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?

Signed, 

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

elitewithbase3

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

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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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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A Few Holiday Recipes Just in Time For Party Season

A Few Holiday Recipes Just in Time For Party Season

It’s right around now that looking at my calendar causes me to break out in a cool sweat. Parties, events, recitals- I’m sure you can relate!

So while I could go on about the fine points of the suspension system of sofas, I doubt that’s on your radar at this moment.

At this time of year, I’m always looking for dishes to bring to events. These two continue to be crowd pleaasers for me, and have now gone into the permanent holiday rotation schedule. They’ve also become a tradition in our family. Time-consuming? Yes, they are. Expensive? Yes to that too. Worth the effort? Again, yes, totally!

Think of making them as cooking therapy for a snowed in day (which are sure to come). And they travel extremely well for parties.

This first one is adapted from an old recipe book my mom adores, Noteworthy, which came from the Ravinia Festival. We oddly serve this in the late morning on Christmas day along with Champagne and a smörgåsbord of other munchies (I’m sure you have weird traditions too, don’t judge).

marinated-shrimpMarinated Shrimp with Oranges

Makes 4 servings, but we always double, even triple sometimes!

  • 1 pound large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 orange, peeled and sectioned
  • 1 small red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1/4 C. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C. unfiltered cider vinegar
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 2 T ketchup
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t mustard seeds
  • 1/2 t cilantro leaves (dangerous for a crowd and therefore optional)
  • 1/2 t capers
  • 1/4 t celery seeds
  • 1/8 t ground black pepper
  • Romaine Leaves or crackers

 

  1. One day or at least 8 hours ahead, marinate shrimp. In 4-qt saucepan, heat 3 inches’ water to boiling. Add shrimp, return to boil and cook covered, 2 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through. Drain, rinse in cold water and drain well again.
  2. In large bowl, combine shrimp, orange and red onion. In medium bowl, combine vinegar, oil, lemon juice, ketchup, sugar, garlic, mustard seeds, cilantro, capers, celery seeds, and pepper. Pour over shrimp mixture and stir to coat well. Refrigerate 8 hours, or preferably overnight. Serve on crackers or romaine leaves.

This next one is the holiday recipe one that I hang my hat on year after year. I make gallons of it and swear I’ll never do it again after seeing my grocery bill. But I do, every year without fail. Don’t skimp- the guy behind the deli counter will curse your name, but your guests may well kiss you harder this year. If there was ever a perfect leftover intended for a hangover, please let me know too.

antipasto salad

Mixed Antipasto Salad

adapted from Epicurious. I think the secret is actually the fennel flavor. People think it’s celery but  when they get a bite of anise flavor from it, it’s a surprise, and not an unwelcome one. I humbly nominate this also to be the perfect leftover holiday hangover nibble too. Near the end of parties, people will fight over tupperware containers with this inside.

For the marinade

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

For the salad

  • 3 large carrots, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut crosswise into 1/inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted and cut into strips (or jarred)
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, roasted and cut into strips (or jarred)
  • a 12-ounce jar pepperoncini (pickled Tuscan peppers), rinsed and drained well
  • 3/4 pound black or green brine-cured olives or a combination ( I use a mixture of green Cerignolas and black Kalamatas)
  • 1/4 pound sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and cut into strips (or fresh cherry- either way)
  • 3/4 pound marinated or plain bocconcini (small mozzarella balls, available at specialty foods shops and some supermarkets)
  • 1/2 pound pepperoni or soppressata (hard Italian sausage, available at Italian markets, some butcher shops, and, some specialty foods shops), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and the slices quartered
  • two 7-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained well
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves plus, if desired, parsley sprigs for garnish

Make the marinade: 1.  In a small bowl whisk together the garlic, the vinegars, the rosemary, the basil, the oregano, the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste, add the oil in a stream, whisking, and whisk the marinade until it is emulsified. 2. In a large saucepan of boiling water blanch the carrots and the fennel for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender, drain them, and plunge them into a bowl of ice and cold water. Let the vegetables cool and drain them well. In a large bowl toss together the carrots, the fennel, the roasted peppers, the pepperoncini, the olives, the sun-dried tomatoes, the bocconcini, the pepperoni, the artichoke hearts, the marinade, the minced parsley until the antipasto is combined well and chill the antipasto, covered, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Transfer the antipasto to a platter, garnish it with the parsley sprigs, and serve it at room temperature.

So back to shopping and gifting!

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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…

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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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