Holiday Survival Skills: The Christmas Costco Conundrum

Holiday Survival Skills: The Christmas Costco Conundrum

If you’re like us, Costco plays a supporting role in almost all of our holiday festivities. In fairly serious strategy sessions around the kitchen island, we try to figure out what things make sense to get there and how to get out FAST. Lists are made. Tactics are formulated (“you get the wine with the cart and I’ll meet you over at the beef tenderloin.”)  But on our trip yesterday, I had a new found understanding of why I both dread our annual holiday pilgrimage to Costco, and actually kind of like it too: it’s a bizarre modern American version of the old bazaar.

Giant TV’s dazzle as you walk in. You try to not make eye contact with the guy hawking the latest and greatest in juicing technology. And it seems you’re always bumping into people at the aisle intersections.

We don’t buy many Christmas presents there anymore. In fact, we hardly buy any gifts like we did in the 90’s. Back then, the cheap imports were starting to flow into our country like water. It was weird and wonderful: the cost of clothing and unnecessary appliances seems to plummet 50% overnight. Our gift opening ritual sometimes went on for 4 or 5 or 6 hours. But life in 2016 is different. In both Alan’s and my families, we have secured every cheaply rendered creature comfort by now. Probably way too many. So buying big plastic things at warehouse stores does not hold the allure it once did at Christmas. Instead, we buy mainly food, booze and an occasional item of whimsy that seems to promise us a feeling of coziness there, like fuzzy slippers or comfy earmuffs. And then there’s the added bonus of all those Costco sampling carts!

There’s a silent tactical battle that goes on into securing a good food sample at Costco, for something like a whisper of turtle cheesecake, or a bite of panko-breaded mozzarella (I know you know what I’m talking about!). Here’s the scene: there’s no samples on the tray, and the demonstrator is dutifully preparing the next batch of say, chipotle meatballs.

you know you want that meatball

You know you want a meatball, but can you wait until they hit the tray? So you pretend to look at some items in the general perimeter of the forthcoming meatball, but your eye is really just focused on the prize. Your peripheral vision has never been this honed as you browse the assortment of tortellini. You know it’s a ruse, and so do the other 10 people waiting for that meatball.

But when those meatballs are finally released for public consumption, a tidal wave of people casually but nonetheless urgently rushes over to the cart. Parents, looking to feed their offspring, gently prod their young in the direction of the meatball-  “get in there,” they urge. It’s like watching a pack of lions devour an antelope, just with slightly more polished manners. That old Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom show comes to mind.

I always feel bad for the people cooking up these mini treats because hardly anyone takes the time to say thank you or strike up a conversation. It’s a frenzy of grab-and-go, and then onto the next conquest, like the shrimp or something. So yesterday, Alan dropped the best shrimp sample joke: “$24.99? Hey, not bad for a little tail!” The hair-netted shrimp-sample-server roared with laughter. I groaned. “You can have as many shrimp as you want; you made me laugh,” the nice lady told us.

So we got the ingredients on our list, some artisan meats to go into my traditional antipasto salad, and got out. But we always get gas too (it’s so cheap), and so the familiar face who works as the gas station attendant came over to say hello. The neat thing about our Costco is that workers stay for years. They pay their employees extremely well, they have sane holiday shopping hours so that their workers can enjoy time with their families, and they offer very good benefits. So it seems no one leaves! At this point, I’ve developed a relationship with the gas station guy. We talk casually talk politics (he liked my Bernie Sanders bumper sticker), shoot the breeze, and for that reason, I come back again and again. I like seeing people I know when I shop.

Alan and I see holiday shopping differently now. With no one wanting or needing gifts, we instead decided to use our Christmas funds to donate to needy kids.

Presents on their way to the United Way!

But we still go to Costco, we just don’t buy the cheap stuff destined quickly for the landfill. We abhor their durable goods, like furniture, because we know that after that rush of the bargain, you’ll throw it away super fast and have to buy another one. These things are actually not durable at all , nor are they meant to be (look for upcoming posts about this). But we love their selection of foods and now Christmas has morphed into more of a Bacchanalian festival of food and drink more so than a gluttonous exercise in opening gifts.

And with the upcoming push from Amazon to sell groceries, I think we’ll still go to Costco for our holiday ingredients. It’s nice to get out to fight the crowds, get some great food and spread the cheer!

Wishing you the most joyous holiday season!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

(and Gatsby!))

 

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Giving & Receiving Musings & Home Decorating Gift Guide

Giving & Receiving Musings & Home Decorating Gift Guide

The rhythms of this holiday gifting season are different for me this year. As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I remember the almost embarrassing orgy of gift giving and receiving in my family. But fast forward 30 years, and everyone has most everything they need so we opted for no gifts this year. But I love giving gifts so I got thinking…

We heard about this Carson’s Outlet in Aurora that handled all the overstocked merchandise from the regular stores. The day before Thanksgiving, they priced all sweaters and kids clothing at $3!  So we bought lots of sweaters and kids clothing…

img_4291

and found an organization that distributed them to disadvantaged children on behalf of the United Way.

We’re dropping it all off today!

I bring it up not to garner praise or feed my ego, but because this gift giving feels unfamiliar and strange, yet wonderful. Quite simply, I’m not used to it! As a kid, I used to come up with all sorts of internal “value calculations” about gifting that seem preposterous now. Now it’s about saying thanks to the Universe and honoring the law of giving and receiving.

To throw another wrench in the paradigm of gifting, Alan and I bought ourselves a gift- a subscription to Medici TV. Those of you who know us personally know that classical music is our other passion alongside design. Medici TV is this ingenious way to play concerts, operas, ballets, and music documentaries from Europe through your TV set (I have it on in the background right now!). It’s not quite the same as going to Symphony Center, but I can listen in my underwear, so there’s that…


If you’re still in search of a really special home-oriented gift for someone special or even yourself, Alan and I have dipped our toes into the world of online retailing at our new Facebook store that we call “Gatsby’s Little Designer Holiday Store.” We’ve searched high and low for unique items with character, style, and value that would appeal to our clients and friends. Here’s a taste…(click on images to go to the store)

if you’re a bargain shopper and around Chicagoland, we have a collection of designer floor samples available at huge savings. These we can’t ship, but we can drop them off. Or come by and pick them up!

We seem to be always hunting for mirrors (or everyone’s really narcissistic these days), so we have a collection of mirrors that we love (this section will grow a lot)

We found some of the cutest handmade holiday pillows too! All locally made in Chicago!

Can’t decide? How about our ‘Gift of Color” gift certificate?

Christmas inspires all sorts of warm feelings. I’ll leave with a quote by one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum:

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Home Design: Where Interior Designers Shop (with their pants on)

Home Design: Where Interior Designers Shop (with their pants on)

Interior Designers shop a lot. It seems like a dream job right? Picking out a lamp here, finding a rug there. Is that all we do for home design? Furniture and decor shopping is, admittedly a fun component to my job. But like you, Chicago traffic annoys me. So while on TV it seems like interior designers know of some shack filled with French armoires, the reality is that majority of our time is spent figuring out how different “ingredients”  work together to create a beautiful home design.  And where we shop for these ingredients are places that sound kind of snobby, members-only and keep out places: what are known as “trade-only” design centers. They’re not scary places that require a secret handshake at all, but they’re also not traditional furniture stores.They’re kind of like old fashioned general stores for designers, but instead of butter, flour, and sugar, we’re there to find fabrics, furniture, decor, flooring, etc. ,  e.g. the “ingredients” that go into creating a beautiful home design. Please excuse the upcoming analogies, but they’re the best way by which I can explain why home design centers have the ominous sounding warning label, “trade-only.”

A Beautiful Home Design is Like a Cake

Say you want a cake. You can go to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients, research Croquembouche recipes online and make it yourself. Other times you may want a cake from a great local bakery because A) you don’t want to devote a whole day to baking and B) the local bakery cakes are always jaw-droppingly delicious. Of course they are, they make cakes for a living and bake them every day. So just it wouldn’t make sense to go the bakery for their cake ingredients, it’s also the reason it doesn’t make sense for you to go to a trade home design center for you to buy forty yards of fabric, some lining, 32 rings, 2 poles, 4 finials, 6 brackets and two wands in a platinum silver finish when you just want some nice drapery. OK, time for an analogy break.

Outside, trade home design centers often look like nondescript offices, not stores.

Arlington Design Center

Where’s the fountains?

Inside, there’s a bewildering amount of choices that tend to overwhelm people. Remember this is a place for working and browsing.

 home design center fabric wall
Home design center lighting display
Interior Designers shop for a lot of trims

Sometimes, looking at these “working walls” freaks people out,  so we ask you not to stare too long. Scary!

Don’t worry, there’s prettier displays too!

home design center furniture display at Design D'Vision

A room setting at Design D’Vision

Kravet fabrics and furniture home design showroom for interior designers

Kravet fabrics and furniture

CAI Design trade home design showroom for interior designers

A view at the CAI Designs Showroom

Sue and Mark Hermann proprietors Design D'Vision interior designers showroom

Sue and Mark Hermann, owners of Design D’Vision. They’re also our neighbors!

Who’s Minding This New General Store?

Trade home design showrooms employ people to help order samples, check furniture stock and contact factories with product questions. There’s often also people making things, and people constantly moving things. There’s no one trying to urgently sell you things because it’s a holiday or something. Everyone here respects that both big and small projects take time. That’s refreshing.

Arlington Interior Designer Home Design Center Claudia Mitroi

Claudia and her assistant making draperies

What Happened to Home Design Again in 2008?

The economic crash in 2008 played havoc to small independent furniture stores as well as larger well-known stores like Plunkett’s, and many closed their doors. Macy’s eliminated their entire design departments and opted instead to emphasize cheaper imported furniture, or what I call “fast furniture”. A new type of furniture store started to appear that emphasized low cost above everything else. No home design was offered, it was just cheap. And the established quality brands that weren’t being shown as prominently any more at traditional stores started appearing now instead in trade showrooms. So that gorgeous $8000 handmade sofa sitting pretty at the trade home design showroom had to move over and share the floor now with an also very nice $2000 sofa.

The New Compact in Home Design

Clients wanted assurances that if they were going to spend their hard earned money on better things, they wanted them to look very good in their homes (cue the designers). Interior designers were reluctant to open retail stores after the bloodbath of 2008 and the advent of internet shopping. And fewer people were lining up to buy uber luxurious furniture found at trade home design centers like the Merchandise Mart. So it’s like everyone decided to play a game of musical chairs. Some home design stores weren’t left with a chair, and that’s where we’re at today. The traditional ways people bought furniture pre 2008 were disrupted and the landscape has changed. It’s like Mayberry after a makeover!

Trade Showrooms After Their Makeovers

Today, trade home design centers serve as collective showrooms, lending libraries and meeting spaces for independent designers and their clients. Registered Interior designers can go to one location, draw from thousands of components and use a space to show you a unique and personal design solution.

interior designers Dean Alan Design, Elgin home design picture

The sectional is from is from Precedent, the swivel chairs from Lee Industries, the club chair from Kravet , the cocktail table from Vanguard, the petrified wood drink table by Palacek, the driftwood sculpture by Interlude Home, the pillows custom made by Claudia Mitroi and Jaipur, the lamp from CAI Lighting, and all brought together from the Arlington Design Center

You get to see large items in person instead of on a computer screen, not get hassled by salespeople, and a designer will listen to your feedback and adjust accordingly. Warranties, service, and deliveries are coordinated between the showroom and the design firm and all involved parties have incentive to make sure everything goes smoothly and without surprises.

You now can have your cake and eat it too!

Dean Malambri

Dean Malambri

President and Principal Designer, 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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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!

HARVEST QUINOA SALAD

15 min Prep Time

20 min Cook Time

35 minTotal Time

Ingredients

  • 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.

Instructions

  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

Notes

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.

TOMATO AND PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Preparation

  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

INGREDIENTS

  • 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

DIRECTIONS

  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

Yield
Makes 6 sandwiches

Ingredients

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

Preparation

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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