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:

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 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 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 

Tuesday, January 17

Porch Dreams Really Do Come True!

Hello lovelies! it is a dreary, rainy day here in Washington, DC. Perhaps a little foreshadowing of the week ahead? Sigh. We'll leave politics aside.....instead I am dreaming of sunny, summer days and longing for some porch time. You know that feeling when you've been at the beach all day and you come back to the house, take a shower, throw on a summer dress, grab a cocktail and find a comfy place on a porch to just stare at the water and enjoy the breeze? Ahhh....I call that porch dreaming. How's that for specific? It's truly my happy place and I'd give just about anything to be there right now.

My love for porches comes from the porch around my grandparent's oceanfront house in Gloucester, MA. I have so many great memories sitting out there every night, wrapped in blankets, listening to the adults talk and the waves crash. Those years sealed my love of porches for the rest of my life. Check out some pictures of the house known as Fiddler's Green. I know, I know...I was a lucky kid to spend holidays and summers at this place. I so wish it was still in our family!

So of course, when we were renovating our house three years ago...I desperately wanted to add a front porch. Not that our view, a few miles from downtown DC, is anything even close to oceanfront, but the idea of sitting and watching the kids play in our (small) front yard, and having porch parties with friends, was important to us. And let's face it, our boring Colonial needed a little punch. Even though we couldn't afford to put it on during the main construction phase, our architect drew up the plans for us and we loved it. Here's the virtual design.

And drum roll, here is how it turned out....

We absolutely love it! It was completed last spring and of all the building projects we've done, this was by far the easiest. Three weeks from start to finish. Well...that was after two years of saving the money we needed to do it, a ridiculously lengthy and complicated permitting process that took 10 months to complete and then three weeks of construction. But who's counting right? Here are few more shots. 

To save some moola, we decided to have them put fieldstone over the existing concrete path and steps. This saved us several thousand dollars over ripping the whole thing out and starting over. And it looks pretty good!

We also landscaped the yard ourselves - again to save some money (noticing a theme here?). 

The best part about the porch, other than sitting on it and drinking a lot of wine, has been decorating it for holidays.
Fourth Of July 



So there you have it! Our porch is a favorite spot and makes the house feel bigger. Is it a gorgeous, wrap around porch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? Ok...maybe not. But it is a place to just sit and contemplate the state of our nation. HA HA HA....just kidding!

Tuesday, January 3

Some Tough Questions for Chip and Joanna Gaines

Hello lovelies and Happy New Year! Let's all let out a huge sigh of relief that we survived that trainwreck of a year that was 2016. Am I right? We are now 3 days into 2017 and I want to ask my old friends (loose terminology) Chip and Joanna Gaines a few tough questions. 

First - some background. If you've read my post from a few years ago, I Want To Be Joanna Gaines, I love these two and their show Fixer Upper on HGTV. They are funny, they are best friends to each other, their family is ridiculously sweet and they are fantastic designers. I love their show. I love their style. I love their dedication to making their community a better place. 

Photo courtesy of

In November, they came under fire for being members of the Antioch Community Church in Waco, TX. This church, and specifically the pastor, Jimmy Seibert (who apparently really IS friends with Chip and Joanna) have taken a strong stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. According to this Buzzfeed article Jimmy has been quoted saying: 

“Truth No. 1: Homosexuality is a sin. The lie: Homosexuality is not a sin. The statistics say that 90% of people who are in a full-blown homosexual lifestyle were abused in some way. Physically, sexually, mentally. We have people and young people that never had any intention of a same-sex attraction et cetera, who have seen sexuality up front in pornography and now are trapped in the addiction of it.”

While Chip and Jo chose to remain primarily quiet after the article was first published, yesterday Chip put up this blog post. Click on the image to read it. 

In it, he talks about learning how to lovingly disagree. While he doesn't say it directly, one has to assume that either Chip and Jo don't agree with their minister and that is the harmonious discord that he refers to. OR that they do agree with Pastor Seibert and they want us all to accept that they have a different point of view on this particular topic. Meaning, they too believe that homosexuality is a sin.

So let's break it down. 

Let's say it's Scenario 1: Chip and Joanna go to a great church that's become a major part of their lives. Like many of us they find comfort and community there and a place to talk to their God. Presumably, they use the church as a place to teach their children how to be faithful, loving little human beings. But there are certain aspects of this church that they don't agree with - ideologies that are old, out of date and that make them uncomfortable. 

In this scenario, wouldn't it have been incredible for them to use the blog post to say to the world, "We love our church but on this topic we respectfully disagree." Or go a step further in their conviction and ask the Pastor to set a true example of acceptance and understanding of those who are different by eliminating dangerous and unfounded statements. By staying silent initially, and then publishing a vague blog post, they have missed a fantastic opportunity to effect real change in the hearts and minds of their most conservative followers. 

But let's say it's Scenario 2: that Chip and Joanna agree with their church that homosexuality and gay marriage are condemnable acts that lead you away from God. Their faith and their background, their strong belief in traditional values have led them to the conclusion that being gay is, like the minister says, a sin. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but to then post a blog about understanding and acceptance, saying that they as a family want to "operate from a position of love in all things" while inherently believing that certain types of love are sinful, is hypocrisy. 

Chip says in his blog that "Jo and I feel called to be bridge builders. We want to help initiate conversations between people that don’t think alike." start at home. If you don't agree with your church's stance on this issue, encourage a public conversation with the church asking them to consider the damage their controversial statements can have. 

If though they agree with Seibert's statements, such as the one where he calls the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015 a "biblical admonition", then they must own it. Do not hide behind grand proclamations of acceptance and understanding while practicing discrimination and exclusion in your own home. 

So my dear friends (again, loosely used and not intended to produce a restraining order) Chip and Jo - what do you really mean when you say "fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side"? Are you speaking to your real friend, the minister of your church, asking him to open his heart and mind to the concept that members of the LGBT community are not sinners, and are instead misjudged and persecuted widely? Or do you, deep in your heart, believe that they our gay brothers and sisters are dangerously close to being beyond redemption based on their life "choices"? 

Uniting a house divided as you suggest requires clarity and the work cannot begin until the depth of the differences are truly understood. Yes, you are correct when you say that "disagreement in not the same as hate" but the judgement and condemnation that the LGBT community has endured, partly because of vitriolic remarks like those of your pastor, has been nothing short of hateful. 

I fear you will not say where you truly stand on this issue because you are afraid it will damage your brand and you may lose fans. And that is certainly a possibility - either way.  But part of the reason for your huge fan base, and the subsequent success you've had, is because you wear your hearts on your sleeves and share everything. 

So share this, Chip and Jo, so we can all fully understand the differences between us and work to bridge the divide - as you say you have been called to do. 

Sincerely, Your Best Friend That You've Never Heard Of - Allie