White Kitchens

I read a few different blogs by established Designers, but one is sticking with me even a few days later.  She posted a picture of a recent kitchen she did, proclaiming it ‘timeless’ and will never go out of style.  Admittedly, it’s a lovely kitchen; white cabinets, gray subway tile, noteworthy pendants, stainless appliances, and gold cabinet pulls.  About the third comment in was a women calling her bluff.  (What?!)  She did mention that she was not a designer, but for me, that made her message all the more powerful.  She asked if, since she feels like she is seeing these kitchens EVERYWHERE, if maybe they are over done.  Ouch.  Overdone?  Harsh!

White kitchens came on the scene several years ago, after we all got sick of looking at kitchen after kitchen with dark granite counter tops.  The old rule of thumb was, stack like an Oreo, dark floors, light cabinets, dark counters.  It made sense, contrast always provides visual interest (although not always GOOD visual interest 😉 )  You were seeing at least a few natural wood cabinets, injecting that organic feel that most people associate with warmth and home.

But then marble hit really hard for a few years.  People started embracing a reduction in contrast, turning towards exclusively painted cabinetry.  You saw the brushed metals coming in, fitting closely with the stainless appliances.  That made sense as well.  Stark white and shiny metal conjures up images of hospitals, not kitchens, so designers beautifully created kitchens that were clean and crisp, never stark or sterile.

But that blog post was still sitting with me…where are we TODAY?  Recently I was asked to advise a friend redoing her own kitchen.  She is going white. So the question has to be asked…is this a mistake? Given the cost and inconvenience of a kitchen reno, is it ill-advised to go with ‘white kitchen’? In looking at example after example, I can say with relative certainty, the answer is NO! Go for it!

Here’s why…the pendulum has centered.  What we have learned from the organic feel of wood and granite kitchens is that they don’t have to be super ornate.  Simplify the doors, lighten up the room, but keep some of the coziness.  What we learned from the other extreme was that crisp, clean feel is energizing, but we miss some of the contrast.  So today, we actually decorate our kitchens.  We like the blank canvas of white, but we bring in other elements as well, be they wood or color, to round out the space. I admit, finding examples of kitchens with all white cabinets, light counter tops, and light backsplashes took a little digging, but let’s have a look at what I found:

This one incorporated wood beams in the ceiling:

This one has my new favorite look, the stacked wood bread paddles!  Point is, what’s on the counter top is what is driving the feel of the kitchen.

Another one finished to add warmth, I love it!

This one has perfectly used windows:

This one has the most current answer…the countertops have nice contast:

This last one is part of the uber-popular modern farmhouse look.  I love it!  Take note of the open shelving in natural wood, the swing arm lighting, the mixed metal finishes and the shiplap…

Bathroom, Bedrooms, Dining Rooms, Kitchen, Living Rooms

Color Pop

Have you ever been to Maine?  We go every year, and in my travels, I have learned that the least sad way to leave a beloved vacation spot is to bring something home with you.  This year, I brought home inspiration!

Maine is a beautiful place.  I use that simple sentence because it sums it up so well.  Mainers really have life figured out.  They live outdoors; biking, shooting, canoeing, paddle boarding, sailing, surfing, skiing, you name it.   But they aren’t spoiled by month after month of perfect weather.  Nope, Maine’s perfect summer lasts about 10 days at the beginning of August.  The rest of the year is a variety of rain, cold, mist, snow, you name it.   So you can either stay inside and feel sorry for yourself, or you can suit up for the weather and get outside and have fun!

One of my favorite things about Maine is it’s perfect little balance between New England and the Midwest.  It’s not considered East Coast; in fact, there are somewhere around 70 miles of usable beach on the southern end of Maine.  The rest of the place is logging forests, lakes and rocks. I think that’s what makes their style so subtly unique.  They understand that basically nobody lives in the perfect spot because no place is perfect year round; you just make the best of what’s around you at the time.  It’s that thought that is why, a month after getting home, I am still so inspired.

What happens when you live in a place that, for centuries, made it’s living off of logging?  You have a lot of natural wood interiors to work with!  So Mainers have mastered the art of the color pop.  In the imperfect weather that can sometimes drag on, they gravitate towards refreshing influences of reds, blues and yellows.  But it’s not always in ways you expect:

This is a great example of adding a punch of color to the rich neutrals on the walls, and the natural wood vanity.  I think this is from Minnesota, but the same concept applies.

Moving to the dining room, chairs are such a fun, non committal way to add color to a room!

The chairs are a nice reminder of how gorgeous the ocean is on a clear day.  I love the loads of natural wood, too!

A look in a bedroom is a sweet color surprise mixed in with tons of wood…

And then let’s look outside, where most people have an idea of what New England homes look like.  Is this what you were thinking of?

If you are looking for a fun Instagram account that has mastered the art of color popping, check out Jackie Greaney:


I just love Maine!







Kitchen, Living Rooms

Feeling Blue

My husband is usually totally on board with (read: mostly indifferent to) my ideas for updating our house.  Painting the foyer apricot (it feels like a hug every time you walk in!) was a small change with a big impact, and after it was painted, he loved it.  I talked about the updates I made to the mudroom in a previous post, including the bright yellow door, and he liked that too.  But when I mentioned painting the kitchen island and stove cabinet blue, he braked real hard.  Whaaaaaaaaat?!  Since when do you second guess moi?

With any client, be it yourself or someone else, it’s important to look at what you have to currently work with before you start dreaming up new, new, new everything.  What I have is a beautifully designed kitchen, that needs a little updating.  Cherry floors, cherry island and stove cabinet, and maple everywhere else.  Lots.  Of.  Wood.  The cabinets are awesome, high-end, well made, and would be a crime to rip out.  So I propose gussying up my kitchen with a bit of paint and tile:

The first rule of blue in a kitchen is that it should be used sparingly.  Combining the white on the perimeter and blue in the middle is brilliant.  This kitchen has a clean feel, with a pop of color.  This kitchen also has a mix of metals that is subtle, but amazing.  Love!

I love this kitchen as well because of the gray perimeter with the blue-gray island.  This is such a soothing color palette.  I love the organic wood elements in the shelves and pendants.  Such a great space!

This one is a great example of getting seriously busy on the bottom half of the room, and letting the top half breath.  I love the use of the cement tile on the floor, and the finishing touch of the blue crown molding.

Not everyone has a gigantic kitchen footprint to work with.  Here is a spot on small space with all of the right ideas.  Notice how great the blue looks with the gold cabinet pulls!

This is the clincher.  I know it’s not my kitchen exactly.  In fact, my snarkier friends will point out it’s the opposite of what I am proposing.  BUT STILL!  The blue looks so great with the pale wood, which maple is.  And that cement tile behind the stove is just the right amount of whimsy.  Plus, I bet it hides marinara splatters like a pro!

The point is, it’s time to tweak the kitchen.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that it is so well designed, and the cabinets are so well made.  That’s an expense, and mess,  I am extremely happy to avoid.  Further, let’s face it, it’s just paint.  But what really makes me happy is that I actually live in a house that can support this look.  The last thing you want to do is make a change to crucial room, like a kitchen, and have it not make sense with the rest of the house.  This one does make sense.

I will let you know what he says…


Dining Rooms, Kitchen, Living Rooms

‘Holiday’ Themed Design

Bear with me, here, I don’t mean Christmas!

Maybe I shouldn’t call it ‘holiday’; it’s too misleading.  What I am talking about is the time-of-year dependent decorations we put up to help us get and be excited about a particular time of year or approaching event.

This topic has really been on my mind lately, because now is an odd time in holiday decorating.  We have already packed up all of the red, white and blues of the 4th of July, (or not, because patriotism is a year round thing!) and there is a definite feeling of something big coming with school starting.  But at the same time, Autumn doesn’t technically start until September 21st, so that means we are only a little over half way through summer.  Huh!

All of this adds together to create an idea that perhaps the answer to what we should be displaying right now is absolutely nothing.  WRONG!  There is always something about the time of year to celebrate, and this time of year in Chicago, what we celebrate is growing outside.

My wreath hanger on the front door is always a great place to start, so this time of year, dried herbs and flowers are a great way to celebrate the season…

Or this…

Moving inside, decorating is not just about the eyes.  Bring in all of the scents.  Right now I love burning herb scented candles.  I am really loving Hearth & Hand with Magnolia’s Cardamom & Vetiver scented candle (from Target!).  It’s an unexpected spicy scent that has a sweet heat after effect.  Obsessed!  Don’t forget about hand soap in the powder room, either.

Floral arrangements are so beautiful this time of year.  Check out what’s growing in the back yard, maybe there’s a blossom or two to bring in and add to a bouquet you picked up at the local market.  And don’t forget about those vegetables.  Kitchen décor is always successful when you use food to decorate, so instead of hiding the tomatoes and cucumbers in the fridge, get a glass bowl out and show off the bounty!


Kitchen, Lighting

A Kitchen Island Without Pendants?

It might sound crazy to suggest a kitchen island without pendants hanging above it, but lately I have been in a few kitchens that would function better without them.

Yup, I am talking about function again.

We have talked about the three kinds of lighting in the past, and no where is that more important than the kitchen.  Can lights in the ceiling, LED rope under the upper cabinets, pendants over the island…you get it.  But one of the exciting parts of American interior design is our gigantic, open concept Great Rooms.  And most of those rooms have a huge kitchen with an island on one end, a big family room on the other, and maybe even a dining room separating them.  So when you are in the kitchen, that is a lot of hanging lighting to look past in order to see the Superbowl on the opposite wall.

Sometimes pendants just are not a good option.  Be it low ceilings, vaulted ceilings, or small square footage, there can be times that dropping pendants over the island just doesn’t feel right.  Other times, like below, flush mount lighting looks every bit as cool as pendants.

I like how open this space feels.  Instead of stopping the eye with pendants, you get a good look at the back splash.  Further, the lack of emphasis on the ceiling allows an opportunity to place something striking on the countertop, like these branches.  LOVE!

Here we have a vaulted ceiling that they certainly could have suspended a couple of fixtures from, but decided to leave the cool lighting to the walls.  I love it!  Now we get to really appreciate the beams and shiplap on the ceiling.

I like the way they used track lighting throughout the kitchen and dining room.  Not everyone would want this space for themselves, but I think from a design perspective, it’s pretty amazing.  The point here is to avoid taking the eye away from the view.  Even all closed up at night, I bet you still get a strong feeling of being outside.  And that natural light…yes please!

This next one is so cool.  Modern, but I love the way the track becomes a design element.

It’s genius to tray the ceiling and make the track lighting more of a statement!

This next one I selected because it’s not modern.

I don’t know what they ARE using for light in this kitchen, but it’s not pendants!  The funny thing about this project is that it has farmhouse chandeliers in almost every room of the house, including some closets.  But not the main kitchen.

Finally, this is my new favorite kitchen obsession…blue cabinets.

I love how the millwork gets the attention it deserves.  And the tray in the ceiling adds that pop of interest that makes the lack of pendants seem intentional.

The point of all of this is not to just ditch pendants.  There needs to be SOMETHING on the ceiling.  Whether it’s flush mount lights or tracks, something above an island must help define it’s position in the room.  Otherwise, it starts to feel like something was overlooked, and that is never a good feeling.  When we take a closer look, the lack of pendants provides a nice opportunity to personalize a space on a larger scale.  We saw oversized branches and pops of color with flowers and vases.  It’s nice to see intentional decoration in a kitchen beyond platters of food!

Bathroom, Kitchen

Cement Tile

Aren’t cement tiles just SO friendly?!

The above example is actually 4 tiles.

But here is just one.

Cement tiles, also known as encaustic tiles, have been on the design scene since the end of the 19th century.  They hit their hay day at the turn of the twentieth century, when people favored them for a high end floor covering.  If you can picture large expanses of these often brightly colored 8×8 tiles, you know that there very much ‘is such thing’ as ‘too much of a good thing’.  It stopped getting specified, and people kind of forgot about it.

So why should you consider cement tile for your next project?  Let’s consider a few different things:

First, they are ‘green’.  Each tile is set one at a time, by hand, by artisans.  They aren’t rolling off of a mechanized conveyor belt.  Each tile mold is set out, the color pigments mixed, and the tile is made layer by layer.  Speaking of color, their pigments come from natural sources.  And because the pigments are mixed, the colors can be easily customized.  Not every color palette has to make a Golden Girl giddy.  They can be neutral as well.  And when you are done with them, they are 100% recyclable.

Second, they are rustic, yet refined.  Because they are made by hand, there is a slight variation from tile to tile.  The pattern screen is rigid, so there isn’t a huge difference from far away, but up close, there can be chips and texture variations.  Some even have color variations within the individual tiles.  The unique nature makes each tile special, and the completed effect one of a kind.

Third, they don’t make sense in every space.  I scoured a number of pictures looking for bedrooms that had a spot on use of cement tile.  The problem is, bedrooms don’t usually beg for a punch of pattern.  I did find examples, but most were then covered with a neutral rug, so at that point, it’s not necessarily worthwhile.  Most beautiful examples are found in kitchens, bathrooms, or foyers.  You need a large enough space to have enough of a repeat so that the pattern tells it’s story, but not so large of a space that it becomes redundant.  Bathroom floors usually fit that rough space criteria very well, so do kitchen backsplashes, and some foyers.

Take note of what else is in the room.  Many times you see cement tile with subway tiles, and ship lap.

This one uses neither, but I like the way the designer used the strong chrome influences to balance out the room:

Now let’s take a look at some kitchens:

So beautiful!

You can also put cement tiles on the ground in the kitchen:

And in a foyer:

You can also carry it up the wall for even more of a punch:

I love how this one really defines that niche.

Cement tiles are a great, waterproof, alternative to textiles.  So if you are looking for an area rug, or a wallpaper, and haven’t quite found what you are looking for, see about these!


Kitchen, Living Rooms, Organization, Sustainability

Spring Cleaning

It’s finally Spring in Chicago and I have been bitten by the NEED to organize my home!  All of the May magazines are advertising articles for spring cleaning and organizing, and the glossy pictures of minimalist craft rooms and pantries has me drooling.  YES!  I need a wall mounted wrapping paper station!

But let’s take a beat here, because when we talk about getting organized, we are not talking about running out to our local hardware store and buying ‘organizers’.  Besides, I am more of a gift bag girl.  No, the first step to getting organized is, in a word, purging.

The sustainable side of me always cringes at that word because too often it means ‘send it to the landfill.’  But that is not what I mean.  When we talk about purging, we talk about a philosophical shift in your home.  Make due with less.  I marvel at my home every time I return from a vacation, because I have just lived my life for a week with the sum total of that which I can carry.  So what in the heck do I really need the rest of this stuff for?  Let’s give it to someone else who DOES need it and CAN use it.

Start with your cabinets.  What is in there?  Are they things you use all of the time?  Or are they ‘put away’, therefore have a place in your home.  Be honest with yourself here, but also be forgiving.  Is there something in there with the tag on it, that you thought you were going to use, but haven’t quite had the opportunity?  Let it go.  Get a big plastic bin and delicately place it in there…the lovely people at Salvation Army will sell it and do great things with the money.  The same goes with discarded items you ‘might find a use for one day’.  Also, anything that ‘when I find the time I am going to…’ and anything the kids haven’t picked up in a while.  They all go in the bin.  Forgive yourself by saying that it’s not fair to the next person that you are keeping these things when they, or their children, could be using them right now.  Recycle that which cannot be donated, of course, and now you have some serious storage space to place the items you trip over because you use them on a regular basis.

Rarely do I meet a client that legitimately needs more storage.  More often than not, they just need less stuff.  The reality is that if you build storage in the attic or the basement, you will actually store things on your stairs awaiting the person who will walk them up to the attic or down to the basement.  Once there, well, now they have a place in your home.  And there they shall sit.