Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Beginning of the End- with Bonus Popcorn Giveaway!

Hello Chickens!

I don't know about where you are, but here in Chicago, when I'm all geared up for sweater and boot weather, Summer is making a last-ditch effort to hang around.  We are also in the final month of renovation.

Let's allow that to sink in a bit, shall we?

We began the renovation on the Chateau in October of 2013.  We will finish in October of 2017.  Essentially, our house went to college.  We are deeply grateful that it shows no interest in graduate school.

We are a little delayed in showing off the 99.9% finished third-floor master suite because of that .1%, but I promise that very soon there will be some good glamour shots coming your way and a room by room recap of what we did up there.  But for now, I thought I'd just share a quick pictorial of where we are now with the final phase, the first floor and the stairs.

The first floor is our bonus space.  Otherwise known as our "why the heck couldn't you have fallen in love with a two-flat?" space.  But because we are who we are, it is giving us an opportunity to create our dream entertaining spot.  While a lot of the entertaining we do involves small intimate dinners for 4-6 people, which we can do beautifully and efficiently in our eat-in kitchen, there is still the part of us that loves a big holiday celebration, and a classic old-school cocktail party.  Thanksgiving and Passover and New Years Eve.  A birthday celebration.  We also love to support the not-for-profit world, and while we don't have the means for large philanthropic checks, we do look forward to being able to donate the use of the first floor of our home to those causes as a great location to host small fundraisers.  So we have designed this space with all of those things in mind.  A large formal living room with plenty of seating and conversation spaces.  A large formal dining room that will be able to sit up to 24 people.  A bathroom with a library serving as an anteroom for comfort and privacy, as well as a large butler's pantry that can double as a bar, and a small catering kitchen.  The large kitchen upstairs and the small kitchen downstairs are linked by the elevator, which will be able to serve as a giant dumbwaiter, and there is a small powder room in the back as well.

We are at drywall on the first floor, so you can really start to feel the space come together!

This is the kitchen, there will be a stove and hood here eventually...

Also kitchen, this wall is where the sink and dishwasher will go.

Powder room view from kitchen door.

This will be the dining room!

New hallway

View of the south half of the dining room....

North wall of the dining room waiting for built-in hutch.

Future library

View through foyer and vestibule to front door.

View up the new stairs...nothing like that first coat of paint to show you where the walls need fixing,
one step forward, half a step back!

Elevator foyer off kitchen.
Pretty soon we will be able to share some fun stuff like design choices and paint colors, but for the moment we are just so excited to be at this whirlwind stage with the finish line in sight!

One of the things that working with these spaces has done is get us excited about the kind of entertaining we will be able to do.  I am super excited to host Thanksgiving in the new dining room. We are already planning our New Year's Eve menu, although that may be as much about being ready for 2017 to be over as it is about a party.  And we have already planned on our first "donation" event for a holiday party for an organization of which I am a member.

One of the things I love about entertaining is that it is sort of like a muscle you exercise, the more you do it the better you get at it.  You have read some of my tips and tricks on this blog over the years, but the one I get more and more invested in is to really be thoughtful about how I begin an evening with my guests.  And I have become a big believer in not doing big appetizers before a dinner party.  I want my guests to come to the table hungry, and if they are filling up on cheese and crudites and other pre-dinner nibbles, then why did I go to all that trouble to make dinner?  (Nothing wrong, by the way, of having a party that is heavy appetizers followed by dessert, if you love all the finger foods, it can be a fun way to entertain!)

I've talked to you before about our favorite pairing of champagne and potato chips as the perfect start to an evening.  A little salty snack to complement the bubbles, both designed to whet the appetite without ruining it.  But for a lot of people, the start to an evening is more in the cocktail or beer realm, and for those people, let me just say, the best way to go is popcorn.

Those of you who know us know that we are passionate about popcorn.  At least a couple nights a week we have salad and large bowls of popcorn for dinner.  We use a proprietary blend of yellow, white and mushroom kernels, popped in a pot with peanut oil and sprinkled with sea salt.  I think popcorn is a nearly perfect food.

But while that is a great nibble for watching TV, dinner parties need a little elevation in your popcorn game.  There are a lot of recipes for herbed popcorn and truffled parmesan popcorn and other fancied up snacks, I've posted one myself.  Here in Chicago we have our own famous blending of cheese popcorn with caramel corn, you can certainly start your party there, I love me a salty-sweet combo.

I recently went on vacation and when I returned there was a box from the people at GH Cretors for me to try some of their offerings.  Much as I love the corn, how could I refuse?

I will say, while partial to freshly popped, I was pleasantly surprised with the crunch and quality of these popcorn offerings.  I probably wouldn't buy the plain salted, since I can make that myself, but the flavored ones were really good!  We had friends coming by for cocktails the evening I received the box, so I decided we should open a bag as our snack of choice.  And while the cheese flavors would have been an obvious pick, I went for the Dill Pickle flavor instead.

We were all a bit skeptical, but as soon as we started eating this popcorn we became believers. It is the perfect pairing for cocktails.  Sort of like a salt and vinegar chip, with the acid and salt well balanced and giving you that little bit of thirst for your drink the way a great bar snack should, but the dill brought something new to the party that none of us was expecting to enjoy as much as we did!  We finished the whole bag, and kept saying, "It really tastes like a dill pickle!".  As much as I definitely enjoyed both of the cheese flavors and The Mix of cheese and caramel, (I am a Chicago girl after all), of all of these the Dill Pickle will be a new go-to for a quick pre-dinner snack when entertaining, so easy to keep a bag or two in the pantry for a spontaneous happy hour.

Want to try for yourself?  GH Cretors has agreed to send one of my lucky readers a sample box of their own, along with an adorable tote bag and even a cool stainless steel water bottle! (I won't tell anyone if you fill the "water bottle" with cocktails for your portable entertaining!)

What a cool prize!

Snacks and drinks to go!

All you have to do to enter to win is to comment on this post with what you think would be a good cocktail pairing with one of the GH Cretors can choose from Dill Pickle, Salted Butter, Honey Butter Kettlecorn, White Cheddar, The Mix (cheese and caramel), Cheese, Chile Jalapeno White Cheddar, Caramel Corn, or Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  You don't have to give us the cocktail recipe, but feel free to add it for our drinking pleasures.

Comment by 11:59PM Sunday October 1, and winner will be chosen at random and announced Monday October 2!

You can also enter on Twitter, just follow me @staceyballis and retweet the post, Facebook, like the page and comment there, or on Instagram, follow me @stacey.ballis and comment on the popcorn pic there, so you can have up to four entries to win!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, July 10, 2017


Hello Chickens!

How is everyone's summer going?  Things here at the Chateau have been a perfect storm of busy and slow, and eminently unphotographable.

The good news is that we are in the home stretch...we are scheduled to be fully completed by mid-October.  After nearly four years of living in a construction project, you can imagine how thrilling that actual end date is for us.  It has gone from an ephemeral, almost theoretical, future date to a day in a calendar that we can start to see like a pinlight at the end of this long tunnel.

We have moved upstairs to our master bedroom suite, which is about 95% completed.  The master bath, second bath and laundry room are still not fully done, but they are imminent, and I can't wait to share the design details with you as soon as I can!  The bedroom is missing only one window treatment which is coming this week, so stay tuned for a full update on that space by early next week.

You have seen our dressing rooms, which have been working really well.  I think we both are still getting used to the new organization, but generally, it is so lovely to have all of our stuff where we need it and can find things!  The laundry room, while still not fully complete, does have the washer and dryer installed and functioning and that has been a gamechanger.  Since 1993 when I moved into this building, there were shared coin-operated laundry in the basement.  They were expensive and you always needed to put things through the dryer at least twice, towels three times, which required endless schlepping up and down the stairs going through three different locked doors, and praying you didn't run out of quarters.  I figured out very quickly that it was easier and cheaper to just take my laundry up to my family's weekend place ere, or to drop it off at the eighty-cents-a-pound fluff and fold at the local laundromat.  So having a washer and dryer on the same floor as all of our clothes and sheets and towels, where we can just toss in a load whenever we like with ease is beyond exciting.  I'm sure eventually laundry will cease to be such a joyous entertainment, but for the moment, I'm loving it.  Of course, it takes a lot of getting used to, having never had laundry of my own before, so I am currently very guilty of throwing a load in the washer or dryer and then completely forgetting I've done it.  I'm using the 10-minute refresh setting on the dryer a lot!

The elevator is almost finished, it won't get a floor till we do the floors on the first floor, but it is operational and our knees are deeply grateful!  Just in time, because we have officially lost access to our front stairs.  The staircase, which will be getting its own post soon, has to be removed from the basement to the third floor, and then the new one brought in and installed in sections, then trimmed out and finished on site.  This is really the big project, the one thing that will take this building from feeling like three apartments into feeling like a single family home.  So we are very excited to have the process begun.  Our contractors have installed barrier walls, essentially framing with doors and just plastic dust barriers nailed on, on all four levels to protect the finished spaces as much as possible from the mess.  They will demo the the stairwell first getting as much of the mess out of the building before surgically removing the walls on the upper floors to open the space completely.  So while we have access to all of our living and working spaces, it is a little convoluted, and we have to do all of our moving around from level to level on the elevator or up and down the back exterior stairs.  The only thing saving this from being enormously annoying is the knowledge that every day we live with it is one day closer to the new stairs being finished!

We have had a couple interesting discoveries.

This is what we found under the drywall in the dining room.  That is a combination of bordello red paint on top and starburst wallpaper below, which we assume at one point were separated by a chair rail.

This was under the drywall in the foyer, sort of a ghastly 1950s Holiday Inn lobby in Indiana sort of vibe.  

Apparently one of the previous owners had seriously questionable taste!  We were not sorry to see any of this go away.

We are in demo mode for the next little bit, but I will be back as the third floor continues to come together with updates on those spaces and some pictures of pretty things for a change!  In the meantime, continue to enjoy your summer, and if you have not already, do take a moment to pre-order my new book How to Change A Life which will be out August 15!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Closets

Hello Chickens!

It's time to start filling you in on the third-floor master suite, and for this one, we are going to go room by room.  In part because a lot of the spaces are still shy of completed!

Today I'm going to talk about our closets.  Because anyone who has lived in an old building knows, closet space is at a serious premium.  When the buildings were built, everyone used armoires and other storage furniture, and while owners over the years have added some closets, they are small and minimally useful at best.

When our bedroom was on the first floor, I had all my stuff crammed into the closet in that room, you know the kind of space, bifold doors, one long rod across, one long shelf above.  The space under the hanging clothes filled with an amalgam of bins and shelves, trying desperately to make everything fit, and stay organized, to little avail.  My poor Charming Suitor was relegated to the even smaller closet in the guest room across the hall, making due with that and his antique highboy dresser.  When we moved from the first-floor bedroom into the basement eighteen months ago, we temporarily converted our former bedroom into a shared dressing room, somewhat better, but still makeshift and frustrating, impossible to keep really organized, dark and dreary, and a constant source of disappointment and annoyance.

So when we designed the third-floor suite, we knew we would each get a proper dressing room.  Since my CS is seriously amazing, he let me have the larger of the two available spaces, recognizing that the volume of shoes alone wouldn't fit in the smaller room.  He gets major gold star hubby points for sure on this one, since my dressing room is probably about 30% bigger, and his has a corner cut off on the diagonal for the window, which adds to the complexity of space planning.  And since he is a dapper gent, with no shortage of his own clothes and shoes to store, and he is the one who gets up every day to get really dressed for work, so he could easily and validly have argued for the bigger space himself.  Especially since I spend 55% of my days in stretchy pants and long-sleeved t-shirts, one step up from pajamas, to commute one floor down to sit and make stuff up all day.  But as ever, he spoils me, and while he will point out to everyone that his space is smaller, he really is thrilled that I get to have my girly sanctuary.

Originally we had visions of built-in closets like you see in all of the magazines.  Mine would be spunky and bright, like a luxury department store, with all the bells and whistles, fabulous matching display shelves for my darling shoes, purse storage, an island for accessory wrangling, a window seat bench with tall boot storage beneath.  CS dreamed of manly wood, with sliding pants organizers, and those awesome little pull-out rods for organizing clothes before a business trip.  We'd both make use of the ceiling height to fully maximize storage.

And then we met with the closet people.

This is where things went a bit sideways.  Two of the four companies we met with never got back to me with bids.  Not even after two follow up emails and a phone message each to remind them that we were waiting on their ideas and pricing.  The other two companies came back fairly quickly with designs.  And an estimated cost so incredibly high that we thought perhaps they had misplaced the decimal point.  Knowing that we were on a very tight budget, the suggested designs were as basic as they come, none of the fancies, none of the special, in both cases just a combination of hanging rods, open shelving, and some shoe storage.  And even pared down like that?  You could buy a brand new Honda Civic with all the bells and whistles for what they wanted to build out these two spaces with laminated particle board.  Not even real wood!

We took a breath.  Because in this house?  While we obviously aren't above spending money (ahem, elevator), we have made every decision based on ultimate value.  Every line item has to pass the orange test, i.e.  Is the juice worth the squeeze?  We have passed on finishes and fixtures that would have been gorgeous, but just too expensive to justify.  (someday, silver-leafed accent wall, you might be mine...)  We have invested heavily in infrastructure, in engineering, in creating a house that will function and grow with us for the rest of our lives.  But built-out custom closets at the cost of a family sedan?  Not so much.

Now we are furniture people, and had been making due with an amalgam of pieces up until now, so we took stock of all of the storage items we already owned.  The items that could be repurposed or reimagined.  I went back to my theater roots and bought a pair of used industrial Z-racks, the rolling two-tier hanging racks that theaters use to organize costumes, from our wonderful upholsterer Beth Laske-Miller  who was reimagining her work studio.  Are they gorgeous?  Nope.  Are they ├╝ber functional?  You betcha.

The big move upstairs was this past weekend.  The space is 95% finished, done enough that we can live up there while the punch list is finished up.  A big part of the past couple of days involved putting together our dressing rooms.  Do they look like a magazine?  Nope.  Do they look like a luxury department store?  Not in the least.  But they do look like those small charming independent boutiques you find in adorable neighborhoods, the ones where a sassy proprietress will dig through a rack and find you something unique and fabulous.

They aren't as maximized in terms of storage as they would have been, the height of the rooms aren't quite utilized to their fullest, but most of our respective stuff is in them and it is a massive improvement.  And there is something ultimately charming about them both.  They look like us, instead of looking like everyone.  And if that means that we still have to swap out tubs of clothes and shoes seasonally, so be it.   I do think someday we will revisit the idea of building-out CS's dressing room, since he is bearing the brunt of the inconvenience, and ultimately, getting him better organization, and especially taking advantage of the ceiling height will make a huge difference for him.  But I don't know that I will ever do mine.  I'm sort of in love with the cobbled-together feel of it, and while I might swap out a piece here or there, I think I might just stick with the unique!

So, let's start with CS's room...

We painted it a very masculine deep brown called Otter from Sherwin-Williams, I know some people think dark colors in small spaces make the walls feel like they are closing in, but I disagree.  I think it makes them cozy, and with white on the ceiling and white on the trim, it is very elegant.  CS got one of the two Z-racks and it literally holds everything he has on a hanger on one unit!  Sports coats and suits on the bottom, shirts, pants and vests up top.  The little antique settee is wood and black leather and terribly mens-club.

the view from the door

Antique high boy
 CS has had this English Arts and Crafts piece forever, and it is just gorgeous.  We found the brass freestanding valet at a flea market and repurposed one of the Elfa wire bin units from the former downstairs closet to help wrangle some bits and pieces, at least for now.  Not super attractive, and I think as soon as we come across some sort of taller open shelving piece we can swap out for it, we will, but for the moment, it serves.

 We used to have this dresser in our bedroom in the basement, but there was a second drawer unit in that room, and since it is now a guest room, we figured one storage piece would do just fine down there, so we stole this one for CS's dressing room.  It was originally a gift from dear friends who were downsizing, belonging to their grandparents, so it makes me happy that it continues to have a functional life daily!
 CS might not have quite as many shoes as I do, but he does love a well-crafted piece of footwear.  We use to have this arts and crafts glass-front bookcase in the butler's pantry holding glassware, but we weren't using it for that anymore, and at least for now, it makes a pretty decent shoe cabinet.  We added more shelves (just had laminate shelves cut to size at Home Depot) to maximize the space.

The finished room!
A lovely old rug keeps the room feeling warm and personal, and lucky for us, this one was living downstairs in CS's former office!  All in all, I think it is a space that reflects his unique elegance, and I know that despite the few remaining flaws, it is still a massive improvement for him!

And now, for my space...

Never one to be shy, I wanted a bold color in here, and Dynamo from Sherwin-Williams was a hit.  The deep magenta color pops against the white ceiling and trim and just makes me happy.  The rug is a very old one, and I adore the patina and the way the colors play off each other.

The view from the door
 I had found this amazing 1920s Art Nouveau chandelier at a really great vintage store in our neighborhood.  If you are in Chicago, check out the goods at the West of Western district on North Avenue, stores like An Orange Moon is awesome for mid-century stuff, I found the circular stool pictured above there, and North Avenue Collective across the street has proven to be a dangerous place to visit.  I bought the chandelier first, but everytime we go, we find a new treasure!

Then it was time to think seating.

Have a seat!
 I always wanted some seating in the window, and this little settee used to be in our former kitchen.  The small scale is perfect and made a bit cozier with some fun stripy pillows and an old knitted family afghan.

So. Many. Sweaters.
 This shelving unit was another gift from our dear downsizing friends, and I just love how fancy it is! And yes, that is a set of library stairs because I am a short person and if I tried to reach one of the sweaters on the top shelf from the floor, they would all tumble down on my head.  Hypothetically.

Thank god for the Z rack! I still get some street cred with my theater peeps.
This is my Z rack and just like CS's, it holds all of my hanging garb.  The only thing that is a bit annoying is that my long dresses don't clear the bottom rod freely, but luckily I only need half of the bottom rod for pants, so at least they can hang in front, and still don't get wrinkled.

 Just like CS, I repurposed the other former butler's pantry storage piece, which used to contain china and serving pieces, and added some more shelving to house the most fabulous of my shoes.

More shoes!
This little metal shelving unit used to be inside my closet downstairs, and while it isn't the prettiest, it does work really well for overflow shoe wrangling in a small space.  If I ever come across a vintage wood bookshelf I might swap it out, just to keep the overall theme.

 This armoire is very similar to what would likely have been used instead of closets when the house was built, and was downstairs in the former closet room.  I am madly in love with the paw feet.  I have to leave it a bit open since the key is long since lost, and it is a huge pain to open if you closet the doors tight, but someday I will find a key that fits!  I'm using the top for purse wrangling.

Open sesame!
 I love this thing.  It is like a swiss army knife.  Drawers have dividers inside, that little flat thing at the top with the knob is actually a pull-out mirror, and there is even a secret compartment.  the hanging rod on the right side holds a ton too!

Lucky for me, while I love a good bag, I hate being overly encumbered, so the majority of my purses are clutch size, which meant almost all of them fit neatly into this large tray that I used to use for clearing up after parties.

Time to accessorize!
We had this antique cabinet in storage.  It is from the late 1800s and was originally a dentist's office cabinet!  That means oodles of shallow drawers perfect for organizing jewelry, and the four larger spaces at the bottom for scarves and such.   I got everything in it, but it may take me the rest of my natural life before I don't have to open ten drawers before finding the one pair of earrings I'm looking for!

I know, the shoe thing is a problem.
 This over the door shoe wrangler may not be the most attractive, but it keeps all the athletic shoes and flats hidden away, since they don't quite call out for display the way the others do.

Hello, hamper!
 So a few weeks ago CS and I were at a flea market, and I spotted this clothes hamper.  This 1970s fever dream of a swirly back-painted tambour mirror hamper, in lovely shades of ochre and avocado.  I pulled him over to see a little piece of vintage home decor that looks like my early childhood threw up.  I really was taking him to see it so that I could make fun of its awfulness and we could have a good chuckle.  Except by the time we got there, I noticed something. It is in perfect condition.  Really well made, on a steel frame, so solid as a rock.  Not a scratch or a chip or a crack anywhere, and that is a 40+-year-old piece made of actual glass mirror!  CS was still appalled, despite my insistence that perhaps it was so ghastly that it was actually fabulous.  I would have let it go, had it not been for this...

Matching wastebasket.
 Yeah, this too, in absolutely perfect shape.  I still might have been convinced to leave them behind, when I noticed....

Boom.  Matching Kleenex holder.
THE KLEENEX HOLDER.  I mean, COME ON.  You get it, right? I totally had to have them.  The lady selling them informed me that they were originally from the home of the people who owned the Finkl steel plant of blessed memory.  So not only do we have a complete set of perfect condition 1970s era accoutrements, they also have wonderful Chicago history!  I haggled down to $45 for the set, and CS agreed that I could bring them home as long as I put them somewhere he would never have to look at them.  So into my dressing room they went.  They are still kind of horrible, but for some reason I just love them, they make me smile.  Plus they look sort of insane against the deep magenta of the walls, in a good way.

So there you have it!  Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I'm awfully pleased with how they turned out!  

Coming up soon-ish, more rooms from upstairs and an elevator update!

Yours in Good Taste, (except for the hamper set)
The Polymath

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Thinking Ahead

Hello Chickens!

Spring is certainly taking its own sweet time here in Chicago, the rain has been relentless, the cold positively autumnal.  But my hostas are a poppin' and our Mama Robin is back in her nest for the sixth year in a row, so we know it is going to settle in eventually.

And things here at the Chateau are really cranking along.  Starting next week I'll be able to do the room-by-room design stuff, and I'm enormously excited about that!  But today I want to talk about the future.

One of the things that can be difficult about renovations is that your focus is so much on the present.  What do we need right now, how can life be made better/easier/prettier today?  We know what needs fixing in the immediate, but sometimes forget to think about what we might need down the road.

How many people do you know who have spaces they renovated when their kids were small that now sit unused because the kids are out of the house?  Or who have to completely redo projects that they completed not long ago because an aging family member comes to stay?

We knew when we began this project that we were looking at the long haul.  We fully intend to be in this house until it is time for us to depart this earth, and we hope that means a very long time indeed.  As such, when we began to design the building we took that into consideration with the renovations.

 For example:  There is only hardwood flooring throughout the house with no transition bumps or lips or changes in levels anywhere, and all hallways and doorways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers should the need ever arise either permanently or temporarily.  Both our master bath shower and the shower in the basement are walk-in with no lip and large enough for equipment if needed.  We put Charming Suitor's office on the same level as our master bedroom, and put in a closet and it's own small full bath with shower so that if we ever need to have someone come live-in to care for us, it can be converted to a bedroom conveniently located.  While we put our main kitchen on the second floor, an unusual choice for many, we are keeping the first floor kitchen as a catering/prep kitchen.  This means that if ever the house gets too big for us, we can choose to deconvert it back to two duplexed apartments if we want.

In the kitchen, there are no upper cabinets.  I'm 5'3" and not getting taller as I age, not to mention I'm a klutz, so since we were lucky enough to have the room to do everything undercounter, I know that as long as I can cook, I won't have to get up on a stepladder to reach my everyday dishes.

Our hope, since we don't have kids and have several couples who are dear friends who also don't have kids, is that we essentially have built our own future retirement facility!  Think Golden Girls but with couples.  Nice retirement communities are wildly expensive, and a lot of what you pay for is good food and good socializing opportunities.  We figure if we just move our besties in with us, we get all the socializing, and we know the food is great!  We will pool our resources, hire whatever help we need, and as long as no one needs memory care, we can be a bunch of fabulous independent old folks up in here.

Which brings me to the elevator.

Yes.  We are installing an elevator.  In fact, we are installing an elevator right this very second as I am typing this.  I know this sounds like the ultimate chi-chi fancy Warren Buffett sort of thing to do.  But I am here to tell you that not only is an elevator sort of shockingly affordable, it is something that I think anyone in a multi-level home they adore should look into.  I know so many people who have had to leave their family homes before they really wanted or needed to because they just could not handle stairs anymore.

We are already middle-aged people with wonky ankles, bad knees, and backs that occasionally slip out of alignment.  We have a house that is a total of four living levels, with 18 steps to get from level to level.  That means when I'm in the basement to workout, it is 54 stairs to get to my bedroom.  This is fine right now, but won't be in 20 years.  And you had better believe I intend to be here in 20 years!
When we were first designing the house I said we would need an elevator.  And we would need the elevator to do a few unusual things.  One, it would have to be able to open not only on each of the four floors, but also out the back in our parking pad at ground level. That means it would have to open on two contiguous sides, the front side and the left side.  It would then also have to have some security features since one door is external to the building.  And we would need it to be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair with a caregiver.

Lucky for us, we had the perfect spot!  When the house was three apartments, there were a series of small powder rooms in the very back corner of the building, all stacked up on each other in perfect alignment.  So we had a natural elevator shaft (or hoistway, as I have discovered the companies call them) just waiting for the interiors to be demoed and the floors to be removed to create 40 feet of elevator housing!

This is looking up the shaft from the first floor to the roof, you can see the two doors and the blocked off windows!

When we started looking into elevator companies, there were several local folks specializing in residential elevators.  But only one could really do everything we wanted in our budget.  That was Extended Home Living Services and their home elevator arm To The Top Home Elevators.  From the first meeting they were great, giving us all of the information on how to get an elevator that would work best for our ongoing needs.  They had all the best stuff, both hydraulic and winding drum mechanisms available, all sorts of options for the interior of the cab, and most importantly, they could do a residential elevator that would be able to do the full building and have the essential two-side opening feature!  It has all sorts of extra features like accordion style gates that open and close automatically, the ability to turn it off completely when we go out of town, and an external access security system that uses a punch code to call the elevator, which means that when my family comes to visit and they park behind the house, they can just punch in the code and come right on in!

We got to pick interior finishes, which I will share later, but you can go as simple or fancy as you like.  We went with winding drum instead of hydraulic since it is a bit easier to maintain.  And when I tell you that we were truly blown away by how affordable this thing is, let me just say that it is less than half of what it is going to cost us to redo the stairs.  Yeah.

this is our elevator being delivered!!!!

My contractors were able to prep the hoistway on their own and said it was pretty straightforward with the input EHLS gave them.  But if you don't have a convenient spot already in your house like we did, you can actually build an elevator shaft on the outside of your home in a good location and then just open doorways to get internal access.  Who knew?

Lucky for us, at the moment, we don't need any of their other services like stair lifts or ramps or stuff, but they do it all for accessible living.  And while affordable elevators doesn't mean cheap elevators, if the only thing preventing you from getting another 10-15 years out of loving your house is a flight or two of stairs, they start to look practically cheap.  If you have a parent who really doesn't want to leave the family home, and is still able to be independent but for your concern about stairs, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you at least call someone to come take a look and see what is possible.  By the time you add up the cost of fixing a home up for sale, finding a new one, paying for moving expenses etc., you might find the cost is a wash!

Stay tuned, there will be more elevator updates as it gets installed.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Color Me Happy!

Hello Chickens!

In case you missed it, our lovely kitchen was profiled in the Washington Post!

Read the article HERE.

Things are hopping over here at the chateau, floors are being patched and refurbished, tile is going in, doors are being is very exciting!  Which means it is time for the color conversation.

For those of you who have been with me for the whole process, I will jump right in.  For those who might have missed the previous posts on paint and color choices, I refer to back to THIS and THIS.

Once again we are working with the amazing team at Sherwin-Williams.  As we did before, we looked to their current Colormix 2017 for inspiration, and they did not disappoint.  They spend the whole year looking into color trends and ideas, and while we aren't looking necessarily to do the "new best thing", since we are hoping for something timeless in this house, we have always found that the way they think about color can be really exciting and take us in unexpected directions.

As always, we look at the floor as a whole, and how it integrates into the rest of the house.  The third floor is different.  It is our sanctuary, our getaway, our oasis.  There is not a single "public" space on the third level, so the color choices here are less about how they work with the rest of the house and more about how they just work for the two of us.  From the moment you begin to ascend the stairs to the third floor, you are entering a very different space.  This has actually been somewhat freeing, since we don't have to think about guests and how they will interact with the spaces, but rather, just about the two of us.

As I have mentioned before, the functions of these spaces are pretty basic.  The master bedroom for sleeping, obviously, but also has a reading nook and a small area with a television.  We each have our own dressing room, which we are VERY excited about.  Charming Suitor is looking forward to not tripping over my endless shoes when he is getting dressed.  The commode room has the main toilet and a sink, and will also serve as my vanity space for hair and makeup.  The master bathroom has his and hers sinks, a lovely soaking tub, and a large two-person shower.  The laundry room also has tons of storage and folding space, there is a small hall closet, and then CS's office and office bathroom.

We sat down with the Colormix brochure and took a look at what direction they think color is headed right now.

The first inspiration was NOIR.  Sherwin-Williams describes it this way:

It’s among our most precious commodities: night. We’re craving a refuge from urban streetlights and glowing screens, space to turn our gaze inward and recharge the spirit. Mindful melancholy is fueling a new romanticism marked by medieval patterns, revived customs and bittersweet beauty. The Dutch masters knew the secret: dark hues set a dramatic stage for sensuous luster. This palette is rich with vineripe fruits, Nordic blues, moody neutrals and golden yellows.

We were very drawn to the soothing cool pale blue-gray called Icelandic that was part of this collection, and chose it for the master bedroom.  We wanted to keep the light airy feel in this large space, and a color that would be Zen-like and calming.  The furniture in this room will pull from taupes, straw colors, pale grays and silvers, with wood and metal accents, and the pale blue-gray will really allow all those other things to blend beautifully.  It was a bit nerve-wracking, since CS is not a fan of pale blue, so it was essential that the color have enough gray in it.  We ended up with a slightly different shade, called North Star, and it changes colors gorgeously throughout the day.  In the morning it is very light blue-gray, by midday it deepens a bit, at disk it goes more blue, sort of matching the sky, and at night it reads more gray.  CS really loves it, whew!

The second inspiration was HOLISTIC.  Sherwin-Williams says:

Sustainable design and radical transparency are the new standards. As our daily transactions move further into the cloud, acquiring experiences is becoming preferable to buying more things. “Doing good” is the new looking good, and it’s taking the form of “voluntourism,” healing retreats and eco-travel. We’re in pursuit of an elusive ideal: a fair luxury. The roads of this journey are lined with arctic neutrals, blush rose and wild browns.

We loved the ideas behind this collection, as well as the palette.  We pulled the pale gray Stardew as our inspiration for the master bathroom, and the Deep Forest brown for both Charming Suitor's dressing room and the laundry room.  CS's dressing room will be very masculine, so it felt like a terrific choice.  And the laundry room has all white cabinets and white washer/dryer, so the deep chocolately brown will make for a nice backdrop.  And we have used that sort of deep brown in other spaces in the house and really love the way it looks.

The third inspiration was INTREPID.  From Sherwin-Williams:

The virtual and the real are blurring in the form of seamless commerce and “office anywhere” collaboration. Impatient for social and political change, we’re reinventing ourselves first. Identity has never been more fluid. “You do you” is the mantra of a generation primed for self-expression, cheered on by their own #squad and tossing aside old categories. There’s a feisty energy to our present moment, arriving in fiery tones and vibrant, kimono colors.

I really loved the energy of this group of colors.  I know you have all been with me long enough to know that I'm not afraid of color, and love to be surrounded by rich vibrant color where it works...hence the deep blue guest room, the peacock teal bathroom, and the bright orange ovens in the kitchen!  While we wanted the third-floor suite to be our soothing spa-like getaway, we didn't want that to be bland and boring.  After all, when you go to a spa, it can be very energizing as well as relaxing.  So we really thought about the various spaces and what happens in them when looking at color.  The bedroom, naturally, needed to be calming since that is a place of sleep and quiet.  The master bath as well lent itself to that soothing feeling of light and cool.  But my dressing room?  That is a place I want to be fun and vibrant, and the Kimono Violet spoke to me.  I have purple hair, it should not be a surprise that I loved this one!  When we tested that particular color in the space, it didn't work very well with the light that is in that room, it made it muddy instead of luxuriously bright, so I ended up picking a color called Dynamo, which worked much better but still had that magenta/violet feel I was looking for.  Same was true for the commode room, which is where I will have my vanity for hair and makeup and the like.  I loved the Citronella color from this palette, the deep lichen green felt bright but also luxurious but it went a little too mustard yellow in the space, so we ended up picking a similar color called Grandiose, which was perfect.

The last inspiration was UNBOUNDED.  Sherwin-Williams describes it as:

Global immigration is redefining borderlands, national identity and our sense of coexistence. We’re all citizens of the world now. Brands are becoming more purpose-driven, communities more connected. Design is adapting to more diverse populations. Overconsumption is, well, over. We’re more likely to invest in the best we can afford — crafted and customized — and then keep it forever. Global consciousness is a mural painted in earthy mustards, ocean blues, corals and mud.

Charming Suitor really responded to this palette and immediately chose the deep green Saguaro for his office.  It will be a great backdrop to some of his artwork, and I think it brings out the green in his eyes!

As we have recommended before, we are unifying the space with all white on ceilings, hallway walls, as well as trim and doors, which allows us to use the various colors without making the spaces look like fruit salad.

We also chose white for the small bathroom off of CS's office, since it has a lot going on in a small space, so we wanted to keep it clean and bright.

So, here is the palette we ended up with :

You can see how all the colors work together.  I've got them laid out in my Sherwin-Williams portfolio, which I use to keep track of all of the colors for the whole house in case I need to reference it.  (Yes, I continue to be a terrible photographer, so the deep magenta of my dressing room is coming out weirdly red in this picture, but wait till you see it on the walls!)

As soon as the spaces are painted I will post the updated pics!

Much more coming soon....

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Sherwin-Williams has provided discounted product for this project, but all opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

One Year Anniversary of the NEW KITCHEN!

Hello Chickens-

As promised, I wanted to give you the one year anniversary update on the kitchen.  I know for many of you, and certainly for me, the kitchen was the most exciting part of our entire renovation.  Since this blog is most often a cooking and entertaining blog, it is no shock to anyone that the kitchen took the most research and was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole house to design.  In general, if you are lucky, you get one shot at your dream kitchen, and you definitely don't want to screw it up!

So I thought I would circle back one year in and let you know how things are going.

Firstly, a lot of people thought we were crazy with the layout of our kitchen.  Choosing to model a home kitchen on a zoned restaurant kitchen takes away all of the "rules" we were taught about home kitchens, that you need a triangle of space connecting the stove and the fridge and the prep area, that you should limit your need to move around the space and such.  So we were already outside the box when we created a zone for both cold and pantry storage, two zones for cooking sharing one prep space and one cleaning space and a separate zone across the room for baking, all of which does require some thought about how to organize yourself.

The good news?  It works PERFECTLY.  Again, our kitchen design is not for everyone, if you are a family with kids, especially little ones, this would probably be a nightmare.  But for us, for the way we cook, it has been a godsend.  We have officially done a full year of holiday cooking and serving, a year of eating just the two of us, and eating with friends.  We have done our everyday simple dinners, and weekend complex dinners and every permutation in between.  Yes we have continued to tweak some things about what is stored where, to help limit the running around, and have had some surprising things we hadn't needing three salt cellars so that each cooking area has its own readily accessible!  Overall, we keep saying that there is not a thing we would change about how the space works or about the materials and appliances we chose, which is pretty amazing.

Here are some of the gamechangers for us:

Our old kitchen was the size of a postage stamp, it was hard enough to cook with the two of us, let alone adding anyone else.  But the scale of this space is so lovely and well thought out that it is now a joy to bring other people into the kitchen!  I've started a regular "cooking class" days with my goddaughter, her mom, another dear friend and her daughter, and one of my besties from high school.  The six of us get together every 6 weeks or so to do a day of cooking, usually based on what the girls (11 and 12) want to learn to make.  We've done breads and soup, cupcakes, brownies, mandel bread, other cookies, and in a couple of weeks we are going to tackle eclairs!  There is plenty of room for all six of us to move and participate, and the island is a great place for us all to gather for decorating our goodies.  I never could have done this in the old kitchen, and these days are some of my favorites in the new space, I think we are building really special memories, and I hope these days continue for as long as we can convince the girls to hang out with old people.

After the election a dear friend reached out to say that he was feeling a bit adrift and asked if could we plan a super farty French dinner party where we could cook all day and make stuff he hadn't done since culinary school.  It was an easy yes on my end, and the two of us spent an entire day in the kitchen, making puff pastry from scratch and chicken galantine, Marjolaine cake and Paris Brest, stuffed breast of veal and braised endives and a potato gratin.  We had both ovens going at once, and often I was working something on the gas range while he was working the induction.  He could do a turn and fold on the puff pastry in the baking area while I was fussing over a sauce across the room, and since I was in the other section of the kitchen, his space stayed cool and uncluttered.  We knocked out an 8-course dinner for 7 people, and served and ate it in the kitchen, and the whole thing was smooth and fun, including the cleanup.  A total win!

We've also done some larger holiday meals, and our annual New Year's Eve party where we cooked upstairs in the kitchen and served downstairs in the formal dining room. This too worked even better than we anticipated.  While I do have to do some pre-planning to ensure that menus lend themselves to the arrangement, Thanksgiving, Fakesgiving, Passover and NYE all went without a hitch, and are about to get even better (stay tuned for why...). We were able to cook upstairs, and hold things in the warming drawers, cold things could get stashed in the downstairs kitchen so they were out of our way upstairs, and between the oven and burners in the downstairs kitchen and a couple of slow cookers, once we were downstairs, we never had to scamper back up till the meal was done.

And entertaining in the kitchen is wonderful.  We have done many small dinners, 4-6 people, which is beyond easy, but I also did my mom's birthday ladies luncheon for 9,  a brunch for 14 , and a cocktail party for 20 for Charming Suitor's whole office!  The "chef's table" can seat up to 10 with the leaves in, making casual dinner parties super easy, and with the four seats at the counter, we can do seated for 14!  There is enough room to move around that a standing cocktail party was totally comfortable. What has been really terrific is that when we just have one other couple over for dinner, we can do cocktails and nibbles right in the kitchen instead of the den, so we don't have to miss snippets of conversation when checking on dinner!

All in all, we could not be more delighted and would not change one thing!  Here is a roundup of the major picks we made, and how they are functioning:

Poggenpohl Cabinets:  We went with all lowers, since I am super short and I like the clean look of no uppers, and almost all drawers except for the corner cabinet solutions.  These have been a dream, they hold all the stuff we needed them to hold, up to 200 pounds per drawer!  And the smooth function and amazing organization inserts have been the stuff of genius.  Cabinets are one of those things that you really don't appreciate until you have exceptionally good ones!

Dekton Countertops:  You all know the saga of the countertops and how much we love our partners Cosentino and StoneMasters for hanging in there with us, but the results have been well worth the drama.  The counters are gorgeous, and despite our best efforts, we have not been able to stain, scratch or scorch them.  They look amazing and have been the perfect choice.  Everyone comments on how gorgeous they look and feel, with their suede finish, but I keep extolling their functionality.  I've been baking more and more, and can roll things right on the surface with about 1/4 the amount of flour as other surfaces, which means my biscuits are fluffier, and with all the sourdough I'm making lately, I don't have to flour the surface at all, giving me really good surface tension on my breads.  I can pull a cast iron Dutch oven out of a 500 degree oven and put it right down, no trivets!  This has made using our island as a buffet super easy, everything just goes right down without a worry.  And even better, on baking days with the girls, we've been able to use commerical strength food coloring powders, which notoriously get everywhere and stain permanently, and while we have stained our fingers and shirts and aprons, the counters get wiped up and not a mark on them.  I would absolutely do them again.

BlueStar Range, Hood and Ovens:  I cannot recommend this company enough.  These were the first decision we made for the kitchen, and it has proven to have been the best possible thing on every level.  The range with the four burners and 24 inch French Top has made our everyday cooking a dream, the flexibility is just amazing.  I have melted chocolate on the simmer burner with no double boiler, and have done extreme high heat wok cooking by removing the center rings from the French top.  I have done huge batches of stock on the French top, in my giant rondeau that used to have to go over two burners and never heated properly, and the high heat burners are getting great sears on our steaks.  The range is easy to clean, and we love the simple intuitive design.  The hood is super powerful, so when we are doing those steaks we don't smoke out the kitchen, and I can finally make fish at home and not stink up the place for a week!  The gas oven has been amazing for roasting, but the electric oven has really changed my life.  The flexibility of the different cooking programs are still things that I am exploring, but I am baking more and more and enjoying more than I ever have.  The built-in baking stone has been the most important thing, as I am now making sourdough breads regularly, and getting insanely crunchy crusts!  I'm about to start playing with pizza, so stay tuned for those adventures.  I have three other friends who have all purchased BlueStar ranges since we got ours, and everyone raves.  If you take only one thing away from our kitchen experience, it is whatever kitchen you are doing, check out BlueStar for sure!

Marvel Fridge Freezer, wine fridge and cheese fridge:  The 72-inch side by side has completely changed our lives for the better.  Suddenly there is room in the freezer to really sock away stuff, so I can finally make big batches of homemade stock like I always wanted to, and not take up the whole freezer.  That includes stashing old bones and carcasses and veggie scraps until I have enough for stock.  I can start prepping for holiday meals a month out.  I can put full sheet trays in the fridge!  The fridge stays organized with the help of a bunch of clear plastic bins, and I always know where everything is.  But I no longer have to remove all of the regular inhabitants when I load in groceries for a big party...everything just fits!  Glorious.  The wine fridge has been really great, Charming Suitor keeps it full of a variety of everyday wines, as well as the vermouth, Lillet, and other cocktail making supplies that used to take up a ton of room in the regular fridge.  And the cheese fridge has been wonderful, we are getting twice to three times the life out of our cheeses and charcuterie as we used to in the regular fridge!

Gaggenau Induction Cooktop, steamer and warming drawers:  Working with induction cookery has been really fun, the speed is astounding (boiling water in mere moments), but the range of temps is also amazing (perfect poached eggs), and since it puts off no heat, it has been terrific for cooking last minute stuff with guests over, since I can face them while I cook and not wilt everyone's hairdo.  The warming drawers are in almost daily use, from just gently heating our dinner plates, to holding cooked foods until dinner time, to helping me proof breads.  But it is the steamer that was the total surprise.  This thing is amazing.  From making steamed veggies for quick dinners to holding classic Chicago hot dogs and the buns nice and warm for a party, it's been making our life so much easier!  We've gotten addicted to steamed new potatoes, which taste so much more potato-y than boiled ones.  And our annual love affair with artichokes has been powerfully improved.  The ease of cleanup, just drain and wipe out the base and stick the lid and steamer insert right in the dishwasher, makes it a dream.

LaCornue Rotisserie:  You guys know that I wanted this thing like it was my JOB.  Thank goodness for a milestone birthday just preceding the kitchen project, I will be forever grateful for turning 45.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.  Super easy, we do chicken at least once a week.  Nothing fancy, straight out of the fridge with a spray of oil and a sprinkle of salt, and an hour later there is the perfect crispy-skinned super juicy chicken that somehow manages to taste seasoned to the bone despite no brining or special prep.  We will do potatoes underneath, or our new obsession, cabbage, which cooks and caramelizes in the chicken fat and juices and chars on the edges.  That and a green vegetable in the steamer and we have a quick and easy meal that practically made itself.  People can invite themselves for dinner at 4PM, and all I have to do is get this thing going and there is no sweat.  We've done leg of lamb, and even a whole pineapple for an unusual summer dessert.  The only issue for us was that even though the company swears it does not need extra ventilation?  It totally does.  When we first started cooking with it, it set off the carbon monoxide detector every time, forcing us to cook with the back door open.  So we recently installed a super quiet exhaust fan in the ceiling above it, and problem was solved.  We were lucky because having the construction happening upstairs meant that we had easy access to drop it in from above, but if you are considering one for your home, be sure to plan a ceiling exhaust fan from the start.  The true bonus is that with all these rotisserie chickens, I stash carcasses in our awesome freezer, so I never have to buy bones for stock!

Miele Dishwashers:  These things are getting constant use, and while having two of them has been really wonderful for big parties, the fact is that for everyday or smaller dinners with one other couple, one is really all we need for cleanup!  They are so well-designed and flexible that everything always manages to fit.  The silverware drawer on top mean no more picking food bits off between spoons that got stuck together, and with the moveable racks, I can fit my tallest stock pot, and sheet pans with ease.  But there is no question, if you love to cook and entertain, that second dishwasher is like a little miracle.  And even better, they run so silently, that we can have a dinner party in the kitchen with the prep stuff running, and no one notices!

Blanco sinks and faucets:  Last but not least, our pair of sinks with their professional grade faucets have finally made cleanup easy.  The deep bowls hold plenty of stuff, and make cleaning larger pots and pans and serving pieces super easy.  The elevated grates on the bottom have saved me a couple of time when I was filling pots and got a phone call!  And all of the various extras, like the inset strainers and cutting boards have made them uber functional.

Larchwood Canada custom butcher block:  This 5 inch thick butcher block has now seen a full year of slicing and dicing and chopping and it still looks amazing.  The self-healing larchwood requires only an occasional treatment of butcher block conditioner and you can barely tell that we actually chop on it.  It looks spectacular, and we love not having to pull out cutting boards every second.

We are so grateful to our partners at all of these amazing companies for helping us do the research, guiding us through the processes, and being at our sides, not only in the decision making process, but throughout delivery, install, and even checking in to be sure that everything is continuing to work well for us.  It was so much fun to work with companies who really listened to what it is we were trying to achieve, and have them guide us towards the perfect choices.  Poggenpohl even sent a wonderful photographer, Mike Kaskel, to take the amazing pics below!

That is the official one-year update on the kitchen, coming up this week...color choices for the third floor!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Do you BELIEVE what these drawers can hold????

Happiest girl ever!