Current project: Bathroom renovation

Our current bathroom renovation is turning out quite nice (click on the gallery photo above for more renovation photos).  It was a gut rehab, new plumbing, new electrical, new floors, new walls, new fixtures & finishes, and a new window. I would have loved to have seen a seamless shower but the neighborhood calls for a bathtub. The original swing door was repurposed into a pocket door to save space, and an adjacent bedroom closet was taken over for the new tub space. Still things to do but the space is looking very clean and modern.

What I’m Loving Now: Beautiful Fans

When renovating my home recently I had to decide whether to keep the ceiling fans in the upstairs bedrooms. I have a love/hate relationship with fans. They circulate air – helping to cool rooms in the summer and keep rooms warm in the winter – which is a good thing in feng shui and for good health. But the majority of the fans out there are so, so ugly. For a long time it seemed the choices were

  1. The Boob Light 

2. The Exposed Bulb/Blinding Retina Light

3. The No Light Clunky Looking Fan

I told myself I would install new fans for their air circulation quality if only I could find a fan that would complement the decor and the new light fixtures that I was installing. I discovered the Matthews Fan Company through my favorite local lighting source and fell in love with the Irene fan:

It’s a beautiful fan, with or without the light. It doesn’t make a sound, regardless of  speed. It goes with any decor. It comes in a variety of finishes and styles. I have my air flow and my style. I’m happy. 

What I’m Loving Now: Mixing Finishes in a Bathroom

Matching one’s finishes in a bathroom  – by using all chrome or all brushed brass fixtures – is the traditional way of appointing a bathroom. It is a beautiful look and one that we still use regularly. But lately we have been also playing with mixing finishes in order to give a bathroom a more sophisticated look. Because in a bathroom, most of the surfaces are flat: stone floors, stone countertops, painted flat walls, glass shower enclosures, porcelain tubs, etc. The only texture you would generally see would be either tactile (towels and rugs, floor surfaces, plants), or visual (grains in a countertop, patterned wallpaper). But by using more than one type of finish, you can give your bathroom a more layered and interesting look, just like you would do using textures and patterned surfaces in a living room.  In order to keep the bathroom from looking disconnected, stick to using just two or three finishes. Happy mixing!


Here are some examples of bathrooms that I think mixed finishes well:











Dark trim and light walls

One of the things I most wanted to do when I got around to renovating my home was to paint the millwork. It was white when we bought the home. I love beautiful, super white millwork. But my small 100 year old south Oak Park home with crumbling plaster walls and bad lighting didn’t call for lux high gloss white trim. But! Now that my walls and ceilings are super smooth drywall and I have lovely new light fixtures I can really play up my wall and trim colors, and one way to do that is to paint the millwork darker than the walls.

Here’s a picture of the original bedroom closet:

Here is the same closet door with painted trim (note: walls not painted yet but I also did flip the door, so it now opens to the wall – that was a huge pet peeve of mine!):

My inspiration for this came from my awesome design savvy friend Jess. At 9 months pregnant she bought a home and had to have it renovated inside a month before they had to move in. One of the quick decisions she had to make was what color to paint the millwork. She took a gamble and painted it dark and it looks amazing:

Gone are the days of boring white trim I hope. I have embraced the idea of literally painting outside of the box.  I hope my clients will let me be a bit more adventurous in the future and choose dark colors for their trim. I believe it is to become a new classic.

How to Hire A Painter

I never understand why people say “it’s just paint”, or “painting is easy”, that “you can just change it” or that “paint is cheap”, etc etc. People who say that must not have gone through the process of choosing colors, hiring painters, having your home covered in tarps and smelling like weird plastic for a week. True, painting is cheaper than moving, but it’s not inexpensive either. A good paint job takes time to accomplish and should last at least ten years, and if you are going to go through the above mentioned process, you want to be happy with the final result. The best way to achieve this? Educate yourself a bit on the painting process, determine what results you want to see, and learn how to communicate your needs effectively so that you and your painter are on the same page from day one.

How do you find a painter for starters? Ask for recommendations from people that you know and trust. Ask them what was the best thing and worse thing about the experience, and what they would have done differently had they the chance. Once you’ve narrowed down potential painters then set up individual walk throughs. The walk through is going to be the most important part of the process. Take time to do a thorough walk through. Trust me. This is where the communication comes into play and sets the tone for the whole process going forward.

Start with your walls. Are your walls drywall or plaster? If plaster, how much repair do they need? Do you want the painter to simply fill in cracks, or do you want him/her to smooth your walls so much that they look brand new? A level five drywall finish is when your walls look perfect. Do you need your plaster walls to look like drywall? Or do you want your plaster to retain some character? Decide what you’ll be happy with, and the quote you receive from the painter will reflect this.

Next, move on to millwork. Millwork refers to baseboards, crown, door casings, window trim, bead board, chair rail, any detail on your walls. Painting millwork is time consuming and therefore can add a lot to a painter’s quote. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint to get a finished look. Decide with your painter what millwork, if any, that you want painted.

You also need to discuss doors. A painter may paint your crown and baseboards but do not assume he/she is including doors. If they are in good shape, you may not need them painted. But if your millwork is getting painted, will your doors match? Will your painters paint both sides? And what about your closets? You need to specify if you want the inside of your closets painted. Most painters will not assume to paint the inside of closets unless asked.

Now on to ceilings. Ceilings that are in good shape and do not have signs of cracks or water damage don’t necessarily have to be painted. But if there is damage to them, will the painter fix it? If you have stucco or popcorn ceilings, will the painter paint them so that they look seamless with the rest of the ceiling?

Do you have kitchen or bathroom cabinets that you want to see painted? Cabinets, like millwork, require a different types of paint from wall paint. Make sure you understand the product that your painter is going to use on your cabinets, as well as the process to prepping and painting cabinets.

Now on to paint. There are many different types of paint out there and you need to educate yourself a bit on the types of paint because there can be big differences in cost. The most basic level of paint offers the minimum of coverage (called hide) and is generally used for commercial purposes, like landlords needing to repaint after a tenant leaves. Paint companies offer products up from here and they can range in coverage and VOCs (volatile organic compound) and specialty, such as moisture resistant paint, primer and paint in one, etc. You must specify with your painter which type paint you want to use because painters will usually buy the paint for you and include it in the overall cost. I don’t want to be alarmist here but I’ve heard of painters charging a client for a higher level product and then purchasing a cheaper paint and pocketing the difference. And the difference in cost can be significant. Imagine paying up front for ten gallons of paint at $50 a can but your painter then uses your deposit to buy $25 gallon paint and hopes you don’t notice the difference. To avoid this scenario, tell them you want to see the cans, and tell them that you want the cans left at your home when the job is done. Don’t assume they will – I have heard stories of painters taking cans purchased by one homeowner and using them on another job, all the while charging the second homeowner for the same can of paint!

Once your colors and the type of paint you want to use are chosen then you need to specify what sheen you want on your walls and millwork. Flat? Matte? Eggshell? Pearl?Satin? If you are not sure, pick up a sheen chart at your local paint store. You know how your home is used, not the painter. If you have lots of kids in high traffic areas, put a sheen on the wall that can be easily wiped off. If you hate the wet look on trim, make sure to tell your painter you want a more matte finish.

Compare quotes. You should get at least three detailed quotes from the painters and compare them, apples to apples, on what is to be painted and which product and whether paint and materials (drop cloths, brushes, etc) are included.

When will they work? 9-5? Do you want them in your home on the weekends? At night? Early in the morning? Specify when you want them in your home. Ask them how long the project will take. Will they call you if they can’t come that day?

Specify low VOC or no VOC paints if you want them. Most paints are low VOC these days, but not all, so make sure you are on the same page. Primers have VOCs in them, so make sure you know how much odor the primer will give off.

Educating yourself on the painting process will insure that you are 100% happy with the finished product. And believe me. Once the job is done, you’ll be happy you won’t have to repeat it for a long time.

New Online Design Feature

We excited to announce that we are launching a new online design service called ANI Design Online, a simple and fun way to get design. It was designed for clients who were outside the Chicago area and couldn’t make it in to the studio, but it’s really open to anyone. For a one time fee you complete a project questionnaire and measure and take photos of your space (we’ll tell you how). We then create a 3D rendering of the new space, complete with color, furnishings, lighting, flooring and any other needed design recommendations, and then we also send you a price list for each item and where to buy them. You’ll have 1-2 video chats with Lexi to walk through the design with you and answer questions. There are many virtual design sites out there but with ANI Design Online you get a dedicated designer to help you every step of the way. For more information or if you would like us to send you the questionnaire, please call us at (708) 752-2255 or contact us here!

5 Feng Shui Spring Clean Tips

How great would it be if there was a service that would come box up your winter furnishings, like you do with your coats and sweaters and such, and store them while you enjoy your summer stuff? I would so love to put my favorite soft and warm microfiber sofa into storage and trot out a wicker or bamboo loveseat, perhaps painted a high gloss pink with ticking fabric, in its place for the warm months. Super impractical but until I can afford my summer home on Martha’s Vineyard I may need to improvise. In the meantime here are a few things that I like to do from a feng shui perspective to shrug off old man winter:

  1. Roll up my rugs. My wool rugs after a winter are fuzzy petri dishes. All the dirt, salt, snow, mud, shoe gunk and whatever the dog has been picking out of his paws has been secured so tightly in the fiber nooks and crannies that there is no way anything short of a deep professional clean is gonna render them house friendly again. So I roll them up and take them to the basement where my lovely local at home service cleaner will come over and bomb them clean. Why do I take them to the basement? Because I like to give the floors a break. I like to clean my wood floors and expose them to the air so that they have a chance to wear like the non covered parts. Clean bare floors also gives the room a fresh new feel.
  2. Have fresh flowers everywhere. My house looks like a nursery pooped up in here. I love fresh super cheap flowers from Trader Joe’s. I have them all over the house. Fresh flowers are an instant room energizer. And because they are so cute and cheap at TJs I can get them weekly.  I toss them as soon as they turn blah. In feng shui having dead flowers around is a no no.
  3. Flip my fans.  If your fans have been operating properly during the winter you had them rotating clockwise. Now is the time to reverse their direction, so that they run counterclockwise, in order pull the warm air up. Open those windows too, in order to get a good cross flow. This gets the air (and energy, in feng shui speak) circulating well throughout the home. Warning: if you haven’t been keeping up with the dust on those winter blades, you are gonna have some serious wiping to do. Use a wet paper towel to damp down the dust and dirt so that they don’t get all over your clean bare floors (see #1).
  4. Flip my mattresses. Flipping mattresses is a pain. That is why I only do it a couple times a year. But it’s a good thing to do so that the mattress wears uniformly. Also in feng shui it’s good to use all your things in rotation, like the burners on your stove. It helps balance the energy throughout a space.

I love this photo of the great Lucille Ball. I too make this face when I realize I need to clean my fan blades.

Should You Hire A Designer?

I don’t like HGTV.  Most designers I know agree with me it has done little to advance our profession. No design job is ever that much of a disaster or done that presto quick. The producers of HGTV have dumbed down our trade so much for entertainment that no one watching the show can possibly understand the expertise and effort that went into the renovation or how much time the designer spent planning the project before demo began.

People love to watch a good before/after reno but when it comes to hiring a designer for their own project, they balk. Why? Designers are professionals, like architects, contractors and other tradespeople. Are we necessary? I think so, especially on larger projects. Can you get away with doing a project without a designer? Sure, but why would you want to? To save money? Because you don’t think a designer brings value to the project? I’ll argue that a designer can save you money and bring tons of value. Here’s how:

  1. A designer will properly plan out the project from conception to installation, helping avoid costly mistakes from the get go and save you from having to go back and redo things you thought were being done right the first time.
  2. Most contractors don’t do their own plans, and architects generally like the big picture mechanical and structural stuff, not the little details.  Please don’t think I’m knocking contractors or architects: they are necessary to a renovation project but the designer is the one who bring all the moving parts together.
  3.  A designer will know every phase of the project and what needs to get done before the next phase can proceed, again saving you from doing things in the wrong order and lining up the work so that it gets done in a timely manner.
  4. A designer knows who s/he can bring in to get the job done properly, saving time and money in costly re estimates or low balled estimates that didn’t include the whole picture the first time around.
  5. A designer knows where to go to get the best quality products and some designers including myself will even pass the wholesale savings to you. If you like spending every weekend for the foreseeable future shopping at malls for furniture and looking at fabric swatches and wood stains, then go for it! Otherwise hire a designer to do the legwork for you and save those weekends for your family.
  6. A designer is your collaborator, your consultant and your advocate. We don’t cut corners and we don’t let our contractors do it either. It’s our reputation on the line.
  7. A good designer will sometimes even talk you out of a project if s/he thinks it’s not a good idea, or at least give you options that may make more sense.
  8. A good designer will fight on your behalf to get things righted and righted quickly if things go awry with shipments or construction.
  9. A designer isn’t a commodity. You need to meet with several to decide whom best fits your style philosophy and can help you fulfill your dream.
  10. Designers cost money. But anything worth doing well has a price.

How do you find a good designer? Ask neighbors whom they used. Search for portfolios and reviews. Google local designers in your area and check out their work. Attend house walks in your area.

There are a lot of great designers on HGTV, both on and off the camera. I just wish they disclosed how much time and effort it really took them to get a job done. Then maybe the rest of us wouldn’t have to fight so hard to prove our value.


The color I’m Loving Now – Navy Blue

Navy blue is quickly becoming the new neutral – see ya gray! It’s an easy color to work with because it pairs so well with so many other colors: apple green, tangerine orange, fire engine red, navy with other tints and shades of blue, and of course the classic navy and cream.

But how do you use navy in your decor? Navy is a beautiful and bold wall color choice – I love it in dining rooms – but if you aren’t willing to commit to so much color on your walls then consider using it these ways:

As a navy blue sofa with cream walls:



Hung as navy and tan color blocked drapes:

source: pinterest

As accent pillows with navy, orange and tan:

source: ninestreetsny

There’s really no way to go wrong with navy. Plus it’s super forgiving, hiding spills and such, which makes it a fav among my clients with kids.

Plus I’m pretty sure Bears fans will love it.



How to Achieve Asymmetrical Balance

We all know how balance things, right? I’m not talking about balance in your day to day life. That to me is as elusive and imaginary as a pink unicorn. But most of us do know the meaning of balance when it comes to your decor. You put two matching end tables with two matching lamps on top and set those on either side of the sofa. Boom. But did you know that it’s easy to create balance even without those matched sets? It’s just about knowing the laws of balance.

Take the first example below. You can see how everything is perfectly balanced because one side is an exact mirror of the other. Lovely? Yes. A bit boring? Mmm.


Balance has more to do with the visual weight of things rather than the exact replica of things. The first picture has the same visual weight on either side and therefore our eye registers it as balanced.

Let’s go to the second example:


Your eye also sees this as balanced, even though the opposite sides are definitely not mirrors of each other. So what’s going on here? The tree on the right is tall. Our eye needs something equally commanding – equal visual weight –  on the opposite side to balance the look. Placing several bushes on the other side in varying sizes, shapes and colors gives visual balance to the tall tree. And notice how the wide bushes are slightly closer to the center – the front door – than the tree? Our eye needs larger things  – the bunch of bushes – to be closer to the center and smaller things further away from the center in order to register balance. Just think of a see saw – if one person is heavier than the other, how do you achieve balance? By moving the heavier person closer to the center of the board. You achieve the same thing visually in design.

The bottom image is not balanced. It’s easy to see but can you explain why? All of the heaviness is off to one side. The trees plus the bushes and shrubs takes up a lot of space visually AND they are closer to the center of the line.  In this example if the bush and tree on the left were moved closer to the front door and everything on the right were moved further to the right there would be more balance. It still wouldn’t be perfect but it would better than it is now.


So how does knowing how to create asymmetrical balance help you in your space? Take this symmetrically balanced fireplace mantle for example:

source: muse interiors

Very elegant. But a bit staid, right? What if you had a lot of things you wanted to display, or even swap out from time to time? Take a look at this example of asymmetrical design perfectly executed:


source: morgan harrison home

The larger frames are closest to the center line. Plus there are more little frames on one side, to balance out the largest frame on the other. You can achieve this with anything if you just remember to balance out your heavies with your lights and keep the heavies closer to the center line.

Play around with objects on a shelf in your home to achieve asymmetrical balance. I’m off to tackle my checkbook. That is one balance that will not be achieved so easily.