7 Ways to Turn Your Home Into A Cocoon Part 1

7 Ways to Turn Your Home Into A Cocoon Part 1

Futurist and trend-predictor Faith Popcorn first coined the term “cocooning,” 35 years ago. In its broadest sense, “cocooning” meant staying home and insulating oneself from danger, real or imaginary. Back in 1981, that meant retreating to living rooms outfitted with VCR’s, CD players, and Barcaloungers to satisfy that craving for warmth, family, and security.

It seems history has a habit of repeating itself.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Ms. Popcorn has now updated her term to the slicker sounding “uber-cocooning”, or even “super-cocooning.” She predicts now an increase in consumer desires for, among other things, water filtration, home security, and home delivery systems.

Incidentally, this “nesting” desire is nothing new to Chicagoans, albeit without the nagging feelings of impending cataclysm. For us, it arrives yearly, usually around November and slogs on through March. Days are shorter, colder and grayer. So when we ask prospective Chicago clients what they want their home to feel like, “cozy and warm,” is the customary response. Seriously, it’s like a scene out of Groundhog Day!

So rather than waxing on about dystopian solutions, Alan and I put our heads together, and humbly offer up some suggestions here from our body of knowledge on how to make your home more “cocoon- like” year-round (or at least until the apocalypse).

Cocooning Project 1: Let There Be (Warm) Light!

cocooning home, warm versus cool light

Back in the good old days of incandescent bulbs, you just had to pick wattage. Enter the dreaded CFL bulb. While the new CFL (fluorescent) bulbs are remarkable more energy efficient than incandescents, they tend to make your home look like a hospital from a horror movie. Thank god for LED bulbs.

Keep in mind LEDs all have different color “temperatures”, which are measured in Kelvins. It’s more the default these days for the new LED bulbs to be in the “cool zone,” meaning like CFLs, they also can cast an eerie, sterile bluish-green glaze across your home. So remember this rule of thumb: the lower the Kelvin number, the warmer, or yellower the light. Your typical incandescent equates to  somewhere between 2,700 and 3,500K, If that’s the color value you’re going for, look for this Kelvin range while shopping.

“Smart” LED bulbs are a whole different animal, and do not work with existing dimmers. Instead, they are a component of a “smart home system, like the Phillips Hue. So don’t go out and buy the most expensive LED bulb you can find without knowing what you’re in for. Dimmable LEDS instead are most likely what you’re looking for if you just want to replace your bulbs and gain energy efficiency.

Cocooning Project 2: Dress Your Windows in Layers

Those of us in Chicago innately know how to dress in layers. It’s a survival tactic in winter and a fashion statement about half of the year.

Window treatments fall under two categories: hard treatments (blinds, shades & shutters), and soft treatments (draperies and fabric treatments).

If you are serious about your cocooning, you could isolate and close off your room with a touch of a button, James Bond style.

But when you just have some utilitarian hard treatments, it just doesn’t feel right from a cocooning perspective. Hard treatments,by themselves, often rather naked:

not the coziest effect

But overdone soft fabric treatments sometimes get a deservedly bad rap too, courtesy of the 80’s and 90’s, when you could hardly even decipher that windows even existed beneath all those swags and jabots.

over cocooning effect with overdone drapes

you could easily lose a small child in these!

While the old aesthetic was suffocating and “over cozy” to us, naked, exposed windows to us are a little bleak. With our own projects, we try to achieve a happy balance between the two: a combination of a functional hard treatment layer paired with an understated decorative treatment.

Soft treatments never seemed that important to me when I started back in the design business, since I prided myself on being Mr. Contemporary-Sleek- Modern. But if there was one component that I’ve seen that most drastically changes the feel of a room, it would be soft window treatments. I’m not saying your living room should look like the I Dream of Jeannie bottle, just something that softens your hard windows a bit.

Consider this pretty room:

Nice, eh, but cold…

Now look:

The room’s ready for your next Netflix binge session when you close those drapes.

If you perchance to dream, here’s an absolutely lovely example of cozy, warm window treatments with three layers, courtesy of Traditional Home:

Stationary panels, gauzy sheers, and simple roman treatments all contribute to the coziness of this dramatic room.

But be prepared financially. There’s lots of labor, measuring, and material when it comes to layered treatments. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

Cocooning Project 3: Pad Your Walls

The prevailing trend in interior design is clean, uncluttered and simple, but that’s not to be confused with cold. Invariable, when you’re working with analogous color palettes, and contemporary materials that appear flatter, cooler and/or or smoother, you’ve got to use contrasting textures. One of the most overlooked ways to do this is through some carefully chosen wall coverings. Not to be confused with the word wallpaper.

The word “wallpaper” continues to frighten and terrify people, and with good reason

The backdrop of frequent nightmares

make it stop!!!

Back in the day, wallpapers focused on patterns and a whole lot of them. Today, we view wall coverings as a tool to bring an alternating texture to a space, which ups the coziness ante.

Wall coverings encompass more than bold patterns, they’re also about texture. Consider grass cloths like these:

or even wood veneers like these:

Asian Essence wood veneer wall covering by Winfield Thybony

to lend a warm and inviting feel to your room.

Some luxury wall covering companies like Maya Romanoff even have fabric wallcoverings treated for soil and stain resistance!

Blanket Zig-Zag wool blend wall covering from Maya Romanoff

or for a less permanent solution, you could always cover an accent wall in fabric, drapery style, like we did here for a cozy bedroom feel outside of Chicago

cozy warm bedroom Chicago suburb drapery wall, luxury bedding by Dean Alan Design

We covered the wall in drapery for a cozy effect here in a hotel-like bedroom plan (Upholstered bed by Bernhardt).

Cocooning Project 4: Build a Fort

We’ve noticed a trend that clients are wanting seating groupings that feel more intimate, something better suited towards cozy conversations and “Netflix” nights. The traditional sofa/love seat concept doesn’t really foster this.

I get nervous looking at this…will I get the loveseat?

Instead, you can configure a sectional flexibly.  I’m not talking about those puffy, microfiber behemoths like this:

Just no.

They are usually out of proportion to a room. But consider sectionals that give a feeling of a “built-in” to a small room, upping your coziness quotient

A cozy book nook when the Christmas tree comes down

For the ultimate in flexibility, consider a “pit group.” Despite their “swinging” association with the 70’s,

pit groups are coming back into style, albeit a bit more tastefully. You just pick out the number of pieces,

sectional piecesand configure for your specific room

They’re wonderful before and after the Christmas tree comes down, because you can just add or subtract pieces and store them away until you need them.

So there’s the the first four tips for achieving that cozy feeling in your home. Next week there’s three more including:

  • paint color
  • textures
  • air care (no, there’s not supposed to be an ‘h’ there!

Stay tuned, and stay warm!

Dean Malambri Signature

Dean Malambri

Principal, Dean Alan Design Inc.

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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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“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!

Click here to contact us

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Our Inaugural Post: We’re Interior Designers of The Month in Chicago!

Featured Designer of the Month

Dean & Alan
Dean Alan Designs

Congratulations Dean and Alan, you have been chosen as the Arlington Design Center’s featured designers of the Month!

Dean and Alan started their career 15 years ago by designing fireplaces. From there customers started seeking their advice on designing other areas of their homes. They worked as in home designers for notable furniture retailers, coordinating rugs, furniture and accessories. As a natural progression with their design expertise they decided to create their own design firm which is known today as Dean Alan Design. 

Dean and Alan have been working with the Arlington Design Center for many years and everyone at the design center only has wonderful things to say about both of them. They are a joy to work with and are always looking for ways to better improve the design world through informing and educating people on interior designers, who they are and why they are important. They are team players and it shows in everything they do.  Dean and Alan are one of a selected few ADC featured designers.

Thank You Dean and Alan for being a great partner and supporter of the Arlington Design Center. We value and appreciate all that you do!

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