was making one for us.  It is really handy to have pals with mad skills, so we are doing a custom ottoman covered in this wonderful old kilim rug that I had, which has all the fun colors from the room and we think will be a really cool look!
isn't it fantastic??
Then we talked about paint colors, since we would need to find a perfect gray for the walls, and Mary Jo said that she could order us full sheet paint samples for free, and have them delivered to our house!  We asked if she could do that with Sherwin-Williams, since we were planning on using their products, and she said absolutely and brought over her S-W fan deck and we picked out a few grays that seemed to go with our fabric selections, and she ordered samples for us.  That was an extra bonus of design services we never would have imagined!
With the ottoman being upholstered, then it came down to dealing with drinks etc. We thought that the easiest thing would be to find some small tables that could be easily moved around within the framework of the sofa depending on how many people we had.  One again, Mary Jo had the perfect solution:
It has an oxidized steel frame, which will look fantastic with the exposed steel beam we have in the corner of that room, and dark wood, which will match the console under the television, it is just the ideal thing!  We got three of them so that we can move them around wherever we need them.
The last little detail was the throw blankets.  I'm a throw blanket girl.  And for sure, if I'm curled up with my CS watching a game, or hanging with my girlfriends and a chick flick, I want some cozy.  I'm also picky. I hate fringe.  I hate fuzzy ones that get lint all over your clothes.  I hate ones that pill, and loose weave ones that catch on your ring and get pulls all over them.  I like a large scale, flat weave throw.  And we found this!
The red is perfect, as is the gray, no fringe, and the coolest part is that it is reversible, so on the other side, it is red with gray ovals!  Mary Jo thought the red ovals would nod to the red stars on the flag, as well as being a cool graphic pop.  
In one fell swoop, most of the important design elements came together so beautifully.  Which is one of the reasons I can't stop raving about the whole experience.  Walter E Smithe had everything we wanted and needed, from the major furniture piece to the little details of the throw blankets, and it all worked so well together.  We checked almost everything for that room off our list, and having Mary Jo guide us and help us come up with an overall design that both functions the way we want it to function AND is going to look amazing, it was truly special. And all of it just part of how they do business, there were no extra charges for the home visit or the design work at all. 
Our paint samples came the next week, and we picked a deep gray called Peppercorn which I will talk about next week in my first Paint and Color post, but we were able to pull all of our samples together and start to imagine what the room will be like:

I know my photos aren't the best, but there you have the floor, wall, sofa, pillows and ottoman!
And if you love the Chicago flag but don't have one of your own?  Smithe can even cover you on that with these amazing custom art pieces, they also have a Union Jack version if you don't happen to love Chicago as much as we do:

Here were our takeaways from this part of the process:
1:  Pick one inspiration piece and let it guide your decisions.
2:  Don't be afraid to make a bold choice with color, it sometimes makes the whole room!
3:  If you have an opportunity to bring in someone with design training, having that extra set of eyes on a project can really make a world of difference, especially if the design services are included free of charge.
4:  Be sure to investigate at your furniture dealer small accessory pieces, being able to see everything at once in the showroom is so helpful for making sure that everything really works together!
5:  Pick your paint color last, so that you can be sure it doesn't clash with any of the other items you want in your space.
6: A big sofa or sectional is likely to take about 8-12 weeks for delivery, so be sure to think way ahead, especially if you are re-doing a room for a specific event...the last thing you want is to have everyone on folding chairs in an empty room for your SuperBowl party!
Stay tuned, next week we are talking about PAINT and other fun stuff :)

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath