March 26, 2011

The Projects Come Fast and Furious!

Posted in Decorating tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:25 am by dotcomdecorator

Hello all! I am relishing a quiet (OMG, it IS quiet!) Saturday morning and thought I would visit my much-forsaken blog. Over the past few weeks, the new projects have been rolling in and I feel like a whirling dervish trying to keep up with all of them, but it’s great! I love the excitement, creative outlet, challenges and variety of decorating styles of each.

Since I last checked in here, I have buttoned up a kitchen remodel and will get photos posted after I revisit the client for staging the new kitchen and dining room! This was a fun, and in my opinion, relatively quick project–less than 90 days from concept to completion! Using the existing flooring and cabinets kept the time frame and budget manageable. Many changes, including granite counter tops, new sink, appliances, lighting, removal of wallpaper, addition of wainscoting in the dining area, updated wall color, addition of a subway tile back splash, and painting the existing cabinets, brought this kitchen up to speed.  However, my absolute favorite item is the transformed kitchen island!

The island is large for the space and initially had an oddly placed and never used bar sink. By removing the sink and dropping one end of the counter top, we were able to create a small desk area for the telephone, cellphone charging station, mail station, etc. In addition, decorative trim was applied to the base and then the island painted a gorgeous shade called Blueblood. It is a great focal point and anchor to this open-space floor plan.  Sorry no photos today, I seem to be having computer issues, aka “operator errors”. Ugh, technology!

In addition to the kitchen project, I was called back to a recent client’s home to transform their living and dining rooms. Designing a space that is hip and trendy, yet one that invites lingering meals and post-dinner conversation, while also fitting into their predominantly warm-toned space was the challenge. While not yet addressed, the foyer will become a main anchor/transition point for uniting the various spaces.

We decided on shades of blue, gray, and silver for the living room and dining room. The dining room walls are being done in a gray Lusterstone finish–for simplicity sake, think Venetian plaster with glimmer. On top of the wall finish, a funky starburst pattern will be stenciled in silver Lusterstone. The drapes are blue with large circles in two shades of silver, a gorgeous mirrored buffet, silver and black framed mirror, silver and crystal chandelier, chairs upholstered in a gray cut velvet will anchor both ends of the table, and lots of glass and silver accents will bring glam, sparkle, and a very inviting feel to the room!

The living room will be anchored with a soft blue suede sofa, large glass coffee table, and two graphite colored leather swivel chairs. At one end of the room a sofa table will serve as a workspace, and art work will consist of one graphic piece and a wall mounted fireplace. The addition of drapery panels in a blue/grey stripe and two table lamps and a few simple accessories will keep the space clean and trendy, yet inviting. Can’t wait to share photos with you!

In the midst of tackling the aforementioned projects, my washing machine croaked. What should have been a quick and simple replacement process turned into a full-blown project! The short version is that I now have a new front-load washer and it’s dryer mate; a new built-in folding table over the width of the two; refreshed paint in the utility room (oh brother was that a task, more about that another day!), and a few new decorative accessories. It’s harder than you’d think to create an attractive utility room that evokes a laundry center feel with relying on kitschy laundry-room specific wallpaper border!

Now to return to the other projects on my plate: design concepts for 7 rooms–yes, I’m a little overwhelmed by this one–and the beginnings of a two bedroom project. So much for a quiet Saturday!

Until next time,

Viva Con Gioia!

The DotComDecorator


February 10, 2011

Wine Cellars

Posted in Decorating tagged , , , , , , at 7:30 am by dotcomdecorator

Man caves, basement rec rooms and home theaters have become the standard upgrade for many homeowners. Those wanting to take it to the next level include the installation of a private wine cellar. When considering the addition of a wine cellar/tasting room, the process needs to begin with the core-level: the proper storage of wine. Whether you want to store a dozen bottles in simple fashion, or showcase your 20,000-bottle collection in a climate controlled, limestone wine cave, there is a storage solution for you. 

First, assess your “wine collector status”.  Are you a serious collector—someone who has a substantial (numbering in the thousands of bottles) amount of wine for which you need long-term storage? Are you a tweener—someone who has a few cases of wine and the need for 18-24 month storage?  Are you a fledgling—someone who is learning an appreciation of wine and buys a few bottles to have on hand for consumption in the near to immediate future?

I am confident that anyone classified as a serious collector has already made a substantial investment in having a professional wine cellar constructed. Therefore, I am going to move on to options for tweeners and fledglings.

The top considerations to proper wine storage are temperature and humidity. To age properly, whether for months or decades, wine needs cool temperatures—around 55 degrees Fahrenheit—moderate humidity, low light, and little or no vibration or odor.  If not stored properly, wine will taste flat and lifeless. For small-scale storage needs, consider temperature-controlled units. For the fledgling, this can be a small countertop unit; for a tweener, a reach-in/walk-in unit big enough to hold several cases. Both of these options are affordable and can easily be incorporated into your existing living space.

If you prefer to construct an actual wine cellar/tasting room and have a home with a basement, this is the ideal place for your wine cellar. Ideally, a “passive” cellar—a non-lived-in space—with natural heating and cooling, and the addition of a humidifier, will provide an ideal wine storage environment.  However, most modern homes have lights, mechanical equipment, and artificially heated and cooled basements. In this case, if you are serious about proper wine storage, you should follow a few basic principles when considering your wine cellar.

  • Guard against extreme fluctuations in temperature. These are far worse for wine than a constant too-high or too-low temperature. Fluctuations can cause corks to expand, contract and loosen, causing spills or allowing oxygen into the bottle, which can result in spoilage. Invest in a quality cooling system, designed specifically for wine storage areas.

  • Humidity should also be fairly constant, around 60 to 75 percent. Too much humidity can cause mold growth and can cause labels to disintegrate. Too little can dry and shrink the corks, causing spills and oxidation.
  • Too much light can also harm wine, because ultraviolet rays can cause spoilage, and because light creates heat, which can ruin your efforts to maintain a constant temperature.

A perfect wine cellar is insulated and humidity-controlled by means of a vapor barrier (usually 6- to 8-millimeter plastic sheeting). If done properly, with the vapor barrier placed on the warm side—which is the exterior of the cellar/the interior of your living space—you will be able to maintain a proper environment. Without a vapor barrier, condensation can be a problem. The moisture in the air of your warmer living space will condense on the cooler walls of your wine cellar. Too much condensation can threaten the integrity of the cellar walls and make the cooling mechanism work harder to keep the air inside the cellar at the proper humidity level.

For a wine cellar, the insulation should be R-19. Many cellar design specialists prefer rigid foam insulation. The cellar walls can be regular sheet rock or plywood, though moisture-resistant dry wall, known as green board, provides extra protection against moisture related problems. Also, consider doors as part of the insulation picture; sturdy exterior-core or specially designed glass doors are recommended to keep the cold air in.

After insulation, humidity control and cooling, the rest is aesthetics.  Size, design, lighting, racking, and furnishing options are abundant! Will you select wood racking or French limestone? Do you want a traditional serving and tasting area, or simply a place to store your collection? How do you want to store and display your wines? Your pocketbook is the only limit!

If a custom-built wine cellar is in your future, assess your needs, do your research, then call on a quality builder to construct your ideal wine storage space!

Until next time,

Viva Con Gioia!

The DotComDecorator


December 29, 2010

Happy Year End to My Clients!

Posted in Decorating, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:04 pm by dotcomdecorator

As 2010 winds to a close, I want to pause and offer thanks to my WONDERFUL clients from 2010 and years’ past! I have enjoyed working with each and every one of you! Yes, even those who believe you were “challenging”. A good challenge fosters creativity and I have yet to shy away from either!

While this is a thank you to you, it is hard to express my gratitude without bringing myself into the equation, so please permit me this indulgence:

This year I have designed,  painted, sewn, shopped, moved furniture, installed window treatments, found creative solutions to some interesting problems, and even found myself making beds and hiding dirty laundry while answering the call of “emergency staging”! I have stressed (always) that my finished projects will meet your expectations; I have had goosebumps watching your tears of excitement and appreciation; I have felt part of your families; I have enjoyed interpreting your desires and needs to find your perfect design style; and I have certainly enjoyed the many glasses of wine, lunches, and other memorable moments shared between us!

Each project has afforded me the opportunity to stretch my abilities, work within new parameters, and bring my visions to life. I have reached the apex of frustration on more than one occasion, but have always reached the finish line. I have fallen off my step stool and ladder multiple times this year, tripped over a step and wrecked my shoulder, and even took a less-than-graceful spill down a staircase, yet I have (knock on wood!) avoided breaking anything–yours or mine! I have sat in my floor frantically trying to pull together your Design Boards; I have designed your projects in my head during long sleepless nights; and often find myself drifting from a conversation because I had a great idea for your home! I simply cannot shop just for myself–I have many (or all?) of you in the back of my mind and if I see just the perfect thing that would work in your space, I can’t wait to share that find with you! I often work alone, spend far more time on something than the average person would, and some days my body and mind are simply exhausted, yet I continue to love what I do, because of you!

This job of mine is in my blood…I can’t turn it off, nor would I want to! Yes, I know…I cannot manage to come into your home without “futzing” to correct furniture placement, align a window treatment or (cough, cough) take the throw pillows out of the closet and place them back on the sofa! Sorry, it’s just who I am.

When you hired me, you were looking for a decorator, faux finisher or custom drapery fabricator… I hope you found so much more than that; I know I have! I cannot think of any other career that allows me to have so much fun, constantly expand and express my creativity or meet and get to know such amazing, wonderful people! Thank you for allowing me into your homes and lives, it has been my pleasure!

Have a blessed year in 2011! Oooooohhhh, look at that sofa…

Until next time,

Viva Con Gioia!

The DotComDecorator

September 19, 2010

The Beauty of History

Posted in Architecture, Decorating, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:02 pm by dotcomdecorator

I was never a good student of history. Dates and names and tales of war bored me to tears. Without a doubt I frustrated those teachers who tried to enlighten me to our historical past. Years later I realize if they had only shown me the great architectural treasures of the past, I would have been impassioned! I have found out that I actually love history…as long as I can relate it to a physical place. Of course, the more unique the place, the more I want to learn!  


Pfister Hotel Lobby Ceiling

Pfister Hotel Lobby Ceiling


I am blessed to live equidistant between Chicago and Milwaukee–both cities, and the area between, have an abundance of amazing architectural gems from the past.  I recently visited my favorite Milwaukee hotel, The Pfister, the former Milwaukee Grain Exchange, and two Italianate villas of grandeur–Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and The Cuneo Mansion in Vernon Hills, Illinois.  

Back view of Cuneo Mansion

Back view of Cuneo Mansion


While all of these structures are immense, each is ornate, stately, and opulent. Most impressive is that they are all well-constructed, timelessly elegant, and have a level of artistic craftsmanship seldom seen in today’s structures. From hand-crafted decorative door hinges, to hand-painted murals on soaring ceilings, to vibrant stained glass windows, to the sweeping marble staircases, to the impeccably manicured gardens, and abundant gold gilding, every space holds a veritable feast for the eyes! However, equally fascinating are the histories behind each of these buildings.  

Villa Terrace


Villa Terrace was built in 1923 for the Lloyd Smith family. Mr. Smith was an industrialist and president of A.O. Smith Company, the company started by his grandfather. Wanting to replicate a 16th century Italian villas he and his wife adored, Lloyd commissioned renowned architect David Adler to design and build the villa. From the courtyard with its decorative stone pathway (Mrs. Smith and her six children collected each and every stone from the shore of Lake Michigan and carried them home for the stone mason!), to the water stairs that lead to the manicured gardens, to the magnificent view of Lake Michigan, this home exudes an air of wealth and privilege! However, it was home to the Smiths.  The grounds were home to family football games, the Italian marble staircase endured hoards of stopping feet, and the ornate, hand-crafted metal work probably went unnoticed as the children opened and closed the elegant doors!  

Library at Cuneo

Library at Cuneo


Now used for special events and as a movie setting–My Best Friend’s Wedding and Witless Protection, with Larry the Cable Guy–the Cuneo is equally impressive.  Construction of the mansion began in 1908 and stopped during World War I. It was completed in 1918 as the summer home of Samuel Insull, an original founder of the General Electric Company. In 1937, John Cuneo Sr., a well-known and highly successful entrepreneur, bought the home. He and his wife, Julia, and two children made their home on the 75-acre estate.  Even though the mansion was, and is still, filled with priceless antiques, including many religious artifacts, the children rode their pedal cars all through the formal rooms, and used the grand foyer as a parking garage! The mansion has its own elaborate chapel, his and her’s bedroom suites, servants quarters, and gold gilded bathrooms! The grounds with the multitude of beautifully designed and maintained gardens, in-ground pool, and statuary, are delightful in every way! Like Villa Terrace, the Cuneo Mansion is a treasure-trove of exquisite craftsmanship, both inside and out, but also rich with history of the former residents and their guests.  

Exterior of Pfister

Exterior of Pfister


The Pfister is my favorite hotel in the Milwaukee area.  The hotel website uses the terms “grand elegance”, “historic tradition”, “gracious service” and “impeccable style”…I cannot find better words to describe the Pfister! Since opening its doors in 1893, the Pfister has surrounded guests with priceless art collections, exquisite architecture, and a comfortable, yet luxurious, ambiance. Visionary businessman Guido Pfister and his son, Charles, built the hotel at a cost of 1 million dollars. The hotel deemed the “Grand Hotel of the West”, was the most lavish hotel of its time. Walking through the doors I am transported back to a time of social graces and personal service; the Pfister exudes an atmosphere that invites guests to relax and let others take care of them…the epitome of the word “Salve”   A welcome respite from the nitty-gritty day-to-day, lunch from a bag, life we know all too well! The Pfister has welcomed some of the world’s most famous dignitaries and athletes, a bevy of brides, and is rumored to have one or more resident ghosts! I definitely give this hotel the thumb’s up!
The Grain Exchange simply awes me because it was once a place of commodity trading…a bustling work place! In 1879 Milwaukee Grain Exchange was the location of the Trading Pit, first invented and used in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and used as a model for other exchanges throughout America.
Grain Exchange

Grain Exchange


Today it is a favored site for special occasions, such as wedding receptions. Taking in its three-story, nearly 10,000 sq. ft. Italian style room, with soaring ceilings, frescoes, stained glass windows, handsome granite, limestone, sandstone and 175 ft. bell tower in the center of the room, I envision the space as more a grand church than an active business center. Could you imagine going to work there each day…how much more inspiring that would be than the drab cubicles or personality-void open spaces of today’s offices!  

If you are able to visit any of these architectural beauties, I’m sure you’ll be charmed! If not, the internet is a wonderful place to find out more information and view other images!  Here are a few links to get your “armchair tour” started:  

Here are a couple more images to whet your appetite:  

So, there you have it–I love history! Who would have ever thought it.  

Until next time,  

Viva Con Gioia!  

The DotComDecorator

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