No Place Like Home: Creating A Shelter Of Love And Peace With Leo Designs’ Georgeann Rivas And Stephanie Wirth
A home is not just a shelter but so much more. It is a sanctuary and a space of spirit. It defines your personality and identity. Diving deeper, a home is where memories are formed and created. It is the place we always come back to at the end of the day, proving how it greatly impacts our well-being. In this episode, Karen Pulver and her Goddesses are joined by Georgeann Rivas and Stephanie Wirth from Leo Designs to discuss the importance of creating a home that is a shelter for peace and love. Look around your home and see how you feel. Does your home reflect your style and joy for life, or does it feel cluttered and uncomfortable? A fresh coat of paint or even a small design can enhance your home to feel fresh and new. Perhaps decluttering or repurposing furniture is also a way to help you to feel good in your space. Let’s get comfy in our homes and learn from Design Goddesses, Georgeann and Stephanie, how our home can be peaceful and welcoming in this conversation.
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No Place Like Home: Creating A Shelter Of Love And Peace With Leo Designs’ Georgeann Rivas And Stephanie Wirth
We’ve all been in our homes a lot more these past few months, whether we’ve been working at home, the school from home. Perhaps you’re an empty nester, but you’re no longer an empty nester at home. This has given us all a new perspective on our homes, not a shelter, which we all are grateful for, but realizing our homes need much more. They’re a reflection of ourselves, our families. Memories that you’ve created or that you’re going to create where we can live and learn and love. We have now looked more closely at our walls. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve sat there and looked at the wall or looked at a picture or cleaned out a closet. It’s time for us to step inside.
Perhaps you’ve purged, perhaps you’ve gone through every single corner of your home and gotten rid of stuff or you’ve done the opposite. You’ve gone on Amazon and you’ve ordered things that throw pillow or that sham. Perhaps you’re feeling tired of being in your home or you’ve had a newfound appreciation of your home. Whether you’re in a studio apartment or a big giant mansion, now you’ve had time to go within and explore how you feel. Readers, think of a space in your home that you’ve discovered that you’ve now been quarantining in. Think about a place that you’ve discovered where you felt good, where you felt balanced, where you felt calm. That is how your home should be.
It’s a reflection of you. Let’s all get comfy in our homes, in our spaces and we’re going to talk about it. How does your home reflect your style and your passions? Are there places where you find warmth and comfort? Are you collecting junk or tchotchkes as I do? I constantly have tchotchkes in my home that I collect. Our guests are designed goddesses that will guide us through their passions and that they align with their home design and their style. Georgeann Rivas and Stephanie Wirth the Founders of Leo Designs in Chicago will answer our questions on what we can do to that blank wall or how to help you figure out your design style to make your home a place that you love to be.
Leo Designs Limited is a full-service design firm specializing in residential interiors and was founded decades ago by two Chicago residents, Georgeann Rivas and Stephanie Wirth. Their ability to work closely with clients and hone in on their desired aesthetic allows Leo Designs to create varied and refreshingly original spaces. The unifying thread in each project is their unwavering attention to detail. From the onset of each project to completion, no design element is neglected. “Naturally, we devote a considerable amount of time to interior architecture. What distinguishes us is the attention we give to the finishing touches and the layering of accessories which we feel give the home soul,” says Rivas. After all, Leo Designs believes that a home should provide a glimpse into the owners’ psyche by showcasing their personal style. Consequently, the firm’s aesthetic is as varied as its clientele. Both agree that the most gratifying part is exceeding their clients’ expectations. “Interior design is about enhancing people’s lives,” says Wirth, “and that really is our primary goal.”
Thank you for having us.
We’re happy to be here.
I see your Zoom room. Both of you, Stephanie, can you describe your Zoom room? Which room in your home are you at?
I have a chaotic household. I’m in our office and behind us and we love our lions, Leo Designs. We’ve got those big sliding doors and behind them is a huge mess, it’s all our inventory of our fabrics and forth. This is where I’ve been doing a lot of my client’s Zoom calls as well because it’s a simple backdrop.
How about you Georgeann? What’s your Zoom room?
I’m in my living room.
You two are favorite of white.
We worked much with color and fabric and pattern that it’s always nice to come to a serene backdrop for sure.Don't be afraid to call a designer, even if it's something small. Click To Tweet
What both of us share too is we love applied molding. Georgeann’s home is Parisian. We tried to take this living space of her office and create that same ambiance. We added tall panels of applied molding and it transformed the space.
For me, I don’t feel like I’m a design goddess. I need help. I need a pink color help. When we were furnishing our living room, my husband and I walked in, and I looked at a corner of the store and it was set up with the coffee tables and the couches. I said, “I want to buy that.” I like how they did it. I’ll do that and that’s how I did it. I was too nervous to realize what my style was. I looked at someone else’s style and that was in my living room. I want to ask you about your passion to do what you do. Georgeann, I know that you had said that when you were younger, you used to go with your artist’s mother to antique stores and galleries. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
My mom would paint with oils and she taught art when I was young. I got inspired by her passion for making the home beautiful. When we were young and she had three kids, she probably didn’t have the huge budget to do everything she wanted and we’d find things at a state sale. From a young age, I got hooked. Stephanie will attest that I spend most of my weekends in a state sale. I might be at ten stores on any day. Stephanie and I went to a beautiful store at the end of our day and got inspired. I loved to be around cool pieces and see great artwork. Not to digress to what you were saying but I think you’re a goddess in many ways that maybe, you can’t have everything. You’re such an amazing parent, wife, friend, everybody and what you’re doing is amazing, what you did several years ago, when you did the other goddess program.
You came to that.
I came to several homes and I admired how everyone thinks they’re doing cool things like that and expanding your knowledge. You went out there and did it and doing this, I’m proud of you.
Thank you. You’re sweet but I still want to know from you. I’m going to direct it back to you with your passion, there are things that we want to do when we’re younger and you seem to stay on that track.
I also have an appreciation for beauty, people, nature, and art interiors. Stephanie and I, when we met in college, we both had our groups of friends, but we would meet and go to the bookstore pour-over and European magazines. We would be like models and we follow models and we had our little niche of things that we were interested in that was maybe separate from our friend group. I was friends with some of her friends and she was friends with mine. I think we both have had such an appreciation for all things beautiful and have made that into a business.
I didn’t know that you met in college. Stephanie, you’re from Vienna, correct?
Yes. I was born in Germany and then my extended family is still in Vienna, Austria. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of like the authentic old bones with like the modern. My mom collected crazy amounts of antiques. We would go to flea markets, auctions and sometimes think it was boring, but I would love to people watch. Now it’s funny because I’ve become her and I would always ask her too because I was more modern and minimalistic in my approach. She’s a “More is more” person. I will always be rearranging all the time. I remember when I was a freshman in high school and I thought, “I’m going to be in a magazine one day. I want to have a house in a magazine one day.” I remember thinking like that, but I’ve always also loved fashion much. It was like fashion, art, beauty. I’m touched by different people, by travel, which is a hard thing now with COVID because we’re not able to do that, but you have to find your inspiration where you can. I think that Instagram is incredible because you can go down that rabbit hole quickly.
It’s amazing though that you said that you saw yourself in magazines because when I was looking, you have been in many magazines, both of you. Best Kitchen, Modern Luxury Interiors Magazine 2019, Luxe Magazine Home in Lakeview, Modern Luxury 2015, Crane Chicago Tribune, and Martha Stewart. Stephanie, your son’s playroom.
My house is not at all like my clients. It’s very much like I was telling you. Now, I’m not charmed by it but it is an older home that has plaster walls. I’m drawn to imperfections where a lot of my clients don’t love the imperfections in the walls or whatever. My home has a lot of that old bone’s quality to it. I would say that I love that feeling when something’s more authentic. I think I’m a child at heart and I also always wanted to own a children’s stores. I had much fun with my son’s room and because his bedroom was small and adjoining little sunroom, I turned it into his playroom.
I think at the time, Cookie Magazine came and then they went under something and then Martha Stewart called. The same editor was there and said, “Can I feature your story?” It was fun. I have a pantry. I’m sleek, but then you opened my pantry and I’ve collected vintage bowl packages from France and small vintage toys. A neighbor of mine has given me some vintage Pez containers. I am drawn to children’s things. I still have them and now my son is seventeen. I find a way to display them where it’s not right in your face, but in secret places, because it brings me joy.
That’s exactly what we’re talking about. It is when you’re in your home and we’ve been in our homes now for a while, it’s given us a chance to think about what home means to us. We come home at the end of the day or we’re in our home for all of the day now working and remote schooling. It’s given us a chance to think about our style. With that, I want to invite our featured goddesses on because we all have questions about style and about that blank wall. Welcome, Alyssa, Rachel, and Dena. We have questions. We’re going to start. Alyssa, do you have a design question for Georgeann and Stephanie?
I do. Given that we’re home all the time and that design is meant to enhance your lives, our own lives, I wonder what your clients are asking for. What are you doing to enhance people’s homes in the COVID era? Having a good workspace. We’ve talked about where we’re all sitting and doing these Zoom calls, but a dedicated home office space is key on what your clients are looking for. What are some of your favorite trends, whether it was started pre-COVID or now looking into the future?
When we started getting calls from the first day of lockdown and everyone being in their house that people were doing their Zoom meetings with their clients and whatnot, and everyone wanted to have their background spruced up. I started ordering wall coverings for people, planning gallery walls. Then everybody needed a dedicated office for studying or lots of desks and more comfortable chairs. Then also people, because they were staying at home, were looking around their house for a product. If they knew they weren’t going to be able to travel probably for a while. They had bigger budgets to work on their house. I would advise people maybe to start with editing their own and then shopping at your house too. I think to get a good result, you’ve got to take away before you can start putting more interesting and cooler things in the house so you can see what you have and live with what brings you some joy.
When it comes to trends, I think people are trying to live in their house for themselves, as opposed to a couple of decades ago people were trying to showcase their houses like, “This is what I’ve got.” I feel like everything has gotten warmer as a trend, like a little more Bohemian look as in collected everything that of one look. I think a little more casual too. Some of the things that were appealing years ago were little more sheen and fabric. Drapes that were flashier. Now, everybody wants to be more relaxed and real. That’s a current that’s happening in a lot of different ways besides your home. People are letting the facade down a little bit. I would still do beautiful work, but it’s a little more authentic and not as flashy as it used to be.
Stephanie, do you want to add to that?
I think that’s true. It’s not as stiff. I’m going to touch on this home office this question too because we live in the city. We don’t have the space for that where you thought your husband or wife, or if you have your rooms already set up a certain way. The trick is to think unconventionally. I found a vintage desk for someone put it at the end of their bed and it ended up looking charming and then they work from there. I was like, “Burn a candle, get flowers.” You have to adjust to that. For smaller rooms, I’ve done desks that are fixed to the wall.
When you don’t have a lot of room, like in my son’s room, I added a desk in there. With schooling and forth, it’s hard to find that space if especially if you have a more than one child and you want to make sure they can concentrate. You can be a little creative and also treat different pieces of furniture like desks, even if they weren’t chosen for that purpose. I buy dining tables for a lot of people and use them as desks because they’re big and you can spread out. To touch on trends, I agree with Georgeann. I’m helping a close friend who has editing issues. I’ve noticed a lot of people are doing that is they’re going through their closets and going through their things and editing.
That is where you can see your home too, because even myself, I’m running around so much that I don’t notice and now we’re noticing, “I have this pile of magazines I haven’t looked at. I’ve got this and that.” Editing helps you see your home clearer. Trend-wise, I agree with Georgeann. I feel like those formal rooms are no longer. Everybody is much looking for comfort in their furnishings and pillars. Floors are coming in now pale and raw, like driftwood tone floors. Georgeann and I are both working on projects and we’re doing a similar light aesthetic for people. Georgeann and I would pride ourselves most is listening to our clients.
Even if you don’t know your style and Karen, you were saying, “I don’t know what my style is,” but oftentimes you can see it in how you dress or how you react when you go to a restaurant or a public place. Something like a Ralph Lauren, everybody’s always drawn to Ralph Lauren restaurant because there’s coziness in that library feels. I think we all have to figure out like, where do we feel good and how can I incorporate that look in my own home? I know for me, it’s my library. Karen, it looks like you’re in your office or library as well. It’s the center of my home and it’s where I have all my collections that you’ll see later of some of my favorite things.
Don’t be afraid to think big and look at the magazines, look at those editorials. Don’t worry about budgets much because you can create a look through the paint itself and create this moody vibe in your home. I think it’s important to reflect on where you feel good. Does a lighter space to make you feel good or does a moodier place? We all have different moods as we go through our lives. We want to feel moody in the library and then we want to have a serene sleeping space. I think that everybody can have beauty and now many great sources aren’t expensive and much more accessible for mainstream people. It used to be designers could only find certain things and now everybody can find it on Instagram. It’s an amazing source to be inspired by, especially now that we can’t travel. I would say, with office and so forth, we all have to adjust but create a haven for yourself. I’ve lit candles. You get yourself flowers. Create beauty in this space and this hard time for yourself and try to pamper yourself as much as you can as it is a hard time. That’s what I’ve been doing a little bit more.
Alyssa usually have fresh flowers behind her.
I’m not in my typical space, but I always try to have flowers in my background.
Those aren’t real. Those are from my preschool classroom. I brought them home, but it’s interesting because the desk that I’m working at is Eric’s grandmother’s dining room table that we had in our dining room for the longest time. We weren’t sure what to do with it. It was in our basement and then I said, “Let’s bring it up as a desk.”
I’ve lacquered desks before like if the finish doesn’t match the route, go be taken back by that. Car paint is a wonderful thing to lacquer with because it’s durable. Our conference tables were lacquered in car paint. It has a history for you too. You’re seeing it. You’re not getting rid of it and that’s great.You have to be intuitive to know when to push others and when to kind of draw back. Click To Tweet
We’re keeping it here. Dena, what is your question for our design goddesses?
I have a question about what you were speaking about. I want to redo my entire house. This COVID has put me in that mindset when I’m looking around at everything. I have some pieces that have good bones. My couch, for example, was done and fits in the space perfectly, but it’s time to redo it. It needs new stuffing. It needs all of that and the same as a dining room table. How do you assess if it’s worth putting the money into redoing what you have, do you start fresh or combination of that? I don’t know what to do with these pieces or if I should invest money in them or start over?
I love this question because it happens all the time. I’m doing a lot of this. I have a client that had this sculptural TV purchase for years ago and to Georgeann’s point, it was a little fussier in style and more feminine in away. People are more streamlined and a little bit more transitional. I feel like sometimes it’s better to start fresh. Honestly, you might end up spending maybe $500 more to get something new and there are a lot of great sources like Chairish. If you don’t want to get something brand new then there are a lot of great sales. If it’s sentimental and you love the shape, I think the shape is key and the size has to work in this space. If the shape is unique and special and you feel like it has history and it’s meaningful, absolutely recover it. There are great people out there that could re-stuff. I had a sofa I’ve had for a long time re-stuffed and it came back to life.
When you re-stuff, the fabric can add up, like you might end up needing sixteen yards of fabric that’s $50 a yard. Then you find something on sample sale that is equivalent or maybe $1,000 more, but it’s a brand-new piece of furniture that might last a lot longer. You have to make that decision whether or not the piece is sentimental, or if the shape is special that there’s something you’re drawn to about it. If the answer is no, start fishing around, especially now because there are many great finds. You want to make sure you like the fabric. Even if you go to find something vintage, always keep in mind, if the fabric says it is brand new or in great condition, it’s a color you like, that’s always better because it’s a better deal than having to have its labor for recovering it.
That’s a good question because a lot of us have that in our homes. Rachel, what would you like to ask our design goddesses?
All of us live in the city and a lot of houses are only 25 feet wide. When I say newer construction even like 30, 40 years, a lot of them have your formal living room, your formal dining room, a wall, a kitchen, and a great room. I find that we don’t use 50% of our space. We never used that formal living room and dining room and we all end up sitting around the counter. Since many homes in the city are in that layout, what do you envision to make those homes more welcoming or even if you could like knock down walls, what would you do with this space? How do you optimize these small spaces?
Georgeann, can you answer that?
We play around a lot with the layout. A lot of front room they’re nearly for passing through for a lot of people and then become a dumping ground for coats and whatnot. We’ve tried to bring a draw in with any little woods and huge book that’s on a stand and place it in the corner of our living room and bring in something that people might be drawn in. Make cabinets on the fireplace wall with coffee table books that everyone can be drawn in and give them a reason to want to go to that room. We did a 5,000 square foot condo where the family had me over and said, “We’re all living in this one room in the house. Can you make it more user friendly?” We changed every room, but the kitchen layout and now they say that you use every room in the house. A lot of people are finding their selves only in the kitchen. Trying to find a draw to get you in the other rooms whether turning your front area into the library, your dining room can be an office/dining room. Try and optimize what each room is used for.
I’m going to ask a question about the pink color.
Pink can be transformative.
Georgeann helped me with many times that I called her about a pink color because I had to make that decision and going through all those colors. She pushed me for my son’s room and it’s similar to Rachel, to the color of the room that you’re in. It’s a dark deep blue. There was no way I was going to do that. I was like, “No. It has to be light.” Even here in the office, it’s wood but the walls are dark Brown. I was against dark colors because I thought it would darken and make the room smaller but everything popped. What do you say about the pink color? Perhaps with trends as well as stepping out of your box, because being a grateful goddess, a lot of it is discovering that you may not feel comfortable doing something, but once you do it, it gets easier and perhaps it’s exciting and challenging for you. Stephanie, what do you feel about pink colors?
I love this question much because that is one area especially if you don’t have a big budget that can make space come to life. Fifteen years ago, I did my house and I did a black. My floors are black and then my library is black. I have a black ceiling and I lacquered the whole thing black. Everybody was like, “That’s crazy. Why would you do that?” It’s a small space. Georgeann can attest to this that every time I have parties, everybody is in that space, and it’s small because it’s cozy. To your point, it can seem scary, but it creates such a mood and the rest of my house is white. It’s like the center of my home is this dark room and then the rest of the house is white.
Don’t be afraid. I think also in entries in Chicago with doors, if you’re too afraid to do the walls, paint the doors the dark color. I think it’s dramatic when there’s a hallway and you don’t see a bunch of plain white doors marching down the hall and you pick a great color. It can be a medium gray. It doesn’t have to be black. It could be a color that you’re having some furnishing that you want to bring out. If you just paint the doors or the window frames in a room, it can add so much drama and so much personality to space. Also, with your baseboards and a lot of the entries.
If you go on our website, Grecian Classic there, you’ll seem like the baseboards are lacquered a dark color. Then the closet doors are the same color and then the rest is something else. It is fun to play around and don’t be afraid because it’s easy. If you end up not loving it or the color’s a little off, it’s easy to put another coat of another color on. It’s not like a wall covering where you pay a lot of money for the laborers or have someone install it. It can add a lot. If you look at our website, you’ll see that we love to use paint as a dramatic point in your design.
I think my mom was ahead of the game because my bedroom growing up had one red wall and I thought it was crazy, but I loved rainbows so my bedding was rainbow and it worked. My friends would come over and be like, “What is with the red wall? It’s weird.”
You don’t have to paint the whole room with one color. You could have one accent wall and start there. She was ahead of herself.
Goddesses, do you have any other questions that you’d like to add?
How big or how small do you take clients? Do you do just a kitchen renovation or is it bigger than that?
We like to work on the whole project and the majority of our homes and a lot are ground up but then we’ll get an interesting submission or call of something much smaller and we have a gut feeling that it could end up being something more. We tend to work on whole houses, someone either building a new house or gut renovations, but occasionally we’ll get a call for, “I’m becoming an empty nester and I’d want to change some rooms around.” We’ll take those jobs. Then the next week they’ll say, “Can you come to my summer house?” Try and go with a gut and see if it’ll be an interesting project, an interesting person to work with, and then go from there. It’s not an ideal project when someone calls and says, “I’ve got to change my daughter’s room.” I feel like you don’t want to get the full benefit. I don’t get as much satisfaction from just one room. We try and steer away from that.
I love sometimes getting the smaller jobs that aren’t ground up because you have the gratification at the end, the results come in much quicker for me. I love seeing it come to life. I had a project in Hinsdale where she had purchased all of her furniture and they were monochromatic. Beautiful home and had authentic bones, old home and she wanted personalities. I had a riot doing this house because at first, I thought she can be more conservative because her furnishing was safe. We had much fun getting wall covering and adding fabrics. She had dining chairs that she wants more personality. We added a banding on the bottom. We added incredible Phillip Jeffries wallcovering. We added some molding to the ceiling, and so forth. I enjoy sometimes that quick turnaround where you can see the results fast versus having to wait over a year for a project to come to life. I agree with Georgeann that it’s not beneficial if it’s one room, but if someone calls me and says, “I need personality in my house. I don’t know what to do. I’ve purchased all these things. Can you come in?” I do enjoy those kinds of projects as well.
I saw photos of the project. In such a short time it gave that house a soul but then a couple of weeks later, the family bought a house I think in Montana.
When they called they had a house in Montana, but they said, “No, we’ve got this house. Can you start with our house in Hinsdale?” A lot of times when people hire designers, there’s a little bit of trepidation, if you’ve never worked with one before and to make sure that your styles mesh. Sometimes we do get calls like that. They say, “We’ve got this big house we want you to work on, but can you come to our main house and start there?” You get a feel for how you work together and they get to see what we’re capable of and when it’s safer, we’re going to go to Montana and work on that project. To Georgeann’s point, things seemed to snowball and lead to something else.
We had another client that was one of our first clients that everything she said was sweet because she was like. “When you and Georgeann worked at my house, it’s timeless.” She came back to us and said, “Here’s my bedroom. I need some chairs and I need to add on.” We do a lot of that with our existing clients all the time where it might be one piece of furnishing or they want to change a piece of fabric on a piece of furniture. Don’t be afraid to call a designer, even if it’s something small because we also have design assistants that help us out. If you have like one room like we did a little boy’s room that we’d worked on. One of my designers went over there and took over that project. You shouldn’t be afraid to call and ask for help for smaller things.
Thank you. Alyssa, do you have a question?
You have been in business together and been friends for many years that your friendships started back in college and X number of years later, you’re still working together. I hear so many stories of partnerships breaking up because we go and grow in different directions. We’ve evolved differently. It’s amazing to hear this, but what’s the secret to your success of working together especially in the line of work that’s so personal? That speaks to your tastes and your clients as well.
One of the things I think about Stephanie is that we’re different in many ways. At our core, I think we have similar hearts and she is the more business-minded of the two of us. They had more of a marketing, finance type degree and is meticulous. Ten years, ago we started having an accountant do all our bookkeeping, but for many years, Stephanie did all the financials. I tend to be a little more free-spirited and Stephanie is a little more of the business side and that’s always complemented. I think we bring different strengths and we are extremely loyal to one another. I celebrate our differences, but I think it’s because we are passionate about what we do.What holds a partnership together is trust. Click To Tweet
We’re passionate about people in general and we love working together. I am amazed sometimes. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. We’ve seen each other through everything. I remember working when I was pregnant and Stephanie helping me. We brought my daughter along some job sites early on. Longevity never surprises me. I remember one time we had a client. We are at her summer house in Trevor City and she said, “I marvel how different you are.” Stephanie dresses beautifully every day and I tend to be the opposite some days. We’re different, but it always has worked amazingly well and it’s a miracle.
You both seem positive and you both seem to tap into the person’s personality and to help them. I loved your answer to that question, Stephanie about thinking of places that you feel comfortable in. I’ve been in certain restaurants or certain hotel lobbies or different spaces, other people’s homes where I look around and I’m like, “I love this.” I may thing, “I can’t afford to do it.” Then I look and I’m like, “I can do this pink color. I can add that touch a flower or that piece of artwork.” I do feel like you both tap into that person’s personality and help them try and figure out their design style.
I think if you don’t love people, you have to be intuitive also to know when to push them and when to draw back because a lot of times you already know the answers in your head. Then you can see they’re a little squeamish. You’ve shown them what you can do and then you add on to that. To answer that question from my perspective, what I think is holds us together a lot is trust in each other as far as the core of what we know. We both know that we respect each other’s tastes. Now that we’ve grown much, we both tend to manage our projects and we used to work solely together and the way back when era, when you were greener. I think there’s always this much mutual respect that is essential in a partnership.
We trust that each project is going to be beautiful. I don’t doubt that when Georgeann is working on something, it’s not going to be a reflection of Leo Designs. I think we do have a similar aesthetic and a lot of ways and we’re both super creative. When Georgeann said that I was a marketing and finance major, it made me laugh. I was an imposter at a marketing firm and I got let go because they got bought out by somebody else and I was horrified and scared. I pushed Georgeann and I said, “Georgeann, let’s do this.” She was working at Shabby Chic and we tested out a couple of jobs together. I had a client in Evanston and the husband had to certain tastes and she had a certain taste and I said, “Georgeann, let’s start here.”
We got paid like maybe $10 an hour to help a friend. We went to this home together and the husband and wife were happy because we listened to both of them, which can be a tricky situation and took from what they were saying and made them both happy which can be hard sometimes, especially if a couple isn’t in sync. I think from that point on, it kept blossoming and our love of people and our openness to reading to everyone and our intuitive qualities and knowing when to push and come back because we’re sensitive. I think that’s a lot to do with it because pushy never is of great quality. Be able to read your audience.
Georgeann encouraged me to pick this darker color and she said the same thing like, “If you don’t like it, you can paint it different.” When my son came home to it, he was like, “I love it.”
I was going to ask, but you already answered Stephanie about how you took something like a passion and the love of yours and turned it into your career. I think that’s a tricky pivot point for people.
I do have to add to that and this is what I have to say, especially because this is empowering people. Had I not been pushed out of this marketing agency, I was starting to work with Georgeann while I was still working there, but it opened up everything. I was afraid and I was scared. I had to make money Georgeann and I took a leap of faith in each other. When you’re creative, you’ve got that ability but we didn’t have all our subcontractors lined up and we had a lot to learn about the industry. I have to tell anyone out there to listen to your heart and as Georgeann and I said, it was clear as day when we were young what we loved. We were rearranging rooms. Georgeann had monogrammed towels that she brought to camp. I think you have to read to your heart and life is short. Do what you love and you’ll be successful. I know it’s so cliché, but it is.
We talk about that all the time. We talk about the fear and roadblocks and many of our guests have encouraged us to leap and to try. It’s never a mistake. We call it a happy accident. You can always redo or repivot especially now with COVID, you have had to probably pivot a little bit with what you’re doing.
We’ve never been busier. We work seven days a week. This is the closest to a day out we’ve had. Everyone is going to get summer houses. They want to get a guest house out of town. I’m in three projects in the new Buffalo area.
We did pivot, but we’ve had ups and downs in our business. I remember 2009 was scary and I was like, “What do we do with during this time when we don’t have any jobs?” I was scared and I thought, “Let’s focused on something that’s going to help our business and do a website.” Think of all those things you can do to help your business while you’re down and things you don’t have time to do. We have had ups and downs and we have had growing spells, we’ve had since that moment, a nice influx of clients and trustworthy clients that come back to.
If our guests, if our audiences want to reach out to you to have a consultation, what is your website that they can go to, or a way that they can contact you? What would your services be like an initial consultation type of thing?
They can email us on the website at [email protected], but our website is LeoDesignsChicago.com and we also have an Instagram account too so you can see the current projects we’re working on. We’ll answer any of your questions. We have a little guideline sheet there, the questionnaire about what you’re looking for. Georgeann and I will usually follow up or Sarah, our design director will follow up.
I hope that people will reach out to you. I’m sure they will after this little taste test of what you do and your style and your passion and how you tap into each person’s personality. I always think of Dorothy, clicking her heels and saying, “There’s no place like home.” Everyone reading out there, there is no place like home. Thank you so much, design goddesses, Georgeann and Stephanie for joining us.
Welcome everyone to Favorite Things and in this episode, we’re talking with our design goddesses, Stephanie Wirth and Georgeann Rivas from Leo Designs. We decided on favorite things that we were going to talk about either an area or something in our homes that we love that bring us joy. Because the more joy and positivity you bring to your life, the more that you will attract to your life. Rachel, can you share your favorite home thing with us?
Larry designed my whole home. I did knock down and made it an open floor plan. He was like, “You don’t use half your house. I refuse to sell you anything for your living room anymore because no one sits in it.” Stephanie, when you were talking about like old bones and soul and I do think that’s such an important part. I love organization yet I put like little memorabilia like you were talking about the toys. Everything that you were saying resonates with me to my core. This piece was built in the 1920s. It was from Ohio and it was used at a hardware store and it was a display case there. Even the glass doors that roll there on those like metal roller balls.
You can hear that beautiful slide of them. You were talking about Georgeann to a lot of flea markets and antiquing. That’s what they would always say. They have a ton of collections. We have a few of their collections in that cabinet and some books and things that you look at that remind you of something in your life. When I see some people’s homes, it’s beautiful, but it looks sterile because you can tell those walls aren’t something that means anything to them. I love your incorporation of things of meaning with beauty and making it all work because I think that’s what makes her home yummy and special is it means a lot to you.
I have not been inside Rachel’s home. I haven’t been to anyone’s home here because of COVID. I cannot wait to go and visit you all inside your homes. Alyssa, what is your favorite home item?
This is a painting. This is my dining room, which we just redid. We kept it natural and muted and tones. There was a big wall that for me was like calling out for a pop of color. You probably saw that it was that iconic Roy Lichtenstein girl with a hair ribbon from the ‘60s that everybody knows. It was painted by a Russian artist. Her name is Sveta Esser and she does these pixelated paintings where it looks clear looking on my cell phone as a picture, or if you were standing in my home, looking at this through your cell phone camera, but in person, it is abstract. It’s hard to make out exactly what it is. It’s colorful and it’s bright. It’s a conversation starter and I love that about it.
What she does is they’re all these rows of squares and that’s how she paints and she paints one-row next row and the next row and she does it with a pallet knife. They’re perfect squares. It’s neat. I had never seen anything like it. My husband and I like stumbled upon it. As we talked about in these Chicago homes that are viewed long rectangles, we don’t use our formal dining room, like all that much, but I want it to be at like a pretty pass through that you would look at as you kept moving. When you see it in the photograph it’s different from what it looks like in person.
Even when you’re describing this, you can tell even on your face and how you’re describing it, that it brings you much joy. That’s a painting that you see every day and when people come into your home when you walk in the front door of the type of Chicago style homes, that’s the focal point. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks, everybody, it was nice meeting you.
Dena, what is your favorite thing?
I wish I would’ve taken a picture of something at my house. Anytime I paint in my house, you have to paint a room or change the color or whatever, I find the paint choosing to be overwhelming. I always want to go find the one color that will do it last summer. Unfortunately, we had to replace windows in our master bedroom and water damage and all kinds of junk going on. Tons of money for nothing but new windows, which nobody would have noticed before. I did get to paint my room, which was exciting and it became bright. I found this color through a friend who is a designer. It’s Essential Gray by Sherwin-Williams, which I was a little surprised but I thought it was the perfect gray. I think grays can be hard to find that perfect one that doesn’t read super cold or super warm. This is my go-to color of the moment.
That’s the trend now.
I’d like to paint my whole house white, but my husband is not going for it.Really listen to your heart as much as you can. Life is so short not to do what you love. Click To Tweet
It’s a good color because it’s neutral and it’s like white to me. It is a good color and it works well and lets other colors pop from it so you can mix stronger colors with it and they always work out well. To your point, grays are difficult. There can be some cool grays and they have purple undertones and then there are some brown undertones. Every black is different. It can be overwhelming for sure.
What’s your favorite gray? Do you girls have?
I love Manor House Gray. It’s a pretty color from Farrow & Ball and I love the Pavilion Gray, but there are many great colors that we used. Georgeann, what’s your favorite?
Benjamin Moore Harbor Gray is one that I would go at.
Thank you, Dena, for sharing. This is a painting by the artist Francine Turk. When I first met Francine, it was at the Randolph Street Art Fair. My husband and I ran down. We were late and they were closing it up. The reason why I want to show you this other one is we were late and I was so upset because like, “We missed it, forget it.” We started to walk to our car and there was this woman in her van loading up pictures and we stopped. We were looking and I saw this painting and I was like, “I love that. Are you still selling? I know you’re leaving and you’re packing up to go.” I didn’t know who she was. I loved this painting and she said, “It’s still wet.” I said, “That’s okay.” It was still wet so she hadn’t signed it at the time.
I said, “I would love that.” My husband and I bought it on the spot from her and then before we took it, she took a stick and signed it. I looked and I’m like, “What’s your name?” She said, “Francine Turk.” I’m like, “You’re the woman that I want to come to see.” How amazing is it? I always feel like the universe has a way of working out and I wanted to see her and I was disappointed, but I met her in such a more personal way that day. We bought a few other pieces. Georgeann and Stephanie had a show and you had her at her gallery.
I went in with not an intention of buying anything just to go and see her work because I already have three pieces. I can’t get another, but I saw this and this woman was calling out to me and she was saying, “Look at me. I am the grateful goddess. I have my peonies beside me,” which is my favorite flower? “I have my latte and my macaroons.” She was like who I want to be just lounging and I had to get it. I brought it home and put it on my wall and I think a week later, Georgeann, I called you and what did I say to you?
You said you’re not going to believe this. Was it written on the back? I’m getting goosebumps again. When Karen called me, I said, “This can’t be.”
April 1st was the day that I was given a call that I had a cancer diagnosis. April 1st is April Fool’s Day and I thought it was a joke and I thought someone was playing a big joke on me, but it wasn’t. Since then up until I got this painting, I hated April 1st. I always loved it when the kids were little and did funny cookie and made them those fun breakfasts that looked like meatloaf, but it was chocolate cake or whatever. I hated April 1st. I dreaded the day until two years ago. Now, I celebrate it. I buy myself flowers, I get macaroons, I have my lattes and I am passionate about this painting. It inspires me to be free and open to those challenges because that was a horrible time but the silver lining is meeting you all and discovering this painting. I hope I get to meet Francine again.
I have to tell you this, but my experience with Francine, the one painting I had was when she did the Rock Legends. I have this friend of mine who’s moving and she said, “Come check this out.” I have this huge one. That’s amazing and then I went to when she moved back here, she had something else at her new gallery a little bit further out. Karen, I was there in the studio and she did these series of it was words, it was a song, it was lyrics. There was one from Pearl Jam, which was my late husband’s favorite thing in the world. I was drawn to it and then when I realized what the lyrics were and to your point, Karen, after the fact that while I was in the studio, it was my anniversary. This was one of those signs where he’s messaging me to like, “Go get this.”
Through Francine’s artwork, I think she does that for a lot of people.
I’ve heard a few stories, Karen. I’ve heard other examples like yours that maybe at the back of the art that was somehow another meaningful thing.
She must have channel people. I’m sure she’s passionate and in-sync when she paints. I want to have her on as a guest. Let’s move on to Georgeann. What is your favorite home item?
I buy so much and then I ended up selling something at my house. The only thing I’m super sentiment about is photography, pictures of my family. I pulled a couple of pictures out. I think both Stephanie and I get a lot of inspiration from all sorts of books, not just design books. My favorite thing in the house is I’m looking at a picture of my mom. It was my mom when she was a little girl.
We talked about photos, it’s amazing to have those nearby.
She was twelve here. I love photography. I take pictures a lot. Photography is another passion of mine. I like taking pictures.
When people are selling their homes, a lot of real estate agents say, “Take your photos down.” Do you agree?
What they’re trying to have the client do is have people coming in and envision themselves there.
It adds much to have photos. I have photos everywhere. There’s one of my husbands and me when we were dating. Stephanie, tell us about one of your favorites?
My favorite spot in the house is my library because I think I interspersed all kinds of different collections throughout and meaningful items. My father just passed away. I’d put a little collection of things that remind me of him. It’s like this Porsche buckle because he loved his car and he loved racing. Memories of my childhood in Vienna because they bring me a lot of joy. My favorite furniture item is I have six Armadas. I’m an Armada fanatic. I have one from Provence and I have an unconventional small kitchen. I use the Armada to put all my dishes in. Some of my favorite things are quirky little things that remind me of my son or my upbringing. I do love our Armada.
They’re a good way of storing items, but looking beautiful.
My house didn’t have any conventional closets. Most people wouldn’t like that, but I was excited because I’m like, “I get to get much of Armadas.”
Thank you so much to both of you for sharing your journey and your passion. A few roadblocks that stopped you, but still you overcame them. You knew you were going to encourage the audience to help them get inspired. If you’re reading and you aren’t sure what to do and you need help, definitely reach out to Stephanie and Georgeann at Leo Designs because they will be there to read to you and help guide you through the process. I am excited that we had this opportunity to talk. Everyone, take a moment to be in your home and enjoy that space. If you’re not enjoying it, go out and buy yourself some flowers. Thanks, everybody.
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- Stephanie Wirth
- Georgeann Rivas
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