Lake Cottage—2015 ASID Design Excellence Award

What’s a cottage retreat if not cozy, fun and easy on the eyes? This one was designed for a real-life, modern family who was reaching for a certain happy informality. The finishes, fixtures, hardware, and woodwork details had to be very touchable but definitely not boring.

The American Society of Interior Design (ASID) had to agree. Julie O'Brien Design Group was awarded the 2015 Design Excellence award for its work on the home. The project was deemed best in class for residential spaces under 3000 square feet.

By the way, the cottage is located at Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana. See more. 


Thank you!

"Nothing is more satisfying than to see my clients slip effortlessly into a new home that so perfectly reflects them," smiles Julie O’Brien.

“Good designers lead their clients toward the realization of a vision, helping guide projects towards delightful outcomes. But it is my clients who get the credit for the completed homes and spaces we do together.

That’s because from our very first conversation, it is the client who inspires a tone and points to the direction of the project,” says Julie. “We work together and make hundreds of choices, but it is the client who has the final say on every design element, color choice, architectural detail, furniture selection, and wall treatment.

So, the end result reflects my client’s tastes, passion and vision through and through. It is my client’s masterpiece – which is exactly as it should be.” —Julie O’Brien

 “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ―Søren Kierkegaard


Love your decorator (er… designer)

The practice of interior design is often confused with interior decorating.

I’m a designer but I have been introduced as a ‘decorator’ many times and that’s okay. Neither term bothers me, nor is either one necessarily wrong." But if you are looking for a designer, notes Julie O’Brien, “you should probably understand the difference.”
First. Interior DESIGNERS require professional training and legal certification. They must pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam and, agree to follow professional standards set by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
An interior designer is frequently involved with a design project from the beginning. Good ones offer a caring ear for their clients. They tend to be well-versed in building codes and structural considerations and often work alongside the architect.
It is the DESIGNER’S job to help create a safe, functional interior space. They match an understanding of how each room will be used with the owner’s preferences, aesthetic and budget. The designer then develops construction documents and manages and coordinates other professional services including mechanical, electrical and plumbing, maonsry, carpentry and finishing.
An interior DECORATOR is largely focused on color, furnishings, textiles, and room décor. They typically work with their clients to update, beautify or stylize an existing living space. Both designers and decorators offer style, design, and aesthetics. Perhaps that explains some of the confusion.


Whatever you choose to call me, interior decorator or designer, the work I do for my clients is my true calling. I absolutely love what I do!” —Julie O’Brien


Cheap jewelry can ruin a great outfit

Must it be a battle of form vs. function when it comes to choosing lighting? As a designer, “I don’t think it has to be that way.” Effective, articulate and creative design often is made (or ruined) through choice of lighting. “Lighting is the jewelry for the home. It makes every bit the same statement as the jewelry you wear.
Julie adds, “The function of lighting is to open up or reveal a room. You can clarify or spotlight key elements or spaces or build upon a mood. That said, there’s absolutely no reason why lighting can't be also be inspirational, innovative or even fun without sacrificing function for form.”
Lighting as a decorative element is commonly overlooked and under appreciated. I’ve frequently been in gorgeous homes that completely missed the mark when it came to lighting to accentuate the home’s aesthetic features. Good lighting should fine-tune a beautiful home, generating a quality that highlights exceptional furnishings, finishes and architectural features.
Use lighting to your advantage, as Julie can attest, good design will inevitably shine through.



Designing with collections

Collections reveal a lot about a person. For some, it’s collectibles from traveling across Europe or Africa. For others, it’s paintings or sculpture. Still others bring their passion for sports or political memorabilia—it’s part of them. 

One of my favorite things to do as a designer, says Julie, “is to use a client’s collection as a theme from which we anchor the overall design aesthetic. There are a thousand different ways to do this, and it creates an incredibly interesting journey in the process.” 

Simply knowing that a client’s passion is equestrian-related, for example, can form the inspiration for the entire project. 

Art collections are another fascinating inclusion to a home or business. The right piece can help define a space as it will influence the pallet, textures and the finishes.  

Key to using a collection brilliantly is subtlety. “I want to delight guests with discovering the collection while learning just a little bit more about the owner.” 


Bringing a level of comfort

You know when you are in a home or a business that has been expertly designed. There’s a certain level of comfort you feel in the space. It feels pulled-together and effortless.

On the other hand, if you feel knocked over with the “decor,” chances are someone was relying too heavily on making a statement rather than allowing the personality of the homeowner or business to shine through.

As a designer, Julie O’Brien can weave a client’s favored color, artist, furniture style or design aesthetic throughout a project. Julie considers it a job well done when the finished space reflects what is important and distinct for the owner—when nothing about the project feels forced, artificial or overtly trendy.  

“I believe that the most exceptional home and business interiors often stem from a simple observation from a client, Julie offers. “I’ll hear a statement about how the client envisions her business, and I’ll think to myself, ‘Yes, that’s precisely what the point of this work is, right there in that beautifully articulated thought,’ and the design will come together fluidly around that vision. I love those moments of clarity!”

As Julie will tell you, arriving at that elusive level of comfort gracefully, requires experience, resourcefulness and an interest in listening.



Design partnership 

Just step inside a well designed home,
and you’ll have instant insight into the heart of the homeowner.
It took time for you to develop into the person you are today, and you want your designer to take the time to be inspired by your taste, your character, your perspective. Your living space must express your personality.
A successful design project is a true partnership of discovery,” Julie O’Brien declares. “It’s my job to make the journey approachable, enjoyable, exciting, and as easy on my client as possible.”
Julie immerses herself in her clients, and skillfully reflects their tastes with fine furnishings from designer lines you may not have heard of. She brings order and form to empty spaces. And details it with custom art, millwork and finishes. Of course she’s an expert with color and fabric and uses lighting in subtle, sometimes dramatic and eye opening ways. 
Somehow, Julie sees what lies just beyond the present confines of your space, and finds a way to light the path to a new journey of self discovery through a unique design partnership – with you.

Designer opening

This is interesting! Austrian designer and artist, Klemens Torggler reinvents the door using two rotating squares. I think it needs a remote. See more on his website:


Chicago Artist

“David Harris Salkin’s rug designs are inspired works of art that speak to the city with bold schemes and unique patterns. His work is exciting and room-defining, which can be a very powerful tool in designing a space.” That's what I told CS Interiors-Modern Luxury last month when they asked me to confess one of my Chicago secrets. David and I met at a Contemporary Art Society event at the Art Institute about a year ago. Check him out for yourself.



Those of you who know me know I’ve always supported artists in my work. Recently, CS Interiors Chicago asked me for "that hidden gem" —one of my favorite “under-the-radar” home finds in the area. Artist, David Harris Salkin came to mind first. In my next post I'll feature a sample of Mr Salkin’s work and offer some contact information.
(Modern Luxury Interiors, Winter 2013 issue, page 34)  

Seeing Green

Plant-for-the-planet’s goal is to add 1 billion trees by 2020. The Munich-based organization (of primarily children) say the additional trees would absorb 10 billion tons of CO2 every year thereafter. Contact them, Green's going to be a big color in 2013.




Party Animal

Enjoy the holidays! 
(Image courtesy of