5 Tips for Avoiding a Griswold Holiday Decorating Disaster

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Although my kids and I love watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation each year, it’s also my worst professional nightmare: too much, too much, TOO MUCH!

Whether I’m decorating my own home for the holidays or styling a client’s place, I always follow 5 basic rules. The cool thing about them is they apply to every situation, no matter if you live in a studio apartment or a castle on the coast of England. Let me show you what I mean by introducing you to the “Hollys,” who own a beautiful loft filled with character in downtown Omaha. They wanted to dress their home for Christmas, but had no time to do so and no ideas on where to start.

1. Choose colors that complement your existing decor. If your walls and finishes fall within the earth tone family (which many do), then stick with natural reds and classic Christmas hues. No neon, please.

2. Find antiquey (I think I just made up a word) pieces that are cool on their own merit – no matter the time of year – and are reminiscent of the spirit of the holiday. In the loft, we found some precious antique children’s books with red leather covers and hung them on the dining room tree and the garland over the kitchen island. (This might be my favorite part of this styling project.)

3. Size matters, at least when it comes to tree selection. The scale of the interior where your tree will rest will dictate how tall and wide it should be. In the loft, we chose a tall, slender tree for the living room because there was limited floor space, but its 9-foot height takes advantage of the 12-foot ceilings.

4. Memories are an important part of the holiday season, so use personal trinkets from past Christmases that mean something to you. The Holly family has an amazing Christmas village collection, so we arranged it in an existing entry cabinet and lit it with a string of LED lights. It’s one of the first things visitors see when they enter the loft.

5. This last one is a biggie: capitalize on the space’s best feature. In the loft, the Hollys LOVE their incredible view on the world. With this in mind, we added classic European star lanterns filled with LED lights to some of the windows. Magical!

There it is, my holiday gift to you. But please feel free to keep it wrapped. If you’re a Clark Griswold type or have one in your family, enjoy the season in the way that makes you the happiest.

Happy Holidays! Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM


goodbye, golden oak


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The following is a public service announcement from Elizabeth Monical Design: Don’t let ’90s-era golden oak ruin your home or your life. Help is available by calling 402.660.7703.

A LaVista couple made that call a while back, and they’re brave enough to let me share their story here. The house in question sits in a neighborhood full of homes built 10 to 20 years ago (that’s not vintage, folks) and filled with golden oak wood. Trim. Cabinets. Doors. Flooring. Staircase. Everywhere.

After living there for a while, the couple, who share the space with two kids in high school, said enough is enough. They were ready to do what it took to love where they live instead of dreading it every time they come home and turn on the lights.

Their task list for me:

  • Update the trim and flooring
  • Paint
  • Install new countertops and tile in the kitchen
  • Update the traditional oak spindle railing
  • Update the old fireplace and window coverings in the living room without spending too much
This “island” had to go.

They also asked me to come up with a solution to their bat wing island (no offense to bats), which left half the kitchen useless and the other half busy when someone was washing dishes.

I loved the fact that the Golds (that’s what I call them) understood the value of their home and didn’t want to “over improve” it. They simply wanted their investment to be worth it at the end of the project. I couldn’t agree more!

One of my biggest design challenges was the kitchen cabinets. There wasn’t enough in the budget to buy new ones, so we modified some of the existing ones with new paint and doors. We also added new cabinetry that functions as overall storage, which they totally needed.

The unused dining room was converted into two functional spaces.

Another concern: they didn’t have a walk-in pantry. We decided to repurpose the dining room – which they never used – by splitting it in two. Half is now a huge walk-in pantry, and the other half is a foyer/seating area with a coat room on the other side.

Since the dining room windows were separated in the center, we were able to add the new wall without making any changes to the home’s exterior, thus keeping the expense low. Sometimes I amaze even myself at what we come up with!

This change allowed us to double the size of the kitchen island and add four new seats. We also removed an old desk and added a dry bar/beverage center to give the kids and their friends easy access to drinks (non-alcoholic, of course), even if their parents are cooking.

At the end of each project, I always look back and have a favorite part. With the Gold’s home, it’s the completely different emotional response you get when you think about what it was like and what it is now. We created a brand new house on a completely doable budget!


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Thanks to our M.O.D. partners on this project:

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.






my design manifesto

Hey, friends. I’ve been thinking a lot about Elizabeth Monical Design lately – where we’ve been, what we’re doing and where we want to be 10 years down the road. As a result, my brain is on overload. Before any of it slips away, I’m writing it down for two reasons: 1) To remain true to who I am as a designer and a person, and 2) so I can share it with you.

So here it is, my design manifesto. It’s slightly scary to put it out there, but it’s also empowering. At the end of the day, honesty is the way to go – it makes me sleep better.


  • Am emotional.
  • Look for similarities in taste.
  • Need to understand where you’re coming from so I can find solutions to your problems.
  • Care about how products and finishes function over time.
  • Am not afraid to try something new just because it’s not familiar to me or our region of the country.

I want to:

  • Create a space that feels like your home – one that’s better than you ever imagined but still feels like you.
  • Make the design/build process a positive experience for everyone involved.
  • Collaborate with tons of design professionals so I can learn from each one.
  • Help my contractors devise new solutions to old design issues.

I don’t want to be your designer if:

  • You don’t understand the importance of the professional service I provide.
  • You consider my fees as “extra” and without benefit.
  • You want me to prove you wrong.
  • We don’t have compatible personalities.
  • You don’t care about the finished product, whatever that may be.

I will never:

  • Create a cookie-cutter product (there are no cookie-cutter clients).
  • Sell you overpriced furniture so I can make a great profit.

I will:

  • Be innovative in developing solutions to your problems.
  • Give you as many of the things on your wish list as possible.
  • Use pieces you love, including your family heirlooms.
  • Conduct research and search for product reviews.
  • Ease contractor headaches during the build process.
  • Encourage you to be adventurous and creative with me.

I want you to know:

  • I care deeply about your happiness.
  • It’s okay to ask questions.
  • A remodel is not easy or stress free.
  • Nothing goes smoothly or is done on time.
  • You will be opening your personal lives to people you don’t know. We will invade your space, your privacy and your sanity. It will be worth it in the end.
  • Midway through the process, you will hit an all-time low. You’ve spent time and money and still can’t see the results. Stay with me!
  • When construction is finished, you’ll be left with an empty and impersonal space. Let us finish it for you just like we planned – let us place the furniture and fixtures and accessories so you can see how everything works together.
  • Your space, if designed correctly, will alter your mood and ease your mind. It will carry over to other facets of your life – you’ll be happier and more relaxed, and you’ll treat others differently.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far) – comments welcome! Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM


a home that says ‘e komo mai’

In February, we introduced you to the Emerald project, a Nantucket interior remodel for a family who just moved here from Hawaii. They wanted a modern update for their Omaha residence, one that would showcase their love of books and collection of souvenirs from around the world.

Drumroll, please…we’re finished! Time for show and tell:

Storage galor’age’
This project was all about creating custom pieces, and this little storage unit is one of my favorites. It used  to be a doorway that led from the family’s living room to the garage hallway. The family desperately needed a “drop zone” for coats, shoes and backpacks. Now they can leave their winter coats by the garage instead of hauling them through the kitchen/dining room/living room to hang them in the front closet. (Chances are, they’d never make it that far.)

Double duty
The home’s sun room also serves an office. Our custom chest of drawers and shelving unit allow the client to hide her office supplies and display her books, which serve as inspiration when she’s working. This custom chest has file drawers, a printer pull out and plenty of space for paper, pens and you name it. Cool, huh?

On trend and functional
In addition to being on trend, barn doors are an awesome way to close off an area without taking up too much floor space. This door was originally a swing door that you couldn’t open if the front door was open – a design no no. If you have enough wall space and you don’t want to tear up an existing wall to insert a pocket door, the barn door is your answer. The other cool thing about them? You can use them as an accent/art piece. Versatile, versatile, versatile!

Groovy grid
If you’re ever looking to tie a room’s woodwork and walls together as one unit, paint everything white. We also added a grid pattern on the walls with flat boards to create some interest without overpowering the rest of the space.

Reading is fundamental
Custom bookshelves for the living room were a must – the entire family loves to read and enjoys adding to their collection. We also used them to create a second focal point in the room – they draw your eye up to the exposed rafters and – bonus – help hide lighting wires.

Shiplap, Joanna!
When a job throws you a design challenge, you get creative. The family’s dining table was smack dab in the middle of the walkway that connects the living room/entry area to the sun room. Here’s this month’s public service announcement: THINK ABOUT TRAFFIC PATTERNS WHEN YOU’RE DESIGNING A SPACE. By creating a bench along the back wall, we were able to shift the table to one side, which created a nice, wide path for travel between rooms (see second photo below).

In order to carve out pantry space for large cooking appliances, we created column cabinets that open on the sides and covered them with shiplap (shout out to Joanna Gaines). The cabinets created a great backdrop for sconce lighting – you can never have enough ambient lighting. The bench also has cubbies for baskets – you can never have enough storage.

Bad to the herringbone
A standard mantle simply wouldn’t do  above this fireplace, so I asked my cabinet maker to create a box backed with shiplap. It’s the perfect place to display art, sculpture, fresh flowers – you name it, and it has an outlet and a puck light that directs your eye to the objects in the space. We also removed the existing fireplace surround and used white marble subway tile to create an amazing (if I do say so myself) herringbone pattern from floor to ceiling. It’s fronted by a gorgeous porcelain tile that looks like dark cement and contrasts well with the subway tile. The porcelain runs the entire length of the fireplace wall to tie all the design elements together.

Pop of positive
We added a pop of color and whimsy to the living room with this beautiful rug, which we all fell in love with. It fills the room with positive energy!

Custom kid-friendly
For my last show and tell, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: custom’s not just for adults. The youngest member of the family wanted a “cool, grown-up” bedroom that was also conducive to studying. We created an industrial wood bunk bed with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and a huge desk surface lit by puck lights. We created the bed’s safety rail from black pipes, and the library ladder makes hitting the sack an adventure each night! BTW, I’m not showing my kids this picture because they’ll all want rooms like this (and who can blame them)!

Overall, I think we achieved the vibe we were going for: modern, relaxed, uncluttered – a place that says ‘e komo mai’ (that’s Hawaiian for “welcome”).

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM


Be Innovative, Not Expensive

Welcome to the Jennifer Radil Studio.

Adults who work full time in the United States log an average of 47 hours a week, according to our friends at Gallup. I know many who work far longer than that in seven days time, which brings me to the point of today’s post: the design of your work space matters.

When Omaha artist Jennifer Radil asked me for some thoughts on the look and feel of her new studio space in the Hot Shops Art Center, I jumped in with both of my size 10 feet.

I’m a big fan of Jennifer’s work – mixed media pieces that evoke another era.

First, I’m a big fan of her work – mixed media pieces that evoke another era, one steeped in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Second, I couldn’t wait to tap into the creative energy that fills the Hot Shops, a downtown landmark that’s home to four anchor studios, more than 80 studio artists and multiple spaces.

For starters, Jennifer knew she wanted to add color to at least one of her studio’s two existing white walls. I talked her into a deep gray – Sherwin Williams Iron Ore.

She was a little shocked at first, but I assured her it wouldn’t feel oppressive in the space, which long ago had served as offices for the Serta Mattress Factory. I’m a big fan of this hue – I’ve got it in my home office and LOVE IT!

I love, love, love Sherwin Williams Iron Ore that helps showcase Jennifer’s work.

“She was right,” Jennifer said of the bold color choice. “The deep grey added an edginess and showcased my artwork beautifully.” We also agreed to leave an expansive plywood wall in the studio unpainted. Jennifer’s studio is a working space in a former factory, so it shouldn’t be too “pretty.” It needs to function as a gallery and retail space for her work plus shirts, cards, prints and other items.

Since the studio is at street level, Jennifer had concerns about maintaining privacy at night, which I totally get – how unnerving would it be to find someone peering in at you from the sidewalk? We removed the plywood from a large window and discussed a variety of treatments that might work. In the end, we went with the simple and most effective solution: placing a row of tall atlases on the deep windowsill along with a framed piece of vintage wall covering on an easel. Perfect.

A carefully curated selection of books, plants and framed art on an easel provide a natural buffer between Jennifer and those passing by on the sidewalk.
This corner of Jennifer’s studio is the perfect place for a retail display.

The final thing we did was rearrange the furniture and displays in a way that maximized both appearance and functionality. We created a display along a wall outside the studio that naturally draws people in. The kicker? We only used tools and art objects plucked from Jennifer’s belongings.

“Elizabeth’s changes didn’t require me to spend a fortune or even pick up a single new object,” Jennifer said. “This, to me, is the sign of a truly resourceful and innovative designer.”

Awww, thanks, Jennifer! Want us to do the same for you? Schedule a meeting today!

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM


The King of Custom Construction

BEFORE - a little on the blank and boring side.
BEFORE – a little on the blank and boring side.

We all want to be understood.

That’s one of the reasons we love working with Gary Haldeman, owner and founder of HC Remodel & Design. He gets our vision, our Midwest spin on modern design.

A central Iowa native, Gary worked for his family’s construction business before launching his own company in Omaha a decade ago. The key to his success (in addition to his mad skills and 30 years of experience) is the relationships he builds with his clients. “Our guiding principle is to always respect our clients’ homes and space,” he said. “Coupled with that respect, we aim to be as accurate as possible in our estimating. Though we may not be the lowest estimate for your project, we will be the best value.”

We both love challenges, and we both love working on custom projects that are client specific. Together, we’re helping introduce metro area clients to the engines that drive the beauty and function of modern design:

  • Using high-quality materials and letting them stand on their own
  • Selecting a single standout piece
  • Choosing furnishings and objects that are simple in design
  • Giving things plenty of breathing room
  • Using restraint when furnishing a space to highlight its design features
  • Including little accents that add to – not distract from – the overall aesthetic

We’re currently working with Gary on the Emerald project, a Nantucket interior remodel. The family – including one elementary school-aged boy and a girl in high school – just moved here from Hawaii. Their needs (in addition to winter coats and hats and boots): a modern update for their Omaha residence that showcases a wonderful connection of souvenirs from their travels as well as their love of books. The vibe we’re going for? Modern, relaxed, uncluttered – a place that says ‘e komo mai’ (that’s Hawaiian for “welcome”).

There’s a lot on Gary’s to-do list – a living room remodel, built-in storage for the office, a built-in banquette for the dining room, new flooring throughout the main level, a custom bunk bed for the boy (can’t wait to show you this one), custom shelving for the teen (ditto on this one), and fresh paint and lighting throughout.

As of this writing, we’re in the painting and flooring stage of the project – take a look at how things are shaping up:

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Our design plan calls for using natural materials that contrast with the painted white woodwork and black iron accents in our railing and office shelving choices. Take a look at our inspiration board – dreamy, huh?


Gary and I can’t wait to share our progress on this one, so stay tuned for updates.

A hui hou (until we meet again), I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM


Meet the Browns, Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to my design concept for the Browns, an Omaha couple who loves international travel and minimal, modern spaces:

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Now I want to talk fixtures and finishes, as they’re an important piece of the design puzzle. Here’s what I proposed:

  • White gloss cabinets with a rich, warm walnut accent in the toe kick and proposed furniture
  • White quartz countertops with a simple white backsplash to achieve a minimal, relaxing look
  • A light wood-look tile for the flooring that’s also easy to clean
  • A cast concrete “makeover” for the old brick fireplace that includes a vertical inset shelving unit for display space
  • A matte black/gray finish on the cabinetry in the new sitting area/buffet and new powder bath to contrast with the white gloss cabinets
  • Irregular, dynamic cabinet door reveals to create a modern art effect
  • Cabinet panels to cover the majority of the appliances
  • Plumbing fixtures that will act as a graphic accent to the mostly white space – little bursts of “ooooh” in an “aaaah” space

Take a look…



With each large project, I love to work in a signature element that serves as a focal point for the overall design. In this case, I proposed a custom inset ceiling detail made of mosaic accent tile over the island. The inset will be lit by cove LED strip lighting – no pendants for this project!

Take a look at the ceiling inset example below…


Up next, an update on our actual progress.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM