Got a Christmas Tree “Hole” in the House?

Got a Christmas Tree “Hole” in the House?

Phew- you made it through the holidays relatively unscathed- congratulations! And if you’re like me, you performed the thankless job of taking down and putting the holiday decorations away last week.

Suddenly the house looks a bit more naked, especially that little spot or nook where the tree used to be? Time for a micro makeover!

Believe it or not, one of the little annoyances in space planning and redecorating rooms is there is usually one little skinny, tall area in the room where not much fits comfortably in the space. If an object is too wide in a little area, it usually looks like like a stuffed sausage and looks out of proportion.

So you start doing strange searches on the net for things like “tall skinny furniture,” which I can tell you firsthand is a relatively futile Google search.

What can you do to “mind the gap for a micro makeover?”

Micro Makeover Options


The first thing people think of when they need something long, skinny and tall is some sort of lighting apparatus. Ah yes, the ubiquitous 90’s torcheire- didn’t we all have one of these in our first apartments?

The problem was, they got REALLY hot (even sometimes catching fire), and most importantly, do you want to replay 1992 in your grown-up house?

Functionally, uplights, or torcheires do add some general, or ambient light to a room, but they work better by casting a soft, gentle glow and resulting shadows to an area, or used as accent lighting.

Here’s a room where we added one just for a bit of accent lighting: (this one looks better at night but it’s the only pic I had)

Today’s torcheires are less bright, (those old ones could light up a crime scene!) and more beautiful, albeit a little more pricey than that Wal-Mart special back in the 90’s. Yes, it’s time to grow up!

contemporary torcheire with glass shade

Two glass shades cast a warm glow.

If Arts and Crafts is more your thing, the stained glass here casts interesting patterns in a room

contemporary accent and task lighting fixture

A hybrid using accent light and task lighting (only try this look if your style is ultra contemporary!

Hww about a pillar of light? Retro, fun in a corner. Groovy, baby!

Objects D’Art

I have to admit, I’m in dangerous territory here. One of my favorite sculpture is Giacometti’s “Walking Man” and it would be the perfect thing to place in the “Chrismas Tree Zone.”

Giacometti Walking Man But, at $104 million at last auction, maybe a tad out of budget.

I like to look over at the Phiilips Collection for interesting tall, skinny objects d’arte. I think this might be a tad more affordable:


But admittedly, I’m on dangerous ground, because accessories are very personal. I like these too, you may not- that’s OK!

teak sculpture

Twisted teak piece sculpture for an organic element


Leaf standing sculpture

Leaf me alone!

Incidentally, all of these sculptures stand over 5 feet tall!


If it’s a corner, usually a multi-paneled hinged screen will be the ticket. This screen is neat for the mottled mirrored effect, and we’ve used it a few times over the yearsmirrored screen for corner makeover

There’s a host of interesting screens out there, but remember, it shouldn’t have a lot of visual weight unless you want the “Christmas Tree Zone” to be your focal point year round. Subtle, with perhaps a touch of bling, if you’re so inclined.

From Arteriors Home

Perfect for a drafty corner! By Bernhardt

Masculine and mid-century from Brownstone

Reading Nook

For some reason, my new puppy that I got for Christmas, Max feels safest in the corners of our house. (admittedly, I took this detour just to show him off!)

But why not create a little corner to be a little haven for yourself? The key here is proportion and scale to the room. But I know it should be comfy as well, so here’s a few from our suppliers that have served to fill the skinny, narrow corners.

Makeover chair by Fairfield

This updated wing chair by Fairfield Chair is tall ‘n skinny at W28 X H43

A lovely watercolor print on this sexy chair by Ambella Home. 29w X 46H

The Gossamer Wing Chair is even taller at 31W X 48’Hl!

The Haddam Chair by Kravet is 28W X 49H”

and here’s a room in Logan Square where we used a pair of Haddam chairs for height and drama

Logan Square Makeover using Kravet Haddam chairs in custom stripe fabric

Just a little food for thought if you’re holed up with the winter cold, like us here in Chicago.

Coming next week: the Internet and furniture shopping: pros and cons. Stay tuned!

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Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Dear Dean & Alan, 

To quote my favorite TV show, “winter is coming” (to Chicago). While I want to come home, pour a glass of wine and touch a button to start my fireplace, my husband is a total pyromaniac. He wants blazing, raging wood fires- I even have to hide the lighter fluid from him! 

So we’ve compromised: I get control of one fireplace, he gets the other. What can we do with each?


Miss Fyre

Dear Ms. Fyre,

You’re not alone! We’ve  found there’s two types of people when it comes to fireplaces: those who want to flip a switch, kick their feet up and start a fireplace with minimal effort, and those other rugged individuals who love every time-consuming part of burning real wood: the build, the hauling of the wood, the smell of the burn. You know, the lumberjack and Boy Scout types. You are firmly in one camp or the other. Pretty cut and dry.

So we divided up the camps and figured out what you need for each fireplace, and what you might want if you’d like to make it prettier

The bigger fireplace projects we’ve done involve adding in new ones, knocking out old ones, or refacing the walls around the firebox. We’re not going into that level of remodeling today, because those projects are long-term and best started during warmer weather, You will curse the contractors for all the cold air swirling around your house in the middle of winter. Take our word for it, don’t do this level of project when it’s cold out.

A project from last year. Here’s the before

here’s the after. Cool, eh?

We’re instead going to talk about simpler and easier ways to upgrade your fireplace whether you burn wood or prefer gas.

Fireplace Doors

if you’re burning real wood: essential

if you’re using gas logs: not necessary but aesthetically pleasing

Fireplace doors are essential if you’re a woodburner because they give you peace of mind when you go to bed that a random spark won’t pop out of your fireplace and burn your house down. That’s a nice reassurance.

They also help in heat retention and dissuade little curious ones from exploring the insides of a fireplace.

There’s two main types: masonry doors and prefabricated firebox doors. A lot of people don’t know what type of fireplace box they have: check this first as there are different doors that correspond to each. If the inside of your box is metal, you’ve got a prefabricated firebox. If it’s real brick and mortar, it’s masonry (more detailed ways to check here).

Masonry Fireplace Doors

They’re usually more expensive than people think, at least to not get the generic, flimsy kind. The good news is that companies like Stoll (who we love) will make them in virtually any finish and style that blends in your décor scheme.

Then you have to decide if they can be mounted outside (which is way easier), or if you have an irregular opening, they will have to be inset and “mortared in.”

gothic fireplace doors blacksmith style

If you have a rectangular front but want to simulate an arched top, go for a false arch. From our favorite manufacturer of fireplace accessories, Stoll


nickel fireplace doors with mesh screen

Simple, rugged, and masculine blacksmith styled doors in nickel plated steel.

industrial fireplace doors in steel with track

If you like a rough and industrial look, these doors operate on a gliding track. Aren’t you the hipster…also from Stoll

fireplace doors with decorative fretwork

A gorgeous arched front firebox calls for a beautiful fireplace door. The filagreed motif here is stunning

Want a Fireplace Mini-Makeover?

Click here 

Fireplace Doors For Zero-Clearance Fireboxes

If you don’t have a masonry firebox, then you have a metal firebox, or prefabricated box. Confusing the point further is that sometimes, people put a brick looking panel inside the box to make it prettier.

“Heatilator” is to a zero-clearance firebox as “Kleenex” is to tissue. The company was so successful in branding their version of a metal firebox, people started using the terms interchangeably.  Zero clearance fireplaces are manufactured fireboxes that are fire-rated so that no (zero) clearance is required between the firebox and construction materials like wood framing and sheetrock. Zero Clearance Fireplaces require an air exchange between the “inner” firebox and “outer” cabinet to keep all surfaces cool against the walls of your home. Each door is specially made to fit your brand of manufactured fireplace, with proper “air flow” provided in various ways to ensure the doors meet all ventilation requirements of the manufacturer. You can still get beautiful doors like these:  wdzcfi01_2 wdzcol05_2

but you just have to know in advance what type of firebox you have.



A surprising number of our clients are seriously annoyed with their 80’s brass fireplace doors. Simplest solution? Get some heat-resistant paint and change the offending parts to black.

easy fireplace makeover- DIY


Or if you don’t feel like painting, you can get some simple doors that fit into your existing track in black or nickel.Clip on aftermarket fireplace doora in black

If you’re lazy and would rather have gas logs instead of spending all day building a fire, you don’t have to get rugged, manly steel doors, as you can turn off the gas and close the flue when you’re done, But they do add a finished look!

Fireplace Screens

Woodburning: essential

Gas fires: nice to have for aesthetics

If the idea of a hurling red hot fireball spitting into your room seems rather unpleasant, and/or you’d like something less permanent than a set of doors, a fire screen might do the trick. Yes if you just want a functional solution, just get a cheap one at

Cheap Fireplace Screen

You can get one of these for under $40 bucks. And it will be painfully obvious that you have bought a $40 screen.From Wal-Mart

the big box hardware store. You’re not going to be in Architectural Digest this season, right?

But if you’ve got a beautiful fireplace, why would you? It’s like framing an original work of art in an Ikea frame! Spend some cash- there’s some beautiful screens out there but they’re not easy to find, and usually not at your neighborhood fireplace shoppe. But we know how to get them!

Functional Screens


Hard to tell from the picture, but here’s a stunning rigid fine mesh screen in a clean contemporary, minimalist silhouette.From Stoll

Hand hammered Stoll Blacksmith flat fireplace screen vintage iron

Hand hammered and extremely well built screen custom made by Stoll. They will build it exactly to the height and width you need, and finish it in anything imaginable

Midcentury fireplace screen

Is Midcentury design your thing? Cool, retro flat screen design from our friends at Arteriors.

Fireplace upgrade mesh screen with operable doors

This screen looks just like custom built doors, but is less permanent and has a mesh front so you can burn with the doors closed, unlike glass.

Decorative Fireplace Screens

If you’re not burning wood, you can get a bit fancier because you don’t have to worry about renegade fireballs. Think of these as sculpture.

Decorative Fire screen

Strong visual impact here.


Fireplace upgrade screen tribal

Inspired by a tribal motif, this screen works great in both modern and traditional interiors

Flat Arteriors Fireplace Screen Ranore

This is gorgeous asymmetry, but only use with a gas fireplace

I love the winding lines on this screen that echo dancing flames. From us!

I love the winding lines on this screen that echo dancing flames. From us!


Andirons and fire dogs are devices made of metal or ceramic which support the firewood so that a draft of air may pass around it, allowing proper burning and thus reducing smoke. They normally stand upon short legs and are usually connected with an upright guard. The guard keeps the logs in the fireplace as they burn and settle (Wikipedia).

Today, they’re not viewed quite as functionally. We like to think of them as jewelry for a fireplace.

fireplace andirons in crystal

These crystal andirons are spectacular if you have a smallish firebox opening

Fireplace upgrade andirons him and her shape

A little bit of whimsy, a little bit of elegance.

snakelike fireplace andirons

Snakes dancing forth from the flames? I like the concept. Very Medusa.

John Lyle Fireplace Andirons

These organically inspired andirons are from the undisputed king of decorative fireplace design, John Lyle

Fireplace Surrounds and Mantle Shelves

These words sometimes are confusing. Technically, a mantle surrounds the firebox on three sides. If it’s a wood mantle, some sort of non-combustible material like tile or marble serves as a heat shield between,

Mantle Shelves

Builders put in notoriously boring shelves. There’s a wealth of more interesting options out there, and if you’re a DIY person, you can negotiate putting in a new one relatively quickly. But if you’re like me, I’d call a contractor!

Fireplace upgrade yew wood mantle shelf

We love a gnarly wood like Yew against a sleek backdrop for high contrast.

steel fireplace mantle with corbel

Corbels add a bit of fun geometry to the mix with this steel mantle

Rough Hewn Live Edge cedar Mantle

Rough hewn cedar also adds a nice contrast in texture if you’ve got a flat tiled surround.

Mantle Surrounds

Mantle surrounds are a bit more elaborate than shelves. They can be made from stone, marble, wood, or metal. They’re designed to overlap your facing material and provide a finished transition between wall, facing and firebox. A few of our favorites:

Steel Fireplace Surround with chesspieces

Steel mantle for a crisp, masculine look. Custom finishes too from Stoll

Ornate mantle surrounds like this one from Ambella can be made out of cast stone and easily retrofitted.

Ornate mantle surrounds like this one from Ambella are made out of cast stone and easily retrofitted.


If you've got an older vintage fireplace, this arched surround adds a gorgeous detail. From Ambella

If you’ve got an older vintage fireplace, this arched surround adds a gorgeous detail. From Ambella

Chesney's offers reproductions of designs originally conceived by famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in various marbles.

Chesney’s offers reproductions of designs originally conceived by famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in various marbles.

So there’s lots of ways available to upgrade your fireplace without demolition or disruptions during the impending winter season. The holidays are coming!

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Why Do Kids Get All the Fun? An Ikea Designer Shopping List for Adults

Why Do Kids Get All the Fun? An Ikea Designer Shopping List for Adults

That dreaded unnamed season about 5/8ths of the way into summer that you don’t want to even think about: Ikea Season. You’ve got to make the inevitable pilgrimage for the kids going off to college, and for the clever teens who have presented well-reasoned arguments for room upgrades under the guise of increased productivity.There’s nothing “designer” there, right?

But while the kids are off picking selecting lamps, mirrors, and all sorts of plastic, we think these items are stylish, super reasonable and worthy of a grown-up abode. Just don’t tell anyone where you got them!


Orchids and Bamboo

designer orchids

I’m always shocked at how nice and inexpensive they are, especially the colorful orchids! Why buy the plastic ones? That’s a designer no-no!


Velvet Curtain Panels

designer velvet curtains

Great for a guest room, these are a steal- their thickness belies their affordability.  Hem them yourself. Spring for a Bedazzler if you’re an overachiever.

Terracotta Wine Chillers

designer wine cooler

For your “deck wine”

Simple White Plates

designer plates Ikea

I just bought these and have never been happier. Perhaps the best bargain of them all. Simple bliss

Pillow Covers & Down Inserts


designer pillow covers

There’s a time I want a gorgeous custom designer pillow. Other times I like to switch them out for the season. Guiltless.

Oversized Paper Napkins

I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a party without these babies. The size makes them seem oddly luxurious.

Minimalist Picture Frames

designer picture frames.

A designer gallery wall to remind you of your newly off-to-college kids? Done.

Happy Hunting!

Dean Malambri

President, Dean Alan Design

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Insider Secrets- Memorial Day Furniture Sales (from a Recovering Furniture Sale Addict)

Insider Secrets- Memorial Day Furniture Sales (from a Recovering Furniture Sale Addict)

My 48th year on planet Earth hit me mildly hard this week. Not with a “quick- call the plastic surgeon” sense of urgency, but as a gentle voice tugging at my sleeve, “take better care of yourself.”  So it’s now a glass of green juice at 5 AM and off to the gym I go!

On the elliptical, I always turn on something brainless, like the local news. And on every commercial break this week, there’s someone shouting about their Memorial Day Furniture Sale. It’s a familiar refrain in America, the excitement of a sale. I’m not immune!

As an interior designer, I do a lot of ton of specifying and shopping for furniture in the normal course of projects. And truth be told, many years ago I got my design start as a “designer” in a furniture store picking out people’s furniture. So with my experience comes my advice on making sense out of  the frenzies that are holiday sales.

Here’s a little key to decoding all those too-good-to be true sales, from lowest discount to most substantial.

Special Order Furniture:

You see something, you like it and want it. Hold on, they need to special order it- it’s not stocked. All furniture stores (and designers)  order this class of furniture the same way: one piece at a time. It’s a bit more specific to what you want, so the store has to arrange for the manufacturer at least to simply send it to a warehouse, and if it’s a customized piece, they’ll have to specify how to make it. It’s the least discounted type of furniture, because it takes the longest amount of time to order. If you need a financing deal though, buying special order furniture makes sense because there’s often an accompanying offer. If you don’t need that, there’s usually no rush. Most all furniture is discounted from retail every day of the week, so don’t succumb to the screams of “this week only!”

In Stock Furniture and “Special Buys”:

What you see is what you get here, no modifying. Usually it’s a generic piece or pieces (bedroom or dining set), and in all likelihood, the pieces are built overseas. These pieces are usually non-polarizing and appeal to the broadest section of people possible. Back in the early 2000’s it was this classic beige microfiber puffy couch

Puffy microfiber sofa The overseas factories can churn out these puppies out by the thousands, and usually the manufacturing cost doesn’t dictate the retail price as much, oddly, as the shipping cost. The proverbial “slow boat from China. (for an interesting look at how inexpensive stuff can look really luxurious, read my friend Laurel’s awesome post “The Shocking Truth About Restoration Hardware”)  If a store can buy a whole ship container of anything, (and as is the trend nowadays, a grey linen-looking Chesterfield like this):

grey chesterfield on sale

this thing’s like $399 this week.

, they get a huge price break and can pass the savings on. That’s usually the type of merchandise that they shout about on the commercial breaks in the morning. If you’re just starting out, or you have a whole empty house and just need stuff fast, some people go this way (hey no judgments here). The landfills will curse you, but really, no judgement…

 Floor Samples:

furniture store clearance sales

The best deals you can get at a furniture store are hands down on floor samples; the holy grail of deals. And the longer it sits there, the cheaper it gets. They’re one of a kind finds, and I have a bunch in my own house.

Luxury designer chair bargain, chartreuse fabric

Awesome deal here because this chartreuse fabric is not everyone’s cup of tea.

You can’t change anything, it comes as is, and it might be there because:

  1. the store wants to rotate its floor pieces
  2. someone at the store ordered it incorrectly for someone else in the first place, or,
  3. no one wanted it in the first place

Hunting floor samples takes cunning and patience. You can save tremendous amounts here and there, but it’s virtually impossible to get a beautiful coordinated room from entirely floor samples. I’ve tried. There’s just too many variables. Trust me on this or you’ll end up with a half-finished space for years. But here and there, yeah, they’re great, and you can be that slightly annoying person at parties who brags to everyone how much money you’ve saved. I’ve been that guy but am now in remission.

A word of warning about floor samples: We have a storage area filled with them in hopes that someday, one of our clients will be a perfect match for something we got a great deal on.  But I have to reign in my “hunter-gatherer” instinct and realize the thrill of the hunt is more thrilling then the actual prize.

Which is why I have:

a “Tibetan Swamp Log” for 7 years

An orange carved mirror

designer mirror with sconces

An electrified mirror with sconces

and dozens of other pieces admittedly, I didn’t need, but I got whipped up in the sale frenzy. At this point, they might be part of my permanent collection!

The best advice I can give you on these sales is to have a firm plan in mind before you walk in. Don’t buy just to buy. That’s very 1996. Realize the long term goal is a beautiful home, not the bargain here and there. And it’s Memorial Day weekend- go to a barbecue instead!

Dean Malambri signature



Dean Malambri, President of Dean Alan Design





Dean Malambri is President and Principal Interior Designer for Dean Alan Design Inc, a residential interior design firm primarily serving Chicago and the Chicago suburbs.






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Moving Mom Pt. 1- What to Do With All the Furniture?

Moving Mom Pt. 1- What to Do With All the Furniture?

Ah, the circle of life. My mom is officially done with all of the maintenance and care needed to keep a big house going. So, we’ve put the home I grew up in on the market and Mom now aspires to the downsized life. The heat went out this winter and we’ll always remember that event as being the straw that broke the camel’s back. But how do you efficiently sift through 46 years of family memories? Let’s start with the big stuff- the furniture.

Anyone who’s an American knows we are an abundant country. Full of stuff. Whether you are a pack rat or you’ve simply lived a full life, it doesn’t matter- we’re all drowning in excess stuff. And there’s so much new stuff, who wants the old stuff?

It all comes down to:
  1. the quality of the piece,
  2.  how much time you’re willing to invest, and/or
  3. the personal memories your family’s items have for you,

Furniture Quality

When materials were more plentiful, and there was less than 7 billion people on the planet, less expensive items were just made better. Mom’s wrought iron patio set was built in 1968 and you can’t even lift the chairs, they’re so heavy:

great quality patio set from 1968

This set has survived tornadoes, blizzards, and just needs to be spray painted again every once in awhile

Before I “saw the light,” the patio sets I’ve owned have survived 3-4 years, at which point they just fall apart. So a few coats of spray paint, some new cushions, and a new umbrella, and this item will last another 40 years. Nice to keep it in the family.

It gets trickier with upholstered items, like this chaise.

poor quality chaise lounge

A not so great quality piece. If you don’t like the fabric, you’re best off donating it.

In this case, the investment to get it into good shape is too high if you don’t like the fabric it’s covered in. Don’t get me wrong, we  love reupholstering family heirlooms and furniture from America’s Golden Age of Furniture (and do a lot of it for our projects), but reupholstering is not something you can pick up easily from a You Tube DIY video. We use experienced re-upholsterers  who know all the ins and outs of this specialized craft. The frame is not particularly well made, the cushioning needs to be replaced, and, admittedly, my Mom got it “to fill the space.” Here’s a rough idea of costs, if we were to bring it back to life

  • Reupholstery Labor: $800
  • New fabric: 12 yards plain fabric @ roughly $35 a yard= $420
  • Replace cushions and Stuffing= $200
  • New bullion fringe trim on bottom roughly 7 yards @ $25= $175
  • Pick up and re delivery= $200

=  $1800 (and she probably paid half that amount!)

How Much Time Do You Have?

On the other end of the spectrum, this guest bedroom set was bought back in the early 80’s, (around the time the Golden Girls were flourishing), and everyone loved blonde wood:

Solid wood 80s bedroom set

That green carpet color is starting to become popular again, believe it or not

The set is not veneered particle board, like today (you can tell by the edges), so you could get a power belt sander, strip it down and repaint it white over a few weekends. Also, a great choice for college kids in the fall.

if you’re feeling crafty and don’t want to buy something new for a guest room, a good candidate for a garage project.

Maybe it could turn out like this:

brand new

But my brothers and sister and I don’t have time for such a project. So my brother Joe (who’s a master at selling things online), listed it on A young couple, expecting a new baby and in the process of buying their first house, called for it quickly. We sold it for a very fair price, and they got some furniture that was made much better than the ready to assemble furniture in the same price range. A good deal for all.

Downsizing & Personal Home Memories

One of the most interesting parts of going through the house were going through the stories that accompanied the smaller pieces (stay tuned for that blog, I can’t wait to tell you what I learned in the process). But I had some strong associations with a few of Mom’s bigger pieces because of my own memories. My parents always threw lavish dinner parties, and this buffet was the place for treats during family events.

Chinoiserie buffet

Oh the parties this buffet has seen!

It opens for larger buffets spreads

Chinoiserie buffet

excuse the shoe.

And I promptly filled the insides it with wine and glassware that I don’t have space for.  

I can’t wait to have Mom over for a dinner party and keep the family dinner party tradition alive using the Chinoiserie-like buffet. And I love the kitsch of it too. Not terribly expensive, but terrific memories!

Family Heirlooms

Probably the strongest memories I have, though, is of music circulating around the house at all hours of the day. Both Mom and Dad were musicians and music teachers, and so this unassuming piece, believe it or not, holds especially fond memories for me.

solid vintage wood music room cabinet

my mom saved up for two of these solid wood music cabinets way back in the 60s!

As a kid, I used to rifle through them all the time: the pieces she taught, the music she herself studied. I remember the sound the drawers made opening and closing. They’re totally beat up from a life of use. Cats have scratched the fronts. But wonderfully made out of solid cherry. At some point, I will restore them using the best refinsher I know. They are my prized possessions and I have now started putting all of my music in them

Vintage music cabinet from moms downsizing

My own music now lives in these cabinets

And they now live happily next to a bookcase reclaimed from a Indian door frame, and a piece of art my aunt did that I love. The custom chair is where I love to read.

Inverness vintage cabinets, reclaimed Indian door fram, luxury chair by Dean Alan Design

Transitions, and moving, it goes without saying, are stressful times for everyone. And I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t go through this process at some point!  But it’s nice to honor the passage of time and to pass on family memories through the items you cherish. But in this era of overabundance, choose wisely!

I’ll leave you with a pic of my Mom, Joan Malambri, who still likes to party!

Alan S

Mom and Alan still partying and having fun!

I’d love to learn about your experiences with your own family home!

Stay tuned for Part 2: what to do with all the small stuff, and why did everyone collect so much?

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Dean Malambri, President of Dean Alan Design


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