Of passions, pets and of course…a plethora of plaid.

I think what I enjoy most about the transition from Fall to Winter might just be that fact that it’s the ultimate exercise in layering. From fashion to furnishings, it’s the perfect blend of style embracing function, assembled and coordinated with a sense of purpose. And in the Midwest, other than the traditional celebration of the Holidays, the main objective is obviously warmth. Large or small, the artist’s studio can be an intensely personal space. Often times the environment itself is its own creation. Designed to evolve and take visual risks in search of inspiration, it tends be a reflection of the artists current passions and creative path. In some cases, it even reveals clues as to the artistic inspirations and influences of their past. This season, my creative studio definitely embodies all of that, as well as the celebratory spirit and functional requirements of this amazing time of year.

Starting in early October my arguably subconscious salvage search begins. I don’t even really think about it…it just happens…my mind, body and spirit begin to crave a level of authenticity only items with a curious history possess. Something I don’t seem to relish quite as much in the heat of Summer fun. With each visit to the small shops, markets, outposts and passionate purveyors of vintage inspiration, I’m emotionally nourished by the assembly of this seasonal and evolving collage. Nostalgic, reflective and colorful the environment that is my artistic home feels close to perfect. At least for the time being. And now that the snow has arrived, I thought I’d share the vision that surrounds me this season, and a few of the elements I thoughtfully and somewhat accidentally collected to create it.

It all started with the reclaimed shelf above the sofa in my studio. For this very personal space, I loved the idea of a shelf with reclaimed corbels versus a large piece of art, a mirror or other flat grouping. I wanted some dimension over the sofa, a kind of cozy and decorative canopy. The functional and visual advantages of a statement shelf both inspire and challenge me to change the theme in search of new groupings.

From the vintage images of the military jets I built as models as a kid, to the antique snow shoes, ski poles, English trophies and other curiosities…I add and subtract from this living display on a regular basis. As a firm believer that the best interiors always leave room in their design for evolution, the shelf, like the blank canvas has come to symbolize the promise and acceptance of the next new idea. For me a new thought, idea, vision or perspective has always been my True North. As for the vintage boxing gloves…I guess they’re reminders that sometimes you’ll need to fight to stay true to your artistic self. Something easier said than done as creativity can be a contact sport, worth the mental and even physical blows you may take along the way.


This vintage Hardware Store ladder was one of my favorite finds of the season, and will be put to good use in the studio as both a functional and decorative element. I think what I love the most about it is the simplicity of its primitive design. Sturdy and Nostalgic. It’s like a monument to a “keep it simple stupid” mantra, as so many of us, especially artists tend to overthink and complicate just about everything.


These vintage oil paintings of an unnamed dog were just too interesting to pass up. I laugh every time I look at them. Detailed, textural and well executed they were painted in 1935 by a Mrs. Floyd Vermilyea. The vertical portrait gives the terrier an almost human posture and facial expression. And in a way, don’t we all see our pets in that same way? I don’t know much of anything about the artist…and it really doesn’t matter. It’s likely she isn’t around anymore. I’d like to think she’s looking down and laughing that another artist actually bothered to purchase a pair of paintings of her prized pet. I guess the joke’s on me. So be it. And from the expression on the dogs face, I bet he’s laughing too.

I’m a sucker for old, large paint brushes made of horse or badger hair. They remind me that the contractors and craftsman of the past often used far less sophisticated tools to create things of incredible beauty, quality and value. For fun, try actually painting with one of these. The weight of these brushes loaded with paint will make you appreciate their efforts all the more. The vintage typewriter is no different. Another technological relic of an era when things were less disposable. Including the words pressed into meaning by this beautiful ancestor of the laptop from which I hammer out this blog.


The pair of vintage space heaters have been with me for sometime, they will eventually be turned into light fixtures. Stay tuned. Until then, I just love their industrial vibe and soft metallic green paint color. My house growing up had radiators that from time to time would make the house unbelievably hot…or leave it ice cold. This pair remind me of a time when I would heat up my pillow in front of a similar heater before heading off to bed. Yeah, just file that memory right next to the one that has me and my four siblings fighting in the station wagon with no seat belts on. We survived…like so many great memories from my childhood. Familiar objects like these seem to settle my soul, helping me lay the foundation for the creativity to come.

I consider the collection of vintage keys and salvaged corks a bit like cooking spices. You don’t immediately notice their presence, but when you do, you soon appreciate the complexity and flavor they add to an interior. Plus, I love to imagine the stories they could tell. There’s something so intriguing to me about their mysterious past. Where were they from? What did they open? When you think about it, wine corks and keys do have one thing in common. Both possess the ability to open doors and unlock secrets if used correctly.


I come across vintage spectator chairs all the time, but not quite like these. The pattern in their wooden construction and unique seat shape made them an instant studio mainstay. I’m quite certain they’ll still be welcoming guests far beyond this season and this latest version of my studio. Simple. Useful. And at home in just about any setting. I have a set of four, and like my siblings, are often at their best when we’re all together.

And finally, it was the collection of vintage wool blankets from iconic American mills like Faribault and Pendleton that gave this interior it’s true identity. Colorful, perfectly patterned and as tasteful as they are timeless. And like my family and good friends…I simply cannot image going through a Winter season without them around.

It looks like Cody & Tucker would most certainly agree with me. After all, nothing quite seems right without a proper parade of pets in plaid this time of year. Stay warm. Be safe…and go create something beautiful. -The Design Coach


Designing as many smiles as possible.


The van was packed. We were ready. We had been planning this for weeks. Nevertheless, I must have reviewed the checklist a half a dozen times…with no new revelations. I was a perfect mix of nervousness, excitement… and determination. The team had done an outstanding job helping us prepare for a makeover the likes of which we had never done. This one was going to be a surprise with a very special purpose. We intentionally left the client out of the mix. She attended no meetings, reviewed no visuals… didn’t handle any fabrics. We thought it best to work through her “people” to put this together… and their input was all we really needed to make this happen. This particular makeover story doesn’t begin with an outline of lifestyle objectives or budgets. Instead, it begins with a relationship between two very special little girls… and a family fighting to keep the memory one of  those children forever in the design of their lives.

A few months prior I had approached the organization Kisses from Keegan & Friends about donating time to do room makeovers for children and families, struggling with the challenges and aftermath of pediatric cancer care. I’ve always believed that the design of one’s surroundings was so much more than a stylistic statement, big reveal, or frantic flip. I believe that meaningful interior design involves creating spaces of real purpose that both could and should inspire and elevate. And I was hoping our resources and ideas could in some way be a fit for this wonderful organization. Having been familiar with their mission and some of the people involved in their important work, I was inspired by the hands-on nature of their approach to helping families. None of the board members are paid and all unselfishly volunteer their time and talents to make a difference. They would never say this about themselves, so I’ll say it for them: They are nothing short of amazing… and I’m a better person every time we’re in a room together. What the founders Paul & Carey Deneke have created, inspired by their daughter Keegan and their family’s struggle with pediatric cancer, is incredible. We are so honored to be involved in their mission. And so was born was the Designing to Make a Difference Program, and the story of our first makeover… with many more to come. And it is my hope that this blog entry helps bring increased awareness to this organization and the ways they rally every day in support of families in need.

We first visited Caitlin, Theresa, and little Aubre at their apartment in South Milwaukee in the spring to see the room we could transform. 4-year-old Aubre was shy, but soon warmed up to Paul. He has that effect on people, just ask anyone whose kid he’s coached… or any family he’s helped. Theresa and Caitlin greeted us with hugs and thanked us for coming. We expressed that it was we, who should be thanking them, for agreeing to be the first family for which we had ever done something like this. They had lost their beloved Angel to pediatric cancer in February. She was 13. I knew immediately, as we looked at the pictures of Angel, both before her diagnosis and throughout her treatment, that her recent passing was going to make this experience intensely personal for everyone involved. You want to talk about a “purpose?” How about helping a family heal from a devastating loss beyond words? Want to talk about “meaningful?” How about creating something for a family that both honors and celebrates the vibrant, colorful, and passionate life of the child they lost to cancer? Honestly, that was all the inspiration we needed. Now it was time to get to work.

After the initial visit, we invited Theresa, Ralph, and Caitlin (Aubre’s Mother) to meet with us at our design office to talk about the makeover for young Aubre… and to get to know Angel, the amazing girl that had brought us all together. They talked about Angel’s spirit, enthusiasm for life, and her determination, as well as their family motto throughout treatment: “Fight like an Angel”. She was a passionate fashionista, a dancer, a photographer, a cheerleader, a girl scout, and so much more. They talked about how much of an inspiration she was to so many, how much they wanted her to be remembered, and what we could do to help do something special for Aubre. Capturing the spirit of something in a meaningful and creative way has always been an important part of my design process. Something that would describe both the decoration of the room and intent behind the design. The ‘Ultimate Princess Bedroom’ was where we were headed, but the subtle theme that seemed to fit was “Someone to Watch Over Me”. It was going to be such an honor assembling this project for them. By reaching out to our partners at Wayfair, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby, we found all of the elements we needed to pull it off. Our delivery company, Dreiske Moving & Storage/TH Rogers in McHenry, IL, donated the delivery of the larger items to the home. And our team at The Design Coach made sure the personal images and important details provided by the family found their way into the makeover. We were ready to use design to make a difference for this family.

The volunteers arrived on time to complete our caravan of creativity and when we arrived at the house I was blown away by the ease with which they worked together. Efficient. Enthusiastic. You would have thought we had done this a hundred times. We could not have asked for a better team! From the assembly of the bed canopy to the installation of the wallpaper princess panels, not only did it come together beautifully… but ahead of schedule. I cannot say enough about the effort these volunteers gave that day. The love, care, and respect for each other and their task at hand was a gift in and of itself. And I can’t help but think that in some small way we were all channeling Angel’s spirit that afternoon. Interiors can have a molecular affect on people if they really mean something. This one sure did. And when I look back at the photos of that day, I realize just how special it is to be a part of an organization that just tries to design as many smiles as possible for families and children going through some pretty tough times.

Thank you to everyone involved for helping us put this together! Thank you to Theresa, Caitlin, Ralph, and Aubre for allowing us to share your story. And thank you to Angel. May your memory and example of courage continue to be an inspiration for everyone… and we know you’re watching over us all.

For more information about the amazing work done by Kisses from Keegan & Friends, to support their mission, and the Designing to Make a Difference Program go to www.kissesfromkeegan.org.



As another Mother’s Day enters it’s final hours, I have a message for those of you out there like myself…whose Mother’s are no longer with us:

When we embrace the best of the memories she gave us…
we honor the sacrifices she made to create them.

When our actions are a reflection of her finest qualities…
we celebrate her life in so many different ways.

And when we begin to rely on the lessons she taught us, that at the time of instruction we didn’t completely understand…it’s at that moment we realize she isn’t absent at all.


We love you. We miss you. Thanks for still being there…and taking us to school every day. Happy Mother’s Day!


Dedicated to my Mother, Nancy Elyn Sassano. Thanks for taking the time to coach me even today from the great unknown.

You’re never going to guess what else I dug up in the garden…

The collectively attentive gaze told me I was registering in their minds as a bit of a Martian. Well, I am an artist after all…and truth be told, we are processed by most people from time to time as possibly originating from another planet. A circumstance from which I now draw enormous joy and professional satisfaction. In a recent visit with students from Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, I was invited to speak with two classes about my somewhat unorthodox path to where I am today. Interestingly enough, I believe many high school students also feel like aliens from time to time. I told them that my story, both professionally and personally, can be likened to the Rascal Flatt’s song “God Bless The Broken Road.” I shared with them that sometimes the most important paths were the ones that deadened, and it was up to me to blaze a new trail for myself, my family or my company.

I summarized for them my challenges in school at an early age, my feeling of invisibility as a high school student, my formation as an artist in college, and ultimately how I managed to transform a lifelong passion into a career in creativity. I attempted to leave the students with three main thoughts. First, that finding my true purpose in life had been a process of elimination…and warned them to be more fearful of self-doubt, than failure of any given activity or situation. Second, that my work ethic has been the ladder on which my goals have been achieved. There may be more talented artists, but to this day, I refuse to be outworked. And that any job I may have held, no matter how small, was a relevant rung on my ladder of life. Lastly, I expressed to them that my continued development both professionally and personally, has been to relay on the lessons of my faith, to be both my biggest cheerleader…and harshest critic. The healthy balance of both has given me the strength to persevere, kept me grounded along the way, and constantly searching for new ways to improve as an Artist, Husband and Father.

As is often the case with this blog, I make connections between significant events and creative activities as way to illustrate, or even find synergy in the world. Such is the case with this blog entry, my visit with the high school students, and the start of Spring planting season. It was in this quiet and fulfilling work that I felt compelled to add to my original blog from July 10, 2016: 5 Life Lessons Reinforced by Merely Watering the Garden. https://thedesigncoach.com/2016/07/10/five-life-lessons-reinforced-by-merely-watering-the-garden/

Emerging from the fertile soil underneath my finger nails are numbers 6 through 10:

6.) The pace of saturation matters. Give people time to absorb what you’re attempting to communicate. We can be so obsessed with the immediacy of gaining agreement on our perspective, that we push out words so quickly that all they really do is make a splash. Think of words as water for the mind. Water too quickly, and risk runoff, rather than making certain it’s sinking in to reach the roots. Similar is the path from the head…to the heart.

7.) Recognize that Individual species of flowers require slightly different care to achieve the same result. Recently, I’ve started to really become a student of each of the species I’m planting on my property. In addition to the obvious sunlight and watering requirements, I’m noticing the ways they respond to being handled when putting them in the ground…even their country of origin. And although most of us refer to them generically as flowers…the nature of the stems, the depth of the roots, the size of the bloom, and especially their history, make each species totally original and special. That being said, all of them still require the same elements of care, carefully customized to suit their individual make-up in order to make success more likely. Hmmm….

8.) Only the mindless fear maintenance. Ouch, that might have stung a bit. But it’s true. The older I get, the more I realize that anything you want to last takes effort to maintain and requires consistent care. So enamored are we with the term “maintenance free” that we try to apply it to everything from relationships, to politics and to our lives. The problem is…tilling the soil on so many levels is necessary. Which means getting a little dirty is a foregone conclusion.

9.) Water isn’t enough, sometimes all flowers need is a little time in the sun. The control freak in us, is the suffocating cousin to the maintenance-free side of our psyche…so tread lightly. Remember, sometimes the best thing you can do for a flowering plant is be patient, and let the environment in which you’ve created do some of the important work for you.

10.) Newly planted flowers are the most deserving of our attention. This is the time when they are trying to find a way to develop the root system that will ultimately allow them to thrive in various conditions. When they’re young, they need your attention, patience, support and nourishment the most. Oh, wait I’m sorry…we were talking about flowers, right?


Dedicated to high school students everywhere…struggling to find their place in the garden of life.

Work hard…and be open to the endless possibilities that await your willingness to simply try.

You’ve been Coached!


Jerry Seinfeld, Pablo Picasso and The Design Coach all walk into a bar…6 keys to improving your creative productivity in 2018. No joke.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you’re all ready to attack 2018 like a beautiful big blank canvas. I know I am. Which is why it troubles me when I hear artists, musicians, writers, marketers, entrepreneurs (the artists of the business world) and the like, rationalize the reasons for their lack of creative productivity. Having spent the better part of 48 years as an artist…I can certainly relate. In so many ways, one of the fatal flaws in the human condition related to creativity, is that we often sabotage and sacrifice the more vulnerable parts of our being to protect our fragile psyche. The dilemma of course, is that it’s our vulnerability that typically generates the necessary heat to steam…and eventually erupt…the underground reservoir of thoughts, ideas and talents from our individual creative geyser. Which begs the major question at the beginning of this blog: How do we maintain our creative momentum with the right balance of sensitivity…and the discipline required to keep it flowing? The answer might just be a concept often lost in the romance of the aha creative moment. The concept is called productivity.


I recently saw Jerry Seinfeld on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. In referencing one of Jerry’s new projects, Jerry Before Seinfeld, Fallon showed a picture of a lifetime of Seinfeld’s material, in 8 ½ x 11 notebook form, patch-worked together on a street in New York City.




Commenting on it, Seinfeld made two fascinating remarks. First, he referenced how the photo put into context his productivity over the years as a comedian and creative. Commenting further, that photo only showed the material that actually “worked”, noting that throughout his career, there was probably ten times the amount pictured that didn’t. And second, he said it illustrated how committed you really needed to be if you wanted to be successful as an artist. A concept that is all too often lost in the unfortunate references of creativity as a compartmentalized craft, inconsistent inspiration or wonderful whim…versus a skill that needs to be mastered to really be marketable. The greater point being, that the development of creativity throughout history, is most successful when approached as more habit…than hobby.

Unfortunately for so many artists, professional development comes to a screeching halt after some kind of formal arts training…or puberty. Not to mention the lifelong annoyance of not being viewed as a “serious” profession. Which parenthetically might also be a contributing factor related to why people might arrest or ignore their own creative development. No one, including the artist, bothers to cultivate that passion into a disciplined talent of tremendous value. It’s the difference between telling someone it’s time to put away the crayons, or encouraging them to progress to more impressive medium. For me, over the years the choice has always been simple…but nonetheless difficult at times. I can either let life get in the way of my creativity, or allow it to act as the spark that ignites the fire of a more fulfilling life.

It wasn’t until I flat out rejected the traditional myths and constructs surrounding the creative process, and the stereotype of the starving artist in general, that I truly realized the personal and professional power of sustained creative momentum. Productivity, my friends, is what turns that hobby of yours into something so much more rewarding…and that transforms that intermittent passion into a profession filled with purpose.


2018 is here. Why not make this is your breakout year?! The one that changes the trajectory of your life both professionally and personally…as well as the way you approach your creative contribution to the world. Allow me to share my 6 keys to sustaining creative momentum over my 20 year artistic career…and hopefully for many years to come!


  • Create a space or area you can creatively call you own: Throughout my career, I’ve always thrived when I’ve designated a space, large or small, to just experiment, make a mess (both figuratively and literally)…and just create. A place I where I could learn to not fear failure, and play with the tools of my trade. A dorm room, a garage, a bedroom, a table in the corner of a bedroom, a parent’s basement, a basement I owned, and basements I’ve rented. All of these, over the years have been places where my creative efforts have called home. Without a designated creative area in your living space, finding a somewhere you can be consistently creative can be a real challenge. So stop searching for the perfect place to be creative. Just find a spot and start. If you’d like to really fly…you need a nest.


  • Consider working on multiple projects or pieces at the same time: Over the years, I’ve learned that you develop a relationship with creative projects. Believe it or not, to me they have personalities, quirks, even a kind of telepathic ebb and flow…and like actual relationships, some are more fulfilling than others…often at different times. More importantly, I learn different things from all of them, especially when I collaborate with them simultaneously. For me, it’s been a great way of working on expanding my productivity in an organic manner, versus the linear approach to creativity, that can lead to the activity feeling like an obligatory task…one project at a time. Cautionary note: For those of you who have a hard time finishing projects…limit yourself to three, and don’t introduce another until you’ve completed at least one.


  • Recognize that creative time and free time are very different: If you really want to be successful…you need to live it. Don’t just make time for your creativity….make it a habitual part of your day, and if need be, put in the extra hours without hesitation. If you’re not willing to go in to overtime…then I wish you the best of luck with your hobby. The difference between and artist and a hobbyist is their level of commitment. What’s yours?


  • Embrace that real creative development involves massive amounts of failure: Growth as an artist comes from the moments you pushed the limits of your current set of skills, as well as continually testing the relevance and authenticity of your current creative direction. Be fearless in your creative approach, and develop the courage to not only honestly critique yourself, but graciously accept the criticism of others. This was so valuable to me as a young artist…and even today as it relates to client feedback. You might not always like what you hear, but all of it helps you hone and improve your ability to convey and delivery your original artistic perspective. Yes…all of it. Failure is an amazing teacher…but only as effective as your ability to learn from it. Understand the lesson and then let it go…moving on to the next base camp on your courageous creative climb.


  • Authenticity makes inspiration easy: When I get stuck creatively, I will often just start by attacking a blank canvas with no specific subject matter or technique in mind. I let my love for the creative activity unclog the opening to the geyser of life’s debris. It’s amazing when you clear your mind, the things that come to the surface. This often helps me connect with my natural passions and leads to a very simple, proven, but often ignored creative formula: Write, draw, paint, sing and create involving the things you know and love. Get out there, gain as many unique experiences as you can…this only adds to the complexity and interest of your creative palette. For those of you who like to live in the comfort zone of perfecting a technique…I have a question. Once you’ve perfected the technical, what do you plan to say or do with it? Don’t lose sight of the fact that your talent is only as good as your ability to connect others with it.


  • Not every project needs to be a masterpiece: Reality check: Name your favorite artist. Now do you honestly think EVERYTHING they ever created was amazing? Or do you think that it’s more likely that ones we see are the gems from piles of rocks? I’m going to stick with Seinfeld on this one. There will most likely be ten times as many creative failures than successful outcomes. So, get over yourself Picasso. Bm3x5roIcAA_s1Y Like paths to a destination, some projects are simply meant to get you from A to B. Something that over time you’ll understand in greater detail. The key is to start walking down the path making creativity a larger part of your daily routine. Do that, and creative productivity will come naturally…one step at a time.

Skeptical of my keys to creative productivity? That’s fine. Then do it your way. But let me leave you with these words from the master himself…


From our studio to a creative place of your own…Happy New Year!

Why the secret to marketing your small business…might just involve a rather big ball of twine.

This past week, I had the extraordinary pleasure of speaking to members of the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association, kicking off their annual conference at the Abbey Resort is Fontana, Wisconsin. Special thanks to Kerri Thiel, Ed Svitak and Susan Smolarek for connecting me with such a wonderful group! I must admit, my wife and I have often talked about how fun it would be to run our own Bed & Breakfast someday. And while for us it seems “fun”…I am in awe of the immense effort I know it takes to maintain, promote, much less decorate these types of properties. As a small business advocate, I started my speech by thanking them for the valuable contributions they make to their communities, as well as their dedication to delivering something unique to a modern consumer that can be a bit of a moving marketing target to say the least. It takes special kind of crazy these days to be in business for yourself. For those of you who are doing it…you know exactly what I’m talking about. And for those who have never done it…it’s almost impossible for you to completely comprehend the depth of the overall experience. The risk. The reward. The sense of accomplishment when it works…and the level of disappointment when it doesn’t. It was in that light that I shared with them some key strategies to help them compete in a marketplace dominated by big data and the digital dominance of the deal.

The overarching strategy is fairly simple, not all that new, but it’s still something so many businesses miss in their overall customer experience. Here it is. The businesses that communicate and reinforce on a personal level, their value to customers…will win. So in my speech I asked them…are you doing everything you can to document, display and share the stories that make your business worth patronizing? Are you focused on establishing the kinds of human connections that define truly personal service experiences? Does the design and decoration of your physical location facilitate engagement with your value story? Or, is your environment, like so many I see today both personally and professionally, a hollow exercise in decoration that trumps style over the substance of the experience you offer? Now more than ever, you have to give your guests something different, something authentic, and an experience they’ll want to share with others. I reminded them it’s amazing how far people will travel to experience something they haven’t before. In essence, what was their “big ball of twine” experience, and did their design act as a catalyst for guests to REALLY engage with their story?

The following is the shorthand of my presentation to the WBBA, that I believe has an application not only for other businesses looking to engage customers, but also for anyone interested in creating authentic interiors with a mix of both substance and style.


Start by documenting YOUR original story: Rule #1-Don’t assume people already know it…or remember it.

  • Do your homework. Dig up your history! The people, places and significant events or milestones that have shaped your establishments unique journey.
  • No history? Newer establishment? Then tell the story of WHO you are and WHY you opened it. Sometimes that story is best one to tell.
  • Grab everything you can find, photos, letters from guests, reviews, awards and articles. Do your research and get personal. Authenticity is often times the emotional currency that buys someone’s attention.
  • Recipes and remembrances count…write it, photograph it, and keep it. You never know when you might want to use those items to create an experience.

Borrow stories you love!: Rule #2-Let the story of your Region or Area help build your value:

  • Again, do your research. Tell the guests the people, places and significant events that may have happened in or near your establishment. Local history offers an inherently personal and original experience.
  • Maps are awesome. Both functionally and visually. Orient your guests! Encourage them to explore.
  • Your staff needs to know the stories. Take the time to teach and train. Lack of knowledge of the inn and the area…equals a lack of interest in the mind of the customer.

Display: Best practice example-The Wickwood Inn: Saugatuck, MI (https://wickwoodinn.com)

  • All of that great documentation can be turned into engaging artwork that helps the customer connect! Themes, legacy walls, weird collections…ALL of it matters.
  • Think cohesive and curated. Framing and professional presentation is so important. A cohesive, well-crafted visual tells people they’re some place special.
  • There’s a reason why museum displays look the way they do. Curate! Pay attention to detail, and make it easy for the customer comprehend your story. True hospitality means your guests shouldn’t have to work for it.

Develop the relationship: Be mindful that every guest, every event and every micro-interaction with your staff is an opportunity to reinforce your story.

  • Invite your guests to become a part of your history and continuing story. This is where social media posts, offering to take your guests picture, and a digital guest book are so important. These are automatic and easy opportunities to engage!
  • Start your own, or promote tradition(s) that are unique to your inn and your area. When people travel they’re more apt to try new things. And most everyone enjoys an interesting tradition. Do you have a signature “When in Rome do as the Romans” experience or tradition?
  • Ask for feedback on something more than a card or email. Think of customer feedback as a double sided coin. The information on both sides can make you more profitable. Yes, tell us what we’re missing? But also ask them to share one of their favorite moments. “Hope you enjoyed your stay.” Or “ Thank you for staying with us.” Is not a personal goodbye.
  • Digital mailing lists and personal data, are the new currency of marketing. And small businesses can no longer rely on just their own charm, or the charm of their town to carry them to success. People forget. You need to remind them why you’re relevant…and that their next great experience is waiting for them.

I guess in a way, our homes are our own versions of a bed & breakfast. Both should be designed to inspire excitement and relaxation simultaneously. And in this Season on Giving…what kinds of stories is your interior offering? At The Design Coach…we can actually show you our big ball of twine. So gather up and display your special stories, and before your know it…you’ll be spinning them into an experiences people will never forget.



That’s it! Why I’m giving my kids just ENOUGH for Christmas this year!

Honestly, I didn’t expect to be writing this blog today. But as I turned on the news this morning, I saw some of the most disturbing images of the various Black Friday events across the country. I cannot imagine a worse way to start the Holiday Shopping Season than with such horrific displays of consumer carnage. Really?!! Is this where we are now?! Doubt me?! Just reference the Nike Store aftermath below…or just head to  YouTube to view any number of videos documenting for eternity people literally fighting over products that within the next 3 years will most likely be deemed obsolete.


Way to go big box stores! You must be so proud. Not only have you managed to decimate countless numbers of Main Streets across the country…but you now have us sacrificing our basic human dignity, in the name of lower prices, for products of questionable quality. Even worse, on the very holiday that specifically celebrates being THANKFUL for what we have!!?? Oh wait, that is until 6 PM when the stores open…then we want MORE.  And if you did partake, I hope you were at least buying for someone else? Wait, don’t answer that. It’s none of my business right? Well either way, I guess the big box bleeding of the American consumers wallet…and their soul continues. Happy Holidays???

Now, contrast this with the celebration of Small Business Saturday today, November 25th.


What an awesome event! This may just be commerce the way it was originally intended. Customers supporting the local businesses that make their communities special and unique. People taking to Main Streets and Downtown Areas across the country to patronize shops that provide the kind of consumer experiences that lead to authentic relationships from valued customers. I cannot think of a better way to have cleansed my visual palette of Black Friday, than with the images I witnessed in my own shop on Small Business Saturday. Thank you to everyone who visited my studio today. It was truly a pleasure. Thank you American Express for your unbelievable promotion of this event. And thank you to the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce for driving local awareness.

So with all of this shop talk, I started thinking about my own family this Christmas…and the kinds of things I wish for them this blessed Season. I wish for myself and my family, the complete understanding possible, of one of the most powerful and overlooked words in the English language; ENOUGH. Not more. Not less. But ENOUGH. I wish for them this gift that will last longer than any item we’ll wrap for them this Holiday Season..


I wish for my family ENOUGH of the following this Christmas Season:

Enough patience to watch the smallest of things develop into something great.

Enough food to keep us nourished, but Enough left over to send guests home with some of the meal.

Enough courage to stand up for what we believe with conviction.

Enough honesty to say what needs to be said…as well as when we need to say it.

Enough understanding that a complaint about a problem, is more often than not an invitation to become a part of the solution.

Enough time to accomplish the things that really matter…and Enough recognition of the things that actually do.

Enough compassion so that we are moved to initiate random acts of kindness.

Enough character to keep us accountable to higher calling.

Enough forgiveness of others, in hopes that we will be forgiven.

Enough struggle to help us keep everything in perspective.

Enough wisdom to exercise good judgement when others do not.

Enough enthusiasm to enable us to motivate ourselves and others.

Enough passion for life that it’s reflected in everything we do.

Enough purpose to make our days meaningful.

Enough situational awareness to realize that indifference and inaction may just be two of the world’s great illnesses.

Enough skepticism to keep us mindful of the real motives of those in positions of influence.

Enough confidence to bet on ourselves, and others, when we need it most.

Enough disappointment to keep us trying our very best.

Enough of a sense of urgency so that we’re ever mindful that tomorrow is promised to no one.

Enough of disruption in our day so that we value real peace.

Enough good health so that we can live life to its fullest.

Enough determination to keep us moving forward, as motion is the key to keeping your balance in life.

Enough creativity so that we inspire ourselves and those around us.

Enough spontaneity keep the routine from dulling our adventurous spirit.

Enough appreciation for history to acknowledge both those who created it and why…as well as reverence for those brave Enough to preserve it.

Enough joy to mend our hearts when the world tries to break them.

Enough pain to remind us of the fragility of the human condition.

Enough faith to help us endure the toughest of times.

Enough unanswered prayers to help us accept that there is a greater plan.

Enough curiosity to keep us searching, learning and growing.

Enough loss so that we appreciate all that we have.

And Enough riches to realize that the most important things in life, can only be purchased with the currency of love.



So from my family to yours, I wish for you a blessed, safe and joyous Holiday Season. May you experience ENOUGH love, peace and inspiration to last throughout the year. Three things coincidentally that you’ll never find on sale at my shop…or any big box store for that matter.


Maybe we should have just named our shop Ollivander’s…

“The wand chooses the wizard…” That’s the quote right? And it’s never been more true than here at The Design Coach. For those of you who have no idea what I’m referencing…you’d best move along to another blog. Or stay if you wish…however, be warned. Reading this may cause your face to awkwardly contort, as I deliberately disturb your consumer complacency…and poke any predisposed compulsion you may have for charismatic, cookie-cutter and catalog interiors. On the cusp of 20 years in business, we’ve recently come at an important realization that has put everything into perspective; like Ollivander’s Wand Shop…we’re not for everyone.

And with every project, especially some soon to be revealed, we realize our true mission is to support those for whom the practice of interior design resembles more wizardry than Wayfair.


Over the years, we’ve tried to reinvent our messaging to communicate who we are and what we do. That we are equal parts problem-solving contractors, original artists and visionary designers. A model, a team and a calling very different from the rest…met with the occasional displeasure and disdain of those who shall not be named industry purists. Most of whom, lack the basic understanding that true creativity in design, is best achieved by mastering the cross-training exercises that involve all three disciplines.


You see, we have the power to concoct potions and elixirs to remedy any functional interior ailment. And we possess the ability to cast visual spells beyond everyone’s imagination with exception of our own. This is our purpose. The reason we exist. To help the world’s wizards realize and create that which they would otherwise not.


Mind you, we did not ask for this condition…we were simply born this way. To thoughtfully position and pair…to sensibly select and synthesize…to carefully craft and create…to efficiently evaluate and edit. Differently than the others. So it would only stand to reason, that we are misunderstood by many…and dismissed by those who cannot…or in some cases will not…see us for what we really are.


Mr. Potter and the hooligans of Hogwarts…we know exactly how you feel.

Our creative home here in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, located fairly close to both Chicago and Milwaukee, is surrounded by Cathedrals, Churches and Chapels dedicated to the religion of modern consumerism in every way. Featuring products, packaging and promotion that are often specifically designed to satisfy, rather than to nourish. From the outlet malls to the big box retailers to the discount stores in both philosophy and name. These are the kinds of places, where almost EVERYTHING is ALWAYS offered up in a way, that sacrifices quality at the altar of lower prices and the Great Sale.

And then there’s us. Artfully curated, we still believe in the virtue of value, and that quality trumps quantity in so many ways. Shocking I know. But we understand the intrinsic value of our offerings…and those who choose to work with us. We appreciate the effort it takes to bring truly unique, original and well-crafted items to market…and you know what? So do our amazing clients for whom we are so grateful. Not only for their business, but for their overwhelming support of the not so dark arts.

In our hearts, they are so much more than customers…they are both partners and patrons. For they are the ones who see wands…where others only see sticks.


So every Saturday we open our doors, for the wizards who knowingly, and unknowingly wander in, searching for wonderful wands to add their collection. From couture fabrics to one-of-a-kind found objects, we live to share our brand of creativity in all of its forms, with those looking to put a little magic into makeovers both large and small.

Funny thing is, every day that goes by, we get a little better at recognizing you when you walk in. Whether you realize it or not…just like us…you’re a bit different from the others. And deep down you know it. Sometimes giving yourselves away with your wide eyed-audible gasps, open jawed expressions that immediate morph into unsolicited smiles, and the sincere commentary that acknowledges the special place in which you believe you’ve entered.

Other times you’re a bit difficult to discover. As the only clue to your true nature, is found in the pondering pace of your curious gait while exploring our shop. And even when your visit doesn’t result in a purchase, we love that there was still a very special transaction that took place between us…and we know you’ll be back. So here’s to the muggles, mud-bloods and pure blooded aesthetic alchemist of every kind, dedicated to more authentic, creative and personal interiors. May our passion, for forever fuel and enhance your search for the perfect potion and spectacular spell.

The Design Coach: Wizards Welcome.


The Color Bar. Imagination on Tap…and Open Daily.

If this piece could talk, oh the stories it could tell. Including many of my own. From time to time I’m asked if I have a favorite piece in my home, which is the challenge the innovative team at Havenly recently presented to me. A tough question, but one I was eager to explore! After all, it’s akin to asking me which one of my kids is my favorite. My answer is usually the same. I love them all completely, but often times for different reasons. As an artist and design professional it can be difficult to pin point one item that stands out in my personal design. I believe really loving your home starts and ends with surrounding yourself with your passions. I guess I just like my furniture and my finds to be like my family…strong, comfortable and interesting.  However, one piece in particular does seem to draw and inordinate amount of attention to itself…very much like the middle child that brought it back to life. That piece is one of my original retail front counters, that I reclaimed, reinvented and re-purposed from an old Central Illinois General Store.

When I moved into our current location in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin I inherited another store counter that fit perfectly. So my current front counter found itself without a home in the new shop. Having recently refinished our basement around the same time, I decided it was time for this special and sentimental piece to grace us with it’s presence in MY home. The only question was…where in the world was I going to put it?! It was at this point that I realized I needed to take some coaching of my own. I’m always advising clients that if they find a piece that speaks to them…that they should try to find a place for it. And this was the piece that was going to most certainly test that advice.


I’ll be honest, from a design perspective…it had its challenges. Let’s start with the fact that it’s almost 12 feet in length. It’s also painted in a distressed bright orange and lime green. Not a combination for those who suffer from today’s low color tolerance levels. But true to my artistic roots, I focused on the assets of the piece rather than it’s subjective design liabilities. Truth be told, I loved the color it brought into the space. But the size and a predetermined design wish of my own we’re getting in the way. You see, like a lot of people…when I refinished our basement I wanted a bar. Over the years, my design company has built some amazing residential pub environments. And like Veruca Salt, I wanted one of my very own. AND I WANTED IT NOW!


So, in my mind only one question remained. Could THIS Willy Wonka make this General Store counter work as the centerpiece of my personal pub? Then my imagination and design mind began to take over. I started asking myself the very same questions I ask my clients. What did we really need right now as a family to make this Lower Level more functional and fun? The answer was three-fold and quite simple. More storage, more surface area…and more style. This is where the AH-HA moment occurred. And the idea that was born was the Color Bar. Equal parts craft/school project counter, game table, and entertaining surface. Now all that was left was the big reveal for my wife and kids.

I started by exploiting the limitless available storage behind the counter to house board games, crafting and school supplies. Something we desperately needed. A functional home-run. I then introduced industrial pendants to add task lighting and pull-off a rustic, loft feel that worked well with the exposed mechanicals and ceiling joists. This helped visually ground the element in the room so it didn’t appear to be floating in the middle of the basement. And finally, I used vintage game boards and other found object finds…in coordinating colors of course…to create a color scheme that tied it all together. The creative result was a multi-purpose work and play surface that the entire family could enjoy…and add to it’s beautiful patina over time.


This piece is now the cornerstone of activity, function and fun in our Lower Level. From the ultimate serving piece for entertaining family and friends…to a massive project counter for the ultimate school or craft project…it may just be the most valuable piece in our home. And not because of its price tag…but because of the functional and stylistic value it brings to our home.


After almost 20 years in the design and remodeling business, my own home is still taking me to school, and teaching me some very valuable lessons. So welcome to the Color Bar. Where we’re serving up moments and memories on a daily basis. I’ll leave you with this. Achieving good design isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes effort, compromise and a little planning. But when it comes from the heart, and works well, it is so rewarding. And after this exercise, this designing Dad is going need a drink. At my game table meets craft counter meets Color Bar.

The Seven Deadly Sins I Committed on the Streets of New Orleans…and Maybe You Should Too.


My Mother, God rest her perfectly imperfect soul, is either going to love or hate this entry as she looks down from above. A deeply religious, proud Catholic woman, she instilled in me a recognition that often times life’s most difficult challenges are created, at least in part, from within. Allow me to reference the Seven Deadly Sins as I understand them…Anger, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth (Laziness), Pride and Envy. The sins that if committed often enough, would most certainly lead to a troubled and tortured soul. And on a recent 48 hour trip to New Orleans, I am almost certain I committed every…single…one of them. However, maybe not in the way one might while in the Big Easy. Like most of us, vacations and getaways have always been an important reset for me. A rewire, a recharge…a way to break the routine and disturb the collective complacency that settles in from time to time. That being said, I’ve always seen travel of destinations both near and far as adventures. I thrive on the search for the less ordinary in both places and people. And on this particular trip to New Orleans, not only did I give in to temptation, but the result was an experience that was as unplanned as it was unforgettable. And for the record, I am all but guaranteed to commit these sins again and again…in as many places as possible. And you know what? Maybe you should too.


So here they are in no particular order…sorry Mom.

I demonstrated a fierce contempt for the clock that rules life most days. I recommend taking the streetcar* from Canal Street and head to the Garden District. Get off, explore…and lose track of time. But make sure you’ve visited the shops, pubs and restaurants on Magazine Street before you leave the District.

*Thank you Susan Durnin Catalano


I loved the experience of the French Quarter before 9 am. I cannot encourage you enough to wander these streets without the distraction of the debauchery. Let the Quarter ravish you with its complex color combinations and unbelievable visual texture. But don’t just walk around. Absorb. Stare and study.




New Orleans is such a complex and interesting city on so many levels. It’s a shame for those who hold it at arm’s length. Be greedy for the endless experiences this amazing place has to offer. Which means don’t spend hours sweating in line for a bite at a beignet. Be smart with your time. Better to make a return trip at another time than burn valuable vacation hours. Besides, that town will NEVER run out of beignets.


I over-indulged in the different and consciously tried to expanded my culinary comfort zone. From crawfish to creative comfort food to classic cocktails…there may be no better place to push your palette in more ways than one.


I took some time to find a place to just be still and just watch everything unfold around me. Jackson Square is the perfect place to do this, so is any local cemetery. Creepy? You bet! Creepy, historical and fascinating. Point being…be lazy, and take an intentional time out before heading back into the chaos.

From Bartenders to Bourbon Street Bystanders to Street Musicians…I loved engaging with the people I met on my visit. From Kevin at Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, to Fernando, my new favorite New Orleans salvage soldier, to Eric the Pool Bartender at the Roosevelt. The interesting conversations with so many people, revealed a side of New Orleans I had not really experienced in past visits. I was able to experience NOLA from their perspective. And it was so easy to do. Try asking open ended, genuine questions…and just listen. My go to questions was “So…how did you land here?” Try your hand at the art of conversation. It’s amazing the lasting pictures it creates.



I was so envious of New Orleans rich history which has as much texture, grit and drama as its brick streets. Read the signs! There are historical makers everywhere…and almost every building has a story worth hearing. And if you have time, the World War II museum is a must visit.

Well, there you have it. I guess I’d ask for absolution…but as you can tell I am without contrition. The older I get, I become more and more convinced that one of the most important things in life is curiosity. And most of us underestimate it’s power, downplay it’s value, and even mistake it from time to time as temptation. But a curious disposition may be the most important item to bring on a trip to New Orleans…or any other place for that matter. As Oscar Wilde said, “To LIVE is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” And you know what…my Mother would have agreed.


Thank you to our dear friends Kyle and Melinda H. for making this trip such a great adventure! And special thanks to The Roosevelt Hotel, Aidan Gill for Men, Ruby Slipper Café, Goorin Brother Hat Shop, Redfish Grill, Willa Jean, Court of Two Sisters, Muriel’s Jackson Square, The French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s, Drago’s Seafood and the City of New Orleans for the amazing cultural calibration. Until we meet again.