My favorite accessory

I don’t pack for a vacation or trip without a scarf and I almost always come back with a new one.  I have two full drawers of scarves and they all range from handmade knit scarves to scarves I’ve picked up in various cities around the world on my travels.  I love the patterns and the bright colors.  Each one holds a memory and I can remember back to where and when I found them or who made them for me.  One of my favorite scarves was found on a trip with a girlfriend to Spain in Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona from a street vendor.  It only cost 5 euros and it goes with everything. 

Thanksgiving weekend

There’s something about Thanksgiving that is just the best to me.  It’s the most relaxing holiday by far and it revolves around three things I love: family, food, and football- and napping.  (okay so that’s four things).  It’s the tradition that I love and I love to spend the day before helping my mom prep food for the following day.  Every year we have the same exact dishes on the menu and every year my mom and cousin try to suggest changing the menu.  It gets unanimously shot down by everyone but cute they try every year.  When all of the cousins were younger, we used to participate in a friendly game of football but now that we are all older and wiser, we realized that if we stay inside we can sit on the couch, watch OTHER people play football and drink wine & beer. 

The ocean

Ever since I can remember, we’ve spent spring breaks and summers in South Carolina at the beach.  I was terrified of the ocean as a kid and finally my dad threw me in one year and then couldn’t get me out.  I love the peace and tranquility the water brings to me.  Each time I walk onto the beach, sit my chair down and sink into the sand I let out a sigh of relief.  It’s incredibly therapeutic and refreshing.  The sun on my face, the smell of sunscreen and salt water, and the waves crashing all imprint happy memories for me.  When our family has spent time here together, there’s a very distinct routine – sleep in, day full of beach time, cocktails, dinner, sleep, repeat.  And I love every minute of it. 

My Le Creuset dutch oven & my cookbooks

Seriously people make fun of me but I refer to Ina Garten and Giada like I know them personally.  Any of the Barefoot Contessa and Giada cookbooks are my go to for recipes of guaranteed delicious food and fairly easy to make.  I think I use my dutch oven to make those dishes at least 2 or 3 times a week.  I like opening an actual book and this is the same reason why I can’t get behind using a Kindle.  Of course I like anyone can Google a recipe on the internet but there’s something great about having the physical book.  You can tell which cookbooks are the most loved based on which ones have stains on the pages and are stuck together.  I even made a cookbook of all of our family recipes that is falling apart from all of its use.  Having a cookbook open with a glass of wine after a long day is my way of unwinding.  I love creating a great meal to enjoy and sit around the table (or on the couch) talking about our days together. 

The Chicago Blackhawks

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge sports fan and in particular I love my Blackhawks.  I grew to like hockey in college (yes they do have hockey at Indiana…) and started following the Hawks.  When I met my husband, this is something that we instantly loved to share together.  We signed up for partial season tickets and go to games every year – he proposed at one of the games and we played Chelsea Dagger at our wedding.  Needless to say we love our team and spending time together cheering them on at the games.



He was born in 1867. In 1887 at the age of 20 and with $7.00 in his pocket, he moved to Chicago to become an architect. He went on to become one of the greatest architects in the world. His name: Frank Lincoln Lloyd Wright. Growing up in Oak Park, I was surrounded by many Prairie Style homes. As a young child, I had the opportunity to visit some of his homes, owned by some of my mom’s friends. Many years later, my wife and I took a tour of his Home and Studio in Oak Park. While it seemed bland compared to many of his Prairie Style homes (Fallingwater, Robie House, Meyer May House, Wingspread, Dana Thomas House, Zimmerman House), it was where he lived and worked. There was a certain charm in it. At the end of the tour, the interpreter remarked that “If you liked the tour and would like to give tours, you can sign up to be an interpreter.” My wife and I both signed up on the spot.  

After several months of training, we began giving tours. I had been through the house as a child and was not very impressed. It certainly is not a Prairie Style Home, although it contains many Prairie Style elements. After going through the training and having spent one weekend a month for a couple of years giving tours, it has become one of my favorite Frank Lloyd Wright homes. The original house was constantly being remodeled and expanded as his family grew and his design philosophy became more refined. He used his house as a laboratory; testing out his new theories along the way. The many classical elements in the entry way evolve to more Prairie Style elements as you move throughout the house. 

Even from its beginnings, the house broke from its Victorian neighbors. The house is set back from the street, nestled into the landscape rather than thrust upon it. The roof is incorporated into the second floor rather than sitting atop the house like a hat on the adjacent Victorian houses. The first floor has large rooms flowing one into another with no clear distinctions rather than the small, boxed rooms indicative of the Victorian homes of the time. The windows are positioned towards the corner of the room, arranged to break the box of traditional rooms. The second floor windows are clustered into a long ribbon, which will become a Prairie element. The fireplace, being an integral part of the home, is placed in the center of the house, rather than on an outside wall. It becomes the heart, or hearth, of the house. The leaded glass windows throughout showcase original Wright designs and vary from simple geometric patterns in the living room, to his own lotus blossom motif in the dining room, to colored glass in the upstairs rooms to the most intricate stained glass piece in any of his homes located in the studio foyer. On the second floor, Mr. Wright built a large playroom for his children. This room features a large fireplace, a large vaulted ceiling with an intricate wood carved prickly ash pattern lay light and a balcony. Mr. Wright wanted a piano in the room, which could only be a grand piano. Not wanting to take up valuable play space, Mr. Wright cut a hole in the wall, cut off the back legs, and recessed the piano over the back stairs. There is also a mural on the wall by Charles Corwin depicting “The Fisherman and the Genie” from the Arabian Nights, a favorite of Mr. Wrights and his children.  

Over time, Mr. Wright added his Studio to his house. There are two sculptures outside the studio by Richard Bock – Boulder Man that features a man crouching and breaking free from the ground beneath him. This is to symbolize mankind struggling from the ground to transcend earthly bonds. The stork capitals that adorn the columns outside the studio represent Mr. Wright’s mission statement. There are images showing the tree of life, the book of knowledge, an architectural scroll, and two storks representing wisdom and fertility. Inside the studio, the two story space housed the drafstmen on the first floor and the artisans on the balcony. The structure is exposed, which is an example of Mr. Wrights honesty in architecture. An octagonal chain circles the roof and holds the walls in (creating a compression ring) like the ring in a cathedral dome. Chains hanging down from the octagonal chains support the balcony so no columns need support the balcony. There is also a central fireplace that was usually lit, providing a focal point and warmth for the studio. It was in the studio that Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices perfected the Prairie Style and produced one quarter of his life’s work (125 structures) in the 20 years he lived there. Mr. Wright wanted his work to be viewed slowly so one could take in all of his great design and notice the details. He though his architecture should be a “path to discovery” and he often hid his entrances and did not offer a direct route into the buildings. In 1909, Mr. Wright left Oak Park, traveling to Europe and never returned to live in the Home and Studio again. He died in 1959 at the age of 72. Thankfully, the home and studio was taken over by the FLW Trust in 1974 after it had undergone several renovations. At one time, it was (7) separate apartments. The Trust launched a massive 3.5 million dollar renovation to bring it back to the way it was in 1909 when Mr. Wright left. There are many more details and stories contained within the house and studio. With every trip through the house, new details are seen and one can begin to sense the design process working and evolving over time.

Written by our FLW expert: Rob Oppenborn

INTAKE | this american life

Offices are full of sounds. They are constant and mundane.  There is the loud talker that sits a couple rows over.  There is the clicking of many keyboards.  We add sound machines to mask the sounds of other sounds.  I, like many of my peers, find refuge from this reality by putting on headphones.  Sometimes there isn’t even anything playing on them.  Today my headphones took me to a vintage This American Life episode.  I found it to be a refreshing take on what for most of us is a ubiquitous element of our everyday lives. So stick these sounds in your ear holes.

Columbus Indiana : Midcentury Midwest

Columbus Indiana is 4 hours outside Chicago and the last place one would expect to find a city full of building by big name architects, but it is.  For architecture enthusiasts there is no better weekend getaway.  Columbus is like a petting zoo for architecture.  Get up close in friendly with buildings from all the greats including but not limited to I.M. Pei, Richard Meyer, Robert Venturi, and Harry Weese.  Your first stop should be the Columbus Visitors Center.  The staff there is fantastic and you can pick up a map and associated smart phone app that charts out every building you would want to see.  The great thing about Columbus is not just the density of good buildings but the fact that this community embraces those who come to see them.  I have travelled all over the world to look at buildings and never have I been invited in by as many strangers to see them in detail.  I chalk it up to Midwest hospitality.

The true gem of the bunch is the Millar House and Gardens which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.  Designed by Eero Saaranin with interiors by Alexander Girard and grounds by Dan Kiley it was completed in 1953.  All three were at the height of their creative peak when collaborating and executing this home, and it shows.  It is a stunning example of the midcentury aesthetic and is full of design innovation.  It’s the type of place that shows the power of design and architecture to transform and inspire.   I suggest booking your tour in advance and it is well worth the fee.

I think the most remarkable thing about this city is not all the buildings.  Each building individually is not necessarily something revolutionary, but a city where good architecture and design is embraced across the board is.  The Cummins Foundation under the leadership of J. Irwin Miller created a program in which they would pay the architects fee if the client picked an architect from a list compiled by Cummins.  This allowed the whole project budget to go to the building itself.  In that sense the project budgets were higher but not astronomically so.  It is the job of architects and designers to produce something that provides a solution to the everyday needs of a society.  Columbus is a place where architects have used the resources at hand to implement the most effective, functional, and inspiring interventions possible.  When walking around Columbus you have this crazy idea that every city could be like this.  It feels so possible.  If this can be done here… why not everywhere?  One fairly simple intervention from a visionary man and the hard work of many architects and designers made this place into something special and well worth the drive. 

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Written and photographed by our explorer of all things architecture : Emily Handley

Work-Life Balance: When Employers Get It

I am writing this as I am home sick today, along with my sick husband and sick toddler. The common cold has swept through our house like the Black Plague. In between naps I find myself answering emails, space planning, heating up soup, jumping on conference calls, checking temperatures, and wiping noses. Multitasking, after all, has become my forte.

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I learned the art of multitasking from my mother, who started her own printing company with my father when she was 26. She learned from her mother, who started her own clothing company downtown in the Gold Coast during World War II. She learned from her mother, who was a seamstress in Italy. And I’m sure it goes on. Being Italian, of course, each of these women still managed to have dinner on the table by 6. I can remember the joy I’d have walking through the front door after dad picked me up from soccer practice, and smelling a huge vat of freshly cooked gravy. That’s “pasta sauce” in layman’s terms. After dinner we would watch TV, mom would help me with my math homework, or we would go for ice cream. Although my parents worked together every day, their work was never discussed at home. Our time together was precious, and to this day I hold true that quality of time is far more important than quantity.

My parents were fortunate enough to have their own business. Much of my childhood was spent roller skating through their printing shop. The foremen would make sure my laces were tied tight and off I went, gliding across the concrete floor and jumping over conduit that powered the great big machinery. Adjacent to my mom’s office up front was a room just for my sister and me, filled with toys, a small desk for homework or coloring, and two sleeping bags for the nights my parents had to work till 3 am to finish a deadline. Having their own business allowed them to have the flexibility to work and raise us at the same time. This, of course, had a negative side as they were never truly able to leave their work.

When we went on vacations, I recall my mother having to find a pay phone or use the hotel phone to call the office periodically, checking in with employees or managing a crisis. I would get so frustrated sometimes, saying “Mommy! You’re on vacation! Why do you have to call work?” And she’d simply reply, “Work pays for our vacations. I’ll be off the phone shortly.” When cell phones and laptops came around, I was older and understood what she meant. I think observing her working while on vacation is a reason I never jumped into owning my own business. I enjoy being able to walk out the door and not worrying about employee payroll or managing overhead. At the same time, I routinely check my cellphone for emails while I’m at home, and sometimes I have to stop and say, “When my son looks up at me for approval, is he seeing me, or is he seeing the silver backing to my iPhone?” I go back to the belief that quality of time is more valuable than quantity, and the phone gets put away.

I enjoy the time I have with my son, making eggs in the morning, picking out what to wear, brushing our teeth. Then I drop him off at daycare knowing that he’s getting cared for by trained professionals and he is developing both cognitive skills and sociability. I typically go to work around 7 so that I can leave around 4. This gives me enough time to pick up my son, play with him, take him to the park, cook and enjoy dinner, give him a bath, read him a story, and put him to bed by 7. Sometimes after I put him to bed, I log in to my laptop, and I get a few more things done for work. There are also times I have to leave work during the day unexpectedly, for example, when my son has a fever and is sent home. I’m fortunate my employer allows for this. My husband’s work does not. In our office, family time is valued. Actually, personal time is valued, even if you don’t have a family. If you have to leave for a dentist appointment, or you just have to run an errand, as long as you are able to complete your work and respond to clients, you are welcome to do as you please.

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In today’s world with dual income parents, portable technology at our fingertips and the demand for goods and services to be delivered at the moment, the importance for flexibility in the workplace is critical. Younger generations have realized that the world does not work at a 9 to 5 pace. Work can be accomplished at anytime, anywhere, so having an employer who is responsive to their employee’s needs makes for a wonderful workplace.

Written by one of our rock-star moms : Jessie James

DIY Concrete Countertop


1. Concrete Countertop Mix. Menards is the only big box hardware store I’ve found to carry a concrete mix formulated specifically for countertops.  This mix contains very fine aggregate; resulting in a smooth, even finish.  Depending on the size and desired thickness of your project, there’s a chart on the back of the bag that’ll help gauge how many bags you’ll need and how much water to add.  The bags are inexpensive, so I’d suggest purchasing an extra bag.  Once you start mixing and pouring into the formwork, you won’t necessarily have time to run to the store if you run out.

2. Expanded metal sheet.  This is required for all application, as concrete has excellent compressive strength, but very poor tensile strength.  This wire mesh provides the tensile strength needed.  

3. Melamine. This is what you use to create your formwork. Sheets come in ½” or ¾” thick.  ½” will work, however ¾” might be easier to work with because the thicker dimension provides more surface area while attaching the sides of the formwork.  When figuring out how much melamine to purchase, think about creating a negative form of the finished counter/table top.  You’ll need the exact size of the top, plus the thickness in height, all the way around the base footprint. 

4. Five Gallon Bucket and Mixing Bit.  The bit can be attached to a drill and mixed in the bucket.  Menards also sells “mixing bags”  to mix by hand, similar to kneading dough, but a mixing bit and bucket will save your back and results in a much more even mix. 

5. Visqueen.  Used to lay underneath forms while pouring to prevent messes, but also used to cover the concrete while it’s curing.


Rebar (short for reinforcing bar).  This is really only necessary if the top you’re creating will have a sink or other cutout. This will be discussed in later steps. 

Rigid Foam Insulation. This is really only necessary if the top you’re creating will have a sink or other cutout. This will be discussed in later steps.

Construction Seaming Tape. If using the rigid foam insulation, you apply this tape to the edges of the foam. This will be discussed in later steps.

The Liquid Colorfast.  Also sold at Menards and offered in a variety of colors.  This is added to the concrete mix and water, prior to pouring into the formwork.  Without this additive, the cured concrete will be a light grey color.  I personally like the natural color this mix yields, so this step is optional for aesthetic preferences


The first image shows the melamine cut in the exact shape/size of the finished tops. The second image shows the assembly of the formwork.  As mentioned above, the sides of the forms are cut to the desired thickness of the top, plus the thickness of the melamine, and applied to the base of the form; which will actually become the top of your countertops. Typical countertop or table top thicknesses range from 1¼”-1½”.  To assemble the sides of the formwork, I use a nail gun, however screws are fine.  You really only need enough nails or screws to hold the sides in place and prevent the wet concrete from spilling through the seams (about every 6-12 inches apart).  Remember, every nail or screw you place, you’ll have to remove once the concrete has set.  You can apply caulk around the corners and seams, however this is not necessary.  I actually prefer not to, as this adds an extra day of waiting for the caulk to dry and telegraphs into the finished surface. It’s important to remember these forms are mirror images of the finished countertop.  The bottom layer of poured concrete is actually the top of the finished countertops.  This is important in locating plumbing and sink locations in the next step. 



Using the template provided with your new sink, trace the outline on the rigid foam and cut this out using a jigsaw. These particular countertops are 1½” thick, so the foam we purchased was 1½” thick as well. This image shows the tape applied to the sides of the cut foam.  This simply prevents the concrete from sticking to foam and leaves a smooth finish once the cutouts are removed. You can also see dowel rods placed for the plumbing and sink cutouts. Also notice the visqueen placed underneath the form, prior to pouring. It’s also important to ensure the area you’ll be pouring on is level.  



Using the bucket and mixing bit, mix the concrete per the instructions on the back of the bag.  The consistency of the mix should be similar to a milkshake or peanut butter.  You don’t want it to be too watery, but it should also be able to be poured (bottom image).  If the mixture doesn’t have enough water, there could be voids left in the finished product. 

Once about half the desired thickness is poured, place the wire mesh and rebar.  Rebar is only necessary to span openings.  The mesh doesn’t have to go to the edge of the form.  I usually cut the mesh a few inches less on each side.  It’s important to have this cut and ready ahead of time.  Once you start mixing and pouring the concrete, you have to continually progress through the process until it’s complete.  After the wire mesh and rebar is placed, pour the remaining thickness on top to cover the reinforcement. 


Once the forms are filled to the top, use a 2x4 or scrap piece of melamine to level and smooth the top of the pour.  This doesn’t need to be very smooth, as this is actually the unfinished base of the countertop. This is done more to ensure an even thickness throughout the forms and fill any gaps.  Once you’re satisfied the forms are filled and the thickness is even, cover the wet concrete with visqueen or plastic drop cloth.  This prevents dust or debris from getting caught in the concrete, but also locks in moisture and helps the curing process.    


The concrete takes 28 days to fully cure, however you can take the forms off after a week or so. The mix says 18 hours, however, I air on the side of caution and wait a week.   It would be a shame to exert so much energy and time, only to have your product crack/break for being too impatient.

Once the form is removed, you can sand or wet polish any sharp edges.  The first image shows the countertop immediately after the forms were removed.   The second image is after a light sanding and shower with a hose.

Depending on the application and finished appearance you prefer, there are several concrete sealers available online and at hardware stores.


Written by our seasoned countertop crafter : Matt Churchill

a day in the life

5:15am – alarm.  I hate you.

5:25-6:30am – a blur of caffeine, kids, clothes, dog, lunches, more caffeine, car seats and sweating. 

7:00am – enter the office along with a few others.  We don’t make eye contact. (We are the early birds). More caffeine. Why is it so dark in the mornings? What am I wearing? Mental note: I need to step up my fashion game.

7:05am – commence dissecting email.  Make a fancy to do list which includes boxes to check off items as completed (include one item that you’ve already done so you can automatically check something off…’you are nailing your day!’)

8am – the rest of the studio begins to arrive.  The magic starts to happen! Creative minds assemble!!

9am – all hands on deck breakfast meeting.  We talk about what happened last weekend? What’s going to hit this week?  Who is working on what?  Who is drowning and needs assistance?   Refrain from getting a second helping of bacon.

10am – Design charrette in the library.  Solving all of the world’s problems one reception desk at a time.  Feeling inspired…should have put that on my check list.  Where is my check list?!

11am – Check list located.   Still only one thing checked off…hmmm.  Squeeze in some email responses. There is a buzz about the office as people are collaborating and innovating!  Head into a team meeting.

12pm – Leave team meeting with action items.  A lot of action items.   Add to check list.  3 missed calls.  Eat lunch at desk…it includes leftover bacon from breakfast you swore you wouldn’t eat.  Sigh. Vendor drops off cupcakes for the office…The Struggle Is REAL.

1pm – Construction drawing review.  Remember how much you love/hate door and hardware schedules.  Wait!...your kid’s school is calling your cell phone!!!  (Don’t be a sick kid.  DO NOT be a sick kid…) Whew…just a reminder about family movie night. Eat a cupcake.

1:50 pm – Honestly…where is my check list?!

2:00pm – Conference call = multitasking = meeting minutes = emails = submittal review = review of check list.  Not a lot of ‘checking’ happening on said list…UGH.

3pm – Transfer conference call to my cell phone.  Exit office to commence kid pickup. Try to adhere to traffic laws.

4-11pm - a blur of kids, baseball games, tutoring, dog, dinner, maybe consume cocktail(s), showers, pajamas, sweating, email, more email, review of checklist (boo..looks like I can reuse the same checklist tomorrow).

11:01pm – zzzzz

5:15am – alarm.  I hate you.


Written by our early-bird list maker: Nici Nilles