Inside Vera

Vera Bang

I had a fantastic dinner recently at Vera, a newish Spanish eatery in the West Loop that’s making tons of top 2011 restaurant lists, and in between bites of fluke crudo with supremed orange segments, an Iberico ham “flight,” and one of the best paellas I’ve ever had (starring rabbit and duck), I drank up the thoughtful details of its warm and handsome interior design, along with some of Vera’s signature, not-your-granny’s sherries. Turns out the owners, Carnivale vets Mark and Elizabeth Mendez, relied on local design sources to put together the look. The expansive silky walnut-topped main bar, cheese bar, and metal-clad serving station were handcrafted by local carpenter Brandon Napier (312-927-4200), Liz told me, the hanging Edison lights hail from Hortons, and H.Bloom provides the petals. Vera (named after Mark’s grandmother, who first piqued his culinary curiosity, as well as a type of smoked paprika) is located at 1023 West Lake Street.

A dog in a dog bed

Pet Project

Kelly Rauch from Twice introduced a line of custom-made eco-friendly dog (or cat, sure) beds at the Mart’s One of a Kind show earlier this month, and they were a tail-wagging success. Stop by her store and order one of the nine available styles/sizes (Sam here weighs 57 pounds and is hanging out in a medium oval vinyl faux-croc version), so your own best friend can sit-stay in distinctive style (prices start at $99). Choose from Twice’s fabric options or bring in some of your own (old blankets and bedding work well when fashioned into the interior removable pillows). The vinyls come in different colors and textures, are PVC free, and cleanable; the fabric shells used for the more freeform Puffer beds are machine washable; both are stuffed with an organic material that’s moisture resistant and doesn’t retain water.

Chimney humidifier by Takeshi Ishiguro

Mist In Show

Given our schizo weather, climate control is understandably a hot topic in Chicago, especially during dry winter months. The only thing worse than a scratchy arid interior environment is dealing with an ugly, noisy, putty-colored humidifier in the middle of the room. Luckily industrial designers have been stepping up their game and figuring out stylish applications for utilitarian appliances in recent years (thanks for kicking that movement off, Dyson). The Japanese artist and designer Takeshi Ishiguro has dreamt up a humdinger of a humidifier that you can pick up at Design Within Reach.) Inspired by his 2008 public performance art piece “Smoke Ring” (which was in turn inspired by childhood memories of his father blowing cigarette-smoke rings), Ishiguro created this Chimney humidifier to elegantly hydrate the air with hypnotic clouds of cool mist, using an ultrasonic system that can huff and puff for 18 hours and shuts off automatically. It’s about 44 inches tall, and $200.

An upholstered bench from Nadeau

Nadeau Newbies

Keith Heric, store manager for the Chicago location of the imported furniture and accessories store Nadeau, (4433 N. Ravenswood) gave me a heads up about a new supplier he’s working with from India, and I’m digging the distressed finishes and French country vibe of some of the pieces that just arrived. Prices here are crazy low (but don’t expect artful showroom displays or much breathing room for the merchandise, as it’s quite literally piled to the ceiling of this sprawling warehouse). Take this sweetly shabby-chic bench, for example, carved from solid mango wood and topped with a printed linen fabric. It’s 48 inches wide and sells for $221. Preview some of the new inventory here.

A table decorated for New Year's Eve

New Year’s Ease

The biggest cocktail hour of the year is close-talking down our necks at the moment, but it’s not too late to throw together a little celebration to ring in 2012 if you don’t already have plans. Especially if you have a friend like celebrity party planner Debi Lilly, who shared some of her insider tips for a happy, healthy, easy-peasy New Year’s party. Lilly owns the Lake View event company and gift boutique A Perfect Event, (3050 North Lincoln Avenue) and has pulled off parties for people such as Oprah, Wolfgang Puck, and Art Smith; People, O, and Chicago magazines; and companies like Bulgari, Knoll, and Leo Burnett. Impressed? Let’s get started with design ideas: Get rid of all the holiday red and green but keep metallic items; use leftover copper wrapping paper as a table runner and as sheaths for vases and candles; place gilded ornaments on silver candlesticks for a nice repurposed centerpiece; and layer in some NYE flavor by putting colorful party horns and noisemakers on cake stands and platters, and in glasses filled with confetti you cut out of shiny gift wrap. And to sneak some heart-healthy elements into classic libations: mix one part pomegranate juice with one part champagne and add pom seeds (antioxidants); make a brain-stimulating, cancer-fighting sparkling sangria by floating blood oranges and strawberries in Beaujolais and lime seltzer; and make a version of Manhattan’s Serendipity frozen hot chocolate by blending one part dark chocolate gelato (chocolate boosts serotonin and blood flow and lowers bad cholesterol) with one part skim milk and a half part Godiva liquor. Happy New Year, Domestica readers, and suck it, Mayan prophecy!