“They All Look the Same”- What to Know About Sofas

“They All Look the Same”- What to Know About Sofas

We’ve all got plans for our money and everyone places value on different things. I think spending a few hundred on a once-in-a-lifetime meal is totally worth the expense, but many of my friends think it’s crazy to ever spend more than $20 at Applebee’s.

Sofa shopping is also like this prioritization. Confusing the issue even further is the fact that photography and photoshoppers are both amazing these days. So how can you tell the difference? Let’s try to think of upholstery in three broad categories: short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Because what you’re mainly paying for is quality of construction, longevity, and ability for customization. Here’s what to expect at each level…

Short Term Sofas

Maybe you’d rather go on a luxurious vacation than invest in something that, by definition, encourages you sit in one place. Or you’ve heard standing is much better for your health than sitting-  that’s cool too. We’re not here to judge (and we sell these sofas too). Here’s what you get if you plunk down roughly $500-$1400 for a sofa:

Mid-century budget sofa, short-term, beige tufting

Hola, Mid-Century hipsters, think your taste will change in a few years? Than this Modway sofa might just fit the bill. $599.

In this price range, the marketing department crunches a lot of numbers. The whole equation here for the sellers is numbers: how cheaply they can get it made, and what selling price will excite you enough to quickly add one your shopping cart.

What You Get:

  • Frame: some sort of particle board, wood substrate, use your imagination. You’re getting a killer price, who cares?
  • Seating Support: Probably elastic webbing, which is a nice term for plastic straps, perhaps some sinuous wire suspension; whatever’s on sale to the maker.

    That's web suspension, or straps. .

    That’s web suspension, or straps.


  • Cushioning: Straight foam, no wrapping. The quality of foam varies widely in price. Basically the cheaper the foam, the faster it breaks down (and turns to dust, eww), and the sofa starts feeling sitting like a board. If you’re a foam aficionado, here’s a comprehensive look at the stuff and how it wears. Kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing,
  • Fabrics: What you see is what you get. Seriously, if you can live with it for awhile, it’s probably something very durable, since man-made things like polyester microfibers are very sturdy.

Since this whole venture depends on economy of scale, these sofas are usually made overseas, thousands at a time. Remember the I Love Lucy episode with Lucy working at the candy factory?

The whole process is about speed and how expensive it is to pack it on a big ship in a container. You might have to assemble some parts of it.

if you go up a notch from here and spend about double, you get something made in the USA, and you’ll get to choose from a handful more fabrics

USA made semi-custom loose back bench cushion sofa

American made, and nice looking, this Klaussner sofa sells for about $1400. You get more fabric choices, but that’s it. Economy of scale, baby.

Medium-Term Sofas

Compared to the short-term sofas, everything here is more substantial and durable. If you push on the arms or the back, they shouldn’t flex or bow. And you can often upgrade a lot of the little things that will make it last longer (when you special order).

What You Get

  • Frame: some type of kiln dried wood, which removes excess moisture from the wood
  • Seating Support: Some people call it a sinuous suspension frame. It’s easier to show you a picture of this type of construction, which can be made by a machine.

    That's the underside of the sofa, which you won't see because they put fabric on top of it.

    That’s the underside of the sofa, which you won’t see because they put fabric on top of it.


  • Cushioning: Higher density foam wrapped in some sort of ticking wrap to keep its shape and resiliency longer. If you can request adding springs inside the cushioning, it’s the best money you’ll ever spend as part of a sofa. We’ve learned this through the years,
  • Fabrics: A whole lot more choices than the short-term category, but if you choose something patterned, you’ll be paying for the waste incurred as well. Sofas at this level may or may not match patterns, it’s considered on an individual basis that we check ahead of placing your order.

Custom designer sofa Mid-term Bernhardt Josh sofa, cream cover, contrasting charcoal pillows

The Josh sofa by Bernhardt, about $2500, as you see it. Pick your fabric, pick your contrasting pillows and it’s very nice. We always insist on springs inside the cushions (an upcharge), because of course you know by now, all foam breaks down. Stylish and just a tad trendy.

Medium term sofa, Bassett angled sofa

The Marseille Sofa from Bassett. Deeper because of the curve. About $2300 as you see it.

smaller custom designer condo sofa with firm seats and short seat depth, made in USA

Have some older relatives that struggle with getting up from sitting? This 72″ made in the USA sofa from Fairfield lets you put extra firm cushioning in the seat, and the seating depth is only 19″. Perfect for downsized dwellings (starting at $1649 from us)


Long-Term Sofas

These sofas are built to a standard instead of a price point. You’ll see manufacturers proudly using their names on these sofas (don’t worry, they’re not visible like a logo or anything) because they’re the pinnacle of sofa construction

What You Get

  1. Frame: A hardwood frame that is double doweled, glued and screwed at stress points is common at this level, and why sofas here can be recovered years down the road.
  2. Seating Support: The best sofas use a technique known as 8-way hand tying, a laborious effort that yields a seat where you can’t feel what your sofa neighbor is doing next to you. The individual spring coils are hand-tied and bound together in eight separate directions using polyester cording. The cording is then securely anchored to the frame. Fine sofas have always used this construction, so it’s tried and true.

    See all those knots? There's a person who does that whole process by hand, and it takes a lot of training.

    See all those knots? There’s a person who does that whole process by hand, and it takes a lot of training.


  3. Cushioning:  At the long-term sofa level, you can choose exactly the type of firmness you’d like: spring and down, spring and fiber, down and fiber, etc. Here’s where we take you to trade showrooms in person and ask you to sit, politely.
  4. Fabrics: You can do just about anything you want, but if you pick a fabric independently from the sofa, that’s called COM, or Customer’s Own Material. They’ll put anything you want anywhere with this option, but it does get expensive. If you want the quality of long-term sofas without breaking the bank, try to stay with something the sofa factory has on-hand.

Chicago custom designer sofa by Ambella through Dean Alan Design

The Cee Zee sofa from Ambella Home is 8-way hand tied, and joints are double doweled, glued and screwed together. See that fabric on the back? That’s all cut, matched, and pieced by hand.  As shown, $4050.

Chicago custom designer sofa: Kravet Colby long-term sofa by Dean Alan Design

The Kravet Colby sofa is rated “Heavy Duty”in Accordance with GSA Purchase Description FNAE80-214A. Shown in a nuclear war-proof Crypton fabric, it has springs and a down wrap inside the cushions. Or you can choose 100% down filling, but be warned: you’ll be a full-time fluffer. We sell it for $4905 as shown. Easily recovered years down the road, too.



Chicago custom sofa, classic modern design Thayer Coggin sofa

Thayer Coggin has been making classically modern sofas since the 1950’s. You’ll see many used sofas from that time still being reupholstered today, as their frames are built like tanks! About $5500 from us.

So looking at sofas online doesn’t really tell the complete picture of what’s inside. You’re looking at the body only, and there’s lots of variables “under the hood.” We have our favorite brands that we’ve worked with for years, and have seen how they wear over time. If you need more detailed advice, drop us a message!

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Recipes from October 2nd- Annual Global Treasure Hunt

Recipes from October 2nd- Annual Global Treasure Hunt

Despite rather soggy weather, we still managed to have a lot of fun at our 6th Annual Global Treasure Hunt on October 2! As has become the custom, Alan and I plan a buffet upon a global theme and make everything from scratch. So much more special than calling a caterer, but also a laborious effort! We thought we’d share our recipes this year with everyone in case you’re inclined to try one of these yourself. Mangia!


Dean Alan Design Accessories Wooden Obelisks sitting on a hand carved live edge dining table

Colorful wooden obelisks atop a carved dining table at Ginger’s

Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers and Avocado in a Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette

Servings: 6-8

Total Time: 30 Minutes


  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 ears fresh cooked corn, kernels cut off the cob, or frozen, drained and thawed
  • 2 mixed color bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper ( or to taste- we like it hotter )
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, best quality (we used Kirkland Organic Extra Virgin from Costco)
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (make sure limes are at room temperature before juicing)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 2 Hass avocados, chopped (put these in at the absolute end so they don’t get brown)


  1. Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.

    Alan Sills with friends at Global Treasure Hunt

    Alan with friends

Cook’s Illustrated Restaurant-Style Hummus

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins
  • Servings: 8-10


“This is a smooth and silky hummus from those people on PBS who know how to test and create great recipes. They recommend Joyva or Krinos tahini and Pastene chickpeas (I used what I had on hand). Hummus can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 5 days. If you do not plan on serving it immediately, refrigerate the hummus and garnishes separately. When ready to serve, stir in approximately 1 tablespoon of warm water if the texture is too thick. Serving size is estimated.”


  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice ( 1 to 2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 14 ounces chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 garlic clove ( minced or pressed through garlic press 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, minced


  1. Combine lemon juice and water in a small bowl or measuring cup.
  2. Whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons oil in second small bowl or measuring cup.
  3. Set aside 2 tablespoons chickpeas for garnish.
  4. Process remaining chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds.
  5. With machine running, add lemon juice-water mixture in steady stream through feed tube.
  6. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute.
  7. With machine running, add oil-tahini mixture in steady stream through feed tube and continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy (about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed).
  8. Transfer hummus to serving bowl and sprinkle with reserved chickpeas and cilantro over surface.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes.
  10. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

    Ginger Blossom Metal Lawn Accessory Shark

    Land-Shark! Hand hammered metal shark sculpture from Mexico

Chef John’s Pulled Pork BBQ

this one takes a while, but the meltingly luscious pork is well worth the the time. Alan roasted this overnight

Use your favorite dry rub and barbecue sauce to make this succulent pork. A little trick I like is to put 2 ramekins with liquid smoke flavoring in with the meat and roast it slowly.


  • 3 tablespoons dry barbecue rub, or more as needed (we love the BBQ rubs at the Spice House)
  • 1 (3 1/2) pound bone-in pork shoulder blade roast
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring, divided
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 12 mini french rolls (Costco)
  • 3/4 cup barbecue sauce, divided  (we were crunched for time so we used Sweet Baby Rays, normally we make from scratch!)


  1. Preheat oven to 210 degrees F (100 degrees C).
  2. Sprinkle dry rub generously on all sides of pork roast and place meat into a heavy pan or Dutch oven.
  3. Pour 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke flavoring into each of two 6-ounce ramekins; fill ramekins with 1/2 cup water each. Place ramekins into the Dutch oven on either side of the roast. Place lid onto Dutch oven.
  4. Roast pork in the preheated oven until very tender, 12 hours. Remove roast from Dutch oven, place onto a work surface (such as a cutting board), and separate the meat from the bone using your fingers. Discard any large pieces of fat.
  5. Roughly chop pork with a large knife or cleaver; drizzle with 3/4 cup barbeque sauce. Season with salt and black pepper.
  6. Spread about 1 tablespoon barbeque sauce onto each bun and pile pork on buns to serve.


Dean Alan Design Boho Chic Living Room

Our room styling using components from Ginger Blossom, Elka chair from Bernhardt, sofa from Vanguard (photography Maureen Miller Photography)

Thai Turkey Lettuce Wraps

  • Prep Time-30 MIN
  • Servings- 12


1 ¼ lb ground turkey

¼ cup chopped green onions (4 medium)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

2 teaspoons garlic and red chile paste

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup shredded carrots

1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts

12 medium Bibb lettuce leaves, rinsed, patted dry with paper towel


  1. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook turkey over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until thoroughly cooked; drain and return to skillet. Stir in green onions, cilantro, mint, lime juice, fish sauce, peanut butter, chile paste, sugar and red pepper flakes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes longer or until hot.
  2. To serve, spoon 2 heaping tablespoons turkey mixture, 2 tablespoons carrots and 1 teaspoon peanuts onto each lettuce leaf; wrap around filling. Serve warm.
  3. Thai hand carved shoes from Ginger Blossom

      These hand carved wooden shoes would look great mounted on a wall!

Once again, we have to thank you all for our continued success, and we hope to bring you many exciting changes in the future!


Dean Alan Design Industrial Reclaimed Living Room

We mixed items from Ginger’s together with a gorgeous sectional from Weiman, tables and etagere from Resource Decor and York Graffiti wallpaper. (Thanks to Design D’Vision trade showroom and Maureen Miller Photography)

Dean Alan Design Signature
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Recipes from September 28 Customer Appreciation Luncheon

Recipes from September 28 Customer Appreciation Luncheon

We believe in saying thank you for helping through the last seven years of our company! In keeping with this sentiment, we hosted our first ever Client Appreciation Luncheon on September 28, 2016 at the Arlington Design Center. The day started with a homemade lunch, and then people were free to roam the buildings or attend one of our mini Show-N-Tell sessions on lighting at CAI Lighting, Thibaut wallcoverings, custom window treatments by CMI Drapery and Hunter Douglas, and a special fabric trunk show at Kravet from the Candace Olsen Collection.

Client Karen looking at Kravet Fabrics

Browsing the Kravet Fabric Wall…

Trish Feerer, showroom manager of Kravet goes through the Candace Olsen new fabrics for 2016

Trish Feerer, showroom manager of Kravet goes through the Candace Olsen new fabrics for 2016

Everyone went home with a special swag bag full of goodies, including a jade plant and Alan’s special homemade Arrabiata Sauce!

CAI Design warehouse with Dean's Mom Overseeing

Mom still helping set the table!

Dean Malambri of Dean Alan Design talking

Dean talking too much, as usual!

Since we got a few requests for the recipes, we thought we’d post them here if anyone would like to try them out!


15 min Prep Time

20 min Cook Time

35 minTotal Time


  • 1 cup uncooked tri-color quinoa
  • 1 cup cubed and roasted butternut squash
  • 1 apple, diced (I used a Gala apple)
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby kale or spinach, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (raw or roasted and salted)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cider vinaigrette for dressing the salad.


  1. In a medium sized saucepan bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil.
  2. Rinse and drain the quinoa then add it to the boiling water.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let the quinoa cook for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
  4. Remove the quinoa from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
  5. Prepare the cider vinaigrette and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl combine the cooled quinoa, roasted butternut squash, apple, green onion, baby kale, dried cranberries, almonds and pepitas.
  7. Mix in the desired amount of cider vinaigrette and season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper as needed.
  8. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cider Vinaigrette

1 cup apple cider

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup (not pancake syrup)

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste


If you plan to make the salad ahead of time, wait until just before serving to add in the toasted almonds so that they stay crunchy.


Yield: 4 servings


  • 1 pound heirloom tomatoes, cut into eighths (then halved, optional)
  • 1 pound ripe peaches, cut into eighths (then halved, optional)
  • 2 T fresh basil chiffonade
  • I T fresh mint leaves
  • 1 t maple syrup
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper
  • 4 oz burrata, sliced


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the burrata, and toss them well. Place the salad onto a serving platter and top it with slices of the burrata. Serve immediately.

Croissant Chicken Salad Sandwich


  • 6 -8 plain croissants ( I went to Costco)
  • 3 cups cubed poached cooked chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups grapes, sliced in half
  • 4 -5 diced spring onions
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 3/4-1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • lettuce leaf, to dress the sandwiches


  1. Mix mayo, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and basil together till well incorporated.
  2. Fold in chicken, grapes, cashews,celery,and onions.
  3. Halve the croissants (you may wish to slightly toast them) and layer with salad, lettuce, and cheese if you wish.
  4. Serve immediately.
  5. Time to prepare does not include chicken’s cook time.

Tarragon Shallot Egg Salad Sandwiches

Makes 6 sandwiches


For egg salad

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

For sandwiches

  • Mayonnaise for spreading on bread (optional)
  • 12 slices seedless rye bread or 6 kaiser rolls
  • 3 cups tender pea shoots (3 oz) or shredded lettuce


Make egg salad:

  1. Cover eggs with cold water by 1 inch in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, partially covered. Reduce heat to low and cook eggs, covered completely, 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and let eggs stand in hot water, covered, 15 minutes. Transfer eggs with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water and let stand 5 minutes (to cool). Peel eggs and finely chop.
  2. Stir together eggs and remaining salad ingredients in a bowl with a fork.

Make sandwiches:

  1. Spread some mayonnaise (if using) on bread and make sandwiches with egg salad and pea shoots.
Cooks’ note:
• Egg salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
Once again, we have to thank you all for our continued success, and we hope to bring you many exciting changes in the future!

– Dean & Alan

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Pillow Talk-The $600 Pillow

Pillow Talk-The $600 Pillow

Nothing fuels populist anger quite like expensive home decorations. Remember the banker with the $18,000 shower curtain? It smacks of Marie Antoinette, the 1%, and expensive pillows seem to fall into this category. To make the matter worse is the wide variety of pillow prices- if you search Wayfair, there’s about 43,000 pillows available, some cost about 7 bucks. Or, reverse your search criteria and search from high to low, and you’ll find the “Wild Mink” Pillow for around $1600 (don’t worry, it’s faux). I almost got mauled when I told someone a pillow cost $350.

Designer crewel pillow blue and green

Yep, this pillow is $600.

I’m not here to make a case for how much better your life would be if you only would have exquisite, bespoke, handmade pillows. But a little illumination on how pillows get their costs might cause a little more harmony in the world. That is my mission.

Category One Pillows: Mass-Market

Most people are familiar with pillows through the mass market stores. Target, Pier One, Ikea, wherever, you can get a nice pillow for $20-$30 bucks. These guys buy gazillions at a time from far-off locales, and seriously, they’re fine. The stuffing might be made from reclaimed belly button lint, but really, who cares? It’s a little pop of color that the dog may throw up on (or your kid might when they take it to college).

This pillow is about $8 bucks on Wayfair.

This pillow is about $8 bucks on Wayfair.

This one's about $6.

This one’s about $6.

Category 2 Pillows: Semi-Custom

These pillows have prettier details and they’re a bit more specialized and intricate, but still manufactured with the same economy of scale in mind that Category 1 pillows are. More thought goes into them, they make less, and so the price goes up. We like this category when you like to change your pillows seasonally; they really do change the look of a room without having to throw out your sofa every few seasons.

Dean Alan Design quirky animal Jaipur pillow

A love some quirkiness in every room. This guy is about $70

Eastern Accents here in Chicago does these amazing textured pillows. About $140.

Eastern Accents here in Chicago does these amazing textured pillows. About $140.

Category 3 Pillows: Custom

Here’s where the fun part is and where the sometimes astronomically priced pillows live. Even I am sometimes taken aback by how much these pillows can cost.

We put these in a home theater because silver remided us of a movie reel and the boring leather sectional needed some pop. I won't tell you the price.

We put these in a home theater because silver reminded us of a movie reel and the boring leather sectional needed some pop. I’m not telling you the price.

But funnier are the exchanges that I’ve had over the last 15 some-odd years when we get to discussing these pillow prices:

“What? $200 for a pillow? I guess I picked the wrong line of work!”

“I think I’m going to tell my daughter to change majors, seems like there’s good money in pillows!”

“I’m going to call my investments guy and change my portfolio over to 100% aggressive in pillows!”

It’s like the custom pillow industry is some secret haven of obscene profits. It’s not. Let me explain.

Pillows often can complete a room’s look. They might bridge some colors together, reinforce two colors that don’t normally work great together, or add an unexpected texture (unless you live under a bridge, you’ve surely seen faux fur pillows that are everywhere these days).


The pillows reingorced the color story of the gorgeous Lee Industries ottoman we came up with.

The pillows reinforced the color story of the gorgeous Lee Industries ottoman we came up with.

To do accomplish this, you start at some jaw-droppingly beautiful fabrics and trims. They’re art. The cost of the fabric can be $50 a yard, or $300 a yard, depending on what they fabric composition is, and where it comes from. Yes, really unique crewel fabrics still get transported by mule in places like Uzbekistan. You need roughly a yard or less to make one 22” pillow.

Then if you want to get extra fancy, you put a trim on it: looped fringe, glass beads, embroidered tapes, I have to admit, these are fun to pick out. Calculate how much you need (for a 20” pillow, you’ll need 80” or approximately 2.5 yards if you’re doing all four sides), add it to the cost and take it over to the workroom. Good trims range in price from around $5-$100 a yard, depending again on the level of complexity and materials.

Epingle trim. About $90 a yard.

Epingle trim from Samuel & Sons. About $90 a yard.

So you put together the fabric and trim, order it and send it to the workroom where they cut all the raw materials, put a zipper on it, and put in a stuffing, usually down or polyester. Bam- your pillow is done. The price is not the $20 you’re used to anymore at Wal-Mart.

A completed pillow with an award winning fabric. We looked for 2 hours to find the perfect fabric. Boho splendor!

A completed pillow with an award winning fabric. We looked for 2 hours to find the perfect fabric. Boho splendor!

If you were to call Ford and ask them to make you one special car to your specifications, you’d probably be shocked at the figure they throw at you. It’s the same thing more or less with a custom pillow.

So no, no one needs a $1000 handbag, a $200 pillow or a $6 cup of coffee. But the great thing about this world is that you can have just a little slice of luxury if you want.

Just don’t beat me up when you hear the price.


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Back to School For Adults Part One: Practice Your Penmanship!

Back to School For Adults Part One: Practice Your Penmanship!

When I’m faced with establishing new daily rhythms, as many of you are during this back to school time of year, I like to look at my daily rituals and see if they still make sense. I still do love my morning coffee nook and reading Facebook updates (until they get too preachy), but I’m lately, I’m tiring of too much electronic noise in general (which is ironic, since this most likely is being delivered to you electronically. Ah, tradeoffs). One of my favorite aphorisms that I think about frequently is Marshall McLuhan’s notion that “the medium is the message.” If you’re interested in this argument, here’s the Wikipedia synopsis.

I’ll cut to the chase: I read things electronically differently than I do when something’s on a piece of paper. I usually read for speed. But when I read or write a letter, it is an entirely different affair. When’s the last time you thought about writing a letter?

My late friend Malcolm was a beast of a letter writer. When I received one, it took all my strength not to read it right next to the mailbox. They were funny, ribald, tender and thoughtful. And in turn, I would write him back. It was a nice ritual: much more elegant than shooting off ” What’s up bro?” in a text coupled with a carefully considered emoticon.  The handwritten medium showed he cared, and it just made me feel good to keep this communication going. Hand written letters make you think about what you’re going to say before you say it (which is a lesson for all of us to remember when posting in comments sections!).

So here’s my challenge: create one electronic free zone in your home where you have only a stack of nice paper, your favorite pen and maybe even a wax seal if you’re an overachiever. Alright, if you fail, you can occasionally put your laptop or tablet there. Just don’t keep it there!

Here’s some pieces that could go into carving out a new little non-digital area in your home. You might have a new spare bedroom to tuck it away in if you have kids off to college. And when they come back for school breaks, they’ll be great places for laundry drop offs, too!


Parts of Your Nook

Writing Desks

Made for only some beautiful paper, a few envelopes, maybe a wax seal. Alright, maybe a laptop from time to time. We won’t tell!

Desk Chairs that Don’t Look “Officey”

If you add a y to any word, you’re well on your way to being a designer

Desk Lamps

We’ll allow just one functional object to be on this desk. Make it something pretty!

So there’s my food for thought for the day. Good luck with your new rituals and routines!

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