North Shore – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jinx you owe me a coke! Coincidence or design doppleganger? Mon, 11 Jul 2011 23:58:00 +0000

Top photo: The dining room in my Edgewater Glen apartment. Bottom photo: The family room in my friend JB’s Highland Park home, which I’ve photographed twice, the first time a couple of years ago for a Strange Closets Open House and the second time earlier this year for the North Shore magazine Make It Better.

Sharing a proclivity for vintage astronomy prints is one thing (I stole the idea from an Elle Decor spread). But coupled with a blue painting? What are the odds? Because my good friend, Rebekah Zaveloff, of KitchenLab and Design in a Bag, redesigned the kitchen and helped JB decorate the rest of the place, I wondered if they might be having a little fun with me, but they say no. What do you think?

1. Indeed I was punked by JB and Rebekah.

2. The universe is sending me a coded message, and I should skip the jokes and more diligently attempt to decipher.

3. Great minds . . .

4. As coincidences go, it’s really not that remarkable.

Click here to read all about JB’s renovation in Chicago Home + Garden. Click here to read about the decor in Make It Better. Scroll below for more photos of JB’s fantabulous home. Thanks JB and Rebekah!

Thanks to Rebekah Zaveloff’s design, this might be the most published kitchen of the past decade. Not too difficult to see why eh?

This is a Victorian-style Foursquare. Note the four square door frames.

Not to mention the peacock pillow, which may also be viewed as ominous in light of this post.

Who loves this house? (I never get tired of that one).

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Thom and Bob’s place Thu, 13 Jan 2011 01:56:18 +0000

The January / February 2011 issue of Chicago Home + Garden arrived last week, and I was excited to see an article I contributed about Thom Wesely and Bob Planing’s Prairie-style Foursquare in Evanston. It’s an amazing space, and Nathan Kirkman’s gorgeous photos didn’t disappoint. A mutual friend, Maribeth Brewer, introduced me to Thom and Bob last year when she invited me to accompany her to a party at their home. She suspected that I would appreciate their extensive renovations; and indeed, she was right. (She always is. See below). For the full story plus many more photos, please pick up the January / February 2011 issue on newsstands now. Click here for past Open House posts. Thanks Thom and Bob!

Special thanks to my friend Maribeth, who allowed me to traipse through her bungalow taking photos one snowy night two years ago. Since then, Maribeth has introduced me to many friends with interesting and beautiful spaces. In fact, even I was surprised when I put this slideshow together and realized just how many Open House posts have a direct link back to Maribeth. Check it out:

Congrats to Julie Buckingham Edelman for making the cover!

A few more scouting shots

Perfectly warm and toasty all year long.

I had no trouble making it up three flights of stairs, but the third floor landing took my breath away nevertheless.

A gorgeous butler’s pantry at Thom and Bob’s.

Check out this second pantry. Very smart, very cool. I’m a little jealous.

It’s shocking. It’s intense. I like it.

This piece is dreamy and playful. I love it.

This blanket does look comfortable.

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Open House: JB’s Highland Park Victorian Fri, 02 Jul 2010 02:09:33 +0000

Last year KitchenLab founder and interior designer Rebekah Zaveloff introduced me to her friend JB, who also happens to own one of Rebekah’s favorite design projects, a stunning nineteenth century, 6500 square foot Queen Anne Victorian in Highland Park that feels homey despite its size and contemporary despite its age, moldings and original woodwork. While their collaboration started in the kitchen, JB and Rebekah hit it off so well that the project eventually came to encompass the entire home. In the front foyer, glove molds exemplify the type of vintage pieces the fast friends found during their many shopping trips and might have been my favorite accessory if it weren’t for a pair of cocktail tables made from vintage drums in the nearby living room and David Hicks patterned rugs in the dining room and kitchen. In fact, the entire home was spectacular, and it was easy to see why Rebekah was so keen to show me this project. For more about the kitchen renovation, please pick up a copy of the terrific July/August issue of Chicago Home + Garden on sale now. Thanks JB! Thanks Rebekah!

Click here for past Open House posts.

The July / August issue of Chicago Home + Garden (on sale now). Click here to subscribe.

The David Hicks patterned rug adds a contemporary flair to the antique dining table and chairs.

Rebekah and JB found this pair of cocktail tables at Marco Polo – one of my favorite shops in nearby Harbor Country, Michigan.

JB and I both have a set of framed vintage astronomy plates. Perhaps we’re mental design dopplegangers.

Who wants to come home to this foyer?

Exactly. Me too.

The second floor recreation room.

A gorgeous vintage bathroom on the second floor.

The master bathroom is heavenly.

A guest bedroom.

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Open House: Seth and Amy’s Lake Forest condo Fri, 11 Jun 2010 05:11:52 +0000

Amy Leafblad’s fiance Seth moved in to her Lake Forest condo just weeks ago, but thanks to the power of good old-fashioned compromise, there is no sign of co-mingling chaos in the two-bedroom, two bath space. Amy strategically ceded the second bedroom to Seth for his “sports stuff” and other things, and he agreed to sell his furniture to maintain the tranquil interior Amy had established after completely renovating the space when she bought it three years ago. Then dated and dowdy, Amy tore out the walls between the kitchen, dining and living rooms to create a bright, open great room. Amy designed an oversized island, which gives her a place to eat and work. A mahogany counter top adds sophistication and looks amazing with the white Ikea cabinets – a stylish, low-cost solution. The young designer enjoys coming up with creative ways to help her clients stretch their budgets, and her condo’s a good example of her skills in that area. Take the kitchen back splash: Amy bought Carrara marble baseboards on clearance and stacked them for a contemporary, high-end look. Carrara is one of Amy’s favorite materials, and she also used it in the master bathroom – another major renovation. While the project was a lot of work, Amy’s efforts paid off, and the result is a very cool space for she and Seth to start their lives together. Click here for more information about Amy Leafblad design. Congrats to Amy and Seth, who are getting hitched in October!

Click here for more Open House posts.

Amy considers her style “eclectic, vintage and a tad Scandinavian.”

Amy’s experience working with a home builder not only rounded out her resume (she worked with an interior designer after graduating from Harrington College of Design), it also gave her the confidence to gut renovate her kitchen and master bathroom.

Seth and Amy have 2 parakeets and a cat.

Amy’s grandfather handcrafted this chair.

Amy selected a lovely Osborne & Little paper for her entry.

Wait until you get a look at Amy’s closet.

OK, I’m far from a clothes hound, but this closet makes me all kinds of happy.

Amy also renovated her master bathroom.

It’s all in the details.

Click here for more information about Amy Leafblad and A.L. Design.

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Open House: Heather and Cam’s Blank Palette Fri, 28 May 2010 03:21:09 +0000

Glass mosaic artist Heather Hancock and her husband Cam Balzer bought their house in 2005, but the Evanston single-family was far from Dwell-like when they first saw it. The tiny dated kitchen had ugly 80’s cabinets and was closed off from the living room; walls throughout the house had been painted peach and seafoam green and an ugly blue shag carpeting ran up the stairs. Cam and Heather’s realtor encouraged them to look past the dated rooms and see its potential: high ceilings, great natural light and plenty of space for the kids (Clio, 9, and Milo, 5) to play and for Heather to create art. Sold! Sparing no time, Cam and Heather blew out the kitchen walls, installed contemporary white cabinets and installed a large center cooktop island. They also added recessed lighting, refinished the existing wood floors and banished the blue shag in favor of hardwood. Cam and Heather favor a sleek, modern, minimalist style, so they selected mod furnishings and whitewashed the woodwork and the walls to create a calming a gallery-like space for their extensive art collection. When Cam and Heather’s realtor first showed them the house, she called the dated eyesore a blank palette*, and that’s exactly what they wanted – the perfect place to create an artful life.

Click here for Heather’s Studio Tour. Click here for past Open House posts.

Painting by Theodore Boggs and Garrett Munski. (This is what I’d swipe. What would you make off with?)

Heather often takes on custom work such as kitchen back splashes.

Sculpture by Russ White.

Painting by Elise Pike Lerman.

Fume by Jason Rohlf.

‘Okonkwo Poiccard’ by Theodore Boggs.

Kid’s rooms are always so fantastic and chaotic. Toy carnage.

Give me a space like this, and I’ll take up yoga.

Triptych by Theodore Boggs and Garrett Munski.

Paintings by Matthew Schaefer.

* You know you were waiting for it.

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Open House: The last days of a Wilmette home Wed, 10 Mar 2010 16:59:36 +0000

Everybody thought newlyweds Peter and Robin Baugher were crazy when they bought their quirky little Wilmette home for $250,000 more than 20 years ago. But the house was hardly the point, and in 1990, they tore down the modest dwelling and constructed a brand new house to take full advantage of the excellent lake views. Always looking for a project, the Baugher’s are doing it again. Last year they bought the neighbor’s ramshackle home, and with the help of New Trier High School teacher Josh Wood and his architecture students, they are developing plans for an environmentally-friendly structure constructed with the latest, innovative universal design standards. I met Robin Baugher at the old home late last summer (just before it was demolished), and was surprised to discover that while the house appeared to be a single structure from the exterior, it was actually built as two separate homes, each with its own entrance. By the time Robin and I met at the home last summer, a ‘door’ had been punched through an upstairs closets, but there were two kitchens, two living rooms, etc. Please check out my Make It Better story and my interview with New Trier architecture teacher Josh Wood for more details about this interesting project. Thanks Peter, Robin and Josh (um, I mean Mr. Wood).

The Baugher’s completed their home (left) in 1990, and they purchased the neighbors home (right) in 2009. The home was demolished shortly after this photo was taken.

Robin Baugher at home.

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Garden Tour: Susie’s Secret Garden at Make it Better Thu, 01 Oct 2009 15:24:01 +0000 3753058307_f4901540b7

Regular readers may remember Wilmette resident Susie Dinges from her Strange Closets Open House, which tells a cautionary tale of making friends with design professionals (Susie hired her friend and designer extraordinaire Laura Soskin to help her find a light fixture and would up redecorating her entire home).   I enjoyed catching up with Susie earlier this summer when I interviewed her and photographed her stunning garden for the North Shore magazine Make It Better.  Click here for the interview and photos.

Make It Better was founded by publisher Susan Noyes to help women make their lives better, and the site’s sections include:

A Better You


At Home

Making a Difference

Local Treasures

I’ll be contributing a few stories per month to Make It Better, primarily Open House-type features, so please keep watching and be sure to tell your friends about this addition to Chicago’s local magazine scene.

Click here to see Susie’s Secret Garden at Make It Better.

Open House: James and Blue’s Restful Northfield Home Thu, 06 Aug 2009 04:30:11 +0000 3753898420_cfac4a29e0

Thanks to Nalani, a Strange Closets reader, for emailing me about her good friends James and Blue.  From the curb, the couple’s home, with its brick and siding exterior and prominent garage, looks lovely but very traditional, so I was surprised and delighted by the home’s global influences, peaceful energy and most importantly, its fascinating inhabitants.

Married for 35 years, James and Blue raised three children in the home.  Now empty nester’s, James and Blue see the house more as a resting place after their extensive global travels, and despite living in the house for 30 years, they don’t seem anchored by it.

As an intuitive, Blue travels for continued education, adventure and when she’s called to give a reading.  In South Africa, Blue sat and studied with Credo Mutwa, who she describes as the Dalai Lama of Africa.  She’s trekked through the Andes in Ecuador and ventured so deep into the Amazon rain forest that a plane provides the only transportation in or out.  But its remoteness may be a blessing, because according to Blue, the peaceful society has no war, no crime and no rape.

Continued . . .


Nalani (left) and Blue (right) seated in the garden.

It was in the Amazon that a Shaman gave Blue an herb commonly used in religious ceremonies.  The herb impacts everybody differently; it can offer tremendous insight, but it can also cause nausea and anxiety.  Like entering the jungle, there’s no turning back once ingesting the drug.  Perhaps that’s the lesson.

As we talk, Blue leads Nalani and me into the basement where she gives readings.  She asks if I want one, and I nod.  Because Nalani’s sitting quietly behind us, Blue says she’ll avoid getting too personal, but I urge her to go ahead.  “You’re open,” she says approvingly.   Touch is one of the ways Blue reads  energy, so she I give her my camera, and she closes her eyes.  She describes a woman named Cheryl, but I don’t know a Cheryl.  Cheryl has a tough energy, Blue says.  I’m blank.  Frustrated, Blue asks if she can take my hands, and I nod again.  “Your poor stomach,” she says.  “It hurts, right?”  I shrug, and Blue looks perplexed.  I shrug again then remember, yes, it did hurt last night, and I did have some fairly severe stomach issues when I was a kid.   As Blue continues her reading, I can’t stop thinking about Cheryl.

We walk upstairs and out into the back yard, which offers yet another surprise.  Lush, deep and beautifully landscaped with eastern artifacts, the yard feels peaceful and appears never-ending. (Click here for a tour of Blue’s spectacular secret garden).  Then it hits me, Blue said Cheryl, but she was talking about my friend Sharon, and yea, she’s tough.  Sharon was the last person I’d photographed before visiting James and Blue’s.  As an aside, I’m pretty open to psychic phenomenon (and I thought perhaps a tiny bit smart), so I can’t explain my initial disbelief or why I didn’t make the rather obvious leap from Cheryl to Sharon more quickly.


“That’s funny,” I say.  “I see an alley running behind your yard, but obviously it’s just trees . . . must be from living in the city.”

Blue looks at me quizzically and grins.

“Keep walking,” she says.

As I approach the back of the lot, I see that it slopes toward a creek, which runs parallel to the house much like an alley would.

“I think you’re an intuitive too,” she says.

I did literally “see” something in my mind I could not see with my eyes, but who knows?  In any event, I have a strong sense that James and Blue will enjoy a fascinating life full of education, spirituality and new adventures.

Click here for more Open House tours.














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Open House: Meet the Durkes Thu, 07 May 2009 05:05:39 +0000 3380804071_4a02621a61

Home means something different to everybody, of course, but there’s something distinct about that particular word vs. others that describe our dwelling: house, condo, apartment, cottage, pad, etc.   Today’s Open House is about the Durkes’ and their gorgeous Evanston two-story house, but it’s also about the Durkes’ and their lovely, happy home, which is something  different altogether, something that transcends the material world, the physical structure and that’s sure to exist long after it belongs to another family.

First, the house; The rambling two-story was built in 1900, a time when the predominant housing style was transitioning from Victorian to Arts and Crafts, and the house has elements of both.  But Diana, an interior design aficionado who writes the fine furniture reclamation blog Fine Diving in Chicago, didn’t take the house in either direction, instead she wisely following her gut and decorated the home in her signature style – eclectic, comfortable and stylishly homey, an aesthetic that reflects, no . . . projects their home into the space.

Don and Diana Durkes always wanted a big family, and they couldn’t wait to get started having babies.  In fact, their oldest daughter Kate attended their wedding.  Kate’s got a knack for being the first; she was the first child (of five), the first to move out, the first to start her own business (a candle making company), the first to have a child, Felix, and the first to move back home again after everybody else left for college, a decision that made Don and Diana very very very happy.  Parents seem to fall into one of two camps; they’re either overjoyed when they finally have the house to themselves* or they’re devastated.  The Durkes fall into the latter camp –  they developed a serious case of Empty Nest syndrome.  In a strange way, they were homesick, although they were the only two still living in the family house.

Continued . . .


When I mention Felix, Diana goes into grandma mode and the words spill out and tumble over each other as she struggles to describe him.  Felix, Diana tells me, is gifted, musical and wonderful; he has an excellent vocabulary, and he’ll one day play the piano.  She’s right; he’s a beautiful little boy with big eyes, a shy-ish smile and a gentle old soul.  If I were guaranteed a Felix, I’d promptly throw my “no kids” rule out the window.  But I’ve heard about myself as a baby, and I know how karma works (they say it’s a bitch) and I, ladies and gentlemen, will not be hoodwinked so easily.  But I should have guessed Felix would be special; he’s a Durke, after all, and they’re all pretty great, at least the ones I met.

Friendly and open with no hint of artifice, the Durkes are their home, and it would be easy to imagine slotting in quite comfortably.  They’re not like some families with a strict hierarchy and a no outsiders allowed rule; the music didn’t stop suddenly when I arrived, an there’s no “You must be this tall to ride this coaster,” feeling.  I feel comfortable with them, sort of like I’m home already.  When I’m finished taking photos, Kate and Felix and I sit on the floor and chat about politics and business and life overall; we talk about her candle business and she explains which scents go together and which do not, about which scents are common and which are rare.  Kate has boxes and boxes of bottles, each containing different scents.  Felix plays quietly, but every once in awhile he picks up one of the little bottles and hands it to me carefully.

“Thank you,” he says, still unsure about when to use the word.  No Felix.  Thank you.  And thanks to the Durkes for inviting me to spend some time in their house . . . and their home.

Click here to read past Open House tours.








Perfect shot for this fine dumpster diver


















Diana's dumpster dive chairs






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Open House Preview: Blogging “Fine Diving” blogging me blogging her (blogging me?) Wed, 25 Mar 2009 01:10:03 +0000 3380817493_4280e3f4ed

Ah we’re an incestuous bunch we bloggers.  Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours hanging out at former Strange Closets guest poster and Fine Diving in Chicago blogger Diana Durkes’ house.   Ever wonder what to do with that old chair you found in the alley?  Wonder no longer; just read Fine Diving for daily inspiration; it’s multiple-orgasm-inducing (M.O.I.).

Let’s be honest, meeting bloggers in person is like playing Russian Roulette.  Who knows who these nameless, faceless people are as they pound away at their keyboards?  Are they writing from a beautifully-designed sunny office (like Laura Soskin’s attic workspace)?  Or from a small, dark cage in the basement?  I figured Diana was the sunny office type, that we’d have nothing in common.

But so far I’ve been lucky meeting other bloggers.  I’m a bit in love with my neighbor Design Boner Katie Brown and her husband Toby (who’s in a close race with Ipso Facto Brandon Nelson as the nicest guy in the entire universe), and hanging out with Diana and her family was no exception.  I’m chomping at the bit (to use a phrase that makes me sound like I’m 80 years old . . . and a dork) to share her story and showcase her gorgeous Evanston home, but in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a quick sneak peek.

Check out Diana’s nice post about this topic at Fine Diving in Chicago.  You should subscribe.  It’s free.  Oh, and sign up for my emails please.  Don’t worry; I’m not going to share them with anybody until I have thousands.  At that point, all bets are off.