Friday, January 19

Ask Allie: My Mom & Dad's New Dining Room

Late last summer, my parents sold their GORGEOUS farm (and I use that term loosely since it had neither an actual farm, nor animals) in Wisconsin and moved to our area outside DC. We as a family LOVED "Pinewoods" as it was called, but as they get older (ahem...my mother just spit at her screen) it was time to downsize a bit and be closer to family. First...a trip down memory lane. Here's their house in Wisconsin.



How amazing was this place? Literally over the river and through the woods...to Grandma's house we used to go. There are so many memories in that place and we will really miss it. But as a child we moved a lot and I have learned that houses are just places and that the memories are more important than the place. I am proud of my parents for picking up and coming here so we can enjoy more memories as a family and my kids are LOVING having their grandparents nearby.

Last week, my parents got the keys to their new house in a really, really cool community agrihood (Google that!) if it weren't just a hair too far from DC to commute, we would move there in a heart beat. It is gorgeous and has all the amenities you can dream of. I am so happy for them AND even happier for me because I get to decorate the house with my mom.

The first room we are going to tackle is the dining room. Right now it's a total blank space but my mom has furniture and accessories she loves. Specifically her Chippendale dining set and her collection of Chinoiserie vases. Taking all that into account, here is our inspiration board:


Ok...so I technically haven't gotten her to agree to any of this yet but I'm working on it. And while doing this, I am reminded why I could never be a real interior designer - because I know what I like and I don't really care what my "client" wants! Ha!  She called mentioning something about birds on the walls and I just hung up on her. Thank goodness she's not paying me.

I'll keep you posted! It will either be a glorious collaboration with an outcome like above or a total disaster with one of us wrapped in wallpaper and awash in tears! It's a toss up. :)

More to come!

Friday, January 12

Stairwell Remodel!

So let's just go ahead and ignore the fact that I haven't posted since last April. I'm tired of making excuses and you are tired of hearing them. Let's just say 2017 was not the best year and leave it at that. But HELLO GORGEOUS 2018! How you doin??? The good news about all the crappy things in that happened last year is that I channeled my sadness into decorating. Which is only slightly better than chocolate cake in terms of comfort. Perhaps not so good for my savings account but it certainly helped. And now that it's all done...it's time to share! Wheeee!

So let's start with the stairs that lead from our main level down to the basement. You'll recall that last year I redecorated our entire basement and love, love, LOVE the way it turned out. You can see all the pics and details here. But the makeover only made the horribly ugly stairs that take you there that much more painful to lay eyes on. Here's what we are talking about.





UGH! Where to begin? The carpet looks peach next to the wall color. The stains in this high traffic area - ick! The weird un-matching walls - half drywall and half stucco. The painful (literally) light fixture that induced more than one headache. All around pretty dismal. I had long set my sights on making these over. During our home addition a few years ago, I asked our builder if we could make these stairs wooden and he said they couldn't be changed without significant work and so we just threw the carpet over them. But they have never been pretty. Here's how they looked before the house was renovated. 


Now you get it...nothing but ugly. Which is what one expects from a 75 year old house. After the sad march up and down them for the last 13 years we have owned this house I finally had enough. I started brainstorming ideas for how to transform them. Here were some of my inspo from Pinterest




It took me about 5 months to find a contractor who could do the work in the price range I could afford and then another 2 weeks or so before the work was completed. And HEEEERREEEE is the final result...ready for it? 







Amaze right? So good! And soooo much better. So here's the details. First, despite how good they look, we did not rebuild the stairs. Instead we used these very cool wood tread covers. They literally sit on top of, in our case, your ugly utility basement steps turning them into glorious real steps. Our contractor brought them in unfinished, fitted them and then stained them to match the floors on the rest of the main level. Presto! Insta-stairs. 

And then, to satisfy my inner Joanna, I had him install "ship lap" on the bottom half of the stairs. This covered the ugly stucco and made both sides of the stairwell match. We also had an electrician come in and remove the side wall light fixture and replace it with a recessed light in the ceiling. Last step was creating a family photo wall to showcase many years of good memories. 

The paint color is Sherwin Williams Pavestone - which is a few shades darker than the rest of our main level which is painted Repose Gray. 


The end result is me skipping down the stairs every chance I get and a stairwell that matches the prettiness of the rest of the basement. I love how it turned out and would love to hear what you guys think. And if you live in the metro DC area, let me know and I'll share the name of our contractor who was awesome. 

Until next time fellow decor lovers!







Wednesday, April 19

My Real Job

I purposely named this blog Designing on the Side because I really, truly only design things on the side. My real job is fundraising and event planning. First for an opera company in Chicago, then for NPR in Washington, DC and then at the ripe old age of 29 years old, I had a baby and decided wasn't going to work anymore.

Three weeks into my stay-at-home motherhood, I was cursing out Elmo and wrapping myself around my husband's leg begging him not to leave each morning. Our daughter was the light of my life, but endless days in our tiny apartment made me want to scratch my eyeballs out with the bio-degradable forks I got at my daily, and expensive, outings to Whole Foods.

Thankfully, I got a call from my a friend who said that there was this really important guy looking for someone to plan a big event and he wanted me to meet him. I threw a bottle at my newborn, squeezed into a pair of pre-maternity pants and bolted out the door.

George Vradenburg was his name and he was a big-time lawyer, who in his retirement, was chairman of a museum called The Phillips Collection. He sat at the end of a huge and intimidating mahogany board table and grilled me about what type of gala I would plan for the return of a famous Renoir painting that had been on a world tour. I was out of practice and unprepared and muttered something about balloons and clowns and ran out of the building.

He must have had slim pickings because he offered me the job anyway. At first, he made me slightly terrified, but at some point in our regular meetings, I realized he truly valued what I had to say, and get this...actually did what I told him to do. Here was this hugely successful businessman, well-known philanthropist and admired political activist who empowered me. Trusted me. Believed in me. Whaaattt??? Craziness.

George and I worked together to plan that gala which raised almost $1 million for the museum. It was a huge success. Ran in all the papers. Brought together every well-known Washingtonian and was "the event" in town. At the gala itself, he thanked donors, sponsors, politicians, and at the end of the speech in front of 800 people, he did something no one had ever done before. He thanked me. Publicly. Repeatedly. Gushingly. Frankly, it was a little embarrassing. But also, amazing.

The Phillips Collection Gala 2006. George called it understated. 

For the next several years, we worked together until I got pregnant with my son and decided to retire. Again. It also lasted a hot second. I went on to work for another organization and when I called and asked George to support it, he did so without a moment's hesitation.

Fast forward to a few years later, and I retired. Again. I'm nothing if not consistent. I was burned out. Exhausted. My kids were old enough to feed themselves and I was ready to lounge the days away. The very first night of my latest retirement, I was out to dinner with my husband and kids when George's name popped up on my caller ID. I thought he was calling to wish me luck with my lazy days ahead. I should have known better.

He mentioned something about Alzheimer's and more events and raising lots of money and working together and told me to call him Monday. I protested and then called him Monday. I took that job too. But this was different. This one was personal. This one involved his wife Trish.

Trish Vradenburg. This is the picture she always made me use of her. 

Trish was a sitcom writer of some of my favorite childhood shows - Family Ties, Kate & Allie, Designing Women. Her mother had died of Alzheimer's and she and George had been working for years to advance a cure. Unsatisfied with progress, they started their own organization called UsAgainstAlzheimer's.  My understanding of this disease centered on my Grandmother's journey with what we called senility, but what we know now was dementia. She was 95 when she died and I assumed, wrongly, that it was just what happened when you got old enough.  I quickly learned otherwise.

Trish said her mom was fancy and funny and a rebel. She helped Kennedy win the state of New Jersey and was on Nixon's White House enemy list.

Bea Lerner, Trish's mom. 

Trish too was feisty and funny. So damn funny. She wanted a cure for Alzheimer's and she wanted it now. Not satisfied with the status quo, she pushed us all to work harder and faster before she got this horrible disease that robbed her of her mom. She and George were tireless in their fight and they made us all soldiers in the battle. 

We traveled across the country together producing celebrity readings of the first act of a play she wrote about her mom called Surviving Grace. Anyone who has ever traveled for work, or planned big events knows that it's a thankless job. At every turn, as we interacted with celebrities, politicians, even First Ladies, she could have dismissed me to the back of the room as staff. She never, ever did. She always asked me to sit next to her. Always.

One time she scolded me for working when I was sick. I said, jokingly, "Thanks, but I HAVE a mom, Trish" and she instantly responded "You might, but you don't have a JEWISH mom. You do now!" Through happy times and awful ones, for the last 13 years we have raised millions of dollars, planned countless events and most importantly, become family.

I took this picture of them at our holiday party two years ago. She approved it. 

On Monday, we lost Trish to a heart attack at 70 years old. As I write this, I am on a plane to her funeral in Los Angeles. It's hard to even write that. It's even harder to believe.

She was a sparkly light and her presence is already missed by the hundreds, if not thousands of lives she touched. She has taken a part of our hearts with her.

As I learned from losing my close friend Laura two years ago, life does go on. As it should. And Trish would want us to appropriately grieve (think devastated wailing) but then she'd want us to march on. She'd make a joke of all of this fuss, tell us to pull ourselves together and to get back to work. And we will do just that, in her name and in her honor.

Last Saturday morning as I was boarding our flight home from spring break, I got an email from her. It said, in giant blue font:

A,
I miss YOU so much!!!!
xxxx Trish


I miss you too, Trish. And I always will.


Some press about Trish's passing: 

New York Times 

Washington Post 

Hollywood Reporter




Friday, March 31

Basement Makeover!

It's hard to believe it's been four years since we moved out of our house, gutted it and added on three stories - including a much ignored basement. Thanks to my obsessive decorating compulsion, I have decorated each room in this house at least twice...with the exception of the basement. But all that has changed my friends and I am SUPER duper excited to share with you the result. Here is the before:


And from another angle.


And now the after!



Ta da! What do you think? My goal with this space was to be warm and cozy yet still elegant. I wanted it to be a happy place for all of us to hang out in and I designed it especially for my husband who has long waited for a room of his own. Ha! The paint color is Benjamin Moore Evening Dove and it's the perfect shade of grayish blue. Not too dark and great for a media/game room.

But let's talk about the wall. THE WALL! It is amazing. Truly. And the very best part about it is that it is peel and stick and it took us just a few hours to install. PEEL AND STICK PEOPLE!!! Real wood. Dare I say that it was one of the easiest and most impactful home improvement projects ever? I think I shall!! The "S" is for our last name and we've had forever. Love this spot for it.


The reclaimed wood on the wall is from Stikwood and I must give credit where it's due...my husband found it online. For years we talked about doing this and explored lots of options including pallets but truthfully they sounded like a big old pain in the butt. Finding the pallets, breaking them down, pulling nails out, cutting them and installing them...ummmm....no thanks. So when a Google search for "reclaimed wood walls for lazy dummies' made Stikwood come up, we were thrilled. Super simple, easy to use and gorgeous! Totally in love and highly recommend (and no, they aren't paying me - I'm just that big of a fan)!


The next project was the barn door. When we renovated the house, this room was an add on and because we had a guest room on that same level, we did not feel like a door was necessary. Never one to give up a good design opportunity, a barn door quickly made the project list. I got this one from The Home Depot and as my awesome neighbor who saw me trying to lift it out of my car on my own during a snow storm will tell you, it is incredibly heavy. Frankly, it's a miracle my kids didn't come home and find me Flat Stanley underneath it in the snow. Thank God for Tom the neighbor! Installing this was no joke and may have included a few choice words but it was so worth it. It's gorgeous and really makes the room. 


I saved about $500 buying an unfinished door and staining it myself. I am pretty happy with how it turned out. Here's the before. The stain I bought went on in one coat no problemo.


One of the first things we bought when we decided to finally redecorate this room, was, of course, the giant TV. This one is a Samung smart tv that we got for a steal at the BJs around the corner. It is beautiful and everything a giant tv in a man cave should be.

So once we got the tv we had to find a media console or cabinet to fit it in. I think we explored every single option out there until we settled on the Ikea Liatorp set in grey. It came, and I am not exaggerating, in 9 boxes. NINE! And God love him, my husband painfully put each piece together. I will say that Ikea furniture has come a long, long way. It is really quite impressive in terms of quality, and compared to the other options we looked at, it was a bargain my friends.


Here's a shot of the nd of the room complete with a nod to my husband's alma mater Notre Dame. We are all set for football Saturdays next Fall. The striped lamp shade and the pillows all came from other places in our house but look better in here. I'm a big fan of shopping in your own house.


This air hockey table is what started the whole thing. This was a Christmas present and is now our family's favorite game. It is from Frontgate and I purchased it way back on Black Friday with a 40% discount. SCORE! ha ha

The roman shade is from Home Depot and they will cut them to fit your window for about 1/3 of the price of any of those window covering companies. Highly recommend them!


In case you haven't gotten it by now, I LOVE a discount. In fact, I don't think I've ever bought anything full price - especially online. There is always a discount code to be used. This pretty leather chair came from the Restoration Hardware outlet store near us. There is a teeny, tiny white mark on the arm but other than that, it's perfect. And comfy! It is on the regular RH website for $3300 in this size and style and we got it for less than a 1/3 of that which makes me love it that much more. The pillow is one I had in a different room and is a pretty Schumacher print I found on Etsy.


The dart board is also from Frontgate and I got this for FREE (no joke) because the first air hockey table they sent us was damaged and had to be replaced. They sent us a gift certificate for our tremendous pain and suffering and VOILA...we used it for some dart throwing action. The license plates underneath it are part decoration, part restoration. Apparently neither me nor my kids have very good eye sight or arm control and so tin plates protecting the wall were necessary. All of these were purchased legally from Ebay and represent places we've lived or worked.


Another shot of the room....


So let's talk about that ottoman shall we? Since you know me pretty well by now, you know I didn't get this on some fancy furniture website. Nope...I recovered this bad boy myself y'all. True story. How you ask???? Some great (discounted) fabric and my trusty staple gun.


Here is the before. This was a really old and pretty beat up leather storage ottoman we have had for years. I started by unscrewing the lid and taking it off. Then I just went to town with my staple gun, folding and shooting for about an hour. And there ya go...instant covered ottoman!




I found this great little side table at Home Goods but wanted to jazz it up a bit and make if fit the sporty theme of the room. So I painted these stripes to make it sort of kind of look like a basketball court. This is about as crafty as I get. I am terrible at crafts so I am proud of this puppy for sure. 


So there you have it...basement redux complete! We love it and have spent the majority of our time there since completing it. Welllll, except for the time I've spent redecorating my living room, but that's another blog post altogether!

Until the next room....
- Allie