Using bold colors. Displaying artwork. Choosing or even making accessories that finish the look you crave. Deciding which lines you prefer on a chair. The Merchandise Mart DreamHome is the perfect place to get ideas and solutions for all these decorating conundrums.
While you might consider most DreamHome rooms just a touch "over the top," you should find much to love.
This year could be more difficult than usual to pick a favorite from the rooms. Most of them offer a feeling of welcome and comfort, as well as a lot of fun. All of the rock-star designers invited for this tenth anniversary home have invented dream rooms before.
One feature that several of the rooms have in common -- gorgeous rugs. From fabulous icy blues to reds and corals, each is a work of art that ties the room full of delectable shades together.
The purpose of the DreamHome, as you might imagine, is to showcase items available in the Mart, and most of the showrooms listed here are in the Mart.
Maybe it's that I've always wanted a library or a study (much different from a home office, of course), or maybe it's the huge knockout pink, aqua and almost-red Mosaico print fabric from Etro via Clarence House that covers the comfy wingbacks here. Or maybe it is just the fact that the myriad accessories represent a fellow collector. However, I could not get enough of this room from Jessica Lagrange of Chicago.
The dark, smokey blue lacquered walls -- Hague Blue from Farrow & Ball -- bring together competing desires for neutral and color. Gracie provides the shade on hand-painted paper to provide different tones and a layered look.
But one of the first items the designers found was the Barchi rug from Afghanistan through Atelier Lapchi. Vegetable dyes give a special charm to the small rectangles of many colors from clay to blue to cream and red.
Christina Stillwaugh, a designer with the firm, admitted the chandelier is "a little crazy." California artist Tony Duquette designed it in 1952, and Baker has faithfully reproduced it. Steel leaves are painted green with pink and white accents, but it's the abalone shells and crystals you won't soon forget.
Of course the collector has framed artwork everywhere. Richard Norton helped assemble the pictures from the 1930s through '50s displayed in different arrangements. Sketches of models hang together, and a larger, more eclectic grouping shows simple frames.
If you're looking for the computer, you want an office, not a study.
Tom Stringer's living room is one of those spots in the DreamHome where the furniture looks so comfortable you won't want to leave.
Indeed the story he makes up for the "look" is that design legends collaborated. "Billy Baldwin and his young friend Albert Hadley were invited to Sister Parish's home for the evening. The trio had much fun, consumed many bottles of champagne and then decided to make over Sister's living room together," said Stringer in a written description of the room.
Here we learn how to use a fabulous overscale bold floral in Bordeaux red, blues and plums covering the Donghia Inc. chair that inspired the room.
Quieter furniture surrounds the chair, starting with the Baker Knapps & Tubbs tufted sofa in a neutral gold velvet. The only pattern on the bright blue wingback is its great herringbone weave from Schumacher/Patterson, Flynn & Martin. Two Dessin Fournir armless slipper chairs are white, and quilting and ties on the backs provide detail interest, and 1920s Indian blankets bring another punch of red.
A huge, five-panel screen dominates the alcove behind the sofa, a classic Chinese wave pattern with gold leaf and aquamarine from Gracie Studio and Holly Hunt.
Stringer calls the large number of pictures decorating other walls a random collection of photos of interiors, drawings, water colors and pastels. The matting is crisp white with a few gold rectangular frames among the black ones.
The designer likes to demonstrate balance rather than symmetry with two end tables of the same scale -- one classical dark wood and the other almost gold rods -- holding identical lamps. Another choice would be to put miss-matched lamps on identical tables, he said.
Outdoor dining space
Here's some good news from Fredman Design Group of Chicago, creators of the outdoor dining space.
The white bottles that stand out above the 900-pound solid concrete bar are regular glass spray painted with 10 layers of white matte. The designers did find it difficult to make the paint stick, said Chelsey Hahn.
Susan Fredman described the space as a bold fantasy and playful. Her designers imagined it as a place where homeowners could have "casual drinks and appetizers with friends," Hahn said.
Visitors know what Fredman means when they see the sculptural concrete chair from Dessin Fournir that looks almost like a ball on a base. Not many outdoor spaces feature silk rugs, but the fantastical design of gold and pink on a background of icy blue gray is a memorable offering from Oscar Tatosian of Oscar Isberian.
The wallcovering from Maya Romanoff is inspired by starry outdoor skies -- dark but sparkling with red and crystals. A complementary one from Kravet gives a gold and textured stone look. And wood flooring from Paris Ceramics fronts the built-in bench inspired by those on home decks.
If you don't covet the LED light from Artemide that can be shaped like a globe or flattened to two dimensional, you are not getting into the spirit of this show house. Another lighting coup that might be easier to imitate is a rope with an LED strip in it.
A dining room is all about having a great time with friends and family, and Erik Kolacz thinks it's important to have "a room no one wants to leave." He modeled his room after one where he and friends enjoyed chatting and eating in a Napa Valley vacation home.
To create "a warm glow where everyone looks great and feels great," Kolacz chose Source One handcrafted charcoal wall covering that resembles golden wood paneling.
The designer almost used a glass top to show off the "family tree" base of the huge table from Paul Ferrante, but opted for a custom slab oak instead. The brass or bronze tones in the finish fit the warmth of the room.
It's difficult to have a comfortable room of any type without great chairs. Century Furniture provided generous side chairs and small wingbacks in cut velvet to serve at the ends.
Like most things in this room, the wall sconces from Bradley are large scaled. The bronze finish has almost a peach undertone that picks up the slight blush in the background of the rug, said Kolacz. They sit atop long poles and look like they could be taken off the wall and carried at the head of a procession.
The huge silk rug from Direct Rug Import presents a wavy ikat-style design. Note the glorious icy blue with an organic mix of brown.
The crowd of large Paul Ferrante pendants -- clear glass balls of different sizes, each covered with oil-rubbed bronze circles -- makes the room.
"One is great and 10 are even better," said the designer.
Jeannie Balsam of Winnetka selected dramatic red wall covering called Candy Apple in a weathered finish from Maya Romanoff for the traditional foyer she updated with clean lines and bright finishes, such as a faux leopard fur on custom Muffy ottomans from Bradley.
The use of decorative floral panels from Dessin Fournir custom framed in brass here and in Kara Mann's bedroom could inspire a treatment for a large wall. This pair, called Property of a Gentleman, is based on a series of 19th century panels that were owned by fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy.
Don't miss the Tissage chandelier by Niermann Weeks with its curvy lattice design. It retails for about $8,000, according to the company's website. The light hangs above what is really an octagonal mahogany dining table called Jedidah from Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman.
The blue velvety Samuel Wing chair from Hickory Chair/Pearson presents tone-on-tone in a great faux patchwork pattern that Balsam achieved by using the reverse side of the fabric.
The fabulous rug is a rich traditional red Persian the designer brought from her own collection.
Two things you will notice for sure when entering the bedroom by Kara Mann of Chicago: The chandelier that she designed and the bed.
The chandelier, a collection of large, rough crystals encaged in heavy metal rectangles, is available through Jean de Merry's showroom.
The spare-looking Gregorius Pineo's hand-forged four-poster iron bed in antique rust finish was inspired by 17th century Italian design. Holly Hunt carries the line.
The hand-painted panels of a fantastical floral inspired by the passion for Ottoman art in the 19th century is from England's Eltham Palace and available from Dessin Fournir. With shades of gold, green, orange and teal, they provide the most color in the room.
And who but a designer of Mann's stature, not to mention a paint company like Farrow & Ball, would choose a paint shade called Dead Salmon. (It's a special entry in the brown family).