Why the secret to marketing your small business…might just involve a rather big ball of twine.

This past week, I had the extraordinary pleasure of speaking to members of the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association, kicking off their annual conference at the Abbey Resort is Fontana, Wisconsin. Special thanks to Kerri Thiel, Ed Svitak and Susan Smolarek for connecting me with such a wonderful group! I must admit, my wife and I have often talked about how fun it would be to run our own Bed & Breakfast someday. And while for us it seems “fun”…I am in awe of the immense effort I know it takes to maintain, promote, much less decorate these types of properties. As a small business advocate, I started my speech by thanking them for the valuable contributions they make to their communities, as well as their dedication to delivering something unique to a modern consumer that can be a bit of a moving marketing target to say the least. It takes special kind of crazy these days to be in business for yourself. For those of you who are doing it…you know exactly what I’m talking about. And for those who have never done it…it’s almost impossible for you to completely comprehend the depth of the overall experience. The risk. The reward. The sense of accomplishment when it works…and the level of disappointment when it doesn’t. It was in that light that I shared with them some key strategies to help them compete in a marketplace dominated by big data and the digital dominance of the deal.

The overarching strategy is fairly simple, not all that new, but it’s still something so many businesses miss in their overall customer experience. Here it is. The businesses that communicate and reinforce on a personal level, their value to customers…will win. So in my speech I asked them…are you doing everything you can to document, display and share the stories that make your business worth patronizing? Are you focused on establishing the kinds of human connections that define truly personal service experiences? Does the design and decoration of your physical location facilitate engagement with your value story? Or, is your environment, like so many I see today both personally and professionally, a hollow exercise in decoration that trumps style over the substance of the experience you offer? Now more than ever, you have to give your guests something different, something authentic, and an experience they’ll want to share with others. I reminded them it’s amazing how far people will travel to experience something they haven’t before. In essence, what was their “big ball of twine” experience, and did their design act as a catalyst for guests to REALLY engage with their story?

The following is the shorthand of my presentation to the WBBA, that I believe has an application not only for other businesses looking to engage customers, but also for anyone interested in creating authentic interiors with a mix of both substance and style.

Documentation:

Start by documenting YOUR original story: Rule #1-Don’t assume people already know it…or remember it.

  • Do your homework. Dig up your history! The people, places and significant events or milestones that have shaped your establishments unique journey.
  • No history? Newer establishment? Then tell the story of WHO you are and WHY you opened it. Sometimes that story is best one to tell.
  • Grab everything you can find, photos, letters from guests, reviews, awards and articles. Do your research and get personal. Authenticity is often times the emotional currency that buys someone’s attention.
  • Recipes and remembrances count…write it, photograph it, and keep it. You never know when you might want to use those items to create an experience.

Borrow stories you love!: Rule #2-Let the story of your Region or Area help build your value:

  • Again, do your research. Tell the guests the people, places and significant events that may have happened in or near your establishment. Local history offers an inherently personal and original experience.
  • Maps are awesome. Both functionally and visually. Orient your guests! Encourage them to explore.
  • Your staff needs to know the stories. Take the time to teach and train. Lack of knowledge of the inn and the area…equals a lack of interest in the mind of the customer.

Display: Best practice example-The Wickwood Inn: Saugatuck, MI (https://wickwoodinn.com)

  • All of that great documentation can be turned into engaging artwork that helps the customer connect! Themes, legacy walls, weird collections…ALL of it matters.
  • Think cohesive and curated. Framing and professional presentation is so important. A cohesive, well-crafted visual tells people they’re some place special.
  • There’s a reason why museum displays look the way they do. Curate! Pay attention to detail, and make it easy for the customer comprehend your story. True hospitality means your guests shouldn’t have to work for it.

Develop the relationship: Be mindful that every guest, every event and every micro-interaction with your staff is an opportunity to reinforce your story.

  • Invite your guests to become a part of your history and continuing story. This is where social media posts, offering to take your guests picture, and a digital guest book are so important. These are automatic and easy opportunities to engage!
  • Start your own, or promote tradition(s) that are unique to your inn and your area. When people travel they’re more apt to try new things. And most everyone enjoys an interesting tradition. Do you have a signature “When in Rome do as the Romans” experience or tradition?
  • Ask for feedback on something more than a card or email. Think of customer feedback as a double sided coin. The information on both sides can make you more profitable. Yes, tell us what we’re missing? But also ask them to share one of their favorite moments. “Hope you enjoyed your stay.” Or “ Thank you for staying with us.” Is not a personal goodbye.
  • Digital mailing lists and personal data, are the new currency of marketing. And small businesses can no longer rely on just their own charm, or the charm of their town to carry them to success. People forget. You need to remind them why you’re relevant…and that their next great experience is waiting for them.

I guess in a way, our homes are our own versions of a bed & breakfast. Both should be designed to inspire excitement and relaxation simultaneously. And in this Season on Giving…what kinds of stories is your interior offering? At The Design Coach…we can actually show you our big ball of twine. So gather up and display your special stories, and before your know it…you’ll be spinning them into an experiences people will never forget.

 

 

That’s it! Why I’m giving my kids just ENOUGH for Christmas this year!

Honestly, I didn’t expect to be writing this blog today. But as I turned on the news this morning, I saw some of the most disturbing images of the various Black Friday events across the country. I cannot imagine a worse way to start the Holiday Shopping Season than with such horrific displays of consumer carnage. Really?!! Is this where we are now?! Doubt me?! Just reference the Nike Store aftermath below…or just head to  YouTube to view any number of videos documenting for eternity people literally fighting over products that within the next 3 years will most likely be deemed obsolete.

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Way to go big box stores! You must be so proud. Not only have you managed to decimate countless numbers of Main Streets across the country…but you now have us sacrificing our basic human dignity, in the name of lower prices, for products of questionable quality. Even worse, on the very holiday that specifically celebrates being THANKFUL for what we have!!?? Oh wait, that is until 6 PM when the stores open…then we want MORE.  And if you did partake, I hope you were at least buying for someone else? Wait, don’t answer that. It’s none of my business right? Well either way, I guess the big box bleeding of the American consumers wallet…and their soul continues. Happy Holidays???

Now, contrast this with the celebration of Small Business Saturday today, November 25th.

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What an awesome event! This may just be commerce the way it was originally intended. Customers supporting the local businesses that make their communities special and unique. People taking to Main Streets and Downtown Areas across the country to patronize shops that provide the kind of consumer experiences that lead to authentic relationships from valued customers. I cannot think of a better way to have cleansed my visual palette of Black Friday, than with the images I witnessed in my own shop on Small Business Saturday. Thank you to everyone who visited my studio today. It was truly a pleasure. Thank you American Express for your unbelievable promotion of this event. And thank you to the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce for driving local awareness.

So with all of this shop talk, I started thinking about my own family this Christmas…and the kinds of things I wish for them this blessed Season. I wish for myself and my family, the complete understanding possible, of one of the most powerful and overlooked words in the English language; ENOUGH. Not more. Not less. But ENOUGH. I wish for them this gift that will last longer than any item we’ll wrap for them this Holiday Season..

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I wish for my family ENOUGH of the following this Christmas Season:

Enough patience to watch the smallest of things develop into something great.

Enough food to keep us nourished, but Enough left over to send guests home with some of the meal.

Enough courage to stand up for what we believe with conviction.

Enough honesty to say what needs to be said…as well as when we need to say it.

Enough understanding that a complaint about a problem, is more often than not an invitation to become a part of the solution.

Enough time to accomplish the things that really matter…and Enough recognition of the things that actually do.

Enough compassion so that we are moved to initiate random acts of kindness.

Enough character to keep us accountable to higher calling.

Enough forgiveness of others, in hopes that we will be forgiven.

Enough struggle to help us keep everything in perspective.

Enough wisdom to exercise good judgement when others do not.

Enough enthusiasm to enable us to motivate ourselves and others.

Enough passion for life that it’s reflected in everything we do.

Enough purpose to make our days meaningful.

Enough situational awareness to realize that indifference and inaction may just be two of the world’s great illnesses.

Enough skepticism to keep us mindful of the real motives of those in positions of influence.

Enough confidence to bet on ourselves, and others, when we need it most.

Enough disappointment to keep us trying our very best.

Enough of a sense of urgency so that we’re ever mindful that tomorrow is promised to no one.

Enough of disruption in our day so that we value real peace.

Enough good health so that we can live life to its fullest.

Enough determination to keep us moving forward, as motion is the key to keeping your balance in life.

Enough creativity so that we inspire ourselves and those around us.

Enough spontaneity keep the routine from dulling our adventurous spirit.

Enough appreciation for history to acknowledge both those who created it and why…as well as reverence for those brave Enough to preserve it.

Enough joy to mend our hearts when the world tries to break them.

Enough pain to remind us of the fragility of the human condition.

Enough faith to help us endure the toughest of times.

Enough unanswered prayers to help us accept that there is a greater plan.

Enough curiosity to keep us searching, learning and growing.

Enough loss so that we appreciate all that we have.

And Enough riches to realize that the most important things in life, can only be purchased with the currency of love.

 

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So from my family to yours, I wish for you a blessed, safe and joyous Holiday Season. May you experience ENOUGH love, peace and inspiration to last throughout the year. Three things coincidentally that you’ll never find on sale at my shop…or any big box store for that matter.

 

Maybe we should have just named our shop Ollivander’s…

“The wand chooses the wizard…” That’s the quote right? And it’s never been more true than here at The Design Coach. For those of you who have no idea what I’m referencing…you’d best move along to another blog. Or stay if you wish…however, be warned. Reading this may cause your face to awkwardly contort, as I deliberately disturb your consumer complacency…and poke any predisposed compulsion you may have for charismatic, cookie-cutter and catalog interiors. On the cusp of 20 years in business, we’ve recently come at an important realization that has put everything into perspective; like Ollivander’s Wand Shop…we’re not for everyone.

And with every project, especially some soon to be revealed, we realize our true mission is to support those for whom the practice of interior design resembles more wizardry than Wayfair.

 

Over the years, we’ve tried to reinvent our messaging to communicate who we are and what we do. That we are equal parts problem-solving contractors, original artists and visionary designers. A model, a team and a calling very different from the rest…met with the occasional displeasure and disdain of those who shall not be named industry purists. Most of whom, lack the basic understanding that true creativity in design, is best achieved by mastering the cross-training exercises that involve all three disciplines.

   

You see, we have the power to concoct potions and elixirs to remedy any functional interior ailment. And we possess the ability to cast visual spells beyond everyone’s imagination with exception of our own. This is our purpose. The reason we exist. To help the world’s wizards realize and create that which they would otherwise not.

  

Mind you, we did not ask for this condition…we were simply born this way. To thoughtfully position and pair…to sensibly select and synthesize…to carefully craft and create…to efficiently evaluate and edit. Differently than the others. So it would only stand to reason, that we are misunderstood by many…and dismissed by those who cannot…or in some cases will not…see us for what we really are.

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Mr. Potter and the hooligans of Hogwarts…we know exactly how you feel.

Our creative home here in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, located fairly close to both Chicago and Milwaukee, is surrounded by Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels dedicated to the religion of modern consumerism in every way. Featuring products, packaging and promotion that are often specifically designed to satisfy, rather than to nourish. From the outlet malls to the big box retailers to the discount stores in both philosophy and name. These are the kinds of places, where almost EVERYTHING is ALWAYS offered up in a way, that sacrifices quality at the altar of lower prices and the Great Sale.

And then there’s us. Artfully curated, we still believe in the virtue of value, and that quality trumps quantity in so many ways. Shocking I know. But we understand the intrinsic value of our offerings…and those who choose to work with us. We appreciate the effort it takes to bring truly unique, original and well-crafted items to market…and you know what? So do our amazing clients for whom we are so grateful. Not only for their business, but for their overwhelming support of the not so dark arts.

In our hearts, they are so much more than customers…they are both partners and patrons. For they are the ones who see wands…where others only see sticks.

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So every Saturday we open our doors, for the wizards who knowingly, and unknowingly wander in, searching for wonderful wands to add their collection. From couture fabrics to one-of-a-kind found objects, we live to share our brand of creativity in all of its forms, with those looking to put a little magic into makeovers both large and small.

Funny thing is, every day that goes by, we get a little better at recognizing you when you walk in. Whether you realize it or not…just like us…you’re a bit different from the others. And deep down you know it. Sometimes giving yourselves away with your wide eyed-audible gasps, open jawed expressions that immediate morph into unsolicited smiles, and the sincere commentary that acknowledges the special place in which you believe you’ve entered.

Other times you’re a bit difficult to discover. As the only clue to your true nature, is found in the pondering pace of your curious gait while exploring our shop. And even when your visit doesn’t result in a purchase, we love that there was still a very special transaction that took place between us…and we know you’ll be back. So here’s to the muggles, mud-bloods and pure blooded aesthetic alchemist of every kind, dedicated to more authentic, creative and personal interiors. May our passion, for forever fuel and enhance your search for the perfect potion and spectacular spell.

The Design Coach: Wizards Welcome.

 

The Color Bar. Imagination on Tap…and Open Daily.

If this piece could talk, oh the stories it could tell. Including many of my own. From time to time I’m asked if I have a favorite piece in my home, which is the challenge the innovative team at Havenly recently presented to me. A tough question, but one I was eager to explore! After all, it’s akin to asking me which one of my kids is my favorite. My answer is usually the same. I love them all completely, but often times for different reasons. As an artist and design professional it can be difficult to pin point one item that stands out in my personal design. I believe really loving your home starts and ends with surrounding yourself with your passions. I guess I just like my furniture and my finds to be like my family…strong, comfortable and interesting.  However, one piece in particular does seem to draw and inordinate amount of attention to itself…very much like the middle child that brought it back to life. That piece is one of my original retail front counters, that I reclaimed, reinvented and re-purposed from an old Central Illinois General Store.

When I moved into our current location in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin I inherited another store counter that fit perfectly. So my current front counter found itself without a home in the new shop. Having recently refinished our basement around the same time, I decided it was time for this special and sentimental piece to grace us with it’s presence in MY home. The only question was…where in the world was I going to put it?! It was at this point that I realized I needed to take some coaching of my own. I’m always advising clients that if they find a piece that speaks to them…that they should try to find a place for it. And this was the piece that was going to most certainly test that advice.

         

I’ll be honest, from a design perspective…it had its challenges. Let’s start with the fact that it’s almost 12 feet in length. It’s also painted in a distressed bright orange and lime green. Not a combination for those who suffer from today’s low color tolerance levels. But true to my artistic roots, I focused on the assets of the piece rather than it’s subjective design liabilities. Truth be told, I loved the color it brought into the space. But the size and a predetermined design wish of my own we’re getting in the way. You see, like a lot of people…when I refinished our basement I wanted a bar. Over the years, my design company has built some amazing residential pub environments. And like Veruca Salt, I wanted one of my very own. AND I WANTED IT NOW!

     

So, in my mind only one question remained. Could THIS Willy Wonka make this General Store counter work as the centerpiece of my personal pub? Then my imagination and design mind began to take over. I started asking myself the very same questions I ask my clients. What did we really need right now as a family to make this Lower Level more functional and fun? The answer was three-fold and quite simple. More storage, more surface area…and more style. This is where the AH-HA moment occurred. And the idea that was born was the Color Bar. Equal parts craft/school project counter, game table, and entertaining surface. Now all that was left was the big reveal for my wife and kids.

I started by exploiting the limitless available storage behind the counter to house board games, crafting and school supplies. Something we desperately needed. A functional home-run. I then introduced industrial pendants to add task lighting and pull-off a rustic, loft feel that worked well with the exposed mechanicals and ceiling joists. This helped visually ground the element in the room so it didn’t appear to be floating in the middle of the basement. And finally, I used vintage game boards and other found object finds…in coordinating colors of course…to create a color scheme that tied it all together. The creative result was a multi-purpose work and play surface that the entire family could enjoy…and add to it’s beautiful patina over time.

 

This piece is now the cornerstone of activity, function and fun in our Lower Level. From the ultimate serving piece for entertaining family and friends…to a massive project counter for the ultimate school or craft project…it may just be the most valuable piece in our home. And not because of its price tag…but because of the functional and stylistic value it brings to our home.

   

After almost 20 years in the design and remodeling business, my own home is still taking me to school, and teaching me some very valuable lessons. So welcome to the Color Bar. Where we’re serving up moments and memories on a daily basis. I’ll leave you with this. Achieving good design isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes effort, compromise and a little planning. But when it comes from the heart, and works well, it is so rewarding. And after this exercise, this designing Dad is going need a drink. At my game table meets craft counter meets Color Bar.

The Seven Deadly Sins I Committed on the Streets of New Orleans…and Maybe You Should Too.

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My Mother, God rest her perfectly imperfect soul, is either going to love or hate this entry as she looks down from above. A deeply religious, proud Catholic woman, she instilled in me a recognition that often times life’s most difficult challenges are created, at least in part, from within. Allow me to reference the Seven Deadly Sins as I understand them…Anger, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth (Laziness), Pride and Envy. The sins that if committed often enough, would most certainly lead to a troubled and tortured soul. And on a recent 48 hour trip to New Orleans, I am almost certain I committed every…single…one of them. However, maybe not in the way one might while in the Big Easy. Like most of us, vacations and getaways have always been an important reset for me. A rewire, a recharge…a way to break the routine and disturb the collective complacency that settles in from time to time. That being said, I’ve always seen travel of destinations both near and far as adventures. I thrive on the search for the less ordinary in both places and people. And on this particular trip to New Orleans, not only did I give in to temptation, but the result was an experience that was as unplanned as it was unforgettable. And for the record, I am all but guaranteed to commit these sins again and again…in as many places as possible. And you know what? Maybe you should too.

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So here they are in no particular order…sorry Mom.

I demonstrated a fierce contempt for the clock that rules life most days. I recommend taking the streetcar* from Canal Street and head to the Garden District. Get off, explore…and lose track of time. But make sure you’ve visited the shops, pubs and restaurants on Magazine Street before you leave the District.

*Thank you Susan Durnin Catalano

 

I loved the experience of the French Quarter before 9 am. I cannot encourage you enough to wander these streets without the distraction of the debauchery. Let the Quarter ravish you with its complex color combinations and unbelievable visual texture. But don’t just walk around. Absorb. Stare and study.

 

 

 

New Orleans is such a complex and interesting city on so many levels. It’s a shame for those who hold it at arm’s length. Be greedy for the endless experiences this amazing place has to offer. Which means don’t spend hours sweating in line for a bite at a beignet. Be smart with your time. Better to make a return trip at another time than burn valuable vacation hours. Besides, that town will NEVER run out of beignets.

 

I over-indulged in the different and consciously tried to expanded my culinary comfort zone. From crawfish to creative comfort food to classic cocktails…there may be no better place to push your palette in more ways than one.

 

I took some time to find a place to just be still and just watch everything unfold around me. Jackson Square is the perfect place to do this, so is any local cemetery. Creepy? You bet! Creepy, historical and fascinating. Point being…be lazy, and take an intentional time out before heading back into the chaos.

From Bartenders to Bourbon Street Bystanders to Street Musicians…I loved engaging with the people I met on my visit. From Kevin at Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, to Fernando, my new favorite New Orleans salvage soldier, to Eric the Pool Bartender at the Roosevelt. The interesting conversations with so many people, revealed a side of New Orleans I had not really experienced in past visits. I was able to experience NOLA from their perspective. And it was so easy to do. Try asking open ended, genuine questions…and just listen. My go to questions was “So…how did you land here?” Try your hand at the art of conversation. It’s amazing the lasting pictures it creates.

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I was so envious of New Orleans rich history which has as much texture, grit and drama as its brick streets. Read the signs! There are historical makers everywhere…and almost every building has a story worth hearing. And if you have time, the World War II museum is a must visit.

Well, there you have it. I guess I’d ask for absolution…but as you can tell I am without contrition. The older I get, I become more and more convinced that one of the most important things in life is curiosity. And most of us underestimate it’s power, downplay it’s value, and even mistake it from time to time as temptation. But a curious disposition may be the most important item to bring on a trip to New Orleans…or any other place for that matter. As Oscar Wilde said, “To LIVE is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” And you know what…my Mother would have agreed.

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Thank you to our dear friends Kyle and Melinda H. for making this trip such a great adventure! And special thanks to The Roosevelt Hotel, Aidan Gill for Men, Ruby Slipper Café, Goorin Brother Hat Shop, Redfish Grill, Willa Jean, Court of Two Sisters, Muriel’s Jackson Square, The French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s, Drago’s Seafood and the City of New Orleans for the amazing cultural calibration. Until we meet again.

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Vote for Summer! This weekend…it’s actually on the ballot.

Okay. This seems like the perfect time to take a time out. To pause, take a deep breath and reflect. Memorial Day weekend…the unofficial start of Summer. There may be no better time to hit the reset button on so many levels.

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Summer is upon us, and I don’t know about you…but I just can’t take it anymore. Honestly, they’re both wrong. Hey chicken little, news flash, the sky isn’t falling. At least not everywhere, and certainly not every time you disagree with other side. To stay on the storybook train, please understand that if you’re going to cry wolf…we’d like you to be certain it’s dangerous…and has real fangs. Just so you’re aware…your over-exaggeration is often times as bad as his strange tweet. Just sayin’. On the other side of isle,  please stop complaining about how rough the politics are these days. You we’re elected to fix things, no one forced you run for office, this is the business YOU’VE chosen…and you’ve got some work ahead of you. Also, another breaking story: Words do matter! And to those to whom incredible power has been entrusted, you really can’t afford to say, or even tweet, trivial things if you expect to be taken seriously. You just can’t. By the way, this holds true for those who both won AND lost recent elections. And furthermore, if you’re having trouble articulating your perspective, your case, the strategy or the plan…then you’d better find someone who can negotiate on your behalf! This binary choice between two American realities is the ultimate false narrative. One designed to incite and divide, not just for political reasons, but maybe even for profit. Yikes! Someone actually said it. I’ve seen common ground reached where there was absolutely no foundation to do so…so guess I’m just not buyin’ it. This environment is like arbitrating an argument between a couple of four year-old siblings, who don’t seem to understand, or worse don’t care, that their divided efforts are keeping us all from moving forward to solve real problems. And who quite frankly are always dressed in suits, but might as well be wearing onesies. oldschbabycryThe rhetoric is now officially bordering on the clinically insane, detached from any common sense, is disconnected at best and down-right distracting. Maybe even by design. I’m also tired of the “this is the most dangerous time in American History” talk. No it’s NOT. Not by a long shot. And on this Memorial Day weekend, I’m reminded of any number of periods in American History, when our very existence as country was purchased with the sacrifice of brave patriots who bled in uniforms without any special interest designation…or personal agenda…other than to get the job done and return safely to ones they loved. Speaking of numbers, here’s the one you really need to remember this weekend: 2,911,201. That’s the number of dead, wounded or missing in official American wars dating back to the American Revolutionary War.*

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Not included in that number are those killed in undeclared conflicts, or serving our great nation executing other critical military and civilian duties. A number that grows by the day. Memorial Day is an amazing holiday, because if we let it, it’s the ultimate American reality check. Like the water gushing from a Summer seasons fire hydrant or garden hose…on this holiday in particular…we should all be drenched and dripping with gratitude. And be more than willing to demonstrate it through common sense cooperation…and a shared civic duty. Old-fashioned you say? Maybe, but more on that later in this blog.

So this completes the rant…at least for now. Consider this blog an unofficial special referendum on changing the conversation this season. Please consider sharing it with others, and let’s all support the candidate that brings out the best in all of us! Let’s vote for Summer! In that spirit, I’d like to officially endorse Mother Nature in her Summer glory as my candidate to lead us…at least for the next four months. And to further reinforce my endorsement, here are some of my official positions that comprise MY American Summer…and the enduring fact that almost all politics is local. Maybe even right inside your own home.

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I endorse budget battles involving a scrambled search for enough loose change to get ice cream from the roadside stand that only takes cash.

If gridlock means a spirited negotiation regarding a reasonable curfew for my kids…then lock it up I say!

I’m in favor of fake news, if it means a harmless prank on anyone in my family or close friends.

The only investigation I’m currently watching is the one that uncovers who let the dog out, what in world did he roll in…and WHAT in God’s name is that smell?!

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My surveillance programs involve keeping an eye on my son, the car he drives, and company he keeps…and of course, that boy currently dating my daughter.

This time of year I tend be more liberal with how much alcohol I pour into my drink, and rather conservative with whom I allow to sip from my glass.

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In some way I do support the redistribution of wealth, if it means everyone has enough to eat…and we’re all bringing at least something to the table. Even if the only thing someone can afford is a smile, and thoughtful conversation. Please pull up a seat…there’s enough to go around. 

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My favorite press conferences will involve long hugs and genuine questions from the friends and family whose visits were long overdue. Here, how are you? and I need more details? are considered gotcha questions. 

The only spinning I will encourage, is the kind that you might find under a tent, with a live band and willing dance partners of all ages. 

And the shutdown I’m really against…is the one that cuts off the music, the laughter and the love before we’ve celebrated everyone guest at the party.

Whether you have big plans, small plans, or no plans at all…I think we can all agree that the best Summers are always the ones that bring people together.

So, however you choose to define this Summer season…from The Design Coach…I wish for you a safe, happy and uniquely American Summer.

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Happy Memorial Day Weekend Everyone!

*http://www.statisticbrain.com/u-s-war-death-statistics/

 

Dream on this…how to really LIVE in your Living Room?

Truth be told, I’ve always bristled a bit when I hear the term “dream” anything when it comes to design. Dream home, dream room, dream space…you get the point. I guess you could also throw the term “perfect” into the professionally uncomfortable category as well. Partly because I feel as though they both in some way infer that great design is a static or fixed reference point in our mind. And that once we’ve declared or stated our dream preferences that our rooms are somehow complete. Let me submit to the jury that like dreams themselves, our interiors evolve, change direction, introduce us to new and exciting characters on a whim…and beautifully reveal the stylishly strange stories of who we really are. Okay, maybe that’s just me. I doubt it. But let’s be honest, many of our interiors, including some of my own, are already like a dream. Confusing, disjointed, have no definitive design direction…and are down-right wacky. But still…like our dreams…are still on their visual journey. My point is that like the stories in our dreams…the dirty little secret in design and decorating is that we’re…never…really…done. Besides, where’s the fun in that!? That being said, when pondering the question…”What elements make up my dream spaces?” my perspective starts from a very different vantage point. And, for the purposes of this blog…let’s focus on the often confusing, under-utilized, and way too formal cousin of the Family Room…the Living Room.

The design of the Living Room often times gives my clients fits. They tend to treat it like the “appendix” of their homes. Understanding that might have been relevant in homes long ago…but have been rendered meaningless as our homes, lifestyles and open floor concepts have evolved in the modern era of design. And, just like an appendix…if it were removed…would you even miss it?! Here’s my take. I believe rooms aren’t used because they’re either decorated for one single lifestyle purpose or not designed at all. Too many Living Rooms look like people should be negotiating a peace treaty over afternoon tea…or like the Land of Misfit Design where heirloom pieces are banished to design purgatory. What a shame right?! So, let’s change the definition and start LIVING in the Living Room.

As an artist first, I’ve always seen interiors as a series of connected canvases begging to be something great! And as such, my vantage point for designing a “dreamy” Living Room starts with the ceiling. Okay, I’ll play along. In my “dream” (just made a squishy face) Living Room the canopy/canvas above me matters! In most cases, the ceiling accounts for the most amount of square footage in a room. DO SOMETHING AMAZING WITH IT! In my book, white ceilings are a design “bail” and wasted opportunity. My dream Living Room needs to envelop me and those I engage in it…and the ceiling sets the tone.

Next, throw out the traditional definition of the Living Room. In my design dream world, the best spaces have the ability to dress up or dress down. They’re ready for any occasion! They can wear a ball cap and still look sexy…and they’re up for anything! Design accordingly my friends. Here’s a couple of tips. Look for furniture that has maximum comfort, but correct for the scale of the room. Also, make sure you have areas that can accommodate a larger group AND a side conversation in style! Sometimes the best views of a space are in the chairs off to the side. Where you are still connected to the activity in the room…but need a small corner to just get away, take it all in, and absorb the moment. Point being, don’t doom the room with furniture that doesn’t fit…and where there’s only one place to sit. (That should be an over-sized bumper sticker.) This room can be whatever you’d like it to be! It’s like a BONUS room…do something special with it! Heck make it Music Room, a Reading Room, a Craft Room, your Zen place, a Parlor Pub or even a VIP Martini Lounge! But whatever you do…for the love of God, please make it something you’ll ACTUALLY use. Your home, your square footage, and your peace of mind are too important. Here are some inspired Living Room seating selections from our friends at Arhaus to get you to rethink that room!

The start of a Vintage Parlor Pub perhaps?

 

The VIP Lounge? Access GRANTED!

 

All is quiet in the Urban Cowgirl’s office?

 

All you Day Dream Believer’s in the Living Room now!

 

Our version of a sheepish Living Room chair!

Lastly, a must in my dream spaces are my collections! The items that make it intensely personal. The contents of a personal shrine to me and my family! I’ve said for years, some of the best artwork you’ll ever own is probably on your cell phone. Get those images out of your pocket and give them purpose! Same for the boxes of collectibles in the closet! Time to play museum. Let’s find a way to display those amazingly personal elements that tell your story. Then, surround them with the stylish and functional elements that put your passion on display. I’ve seen too many hollow rooms in my day. Ones filled with things that act as costume jewelry. Shiny…but of little or no value. Rooms filled with elements we don’t cherish…have no soul. That’s not a dream…it’s more like a sensory dulling nightmare.

Your home and it’s rooms are chapters to a book with no end…and much like our dreams…should take us to places we couldn’t possibly imagine.

 

Excuse me…in what aisle might I find BELIEF?

Happy New Year! I hope this latest entry finds you well, as I pen this blog gazing at my Incredible Shrinking Christmas Tree. I guess I’m just not ready to dismantle it. Maybe my real fear is that I would in some small way be packing away the spirit of the Season. Something I’m determined to avoid, as this past year several encounters have me convinced more than ever, that the real gift of the Christmas and Holiday Season is belief…and to be mindful not to shelve it until next Christmas.

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Her disposition seemed optimistic and hopeful, laced with a hint of relief…and she hadn’t even said a word. Sometimes the eyes set the tone for a conversation…that is…if we’re looking forward and willing to engage. God forbid we actually look each other in the eyes when we communicate in person. Try it. Most people look away within 2-3 seconds. (Wait, I think I just heard the sarcastic “humph” of legions of teenagers and twenty somethings as they briefly looked up from their phones.) Anyway…the eyes of another human being may just be the only remaining windows into our souls that still evade the latest Instagram or digital filter of your choice. Oh wait, nope. Snap Chat just turned me into a clown dog…or a zombie…hard to tell as there are SO many choices.

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As I clumsily dropped my random collection of items on the counter, she smiled warmly and began to politely separate and arrange my provisions for proper scanning. She was deliberate, but not in a hurry. Diligent. Purposeful. But not at all restricted or robotic. She seemed to be enjoying it. How could I draw this inference? I was paying attention. There’s so much to see in the way a person moves. It’s very telling. I guess these days I’m equally as obsessed with HOW someone does something…as I am with WHAT they’re actually doing. Try THAT sometime…just watch the world around you. Watch how the world around you interacts, reacts or doesn’t react all. There’s so much more in those moments than a million strings of text. The collective interaction of our senses, combined with the gifts of reason and romance are the elements that make us special. I’m not sure how, but I could sense that this seemingly ordinary interaction was somehow going to be different. Now back to the random transaction involving my sundries.

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The setting for this story is a cold, Wednesday evening in early December 2016…in the new Dollar General that opened in the Fall of this past year in Hebron, IL. Most of you have never heard of Hebron. They won the 1952 Illinois State Basketball Championship…and have the water tower to prove it. A community of proud and hard-working people…that like so many in small towns across the country, will reluctantly tell you that these days they feel somewhat forgotten. As she carefully placed my items in the bag, I casually expressed how nice it was to have a store a little closer to home, for those last minute items and other culinary conveniences. As some of you could benefit from a little context: Contrary to the name, Dollar General is NOT a “dollar” store. I know, I thought the same thing…until I walked in. It’s more like a convenience store that’s been working out at the gym. Streamlined, a bit thrifty…but has some bulk. Back to the story…

 

 

Her response to my comment was something I didn’t expect, and has stuck with me since before the holidays. She said, “Yeah. It’s been awhile since anybody actually made an investment out here. It means a lot to the people who live in and around the town. Shows that someone actually cares about what’s going on. Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come.” As she looked up, smiled and thanked me for coming in…the gravity of her comment made me feel as if I were in slow motion. For those of you in areas where corporations fall over themselves to reinvent your economic landscape in an endless fight for every disposable dollar…please realize that that’s not the case for so many places today. Places like Hebron, as well as urban environments where conditions are even worse. Amazing how the socioeconomic and cultural differences between rural and urban communities find common ground in a shared desire to just have people BELIEVE in their worth…and in their potential.

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Every year I choose a motto that encapsulates my approach to the coming year. Sometimes I share it…sometime I don’t. In 2017, I’m going to focus on Making Every Square Foot Matter. From relationships to remodeling, I’m going to look for opportunities in the smallest of places, and BELIEVE that they could be something more. And then look to make the necessary investments of time, talent and treasure to help them realize their potential. Sometimes we are so focused on making a big impact on THE world, that we lose sight of the fact that the greatest impact on OUR world, is made through a daily dedication to improving and investing in the very elements that comprise it. Especially the ones staring us right in the face.

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So often we’re whipped into a frenzy about the concerns of the world at large, that we ignore and dismiss the direct impact we can have person to person, project to project and community to community…right now. After all, it seems to me the greatest of achievements and most fulfilling experiences are almost always a cumulative result of a million micro-moments that mattered. Moments that don’t seek to receive the most likes, reactions, comments or shares. I guess it’s fair to say in 2017, that I’m SO over the pictures of our meals on social media…and more interested in the ways we’re nourishing the world around us. From “Be the change you’d like to see in the world.” To “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” The message of the season is unambiguous and irrespective of your religious perspective, totally relevant…and surprisingly simple. Believe…and be your own agent of change. In your life and in your home…improving places and spaces one square foot at a time.

Well, as is the case with most of my trips to the market…I seem to have picked up something I didn’t expect. I hope you did too. Isn’t it amazing what you can find in the aisles of a convenience store these days?

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TinselGate…

For so many of us, the Christmas and Holiday Season is chalk full of traditions and routines that cannot be altered, changed or even modified in any way. The Christmas Tree in exactly the same place every year…the mantel decorations placed just so…I’ve even seen people insist on the exact location of ornaments on the tree. Everyone’s personal decorative neurosis aside…at this time of year…it’s all fine with The Design Coach. After all, when it comes to decorating for the Season, the only rules that matter are your own…and apparently, those you may write unknowingly with your family. And this year, I may have broken a sacred Christmas decorating rule…well, at least according to my wife and kids. Who would have thought, such a traditional, classic and TIMELESS ornamentation to our Christmas tree would have caused such a reaction?!

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In this weeks audio blog, posted from my weekly radio show on WLKG Lake 96.1 in Lake Geneva, I discuss what I’m calling “Tinsel Gate” So much ground to cover with this Holiday Hullabaloo that the typical blog just wouldn’t do. Sorry, I went a little Seuss there. Just click on the play link below, settle in…and let me know if something like this has ever happened to YOU!

 

tinsel

God bless, and I wish for all of you a safe & merry Christmas…

and a joyful Holiday Season!

Of Politics, a Beach…and a Baptism.

Almost everyone is familiar with the brand “Life’s a Beach.” Clearly…it’s not. But on the other hand…maybe it should be. Here comes another plug for travel as way to calibrate your human condition to a more balanced setting. Not to mention the creative benefits associated with the situational awareness, that only comes from the sensory shock of new surroundings and situations. My definition of a “vacation” has always been a little different. I didn’t travel much as a child, with four other siblings, my Mother and Father worked very hard to provide the faith, family and freedom we needed to grow…not to mention the other spiritual and literal food necessary to raise us. Traditional vacations growing up were few and far between. I believe this is a big reason I value the ability to escape within the design of our homes, and strive to create spaces for people to center their psyche on a daily basis. Still, there is no substitute for getting away. To immerse yourself into another culture, atmosphere or situation that help you discover, or often times rediscover, the parts of yourself that really matter.

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It wasn’t until I married my wife Julie that I really started to explore the world. In her willingness to want to craft a life with me, I found a tremendous sense of redemption both personally and professionally. I still can’t believe she picked me. Baggage and all. That’s just one of the reasons it all works. We’re both unselfishly willing to share the burden of each others luggage. She encouraged me to go into business for myself…and has been with me every step of the way. A “Life less Ordinary” was what we set out to create. Boy have we done that. To this day she’s still my biggest fan…and helps me believe I can accomplish just about anything….provided I’ve thought it all the way through from a shared perspective. Words cannot adequately express the depth of my love and gratitude for her love, friendship, encouragement and support. Somewhere along the way vacations for both of us become so much more than exploration, relaxation or the wildly overused “recharging of the batteries.” No, somewhere along the way, vacations became a chance for spiritual and psychological rebirth. A concept that lands me squarely on the target of today’s blog.

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As I walked the beach with my family on a recent vacation, I noticed some pretty amazing things. I noticed that the nationalities and races represented were too numerous to count. I also noticed that the diversity of the thousands of people on the beach wasn’t a carefully regulated social condition or diversity program. It was merely a product of individuals coexisting in an atmosphere of appreciation, and more importantly respect, for the same things. In this case…some very simple things. Some freedom and peace to enjoy a little sun, fun, family and friendship. Although not a complex landscape, the beach offered so many people so many choices. Some used her beautiful space to play sports, some relaxed, while others seemed engaged in a host of activities that seemed fulfilling, frivolous or a combination of both. Please understand, my life experience has forged in me a realistic disposition, still fueled by a passionate optimism that is reinforced by the best in people. Listen, don’t get me wrong…I’m not trying to foist onto your digital dossier some weak, dream-like, unattainable Utopian scenario. I’m merely saying that when engaged in the appreciation, love and respect for a common cause, experience or goal…that there’s so much more that unites than can ever really divide us. Especially when we are all are playing by the same set of rules. Something that in today’s political landscape is so easily clouded by so many. Our strength as a nation, is directly dependent upon a shared responsibility to keep a firm, respectful and committed grip on that which unites us. But lately…we appear all too focused on the ways we are different…instead of reaffirming so much of what we have in common. The essential things in life. The things that we see very clearly when we’re not distracted. Like maybe when we’re on vacation…or on a beach?

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As I was walking back through the public beach to the place we were staying, I heard what sounded like group of people singing. Through the wind and the waves I heard what sounded like an old spiritual hymn. It was so beautiful. As I curiously bobbed and weaved to peer through the shifting crowd, it was just as I had suspected. I saw a group of worshipers singing, as a man dressed in white was being guided into the Gulf by what appeared to be a Pastor and what I assume was his Witness. I quickly realized this was a Baptism. As a Christian, and feeling an immediate kinship with them, I moved in closer. As I did so, two of the women in the congregation turned toward me, smiled and invited me to stand a bit closer. So I did. I could see tears of celebration in their eyes as the gravity of this moment came over them…which made me tear up as well. In that moment, there was no acknowledgement of race. There was no recognition of gender. There was no division by denomination…there was only respect and tolerance. Or maybe, there was so much more? As the man was immersed in the Gulf, and raised back to his feet, the crowd clapped in recognition of this profound, blessed and public display of love, acceptance, commitment and peace. Something it seems the world could use a little more of these days. And further proof that redemption can be found just about everywhere…if you’re willing to ask for it…and put in the work. So, I’ll say it again; Life may not be a beach…but we all could do worse than to model our daily interaction with each other as though it were. Maybe vacations really are a rebirth. Well, at least for today…it sure did seem that way to me. The older I get, the more amazed I am at the realizations one can have as a result of a good walk on the beach.

Sunset