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Lineoleum & Vinyl: Cool, Green, & Updated for those on a budget

I’ve already decided: my next floors will be linoleum and I don’t care what anyone thinks. I like linoleum. And I like new vinyl wood floors. They have come a long way.  Linoleum is a green product, great for people with allergies and pets..and its very easy to care for. It also doesn’t cause leg fatigue like ceramic.

Do I think its for all homes?  Absolutely Not. Its not for a penthouse or a high-end home. I see it for a smaller cottage like homes or bungalows. You have to use it carefully especially with furniture and design. Everything around it has to stay within price perspective.

I like the thought of linoleum with a mix of white oak floors about the house, but I’ve always wanted an interesting floor in my kitchen without spending crazy money and this is the way to achieve that. I can see a checker board floor but not in black in white…in my next kitchen. The colors these days are wide and current, and you have a lot of choice in the design because they have more rectangular sizes and varied square sizes.  Now they even have crocodile embossed vinyl as well .    Which is gorgeous but not as cheap as a simple colored marmoleum linoleum. Also if you grow out of these and want to upgrade, its very easy to put wood right over these floors.

Vinyl Wood floors have come a very long way…look amazing, and are totally appropriate for those who have kids and dogs…..its soft on the legs and feet and just needs a special soap for the vinyl and water on occasion. I have seen it used in home gyms , kitchens,  and throughout the house of a MODERATE priced home.

Sheila at International Floor Coverings in Chicago (847) 943-2016 has the nicest  Vinyl Wood flooring samples to choose from. I’m not so sure if she has a lot of Marmoleum. Her typical client doesn’t request this but she could easily get samples if you need them.


Fantastic New Diet Cookbook

I’m not a practiced dieter. My Mother was on a constant diet, and aunts and other members of the family. But I just assumed I would never have to worry about this area because I was always  skinny. Watching others diet  seemed like a constant roller coaster of planning and work.

Since I  love cooking, and starving is not negotiable, I have turned to Cooking Light Magazine, who has the best tested recipes. But little overall information on dieting in general. I also found NOW EAT THIS DIET, endorsed by Dr. Oz and a very thorough, colorful, organized DIET book to help all dieters and newcomers to eating light,  finally get it straight.

What’s great about this Now Eat This Diet, is the order of the book. Whoever compiled the book is a great project manager….it’s extremely  thorough & educational. The recipes are full of taste without the fat and sugar. And the book gives you a concrete idea of what you should be eating outside of the book. What a typical 1200 a day calorie diet looks like vs a 1400 calorie a day to maintain a weight.

I hope Rocco Dispirito comes out with a second version that is full of more recipes. I’ve tried several and they have all been fantastic.

Favorite Fabrics from Robert Allen

Robert Allan just came out with a new line of fabrics you may like:  Here is the You Tube video describing the line:

Modern Library — I like it…its modern with organic patterns.

Here are my favorite fabrics from the new line.

Diamond Braid

Dragon Lizard


Inner Eye

Twist Around


Zebra Lines

Center Square

Here is the other line called DWELLSTUDIO ECLECTIC MODERN:

Dotted Trellis: Charcoal


Maze Work

Mini ZigZag

Plush Dotscape

Pyramid – Love this one.

Snake Chain

Tonal tweed

French Cooking 101

I highly recommend to people to adventure often out of your comfort zone and take classes in instruction of any sort.

Last week, I decided to take a class on culinary essentials at the last minute. During class, we descaled, butchered and roasted and learned good tips and better timing skills.

Here are a few of the recipes we cooked on our own:

Poached Eggs
Egg’s Benedict
Salad Nicoise
Pommes Puree
Hollandise Sauce
Several Different Frittata’s
Cream Puff Dough-so easy!
Hors D’ Oeuvres & Canapes
Cream of Cauliflower Soup: Delicious!
Roasted Chicken, Grandmother Style
Creme Caramel Custard
Blood Orange Frozen Fruit Souffle
Striped Bass Over French Lentils: Delicious!
Roasted Rack of Lamb with couscous and roasted veggies
Potato Au Gratin: made for us since time was short
Artichoke Heart, Fennel, Watercress Salad w/ Grapefruit Citronette & toasted walnuts

Debra's Leg of Lamb

Frozen Blood Orange Souffle

Bread at Dean & Deluca

Striped Bass over French lentils

Other recipes were demonstrated due to running out of time. I also got a quality chef’s outfit and amazing kitchen tools so I was able to throw out all my cheap knives
which I always made fun of.

The best thing about taking these classes is that it’s a fun adventure (though somewhat exhausting) and you get to meet lots of new people that you have something in common. We all bonded over this fast-paced, intense cooking class and now we are all keeping in touch via e-mail chatting about cooking apps, recipes, work, and life.

Road Trips & Wine Classes in Denver

Colorado Ranch Country

Ranch Country, Colorado above, Dad with a Cabernet in Mexico 2004

I recently drove to Denver Colorado  to take a 2 day course in Wine at The International Wine Guild over a weekend. .

So, I meet many clients who want a wine cellar or have one and so its an intelligent choice to know the basics of wine and pairing and learning the history is totally fun. The International Wine Guild is top five of wine schools according to both Food &  Wine and the New York Times, as being in the top 5 of all wine schools.  It was basic boot camp for those wanting a real world education about wine, presented without pretention.

In the first part of the class, you learn all about chemistry, different grapes, serving temperature, fermentation, US wine labeling vs European labeling,  basic wine making for whites and reds. Along the way you learn so much about wine making and its fascinating history which dates back all the way back to 5B.C. The second day, which was fun,  is all about tasting wines with foods…throughout the entire Level One Certification weekend you taste about 43 top wines. You try so much that it does become a bit of a blur.

Even though you take tiny sips…you are taking a tiny sip about 100x before finishing your food pairings. So make sure you don’t drive home from the second day of class .

Here are good points to remember from Level One Certification:

  • To Wine Experts, wine is considered a sauce, to be paired always with food and to complement, not to overpower the food.  Or have the food over power the wine.
  • The Grandfather of the California wine industry is Robert Mondavi, who started his winery in Napa in the 60’s. He fell in love with the European wine culture while serving as a  2nd lieutenant in WW2 -what a patriot- and wanted to bring that wine culture back to the United States
  • Wine is paired to food, not food to wine
  • You must have a broad understanding of wine to be able to pair wine to food
  • You must have an equally broad understanding of food, its sauces, cooking techniques to choose the right wine
  • Wine is an in-mouth experience. Neither the color or smell of the wine or food are critical for pairing
  • The major part of the dish establishes the pairing
  • The texture of the food has to match the body of the wine
  • The flavor intensity has to match the intensity of the wine: example, if you are having a sweet dessert, you will need a sweeter wine or for contrast, which many like, you can have coffee. for something like pecan pie, you cant get a wine sweet enough. That is why coffee is so popular with desserts….many people like the taste of contrast
  • Only drink a smokey wine with smoked meats
  • Light foods, light wine
  • Heavy foods, heavier wine
  • Sushi is high acidity as all fish are, so have a light bodied wine which tend to be more acidic
  • Muscadet is a great wine with seafood
  • When eating meats that tend to dry out, (thanksgiving turkey) serve a wine, that will make you salivate rather than something tannic which makes your tongue feel  a little sand paperish. This way it will compliment the turkey and makes it seem more moist-even when its not.
  • If having to wait at the bar before being seated for dinner have the bartender serve you a light acidic wine that will keep your palette neutral….not something heavily tannic like a merlot or a cab which can ruin your meal
  • Also hard liquor is said to kill your palette for wine before a meal for about 45 minutes… I’m undecided on this opinion….I’m going to have to test it out next time I’m dining out

I highly recommend to all of those wanting a genuine excellent education on wine.

Chicago Townhouses: Renovation & Interior Design

Here are a few things to consider if you have a townhouse and are looking to upgrade it from builders specifications–to put elegance, and complete livability into the unit.

1. Closed off Kitchens are a major turnoff to buyers these days.  Townhouse kitchens are typically a room closed off in the back. Clients don’t like this and these townhouses don’t sell as well as in townhouses that have open floor plans. When you renovate your house, you have to seriously consider this because you will not sell as easily as someone who invested to open up the kitchen so that its more central to the rest of the home. However if you cannot open up the walls due to structural challenges, than try to make the kitchen feel open and airy, and have a large back window put in to bring in plenty of light and to make the space feel less constricted. Create symmetry so the space feels clean and light.

2.  Skylights above the stairs and sun tunnels in upstairs bathrooms are a great addition: A more expensive brand but the most reputable product. You don’t want to skimp on skylights because if you do, they will have more condensation problems.

3. Soundproof if you have noise issues between townhouse units with better insulation than you developer installed: Roxul batting insulation or Quiet rock.

4. Stairs are a large central part of townhomes.  But they are often cheaply put together by the builders. You can add a ton of character to your town home by upgrading your stairwell.

5. Townhouses need character.  Try to determine how you can add quality character to the home on your budget and also make a consistent statement throughout with wood floors, millwork, custom trim, non builders grade fireplaces mantles,  interesting kitchens with non builder’s grade looking details, putting up grasscloth in a room that feels like a drywall box. This is what sets your place apart in this difficult real estate market.

6.  A/V and all low voltage wiring should happen in the renovation stage during framing. Make sure you have a plan and furniture layout prior to planning for media/av wiring so you know where speakers will need to go. I like the hidden invisible speakers best but if the budget calls for ceiling speakers– then this is fine too. Placement is key . You need a space plan first and all your millwork worked out. Speakers do not look good sitting on bookshelves. Its better to put them in the ceiling. I even have a client who put his woofer in a wall because there was no good way to have this in his millwork-and it looks so much nicer being in the wall because woofers are  not a focal point.

7. Storage & Attention to Doors: Its nice to find more storage in a townhouse.  You can make a home feel more open and airy by using pocket doors. Also definitely use closet organizers,  putting in more shallow storage in the front of the garage or on the sides if possible, potentially fitting a closet underneath the stairs in the basement, storage under beds, and purging old stuff you don’t need and haven’t used lately is a key discipline.

Pocket doors in tighter, smaller rooms are so useful and worth the extra dollars. Also your doors have to go with the overall feel of your home so don’t do arched doors when you have no arches to tie into the rest of the house. If you are doing minimalist than perhaps you need beautiful wood doors to balance white walls everywhere?  Doors are part of the architecture of the house so its a detail that matters.

8. Lighting plans:  A well designed lighting design plan will light your space plan properly,  so finishes look luxe, even if they are not expensive. Remember, lighting plans are not a perfect grid on the ceiling……that look like a space ship taking off when on at night. Can lighting doesn’t have to line up. They are up there specifically to light specific areas of the space plan–highlight and low light specific areas and light the floor plans for specific activities in each room.

9. Window Treatments: Yet another way to definitely add character and layers. Townhouses need window treatments and drapery which control the amount of light and privacy. Even if the house is  modern.

10. Always have a set of your original plans from the city (and hire someone to get them for you if you don’t have the time) before you start planning with your designer or architect. Make sure that you have the proper loads and supports if you are adding more cabinetry, and heavier items to the general construction of the townhouse. Make sure you pull a permit in order to do the construction so that your builder will be accountable not only to you but to city code. This is very important.

Part 2: Smart planning for custom homes and large renovation projects

Candice Mathers of CMR INTERIORS, LLC.

1. Don’t rush into the process without a plan!   If you have NO plan, then definitely hire a designer to help you wing all details that will be demanded from your contractors daily.

However if you want to custom build, and have the luxury of time, pass a plan around for a year before breaking ground letting many eyes critique and make suggestions. Search & bid out all your dream finishes, sinks, fixtures, and price it all for all baths and kitchen details so you can make sure you are within budget.

2. Remember this: Perimeter comes first,  then the interior design. Perimeter is your envelope which are the main characters in your “story”.

Example:  doors, trim, kitchen cabinetry, its layout and feature, baths, stair design, floor choices, hardware and knobs, any moving or extra  window or sunlights, millwork that is built in, A/V and low voltage wiring, etc–all and should flow and work together in harmony for a consistent statement. Then be prepared to spend an extra 75$-100 a square foot typically for interior design once the perimeter is finished.

3. Always have extra funds, because you ALWAYS spend more upgrading, especially when working with a spec builder on a custom home. Have a fairly large contingency budget for any extra unexpected costs that come up with renovating, or upgrades of at least 50-150K–for larger homes. For smaller homes, 30-70K. The truth is when you build custom, most contractors price their goods based on cheap materials from the local depot and if you don’t want those items you are going to pay for a change order. And if you don’t plan well and dislike all of the builder’s choices —all those change orders per room will easily add up to be thousands and thousands of dollars.  It’s common because the client doesn’t like what is normal and wants something they see in all the design magazines.  Those items are far more expensive than standard spec house goods from the local depot. Furthermore,  there are price increases on nearly every product every year at the Merchandise Mart showrooms, for carpeting companies, for kitchen and bath cabinetry and plumbing fixtures, and other high end showrooms many other companies.

4.  Hire a designer with project management experience,  before hiring the contractor. Why?   Because your contractor will need a specific and detailed set of plans to bid the job correctly and so will subcontractors if you want to do contracting on your own!

5. Good Designers have quality subs and contractors. The client doesn’t have to take their suggestions but things tend to run more smoothly when true professionals work together. These large projects require major coordination, and effective communication for a fantastic result.

6. Less Space is MORE. More character or architecture vs vast dry wall and extra rooms that are costly to decorate is always my advice. When you custom build you pay more than your neighbor who simply took and ugly house and made it look better in taxes. Many people don’t realize they pay a premium in taxes for insisting on having a new house. New homes are taxed at a higher rate and property taxes are ridiculous in the suburbs and city of Chicago. They certainly never go down.  

All these factors should be weighed when building. I say renovate over building custom and build smaller. These ridiculously sized homes are over with. They are super high in utilities, property taxes, and design costs. It’s better to have a smarter layout, then a larger one. If you must build your dream home, ask yourself if you really need a living room and formal dining room? Why not just have the house be more kitchen centric, with a large kitchen, eating area and huge family room, and skip the formal dining room and living rooms that rarely are used anyway. This is the new trend in home building. Have a large unfinished basement when you finish that is not taxed,  and work with an architect to get something a little smaller, cozier, but with all the storage you could ever need.

7. Bidding: It’s not who is the cheapest of the 3 bids. Learn the right way to work with contractors:  “How to hire, manage and fire your contractor” by Carmen Amabile . It will give you more confidence to deal with your builder and make sure you hire the right one too. Very  important.

8. Make sure you are clear on your builders/contractors policies on change orders, how emergencies will be handled, who the emergency contact is, have all phone numbers, and have a clear understanding of who will be on the job site daily, who is responsible on their part, and understand the chain of command on the job site. Again, READ the book listed above please. You will find it very helpful.

9. Don’t buy the lot until you know you can secure the financing. In this new market, its not so easy to secure financing for building. Make sure you do this in the right order. Don’t take financing for granted anymore.

10. Dream big for your custom home or renovation but also be smart about it. It takes diligence on your part to do all the legwork in order to do it right. Your designer/architect/contractor are all separate pieces of the pie,  and can work together,  but they still need accurate budgets, definite plans,  so be focused like a laser –and get your end of the work done upfront– so you know what to delegate to others so that they can be a successful partner for you.

Holiday Event Planning Tips

Whether you’re planning to hold an intimate dinner in your chic loft for a handful or your closest friends or a massive soiree in your more traditional, polished manor, holiday entertaining can present more than a few complications if the proper preparative precautions aren’t taken.

Design by CMR Interiors + Photo Credit: Jorge Simes

Photo Credit: Canadian House & Home
Photo Credit: Canadian House & Home

Take a look below at a few of our holiday planning tips to ensure your event going off without a hitch.

  • Keep it personal and avoid the cold e-vites altogether. If you can’t send out hand-written invitations, make a phone call.
  • Use Runners or linen place settings instead of table cloths.
  • Easy-to-eat hors d’oeuvres, like tooth picked mixed olives and caper-studded ham cubes are great. Be sure to circulate them around the house to prevent guests from congregating in one area.
  • Avoid any stark overhead lighting and opt for soft candles, votives work beautifully!
  • Play an eclectic mix of music throughout the night, perhaps a little jazz, a little samba and maybe even some down-tempo dance music. But be sure to start slow, crescendo to the faster stuff and then come back down at the end of the night to some relaxing tunes.
  • Simple, family-style potlucks usually do the trick when it comes to creating a menu that everyone can enjoy.
  • If you opt to cater your event, choose a catering company that specializes in the cuisine you intend on featuring for the evening. Nothing is worse than planning a pasta dinner only to find out that the catering company you’ve selected specialized in chintz Mediterranean fare

One of our favorite local catering companies is My Chef Catering based out of Naperville. Founded by Bill and Karen Garlough, the business began as a 4,500 sq. ft. gourmet deli and kitchen, catering simple social events. Today, My Chef Catering is a multi-million dollar catering operation that works with more than 850 corporate clients and thousands of social customers, many of whom were referrals from other clients.

Another CMR fav is Blue Plate Events. This Chicago-based company will tantalize your guests with dishes of roasted pistachios in rice wine apricot vinaigrette, seared baby rack of lamb with espresso-spiked demi-glace, and bartlett pear, clementine and green mango sorbet in a spun sugar nest.

And remember, if you’re planning on doing the cooking yourself, now is the time to start planning a holiday menu. Stay tuned for some of our favorite holiday recipes.