Creating environments to meet your needs and suit your lifestyle.

Intrigue In The Garden

May, 2002

Source: Pioneer Press

Intrigue In The Garden

Spring is here! Before you put the trowel to the dirt, before you plan to use your usual annuals for those planting beds, consider creating something new, something intriguing in your garden. Here are three ways to create a new bit of interest.

Use the Garden

In your garden consider creating a small seating area with two bistro or cafe chairs and a table.  This can be done just off a walk, or right in a planting bed.  The seating area need take up no more than 4 x 5 feet and can be set in among low plantings to give the area a mature, purposeful look.  Place a small pot of flowers on the table and there is an inviting little vignette in your garden.  If the existing plantings won’t accommodate this, a single well placed chair or bench with a sizable pot for flowering plants beside it would also be a lovely addition.

Other beautiful focal points for you garden can be created with an antique urn, a birdbath or a small fountain.  These can be easily nestled between taller flora and lower plants so that the view is yours to see from the window of your choice or your favorite outdoor seat.

Use A Wall

If there is a wall adjacent to your yard or garden like a wall of your house or garage, use it to your advantage.  The options for a trellis are numerous and the styles range from Victorian to Arts & Crafts and Contemporary to Antique.  A trellis itself can be so pretty that whether you can actually get a vine to grow on it is almost irrelevant.  If the trellis idea is intimidating, there are a number of other options.  Iron or steel stands provide height like a trellis but have holders for several small to medium size potted plants.  Balustrade planters hang from a wall and will accommodate several potted flowers on a shelf or two, or there are many interesting wall hangers for hanging baskets to choose from, each of which would be a nice surprise each time you came upon it.

Use a Window

Is there anything more charming than a window box of cascading blossoms to greet the garden viewer?  The brackets and the box itself are important to get right.  Take your time selecting the brackets for the window box, the style, the material and, above all, the strength.  Window boxes themselves come in a huge variety: ceramic, clay, copper, wood and plastic.  Select a material that is appropriate for your home and will charm you all summer long.


If you want to get the selection process out of the way quickly, look through mail order catalogues such as Gardeners Eden and Smith & Hawkin.  These catalogues have an abundance of beautiful, decorative garden products.  Hunting for just the right piece can be a great deal of fun. Look for an architectural salvage dealer in your area or look at the quaint garden shop you’ve noticed but had no excuse to visit.

When you’ve finished, you will have added a bit of intrigue to your garden and enhanced the beauty of your home.  Then sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy the view!

Get a Handle on It!

May, 2002

Source: Pioneer Press

Get a Handle on It! 

Give your cabinets, doors and even windows, a completely different look with a hardware change.

Time Period Details

Not so long ago the perfect hardware choice was nearly impossible to find.  Bin pulls used to be novel, cabinet latches difficult to find, and glass knobs available only at high prices.  In the past few years, however, the demands for well designed hardware and hardware reproductions are finally being met.  Even more unusual items such as an early 1900’s pull-chain activated doorbell are readily available by catalog.  Handsome hinges for inset cabinet doors as well as beautiful knobs, whether simple or more complex, are now easy to find and in a variety of beautiful finishes.

Changing the stock hardware on cabinets to a style and finish of your own choosing, can make a big impact in the overall look of a particular space.  If you have cabinets that are meant to reflect a distinct time period or architectural style, then the hardware should follow suit.  If the cabinets aren’t a distinct style, the hardware you choose can make the statement instead.

Don’t stop at the cabinet hardware.  There are other places to consider an easy change.  Push plates for swinging doors can be very interesting, whether they are a simple metal finish or have an intricate pattern (which also helps hide the handprints).  Similarly, well-chosen door pulls for pocket doors can add interest.

Double-hung window handles, as well as casement window latches can be changed to be consistent with the finish, and to some extent the style of other hardware in a room.  Some of the old window handles for double-hung windows had striking design details. If you have older windows, chances are that the existing handles or latches have a nice shape and weight. Have them cleaned or refinished and you’ll be amazed at what a nice detail they provide.

Door hardware is an important detail.  The weight of the hardware, more than the finish or the shape, is critical.  Whatever you choose, the style of the hardware on the interior doors in the house should be consistent.  This endeavor is not inexpensive so take a deep breath and before taking the plunge, consult your designer or architect to make sure the design and quality of your selection is the right one for you.

Art Effect

Where there is a cabinet there is opportunity.  Existing cabinets that function well but are plain, create a great opportunity for self-expression.  For instance, if you have cabinets without much detail and with no exposed hardware, you can add knobs with a hand-made sculptural quality to express your artistic side.  Adding a long contemporary handle in a sleek metal finish to a simple cabinet also makes a nice statement. This is like adding art to your home.

For the Fun of It

To add a sense of playfulness, consider a pull made from stone or sea glass, or a bar of tile mosaics in beautiful dreamy colors.  Hand painted knobs that look like one-of-a-kind can be really fun when added to a dresser in a child’s room.  If you like the shabby chic look, consider adding a bar of hooks created with vintage hardware to your back entryway, mud-room or a bathroom to hang extra towels on.


One of the best, most comprehensive sources for time period hardware is the Crown City Hardware catalog.  Information for ordering this catalog is available from the back of home décor magazines such as Old House Interiors.  Though you will get your catalog rather quickly, the products come by pony express, so be patient.  Also, Liz’s Antique Hardware is very well know and carries more than antique hardware.  Visit the website for some idea of the range of styles available.  For refinishing existing hardware, Al Bar in Wilmette and The Bellows Shoppe in Winnetka are good resources.

Chicago Brass in Highland Park is a good source for hardware with a large variety to choose from.  Also, Anthropologie always has an interesting and eclectic selection of hardware.

Make A Splash In Your Kitchen

March, 2002

Source: Pioneer Press

Make A Splash In Your Kitchen

Three creative and durable back splash ideas to liven up your kitchen

Your house is new or the kitchen newly done so that changing any major appliances or cabinetry is out of the question.  Yet, something is missing; it has no life or, at least nothing that reflects your sense of it.  You have several possibilities for big impact without a huge outlay of funds.

The countertop and back splash are two big impact areas.  If changing your countertops is a viable option for you, think about it. If, however, the countertop is set in stone (or just feels that way) then consider just replacing or adding a full height back splash.  Tile wears well, cleans easily and can be as subtle or as vivacious as you would like.  The nice thing about this isolated project is that the space is probably not large, say 36 to 46 square feet, so whatever tile you choose may be affordable.  Definitely consider doing something special behind the cook top or range.  This could be as simple as defining a rectangular area with a small bar liner of tile and inside this area turn the tile at an angle or add painted tiles or different color tiles in this area.  (To make the most of your tile selection, consult your architect or designer for assistance with the tile layout.)

If you have the opportunity, consider having your handyman or contractor cut into the wall to create a narrow shelf behind the cook top. Line this space with tile and your favorite cooking oils and spices will always be at the ready.  Hispanic Desinge on Cicero has beautiful, chunky handmade tiles at reasonable prices. Titehof Tile in Highland Park is also great resource.  Ann Sacks and Waterworks are both worth a visit, even if you are just looking for ideas.

If your kitchen has somewhat distinct work areas, consider using a combination of materials.  For instance, use the same material as the countertop for the back splash area behind the kitchen sink, then use a painted bead board everywhere else except behind the cook top or range and there use a tile that compliments the countertop.

An inexpensive alternative to tile is a painted faux finish that is decorative yet hides a lot of wear and tear.  You can do this yourself, if you are so inclined.  This solution requires the application of paint tape in a grid to create 4” or 6” squares.  The tape is available at most paint stores and comes in different widths.  Use the narrower tape to create a successful faux tile look.  Once the tape is up in a grid pattern, apply the paint in the faux finish you have chosen (ragging, sponging or marbling).  If you want, go one step further by painting a mural over top of the subtle faux finish in the area behind the cook top where it will be easily seen.  Once the paint is completely dry, remove the tape and you have created your very own personalized back splash that perfectly coordinates with the countertop, cabinets and wall paint!  Best of all, you can change it in a few years without having made a huge investment.