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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Love Pit- Part 1


It is time for a serious conversation about furniture.

I know, we've been talking about construction for so long that you have despaired of this project ever being remotely finished enough to require furniture.  Trust me, that is completely how we feel! In the twenty two years I have been living in this building, dreaming of someday turning it into my own little castle, I did not fantasize about framing and insulation, much as these things have become exciting in their own right recently.

Ceilings prepped for blow-in soundproofing insulation!

Wine cellar and bathroom got special closed-cell spray-foam insulation, just like on Love It or List It!

Rest of the walls got sound-deadening Rock Wool insulation, no off-gassing,
and can't mold even if it gets wet, can't be too careful in a basement!

But while these are exciting developments from a forward-progress standpoint, in and of themselves they are not what dreams are made of.  I never fantasized about mold-resistance or sound management.  I fantasized about rooms.  Beautiful rooms.  Rooms that had a little actual design to them.  Not design like "curated, matched within an inch of their lives, take a picture but don't sit on the furniture".  Design like things we find and collect and love and pull together with some sort of actual thought and care.

Interior design can be difficult, especially on a tight and small budget.  It is rare that you can afford to do a room completely from scratch. Usually, for most of us, you are redesigning an existing space using some of what you already have, and maybe upgrading one or two pieces, or changing paint color (more on that later this week), or swapping out accessories in hopes of a freshening up.  Ever since I moved into this place, as a 23 year old with my eclectic combination of Mom-and-Dad-me-downs and Salvation Army and flea market finds, my design has been about filling in the gaps with affordable pieces that helped tie together things I had, to hopefully make them make sense together.  And then when my Charming Suitor moved in, it was about letting go of some of what I had to make room for what he had, and working once again to make them all be friends.

This house we are working on will in many ways be no different.  As we go, room by room, we are looking at what we already own and figuring out the puzzle of making it all work together in new and hopefully reasonably cohesive combinations.

Except for one room.

The media room.

There were a few places during the house design phase that we felt were going to be worthwhile indulgences.  CS, as I have written about before, needs a wine cellar most desperately, which will shockingly pay for itself in about three years.  I need an office, so that I can stop using the living room as my primary place of work, and so that I can have a space where the writing lives that isn't in the middle of the rest of our life.  We both wanted an exercise room, because we have made a stronger commitment to our health, and a big obstacle is just getting to the gym, so we wanted to make that as easy as possible.

And then there is the media room.  Or as I call it, the room where the really big TV is going to live.

CS and I do a "guilty pleasure" movie night with another couple every few weeks, and our current living room only accommodates three people on the couch, so whenever we watch a movie, poor CS has to sit on a separate chair.  And forget having people over for Super Bowl or the Oscars or anything else requiring a bunch of folks watching TV together, just can't happen.  So we figured, since we had the space in the basement, why not do a room for just that purpose?

The media room has become one of the most fun design projects we could have imagined.  It is the only room in the house that can be a little bit fun and funky.  It is also pretty much the only room where we were literally starting from scratch.

FROM SCRATCH!  Just taking a whole room and creating a design that does exactly what you need it to do without worrying about incorporating anything you already have is both exhilarating and a little daunting.  Its one thing to work on a puzzle where you have half the pieces and need to connect them, but it is something else to look at a blank room and imagine what it will be.

We needed help.  And we needed a sectional.  Because if you are doing a room entirely devoted to gathering people to watch movies and sporting events, you need as much comfy cozy seating as you can fit.  And a sectional?  That is a big deal.  It is a major purchase, a big decision, probably the single most expensive furniture investment we may ever make, and it needs to be a good one because trust me, you do not want to end up with the wrong one, and you really don't want to have to replace it in five years.  Too stressful.

Our solution?  Walter E. Smithe.

For my Chicago area peeps, you probably don't need to know much more than the name.  Smithe has been a family owned mainstay of the Chicago area furniture scene essentially since just after World War II, and their fun commercials starring the Smithe family members are always hilarious.

Smithe Brothers at work!

But more importantly, they have a lot of easy to get to locations with a full range of product lines, which means you are guaranteed to find what you need in your budget.  And the more important part, they have on-site designers who not only know their inventory like the backs of their hands, they are trained interior designers who can help you address whatever design problem you might have.

CS and I called Smithe and were told that for sectionals, the largest selection of pieces to sit on and explore would be housed at their Oak Brook location.  We were immediately referred to Mary Jo Peters-Madick, one of their designers, and we made an appointment to meet with her.  You don't have to make an appointment, there will always be someone available to assist you if you just show up, but we wanted to be sure to set something up in advance.

We'd never been to this particular Smithe location, usually going to the Lincoln Park store since it is so close, but Oak Brook is amazing.  Really well laid out, two floors of beautifully organized vignettes, with a great center space full of fabric samples to explore.  We got there a little early and just walked around, getting all sorts of ideas, not just for the media room, but for other rooms in the house, causing CS to mutter, "This is a very dangerous place." and "Stop looking at that!" under his breath every forty seconds.  Mary Jo found us fondling a large chaise that I was imagining myself curled up in reading a book in our future bedroom, and steered us to a quiet spot in the store to chat.

Mary Jo, our design guru!

Mary Jo sat down with us and explained how the Smithe process generally works, that she wanted to ask some questions to get a sense of what we were looking to do, and to get to know us a bit.  Then she would take us around to look and play in the showroom, make some decisions. And then, if it was okay with us, she would like to set up a time to come to the house to double check measurements and see the space, just to ensure we were going to be 100% delighted with our choices.  We were thrilled to hear about this level of attention to detail, and said that sounded perfect!  She really listened to what we wanted from our space, and she wanted to hear about our thoughts when it came to design.  She asked us about the house in general, and how we live, and what we wanted the room to do for us.  She asked about our budget range, and our must-haves vs. like-to-haves.  She took a ton of notes, and we gave her the information as we knew it:

We needed a sectional that created a U shape in the room, essentially a big love pit.  We have one curved wall in that room, so we needed to address that as a design challenge.  We wanted to be able to seat at least 8 people comfortably.  We prefer down pillows to foam, although it wasn't a dealbreaker.   No skirt, no foofy design, a classic simple shape, the comfier and cozier the better.

And Mary Jo?  Knocked it out of the park.  No.  Mary Jo knocked the COVER off the ball, broke the bat, and THEN knocked it out of the park.

We ended up picking the FIRST sectional she took us to.  Don't get me wrong, CS and I sat and flopped all over that showroom for the better part of an hour, I think we test drove every sectional in the place, but we came back to that first one that she had recommended, and it was the clear winner.  It had all the pieces we needed, including a curved wedge corner that would make the curved wall a feature instead of a problem.  It had two different depths available, so we could find the one that worked for us both...not an easy challenge since I'm 5'3" and CS is 6'.  It had several options for arm style, and we chose a straight contemporary one.  And there were three types of pillows available, including down.  It had some other customization available, so we would be able to get one piece made six inches longer to better fill the room.  Tons of fabric options, most of them included, some available for an extra charge.  And the basic set up was dead nuts in our budget.  You know how sometimes you go someplace and give them a budget and then they show you something you fall in love with and it turns out to be three times your price point?  Apparently this is just not allowed at Smithe, when you tell them what you want to spend, they stick to that, and if you start to look on your own at things beyond your budget, they will let you know immediately so you can decide if you still want to explore that option and potentially increase your budget, or just move along.

Mary Jo took a zillion notes about the pieces we would need, and their measurements, and then set up a time a few days later to come to the house.

CS and I left the store giddy.  The whole thing, which we thought would be stressful, turned out to be so much fun!  With more fun to come...

Stay tuned, because later this week I will share Mary Jo's visit, and how we came up with the final design of the room, and show you some pictures of samples!

In the meantime, the key takeaways for us from the first part of this adventure, were this:

1:  If you are in the greater Chicagoland area, we cannot recommend Walter E. Smithe enough.  Mary Jo is obviously special to us, but she assures us that while she appreciates our love of her, all of the design team members at all of the locations are just as lovely and easy to work with, and we totally believe her.  Having said that, feel free to ask for her personally, and tell her I sent you!

2:  If you are not in Chicago, see if there is a reputable family owned furniture company that is local to you, the overall experience is just a little more personal than you are likely to get with a larger national chain, and just like with bookstores, it is always nice to support someone independent and local if you can.  If there isn't one available to you, call ahead wherever you are going to shop, and see if you can make an appointment with an actual designer and not just a salesperson, especially if you have any design challenges to deal with.  The whole thing would have been totally overwhelming and not nearly as much fun if we had just gone in cold and tried to do it on our own.

3:  Mary Jo advised us that with a big purchase like a sofa, to pay close attention to the infrastructure of the piece.  You want solid hardwood construction, really good bones, because if you get a piece that has good bones, you can always reupholster it later if it gets outdated or if pets and kids make it look shabby.  You might find cheaper versions, but the frames can crack and sag and wear out, and ultimately you'll have to replace the whole thing instead of just having cushions restuffed or upholstery replaced, or slipcovers made.  She also showed us that there are good quality pieces in almost every price range, so you should be able to find something that will last in your budget.

4:  Measure the crap out of your space, two to three times at least, preferably with different people, especially doors and entrances and stairs.  Does you no good to order the perfect thing and then find out you can't get it in the house.  Ask if feet or backs are removable if you have tight turns or narrow doorways.

5:  This isn't the time for instant gratification.  Take your time, test things out, you'll be happier in the long run if you make the decision really carefully.

Part 2 of the sectional adventure later this week!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let There Be Light...and Stairs!


First and foremost, thanks to one and all who helped promote the special pricing on Out to Lunch. The winners of Big Delicious Life have all been notified and claimed their copies, but even if you didn't win, I really appreciate your assistance, the promotion was a success, so fingers crossed that there will be other special offers coming down the pike!

Now on to other news, its time for a house update.

The boring parts:  We have passed electrical inspection for the basement, and the plumbing inspection, just waiting on the framing inspection and we will have the holy trinity of signatures.  This will happen this week and on Friday they insulation people are coming to spray foam the areas that get the spray, and then next week they will do the soundproofing insulation for the walls between rooms and the ceilings.

That doesn't mean all is without glitches.  Somewhere in the shifting of current electrical wires around and about, we seem to have accidentally connected too many things to one circuit, so if we try and use our toaster or our electric teakettle in the outlet where they live, it blows not only the whole kitchen, but the pantry, kitchen library, butler's pantry, hallway, both bathrooms, and Charming Suitor's mancave.  Not terribly convenient, especially since CS's go-to breakfast is a toasted english muffin and French press coffee, and I live on tea all day.  And we appear to have lost the connect for CS's clothes closet altogether, which is less than ideal.  But all will get fixed this week, and of the possible snafu's, it is minor.  We also had a small gas leak fixed in the wine cellar.  I'm really glad we caught this, because the seal that was leaking is right above where a fan will be circulating the air.  Let's just have a moment to imagine it had leaked in three months.  Gas.  In a wall.  With electricity.  In a room full of booze.  So we are deeply grateful that our house will not become the world's largest Molotov cocktail.

I do want to take a brief moment to chat about renovations and cost vs. value, and making smart decisions, because a big part of why I am bringing you all along with us on this journey is in hopes that it may inspire you to your own projects, but also provide some guidance.

Budgets are always tight, and it is so tempting to not want to spend a lot of money on stuff you can't see...after all, what is sexier?  A fabulous luxurious marble tile on a bathroom wall, or the backing board it gets glued to?  However, your marble tile won't be so sexy if you don't use the proper foundation and it ends up falling off the wall or having to get ripped off to deal with a mold problem behind it.  Infrastructure is EVERYTHING.  You can always come back in a few years having saved some more money to upgrade finishes and fixtures, but your infrastructure needs to be right the first time, or you are in for a life of misery.

Hence the insulation discussion.  Would it be a lot cheaper to use batt instead of spray foam?  Yep.  Would it be as good, long lasting, maintenance and worry free?  Nope.  Could we technically skip the soundproofing on the between-room walls and the ceilings and save a bundle?  Of course.  And since it is just the two of us living here, it is certainly tempting, especially as we are simultaneously picking out bits and bobs for the bathroom, and choosing some major furniture (more on that soon).


We are trying to create a home that will stand the test of time, and be a truly wonderful place for family and friends to gather and celebrate.  This means that when the guest bedrooms, which flank each other, are full, we know those occupants will prefer not to be forced to overhear every breath (or snore) from the next room.  If someone chooses to watch TV, it should not prevent other people from sleeping.  So we are eyes on the prize, making the hard decisions, and even when it isn't fun, we are keeping our focus on infrastructure first and everything else will have to fall into place and into budget once that is done.  I genuinely believe we will be happier in the long run, and cannot recommend it enough as a philosophy you should adopt for yourselves, whether renovating a single room or a whole house.

Speaking of infrastructure, feast your eyes on THIS:

Chickens, meet Staircase.  Staircase is about one of the happiest things to occur in recent memory.  This particular Staircase leads from our current living room on the first floor into the basement.  There used to be a staircase here which was removed a year ago in order to be able to do the gut renovations on the basement.  This has meant a full year of having to go outside, thru two doors with sets of locks, to get downstairs into the basement.  And since the basement is where the extra fridge and chest freezer and wine fridge all live, that has meant an enormous (and often cold) pain in the ass.  To be able to simply open a door and head downstairs feels like a world of luxury, and my trainer will be happy to know that I keep inventing reasons to use it.  It is crazy exciting.  And for a temporary staircase, quite lovely.  We can't do the final stairs until we open the whole building top to bottom, which is about 15-16 months out yet, so for the time being, these are our basement access, and I love them with my whole heart.

Know what else I love?


These are the recessed can lights in the ceiling of the hallway.  Let me explain to you why this is so amazing.

This building was fairly state of the art for 1907, and was equipped with both gas AND electricity for light.  But it was still ages before light was terribly important, and so the ceiling fixtures are few and far between, usually just one dead center in each room.  As we are currently on the first floor, with a northern exposure, and flanked by other houses, the light in here is pretty bad.  There is only so much one can do with lamps, and not only does it always feel dim in here, the quality of the light isn't great.  Case in point?  I bought a fabulous set of napkins in a rich chartreusey green.  I figured they would be a great pop of color with some of my more muted tablecloths, the linen and white and pale gray ones.  And in the store?  Perfect.  In the dining room?  Mustard yellow.  Not kidding.  One of my best party tricks is to walk people around with the stupid napkins.  Kitchen?  Green.  Dining room?  Diaper contents.

So to see actual can lights not only installed but ILLUMINATED?  Amazing.  Especially since this is the basement, so good lighting makes the difference between  cavelike and gloomy and dungeon-y and warm and cozy and welcoming.

Stay tuned, my Chickens, because things are going to really start to speed up in the coming up?  We're going to begin talking about some actual FURNISHINGS.  Be still my heart.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath