Erin Gallagher Jewelry + A HUGE Customer Service Win.

ann-ueno-erin-gallagher-jewelryA few weeks back, as I was perusing the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, I stumbled into a super cute store called Erin Gallagher, a custom jewelry boutique.  There were two very outgoing, friendly women working and I instantly started talking to them as if I had been friends with them for years.  And then I spotted. the. best. monogram. necklace.  You see, I LOVE anything monogram.  I am the nerd that has monogram pillowcases.  I have an abundance of U’s around my house to the point it’s totally obnoxious but I sort of don’t care.  So when I saw this blocked-font monogrammed customized necklace, I knew I was going to make use of my credit card very shortly.  And I did.  I had to.  I LOVED this necklace.  It’s classic.  Unique.  Personal.  And a great price point, given the quality and customization.

Since it’s custom, you have to wait four weeks to get it which is a bummer, but makes sense.  And, since it’s custom, you don’t know what it’s going to look like until you pick it up.  And, since it’s custom, you can’t return it.  It’s a jewelry risk and one that I was willing to take!

It arrived last week and I love it even more than I anticipated!

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ann-ueno-erin-gallagher-jewelry-3 ann-ueno-erin-gallagher-jewelry-2And as if that wasn’t enough, I received a personal, hand-written note from EG! Ahhhh!  For someone who LOVES hand-written notes, this goes sooo far.  Oh wait, I’m sorry.  In this day and age of all things electronic, this goes SOOO FAR FOR ANYONE!

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Wow.  AND I saw on my receipt they took notes about me/our conversation while I was in the store.  I don’t know Erin personally nor do I know the women who work there, but all I have to say is well done.  And thank you for understanding what customer service means. I have already recommended EG to many women and now will even more!

I can’t wait to go back and play at EG!  🙂

Extreme Home Makeover: Oak Park Edition

Extreme-Home-MakeoverJennifer:  I want to hire you!
Ann:  Okay, um, are you sure?
Jennifer:  Yes!  {simultaneously emailing me her home redesign wish list}
Ann:  Bring it!
Jennifer:  When can you start?
Ann:  Today.

This was essentially the conversation that took place in mid January when a colleague-turned-friend asked me to redesign her incredible Oak Park home.  I remember that Sunday afternoon as I drove excitedly to her home in Oak Park I was thinking, “this is going to be fuuuunnnn!”  And fun it was!

Jennifer and Chris moved into their home roughly five years ago and basically just put their belongings into this home without changing a thing.  When I walked into the space, I instantly could see the potential.  It’s a quintessential Chicago-esque home with old hardwood floors, amazing crown molding, original fireplaces and more.  No major renovations were needed…just some updating, personalizing and highlighting the character the home already had.

We decided instead of tackling her whole house (which, is, ahem, four levels), we would start with her first priority…the first floor.  The first floor consists of an entryway, a front room/den, a family room, a powder room, a dining room, a kitchen and an office.  Yes, that is seven rooms.

And it doesn’t stop there.  While doing my second walkthrough of her house back in early February,  Jennifer says to me, “I wish you could just come in while we aren’t home, do it all and I can walk into a new home!”  My response?  Are you planning a vacation anytime soon?  (I am sure you get where this is going.)

And the idea was born.  Spring Break 2013 for the Hamilton family turns into Extreme Home Makeover, Oak Park Edition for Ann Ueno!  I had about 45 days to achieve the vision, plan, shop, buy, prep and design.  And then I had less than seven days to go into the home and transform their space in time for when they came back from Mexico in mid March, sans Ty Pennington.  Despite not having Ty around, I did have Avdo, the best handyman/painter/carpenter/everything guy in Chicago!  He clearly played a critical role in the project as he came in early to start the painting, among other things.

Oh and did I mention I have a full-time job?  Yep, I do.  But as luck would have it, the week the Hamilton’s were on vacation, Rick (my husband for any new reader reading), was going to be on a golf trip AND it was Easter weekend which meant early dismissal from work.  I took most of the weekend and a few post work evenings at the Hamilton Home (accompanied by their cat and some wine, of course) to design, decorate and style.

The project consisted of new paint in every room, reupholstery, some new furniture, new rugs, backsplash in the kitchen, wallpaper, new curtains, some functional elements and a whole lot of visual transformation with some new and old pieces.  Yeah, no big deal.  I got this.

My primary vision for the whole house was focused on personalization.  I truly believe what makes a house a home are the personal elements.  Those elements could be translated through colors and patterns, photography and books, bringing in old vintage family pieces or pieces from one room into another.  It could be just making a space more comfortable, more functional.  It could mean fresh flowers and a lit candle.  It could mean finding the right place to hang that one picture that matters.

My secondary vision was blending old with new.  Some call this modern vintage.  Either way you put it, I wanted to highlight the incredibly gorgeous structure and foundation of the home (as well as some of their amazing furniture) but also bring in some new design elements creating an overall new look and feel.

And, ladies and gentleman, just like on the T.V. show, I finished in time and fortunately, Jennifer and Chris loved their new space!  Here’s a sneak peek at one of their initial responses:  “Now we have to figure out how to get rid of the kids because the house is so nice…”  {insert sarcasm}.

And here’s a visual sneak peak of their new bar cart.  In case you were wondering, that is a 1937 Johnny Walker ad from The Stage Magazine.  #justsayin’

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Over the next week or so, I will be revealing one room at a time and sharing my vision, any funny stories that accompany the room and the sources.  Get excited!

{Photo Credit 1:  Ann Ueno Designs…made just for Jennifer and Chris’s home!}

Six Hours of Bliss.

ann-written-notes-bliss-spa4As a marketer, a consumer and a chick, there are brands that I am more drawn to and have a higher affinity towards vs. others.  For those of you who have been with me for a while (confession – I don’t know the grammatically proper way to use “a while” vs. “awhile” so I just wing it and take the 50% chance I am accurate and hope you guys don’t think I am an idiot if I do screw up), you could probably name a few brands that I love.  For example, J Crew.  Ahhh, J Crew.  The colors, the patterns, the jewelry, the global influence.  Or, Jayson Home.  And certain restaurants, like NIU sushi in Chicago (sorry, but I am married to a Japanese dude so I feel I carry enough weight to state that they have the best cuts of sushi in the city).  Or Balthazar in NYC. And travel.  Well, ahem, I am clearly loyal to Starwood Hotels.  And from an airline perspective, American Airlines has 100% of my business unless they don’t fly where I am going. And if that’s the case, I usually will not go to that destination. Seriously.  In the marketing world we call this loyalty beyond reason.

Anyways, another brand I have been very loyal to for about eight years now is Bliss Spa.  Many of my friends and family can attest to this as now, they are, too, Bliss loyalists.  And while I am not a spa connoisseur, I have been to my fair share of spas around the world and Bliss is number one for me.  So after a pretty rough few weeks, I decided to use up my gift cards, take the day off of work and be blissed away!  And that’s exactly what I did.  For a whopping six hours, I received a 75 minute blissage massage, I ate three brownies, I read Vanity Fair, I had a 60 minute fabulous facial, I drank hot tea and ate cheese, crackers and two more brownies, I took a steam shower, I received a hot cream manicure, I watched HGTV and finally, my feet received the fabulous feet pedicure.  Then I snuck back in for two more brownies before I finally left.  This is no joke. And the best part is my bill was $17 total as I had a bunch of gift cards!  #spoiled #blissbrownies

So, why do I love Bliss?  Let me give you 5 good reasons.

  1. Their branding.  It’s clever, memorable and different from the typical “let’s put plants and a hot stone massage with cursive type in an ad like the rest of the free spa world” spa branding.  Go to their site.  Sign up for their emails.  Go to the spa.  You will see what I mean.  I mean, how cute is this chick?!
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  2. Their brownies.  Now, let me be clear here.  The brownies don’t exist in every Bliss spa, but, they exist at the Bliss in Chicago at the W Lakeshore Hotel and they are like chocolatey chip delicious crack.  They cut them into mini bite size delights which makes you feel okay having a couple but I usually have like 6-7 of them which probably equals 3 whole brownies and guess what?  I don’t care.  They are worth every single calorie.
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  3. The locations.  They are in almost all major cities in the U.S.  (Boston, Chicago, South Beach, Atlanta, Dallas, LA, NYC, San Fran and the list goes on) which makes it super-duper convenient, tempting but also comfortable and you know what you will get.
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  4. Their treatments.  This speaks for itself.  And it includes their products. I have never (literally, never) left Bliss without my expectations being met or exceeded and in most cases, they are exceeded.  I’ve done facials, massages, manicures, pedicures and I have yet to walk away less than pleased. And relaxed. And happy.  And I  do own some of their daily products like lotions and washes and they are top-notch.
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  5. The ambiance.  It’s not stuffy or pretentious.  It’s comfortable and relaxing.  It’s energetic (but not like a toddler energetic, more like a classy but not pretentious spa energetic).  The playlists rock (not literally).  I want all the songs.  I ask every time and they can’t give the playlist to me because it comes from an iPod from their corporate offices (no joke…and I sort of think that’s funny and cool to go old school iPod on us).  The smells are sensational. The Bliss smell.  Anyone who has been there knows exactly what I am talking about.  It’s this lemony, sage, fresh ridiculously awesome smell. Oh and they have the best eucalyptus steam shower in. the. world.  (Because there is such high competition for eucalyptus steam showers out there.)

ann-written-notes-bliss-spa-5Are you ready to go to Bliss now?  Have I convinced you?  Well, I try to treat myself 3-4 times a year and today’s six hours of Bliss were just what the doctor ordered and would recommend some pampering for you as well!

Thank you, Bliss Chicago!

Jayson Home Event with Heather Clawson of Habitually Chic

The timing couldn’t have been better when I received the email from Jayson Home announcing their book signing with Heather Clawson, just having published her book, Habitually Chic: Creativity at Work.  I had just completed our Starwood office design and decor (you can view it here) so I was thrilled to meet Heather.  Um, a blogger turned designer turned photographer turned author writing a book about creative office spaces and more?!  At Jayson Home?  Don’t twist my arm…I’m in.  Here is a description of the book taken from Jayson Home’s website:

Author Heather Clawson is the author, editor and photographer behind the popular blog, Habitually Chic. In her first book, Creativity At Work, she profiles creative people of all types, including Bunny Williams, interior designer, Jenna Lyons, creative director of J.Crew, fashion designer Chris Benz, and Richard Wright, auctioneer. Each subject is briefly introduced by Heather as she shares her relationship to each of them. Then they tell their own story about how they got their start, what keeps them going, the best advice they ever received and more. It’s a fascinating and inspiring peek into the work spaces and professional lives of 29 creative people.

Check out the visual recap from the book signing at Jayson and enjoy!  Oh and don’t forget to visit Heather’s blog, Habitually Chic, as well (your Pinterest boards will thank you).

White chocolate truffles and champagne?!  Twist my arm (again).
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My beautiful, kind, creative friend, Vaneesha!  How about that amazing red lipstick?!  Gorg.
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Love how the book looks in my place now.  Not only is it dense with inspiration and ideas, it looks beautiful on an end table!

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Holiday Style Spotlight from The CHICago Life Blog

Chicago-Life-Blog-Ann-Ueno-4There are many reasons I love blogging but my favorite so far has to be the people I have met on this journey.  When I started Ann Written Notes about a year and a half ago, I had no idea how much I would learn, how much fun it would be and how awesome the blogging community is.  Bloggers are truly a unique breed of the human race.  They exude passion, creativity and drive like no other.  They are motivated, will take a picture even at the most inopportune times and will sacrifice sleep to push themselves even further and get that one last post published.  I love this breed!

And a few months ago, I met Amelia Eaton from The CHICago Life Blog at a Jayson Home event (of course, it always goes back to Jayson Home, doesn’t it?!).  We connected instantly and since that event, we have seen each other several other times around Chicago.  She and her co-founder, Samantha Voss, are wonderful, smart, creative women who are actually in law school at Loyola!  I was blown away to hear this, knowing how time-consuming law school is (my best friend is an attorney…I remember her law school days like they were yesterday!).  But I think that’s why I love these ladies…they are driven, pursue their passions on all fronts and are the kind of women you could see yourself having a glass of wine with.

So when they asked me to be part of their Holiday Style Spotlight series, I was honored, humbled and super excited!  Dress up?!  Okay.  Wear my new J Crew gold sequins pumps?!  Fine, if you want me to.  Chat about Christmas, the best holiday ever?!  Ugh, I guess.  Meet at West Elm for a photo shoot?!  Um, fine, I guess I will meet there.  If you haven’t noticed, sarcasm dominated those last few sentences.  Yeah, I was pumped.  Check out The CHICago Life Blog Holiday Style Spotlight for the full deets!

Happy Holidays!

My First Photography Class.

Ever since I can remember, I have loved taking pictures.  I would spend hundreds of dollars developing 35mm film at Walgreens and then spend hours putting the pictures in scrapbooks and frames.  My mom has tons of old photo albums that I still love scrolling through.  There’s something truly remarkable about capturing a moment of time with some little machine.  Come on, it’s crazy, isn’t it?!  I mean, really, when you think about it, it’s insane.  You click a button and that moment, those facial expressions, the coloring, the lighting…IT’S ALL ON THIS LITTLE DEVICE!  It’s fascinating.  Anyways…

Photography has been a passion and hobby of mine and to bring some validity to this hobby, this year I decided to do two things:  Fork over the cash for an upgraded DSLR camera and two, sign up for photography classes.  Of course, the buying of the camera came first.  I went with the Canon EOS Rebel T3 with both an 18-55mm lens as well as a 75-300mm telephoto zoom lens.  Yep, just call me Annie Leibovitz.  And as the world of daily deals would have it, Groupon came through and offered me a few photography class deals I couldn’t pass up, one of which was with the Digital Photo Academy of Chicago.

We (myself, the instructor and 6 other students) spent four hours in the  eclectic and artistic Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago learning how to use our cameras, learning about aperture, shutter speed, focus and more.  It was such a great experience and I loved that it was semi-structured, but also allowed for personal creativity.  It was also a great introduction in terms of getting to know your camera and some of the basics.  I would highly recommend it (there are Digital Photo Academies all over the U.S.)!

Take a look at the outcome and feel free to critique and send me some feedback!  A girl has a to learn, right?!

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

Wicker Park Chicago

My Me Weekend

Sometimes, we just need one.  After a long week at work.  For a special occasion.  On the fly.  To celebrate.  To be alone.  To recharge.  Or just because.  A “Me Weekend.” 

And this past weekend was just that.  If you haven’t done one of these in a while (or ever), I highly recommend penciling it in sometime soon.  It’s rare for me that I take intentional  time alone at home (in other words, not traveling for a weekend getaway or not committed to five plans in the course of two days), in Chicago, to enjoy some down time and partake in the beauty the city has to offer.  Here’s how I spent my “me weekend.”

Right at 5pm on Friday to get started and get my mind in weekend mode, I went to the gym and spent 40 minutes getting caught up on People’s Style Watch edition while busting a move on the elliptical.  Snagged some great ideas for some fun summer attire.  Check.

Believe it or not, I almost never have manicured nails and I actually don’t really like getting manicures.  Yes, I love the outcome, but, for me, it’s not relaxing and typically 30 minutes after I leave the salon, I smudge a nail.  And then I am annoyed.  But every so often when I am not rushed for time, I go all out and get a mani and a pedi. (Definitely prefer a pedi over a mani any day…they are more logical…they feel better, the polish stays on for a solid three months [slight exaggeration] and when else can you feel comfortable having someone deal with the calluses on your feet?)  I chose Essie’s “One of a Kind” poppy red color to kick off summer.   And no, I didn’t smudge any of my nails this time 🙂

Sometimes a girl just has to splurge and by herself some flowers.  For me, fresh flowers in my home are truly one of my favorite things and I love buying them on Fridays so I can enjoy them all weekend long.  And the even better part?  I am completely satisfied with the $9.99 bunch from Jewel.  See below.  They have also left such a fresh smell in my entryway which is a nice added bonus to fresh flowers!

   

I kicked off Saturday morning and ran eight miles in prep for my ten-mile race next weekend.  Not sure this was the greatest part of my weekend, but wow, the feeling I have after those long runs is like no other (and admittedly, I enjoy losing myself in thoughts and ideas while running).  And, talk about a great way to see Chicago…I ran from my house, along Lake Michigan to Museum Campus and back.  Absolutely beautiful.

These days, a “me weekend” for a woman would certainly not be complete without being on Pinterest for at least 10 hours.  I spent some time getting inspired and added some more pins to my boards based on some blogs I read.  Check out some of my latest pins!

I love reading and don’t do enough of it and so to get some quiet time reading The Next Christians was definitely a highlight of my “me weekend.”  There is nothing like uninterrupted time to lose yourself in a great read.

When I travel, one of my most favorite things to do is to dine solo.  I love walking into a brunch joint or neighborhood diner and sitting at the bar to enjoy some food in a new town while meeting new people.  And I almost never do that in Chicago.  So on Saturday, I ventured into a hood I rarely frequent, the eclectic and robust Wicker Park neighborhood, to dine solo at Milk and Honey Cafe…pictures speak for themselves.

And of course, I had to venture out into some new shops while on my Wicker Park adventure.  Division street is packed with all kinds of boutiques.  Boutiques for kids, co-ed boutiques and bridal boutiques.  It’s quite fun!  One of my favorite ones was Trillium and I did indulge in a fantastic new summer shirt, perfect for work or weekend (of course, with a camisole under it!).  I bought this in a peachy orange color which will work great with white skinny jeans and some espadrilles.

I took a nap at Starbucks.  Yes, I did.  In a big, brown, cozy leather chair with all kinds of people around me.  Slightly awkward, highly freeing.

Thanks to my friends at Groupon, I took my first photography class  with Chicago Digital Photo Academy using my new Canon Rebel DSLR camera.  The full recap is to come in a future blog, but for now, here’s a little sneak peek at the results.

What’s a girly “me weekend” without Skinnygirl Margarita’s?!  My best friend and her husband had a fantastic kick off to summer Mexican fiesta and what better time to try Bethenny’s new white peach margarita?  A-mazing, per usual.

I also had some time to sit on my balcony and do some writing which was so relaxing and nice.  (Sort of ironic as I type this blog.)

And that was my much-needed “me weekend.”  What would you do if you had a “me weekend” planned soon?

P.S. For those of you wondering where Rick was this weekend…Well, there’s this relatively famous convention in town called NATO.  Have you heard of it?!  🙂  Rick’s hotel is hosting The White House, inclusive of Mr. President himself and Hillary Clinton (she prefers to be called and addressed as Madame Secretary and travels with an additional giant suitcase completely filled with books as she is an avid reader…this is no lie).  Needless to say he was a bit preoccupied ensuring everyone was happy and safe, while trusting the vast amounts of security and coast guards were protecting all 1,209 rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

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