Deep Freeze E-Paint design Sale client

Are you wondering how Chicagoland is faring with -40 below windchill weather? It’s annoying and requires a lot of preparation – car in and out of the garage, water dripping at a trickle in the faucets, texting the kids to see how they are managing, worrying about Harry-Beast when he’s let outside to do his business, etc. 

BUT tomorrow the temp is supposed to get to 24 degrees and everyone’s very excited about this forecast!

During this deep freeze I had offered an E-paint Sale. For a low low price, anyone could send me a photo of their space and I’d recommend up to 3 paint choices. Well my daughter’s landlord took me up on that sale!

My daughter and her fiance have been living in their apartment for 4 years now and it’s really nice that the landlord thought it was time for a refresh. She always compliments my daughter on how cute my daughter keeps the apartment. The Victorian home was built in the 1800’s and the once single-family home from long ago was at one time turned into a two-flat.  When they first moved in, the apartment was painted a not-so-great yellowy beige. The landlord told me that it was not necessary to give her 3 choices of paint color, just one was fine as long as it was through Benjamin Moore. Here’s the room before the new paint job ….

My choice to improve the space? BM’s “Gray Owl”. My daughter sent me these “after” photos, they’re taken from her phone but you can get a little bit of a feel how much better the room looks ….

A lovely improvement, right? Gray Owl is cool and fresh. There is only one window in the living room (and, as you can see, there’s that cute little foyer right off the living room) so this fresh color in a darker room is perfect.

The landlord painted every room, even my future son-in-law’s home office ….

and the kitchen is painted too but it’s in dire need for new cabinets and flooring so there’s no need for us to visit in there today ….

So thank you Dear Landlord for taking me up on my Epaint Sale and for having my daughter’s apartment painted. It looks great and this young couple couldn’t be happier. What a difference a good paint color can make in a room!♥

Snow Day DIY Project #2, a Scandinavian Country Cabinet

I’d like to say that this is MY project but it’s just my idea – for Dear Husband (hey, someone’s got to be the visionary in this house and someone’s got to be the laborer – I can’t do everything around here). Dear Husband does not sit still long and when the snow is high and the temps are dropping, he’s glad to get a project and here’s the second one I dreamed up for him. (to see the first, tap this link)

Here’s the hutch “before”. I’ve had this piece forever, since the R. Ashwell shabby chic craze. Dear Husband bought this for me as a Mother’s Day gift, back in the day when charming little boutique mom ‘n pop shoppes reined supreme in our little town. I decided to remove the doors to make it a little more modern. I was considering different paint colors but in the end, since we had white paint in the house during this snowbound weekend, we stuck with a fresh coat of white paint. I think I’ll call this makeover my Scandinavian Country Cabinet Project.

I’m always picking up odds and ends for pennies at estate sales. It makes me think I bought something without really spending. The old pulls had an Asian vibe so we replaced them and I finally got to use this set of antique pulls. I gave them a fresh coat of paint (sometimes I really do help out around here) and VOILA!

It’s cute how the shelves in this cabinet have notches so that the lady of the house could have displayed her plates and saucers, even get the layered look!

But I don’t need to display any china so I decided not to return one of the shelves and instead my hutch-turned-cabinet now looks like this ….

I kept the shelf staging simple and clean for a Scandi vibe but I can still hide “stuff” in the cabinetry below the shelves so it’s fresh and functional. This piece of furniture that’s near and dear to my heart got a quick little update and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. Thank you again Dear Husband, sometimes you’re just too good to me! ♥

Sawhorse table update plus bonus “Lesson Notebook: how to hide electric cords”

Do you remember when I got this awesome pair of homemade sawhorses for $7 at The Children’s Farm Sale? …..

And I painted the sawhorses charcoal and bought 2 white boards at my local hardware store for $12 each to make myself a sawhorse desk? …..

Well, since last weekend was basically a snowday and we didn’t go out much, I found a few projects for Dear Husband to keep him busy (you have a Honey-Do jar too, don’t you?) I asked him to nail those boards onto the sawhorses and he did!

I had asked him to get some flat topped black screws. These are called black “Connecting Screws”. I think it’s so cute the way it looks like this desk has black button accents.

And while you’re here, let’s add another page to our Lesson Notebook and call this “how to hide electric cords”.

 I don’t think I’m OCD but seeing cords hanging against a wall behind a table or desk can annoy me. But it’s really easy to hide those cords with some simple painter’s tape. Just tape the cords under the desk or table …..



 Look Ma, no cords! 

And you use the painter’s tape to tape the cords down and behind the furniture legs too….

Nope, I’m not a bit OCD ♥

Where to steal space in your home to create inexpensive built-ins

One of the biggest requests I receive when decorating clients’ homes is “how or where can I store all the books and toys?” Even clients who have homes 2800 square feet or more have nothing but ceiling volume, no built-ins! And it’s expensive to have custom millwork and built-in cabinetry installed in your home.

When we moved into our old home that was built in the 40s, there was one wall in the living room that measured 19 feet. That’s a lot of wall of nothing. Since I like to float my furniture, this wall was something you had to pass to get to the children’s bedrooms. This is how it looked back then…..



and this was my plan to remedy the endless wall space – I imagined removing some of the wall at one end for better traffic flow and then installing built-ins at the other desk.

Removing some of the wall was possible and the contractor proceeded with that project but there was one problem with my idea for the built-in.

Unfortunately, our walls were not deep enough to bump out the wall and insert deep built-in shelving.

However, my contractor suggested that he push the shelves out and over the basement staircase that was behind the wall by the computer desk. Genius!

Here is a photo of the shelves hanging above the basement stairs, ugly as it is ….

and here is the built-in on the other side of that ugly box. Today the printer is gone and so is the computer desk now that the children have moved out. We have so many less books now and I removed a few shelves since then too but you can see how we stole some space behind that wall to create a built-in bookcase …..

When we moved here, we also had the same contractor build another built-in bookcase in our daughters’ room. They had a very long closet, not deep but long. So we took some of that space in the closet for a floor to ceiling bookcase since little girls have a lot of stuff. Here it is today now that the room is my home office ….

So if you’re looking for somewhere to bump out and build in a bookcase, take a look around, under and behind areas of your home – you might just find it. And don’t forget to ask your contractor to also install an outlet in those built-ins for lighting and any other electronics. ♥

What if?

OK maybe by now you might be thinking, “we’re tired of hearing that we should get a decorator BEFORE we do anything!” but let’s just play What If so I could prove my (nagging) point ……

My clients came to me to decorate their living room. There was a step-down from the entry hall into the living room. They had recently moved into their new home, removed the carpeting and added new flooring. They painted the walls and replaced the front door and entry light in the hall. They already had a new sofa and the curtains – a greek key pattern in taupe and wine-red, were made by my client’s mom so those were going to remain in the design.

My clients admitted that the wall color might have been a mistake and they were willing to paint again. Here’s the Final Design that we came up with after a fresh coat of paint and new furnishings.

It’s nice and my clients are thrilled with the new furniture and paint color but …. What If they came to me before they installed their floor, etc.? I would have made different choices. If there is one thing an interior decorator is good at, it’s visualizing ahead – seeing the entire room completely decorated just by starting with one item or piece of furniture.

This room was a challenge because the floor my clients chose was too red, their paint was too yellow, the door was too white, the “boob” light was not attractive and finally, once the floor was installed, there was no need to put the 80s-era railing back. It’s a simple step down into the living room.

Let’s put my clients’ original choices side by side with what I would have suggested that they start with …

With an interior decorator’s suggestions, the room might have ended up looking a bit more cohesive, modern and suited to a young family …

So if you’re considering making ANY changes to your home, feel free to give me a holler and we can start at the beginning together. It’s not just the furniture that is going in the room that makes great design, it’s the bones or the main elements that are important too.

If you’re going to tear something down or rip something out of your home, you might as well replace it with something that will work for your design long-term. Have a wonderful weekend!

Business Wins and Losses in 2018

Is it too late to talk about last year’s business ups and downs? To talk about the losses and celebrate the wins? Well, hopefully not because that’s what this post is all about.

LOSS: I did have a loss last year. I applied to speak at a HUGE business conference in Chicago. Just filling out the application was daunting but I did it. I told Dear Husband and my kids that I was making application and, like always, they cheered me on. But alas, I was not chosen as a speaker. Whomp Whomp!

WIN! Fast forward though and I actually applied for something else in 2018 (I told myself to get back on that horse and stuff like that). I applied to win a Pop Up Shop in the local retail mall. I believe that everyone deserves a beautiful home and their own interior designer to help them create it. I imagined that my interior design business smack dab in a mall would bring affordable, high quality design to the masses. If I was chosen, I would win 6 months free rent to run my business, Alfred & Mary Interior Design, Inc., inside the mall. I made out the application, which included my design rendering showing my dream storefront. Surprisingly I was called in for an interview. I sat down in a conference room (did you know there was a big conference room in a mall?) with a panel of half a dozen people. And I WON!

Alfred & Mary Interior Design Pop Up Shop Rendering

The Team said that they thought Alfred & Mary Interior Design would make a great addition and be a big hit in the mall. Unfortunately, the details of their offer for a rent-free Pop Up Shop was not for me (one of which was that I’d be required to spend way too much time and many hours at the mall) and I turned down their offer. I am grateful to the retail professionals and I am still proud that someone loved my design business and my store rendering.

To show my dream store space, I had created this Pop Up Shop rendering and attached it to the application.

Alfred & Mary Interior Design Pop Up Shop Rendering

I thought that a black and white striped wall in my shop in the mall would be eye-catching to the shoppers. A desk (the one in my home office that I am typing at right now) would be where I would sit. There would be a pretty pink guest’s chair and a coffee table full of design magazines for shoppers to peruse for inspiration prior to them filling out a Style Survey and Design Brief.

Alfred & Mary Interior Design Pop Up Shop Rendering

On the striped wall would be design Storyboards that I have created for clients in the past. The shoppers could see a sampling of what they would receive with their design order.

Alfred & Mary Interior Design Pop Up Shop Rendering

My shop in the mall would have been pretty, don’t you think? Here’s to the coming Year 2019 – I can’t wait to see what good things it brings for Alfred & Mary Interior Design, Inc. ♥

Lunching with the Baileys

….. Baileys Irish Cream, that is. My oldest daughter’s sweet boyfriend gave me a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream for Christmas. Besides putting it in my coffee in the morning – it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere you know – I thought I’d make an Irish Mousse for my girlfriends who came to lunch yesterday. Thank goodness the lunch was not scheduled for Saturday. We had 4 inches of snow, which is not a lot for Chicago winters but unless you’re sledding or making a snowman – snow can just be annoying.

My girlfriends are amazing when they entertain! They put out a spread grander than any that you’ve had at a wedding. I, on the other hand, keep it super simple (not a big surprise, right?). I use my everyday dishes and flatware, throw some very spring flowers on the table (even in the middle of winter) and just make the basics.

Not a sponsored post, but I like these small Le Creuset casseroles for individual pot pies because they are shallow instead of deep so that with every bite of the filling, you get a bite of the buttery puff pastry.  

I did not take a photo of the cooked pies for you. After all, I had company when I took them out of the oven and did not want to look like a blogging geek.

But I did manage take a photo of the Bailey’s Mousse. I had made an extra for Dear Husband to snack later in the evening.

There are a lot of steps to making the mousse but I read over the recipe a few times before starting and had everything on the counter ready for each step. I do love that I was able to make this 24 hrs. in advance:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbls. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 Tbls. Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 Tbls. sugar
  • 2/3 cup chilled whipped cream (+ more for serving)

Place a heatproof bowl over simmering pot of water and melt the chocolate chips. Add butter to the melted chocolate, one piece at a time to melt. Add pinch of salt and then the Bailey’s. Whisk in the yolks, one at a time. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and put aside to cool.

*In another heatproof bowl, add the egg whites and put it over the simmering pot of water that you used for the chocolate. Whisk just until whites are slightly warm and then remove bowl and place it on the counter. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then slowly add the sugar and beat a bit more.

Add 1/4 of the beaten whites to the chocolate mixture and fold together until incorporated. Add remaining whites and fold again.

In another bowl, whip the cream and then gently fold the cream into the chocolate mousse. Divide into glasses. Since you might be making these 24 hr. ahead of the party, cover each glass with plastic wrap. The next day top each mousse with whipped whipping cream and some chocolate shavings.

*Hint: you warm the whites so that they will easily thicken to create peaks. If you don’t want to warm the whites, simply add a tad of Cream of Tartar to the whites before you start beating them. That also helps the eggs whites beat to soft peaks. I’m definitely going to be making this Irish Mousse again and again!

I won! 2018 Wayfair Holiday Design Contest

Y’all know that I’m a contributing designer at Wayfair Design Services, don’t you? Well they invited all their designers to have some fun and submit a design in their 2018 Holiday Design Contest. The winner would receive a cash prize and a 3D rendering of the winning design. The rules were simple – we could design any room in a house for an imagined client purchasing Wayfair’s Classic Edesign Package (that’s where the client receives multiple Concept Boards, a digital Floor Plan and a 3D rendering of their final room design). Here’s a peek at my room but let me tell you about the design process first…..

Rendering of my design by Wayfair Design Services

Although I have no grandchildren (yet!) I thought it would be fun to create a Grandma’s Attic Guest Room where her grandchildren could stay overnight when visiting.

Just like I do for an actual client, I started with a Concept Board.

A pair of red twin beds was a good way to kick-start the design, followed by buffalo check bedding, throw pillows and a fur rug to keep the kids’ tootsies warm on the hardwood floor. I love Wayfair’s footlocker trunks – they’re a great way to store board games, toys or extra blankets and bedding at the end of a bed. 

There needed to be a bookcase and a stylish and comfortable chair along with a floor lamp so that Grandma could read a holiday storybook to the kids at bed time. A fur pouf and an extra blanket for Gram was also a must!

If this Grandma had a dog, I couldn’t forget to include him in the design. He’d need a bed too with a comfy mattress and even his very own Holiday Stocking.

The final touches were farmhouse lights over each bed, a 3 drawer chest to keep pajamas, an upside down Christmas tree (yes you can buy that at Wayfair), stockings for the grandchildren, wreaths made with cotton balls and red berries, artwork, colorful swags for decor and even red tin cups for hot cocoa.

You know how much I love a good layout and the value of a proper Floor Plan!

I’m so happy to have won a cash prize in this contest (natch!) and I’ll treasure the 3D rendering that Wayfair Design Services’ graphic artist created for me in honor my winning design. What a great way to start the New Year!

Rendering of my design by Wayfair Design Services

If you’d like me to design for you and your family, simply press this link and be sure to ask for Mary Beth Zwolfer at Wayfair Design Services. We’ll have a blast creating the room of your dreams, I promise!

How to slow down the weekend – My mom’s crepe recipe

I know it’s Monday but I’ve been amiss in my blog writing and, when that happens, I throw in a recipe for you, dear readers. Over the holidays I made my mom’s crepes. It’s something I do when I want to slow down and live my weekend as if it’s back-in-the-day when I was young and everyone – every single person – slowed down and savored every weekend.

So grab the following if you want to make these easy and yummy crepes:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 Tablespoons butter (melted)

Whisk all together the above ingredients. The batter should be thin. You will make one crepe at a time. Use a small skillet (5″ to 6″ preferred) and put a tad of butter in skillet. When hot and melted, pour a little bit of batter in the skillet and swirl the skillet so that the batter is spread across the bottom of the pan. Cook for few minutes and when you shake the pan and the crepe moves, it’s time to flip the crepe.

I don’t fill my crepe with anything. I just sprinkle with confectioner’s (powdered) sugar and a dollop of sour cream. You can make savory crepes for dinner and add things like spinach and ricotta if you wanted to.