When Missie Bender decided to expand her interior design practice to include a retail boutique, she considered naming it "Wink" in recognition of what inspires her quest for unique pieces.
"If it winks at you, that means you need to have it," says Bender, whose storefront shop along the Park Avenue in Glencoe's quaint downtown features an eclectic array of art, pottery, accessories and furnishings in a variety of styles as a complement to the core business.
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Rather than have to explain the moniker every time, however, she decided on "Vignette Home" as a better description for the mix of quirky and refined items she uses in her practice and are available to other designers and as custom-tailored gifts.
Gleaned domestically but also from globe-trotting locales such as Africa, France, Italy and Asia, the inventory spans a variety of prices and styles from antique to abstract to contemporary. The common thread and the inspiration for the name is that there is no standard template to make a house a home.
"I love mixing things together that don't necessarily belong together but create little vignettes," says Bender, who in 2006 opened Missie Bender Design Inc., in an old hardware/toy store. A Chicago native who grew up in Highland Park and has lived in Glencoe for 27 years, she has a background in theatrical arts and developed an eye for detail and innovation as a photo stylist in commercial photography.
The scope of her work ranges from single rooms to the full-scale renovation of a historic 12,000-square-foot turn-of-the century Arts and Craft-style mansion in Highland Park, to work in a contemporary high-rise condo. And though the styles and sizes vary, there is a constant to keep in mind, Bender says.
"I really feel it shouldn't be 'decorated' -- it should be yours and a collection of things you love. A small collection of something grouped together gives a lot more impact than them being scattered. Varying heights and textures are important."
And it isn't necessary to start from scratch, she advises.
"It's really important to find out how you live, what's important to you. Find out what pieces you have that you don't want to get rid of. Really figure out how you live."
Bender describes a small, 1920s era secretary/phone cabinet, for example, as a "quirky, funky little desk" that would fit well in any mudroom. "I like things that have a history and look like they came from someplace else," she said.
One doesn't have to be a gun collector to see the design possibilities with a carved Black Forest gun rack from Switzerland, she says.
"If you don't have a gun collection per se, we can mount a mirror on it," Bender said. "It's fun to re-purpose things."
Such was the case with a wooden African statue of a woman carrying a basket. A bigger basket Bender had found while antiquing was wedded with the piece to make a custom lamp.
"What's cool is it's an antique statue and we were able to replicate the basket she was carrying on her head," Bender said.
Mixing and matching has advantages as well, she said.
"Beautiful antique pieces against really clean, contemporary backdrops are fantastic," she said.
The selection at Vignette Home spans a range of lifestyles from rustic to ornate, including many small accessories, like a black banana leaf bowl ($70), to a modern acrylic table ($1,025) to a dominating, gilded, hand-carved Rococo-style mirror from Paris ($4,250).
Vignette Home has designers on site and also offers personalized shopping and design and decor consultations.
"I have a lot of people who come off the street who need the final details to make their home complete," said Amy Smole, associate designer with the firm.
Bender has a virtual boutique on 1stdibs.com and also has items available via One Kings Lane, www.onekingslane.com/shop/vignetteatmissiebenderdesign/.