Friday, January 4, 2013


Creativity and new ideas are a hot topic around the world right now. It seems as though everyone is looking for the next best thing. Unfortunately, the world we are living in today is getting more and more cluttered—making it harder to concentrate and harder to be more innovative.
My parents were very creative; my mom especially was amazingly talented with her hands. She could cook the tastiest meal without following any recipe or make stylish garments without instructions. My dad, a civil engineer, inventor, and an artist, also loved to create.  Both of them insisted on having their surroundings neat and orderly.  They lived in a time of war when there was so much turmoil. In this atmosphere, a clean neat home clearly provided some comfort. No wonder I grew up appreciating a clean, well organized home and studied to be an interior designer.
A clean table is one of the greatest inspirations for creativity. I particularly love my kitchen island; the white Corian surface is easy to clean and it has ample space to spread out materials. My grandkids flock to it every time they come over and insist on getting their craft materials out. They can sit at the table for a long time just coloring, cutting and gluing without any need for fancy toys or videos.
Nothing beats natural light, our huge kitchen window offer plenty of light and relaxing garden views.  To balance out the large white island, I chose easy-to-maintain horizontal grain oak cabinets with some frosted glass doors. The metal and glass doors give some depth and interest against the heavy wooden doors. A walk-in pantry allows plenty of storage for large items and a metal shelf holds small appliances that would usually clutter kitchen countertops.
Because of the large pantry I was able to save the main wall in the kitchen for one of my favorite pieces of art. During parties, guests like to congregate around this area—perhaps the aromas from the large rotisserie oven draw people closer? The kitchen is open and very much part of the main floor living and dining area. We can easily accommodate even larger groups of people at one time. It is inviting and best of all, easy to clean at a moment’s notice.

Women from around the world participating in a Thai Cooking class
Cardamom smell from fresh Pulla  is fantastic.

Mayor Jussi Pajunen from Helsinki, my husband and friend Virva Hanba

Solar shades controls clair and heat from the afternoon sun
Bar area on the opposite side of food preparation helps traffic flow  

Plenty of counter space makes it easy to prepare food for big parties

Happiness is creating something original.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are you taking full advantage of the views inside your home ?


by:  Laura Vanderkam

With the housing market perking up, we’re mostly in search of the home with outdoor space. Problem is, we spend more time indoors.

   After a dreary few years, the housing market is showing signs of life. A mid-September report from the National Association of Realtors found that home resales rose 7.8% in August from a year before. New housing starts are up, too, which has people thinking about what kind of space they’d like to live in. One major focus of this question? The great outdoors.
   According to a survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 64% of architecture firms are reporting increased interest in outdoor living spaces: places for adults to relax; places for the kids to play. People want “a luxurious outdoor world, to get away from their everyday lives at home instead of having to go somewhere,” says Janet Bloomberg, with KUBE Architecture.
   There’s just one problem: Evidence shows that for all we lust after outdoor sanctuaries, such retreats have little to do with the lives we actually live. Neither adults nor children spend much leisure time outdoors, and in making the trade-offs to have private outdoor space, we could be making ourselves less happy overall.
   Anyone who studies how Americans spend their time eventually comes to a stark conclusion: Impressions and reality differ a great deal. A fascinating book published this summer, which came to a similar discovery, was Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, the result of an anthropological study of middle-class Los Angeles families. Researchers from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families recorded hours of footage, documented possessions, and clocked how people spent their days to the minute.
   Few of those minutes turn out to be spent outside.
   Children averaged fewer than 40 minutes per week in their yards. Adults spent less than 15 minutes of time per week in their yards. These families had sunny Southern California weather. They had nice porch furniture, trampolines, even pools. They just didn’t use them. Many families told researchers that they used their backyards all the time, but then were rarely observed out there in this multiyear study.
   Jeanne Arnold, one of the lead researchers, pinpoints two main culprits: first, general busy schedules (work, school, activities); but second, the prevalence of media options, which “seem like magnets, whether it’s television or computers or video game consoles.” Rather than use their outdoor retreats, people would retreat by turning on a screen. People don’t like this image of their lives. So they don’t acknowledge it -- to researchers, or with their budgets.
   “They’re willing to spend to sort of perpetuate that illusion,” says Arnold. By having nice yards, pools and decks, they could “attempt to project something that’s not necessarily going on, but is clearly ideal” -- a family that spends time together outside.
   All this would be humorous, except that yards come with externalities. A family moves to the exurbs for a private patch of green. But to buy less than six minutes a day of play and 2 minutes of adult leisure, the parents pay with increased commutes. The Census reports that the average commute is about 50 minutes a day, and battling traffic seldom makes people happy. One 2004 study in Science of Texas working women found that commuting ranked at the absolute bottom of the happiness scale on any given day.
   To be sure, even if a backyard isn’t used, it can still bring happiness. Leonard Kady, chairman of the AIA’s Small Project Practitioners group, notes that “you’re always looking into the space.”
   But the broader point is that, while a private, beautiful yard seems part of the American dream, Americans spend little time using those yards we pay dearly to get and upgrade. If the kids are just going to play Nintendo, or you’re just going to watch TV, better to live close to work, even if there’s no yard, so you can be home more to enjoy the screens.
   Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.




Friday, September 14, 2012

Visiting the Design Capital of the World 2012

The colorful new Baana.

Interior of the Temple of Silence.
The newly completed Music Hall's bike racks.

Temple of Silence, exterior.

Center for 2012 Design Activities.

Earlier this year the Mayor of Helsinki, Jussi Pajunen came to Chicago with a Finnish delegation to promote Helsinki's World Design Capital 2012. Last month I was thrilled to spend four weeks in Helsinki exploring all the fascinating events.

Mayor of Helsinki, Jussi Pajunen in Chicago.
The entire city had prepared a number of shows, exhibits, and events to promote better urban living. Good design in any level delights us all and can help make our lives easier.

My favorite new building is Temple of Silence, made entirely out of beautiful wood. It is just stunning, in the middle of a very busy square. It is a place where anyone can stop by and have a moment of silence. In this noisy world we live in today, silence is really golden.

The new Music Hall is nearby, a place not to be missed by any Helsinki visitor. It offers various music performances-we had the honor to hear Hannu Lintu's concert. The place is open throughout the day for visitors to drop in and listen to some of the free music performances. A magnificent fish sculpture in the front and sleek modern bike racks in the back bring out the best in Finnish art.

Right by the new Music Hall you can find the new Baana which takes you to Ruoholahti, one of the most modern parts of Helsinki. The Baana is built on old railroad tracks for pedestrians and cyclists. It is exceptionally well designed and provides plenty of fun activity areas for its users. At Kaapelitehdas in Ruoholahti I had an opportunity to visit High Design, an event where I saw the latest industrial products from dentist chairs to street cars. A lot more thought is given to how the end users can enjoy the products today, even tractors can be ordered in custom colors. The new street car seemed to have an Angry Birds expression, perhaps a good way to get people to stay out of its way on the busy city streets.

The entire town came alive during Night of the Arts, an event on the 23rd of August. The main attraction was a kilometers long Domino set that collapsed throughout the city creating a big rush. I witnessed someone accidentally starting the run, it was great to see how everyone rushed to stop it just on time. Some of the other interesting events were chocolate body painting and a food market where people could sample local specialties from different parts of Finland including fried 'muikku' fish from Savonlinna or reindeer stew from Lapland.

Kids doing fun projects.
The Design Paviljonki is the center of major activities during the year. Every day there is a variety of programs, all centered around the idea of designing a better city. I saw how kids had created fun chair covers that were used in buses and street cars during the Night of the Arts.

If you love arts/design and enjoy walking/cycling I would highly recommend my home town Helsinki. That is where I go to get re-energized and I feel that my time spent there this summer was well invested. So go ahead and add Helsinki onto your bucket list if you are ready to experience something new and unique.

Domino's final run on the stairs at Senate Square.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

5 Easy Fixes For A High Summer Electric Bill By Amanda C. Haury | Investopedia – 57 minutes ago

Summer has arrived and as the temperatures begin to soar, many consumers can expect their electric bill to do the same. As the hot weather sets in, air conditioners will be working on full blast effectively sending a reasonable electric bill through the ceiling. While there are many ways to reduce your electricity usage, from upgrading to energy conserving appliances to selecting premium grade windows, these are not options that a cash-strapped consumer can readily use. There are some easy and affordable ways to reduce your summer energy bill without having to shell out big bucks on home upgrades. Here is a look at how consumers on a budget can lower their high summer electric bill.

Use Heavy Drapes on Windows A method that is frequently used to keep heat in during the winter time, can also effectively keep the chill from the air conditioner in the house during the warm summer months. Hanging heavy drapes in front of windows will help keep the house cool by not letting the glaring sun warm up the house. Depending on how many windows you have in your house, installing heavy drapes can be an effective way of keeping your house cool. If buying drapes for all of the windows in your home is too expensive, you could opt to hang them in the areas of your house that get the most sun exposure.

Use Energy Saver Option on Air ConditionerWhen you are not at home, use the energy saver option on your air conditioner rather than turning it off. The energy saver will keep your house at a cool temperature. If you turn off your air conditioner the temperature in your house will rise, and when you turn the unit back on it will need to work harder to cool your house down again, in turn rising your electric bill. Additionally, if your air conditioner has seen better days, it is likely that it is not as energy efficient as some of the newer models on shelves today. If money allows, it may be wise to upgrade your air conditioning unit before next summer arrives.

Recall the Fire Safety Warning "Heat Rises" As children, we are taught that heat rises. If you have an air conditioning unit running on the first floor of your home, you could help keep your house cooler by shutting all of the doors on the second floor. The less space your air conditioner needs to cool, the quicker and easier it will do so. By stopping the airflow to certain areas of your house, you are helping to reduce your electric bill in a big way.

Ceiling and Window Fans Go a Long Way When you're trying to save money on your electric bill during the summer, it is wise to limit the use of the air conditioner to extremely hot days. Fortunately, ceiling fans and window fans do not use nearly as much electricity as an air conditioning unit does. Well placed fans can keep cool air circulating in the house, and keep your home from feeling like a sauna. If you do not already have them installed in your home, consider purchasing ceiling fan units. Install a unit in each of the bedrooms to
keep air circulating as you sleep.

Lights off During the Day Time A simple way to conserve energy and lower your electric bill is to turn off all of the lights during the day. If the weather permits, open the windows and allow natural light to shine in, instead of keeping artificial lights on all day long. This move will help reduce your electric bill significantly by reducing your electric use during the day, and keeping your home cool in case you need to turn on your air conditioner later.

The Bottom Line Saving money on your electric bill is easy when you know where to make cuts. There are some simple and cost-effective ways to reduce your energy use during the summer months. You can drastically reduce your energy bill during the hot summer months by limiting your air conditioner use, installing thermal drapes and using fans to maximize the ventilation in your home. A high electric bill can be a source of great stress for many struggling consumers. This summer, don't fret over a costly energy bill and find ways to reduce your bill instead.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Getting a Good Deal

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s  book called  Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,  caught my intrest recently.

Too often in my work I have heard customers comment how they just bought to have something or it was such a good deal. Is it a good deal when sofa cushions go flat within a year or you cannot turn the cushion over to get more even and longer wear? A good upholstery fabric will last for years and a quality frame can hold up for generations.
Selecting building materials can have similar consequences. It can take a lot of patience and knowledge to make the right purchases.Installation cost are the same, why not take a little more time to select the materials correct the first time? Letting price be the deciding factor can backfire in many ways. Worst of all living with products that are less pleasing or having to tear up everything and start over.
A good deal in my opinion is when you divide the cost of the product by the years you own it ; the lower the number the better purchase it was originally.  A professional interior designer can help you make the right selections and help you save money in the long run.

Sold as leather chairs, but they are Bonded leather, not real.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Leased in 48 Hours

My customer had to relocate due to a job transfer recently and was so pleased her condo rented out right away. Her agent told me how Kimberly's place stood out from the rest, because it was warm and inviting.
Remodeling her home ended up being a terrific investment also,  and allowed her to move on with an exiting job without extra worries.  

Earlier post below: 

   No matter what kind of home improvement project, a professional interior design expert can help you get the best results. We have sources and knowledge for products most consumers would have a tough time finding. 
It is necessary to see in person the place, as with my recent project at Kimberly Grear’s home in a downtown Chicago high-rise.  I felt her condo needed warmth, the spectacular city view is the highlight, but it seem a little harsh and cold. Western exposure can also create a lot of clare and be uncomfortable specially in the summer months.  New textured wall covering, rearranging artwork and the solar shades made such a huge difference,  my client has now changed her thoughts about moving to another place. 

Kimberly Grear: Essentially, I approached Katarina on a small but important project -- to update my condo cosmetically with new textured wallpaper and paint and cool solar blinds in my dining and living room.  Her consultation provided me with amazing choices, and I wasn't overwhelmed. The gorgeous wallpaper products and choices Katarina presented me with far exceeded my expectations. I literally had a small creative budget. The final product delivered rich, stunning yet casual earth tones for my home. (Jeff Lewis from "Flipping Out" on Bravo would have been beaming proud.) I am SO THRILLED!!!   I feel like I have a new home for a small investment.  And, that's not an easy thing to pull off. 
Katarina is seriously superb at what she does and seriously talented on so many levels.  She is a true professional and easy to work with. I also think Katarina should have her on TV show. (No kidding....)   
The gift of working with Katarina is that she provides you with top shelf choices on your budget and five star service.
I can't say enough wonderful things about working with Katarina. She's the real (and rare) deal!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A fun place for kids and guest

Cozy new play area

It’s been said “necessity” is the mother of invention. Well, in a recent project I worked on, the basement of an Oak Park four-square, it was “necessary” to make the playroom/guestroom more visually and acoustically appealing.  Let me explain. Despite the many lovely details of the rest of the prairie style house, which dates back to  1923, the basement was dominated by a noisy, unsightly, old heating system. The exposed pipes, which were often mistaken by their 2 and 4 year-old as monkey bars, made play dates hazardous. And the loud humming which started and stopped at intervals could turn any overnight guest into an insomniac.

Solution? Kill 2 birds with one stone—or in this case—a few modular acoustical fabric-backed bookcases. As you can see by the photos, the bookcases not only block the heating system, they warm up the space and provide an extra storage space for toys. We also added an art center, a place to play dress up and fun, movable seating for all ages. Even the drapery we used to hide an unsightly storage area doubles as a place for kids to play hide and seek.

Proof that the space works? On a recent visit, Bianca, the 4 year-old said, “Take your shoes off and get real comfortable.” Oh, and out-of-town visitors are no longer going the hotel route.  

Before the remodel