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!

 

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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.

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5 Life Lessons Reinforced by Merely Watering the Garden.

These days I’m seeing connections and relationships in just about everything…as well as developing analogies and refining metaphors to help explain my thinking. A bit like the movie character Neo seeing the code of the Matrix for the first time. That heightened sense of situational awareness I’ve described many times as both important…and highly undervalued.

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I think it just may be the key to living a more complete human experience…especially when you realize how often you’re actually the one to blame when your senses go numb. Creatively, I use many activities to stay what I call “emotionally and intellectually alive.” Music, art, politics, exercise, religion just to name a few. Travel is another. However lately, one seemingly ordinary daily activity appears to be reinforcing some essential life lessons without much effort at all.

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Every morning, or at least most mornings and the occasional evening, this ritual helps set or reset the timing of my molecular clock. It awakens and calibrates my senses in such a clear, subtle and elemental way. More proof that the human race is hopelessly predisposed to over complicating just about everything…and further evidence that there are valuable lessens in even the smallest of experiences, interactions and activities. Even while watering the garden.

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  • Consistency in effort is an essential element of care.

Merely possessing empathy for a situation or person isn’t really enough. The fact that you have the reflex to care (and still not act) doesn’t work in the garden…or with relationships for that matter. At some point, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and even get a little wet to make a real difference. And if you’re only going to care some of the time…don’t be surprised if something grows in the wrong direction, is somewhat stunted, or even dies all together.

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  • Most of the time, the right plant in the wrong setting will not be successful.

In nature, adaptability is often seen as a positive attribute. But what if something adapts to an unhealthy environment? Some things adapt to environments insufficient for sustainable growth. Thus, they are forced to limit how often they flower, and how well they grow in order to conserve the vital resources needed to survive. How often do we all do something similar? The trick is knowing when something is out of place, committing to the often evasive nature of a transplant…and having the patience to understand that it might take a little time and additional care, to reestablish something in a healthier situation.

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  • Over watering can lead to rot.

Plants like people can drown. Suffocation by over watering can limit the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the roots that feed the plant. How often do we try to solve problems, thinking we’re being helpful by throwing the same, simplistic solution at a problem? When maybe the better approach should have been to put in the effort to find more creative ways of fostering true growth…and full bloom. More proof that creativity is not always defined in an artistic sense…but in ones ability to develop multiple ways of solving a problem.

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  • Sometimes you have to carry the water.

If the resources for sufficient growth aren’t easy to access…you have to put in the work to find them, and bring them where they’re needed. In order to beautify parts of my yard, I have to fill two watering cans as there isn’t a hose nearby. It’s inconvenient, but worth the trip. Sound simple? Not so fast…if we’re going to be species that truly values and promotes love, tolerance and growth in each other I ask you this question: How willing are we to find ways to bring the necessary resources to places and relationships where care may be needed most? Real care is grounded in selfless service.

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  • Embrace the surprises that come with organic growth…but remember that weeds can grow faster than flowers.

Our obsession for controlled outcomes in the garden of life has gone to the extreme. So much so that so many things appear staged, forced and contrived. The concept of the English Garden has always appealed to me. Like life itself…it’s organized chaos. However, the less glamorous side of gardening is keeping the weeds and other negative influences at bay. It’s not nearly as sexy as tending to the growth of beautifully flowering plant…but it’s just as important. The same is true in life. The negative influences in your life are very similar to weeds in a garden. If gone unchecked, and allowed to fester, will inevitably overshadow and get in the way of all that is beautiful. Sometimes so much so, that the beautiful things in our lives just find other places to grow.

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Simple thinking? Maybe so. However, I am sure of two things. First, that most things in life and in the garden, in order to grow are in need of constant care. Nothing is automatic, and if it is…practice healthy skepticism. And second, that there’s a name for the sense of clarity, poise and beauty one finds in the midst of difficult and vulnerable situations… it’s called grace. And without fail I find her every morning…as I water the garden.

In memory of Nancy S., Ken J., Grace W. & Randy R.
All of whom made whatever garden they were in…that much more special.

 

Thoughts from Albert Einstein…on Design?

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All too often we’re drawn to the same people and resources for design inspiration. The same taste-makers, style gurus and lifestyle experts that really have nothing new to offer…yet are promoted as having the answers aimed at solving your particular design dilemma. But do they? Really? As today’s popular pundits advise you to keep pounding and purchasing on the trend treadmill…might I suggest we look beyond the usual suspects for some creative guidance. I love to study the artistic radicals…the creative pioneers…and the inventors. Individuals whose original thinking spawned generations of copy-cats, wannabees…and occasionally a true disciple of discovery. I have always been fascinated with how they worked, solved problems and saw the world.

It has been my belief for some time, that interior design is inherently more of an inventive process, than one of pure style selection. A personal journey of discovery that requires equal time be diligently dedicated to the discussion of the nut & bolts that hold your life and a room together…as well as a celebration of beauty as defined by the individual. A thoughtful exercise rooted in functional and clever design, layered with innovative decoration that produces spaces of substance and style. And who better to provide us with advice on invention and original thought than one of history’s greatest minds…Albert Einstein. What? Not the design guru on the top of your list…well…maybe he should be.

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While researching the origins of personal creativity in both life and design for my radio show, I stumble upon ten life lessons from Mr. Einstein that made the design light bulb over my head almost explode. So profound were these lessons that I couldn’t help but share them with you, and offer my thoughts on how they can help you build more inventive interiors. So without further introduction are Mr. Einstein’s Ten Lessons on Life…with a bit of a twist from The Design Coach.

  • Follow your curiosity– First lesson here is ALWAYS stay curious. It’s how we keep growing, exploring and refining our interiors. Without curiosity, we stop the process of discovery and asking the important questions that keep our interiors fresh and a current reflection of who we are. Without curiosity we get stale and our rooms get stuck.
  • Perseverance is priceless-Although the assembly of the unique creative mosaic that is your interior is very much a journey…it’s important for you to remember to keep moving to improve your interiors. Even if you’re not moving quickly. The final vision for your space will evolve, change and be delayed…so be patient, be planned and be true to self…NOT a style. Take that path, and your unique style will naturally emerge.

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  • Focus on the present.- All too often we focus on the things we do not have instead of making progress on our interiors where we can. In today’s makeover happy media landscape, we feel that if we can’t do it all…then it’s not at all worth doing. Nothing could be further from truth. Focus on the functional and cosmetic improvements you can make today. But be sure to start in the right order…functional design before the cosmetic carnival of decoration…and make the most of the design in your day.

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  • The imagination is powerful. –Your ability to use imagination in the design and decoration of your interior is what gives your home its original signature. It’s the critical ingredient that makes it personal…so don’t bail on crafting a more creative interior. Take some risk! Stretch your thinking, and reach for ideas and resources beyond the page of a catalog, the digital idea book or your favorite “reality” TV show. Make it strange, make it crazy, make it work…but most of all make it yours.

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  • Make mistakes.- This is an easy one right? Throughout our design journey, our bad design decisions pile up like a collection of lost socks in a laundry basket, or clothes in the closet. The key take away here from Mr. Einstein is to not FEAR the mistake, because they’re going to happen. They are an important part of the creative process. More importantly, be mindful that most of the mistakes in decoration can be overcome…or even returned. Not as forgiving are mistakes we make with the function involved in our design. So, never forget that even a little planning…goes a long way.
  • Live in the moment. – Your interiors are only as beautiful as their ability to help you function and enjoy your home. Style is subjective…it always will be…so be skeptical of trends. Strive to create personal interiors that help facilitate the best memories and moments possible…and remember the best interiors allow you to surround yourself with the passions and the people that make life worth living.

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  • Create value. – The best interiors are built with a sense of passion and purpose. Here’s a thought: The quality of your interior is directly affected by your approach to buying, the same way the quality of your health is affected by your diet. Stress quality over quantity. I don’t care if it’s on sale if it’s not right. If it’s an accessory or a piece of art…it should mean something to you. Never settle for place holders or costume-jewelry design.
  • Don’t be repetitive. – Variation IS the natural order. Routine can be such a positive thing, but not if it keeps your interiors from growing and evolving with your lifestyle. This is why I cannot stand design style definitions like Traditional, Eclectic, or even worse, the gutless term Transitional? Who in their right mind would want to be that?! All of your rooms do not need to have the same look and feel, provided each one is in some way an authentic reflection of you.
  • Knowledge comes from experience. – There is no substitute for experience, and knowledge, if applied correctly, sharpens and quickens your creative intuition. But you have to work at it. Train yourself by actively searching and cultivating the nourishing experiences that lead to better interiors. And just for the record, this does not happen at the furniture store…and the best things in life happen off of a digital screen. Spend more time engaged in the greatest creative experiment of all…your life.

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  • Learn the rules and then play better. – The rules of design as it relates to the “Big 6” must be respected: Function, scale, composition, color, pattern and texture. Try to really understand and study their relationships in terms of your appreciation for a finished and complete interior. Then…get in the game and start solving the puzzle! Design, decorate and don’t ever stop. The more you do, the more you’ll strengthen your creative confidence.

Well there you have it…thanks to one of my new creative coaches Albert Einstein. Some sound advice on life and design inspired by one of the world’s most brilliant minds. Known for his eccentric hair style, and not as well known for the fact that he didn’t like to wear socks. I guess you could say from head to toe…like the best interiors and people…he was a brilliant mix of both substance and personal style.

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“Life is like riding a bike. To keep your balance…you need to keep moving.”

-Albert Einstein

Coaching HGTV…

Today on the radio program I was able to articulate something I’ve been sensing for some time; Is HGTV and other design programming becoming all too formulaic? And has the real message of why and how we design to improve our lives been lost in a consumer carnival of false reinvention, reruns and redundant creative outcomes? Despite the ratings…have we grown a bit tired of the same old design shows?

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To explore this question I recently sat down with my team to take a straw poll of sorts. My team is comprised of people who think differently from one another on many subjects. Diverse in both age and economics…they always surprise and challenge me with new perspectives. Admittedly, the sample size is ridiculously small I know, but still…I wonder if the rest of you may be feeling the same way? So, this week I solicited their opinion for this blog and my radio show. All I can say is that I was both amazed and intrigued by the discussion. Having appeared on one of those shows the feedback has been very interesting. Although people loved the episode…a resounding number of them wanted more content. Hmmm.

A quick story. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Candice Olsen, and hear her thoughts on her design approach and television experiences. One thing from that encounter has really stuck with me. I remember her saying that when she was approached to do a design show, one of her fears was that the entertainment content would in some way trump or clown the authentic process of design. The real work. In other words, she was concerned that a television show, would not allow her to demonstrate what she really goes through to build amazing and personal spaces for her clients. And honestly, to her credit…her shows have always tried to show how design solves real lifestyle problems wrapped with great style. I respect her for not only saying that…but having the guts to share that with us. Which brings me right to the point. Where’s the CONTENT? All I can say is that from my creative seat here at The Design Coach, the process of design and decision-making is dramatic, exciting and informative enough, that it does not fit into a formula! And you know what…that’s what we all LOVE about art and design. It’s never the same! And every client, situation and project is different. Showcase that wonderful world, with the right content and the right “guide” and some production company will be filling a void that clearly exists in original AND informative design programming. But only if…they’re courageous enough to break from monotonous, matrix of current design television construct.

So folks, the radio show from this morning will be loaded onto my site www.thedesigncoach.com on Tuesday. I encourage you to listen and react. I think it’s time we had this conversation. That being said, for what it’s worth…here are six ways HGTV and other design shows could improve the content of their programming NOW! Listen, I too love what HGTV and other design programming has meant to me personally, and the awareness of design as a whole…but beyond the personalities and the promotions…should be a purpose!

Here goes…

  • Show more of the how the designer & the client arrived at the actual decision. Why did they rule out certain options? The editing process is the most difficult and interesting part of my job. Not only is it preloaded with dramatic discussions regarding budget, taste and function…but the personal opinions, quirks and requests are entertaining. In the end, people know that design is both a human and a creative exercise…and they want to see their struggles reflected in the programming. So…don’t edit the editing! The journey of design is as important as the destination.
  • There are way too many couples with no kids featured on these shows! We need some balance. News flash from flyover country…we breed. Shocking I know. There is nothing more fun, entertaining or again…dramatic…than trying to design for families. Their lives are hectic, complex and evolving…and we’re all just trying to make it work! And, don’t just show us the hosts families! Show us everyday families trying to find common ground with each other on the design of their homes and their lifestyles!

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  • More conversations with the contractors, design talent and clients to show actual problem-solving. The contractors and the artisans are the creative SUPERHEROES who really make design happen. Showcase them! And I don’t mean contractors turned show hosts! People who are actively practicing their trade NOW! One of the biggest deficits I see is how homeowners communicate, or don’t communicate effectively with their contractors. What a huge opportunity to demonstrate the best and worst ways to get the job done.

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  • Show us how to make it personal…not just beautiful. How many times can we keep seeing the same design solutions with a different host or client? Can’t we do better? One of the best things about this business is that EVERY client is different, and the world of design is too diverse for the same solutions to appear in multiple shows. Take us to the finish line…and show us how to complete a room, not just build great spaces. And if you’re in need to new ideas…we know an army of creatives that will light your audiences hair on fire!
  • Celebrate the best design vendors and manufacturers in our business! I am so privileged to work with some of the most amazing resources and people on the planet. Why are those artisans and influencers who really drive the design landscape, so difficult to find in today’s popular programing? How fun it is to be able to explore the constant creativity of our industry from the comfort of your home? Moving on…
  • Less formulas. We’re on to you. And if you want to keep us…a combination content and charisma will keep us coming back. Caricature is fun…but thin, and not very fulfilling. You only have ½ the equation. It’s time we all recognize that there’s a difference between candy and real desert.

Next, seven shows HGTV or another network should contract to produce NOW! Ok, these are working titles…and I’m not saying they’re perfect…and I would love to hear your thoughts on what you’d like to see!

Here’s mine…

  • He said, SHE shed: Husband vs. Wife design a She-Shed and a Man Cave for each other. Each work with a designer and contracting team to build these spaces. How well do they know each other? How will they turn out? What special touches can they include that make it a true labor of love. Or, where did it go horribly wrong? I could go on forever.
  • Design Deconstruct: Show us the amazing reveal at the beginning of the show!!! Then, show us how you got there! I just had a women today say one of her take-aways from my radio show this morning was that the networks rarely show HOW the client arrived that design decision. This IS what it’s all about. Design junkies and casual enthusiasts alike LOVE shows that inform and entertain.
  • Accessories in Action: So many people cannot afford to remodel, but still want to refresh their interiors. Mixing your new and old accessories creatively is a huge challenge for so many! Can’t you show us how to do that?! At The Design Coach we do it everyday! Take us shopping with you and show us how buy and place the elements that make your house a home! And not just those you find at a fly market, fix and flip.
  • What am I going to do with that?!!: Inherited pieces the design team can reinvent and repurpose into a client’s existing or new design. This happens to us ALL the time. Even Candice Olsen has to work around recliners the husbands insist on keeping. SO DO WE!!! From taxidermy to beer can collections…show us how to stylishly and creatively use the unwanted, the uncommon, and under-appreciated. Real design is more of a quilt than new bedspread…show us how to stitch it together.
  • Field Tripping: Take us on field/road trips and showcase and interview the people, manufacturers and industry influencers who are changing and defining today’s design! Seriously, this is a no brainer. Who doesn’t like a road trip?!
  • You’ve got to be kidding me?: Have kids draw on paper their dream room…and have the best design talent and/or celebrity designers pull it off on a budget! Have the kids help, there’s a million philanthropic angles here, and nothing more entertaining than dreaming with kids.
  • The Fantastic 5: The budget is 5K. That’s it!! Not everyone can afford to remodel and real design is about prioritizing and getting the most out of the money you spend. It’s not about how much you spend, but where you spend it! Show me, teach me…don’t just “makeover me happy.” That’s not a thing. But it sounded good.

I could go on all day. And you know what, when I come up with a few more…I’ll just keep throwing them out there. Messages in a digital bottle. Fifteen plus years as an artist, contractor, retailer and design professional have taught me many things. None more true, or important, than maybe the real mission of my business, is to not only inspire my clients to create personal and meaningful interiors…but to coach the industry, and those who influence it, from my perspective in the trenches of design. Please join the discussion, we love HGTV and design programming so much…but we need to talk.

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