Use This, Not That

Chicago Tribune
Use This, Not That
By Tiffany Meyers, September 27, 2010

What’s on designer don’t lists? Five designers share their list of verboten materials — along with the alternatives they use instead.

Never say never? Well, not unless your hand is forced. Think chinchilla fur. Or popcorn ceilings. Sometimes, “over my dead body” is the only reasonable option. We asked five designers to name the one material that they would never, ever, not for a pile of money and a lifetime supply of cake, use in an interior. Then we found out what they’d go for instead. The common thread: authenticity. Each in their way, these designers confirm the importance of honesty in materials.


Use this: Authentic materials
Not that: Counterfeits

Tom Polucci, director of interior design, HOK Chicago, can’t say there’s one specific material he’d rule out altogether. Rather, he believes in using authentic materials wherever possible, whether reclaimed or locally sourced. “What’s great is that, today, we have so many products available to us,” he says.

For wood flooring alone, Polucci can choose from solid wood, end grain wood, cork or bamboo. But not every budget can accommodate wood flooring. What then? Polucci finds a different but equally authentic solution: He might leave the concrete floors exposed, for instance, or recommend linoleum, a floor covering made of renewable materials.

“Using an authentic material in an unconventional way is also a great way to create more impact,” he adds. For HOK’s office, the firm reclaimed some teak flooring, using the warm, salvaged wood to create a striking wall panel at the entrance. And in a beneficent twist, it would have cost more to make custom veneer panels than it did to repurpose the solid teak flooring.

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Freshly Feathered Nest

Chicago Tribune
Freshly Feathered Nest
By Tiffany Meyers, May 23, 2010

When the kids move out it’s time to make a home you, your spouse and even the family will love.

When you walk through the front door of Frank and Sandy Gelber’s home, the experience is something like taking a sip of ice water — only to discover a mouthful of kicky ginger ale instead. From the porch of the clapboard farmhouse, which dates to the 1890s, any sensible person would expect a traditional interior. Wainscoting. Victoriana. Pooled drapery.

Then the front door opens, revealing the living room. Instead of chintz, you get crisp, cool lines. A palette of red, white and black. A large work by British artist Richard Galpin, who explores the line between abstraction and representation, hangs above a white leather sofa.

Sandy Gelber asked her designers, architecture and interior design firm Morgante Wilson Architects (MWA), to redo what was then a traditional room in 2005, when the Gelber’s youngest daughter left for school. Gelber had been warned of the “empty-nest syndrome.” It would be lonely, people said. Full of longing and boredom. Remember Y2K? The catastrophe never transpired. “I think the ’empty nest’ is the best-kept secret in life,” says Gelber, who’s as connected to her children as ever. “Our nest actually filled up with possibilities. I like to think of it as a time to re-feather the nest.”

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Mixcraft

Chicago Tribune
Practicing Mixcraft
By Tiffany Meyers

Author’s Note: For the Chicago Tribune’s HOME section, I caught up with Tricia Guild of the UK’s Designers Guild. The mere thought of mixing patterns can make some design aspirants weak at the knees with fear. So I asked Guild, who’s staked her whole enterprise on that eclectic look, to break it down for us.

Tricia Guild, founder and creative director of London-based Designers Guild, says there’s no reason to be afraid of mixing fabrics in the home. Clearly, she wasn’t there the time our window treatment of paisley jacquard and checked sateen made those small children cry. Not to mention the adults. So it’s probably more accurate to say that there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’re Tricia Guild.

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The Art of Arranging

Chicago Tribune
The Art of Arranging
By Tiffany Meyers 

Author’s Note: Here’s why David Jimenez is cool. His  talent and career as a visual merchandiser is so out-sized that, if he wanted, he could get away with being a little too cool for school. Not him. He’s such a good guy—and more down-to-earth than the green grass underfoot. I met him (telephonically) while writing this article for the Chicago Tribune’s HOME section.

I asked him to draw from his years as a visual merchandiser to help the Trib’s readers create tablescapes that look artful, not haphazard. He delivered. Check out David’s site to learn more about him.

Some people can toss a piece of driftwood, two books and a lamp on a coffee table and end up with a camera-ready display. The rest of us rearrange the same objects (endlessly) and come up with the anarchy of Nana’s knickknacks.

Displaying accessories is one of the trickier points of styling any room. How much is too much? And too little? Which objects are meant for which table? For David Jimenez, a genius-level visual merchandiser and gifted decorator, tablescaping is the difference between a house and a home.

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Architects Rescue a Renovation Gone Awry

Chicago Tribune
To the rescue: A botched renovation opens the door to a new family home
By Tiffany Meyers, July 12, 2009

It’s a story that starts, as any page-turner  should, with a moment of high drama. Thanksgiving weekend 2004: Elissa Morgante and Fred Wilson hear a knock on the door of their Wilmette home. It’s their neighbor.

He’s in over his head, he says. Way over. And he wants out. More specifically, he wants out of the renovation he has undertaken on his house across the street, a do-it-yourself gut job that has gone horribly wrong. The-whole-house-shakes-when-you-jump wrong. He wants to know: Can his architect neighbors think of anyone who might take it off his hands?

The founders of the award-winning, Evanston-based architecture and interior design firm Morgante Wilson Architecture, whose residential projects (there are eight on this block alone) range in style from Georgian to ultramodern, head across the street to survey the scene.

With the entire back wall removed, the home can’t be resuscitated. It’s nearly tipping over. But Morgante and Wilson know that a host of developers would be pleased to buy the land and throw up a new McEyesore in its place. And, from across the street, guess who would have the best view? The couple’s intervention seemed only natural.

What happens next, in this old house tale, has to do with reinvention and real life. Not to mention a love story.

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Heavenly Touches Make Condo Worth Wait

Chicago Tribune
South Loop condo
By Tiffany Meyers | January 18, 2009

Author’s Note: My editors at the Chicago Tribune sent me off with a notebook and realtor, viewing three condos within specific parameters. My task was to write about the one I loved.

Wouldn’t you know it? After being presented with two perfectly viable options, the condo that finally turns my knees to jelly doesn’t actually exist. Not, at any rate, until summer 2009, when The Roosevelt Collection will start delivering its 342 one- and two-bedroom condos, priced from the $300Ks to the $650Ks.

With Realtor Lindsay Fath of Century 21 Sussex & Reilly’s Lowe Group, I spend an afternoon viewing South Loop lofts priced at $450,000 or less. Our first stop: A condo that needs slightly more love, I’m afraid, than I have to give. The second option is … very nice. So I poke around: Nice view. Nice appliances. Stainless steel and so on. But I wonder: If I’m going to pretend to spend $450,000 of my hard-earned play money on a condo, is “nice” really the best I can do?

Maybe. But Fath and I persist. Parking her car in a gravel lot at 709 S. Clark St., we crunch up to the sales center for The Roosevelt Collection. By “sales center,” I mean “trailer.” We exchange a look.

But this trailer is very much not the kind you’d see on “My Name is Earl.” In the center of the space, an architectural mock-up commands our attention. It displays a miniaturized version of the forthcoming South Loop development, which will sit off Roosevelt Road, bounded by Clark and Wells Streets. With noses pressed to the Plexiglas guard, Fath and I agree that the tiny cars along the boulevards could not be more adorable.

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Small Space Wins This Square Footage Addict’s Heart

Chicago Tribune
“Sell it to me”: House & Homes
By Tiffany Meyers | November 16, 2009

Author’s Note: If you can’t buy your own deluxe apartment in the sky, you may as well write about them. When I viewed condos on assignment for the Trib, I fell for the “cozy” one.

If there were a detox center for square-footage addicts, I’d admit myself. I lived for years in a Manhattan studio, which housed my entire inventory of family heirlooms—a futon and microwave—only with some doing. So when I moved into my comparatively palatial Chicago apartment, I got hooked on space. “I can fit two couches in my new place,” I told a New York friend, conspiratorially, “and I don’t sleep on either of them.”

But I surprised myself recently. When Realtor David Panozzo, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, and I visited three lofts, all in the Southport Corridor and listed under $450,000,I fell under the influence of the first and smallest we saw. True, one property was easy to eliminate. The 1,200-square-foot condo was so angular (imagine a slice of pie, only bigger, and without the fruit filling) that I’d have needed algorithms to address the problem of sofa placement.

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Artful Tension

Chicago Tribune
Artful Tension
By Tiffany Meyers, September 5, 2010

Every art lover knows: Creative expression, whether it’s museum-quality paintings or videos by Madonna, is sometimes about making you squirm. Hang a few provocative pieces on the walls of your home, and you’ve got a different kind of challenge — how to incorporate edgy artwork into an interior that’s welcoming and happy; and whether you should take down your precious paintings when mom and dad stop by for a visit.

For Jeanne Landolt Masel, owner of the online gallery shiftartgallery.com, the answers came easy. In the loft home she shares with husband Dennis Masel, she has created a space that puts the couple’s art collection center stage. And she wholeheartedly embraces the reactions from visitors. Masel’s eclectic collection includes work by emerging artists, African masks and contemporary urban art from the likes of Paul Insect, D*Face and Banksy, the British street artist whose identity remains unknown.

In terms of temperament, Masel doesn’t fit the profile of an iconoclast. She’s cheerful and outgoing. She has stuffed animals, for goodness’ sake. But the girl does enjoy a little indictment of contemporary culture. At a recent party, her piece by D*Face, which depicts the Statue of Liberty with a clown nose and makeup, sparked debate among friends, including one whose sense of patriotism it offended.

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Which Is Greener: LED’s or CFL’s?

Author’s Note: For The Chicago Tribune, I answered a series of readers’ questions about living a greener, more sustainable life. This Trib reader wrote in to find out if LED lights were more efficient than CFL’s. Here’s what I dug up.

There’s no question that LED’s have a bright future, but Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL’s) remain your most accessible, environmentally responsible lighting option for the home. Which is not to say the CFL is perfect. It is vastly more efficient than an incandescent bulb, but each CFL contains about 5 milligrams of environmentally harmful mercury-about equivalent to the size of a ballpoint pen’s tip, by ENERGY STAR’s calculations.

Not only are LED’s mercury-free, their long lifespan makes the Energizer Bunny seem like a quitter.Unlike traditional light sources-which throw off relatively consistent light and then, poof, burn out–LED’s get dimmer over time. Analysts recommend that the LED’s last rites be administered when they emit 70% of initial light output. Using that measurement, the Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE, EERE) calculates that the highest-quality white LED’s have a useful life of around 35,000 hours.

Some context: You could turn on a high-quality, white LED and forget about it for four years, when it would finally need replacing. Compare that to your garden-variety, 75-watt incandescent bulb, which throws out 1,000 lumens for about a buck, according to the DOE. That dollar bulb-which converts only about 5% of the electricity it consumes into light-will expire in about 1,000 hours. Comparable CFL’s-which are five times more efficient than incandescent bulbs-cost less than $5 and last 10,000 hours.

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Which Is Greener: Styrofoam or Ceramic Mugs?

Author’s Note: A Chicago Tribune reader wanted to know: Are disposable coffee cups made of Styrofoam more or less harmful to the environment than reusable mugs? Here’s how I answered, with much help from sustainability engineer Pablo Päster. 

The debate over coffee cups-disposable or not-happens torunneth over with tough-to-measure variables. For instance, do you use a dishwasher? Is your model energy efficient? And: Just how clumsy are you? (Reusable mugs: Useless when broken.) Scientists analyze this issue in myriad ways, but overall, consensus is that brew imbibed from reusable, ceramic mugs is the most sustainable option.

But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip. To reap environmental rewards of the mug, you’ll need to hand rinse it–putting it in your (energy-efficient) dishwasher only when absolutely necessary. That’s according to Pablo Päster, a San Francisco-based sustainability engineering consultant who also writes a column at AskPablo.org on the science of sustainability, including a technical analysis of this very issue.

In his analysis, Päster found that a ceramic mug has a higher total “material intensity”- a measure of resources used to manufacture a product (like the extracted clay and gas to heat the kiln)-than a Styrofoam cup. But the mug’s reusability-which means it can provide multiple “service units”-justifies its higher material intensity after about 46 uses. “If you have one cup of coffee daily for a year, that’s 365 ‘service units,'” says Päster. “That can be accomplished with either 365 disposable cups or one reusable mug.”

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