Monday, March 17, 2014

Moving Forward

Finally, another post. It's hard to chronicle daily life, shit, weekly is just as tough and I am now into bi-yearly I think. Too busy living the life, I suppose.

So here we are, together again. Me writing about the trials and tribulations. Okay, people in poor countries around the world might disagree that rehabbing a second house in America is not really a trial or a tribulation or even a minor annoyance, but there we are.

Before we dive right back in, let me post a pic of my wife's new bathroom. Because why renovate a farmhouse when you have a perfectly good apartment at home to destroy. First World problems, right?(I will be providing more on this recent renovation in a future blog if you really care.)

Beautiful isn't it? My contractors Piotr Dach and Bartek Kluzik did an awesome job with some really challenging pieces, including a some beautiful San Francisco BART tile from Heritage Tile of Oak Park ( and a persnickety art director that just "had to have things his way!" If you like what you see and are looking for good people to work with drop me a line and I'll relay their info to you.

Once more unto the breach.

Our story begins with a short 90 minute commute or as Sam likes to call it, the "worst traveling Karaoke truck" in the  midwest, from downtown Chicago to Baroda, Michigan. Nestled along the Western Michigan Wine trail sits our lovely money pit!

And a cartoon! Our friends Robert and Jeanne provided us with a wonderful reminder of what we've actually gotten ourselves into and "how" with an, oh so fitting, New Yorker cartoon. 

The caption has the woman saying, "I'm bored---let's buy a house in the country with a lot of problems." 

I'm not sure which one of us said something similar to this, so I will blame on our friend Dave Camp. He was instrumental in bringing us our latest project. Need a real estate agent in Illinois or Michigan? He's your guy. Look at me plugging all my friends! Sign up now to find your name in the next post!

A perfect discovery! Kudos Robert! And kudos Dave!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Kitchen.

It's time to renew this old kitchen. I started with the removal of the old cabinets. There weren't many, it's a small space. A guy down the road who has become a friend, Mark Shutke (sp?), who used to live in the house told me they were hand built by his Uncle. It's tough to see in the picture, but the grain in the wood matches from drawer to drawer and door to drawer. Quality work from another time. The other interesting piece is the "green formica" wall coverings? I'm replacing that with drywall. Fashions do change. 

It's interesting what you can find when renovating an old house. This tasty tidbit was beneath the far right end of the cabinets. Another friend remembered this as a candy he enjoyed once as a child. He is over 50.

Apparently, parental mice don't want their kids filling up on candy. I decided not to have it carbon dated and both Sam and I passed on giving it a taste, but it did look yummy. This joint is in the country and mice are a reality. A reality I will battle like Charlemagne in the Saxon wars, but a reality nonetheless I am told.  So far none have been discovered in the house. We found the remains of an old nest, but nothing fresh to date (fingers crossed). Maybe they were on vacation. Or hiding from my awful writing and singing?

Now that the cabinets have been removed (and hauled away by my friend Mark for an upcoming bonfire he will be having) I added some sublflooring and vapor barrier for underneath the cabinets to further seal the basement from upstairs. Did I mention there's a basement? Small, but serviceable. More on that project in an upcoming episode.

Now, about that wall.

Ah, the wall in between the kitchen and the living area. Well, we decided that that should go away. This will open up the kitchen to the dining room giving the house a more open and airy feel. I also have an idea for "separating" the bathrooms and "master?" bedroom from the kitchen and this will help.

Hey look at that, old wallpaper! A pretty jungle pattern that my contractor thinks is from the 40's. 
A fun find, almost as fun as the candy. Yes, I brought in a contractor for this heavy lifting. A man has got to know his limits.

Ah, freedom.

And so we now have greater access to the kitchen! Dining problems solved. Okay, still a ways to go, but these guys did a great job of opening up the wall. All I had to do next was create another wall to hide the fridge and separate the bathroom and "master bedroom" from the kitchen. I also figured I'd add anoither door to the master giving greater separation to the bath. I haven't framed out a door in a while, but, eh, this'll do.

Now for some finishing touches. Countertops, sink, cabinets. All from Ikea, which, in a future post will surely take a beating for how they make larger cabinet doors and their return policies.


HOLY CRAP! I haven't hung a door in approximatley 30 years, but apparently I've still got it. I was really surprised this worked out. How about a  little video?

Now onto what most of my friends think is my biggest problem.....TV.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week 1 (or so) or better yet WTF!

Well, well, well, here I am after spending a few days on the "Cottage Project" as I have taken to calling it and things are going along swimmingly albeit slowly. Apparently, my day job gets in the way of my toys. It can happen with older houses where things were put together to last. This nail and a few others were pulled out of the wall holding up some cabinets.

As with any project, scheduling is quickly proving to be the key. I haven't commuted, and by that I mean driven to a job through traffic and such versus hopping on a bus for a few minutes, in over 30 years. And I've never done it with a time change in the middle. See Illinois is on Central time and Michigan is on Eastern. That adds a whole 'nother wrinkle, especially when the snow comes in.

Anywho,  let's get back to chatting about the project. It's cold out there.

Phase 1: Destruction!

Tearing out ceiling tiles is not the cleanest job, but a smooth drywall ceiling will be much prettier. It's also a pretty simple job for a simple man like myself. As I tore tiles off the ceiling I got to thinking about many projects I've worked on in the past where we needed to literally tear apart the old to make the new better. People do it all the time in their house, but design and advertising (see this is a design blog after all) clients and agencies seem to just keep adding layers to brands instead of removing the detritus and cleaning things up. A mani-pedi is also a good analogy, I think.

Phase 2: Floors

My bride (of 17+years) and I couldn't decide exactly what to do about the floors. There used to be carpeting in the house. It seemed to have been here for a while and let's just say it didn't smell the best. New hardwood floors would be the order of the day, but we aren't quite sure what kind we want and the costs of doing it is not something I want to get into before we hang out here.

So, we'll go with option 2. My own brand of subflooring that I've done in other apartments with a similar flare. 3/4" birch plywood is only a few dollars more a sheet and the grain looks nice, but it's not quite right.

In the existing living room there is 5" pine board.

What to do, what to do?
Well, I am an art director and this is a design blog so can you guess?
That's right, draw boards on the floor with a Sharpie! Oh, I know what you're saying, but what could it hurt. It's just subflooring. And after a little stain and polyurethane what could happen?

That's right, beauty! Eat your heart out HGTV! And if you're an art director you might even force people to look at them in the "right" light.

So that was this week's project.

Next ceilings, painting and a whole lot of other crap. Welcome to my nightmare. At least I have an able bodied assistant.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crazy, sexy, cool!

Crazy, yes.
Sexy, maybe.
Cool, most definitely!

After a few short years of nothing particularly interesting to say my wife and I found a few projects, I think, could be fun to share. I hope you, dear reader, agree. At the very least you should get a few chuckles out of our insanity.

It begins with a small farm, includes the launch of a new brand and encompasses all the pitfalls, fun, highs and lows of the next few (hopefully 6-8) months of my rehab and advertising craziness. I hope you will find it interesting or at the very least distracting.

The Farm

Baroda, Michigan is a quaint little village on the west side of the state just a few miles in from Lake Michigan. Our project begins here. To paraphrase the title of a Matt Damon cinematic vehicle from a few years back, "We bought a farm!" Not a farm with livestock, but five acres of farmland with a little house. It sits on the "Wine Trail" of western Michigan.We will be raising bees at some point, but animals, besides dogs, may or may not be part of this little adventure.

We will be rehabbing a small house into a weekend respite and rental opportunity. I think the Three Stooges-esque  happenings in the weeks and months to come should provide some amusement. Remember every time I hit my thumb with a hammer an angel gets its wings.

The day we closed on the house we decided to rip up the carpeting and see what lay beneath. Might as well start with the floors and build up from there! Our four-legged assistant showed us his disdain for carpeting by relieving himself in one of the bedrooms. Not sure if he really hates carpet or was telling us this was a really shitty house to have purchased. Aw, what does he know!

There are 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom at this point. An unfinished basement and a ton of work, but this is where it gets fun. We have plans to update the kitchen, rework the floors and add a monster deck outside to sip wine and enjoy the countryside.

Beth, Sam and I have been planning for the last week or so and the work gets started tomorrow. If you're in the neighborhood shoot me a text or an email and if I'm there we'll share a beer and I'll put you to work!

In our next episode: A New Brand Begins (While we update the latest from the farm).


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just for fun!

Shot a video for my favorite client and posted it to YouTube! 8000 hits in just a week! Sweet.


If I've already forced you to watch it. read an old post or head out to somewhere fun.

Thanks for coming!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Go sale-ing with Hilton!

I'm not a sailor. To be honest, I don't like the water much. It probably stems from seeing Jaws, the Posiedon Adventure and Lifeboat as a child. No, I'm not much of a sailor, but I do understand tacking. The act of sailing in a diagonal pattern to move forward against the wind.

I went out on a friends boat once and he showed my how it works. I probably couldn't do it, but I understand it. In sales and advertising you could define it as "changing ones course or conduct to get to the a desired point". At least, that's how I think of it and how it will matter within the framework of this post. And yes, it's kind of a funny story to my sense of humor.

I went to NYC this weekend with my wife. We love to go and see a play or two, see a museum or two, hang out in a good restaurant with some good food. It's a quick way to get out of Chicago without the pressure of a real vacation. Just a couple of days to ease a mind and not think about work or all the things I should be fixing around my house.

This weekend was no exception. Had a great time seeing "Good People" with Frances McDormand and a great exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef and Arpels". I was fascinated by how detailed the design work is that goes into fine jewerly making. There was also another exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt on Sonia Delaunay that was also fascinating, but I digress.

How does the Hilton and sailing relate to my general ramblings on design and advertising? I'll get there, but first a little background. I stay at a lot of Hilton properties. I have been a member of their rewards program for years and have gotten a lot out of it. I find hotel reward programs work way better than airline programs because hotels are expensive and a $400 a night room multiplied by two nights is a bigger savings than a flight to New York. The rooms are always clean, their staff are always nice and in general I always have a good stay.

My friend Brian Ahearn blogs and his site "Influence People" relates information on how to properly and ethically influence people. This story will give an example of how NOT to do this. I should have titled the post, "How to never sell anything to an ad guy or anyone else with half a brain."

We arrived ion Friday afternoon. After checking in we decided lunch was in order, then off to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and a nice walk through Central Park. It was a beautiful day. Maybe a cocktail on a terrace somewhere later. Good fun.

On the way out of the hotel we were stopped by a nice woman asking if we were reward members. I said, "Yes". She asked if I would be interested in a "free" breakfast if they could take up a little of my time. Not being completely stupid I figured they would be trying to sell me something, but she was offering free breakfast and, get this, $125.

As a freelancer $125 for an hour or so of my time is good money. I told her she could sign me up, but that I hadn't made a lot of plans for the weekend and wasn't going to guarantee that I would be there. If I showed up, I showed up, but don't hold your breath. She gave us an invitation and off we went.

The next day she called to confirm my coming, on Sunday morning, to the breakfast. I reminded her that I didn't guarantee anything and wouldn't again. In fact, her calling was making me not want to go, but it was her job to call so I didn't bust her too much for it. "Fine", I said, "maybe I'll be there. Once again, don't wait on me."

Saturday came and went. Another beautiful day in a beautiful city with plenty to do and see.

Then came Sunday morning. I tried to sleep in, but at my age that's a fading dream. It was around 9:30 a.m. when I got up. The breakfast was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and was a few blocks away on the way to the airport. My wife and I figured, $125 bucks, some free food, listen to something and we're out. Let the fun begin.

When we arrived we were asked "What do you know about time share?"

Ah, so it was a time share deal from Hilton. "Not a lot." I said, playing my role as the hick who just got sucked into a time share sale for $125 dollars. Would there be steak knives? I got a little excited. Don't really need steak knives, but wouldn't it be great? My wife and I shared a laugh and got on the elevator.

Upstairs we were greeted very warmly and offered coffee. Looking good, free stuff already. We laughed again and waited patiently for "our representative" to come get us and explain this "exciting new program". We laughed some more. Okay, in for a penny, etc.

Our representative came out and greeted us, once again very warmly, but the poor boy seemed confused.

"Where ya from?" he asked.

"Chicago." I replied.

"How long ya been there?" he asked.

"25 years." I said.

"You like it?" He asked.

What? Do I like it? I've been there for 25 years. If I didn't like it wouldn't that make me some kind of martyr or idiot? Maybe he didn't hear me. "Sure, I like it."

"Are you married?" he asked. Obviously not noticing my wedding ring, wife or the one set of luggage. The last time somebody asked this my wife replied, "Do you mean to each other?" I prepared for the joke, but she didn't bite.

"Yes. For 15 years." I said.

"Do you like it?" he said.

Really, what kind of an ass do you take me for. Even if I didn't like it was this a test to see if I would say something in front of my wife? Did I like where I lived? Did I like being married to who you assume is my wife? Was I going to break down in front of you and say,"God no, I hate my life. Please, Mister, take me away! Take to this fabulous place called Hilton!"

I glanced at my wife, and we shared another laugh. Was this guy for real?

He escorted us to a desk. The place was full of desks and lots of people were at them signing paperwork and discussing all the great things time share could do for them. He showed us where the food was, my real reason for being here since I assume they weren't going to show me any cash until the end. We got something to eat and sat down with him at his desk. Let the pitch begin.

"This is not about time share." he started. Really, that's not what your girl at the front desk said. "What if I could show you an opportunity..." At this point my hackles went up. Everyone in advertising knows the word "opportunity" means "a way for you to eat a whole lot of crap with little or no reward". It's a word an account guy uses when asking you to do a favor for a client. It's the word your boss uses when a client puts his business up for review and you know as the incumbent your odds of keeping the business are 100-1.

He asked more questions.

"How often do you travel?" "How much do you think you spend on hotels?" More questions, at the end of each reply he repeated my answers back to me in the form of a question as if he didn't know what I said and he needed to check. Some were valid questions and I just adored how every time I gave him an answer he checked it with my wife to see if I might be lying to him. At one point asking my wife if what I was telling him was true.

Then came the question about "making a decision today". My wife told him, very pointedly,"we don't make decisions that way. We won't sign anything today." I agreed. "I don't do business that way." I said, "People don't do business that way." ABC, a friend reminded me "Always, Be, Closing!"

Her tactic seemed to befuddle him. "I walk into Best Buy, not really wanting anything and sometimes I buy things right there on the spot." he said.

"I buy gum that way, sure. I don't buy property that way." I said.

We argued a little more about the virtues and vices of what to buy and when, suddenly coming to the realization that we were in the middle of a Mamet play heading towards Kafka. (See the link at the end of the post)

Finally, he asked a good one, "Why are you here?"

"Me, I'm here because you're worth $125 to me. Beyond that I don't mind listening to people if they have something to offer." I laid it out on the table fondly remembering Alec Baldwin. "What's my name?"

Now, I'm not the best negotiator in the world, but after the 30 minutes of back and forth I expected him to realize why we were there. I expected him to tack. If he had half a brain in his head he would have changed his tactics, dropped the used car salesman bullshit and talked to me like a person about their deal. After all "I walked on the lot".

I was willing to listen, I wanted the money and frankly, they started this. I just didn't want to have to wade through his schtick to get there. My wife told him as much. We own our own companies, she was in sales for years, drop the schtick and get to the deal. Tack, son, change your behavior to keep the sale going.

He was undeterred. Just like the telemarketers that get thrown when you interrupt their reading of a sales pitch. He stopped and went to consult his boss. We laughed. He's probably in the breakroom regretting his decision to pick us as his rubes for the day. He'll probably change tactics and we can move along.

Wrong again. He came back and launched into the same spiel of asking me questions designed to get me to agree with him. "Do you think it's smart to throw away money?", "Do you think it's smart to get something for nothing?" Do I think it's smart to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger? Do I think it's smart to burn $100 bills while dancing naked in traffic? Who was this genius?

I said, "I get what you're trying to do. Fine. Yes, to all of your questions. It is much smarter to not throw money down a toilet. I agree. Move on to the sale. How much and what do I get for it?"

"Well, I'm not trying to sell you anything." Really? "I'm offering you an opportunity." Again with the "opportunity". It had now become comical.

"Fine. What is the opportunity?"

"Let me ask you a question..." he started, I cut him off.

Fine, I'll tack. "I have a plane to catch, you have about 20 minutes to get through all this." I said.

"What? You committed to 90 minutes." he said.

"No, I didn't "commit" to anything and if you can't get to the deal without another question we can call it right here."

"Let me ask you...." Done.

We stood up. "Look, we're done here. You have my email, if you send me the information, I'll go over it and let you know." At this point we knew we weren't going to see our $125, but we did get free coffee, and a nosh. Still in the win column for me.

Will I still stay at Hilton properties? Sure, they're everywhere. Will I still try and get free steak knives if someone offers them to me? Sure, I'll bite. Will I see through your used car salesman bullshit and call you on the carpet for trying it with me because I find it insulting? You're damn right I will. I've seen how these guys were trained Thank you Mr. mamet and Mr. Baldwin.

Tack, Hilton. Change the direction and adjust the course next time if you want to keep the sale alive. Next time you may be able to close.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Blank Page

It stares back you. Haunting in it's vast emptiness. Like looking into a blizzard without the excitement of motion. The Blank Freakin' Page.

Like a horror movie it can do you no actual harm, but it can give you chills and instill in one a feeling of despair. I have stared at a lot of blank pages in my life. At it's basest level it is my job.

As a creative professional my job begins with the gathering of information. I talk to clients, read way too much information about their business, pore through vast amounts of information that has everything and nothing to do with their business, get my mind in a whirl about anything and everything "them". Stir up every bit of excitement and energy about who, what, where, when and why they are. Then I sit down with a blank sheet of paper and fear sets in.

That's usually a great time to go to the movies.

I read a book once a long time ago, not my only book but this one was important to me. I have no idea what it was called or who wrote it and if you do, let me know because I would love to have a copy of it. It was an old book about creativity and how to get your thoughts moving in the right direction. It was short, maybe a hundred pages or so. It talked about filling your head with as much information as possible surrounding what you were working on, get your brain whirling as I said earlier, then walk away.

Walk away and allow your subconscious to process all of that information. After a little time the ideas would come more naturally because your brain would have assimilated all of the requisite info and your conscious self could then sort the relevant from the irrelevant and help you process the interesting from the dull.

You'd have to ask my clients whether or not they think the technique works well for me, but I haven't heard any complaints so I'll assume it's doing pretty good.

This technique doesn't solve the problem of the blank page, but it does help to calm the fear that pervades those initial instances.

I had a serious case of "creative block" a few years ago. I was working with a new partner (and it had nothing to do with her, it had set in a few days earlier) and I tried to tell her, but it was hard to explain. She thought it was her and her ideas that I couldn't come around on. That was not true. Her ideas were sound, but no matter how I tried I could come up with none, zero, nada ideas, nor could I come up with anything resembling a workable layout. It was, as they might say in Boston "wicked scary". I felt miserable. For me and for what it did for her.

It lasted about two weeks (which seemed like an eternity) and no matter what I tried nothing came into my head. It was as if I couldn't think properly. Everything I knew had gone out of my head. I actually thought my career might be over. Panic set in one day on a bus ride so bad I almost cried. Almost.

I got home that night pulled out a blank piece of paper and started drawing. I wasn't drawing anything. It was more like scribbling. I took a pencil and just created shapes, scrapes, scratches on the page. I tried to fill the page up, to cover it completely, to wipe out the blank page and replace it with an image, any image. I didn't care what it became I just had to erase the blank page.

Well, the scribbles and scratches, turned into doodles, which turned into more pages of doodles which turned into some figures and some little cartoons. (The examples here are not from that time, but just representational). Nothing substantial had come of any of the drawing except that the next day I had some thoughts. Not big ones, but enough to get back to work with my partner, create a few layouts and get through a meeting. The ideas went to the client, but did not sell. That honor went to a competing team, but the block had been taken down (notice I didn't say destroyed or eliminated, because it is always there hanging in the periphery waiting for it's chance to return) and I was back to creating.

Whew, crisis averted.

Well, look at that. I just covered up another blank page.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening day and some other bits!

Hello All,

Tomorrow, or I guess today is opening day for baseball season.

I've never been much of a fan of the game, but I do love all of the peripheral drinking that goes on whether it is at a game or just sitting in a bar "watching" it on TV. As I've discussed here before I do like a cocktail now and again.

I live in Chicago right near Wrigley Field , the home of the Chicago Cubs and I like to think of this as the silly season.

Everyday I walk my wife halfway to work. I turn around and she continues on. Then she walks home. Some days I meet her on the walk some days I stay at my desk, it all depends. We call it the silly season because we used to walk our great danes Hank and Pearl to work a lot during the year and if there was a game on things got silly. Any time you walk by a bar full of people having a good time with over 300 lbs. of dogs people are bound to comment.

The dogs have both passed away, but it was funny to hear all the requisite jokes. "Hey, you got a saddle for that thing!" "Damn, that dog's big!" "Can I get a ride?" No, seriously, dunk dude, I never thought of that! Annoying, but now without the pups I do kind of miss it.

So baseball is here, Spring can't be too far behind so I guess my thoughts will turn to advertising.

Used to be the springtime would bring a little extra work through the door. Clients apparently would get antsy and need to ramp up the pitches, refresh the pool, some folks would go on vacation. Things would just speed up a bit. It was nice.

This year things are picking up a little. Not as fast as past years, but I do think people are loosening their wallets a scoche. A lot of big accounts have certainly started moving around. Could be good news for many of us on the front lines, but I try never to get my hopes up. We'll see is always a healthy attitude.

Got a nice note from my friend Steve the other day about turning this blog into something helpful to others which is what his blog does (you can find him @ His company is dedicated to driving new business for agencies and I like a lot of his thinking. Check it out if you get a chance.

 I think it's a good idea, helping people. I spent a lot of last year trying not to get bogged down in politics and doing a bad job of it. (Sidenote: if I post crap on my FaceBook page you can hide me and don't have to listen to me, but stop trying to pick a fight with me if you disagree with my viewpoint. I don't jump onto your page and post my leftie ramblings so don't do it to mine. nuff said. Sidenote over) Of course, I'm still looking for what exactly it is I'm doing here, but if someone thinks of something let me know. I'm definitely gonna work with Steve's ideas and new topics are always good.

Helpful hint #1: Don't blog in the middle of the night.

Although I'm not really sure when I'm supposed to do it. I started tweeting and I'm still a little unsure what to do there. Everyone seems to retweet fantastic articles, which is great except I can't seem to find the time to read them all and retweet them to others. I have two novels I'm supposed to be reading right now, so I can design their book covers, along with work (which as I said has picked up), taxes are coming (I've already had the accountant file an extension prophylactically), man, it's busy.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. I could live in Libya or some other hotspot that's getting the crap bombed out of it.

Helpful tip #2: Stop complaining.

Honestly, I'm not a coal miner or a revolutionary, I'm not getting shot at in Afganistan or Iraq and I'm pretty sure my wife still likes me so what do I really (and most people in this country) really have to complain about?

That's enough helping for now.

Here's a pretty picture:

George Bernard Shaw. A very good writer. I like his plays a lot. He also makes a good subject for a drawing.

You may have noticed I did not (and will no longer) state that I am changing a subject before doing so. As I heard a long time ago, "Seques are for babies." Of course, "Segways" are for tourists, but I digress.