Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Dear Dean & Alan, 

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

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


Miss Fyre

Dear Ms. Fyre,

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

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

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

A project from last year. Here’s the before

here’s the after. Cool, eh?

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

Fireplace Doors

if you’re burning real wood: essential

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

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

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

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

Masonry Fireplace Doors

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

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

gothic fireplace doors blacksmith style

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


nickel fireplace doors with mesh screen

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

industrial fireplace doors in steel with track

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

fireplace doors with decorative fretwork

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

Want a Fireplace Mini-Makeover?

Click here 

Fireplace Doors For Zero-Clearance Fireboxes

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

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

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



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

easy fireplace makeover- DIY


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

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

Fireplace Screens

Woodburning: essential

Gas fires: nice to have for aesthetics

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

Cheap Fireplace Screen

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

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

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

Functional Screens


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

Hand hammered Stoll Blacksmith flat fireplace screen vintage iron

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

Midcentury fireplace screen

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

Fireplace upgrade mesh screen with operable doors

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

Decorative Fireplace Screens

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

Decorative Fire screen

Strong visual impact here.


Fireplace upgrade screen tribal

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

Flat Arteriors Fireplace Screen Ranore

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

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

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


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

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

fireplace andirons in crystal

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

Fireplace upgrade andirons him and her shape

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

snakelike fireplace andirons

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

John Lyle Fireplace Andirons

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

Fireplace Surrounds and Mantle Shelves

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

Mantle Shelves

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

Fireplace upgrade yew wood mantle shelf

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

steel fireplace mantle with corbel

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

Rough Hewn Live Edge cedar Mantle

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

Mantle Surrounds

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

Steel Fireplace Surround with chesspieces

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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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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5 Easy Ways to Update Your Home: Solution #2A: Paint

5 Easy Ways to Update Your Home: Solution #2A: Paint

We started this series because over the last few months, we’ve seen more and more design jobs with below criteria (more or less). Kids are graduating, you’re “transitioning” and your home hasn’t been a priority since the days of The Drew Carrey Show and Roseanne. Next on our series: updating your walls and paint.

Here are our assumptions:

  1. You’re not sure how long you want to stay in your present home
  2. You’d like to simplify and live with less clutter (for a change)
  3. Resale value is important
  4. You don’t want to invest in expensive pieces or projects that can’t move with you
  5. You simply want your home to be up-to-date!

An Inexpensive Way to Dramatically Change the Feel of Your Home

We’ve found that if you’re unsure about diving into a big renovation, buying a ton of new things or you’d simply have currently prioritized for other things, changing the color of your walls is a smart way to get started enhancing the feel of your home. It’s the most economical way out of our five solutions to get the biggest change in your home’s look.

Back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, we liked to do odd things to our walls like sponging, marbleizing, and using rags in all sorts of strange ways

It was the days of exuberant color. Accent walls too. Some people referred to it as the era of “crayon box decorating.”

We’ve sobered up since then and have opted for less jarring, more subtle applications of colors. Out with old!

If you’d like to attempt to remove these treatments yourself, Godspeed- here’s some lengthy instructions ( on how to do it yourself. (You will be busy for awhile! ) Most people who are not interested in taking a week off of work usually find a reputable painting firm, or use one of ours.

So now that’s taken care of, what can you do instead? You could do what a realtor suggests and go as neutral as possible, but most likely you will be living in a sea of bland.Builders and stagers purposely choose the most neutral palette possible to appeal to the most number of buyers. In short, they don’t want to offend anyone; people have strong reactions to color. So chances are, you’re living in a sea of wishy washy colors that don’t offend, but don’t inspire either.

That uber-boring palette does sell houses, but hey you have to live here too! So what can you do to split the difference?

1. Take into account what big furniture and fixtures you’re going to keep to find the right neutrals.

You can’t choose paint in a vacuum because of undertones. It’s a strange phenomenon but here’s why: when a color is created by mixing two or more colors together, the undertone appears through the exact proportion of color used. In creating a beige, if the color formula has a little more green in it, then it will have a green undertone, with more red, it becomes a pink undertone (this is why choosing neutrals like beige and taupe can be so tricky!). You can’t decipher the undertone unless you hold the color up to the existing object in your home. Browns suddenly show greens, grays can reveal plums. Try it- it’s kinda fun!

2. Try incorporating taupes and grays (but take extreme caution here)

The 90’s and early 2000’s default color for walls was beige. Everyone did it as a respite from white walls, and it was pretty with golds, greens, burgundies,and other earthy colors. But just like avocado greens and harvest golds remind people of the 70’s, this “Tuscan triumvirate” of colors has too had its day in the sun.

When working with grays, take into account their color temperature when mixing with existing items in you house. You can think of grays in terms of along a scale of warm to cold

In general (but not as a rule), the colder grays don’t play well with earth tones or oak trim. Opt for a warmer grey with more brown undertones.

Still, this mix sometimes needs reinforcements and some bridging. Rug and pillow companies have seen this opportunity and offer a huge host of patterns with these colors.

4. If you’re missing color in your life, use them in smaller spaces

Please understand, we love color, and by no means are we saying to model your home after a 1950’s East German oatmeal factory. We love it too! But again, we’re taking measured, baby steps to make your house feel fresh, clean, and well, new again. We love adding more excited colors in smaller bathrooms and niches. Here are a few ideas we love from our friends at Sherwin William

5.  Remove borders, wallpapers, and “quotes” and consider a “refresh.”

Again, back to the “exuberant” color thing.

Wallcoverings, as they’re known now (because people tend to break out in hives at the word “wallpaper), are a totally different animal. They can add to texture, drama and pattern to a room, but we use them sparingly now. A realtor will get very mad at you if you put a bold one up, but hey, everyone has to live a little.

It’s tricky to update your home and not under or overspend and make costly mistakes. With careful front end prioritizing and planning, refreshing your home will make it a joy to walk into all over again!

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5 Easy Ways to Update Your Home: Solution #1: Bathroom Update

5 Easy Ways to Update Your Home: Solution #1: Bathroom Update

5 Easy Ways to Update Your Home

Part One: Update the Bathroom

We started this series because over the last few months, we’ve seen more and more design jobs with these criteria (more or less). Kids are graduating, you’re “transitioning” and your home hasn’t been a priority since the days of The Drew Carrey Show and Roseanne.

Here are our assumptions:

  1. You’re not sure how long you want to stay in your present home
  2. Your life is simpler (for a change)
  3. Resale value is important
  4. You don’t want to invest in expensive pieces or projects that can’t move with you
  5. You simply want your home to be up-to-date!

In a perfect world, we would gut the bathroom, tear out the gargantuan whirlpool tub, expand out the shower, put in a gorgeous free standing soaking tub, re-tile everything, replace the shower doors, etc. But if you’ve got a ton of upgrades to do all over your house, it might not be the best use of your resources. Here are some less dramatic and quicker fixes:

 1.   Replace or re-stain/ repaint the vanities.80's bathroom

  • Standard height used to be around 32”, now we prefer around 36”. Believe it or not, it makes a huge difference and it shows.
  • Oak vanities were standard issue for the last 30 years. Repainting white or restaining a light espresso will impart a dramatic effect.

restain bathroom

For guest bathrooms small on space, there are some outstanding vanity/counter/sink combinations that are way less bulky and can be switched out quickly and easily.ambella sink chest smll

2.   Replace the glued on mirror and “Hollywood” vanity lightHollywood lighting and glued mirror

It was the cheapest mirror to put up in the housing boom of the 90’s, so almost every builder did it. If you’re brave, try replacing it yourself ( but we usually leave it to our trusted contractors.

Furniture grade mirrors with simple architectural lines paired with interesting vanity lights can be a huge improvement over existing schemes. Here are a couple we’ve put together:mirrors plus light-combos

3. Change out the flush mount lighting.

Flush mount 2flushmount 1                          Flushmount 3

There are a lot of relatively inexpensive solutions here. Avoid the shabby-chic chandelier look. You’ll loathe cleaning it and it’s too polarizing for home buyers if you do decide to sell. Try a semi-flush fixture for more architectural interest.

4. Replace the Wood Blinds

There’s top-down/ bottom up hard treatments solutions that allow more natural sunlight in without sacrificing privacy.

hunter douglass td bu

To add some pattern, try a roman shade in a Sunbrella fabric. The addition of a little pattern into the window will add some visual interest without wallpapering, which again is a polarizing option which could turn off new prospective buyers.Roman-Shade-Bathroom-Window-Blinds

So that’s it for step 1. Stay tuned for the next four solutions!

dean & alan
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