Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Happy 2014

Cook christmas 2013

The Cook Family at the Gorge of Doan Brook in Shaker Heights, Ohio 2013

As we look forward to next year, we are excited to start the year off with a plethora of wonderful clients, tons of momentum from a successful 2013, and lots of great ideas to grow and expand the Blog.

All of our clients this year gave us great joy from artists to art collectors, whether big or small projects,  we loved clients willing to take a risk and knock down a wall or just paint the fireplace a cool color. We got the pleasure to design master suites, teenager rooms, glamour kitchens, and swanky living spaces. Thank you for inviting us into your homes.

It’s a joy to do this job and always fun in the process. Even though our clients entrust their money in our vision, we always want the design to reflect back to the Homeowners heart and soul.

Gingerbread houses

Gingerbread Houses, Mom and Daughter Holiday Event, 2013

A few days ago, Sophie and I made gingerbread houses with friends, and it was great fun and right up my alley to “build a house made of cookies”. So whether it’s a house made of brick and mortar, house of cards, or house of candy, this is my passion and I enjoy sharing it with each and every one of you.

Cheers to you and yours in 2014. May your days be Beautiful and Bright in 2014!

Dawn, Linda, and Sadie


Opening Image Photography: Linda Smith of Blulens


A Reflection: Thanksgiving

Today I am thankful

The last few weeks have been strange around here. Crazy workdays, my kids hitting a few emotional snags, a few shocking unexpected deaths of a young friend and extended family member.

So it’s hard to gather around the table and give Thanks sometimes. It’s often easy to feel scared or sorry, or just plain upset. Which can be immobilizing. Debilitating. Very challenging to move forward or through.

But for this year, it’s not me. The one “it” happens too a lot. One time in a therapy session (yes, I’ve been…I’m not to too proud to say its necessary occasionally to keep my brain from exploding) . The therapist said. “You’re a warrior”. Which sounds trite, but accurate when referring to a few traumatic medical events in my life. And then Brian’s everlasting comment that “Things usually happen when I put my mind to it.”

I’ve put my mind to being peaceful, hopeful, and of course thankful. Thankful for wonderful friends, loving family, and a very successful business. Thankful for the lovely designers and wonderful, hardworking tradespeople I get to work with everyday. And thank you for the clients that trust me, I am grateful to make their houses feel like home.

Thanksgiving table

Happy Thanksgiving to you from my home to yours.

Best, Dawn


Paying It Forward…. Random Acts of Kindness

Princess Diana Quote

When I started this blog, I wanted to discuss more than just Design. I needed to speak about what is important to me. After being where I have been, see (Be Still My Beating Heart….), it’s hard not to be continually floored by how kind and generous people can be. Random people. Everyday people. Yes, we all complain about “those people”, the ones who bother us, drive us crazy, or even those we are just a little bit jealous of. But in reality, there are so many just great people out there. When do we celebrate them? If your life is touched  by a few of them, you are blessed.

And I don’t come at this from a religious or spiritual position. It’s just life. Think about it.

The other day Brian was in the grocery store with the kids, he overheard a woman behind him getting some unexpected bad news on a call. After the call, he asked her ‘How is your day?” When she replied “Horrible!”, he gave the cashier extra money and paid for her groceries, and left, never waiting for an acknowledgment or thanks. How did I hear about it? Sophie told me. So happy she watched, and learned this lesson.

Big or small, you remember these moments. When in the Cardiac ICU, I will never forget the nurse Nancy, who mothered me, and let me grip her hand until it was white, who looked after my parents, calmed my fears.  Now this wasn’t a random act of kindness, you many say it was her job, but she truly cared about me and my family’s well-being. It was much more.

Last night at the Blossom Music Center for the Pixar Concert by the Cleveland Orchestra (which was fabulous by the way…) we had lawn seats and a picnic to celebrate Sophie’s 8th Birthday. While we chatted with the couples wining and dining next to us, the sky opened up and thunder and lighting ensued. Sophie, who still has fear of storms, was not pleased. The couple handed us their four pavilion tickets and said “Happy Birthday” and continued on with their party in the elements, while we enjoyed the sounds of the orchestra in the comfort of the amphitheater.

Friends, and teachers, and mentors, and work associates all influence us with kindness. We all have people we respect in our circles. But think of the randomness. Think of the souls that we are all connected too in some way. I do believe that things all happen for a reason. Good or bad, large or small. Just think about it this week, and take the time to do something a little uncomfortable, a little unexpected, a little kind. But most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself….that’s the hardest part!

What unexpected acts of kindness have you experienced in your life?


Diet Confusion or Design Confusion?

Reflecting girl

I started a new wellness program last week. It’s called the Fast Metabolism Diet, by Hayley Pomroy. It’s essentially a 28 day cleanse. No caffeine, alcohol, dairy, wheat, soy, sugar…so yeah, I’m a joy to be around right now! But I had to do something.

After the heart surgery, nearly 2 years ago now, I had such diet confusion. I had no risk factors. No high cholesterol, no high blood pressure, no anything! Afterwards, I did the required cardiac rehab program and learned about the good fats, bad fats, trans fats, etc. Stuff I already knew. I met with the nutritionist who said, great job keep eating the way you are. Well, where did that get me?

I really didn’t know whether to be vegan, or just eat, drink, and be merry because really, I was alive! The most ironic part of this whole scenario is after I had Sophia seven years ago; I worked out like a manic and lost a ton of weight. I was in the best physical shape of my life BEFORE this all happened. So part of me just needed to get through the mad, the why me, and just be happy to be here. Instead of being the mega-healthy restrictive dieter, I went the other way and said – “Just Live!”

Well, now I need to do what’s right and get it all back under control. So I am detoxing, de-everything, and trying to clear out, and figure out what really works for me. It’s a process, but I know it’s the right thing to do.

So how does this relate to design? Maybe it doesn’t but I see “Design Confusion” every day in my job. Am I Modern or Contemporary? Do I like stark Gustavian Swedish, or Mid-Century eclectic? Do I like bright colors or warm neutrals? And the dreaded “Transitional” style, a catch all for “Just Update my Décor!”?

Most clients I believe are a mix of everything, and truly that is what appeals to most of us. We like our creature comforts, icons that we grew up with, but also the styles from pop culture that draws us today. I rarely see the true style loyalist. The only design style we need to worry about, is the one that most reflects who we want to be in our homes. And what works for us. Isn’t that the same as the diet? It has to work with our lifestyle, it has to be functional and get results, and most of all we have to look good when we are done! That’s exactly the same objectives of a design project.

And most importantly, like a good nutritional plan, there’s no end (so much for my 28 days)…. It’s an ongoing evolution and process that changes with the demands of our lifestyles. In design, our tastes change, and so does our palette of decor.

No more deliberating, or confusion, let’s pick a plan and get some results!

QuoteImage Source: Nancy Ray Photography 

Opening Image Source: Image Source: Unicorn/Dream Magazine


Going on a Man Hunt: Showing your Masculine Side

BedroomYes, I’m a Daddy’s Girl. I love my Dad. We are very much alike, Type A, assertive, OCD, and the like. My Dad is the quintessential good guy, Italian father. Where he can be a hot-headed Soprano mess, he also is the most generous and charismatic guy I know. And he’s totally into “manly” things…a candy apple red Porche, a fly-fishing retreat in Lake Chautauqua….. I could bury him in his vintage Car and Driver magazines and fishing paraphernalia.

In honor of our Dads, let’s think about how we can incorporate some masculinity into our design. Now it’s not all man caves, TVs, and black leather. You would be surprised how many clients crave a more refined version of this design. Rich tones, warm earthy textures, crisp woods mixed with cool stones. Clients ask for the colors of slate, and articulate a more masculine approach to their design. Even women prefer this, not all are frilly, sparkly creatures.

Striped ChairImage Source: Dunlap Design Group

So how to be a man in design? Its present in paint colors, the mixing of ambers, flannels, and cognac. It’s in the fabrics chosen, woolen pinstripes, houndstooth, buttery leather and plaid. In the lighting, chrome and steel structures that exude power, strength, and masculinity. These may be male stereotypes, but they are present today in design in a big way.

OfficeDesigned by: Jeffers Design Group

Many of you probably believe that Design is a woman’s world. I say no way. My clientele is decidedly male. They call me, we get along, and I shop with them for an hour selecting the perfect chair to settle down with a scotch and cigar at the end of a long day.

I also work with a high-end custom home builder, who happens to build a fine home. And I would say that his very beautiful homes are filled with masculine design. From the oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, to the custom wrought iron railings, and the Cosmic Black granite countertops, the absolute gorgeous millwork in these homes sell his houses. Filled with iconic masculinity.

Kitchen with Black Granite

So even though we are all cool, and neutral, and clean, and open spaces these days, many still prefer the rich warmth, the comfort, the power, the assurance of masculine design…maybe a little reminder of dear old Dad?

Happy Father’s Day to all our Dads!

Dawn and DadPhotography: Linda Smith of Blulens Design

Opening Image Source: Faith Cosgrove


A Little Obsession…Peonies in the Garden

Peony Bouquet

Here’s a fact. I’m a Garden nerd. I haven’t blogged about gardening this season yet, I was waiting for the right inspiration. Well I found it. Many years ago, (pre-kids), I spent a lot of time going to garden shows, garden expos, and community garden lectures.  I would go to meetings at the Perennial Society at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens with all the lovely Senior ladies with their gardening hats and vast resource of gardening knowledge. At the ripe old age of 22, I knew more about soil, deadheading, ph levels, sun exposure, and planting zones, than one newbie gardener could absorb!

So, on to my inspiration. When I started gardening, I had visions of rambling old-fashioned cottage gardens in my head. While attending a local garden show closing, you could snap up all the gorgeous plants for a steal. One of the displays had the most beautiful array of peonies. Now if you know anything about these showstoppers, you know they are persnickety to their environment – as far as sun and moisture, and take a VERY LONG TIME to establish and start producing blooms. So I deciding to give it a try and planted them in our front yard.

Peonies in yard

Many years later, this is my late May/early June display every season!

Some are full, some are double, some are single, some look like an old-fashioned rose, and others smell like heaven. But all are magical, and have been around as a strong design motif in Western cultures since the 17th century, and date back to the Ming Dynasty.

All types of peoniesImage Source: Crushed Me

As they come alive in the Spring, the ants scurry over the buds, forcing them to open, it’s a cool process. We always stake them with a grid when the shoots first appear, otherwise the heavy blooms droop and don’t last long. And for one week out of the year we get sheer bliss. An added perk living in this house 16 years this week!

Peonies Image Source: All Things Shabby and Beautiful

Clients often ask me for garden design and landscape architects, its an extension of our interior spaces, and “our summer living room” . So choose wisely and just like anything other investment it makes sense to start with a plan. You can reap the benefits for years to come!

So whether indoors our out, real or just on some great wallpaper, add some beauty into your lives with peonies.

 Peonies on deskImage Source: Habitually Chic

To check out some amazing displays of peonies in the Cleveland Area, Stan Hywet Hall  and Garden has fields of them, as does the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland. Hurry or the pretty peonies will be pretty over soon!

 So what’s your favorite garden flower??


First two photos are from my garden, 2013.


Follow My Own Advice: Take A Breathe

Black and White Blowing

When I started this blog, I planned to use it as a means to release through words. Yes, I want to pass on insightful design knowledge and foster my business. But I truly gain great joy from writing…and sharing. So once in awhile, you may just get something a bit different.

With all the craziness of the Communion, Mother’s Day, the month of May events, end of school activities, work, and everything else, I often forget to breathe. We all do, literally, and figuratively. My poor Cooper can’t breathe from seasonal allergies, I can’t breathe from stress.

Yet I am thankful for every breathe. After my surgery, I literally could not breathe. It hurt to take… A. breathe. Just one breathe. My lovely yogi friend Carrie taught me how to breathe again.

PausePhoto Source: Valued Based Leader

I need to continue to remember this.  Yet despite all the years of yoga practice, I still have locked up issues that keep me from mastering many poses. But most importantly during each session, I remember how to breathe during that hour of bliss. Remember, just breathe…in…out…it sounds cliché, but so true.

During all the commotion this past week, Brian (the hubby)  told me I should become a Buddhist. You know “accept for what you cannot change”. According to the Buddhist Centre…”An enlightened being sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision”. This does have its possibilities. Especially given that I come from a long line of hyperactive, OCD, Type-A personalities.

 Relaxing in chair

Photo Source: MP Greek

Continuing on that note, yesterday for Mother’s Day, we took the Moms for a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the visited the new Focus Gallery which has an amazing Tantra in Buddhist Art exhibit. Sophie proceeded to tell me what the eight limbs represent, Cooper tells me the fundamentals of the culture….enlightening! This gives new meaning to being “mindful in the moment”. I realize I need to listen a little better. Be accepting. Start mediating….breathe.

MeditatingPhoto Source: Clean Cuisine

So, take my advice. And I will to. Take a breathe. Every single one counts. Good or bad. The next one will be better. Enjoy the house in disarray, the leaking faucet (really??), the ugly curtains (well, those I would pull down), But most importantly, take a breathe and enjoy the moment, you won’t get it back again, but if your lucky, you will get another one.



Opening Image Photography: Katies Kustom Photography


Sophie with flowers

We all love our Mothers. And yes they influence our design aesthetic. In both a positive or negative way! You either have grown up traditional and still love that today, or you really can’t stand mid-century modern, because you saw one too many macramé plant holders as a child. Our Mothers were our first homemakers, first Betty Crockers, first June Cleavers… or Claire Dunphy’s.

Dawn and Mom 1972My mother Donna and I at the Columbus Zoo (circa 1972)

Some of our mothers went off to the work force and we became the latch-key kids. I remember being in charge of watering the endless supply of houseplants my Mom had a serious addiction too. Now while I love gardening, I can’t get a basil plant to grow in this house. Some of our Moms always had cookies waiting or a hug for a bad day. Some of us lost our Moms too early, but we still remember their influences on our homes and us.

Dawn and Sophie 2010My daughter Sophie and I at Waldameer Park (circa 2010)

So Moms are a big part of the Interior Design world…when I meet the Moms of my clients, they are either a carbon copy in personality and design form, or striving for the exact opposite. I’m always a little hesitant when the Mom makes an appearance at a design meeting. We don’t realize how much we strive for our Mom’s approval of our lives and our surroundings. It could either be a blessing or a curse to have the Mom present.

Yesterday I met with my friend client and her very dear Mother was there and our whole meeting got side tracked, but in the end her Mom helped get my friend client back on track (she tends to stray…I love hot pink and black…no… Scandinavian white…also …you know who you are.) See…having her Mom there was a good thing.

My other lovely new clients had parents at our very first meeting….could be potentially challenging given they are making some pretty bold design moves in their lovely new  home…but they are steady as they sail and confident in their own decisions. (so proud of you..you know who you are too!)

But truthfully, we as Designers need to respect the Moms out there. They are important to us, and our trade.

What about pregnant client Moms, and helping with nursery design? Talk about a rigid timeline, a baby on the way! This is where I tread lightly with design decision-making. Emotions and anxiety run high. But it’s also a good time to explore healthy design selections (see Emerald Green Part II – Celebrating Earth Day and Green Design). What’s more fun than designing a child’s room?

Sometime the buck stops at the Mom of the client. I have had clients that won’t make a move without Motherly approval. We all have our reasons. But sometimes the parents are “gifting” the décor to their children, so in this case, the Mom becomes the ultimate decision-maker.

I can’t influence my own Mom’s design aesthetic. She wouldn’t take my professional advice.  She still sees me as her kid. OK Mom! Do your own thing! Isn’t this how it goes?

So regardless…new Mom, everyday Mom, or Mom of Mom…the Mother is a queen bee when it comes to design decisions.

Cooper and SophieSophie and Cooper before school (circa 2012)

So to all my followers, clients, friends, family, and friends who miss their Moms..but most importantly my own Mom….I wish you the happiest of Mother’s Day…may your design be delightful, but most importantly…not your Mother’s décor, your own!


Sophie CookModel: Sophie Cook, Photography by: Linda Smith

The First Communion is a rite of passage for the second grade catholic child. We all remember it. The big day, the dress, the party, the M-O-N-E-Y. I remember for mine, my uncles moved the homemade bar outside, and this was not a card table, this was a giant wooden bar, my grandma Sophie cleaning the pasta sauce off my white dress while I was howling with tears. My aunts clogging up the kitchen as they scurried around with more food than could ever have been eaten….

In some ways its not much different now. We will have the bar outside on the patio, although I will artfully dress up a Costco table. And I am sure my friends will be scurrying around the kitchen helping with the food and drinks. And I am sure I will be cleaning up sauce off of Sophie’s dress since that is what she requested for food, although she has her wardrobe change already selected.

Sweet treats1|2

But times have changed too. Our families are different. A mix up of different relations and religions. It’s not the giant homogenous family of Italians I grew up with. My kids will go to Bar Mitzvahs and Baby Namings. Those are some serious parties. Whew.  The good thing is we appreciate this diversity and love that our kids get it. So everyone will be here to celebrate Sophie’s big day.

So what about the party? Of course I will have to put my Designer touch on it!

We still want that little decorative element that gives the event that something special. We are doing a little backyard garden party theme at home.

Decorative Elements


Probably around 40 people. Nothing too big. Being the oldest of sixteen cousins, now that we have multiplied, inviting the “family” includes an instant 50 plus. Tack on all the kids, friends, and kids of friends, we are looking at over a hundred. So instead we are keeping it small and celebrating our little darling dressed in white.

Speaking of white, we have the white dress, funky white floral headband (no veil for the gal!) , shoes and of course the new pearl earrings and jewelry. No gloves or anything fussy like that. Just our Soph and all her sparkly personality. I am sure Linda will capture her in all her glory, since she is accustomed to her own personal paparazzi.

Dress and necklace


So lights, and flowers, and cupcakes, and bubbly drinks for kids and adults. And a special fun day for Sophie, that’s all you really need for a good memory, right?


CrossPhotography by: CDowney Photography