Makers. Wanted. #bringithome2020

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I’ve been talking about this on the radio over the past couple of weeks, and I’m really excited to finally put this together! In an effort to support local Artists, Artisans & Makers of all kinds, we’re proud to announce with this brief blog post launching our #bringithome2020 initiative. As more and more light is shed on the challenges presented by the shift toward overseas manufacturing many of us have lamented for decades, The Design Coach would like to begin highlighting the people, passion and purpose behind some of the most interesting products made right here in the United States.

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Over the next few weeks, we will begin compiling and promoting our links to these very special resources. Please know that the information, photographs and links on our site are free those who choose to participate, as this is our small contribution to begin to connect patrons to those who not only love what they do…but love doing it right here at home. It’s really that simple.

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So, if you’re a maker, an artist, or an artisan of any kind we’d LOVE to hear from you! Please consider reaching out to us at hello@thedesigncoach.com to share your purpose, your passion, your projects and products. And help us raise awareness during this time, and hopefully for years to come, that from now on…it’s going to matter where it’s made.

Channeling fear & anxiety into creativity & productivity.

On the radio this morning I tried to move the conversation surrounding the Coronavirus Pandemic in a slightly different direction. Not about politics or propaganda…but with a renewed focus how people are dealing with the situation. And the tools we have within us to cope, persevere and produce for one another in these difficult times. I hope it helped some of you. For those of you who missed it, here’s my follow up blog related to the important role creativity and activity can play in positively channeling our fear and anxiety during this challenging time.

I am by no means a mental health expert…in fact just the opposite. As a Husband, Father, Artist, and Entrepreneur I often struggle with navigating and balancing all of those responsibilities without losing my mind. I’ve tried my best to embrace all of these chosen roles…but just as in these times…some circumstances add a level of additional stress that is totally unforeseen and unanticipated. That being said, all of these experiences, including the ones I never saw coming, have in many ways taught me how to redirect my fear and anxiety into a variety of productive, rewarding and creative outcomes. This blog is my way of sharing a tool box with all of you, in hopes that you might find something to help you and your family move your life forward…even if you can’t move around much these days.

As an independent business owner for over twenty years I’ve navigated through some difficult times. Not as difficult as some, but still some pretty scary stuff. The dot.com crash, September 11th, the financial crisis of 2008 and on the personal side, the unexpected death and illness of loved ones I never saw coming. And yet through all of these life-jolting events, the lessons learned, combined with the focus and strength to channel my fears in positive ways has made all the difference. Times like these have a way of stripping us of the emotional architecture we carefully construct to protect our core on a daily basis. And when our core is revealed so are our weaknesses…which also creates the opportunity reinforce that core, with the underpinnings of truth and love. Two things as an Artist and an Entrepreneur that have both served to frighten and drive me over the years.

Social media and the connectivity shared through it, has only served to deepen my understanding of who I trust by my side in the foxhole of life in times like this…and those of you who will be designated for reassignment in my feeds after this crisis has passed. All that being said, there is some really great information out there, both new and old that I believe is worth a deeper digital dive. And along with my own thoughts, I’ve included them as well, like this wonderful entry from Good Therapy outlining 7 Creative Ways to Turn Anxiety into Productivity. Originally written in 2016, this is a great primer before reading on, and worth a quick read: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/7-creative-ways-to-turn-anxiety-into-productivity-0406167

 

  • This is the perfect time to do an “Inventory” Rather than use technology to primarily inform and distract ourselves, consider using it to really connect. Reach out to those you may have not in some time to see how they’re coping, navigating and feeling. But it’s important to do get behind the cursory, ordinary and polite responses. In stressful situations like the one we currently find ourselves in, it’s important to ask the follow-up question. To ask not just what’s going on, or what someone is feeling but also why. It’s always the second or third layer of questioning that open up the most meaningful phases of a conversation. One cautionary note, try to resist the temptation to come to a conversation with an agenda or teachable moment. Just listen…it’s amazing the things we discover about one another when we free ourselves from judging someone’s opinion, comment or quip. Meaningful, deep and honest conversation often leads to emotional and intellectual exploration that nurtures relationships and feeds the soul. But it’s important to take an ego-free approach. So, why refer to it as an inventory? Well, it’s amazing the number of things you can discover without ever leaving the house, when you’re willing to take the journey with the purpose of actually cataloging the content of your conversations. To help you out a bit, here’s a link to several TED talks on the art of meaningful conversation: https://www.ted.com/playlists/211/the_art_of_meaningful_conversa

 

  • Clean and organize one square foot at a time. We’re so conditioned these days to think that life is a series of dramatic makeovers, whether it be our homes or our lives, that we forget that real progress is most often made in much smaller increments. But because there’s less of a wow factor (or exciting opportunity to promote to others our willingness to change) that we dismiss the important efforts in the form of the smaller improvements as insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The act of organizing, cleaning and nesting one square foot at time, for at least a small part of my day, not only gives me a feeling of control, but also a very satisfying sense of accomplishment. This suggestion might just be one of the easiest ways to channel your stress. This list of 33 Spring cleaning tips from Good Housekeeping, written in January of 2020, will most certainly get you off to a solid start: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/g3345/spring-cleaning-tips/

 

  • Create. Build. Play. From crafts to cooking to card games, this is one of my favorite ways to channel our cocktail of complex emotions in uncertain times. That being said, the key to embarking and enjoying these activities is to NOT to focus the success of a particular outcome…but rather to focus on the actual joy, intertest and unknown that exists in the activity itself. We get so wrapped up in seeking approval or validation for a job well done, winning the game, or a perfect process, that we leave very little room for the love of just being together and sharing in these activities. Attempting to orchestrate, control or coax a moment to a desired outcome vs. taking an organic approach to letting things and naturally evolve is where it can all go off the rails. In my most difficult of times, it wasn’t whether or not the meatballs were made perfectly for the family dinner, but rather that we were able to share in the activity together as a family…and have fun enjoying each others company…even if we failed the recipe from time to time. Here’s a great article from Cooking Light focused on recipes families can make together: https://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/recipes-families-make-together Some great ideas here.

 

  • Prepare, plan and position. This can be easier said than done while trying to react to circumstances that can upend the best of plans…but to continually engage in these activities can be so important. Maybe now more than ever, get in the habit of writing things down. Whether it be making lists of things to complete, or making long range plans of things I’d like to do, try or achieve. Somehow making lists and that act of recording them makes them more real. We always say we’re going to do things, but often times they’re just words. Make the time to write things down, as in the chaos of confusing times, it’s easy to become distracted and lose your place. Lastly, finding the right positioning within your plan is key. As an Entrepreneur I know this all to well. Have a direction, a purpose and a plan…but be willing to be patiently pliable, as adaptability can mean psychological survival. Here’s an article from Very Well Mind that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-make-a-life-plan-first-steps-3144639

 

As we all look to manage both our physical and emotional well being, I wanted to mention one additional link from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html There’s some wonderful information here aimed specifically at helping us on the mental side of things related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Some of you might find this useful as well. One last note, to all of those on the front lines fighting the pandemic, working to keep the peace and maintain access to necessary supplies…thank you for your tireless efforts. You are our true heroes, and my thoughts and prayers are with you all. As always, be safe. Be kind. And keep coaching…as we need each other more now than ever before.

The Fast Food Furniture Industrial Complex: Who’s to blame for the crisis of quality.

After last Sunday’s radio show, I felt compelled to follow up on this important topic with a blog post to further expound on a few thoughts. There’s another obesity epidemic in America that has nothing to do with anything we’re eating…but many things we’re consuming. As a primer, the topic of my radio show focused on the erosion of our collective understanding of quality, specifically related to the way popular digital design resources pitch their products. In addition, I framed many of my observations in terms of our apparently insatiable appetite for good design vs. the dynamics surrounding our mission at The Design Coach as proud purveyors of quality, substance and style. And my friends let me tell you, I believe we’re at a tipping point…and although there’s plenty of blame to go around…I believe there are a few remedies that may be able to reverse the effects of the pervasive poison posts and products so many of us so willingly ingest. The feeds and fantastic offerings that appear stylish on the surface, but are anything but fulfilling in terms of quality…and are digitally dumped on us daily, deteriorating our perception and understanding of real value. Welcome to the era of Fast Food Furniture. Quick, affordable and stylish…all designed to be just tempting enough to keep us coming back for more. And more. And more.

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We’ve all seen the commercials from Wayfair, Amazon, Target and the like. You know the ones, where someone longing glances at an empty room, then back at their phone or tablet coveting the “perfect” piece, then just by presses add to cart…magically the room and their interior is complete! Or the happy family, shopping together grabbing “great” design right off the shelf all in an effort to “get it done.” Not to be outdone by the never-ending cycle of formulaic design shows that regurgitate the most unrealistic of budgets and timelines. Most of them sponsored by some of the very same companies who in many ways control the switch off the media hamster wheel I call the trend treadmill. This is not a conspiracy theory…it’s life in the world of interior design at all levels these days. Ask anyone in the industry, from manufacturers to design professionals to consumers. They all have stories to tell. And in many of them, the sacrificial lamb slaughtered at the altar of the religion of the new retail experience is quality…and the customers basic understanding of its very meaning. Today’s decorating landscape is littered with so much disposable design, and so many poorly constructed products, one cannot wonder where this is all going to lead?

Water-Marked Photo 3Right about now some of you are screaming “Amen”, and nodding your heads with a sense of conviction, maybe even donning a half-cocked smile of approval. While others, a sizable number of you, are becoming increasingly annoyed, defensive and may even be ready to move on from this blog. But before you do, let me make something very clear. My purpose in writing this blog, as was the case on the radio last Sunday, is to educate and bridge the gap that between what we think we know…and what is actually available to us in the way of affordable and attainable, quality design resources. Because I must tell you…the digital design universe is full of black holes with will swallow your money, as well as your understanding of quality design, faster than a hockey team at a post-game drive-thru. So before you click away…please allow me to explain further.

Everything…and I mean everything in life boils down to play of percentages. It’s all about creating a sense of balance in an interior…and in your life for that matter. All work, no play. Bad. All fun, no self-discipline. Eventually bad too. Design is no different. A certain amount of disposable design in your life is not only expected, but absolutely has its place. Sometimes it’s a room or a life in transition. Other times it’s totally a matter of budget…or just because we like to celebrate a particular season. But always be mindful that the cost of something is only relevant as it relates to its value. And quality is often the key driver of somethings true value. For too many of us cheap, fast and stylish enough is trumping quality. So much so that the consumers don’t even now what they’re missing. After 20 plus years in the design and contracting business there’s at least one thing I know…if your interior suffers from a lack of quality elements, they will never reach their full potential, and are destined to become increasing unsatisfying over time. Leaving you searching for the magic decorating fix or rapid rearrange. I’m here to tell you that solution to elevating your design is easier than you think, and involves fighting the endless temptations that lead to the digestion of the devilish deals offered by the digital design demagogues. Just as there’s a fast food place on every block these days, there’s a digital design resource worming its way into your feed looking to sell you style that is more times than not too good to true. And if you want authentic interiors that last, ones that really satisfy your creative soul and function fantastically…then you need to limit consuming the offerings on the menus of the digital design drive thru. By the way, that goes for you Home Gooders and Hobby Lobbyists as well. Smash & grab, spray & pray and “But I got it on sale.” does not a design strategy make.

As I said earlier, there’s plenty of blame to go around. From the manufacturers to the design professionals to the consumers, we’ve all had hand in allowing this to happen. We’d like to think we make the case for quality, but all too often we’re just sultans of seductive style. I believe that the solution starts with us. So here’s my advice for manufacturers, design professionals and consumers to begin bridging the quality gap before its meaning is lost forever, or even worse is only available to the chosen few.

Water-Marked Photo 1Manufacturers: First, manufacturers of quality goods need to do a better job inspiring and educating potential customers looking to elevate their design with next-level design offerings. In so many ways, you’re all still preaching to the same old choir of consumers and then left wondering why your customer bases are shrinking, sales are stagnant, or are shocked that people are unfamiliar with your products. If you what to grow your customer bases, you’ll need to educate and engage on more than just great style. Luxury/quality goods can be made attainable to everyone if sold and presented in the right percentages. Customers choose to afford what they prioritize. Make and approachable, inviting case for your unique quality AND style position…and you’ve got the start of an amazing relationship with a new customer. As the consumer continues to be bombarded with the case for cheap and fast, you’ll need to counter with substantive, value-based arguments for goods. Second, please stop hiring inexperienced representatives to pitch us your products that seem to be on an endless carousel through your organizations. It’s like rep roulette. We just never know who the next one’s going to be. As design professionals, we see ourselves as ambassadors of quality and style to our clients. But all too often the focus of the visits to our offices is high on style…and relatively uninformed on the true value and quality of your product lines. Over 20 years…this has gotten worse. And guess what, the digital design resources have figured you out, and in many cases ripped off your aesthetic and style for cheaper production overseas. How is the design professional or customer to know the difference, if you do not articulate the quality and artistry of your products equal to volume you amplify the style? The salvation of your brands moving forward will depend on our shared success articulating the value proposition of your offerings as it relates to both quality and style. Years ago, the luxury car industry created entry-level models in hopes of attracting customers outside of their traditional demographic. The result was once seemingly unattainable automobile brands, were seem to be accessible and approachable as they aggressively looked to cultivate relationships and build loyalty with a new type of customers. Too many of our industry’s best manufacturers still market their products like works of art, rather than art that should be put to work in lives…and in our interiors.

Design Professionals: Here’s where we can help. Many of us came into the industry with very little or no professional sales experience. The dirty little secret no one ever told us that we’re not really in interior design…we’re actually in creative sales. We need to learn how to play match-maker with all of the offerings in the marketplace, and look to apply them in the right percentages for each client. This means striking the right balance of items at all levels of quality. But many of us become too attached to our high-end look, process, idea or product lines, and forget to be the ambassador and adviser to quality, style and value so many of our clients need us to be. When something doesn’t go our way we professionally bruise. And even worse, our lack of sales experience, combined with a limited understanding of the important balance of substance and style, means we’re at a horrible disadvantage when attempting to make the case for the value of our idea, product or solution to our client. Many in the industry are uncomfortable when being cast in anything resembling the mold of a salesperson…as to do so in some way diminishes the art of it all. Nonsense. Real sales and customer-centered creative outcomes are about the relationship between a clients need, and the trust involved in the appropriate application of time energy, effort and investment to satisfy that need. Sometimes it’s furniture. Sometimes it’s contracting. Sometimes it’s art. Whatever the case, thoroughly educating ourselves on the brands and materials the we choose to market, means committing more of ourselves to the responsibility of helping the client, and less of a devotion to our idea, direction or creative desire. I’ll leave you with this. No one cares about your amazing idea or product if you cannot articulate it’s value to the customer. They need to know why they need it, and why you’re recommending it. And in today’s design marketplace, “Because it’s pretty…or isn’t it cool.” is not enough. It’s really that simple. Make your case. And if you can’t you’d better learn.

And finally to Consumers: For the love of God, have some patience for the process. Good, thoughtful, creative, quality design offerings take time to find, create, produce, deliver and install properly. But too many of you think it can be done on your schedule, and even worse, the digital universe and design networks have conditioned us to believe everything is available now…and can be completed in a snap just in time for the big reveal. Or before that party you should never have scheduled in the first place. Allow us to opportunity to invest time into introducing you to the amazing resources that lead to beautiful and functional design outcomes. Let us educate, elevate and create. And guess what…if we’re not doing this, I can’t blame you for moving on. But remember, when it comes to the budget, it’s okay to implement great design over time. Don’t be in such a rush, rather, be consistent and thoughtful with the effort and communication you put into the partnership. Just so you know, for most of us…it’s not about the money. It’s about the opportunity to create something special for someone else. The sense of enjoyment we get when you love where you live. Please view your design professional, your contractors and our resources as a team of trusted and valued creative partners. And lastly, if you want to elevate your interiors and get the most out of your design team, be open minded to the custom elements that in the right percentages are within reach. A task that becomes much more difficult if we continually default to the lower quality offerings so prevalent in digital design dynamic.

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I’ll leave you with this. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for temporary or transitional design offerings. All I’m saying is that quality products and services take time to create, produce and execute…and if you really want to elevate your design to the next level, you’re going to need more than the Fast Food Furniture outlets can offer. And in our rush to have it all now, on our terms, and with a skewed perspective of quality, we’re losing so much of the critical understanding of what’s actually involved in bringing lasting products to the marketplace. And at some point, if it doesn’t turnaround, the saying “They just don’t make them like they used too.” might just become “I didn’t realize they ever did.” And wouldn’t that be the real the shame.

For lists and links to our preferred, quality interior design vendors go to https://thedesigncoach.com/services/designpartners/ The journey to begin elevating your interiors starts here!

Why the term “Addition by subtraction” always makes me want to use the B-word(s)

Been a while…I know. Been busy. See. Already, the “B’s” are everywhere. Beware. Let’s get to it. Addition by subtraction…that’s what everyone has heard. Less is more right? Well, I’m not so sure. If I know one thing after twenty plus years in the business…I know this; Most interiors don’t typically underachieve because there’s too much stuff. They suffer from the wrong stuff, in the wrong places…and not enough of the right stuff exactly where it should be. But this is what we do. We settle. We design without a plan. We decorate in haste. And when the bad decisions pile up over the years, we convince ourselves it’s time to purge our decorating spirit from our visual and functional sins..and we “de-clutter.” Which begs the questions, who in world is collecting clutter? And why on God’s green earth are you pulling anything remotely classified as clutter into your homes or lives for that matter. But that’s a WAY different blog…or maybe even a vlog. I’m not sure. Nevertheless, for too many us…the cycle…is..endless.

We’ve all been there. It happens to even the most ardent editors of interiors. Things begin to pile up. But the best interiors account for your stuff in stylish and function ways poorly designed rooms do not. The best interiors know how to evolve, flex and scale without sacrificing the core of what they are and what they’ve been designed to do. The best interiors have been constructed with the bones, the backdrops and the brains to stretch and style seasonally, and still stay authentic and beautiful. And I would even argue the most inspiring and interesting interiors actually aesthetically “school us” when we’ve introduced an element into that environment that’s just not quite right.

To illustrate my point, let’s circle back and drill down on the three “B’s” that can help you to create interiors that account for the lifestyle confetti we call clutter. Save you from the silly cycle of constant purging. And lay the foundation for spaces that will evolve with you, your family and the passions that make them personal. To do this I’m going to reference a recent project where the three “B’s” carried the design day. And a little foreshadowing here…the order is important.

Bones: This is where we look to put function first. Otherwise known as the building blocks of a successful space. See, even more “B’s”. All too often we look to leap toward decorating, without addressing what actually makes great interiors work. And that’s function. What does the room need to do? And if not’s doing it, let’s define that before we decorate. No amount of decoration with ever make a room feel finished…if it doesn’t function first. I get it. Decorating is fun. I love the decorating phase of ever project. But let me ask you this; Would you ever wear an outfit if didn’t fit JUST because you liked the way it looked? No, you’d put the “fit” first. Including reviewing the layout and scale of the furniture to make sure that works too. Take this approach with your interiors and the decoration will only serve to enhance and elevate the interior to the next level.

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In this Lower Level of a recent lake home project, the existing basement configuration just wasn’t working for the homeowner. Originally, the area pictured above was mostly all dead space and served very little purpose, but accounted for almost a third of the rooms total square footage. As is the case with many staircase walls in rooms like this one, the wall space and adjacent area were under-utilized. There was a rarely used place-holder of a pub table in corner, the existing wet bar had limited counter space, and the seating was inadequate for larger gatherings. Upon designing a much more functional room with client, they wanted more seating, surface area and overall entertaining space. They thought a bar might just be the answer. But where? In addition, a well designed Lower Level meant the first floor didn’t have to shoulder the brunt of the load when lake house gatherings started to grow. So, we took the least used corner of the room and transformed it into this beautiful bar area, which immediately added more seating and surface area. Plus, putting the bar in this under-utilized space meant we could still retain the existing generous seating area. Then we looked to add the necessary function into the bar in the form of lighting, refrigeration and storage. Note, we didn’t start with the style or even size of the bar, the decoration on the walls, the color room, over even the popular designer/homeowner “feel we wanted to achieve” discussion. No, rather we began with where and what the opportunities were that best met the lifestyle objectives of the client. Only after we applied functional design accordingly did we look to introduce the style. It’s simple, but often overlooked and under-rated…focus on function first. Then we talk about the fun stuff. But if the visual equation is flawed from the beginning, and the lifestyle math doesn’t work…neither will the room. And even the most inspired decoration will only serve to mask the problems or confuse things altogether.

Backdrops: Most interiors typically miss on the biggest canvases in a room. Floors and ceilings are most notable. Especially ceilings…they can be deserts of drywall. Endless expanses of sheet rock leaving too many interiors thirsting for interest…as was the case with this first floor interior.

The previous owner chose not to leverage the largest visual opportunities in the Living Room and the Kitchen. The vaulted and coffered ceilings. So, my client and I agreed to the introduction of a soft application of reclaimed barn siding in custom colors to canopy the Living Room, added grass cloth wallpaper to the insets of the coffered ceilings in the Kitchen…and then looked to enhance the very brown columns with linen fabric insets featuring nail head detailing. The addition of molding, millwork and other decorative elements to the largest or most visible canvases in the room ALWAYS pays visual dividends, and begins the important process of layering. From columns to crown molding, from wainscot to wallpaper, addressing these areas with interest sets the stage for the remaining finishing details to be competed with a sense of context, color and confidence.

Brains: Once the bones (function) and backdrops (context) have been addressed now comes the part everyone loves…the decoration. Or as I call it the brains of the space. While most might assume the intellectual nature of a room to attributed to function…I see it a bit differently. I think of it in terms of thoughtfulness and intent. The fabrics, finds and fantastic style elements, are the things that make great interiors personal, thoughtful and authentic. What is the special story of the space? And in my design studio, if an interior has nothing to say or unique to share…than it’s just not that interesting. And always feel a little flat when you get beyond the money spent and the materials chosen.

This is where accessories, artwork and other finishing details are so important. All too often we introduce elements at this stage that just don’t work. We settle. We force things. Or even worse…we copy. Whether they’re impersonal, lack quality, are unoriginal or are just plain forgettable, this where what you choose and how you choose to display it can make or break the room. Look to create a variety of well orchestrated groupings on walls and table tops. If a room deserves an enhanced level of decoration don’t be afraid to take it over the top…go for it. In this particular lake home, we looked to balance an upscale cottage feel on the first floor, with a well-themed Lower Level Lakeside Pub. Remember that the fabrics and special finds in a room exist to tell your story and punctuate the design statement. Be mindful that a well orchestrated fabric package is always worth the effort as it tends to visually tie spaces together. And never lose sight of the fact that the accessories and art should mean something to you and support the overall aesthetic of the interior. At this critical finishing stage, it’s not the quantity of elements in a room that makes them successful or unsuccessful…but rather the quality. That’s why the focus on addition by subtraction can be so misleading. It’s only true if you’ve collected too many things that don’t fit…or never really mattered in the first place. So, all that being said…I’ll leave you with a few more important B-words. Begin. Build. And Beautify.

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Check out our latest featured project in Lakeshore Living Magazine: Summer 2019!

Well, there you have it. Thanks to Lakeshore Living Magazine for the beautiful photos. Thanks to our amazing client for trusting us with this vision. And for the record, I’m fully aware that you might want to flag this blog as a design note for 2020, as the carnival of Holiday Decorating is certainly upon us. But remember this, the cycle won’t end unless you design with a balance of passion and purpose, and equal parts substance and style. Be brave. Be bold. Be beautiful. And oh yeah…and you’ve Been coached. Design on.

 

5 reasons the world could use a few more gravel roads.

 

Maybe it’s because it represents something unfinished that it appeals to me? To be honest, I see so many things in the same light. In people, places, projects I see possibilities…and in their own way unfinished works in progress, always evolving, curiously adapting and hopefully improving. Or, maybe it’s just the simple that fact that it’s so familiar as I grew up on a gravel road in the most unlikely of places. Either way, here’s what I know…lessons abound on roads like these if you will only allow yourself to slow down long enough to really let them sink in.

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I always chuckle, mostly on the inside as reflected through a crooked smile, when people visit a make a joke or crack about driving down the gravel road to get to us. Maybe this blog will help put it in perspective on some small level. Maybe not. But this I do know. The concept of the well-paved, faster path or road can be appear convenient…but on many levels is so completely over-rated. Something I think you only have an appreciation for if you’ve “run enough races” in life. The kinds of races where life’s inherent, inspirational imagery blurs in a rush to beat the clock…and stay on schedule. That happens with less frequency on a gravel road for a number of different reasons. It’s one of the reasons my wife and I chose to live here and raise our family. And as we begin to finally celebrate Summer…I thought I’d illustrate a few thoughts from those of us who live on streets some refer to as “unimproved.” Hmmm…I guess I beg to differ.

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1.) The best roads encourage exploration and discovery…that hopefully lead to knowledge and understanding. But it can be difficult to distill understanding into wisdom if you’re always trying to rush the process or needlessly push the pace.

2.) If you put too much of an emphasis on the potholes and imperfections in the road, you’ll miss the beauty that surrounds you. Negativity is everywhere. Rather than avoiding potholes, maybe we should all try avoiding that.

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3.) We can learn so much from creatures that are completely obliviously to the concept of roads. Leave a little cushion in the pace of your life for the unexpected visitor, you just never know what they may share with you…or when you may see them again.

4.) Gravel roads have a way of transforming a mindset of maintenance into the concept of stewardship. Maintenance has become such a dirty word, but stewardship implies ownership and regular care. And, an understanding that sometimes the responsibility for the roads maintenance falls upon those who benefit from its existence.

5.) Don’t judge a road by how well it’s paved, or how it looks. As it’s value isn’t always in found in where it can take you or how quickly you can travel on it…but by how many lessons it can teach you along the way.

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I hope you enjoy your Sunday…and this message from a middle-aged, middle-child from the Midwest who hopes you find a gravel road every once in a while. I’ve got mine…somewhere on a road called Ferris on the outskirts of Harvard, Illinois.

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A blog dedicated to a Summer of discovery, the memory Illinois resident and screenwriter John Hughes, and immortalized in the words of one Ferris Bueller…

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From Hockey to Headboards: (6) Keys to All-Star Interiors.

Listen…I get it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…we’re a very different kind of interior design team. One part artistic workshop, one part specialty contracting company, and another part full-service interior design firm. We’re uncomfortable with traditional industry labels, as they never seem to capture the individual style and unique personality of each client…and from design to delivery we do business a bit differently. But that’s entirely…by design. I guess while so many design professionals, and self-proclaimed DIY experts, seem hard at work trying to compose the next staged style picture for their fans and their feed…we’re way more interested in composing great interiors for our valued clients. In an industry that can be obsessed with itself, and showcasing the coolest kids in the room…we’re simply dedicated to making our clients feel like the coolest kid…in every room of their home. And speaking of cool, the project I’d like to share with you on this terribly cold January day embodies that word in more ways than one. And is an example of what I’ve been hammering home on the radio for the past couple weeks. That outside of everything you’ve read, seen or been digitally fed, there really are only six keys to creating the perfect room. That’s right six. And…if your interior is missing any one of these elements, it’s probably never going to reach All-Star status.

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To illustrate these six keys I turned to one of our favorite projects; The Family Recreation Center. I know, it’s sounds like a YMCA or name your local municipal athletic facility…only this one’s a residence, has a red metal roof and looks like a modern barn. Sitting on the top of hill, in the middle of a Midwestern prairie, it showcases a swimming pool, an arcade/media room, a killer bar area, a massive Kitchen, sleeps as many as a small hotel…and, oh yeah…has a full-sized ice rink if you’re so inclined.

But what makes this ultimate entertainment home so special isn’t only the materials, the amenities or the original aesthetic…as a limited focus on just those attributes would be a shallow, stylistic review of its coveted features. No, what makes this home so incredible is the amount of care, effort and personality that went into making it a place others could enjoy. Throughout the process of designing this project, the intention on the part of the homeowners was as much an invitation as it was an inspiration for themselves. “Wanna play?” It’s sound so simple right?! Interiors should be designed with intent and maximize their full potential. Something I think we all want for every room in our home, but is often times easier said than done. But with these six keys this homeowner nailed it…and you can too!

1.) Organization: Beyond the endless conversation involving confining the clutter, the baskets and bins, the labels and lamenting, is a discussion of a rooms true purpose. Proper layout and space planning, are the result of an interiors well-defined sense of itself. If you don’t clearly define the intention or purpose of a room, no amount of traditional organization is going to make it function the way it should.

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Design note: This all-in-one entertaining room (Kitchen, Bar, and Multiple Seating Groupings) was specifically designed to find a place for everything, but also look great with everything completely out of place. That’s purposeful flow. From culinary adventures to creative cocktails to great conversation…everything has a place. Evolve your understanding of the term “organization” to one grounded in finding a rooms purpose…and you’ll be amazed how much it can hold.

2.) Personality: The most interesting and complete interiors reveal something personal and important all in an effort to connect us to them on an intimate level. Have you ever dated a really good looking person that for a little while, seems to have it all together? But after a few more dates, you begin to realize you’re in a relationship with someone that doesn’t really have anything to say. Our interiors are no different. When style trumps substance in a room, you’ll tire of it sooner or later.

Design note: It was evident from the very beginning of the project, that this space was going to have a strong personality and a little risk at the core of it’s design. From the complex use of patterned fabrics to the found objects personally curated by the homeowner on the shelving…this interior is as authentic as it gets. So much so, that even the oil paintings (See the image on the back of the Kitchen wall) are landscapes painted by the homeowners Mother.

3.) Durability: Contrary to popular opinion, durable-elegance does exist, you just need to know where to look. Fabric technology has advanced to the point where stains release easily from luxurious and natural looking fabrics we’re often at times hesitant to use. Embrace luxury textiles from some of the best mills on the planet, and look to use them in percentages that make a big impact for less cost.

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Design note: Allow yourself to fall in love with luxury fabrics and great fabric companies! Use them in the right percentages, and on the right elements, and it will pay off big time in the overall look of the design. Leave them out of the design…and you’ll always wonder what might have been. Great fabrics punctuate your design. So do well-placed nail heads by the way…as evidenced below.

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4.) Flexibility: Remember the days when the furniture in your Mother’s Living Room NEVER moved. So sacred where the layouts to these rooms that only “company” was allowed to use them?! We really don’t live like this anymore, and neither should our rooms. The best rooms, like the best friends, can dress up and dress down in a moment’s notice, pull more people together and if need be move the party outside. We tend to downplay the value of small accent furniture, which allow spaces to expand and contract with our lifestyle. Benches, square ottomans and even occasional chairs that can enhance the fun and function of our rooms are must haves for the complete interior. And always remember to design your exterior environments with as much care and thought as your interior spaces.

Design note: Design with well-scaled accent furniture and create additional groupings that can move around the room wherever they’re needed. And always look to utilize awkward corners and available space in front of windows…as the right piece can make these dead spaces come alive!  

5.) Quality: Unfortunately, we live in an ever increasing disposable world…and our interiors are suffering because of it. The appetite for low-cost, stylish furniture, drop shipped to your house in less than a week has distorted the conversation of what constitutes quality in our interiors…and in our lives for that matter. This is where I like to explain The Design Coach Doctrine of Quality as it relates to interiors; It’s not about how much you spend, but rather where you choose to spend it! Fact, interior design products, especially upholstered goods that cost more are typically made better. That being said, you have to do your homework and discuss what matters to you most. No interior is built in a financial vacuum…so, figure out what you truly value in a room and apply your assets accordingly. And remember, it’s not a question of cost…but one of value. If a rock the size of a quarter costs $50.00, you’d never buy it. But if that same rock was a diamond, you’d be asking how many they have. Remember…value, not cost. But if you don’t really know the difference, educate yourself. Find out how, where and why things were made. Those kinds of quality details matter in the best rooms.

Design note: Expose yourself to quality materials and design products. Educate yourself beyond the digital universe. Explore, touch, feel…inquire. The more you learn why something is priced the way it is, the more you’ll understand its value, and it’s place in your design. What’s more expensive? The sofa you’ll never have to replace? Or the one you’ll replace two or three times over? Don’t think it exists? Just give us a call. We’ll be more than happy to introduce you to our network of quality people and their amazing products. 

6.) History: This one is simple, but it requires some effort. Like the wedding saying, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” the most interesting and complete interiors have hints of tradition. Not traditional…tradition. A sense of something that preceded its current design. Elements of, or items related to the passions of our past that we still appreciate today…and will for many years to come. We create our own history every day, and don’t forget to include those details in your design.

Design note: An interior without a sense of the past is like someone who’s  forgotten where they came from. Display the passions of your personal history. Look to create rooms…with roots.

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Stay warm everyone…you’ve been coached.

Our valued design/build partners:

Architects: Northworks Archtitects

Construction: Altounian Construction

Three ways to crush your Christmas this year!

On the radio show this morning, and for most of November, I’ve been discussing my maturing Midwestern perspective on the transition from Fall to Winter, as well as Christmas and holiday decorating. The act itself, at least for me, is a way to calibrate my mind, body and spirit for the coming celebrations and gatherings – not to mention the more peaceful moments in between. The times when I tend to stuff my stocking of a brain with more reflective, authentic and nostalgic thoughts when not a creature is stirring… except maybe me… and my Jack Daniels on ice.

It’s a combination of factors this year that have led me to a place of such comfortable cheer. Sorry, I got stuck in my Night Before Christmas narrative for a bit. Moving right along. I guess it’s just that for the first time in a long time, I feel even more connected to the spirit of this season… and feel compelled to personally crush Christmas. Maybe just like the drink in my glass, it all distills down to a sense of gratitude. For my family, my friends and an insatiable need (and occasional neurosis) to create something special. So in an effort to boil it all down for you, here are three ways to give your season’s sled the nudge it may need to crush Christmas in 2018.

1.) Adopt the “hospitality-mentality” this time of year. Think of yourself as the ultimate Christmas and Holiday Concierge. Remember your offerings do not need to be extravagant or expensive to be considered special… as it’s often times the personal and thoughtful details you introduce that are the most well-received. Think of your house and it’s amenities as the ultimate gift to your guests, and try secretly surveying them in advance to identify the things they enjoy in this special season. From food to fun, there’s nothing better than a “How did you know!?” experience to warm the hearts of your family and friends. So, do a little homework… and design accordingly. After all, holiday parties have a reputation for moving people from the Naughty to the Nice list… and vice-versa.

2.) There are ZERO decorating rules during the holiday season. Anything goes! And I’m not just talking about your Christmas decorations. Consider pushing together groupings of mismatched chairs to make sure everyone feels welcome. I personally love the look of vintage spectator chairs… but folding chairs will absolutely do. Don’t have enough serving space?! Create a buffet with two saw horses, some plywood and an inexpensive, colorful Christmas tablecloth! It’s not really about the bar anyway! It’s about the bounty of beverages for all to enjoy. Create environments with careless disregard for your already over-thought interior. Surround yourself and your guests with as much decoration as your home can handle. This year, I suspended a collection of vintage sleds from the ceilings of my lower level. And you know what, I’m not stopping there. Really go for it this season! And consider decorating areas of your home that have not been blessed with the Spirit in Seasons past.

3.) There’s always room for a little more Christmas. Leaving alone the obvious “style manger” analogy, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the most interesting interiors always leave room for more inspiration both large and small. Don’t let your design and decoration become static or stale. Always be searching for Spirit this Season in more ways than one. And there may be no better functional and decorative time of the year to embrace layering your look than at Christmas. A sense of authenticity should be baked into everything you do, everything you say and everything you display this Christmas and holiday season. So bust out the old photos and send them off to be turned into ornaments! Find creative ways to string together Christmas memories of the past in your decorating. Framing and displaying old family Christmas cards is an easy one. Reminiscing and laughing about our shared holiday memories connects us in so many ways. The design of your home should both facilitate and enhance those important and personal connections.

In my year-round search for authenticity, I like to patronize and promote the small, independent shops and the sole proprietors that help me introduce a little local in to my layering. One must-visit place this (and every) season is the Cornerstone Shop in downtown Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Owners Bruce and Karin Bennett, as well as their amazing merchandising team always find both traditional and innovative ways to help you celebrate, authenticate and decorate for the holiday season. In a recent visit to their shop, I was inspired by the wonderful style diversity I found in their vast selection of seasonal offerings. Here’s a quick peek:

Other honorable mentions that will most certainly inspire you to pack up your sleigh are:

Twill Cottage located in Walworth, WI

Angelus Home & located in Walworth, WI

Vintage Bliss located in Beloit, WI

Midwest Retro located in East Dundee, IL

Boxed & Burlap located in Delavan, WI

Pesches Floral & Gifts located in Lake Geneva, WI

Please remember to support your local, independent businesses this Christmas and holiday season as you search for inspiration. Now back to my projects at hand… enjoy your Sunday, everyone. More from our house to yours in the weeks to come.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.