Jen Talbot Design

The Sketch Book Files

Meet Jen!

Jen's spot for inspirations, inside her life as designer and artist. I share progress, tips on sources, spaces that inspire and how to push the boundaries of every space.

Be brave, and go for it.

xo, Jen

Posts tagged chicagodesign
Design Hack: Bathrooms for Teens

Author: Sydney Piwowar

I did it myself as a kid, every year I wanted to re-do my room. For me, that was the first sign I wanted to become a designer, but for most it is the growing character and evolving taste of impressionable teens and pre-teens. This often leaves parents feeling frustrated as they just re-painted their room, or bought a new bed spread, new drapes, etc. We have all learned the hard way that a key to success in kids spaces is VERSATILITY.

There a few places though that the term versatility doesn’t apply. One of them being Bathrooms… tile, wallpaper, plumbing, oh my… all so permanent. This is why it is important that you feel confident that the bathroom design and palette reflects the culture of your family. Whether it be more sophisticated or young and playful. The key to getting the most out of your space is to make sure it matches you and your life style.

I have broken down design for teens into three palettes to match your family’s character. Check them out below and some Inso images for each!

Bold + Playful

Clean + Monochromatic

Bright + Cheery

Top 5 Curtain Hanging Mistakes

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Alright peeps - here is a sensitive topic… Drapes. Some people think that they have a hard and fast rule for drapes and that is not always the case. LESS is not always more and MORE is not always more.. as a general guide line to hanging drapes there are a few mistakes people commonly make. We have curated our list of the Top 5 mistakes

Too Low

Hanging curtains too low from ceiling causes the room to compress. Instantly, the ceiling feels lower, and your space will feel small. Hanging them high to the ceiling tricks your eye into thinking the space is taller, making it feel open and airy.

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Too Short

Cutting the drapes short to match the length of the window makes the whole room feel like its floating - in a very bad way. It feels unfinished, like you were on a budget and could only afford 1/2 the fabric you need. Even if you are on a budget, get a fabric in your price range, and do it right. Your space will prove to you its worth it.

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Not Enough

Wimpy fabric will feel thin an cheap on a big window. Getting a drapery grade, heavier, and thicker fabric will pay off and make the room feel more luxurious. Even if you don’t want black out curtains, you just want something light and airy, make sure to buy enough extra fabric to gather on each end of the window. You pay for what you get in drapes people!

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Too Much

Now don’t get me wrong, I am ALL for vintage. Design trends cycle through like your laundry.. One second its light and airy 80’s summer style, then the next its moody 90’s winter grunge. Drapes are not cheap Forever 21 T-shirts though… You buy them RIGHT once, and keep them forever. That being said, stay away from trendy patterns... No pattern what 70’s mod patterns come back in, don’t do it. Stick with something simple, modern, and clean. Versatility is key.

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Arched Window

This is what I meant by no hard and fast rule. Arched windows are so tricky dependent on their size, location on the wall, and quantity. Don’t be discouraged though, there are more than one solution. The first option is to remove those ugly drapery knobs and hang a simple, modern, rod high to the ceiling as previously mentioned. Option 2 is to have custom roman shades made to fill the arch and drape below on the lower, rectangle portion of the window. I am not a fan of that option though as most arched windows have beautiful trim features you don’t want to cover up. Option 3 is no curtains at all. For some people, that may be a deal breaker, but I think it is important to decide when you need privacy and when you don’t.

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3 Tips To A Perfect Dry Bar

Author: Sydney Piwowar

As society modernizes, I believe the perception of alcohol in the home does as well. Where once the home parlor was filled with cocktails and conversation, it turned to a plastic covered furniture living room. Now I believe we are in a full swing back to the original cocktail room we all knew and loved. Not every once looking to implement these in-home bars has the ability to add plumbing for a wet bar… This is where the Dry Bar steps in. It is the perfect space to call home for your best drink ware, wines and spirits. To elevate yours to the next level, I have curated 3 tips to make your Dry Bar the topic of the night!

Build It In

I know it isn’t a wet bar, so there is no need for built in components, but is important that it feels integrated into the home. If you are trying to add one into an existing structure, the easiest way to do this is to replace a built-in or unnecessary closet.

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Make It Feel Special

The most unsuccessful dry bars are the ones that feel left over kitchen cabinets you just put in the living room. They key to a good dry bar is to make it feel special. Consider special finishes on the cabinets, an upgraded stone counter top, a backsplash (could be tile, wallpaper, paint, etc.), and even lighting.

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Add Lots of Storage

At first it will seem overwhelming because you have not began to curate your collection, but over time you will need it. Whether you need shelves for your Whiskey collection, or racks for your wine bottles, be sure to maximize on storage. Consider how your collection might change over time as well. For example, purchasing more glasses, changing from a red wine to white wine collection, will you need refrigeration?

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For more bar ideas, check out my painters page HERE!

Winter Blues Solved: 15 Low-Light House Plants

Author: Sydney Piwowar

It is officially Winter and in the Mid-West, we get to know something called the January Blues. Yep... thats the time right after the holidays, when there is nothing else to get you through the grey skies. This year, I refuse to let them get to me though. My trick to keeping positive is to surround myself with Green. It proven that people who expose themselves to more plants and trees are happier.

1. Snake Plant

Snake plants thrive on neglect and are considered “unkillable”. They don’t mind low light and they only need to be watered once every couple of weeks.

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2. Spider Plant

Spider plants actually prefer you keep them away from direct sunlight. They are also pet friendly and sprout with babies you can re-plant.

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3. ZZ Plant

Even if you’re a serial plant killer, you’ll do just fine with a ZZ plant. It hails from Eastern Africa and it is conditioned to survive months of low light and drought.

4. Monstera Deliciosa

You’ve probably seen these all over trendy instagram pages. Monstera Deliciosa loves basking in gentle sunlight - keeping it 5-10 feet away from a bright window is key.

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5. Peace Lilly

If you’d prefer a plant with flowers, peace lillies are for you! They thrive in shade, indirect light, and even windowless rooms. You’ll know if your peace lilly is getting too much light because they’ll show brown streaks.

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6. Moss Terrarium

Terrariums hit the trends a few years ago and you can easily DIY one at home. With a little moss and rocks, they will survive on little to no sunlight. It does need moisture though and some indirect light to live at its brightest green. Place it near a window where it can receive a bit of reflected light.

7. Dracaena Reflexa

There are lots of types of dracaena, but reflexa is the most common. It is also the best choice for a dark room. They can survive in low to medium light, but are their boldest, yellow in indirect sun. However, too much will make them brown so don’t let them sunbathe all day.

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8. Nerve Plant

Yes it is PINK! Be careful though and keep them out of direct exposure or their leaves will start to brown. They do need constant moisture, so don’t skimp on the watering. Another plus about this one is that they are non-toxic for pets!

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9. Cast Iron Plant

Cast iron plants are native to the forest floors of japan and Taiwan so they are used to very little light. As a matter of fact, direct sunlight will burn their leaves so keep them close to north facing windows or away from windows in general. Best of all, it is another pet friendly plant.

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10. Lucky Bamboo

Dracaena Sanderiana, aka “lucky bamboo”, is not only cool for its shape, but also because it survives in low to moderate light conditions. Just don’t put them in direct sunlight, which will burn their leaves.

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11. Birds Nest Fern

Filtered or indirect sunlight will do them well. East or north facing windows are ideal. Avoid exposing to direct light to prevent burn marks.

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12. Chinese Evergreen

The pattern on these leaves are amazing. This one needs a bit more light than the rest, desiring low to bright indirect sunlight. they’re part of a family with 20 different species, but the general rule with all of them is that the darker their leaves and stalks are, the lower light they can handle.

13. Pothos

Pothos won’t complain if you only have moderate indoor light. It can also tolerate fluorescent lighting which makes it great for your office.

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14. Prayer Plant

The name of this plant stems from the fact that prayer plants leaves lay flat during the day and then fold upward at night. Another cool point about them is that they are safe for pets and dimmer rooms.

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15. Philodendron

This one is super easy for beginner plant parents as it does well in low to medium light and wont freak out if you forget to water it from time to time. The cascading leaves look beautiful on a high shelf or a hanging basket.

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See our pinterest board for more house plant ideas HERE!

The Truth about Inset vs. Overlay Cabinets

Author: Sydney Piwowar


Inset Cabinets

Inset doors are set into the frame and provide a custom and smooth overall appearance. The doors, drawers, and frame all sit flush when closed.

Inset cabinets are priced quite a bit higher than overlay cabinets, and they do require hardware (or a push system) because you can’t simply open them with your fingers.

Pros: Custom and high end look and cleaner lines. Hinges can be visible or hidden.
Cons: Higher cost. Gaps can be obvious in places. Can be less storage space because the doors are inset.

Full Overlay Cabinets

Full Overlay cabinets offer a similar appearance to that of inset doors but with a lower price tag (yes, please!). The doors and drawers completely cover the cabinet face, providing a flat cabinet front similar to inset cabinets.

This is the way to go if you want a higher-end look but your budget doesn’t allow for inset cabinets.

Pros: Less expensive than inset. Gapping between frame and door (or drawer) is not obvious.
Cons: N/A

Partial Overlay Cabinets

Partial overlay cabinets are the most common and least expensive option. If you have a tight budget, this is the route you want to go! These offer more of a traditional look and do not require hardware because there is finger space between cabinet doors. The door sits on the cabinet face, leaving a gap of about 1” between the doors. 

Pros: Least expensive option.
Cons: Doesn’t look as high-end.

Common Art Hanging Mistakes

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Art is crucial in making a house feel like a home, and good art is not cheap! Nothing ruins your perfectly good piece of art quite like bad nail placement. We have curated the top 3 mistakes that people make when hanging art and are going to share simple solutions.

Hanging Too High 

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You have most likely hung your art too high, leaving it to float away from the furniture underneath. To tie the pieces together (and make your room more visually harmonious), shoot for roughly five inches of space between the bottom of your art and the top of your furniture.

Small Art in Large Spaces

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Scale is the key to maintaining a harmonious relationship between the walls and furniture. Using a frame that is too small tricks the eye into thinking that is is smaller than it actually is. An easy trick to make it feel proportional is to reset it in a larger frame or to get a larger piece for the space all together. The general guide you should have when approaching art is to chose pieces that are about two-thirds of the length of the furniture.

Grouping Too Far Apart

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Separating your art is like separating fighting kids to their time-out corners… Its awkward for all of us. Whether you’re hanging twin paintings or simply grouping pieces, everything should act as one. Make sure that they are close, separating frames no more than 3 inches apart.

5 Steps to Tasteful Family Photo Wall

Author: Sydney Piwowar

We all love our families (mostly) and its hard to tastefully show them off. Oversized canvas oil paintings hung over the fireplace aren’t style anymore... At the same time though, I do not think it is fair to cut all evidence of family in a home… it is after all what makes a house, a home. We were asked in a recent install how to do this successfully. Well, I am here to share with you all my secret: framed prints with oversized mattes. Yes, simple and understated. What makes this method unique is the color quality of the image and the placement of it. Here are the 5 steps to ensure your framed prints turn out perfect:

Curate Your Photos

Go through the old hard drive because you want to plan out your photos ahead of time. The photos don’t all have to contain the same colors or people - feel free to change it up. This is where you get to show off your family’s unique characteristics.

Print With HIGH Quality

The most common mistake that people make is framing pixelated photos. Make sure that you are printing high quality images and don’t be afraid to send them somewhere nice to print - don’t cheap out on this because you will get what you pay for. Something else to consider is if you want to print in color or black and white. For someone who wants to print in color, going to a good printer with high quality color is important.

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Find Frames

Frames can be sourced from anywhere. Whether they are custom or ordered online from Ikea, you will notice a large gap in cost. The most influential decision you make will be upon the frame’s finish. This color and texture will be framing the image, literally and figuratively, in a way it is possible to influence your perception. For example, if your image has LOTS of texture and color, choosing a frame that does as well may only distract form the richness of the image. It would be better to chose a simple frame that allows all attention to be focused on the specialness of your image. The second factor to consider is if you want a more unified or eclectic gallery. For a more unified approach, I would consider finding a store that sells the same profile in several sizes as you may need for your collection. For those that want a more mix-and-matched approach, I suggest shopping resale shops, garage sales, and local boutiques for an interesting combination.

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Find Matte

There are several colors and finishes to matte. I prefer a stark white matte as it gives a certain freshness. Be careful though as they come in several shades of off-white, ivory, and cream — especially if you are trying to match to previously framed images.

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Hang Art

It is hard to generalize for every one when it depends on the size of the frame and the space… My best tip is to map out the wall with painters tape first though to ensure you are happy with your placement — you don’t want to see a dozen holes in the wall from where you moved hung them previously. Some key areas I think it is more peaceful to hang family photos include: hallways, stairways, bedrooms, bathrooms, and basements. Try to stay away from the large print over the living room fireplace — its tacky.

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For more tips on how to frame family portraits, see my pinterest board HERE!

Colorful Christmas: Parent and Kid Approved Decor

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Every parent does the battle once their children are old enough to want to put their own ornaments on the tree. My mom could not bare to let me ruin her perfect, glowing tree. She solved the issue by buying me my own mini tree to keep in my room, away from the holiday party guests. That worked through elementary school when I was still making ornaments out of popsicle sticks, but when hit pre-teen years, I wanted to help with the REAL tree. Being an aspiring designer, I had my own opinion on the color scheme of the tree every year and could not settle for silver, gold, and crystal ornaments. One year it was teal and silver, the next pink and gold, then the colors all combined in year three… the list goes on… As I have grown, I have learned that I was not wrong at age 12. There is no rule book that says Christmas trees must only contain the pre-approved colors: green, red, gold, silver, and glass. This year I am spreading the word — COLOR IS GOOD! Color is exciting and festive! To prove it to you, I have curated images of my favorite colorful Christmas Decorations sure to be approved by both parents and kids.

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 Design by My Scandinavian Home
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5 Steps to a Modern Holiday Table Setting

Author: Sydney Piwowar

1. Pick a Theme

This year, I am keeping a simple Scandinavian winter theme with a neutral palette. Natural textures, greenery and soft candlelight create a relaxed setting where the focus can be on the great food and conversation around the table.

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2. Simple Textures

Layering up textures is very important. Here, starting with a layer of white linen sets a soft tone. A rough grey linen runner lines the table adding needed balance against the perfect white. Notice that the grey and white tones call back to the dive grey dishes set on the table.

3. Natural Accents

They say that scent is the strongest memory trigger. The smell of pine at this time of year reminds me of all the great holidays of my past and to come. Using the left over tree trimming is an easy way to add a more festive feel to any holiday table.

4. Add Height

I don't like focus of a table setting to be down. I like to give the eye eye freedom to travel around the room. One easy trick is to add height which is easily done with the addition of a few tall candlesticks. In the winter months, candlelight is essential to any gathering. Burning candles creates the ultimate cozy ambiance. Another trick to fill up a larger table is to add a combination of tall candlesticks and low tea lights scattered along the table foliage so there's light at different levels. 

5. Simple Accessories

Black and brass candle sticks are a simple, yet gutsy way to go. This trend pays homage to traditional candles, but adds a fun and celebratory feel. This is also an opportunity to showcase special occasion cutlery that is more exciting than the everyday stainless steel set. Textured or patterned napkins serve as a pop against the white setting here.. Tying the edgy black stainless steel in with the rest of the clean, elegant, table setting.

To see more amazing table setting inspiration images, check out my Pinterest board HERE!

Top 10 Office Chairs

Anyone who has ever worked in an office, designed an office, or sat in an office before knows this struggle. Pretty and practical do not meet in Office chairs. We have all seen the Knoll, Steelcase, an Herman Miller office chair solutions. They are some of the best office chairs on the market. Only issue is that they are not terribly attractive. We searched the market and curated a few chairs we guarantee meet all your needs. 



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West Elm


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Sean Dix

Suite NY

For more inspiration, take a look at our Pinterest board: Attractive and Ergonomic Chairs

Tips on Subway Tile Patterns

In the last 10 years of its rise, we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of subway tile. Everyone loves it though - its simple, easy to clean, and inexpensive! Despite its versatility, I cringe when clients ask for the classic subway pattern. There are so many amazing ways to lay tile, why should we limit our selves to the Running Bond pattern? I say no. I say get creative. If you aren’t sure where to start, I have curated some of my favorite LUXURIOUS & MODERN ways to lay the classic tile.

Cross Hatch

The 4-Stack Parquet

Different Scales

Combination: Traditional + Diagonal Herringbone

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Stacked Bond

Vertical Stacked Bond

Top 5 Black Framed Shower Doors

Author: Sydney Piwowar

When they became a trend back in 2017, you had to pay BIG bucks for these beauties. Now that the trend has set in though, there are so many amazing vendors selling them stocked and ready for you! Here is our round up for Top 5 Black Framed Shower Doors.

For Large Showers

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For Small Showers

For Industrialists

For Minimalists

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For Those On A Budget

For inspiration on matching hardware and bathroom accessories, see our blog post on Design Details: Toilet Paper Holder and The Anti-Trend: Black Hardware.

Top 5 Interior Glass Walls

We were all in shock when the trend hit in early 2017 and have been drooling over them since. Black powder coated steel framed glazed partitions. In other words, those beautiful black framed window walls that we are seeing in interior spaces. After the swoon faded, I discovered a very practical issue with these walls… Arent walls supposed to separate spaces and provide privacy? Well, not these ones. The goal of these window walls are to separate zones in space without compromising on light, still maintaining the open feel of the space. To prove it to you, I have rounded up our top 5 favorite PRACTICAL applications for these.

1. Interstitial Spaces

Interstitial spaces can be a pain to design. Often, they become this weird in-between space with no purpose other than to offer a transition in space. These glass walls offers a connection from the outside in, making a smoother and aesthetically pleasing transition.

2. Studio Dividers

Anyone who has ever owned a studio apartment or condo knows the struggle of defining zones within a larger, open space. We have seen endless Ikea temporary hacks, but for those who are in it for the long run, this offers a solution that embraces your small space.

3. Quiet Zones

Since the development of open concept, our clients have come to us with lots of noise control issues. Families are finding that noise carries through the house in unwanted areas. No one wants to hear the kids playing cops and robbers while you’re trying to make a work call in our home office. These glazing walls offer create barrier between spaces, blocking some sound, and separating quiet spaces like your office.

4. Stair Railings

It sounds contradictory to build a wall to open up the space, but this glazing wall offers a protective railing for the stairs without the cluttered, repetitive lines of balusters.

5. Messy Spaces

There are some spaces, like mudrooms, that unfortunately receive a lot of light as they are connected to the exterior of the home, but get VERY messy. Frosted glass partitions offer a way to carry in that light without seeing the mess! This can be a great solution for spaces like kids play rooms, pantries, offices, etc.

This is a steel and glass wall we did for a modern condo in the West Loop to split the master bedroom from the main living area. We also had custom cast brass door handles made.

Design Details: Toilet Paper Holder

Author: Sydney Piwowar

I have decided to start a series called Design Details where I touch on the details of a space. There are so many little things that effect your every day life that people don’t think about. This week topic is: Toilet Paper Holders!! Yep. That’s right. Everyone has a specific method they prefer (upright, side ways, open ended, spring bar, etc.) Who knew there were so many options?!

I have curated a list of a few of my favorites to liven up a very practical detail in design.

Top 5 Trim Options that AREN'T White

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Contrast trim became famous for providing non-contractor grade options for trim. It was a missed opportunity for years to provide another aspect of color and depth to space. Rather than just picking the base grade or what ever is cheapest at Home Depot, we encourage you to put an interesting spin on a building necessity. Here are our current Top 5 Favorite Contrast Trim Colors now.

1. Classy Black

We have all heard of the black trim trend at this point. At JTD, we appreciate the unique ways people are using black in space. Here is a great space where the designer chose to trim a unique white wallpaper with black.

2. Calming Grey

Although providing a visual contrast, this soft grey brings a sense of comfort into the space.

3. Eclectic Green

We love the way this emerald toned trim compliments the original stained glass windows. This is a great way to modernize traditional spaces.

4. Pretty In Pink

If your kids are anything like I was, they constantly want to update their room. An easy, non permanent way to do that is to paint trim. No need for painting or wallpapering whole walls.

5. Buoyant Blue

This soft, baby blue paint color was pulled to compliment the paper pattern.

The Anti-Trend: Black Hardware

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Everywhere you look you see it - brass hardware! It is one of the biggest trends in both the design and fashion world, we love the classic warmth it provides. At JTD, we respectfully choose not to follow the trends sometimes though. I want to introduce something we are calling the "anti-trend" - BLACK hardware. Yes, black. While its not conventional, it is the perfect alternative for an edgy flare. If you don't believe me, see below and let these amazing pieces inspire you! We have pulled together a few of our favorites and curated a images that will inspire you to choose black hardware on your next project. 

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Funky Side Tables

Author: Sydney Piwowar

When you go out for a night on the town with your pre-planned outfit you've been waiting to wear, you never go out without jewelry. It is what completes the outfit, right? At JTD, we see side tables the same way. There is no need to wear your old jewelry to a black tie event and there is no need for lame side tables. Here are a few attractive (and practical) side tables to liven up your space

We call this one the "anywhere table" because you could literally put this in any room and it would look good. 

For a more classic approach, this cast bronze side table ages perfectly with a brown patina. This is a piece you will want to hand down for generations. 

For a more rustic or natural look, a pop of wood in its nearly original state brings a very raw and organic feel to the space. 

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For those that need some storage to hide coasters, remotes, and all those not-so-pretty things. 

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Black, White and Brass Cabinet Hardware

Author: Sydney Piwowar 

Sometimes when considering cabinet hardware, brass just isn't enough.. You know that phrase less is more? Sometimes more is more. Sometimes when we can't decide one, we decide both. You're probably thinking, "What the heck, you can't have multiple types of hardware on a cabinet." Well, you're right, that might look a little weird. But that doesn't mean your hardware only has to be one finish! Take a look at these amazing multi-colored cabinet hardware pieces and you'll know what I mean. They have a very classic, yet fresh approach to accessorizing cabinets. 

Top 5 Media Consoles you NEED and WANT

Author: Sydney Piwowar

Now-a-days media consoles are mostly about aesthetics as most people no longer use DVDs and VHS players have gone extinct. There are still some needs for storage though as the modern family probably hides video and board games here. We have created a "Best Of" list according to 5 categories - including closed storage, open storage, bar storage, vintage charm, and funky flare. See our top 5 list below. 

Best of Closed Storage

Brooks Cradenza by Croft House

Best of Open Storage

Thea Media Console by Burke Decor

Best of Bar Storage 

Guell Bar Cabinet by Baxter

Best of Vintage Charm

Porthole Console by Bobo Intriguing Objects

Best of Funky

Plissé by Baxter

Best Counter and Bar Stools

Author: Sydney Piwowar

The perfect bar or counter stool requires a balance of aesthetic, lumbar support, and seat comfort. We have curated a few of our favorites below that we believe contain that perfect harmony. 

1. Phase Design — The Bride's Veil Stool 

2. Gabriel Scott — Bardot Stool

3. Palecek — Pratt Stool 

4. Lawson — Fenning — Elysian Barstool

5. Interlude Home — Darcy Stool

A backless stool allows for cleaner, more streamlined views as you can tuck it fully under a table or counter. This is perfect for spaces where you don't want to overcrowd the room visually. Here are a couple of our favorites!

1. Interlude Home — Colton Adjustable Stool

2. Mr. Brown — Lorca Counter Stool

3. Noir — Diora Brass Stool

4. Lawson Fenning — Orsini Stool