Posts by Molly James-Lundak

Brand architect. Story teller. Fun seeker. Problem solver. Dancing baker. Mom. Chicago Californian. And NOW Home Renovator. See what else I like to share and say @MJamesLundak

house of fun

We like to entertain. I mean really like to entertain. Book club, supper club, Sunday family dinners, mystery dinners, barbecues, late night on the Lundak lanai, dinners for eight, happy hour. So being out of commission for six or seven months during the house remodel left me in a funk. Not just because we were cooking mac and cheese in the bathroom, but because there was something big missing in our lives.

Cooking for others has been a hobby of ours since before we were married. We didn’t always have room for large groups, but we always found a way to create spaces for memorable meals in our house and in our schedules. We once cleared out the basement and added low tables and floor cushions for a Chinese New Year supper club. One Valentine’s Day Dan and the boys surprised me with dinner in our living room surrounded by dozens of candles and a crackling fire. There was the summer we hosted two different families for dinner every Friday night. The next year we hosted a monthly dinner for eight – no kids allowed. You get the idea.


(Side note: I score high for hedonism on leadership personality tests. I need to eat, drink and host parties like some people need to nap.)

If you know me, you won’t be surprised that the paint wasn’t yet dry on the house project and I was already filling the calendar with a few months worth of parties. We had to make up for lost time, so it seemed only right to get back into the groove right away. It also had the added benefit of creating a true deadline for our contractor and ourselves.

If I was going to host a progressive dinner on Saturday and then a Noonday Collection jewelry party for 50 people the next day, we couldn’t have missing baseboards or cabinet doors. And we couldn’t have bare walls and floors. We wasted no time ordering furniture (prioritizing quick delivery over custom fabrics) and rugs and hanging artwork and buying plants, since we wanted to be open for business again. Window treatments are another story; we’re still living in a fishbowl.

When you’re planning a remodel or addition, you think about how you’ll spend time in your “new” house. You think about how you like to live and entertain. You plan the details around these characteristics that are unique to you and your family.

When we got to test drive our house for entertaining the first few times, and all the planning and details worked just like we envisioned, it was the greatest satisfaction. Here are a few of the details we think we got right.

Butler’s Pantry/Bar:  The hardest working “room” in the house. We designed it to be a bar area, but with ample countertop space for a dinner buffet. The cabinets are high enough and not too deep, so it’s easy to use the counter for food service.

It has a small bar sink on one end (out of the way), which is useful as a second station for serving drinks or ice. Also comes in handy for hand-washing crystal stemware, which is conveniently stored in the glass-front upper cabinets.

Instead of a wine fridge, we opted for a drink fridge which could house wine and other kid and adult drinks, too. It can rotate between soda and LaCroix to Guinness and Fat Tire quite nicely.

Kitchen Design: The cooking triangle (sink, stove and fridge) are key to an efficient kitchen. But the actual space between counter and island (or counter and counter) is key to not getting a traffic jam in the kitchen when entertaining. Our counters have 48″ between them. Close enough to quickly get the dripping pot from stove to sink, but big enough that during a party (when everyone congregates in the kitchen) you can still get the work done.

I tested this during a cocktail party we hosted for 80+ people. Guests were hovering in the kitchen in front of both ovens (it was really hot and they didn’t move, instead complaining about heat. Duh.), but I could still get the appetizers out without incident.

The refrigerator is also located at the end near the butler’s pantry and dining room, so you can easily get what you need without being in the “chef’s” way. The hutch full of dishes and glasses is also conveniently located at the end for easy access to the dining room.


Multi-generational Dinner for Eight with friends from First Presbyterian Church

Porch/Extra Dining: One of the best last minute decisions we made was to take back the front porch. When we bought the house four years ago we split the porch in two, installing a wall so we could have a TV room. The porch has full radiator heat, so it’s usable year-round. It served its purpose, but with the addition it simply wasn’t necessary anymore.

A few weeks before we were ready to move into the new space, I asked our contractor to take down the wall and redo the floor. We installed pine wood in place of the hideous old linoleum, which I painted with Annie Sloan chalk paint and varnish. The result is a serene entry with a coastal cottage feel, and a bonus room for extra dining or for storing coats for large parties. It’s also Rocky’s new home at night.


Made for Fun: Last month we hosted Dan’s family over St. Patrick’s day weekend to celebrate his mom’s 80th birthday. It was one of those rare occasions when everything turns out just right. Luck of the Irish perhaps. The time spent together, the meals, the memories, the limericks, the silly Irish decor were even more special because it was one of the first celebrations in our updated house. I’m sure we would have had fun no matter what, but the updates to the house allowed us to plan and host this special event. It earned us the official “Fun” stamp.

Someone once said, the fondest memories are made when gathered round the table. We’ve had many, and can’t wait to have many more. After all, if we’re going to be called the “Fundaks” – we need to live up to it.

my shower has a super power

I don’t know many people who actually like to get out of bed in the morning. Someone who wants to pull back the cozy covers, squint in the morning sun and step onto the cold floor. Unless you are on permanent vacation though, you probably don’t have much of a choice.

Let me introduce you to our shower. Its super power? It can make you hop out of bed and into the shower without a groan or hitting snooze. Here’s a rundown of everything we love about it.

Grohe Relexa Shower Head

The Shower Head

Dan didn’t have a lot of demands with the new house, but he insisted on picking the shower head for our master bath. He indulged me the rain shower head, which gives the illusion of a spa, but the fixed head was his choice. His one criteria? It needed a powerful spray. Not one that the plumber has to hack in order to get around the village code, but one with a seriously intense flow.

The Grohe Relexa Deluxe 130 Shower Head delivers. It doesn’t pelt you with bullets of water, it lovingly soaks you like a garden hose douses a garden. And as a bonus, its spray is so powerful it rinses out your shampoo in seconds. When the sales manager at Studio 41 (also named Dan) said this was the head for us, he was right.

If you have the ceiling height to play with, hang it as high as you can. Ours is about 7.5′ high. No more craning our heads under a too short head.

(Full disclosure: We have to shower fairly quickly to ensure everyone gets a hot shower. And we probably need a bigger water heater for all that showering and all that water. Sacrifices.)

California Faucet shower control

The Controls

The lowly shower control is an overlooked fixture compared to the all important shower head. One control or two never crossed our minds. But the simplicity and ease of this single control dual flow system from California Faucets is a winner. Plus, your control doesn’t need to be the same brand or system as your head, so you can pick what suits your taste.

The top valve works the fixed head, the bottom works the rain shower head and the cross dial in the middle manages the temp. Now you can use our shower and not scramble trying to figure out cold from hot, rain from fixed. And believe me, you might want to visit our shower. It’s only $5 a rinse.

Subway Tile Bench

The Tile Bench

If you have space for one, get one. Great for shaving legs, soaking up the rain shower, taking a brief nap and storing bath products. Make sure your contractor gives is a bit of a slope so it doesn’t collect water.


Light Walls, Dark Floor and Grout

Our shower is only 6 weeks old, but I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing much icky moldy grout or shower scum on the floor. The combo of the dark gray grout and dark floor mask the yuck. White subway tile is nothing new, but it still feels refreshing and clean in a shower with a tile surround. Plus, it was an economical choice, so we could spend our tile budget on the cement floor.

Heated Sabine Hill Tile Floor

Heated Floor

Technically this is not part of the shower (although wouldn’t that be an indulgence), but the heated floor is the best warm up (pun intended) when getting in and out of the shower. After all, the only thing more dreaded than getting out of bed in the morning is getting out of a shower in the cold. The heated floor solves that problem. And it’s probably not as expensive as you think. The Sabine Hill Lace cement tile has a natural warmth to it, and a great texture, which only gets better with age and the heating element.  (Note: We are seeing very small hairline cracks in the tile which are a mystery to our contractor, so we have to investigate. But it still fits the aged patina of the room.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Pretty View

Some good friends visited the other weekend and their 12 year old daughter said, “your bathroom is aesthetically pleasing.” High praise from a tween, and another key ingredient to get you out of bed each day.

Lights, floors and vanity aren’t just functional, they are pretty to look at and can make a utility room like a bathroom your favorite room in the house.

Although, we don’t pick favorites here. We love all our new rooms equally.  Next time, I’ll give you a tour of another part of the very very fine house. Until then, I hope your days are easy like Sunday morning.


isn’t it ironic

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Alanis Morissette

Remember what prompted this remodel/addition? The need for a first floor bathroom turned into a multi-floor addition of our dreams. (You can read more in Calm before the storm.) So, isn’t it ironic that said bathroom is the last room finished? Everything else – kitchen, master, family, basement – were all ready for move-in by February 1; six months to the day after we broke ground.

In this marathon project, the bathroom brought up the rear. Figuratively speaking at least.

Over the course of the last week, we’ve fully moved in, moved things around and started breaking in the new digs. Our bedroom moved to the new master suite, while our old bedroom became the guest bedroom. The floors were swept and cleaned. The former TV room furniture moved to the basement (thanks to big Jim’s help), and is now a kid cave complete with ping pong table and a laundry chute for eavesdropping. And the floors were swept and cleaned. New furniture arrived for the family room, and TV and Sonos were installed. Closets were hung, clothes were purged and put away. And the floors were swept and cleaned again.

And yet, the first floor powder room remained undone.

But thankfully it was only a week or so behind. Fast forward a week and now new tile (remember what happened in Oops?) is in. The wallpaper is up. The toilet is down(?). And we even have a door. No mirror or toilet paper holders, but it’s open for business.

They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But, I’d say we’re close. Kind of done, but not done done. All moved in, but not finished. Maybe, close to done?

The dumpster left a week ago, followed by the port-a-potty a week later. So, seems done. Right?


Maybe not. See, remodeling is like getting a tattoo. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

We figured that while we’re at it, why not rethink the front room. What’s another “little” project when we’re already this far in? The vinyl floor and awkward divider wall are out of place with the updated entry and flow of the house. It was clear the house “needs” this. It wants to go back to the good old days. So, we made a late game decision to demo our front room (the converted porch, turned TV room) and tear out the floors in hope of finding something great below.


Alas, no such luck.

Layers of linoleum and parquet and adhesive, but no porch floors. So, construction continues and we’ll be putting in new floors this week.

Isn’t it ironic.



it’s lit.

it’s lit (Urban Dictionary)
when something fun is happening or something exciting is happening and you and your friends are turnt up.
Yep. This house is lit. No, really.
The 25 boxes in our living room (great for fort making BTW), are now gracing our walls and ceilings with their own distinct personalities.
Some are floating orbs of joy that glow like a bright full moon or a moody sunset.
Others are work hard, play hard. Like the mullet of lighting (you know, business up top, party in the back). Stripped to the bare essentials, but winking at  you as if to say, “go ahead, let’s get this party going.”
Forget global warming. I love these lights so much I am never turning them off. Like Old Man Parker’s leg lamp, I’m going to burn them brightly for all the neighbors to see.
It’s the middle of January. It’s Chicago. And if you’ve been here in the dead of winter, you know that light can turn this…
into this…
So, thank you Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan for inventing the light bulb. (Sorry, Thomas Edison.) And forget the college fund; that money is going to the electric company.
As my friend and design kindred spirit Annie Dwyer says, “lighting is the jewelry of the home.” So, skip Tiffany’s. Please buy my anniversary gift at Schoolhouse Electric.


sinking in

When you adjust to “life under construction”, you start to forget that it will ever end. You see and hear all the chaos around you, and rationally you know it will end. But you get so used to this new way of living that it becomes second nature to do the dishes in the bathtub and to nuke something in the microwave in the office. You forget what cooking feels like. You forget what clean smells like. You forget what home looks like.

So, it’s was a bit jarring when we got five new (operational) sinks in one day.

It sunk in.

This will end. We will get to eat off of real plates again. Our dining repertoire will consist of more than three meals (Chinese chicken night, Chicken taco night and pasta). The tub will go back to being a tub (after extensive bleaching). We will get to enjoy the comforts of home. Soon.

We took a quantum leap forward this week. Here’s just a glimpse of what’s happened.

New sinks – master bath, kitchen, powder room trough and bar/butler’s pantry

New appliances (from Abt) – stocked with the essentials

Closet install (from California Closets) – just waiting to be filled (with shoes)

Master tile (from Virginia Tile) – grouted and ready for scrubbing

At this rate, we’ll be showing the final reveal by February. (Knock on wood.) And Dan will probably win the family bet on the completion date.

The prize? A very fine house.


Mistakes happen. Most of us do what we can to prevent them — but they happen. As any self-help, leadership or children’s book will tell you, the best thing you an do is learn from them and figure out how to keep them from happening again.

We’ve only had a couple of mistakes so far in rebuilding this house. <knocks on wood> Two were preventable and could have been easily avoided with better communication. The other would have required a dog whisperer or a bigger bladder.

All of them cost money.

When I was 13 and our family moved from southern California to the DFW area in Texas, a new custom-built home helped to take the edge off the culture shock. We got to pick out every detail, from the Laura Ashley wallpaper to the crown molding. My sister Kelly, being 4 years older than me, got first dibs on bedrooms. So naturally, she chose the biggest and best room with the large bay window at the front of the house. And just like the plot of a John Hughes movie, I declared it unfair.


The Grapevine house we built in 1985 (photo 2015). The top bay window was Kelly’s room.

My mom had a gift for making things right, though. She took great care to make sure presents were equal at Christmas and that none of us felt slighted or left out. Since this was a custom-built home, the solution was to add a picture window and window seat to my smaller room overlooking the driveway. I felt satisfied.

When we got to town a few weeks before the start of the school year following our cross-country drive, our first stop was to see the progress on the house. It wasn’t ready for us to move in yet (that would take 4 more months!), but we could see the dangling carrot of the new home. We walked around the exterior of the house in the twilight and pointed out each room. There was Kelly’s room, the guest room…but when we got to the driveway, there was no picture window. No room for me! I was crushed.

Of course I didn’t know it in the moment, but there was a room for me, just no window. A builder’s mistake. Eventually it was fixed and a window added, but not quite like we envisioned. These things happen, and if you aren’t onsite to monitor every move, they can happen a lot.

This is what happened two weeks ago when we didn’t monitor the powder room tile installation on our house remodel. Can you spot the difference?

The tile setter installed the Sabine Hill pieces on a diagonal, instead of a normal grid pattern. The design is correct, but the diagonal placement along with black grout (not our choice) turned our bold design pick into a busy distraction. The crusher is that we waited 10 weeks for the tile to arrive from the Dominican Republic and removing the mistake would also mean another delay. Of course, a few more weeks at this point is a rounding error. (I’m just saying that to make myself feel better. It’s not really working.)

Then there’s the roof color mistake. We opted not to replace the entire roof and just do the new and main portion of the roof. The smaller area of roof over the front door was replaced just two years ago and we chose a slightly darker color for it knowing we’d eventually replace the entire roof. So, we asked for the new roof to match the existing.


See the problem with that communication? We said “match the existing,” but we didn’t clarify which part was existing. It took a few days for us to notice, but the new roof matched the old existing roof that it was replacing, and the front of the house still has the slightly darker shingles. Anyone with OCD will quickly point this out to us.

Two mistakes that could have been averted with better communication and more supervision.

And then there’s the most recent gaffe.

Over the weekend we were focused on other things and neglected to give Rocky any water all day long. By bedtime on Saturday, he was barking and looking for any drop of liquid to quench his thirst. Once we realized what he was upset about we gave him enough water to fill about three bowls. He quickly slurped it all up. Of course we knew he’d need to go out to pee before bed, so we made sure he did his business.

Sunday was Christmas Eve and a travel day. We had to evacuate for the holidays so the floors could be stained and varnished. The sanding was already done and the raw naked floors were ready to be made beautiful. We had the car half-packed to get up early and drive to Lincoln to celebrate Christmas with the Lundak family.

Dan found the very large puddle when he woke up. It wasn’t on the vinyl by the front door. It wasn’t on the finished wood by Rocky’s bed. It wasn’t on the ceramic tile in the new mudroom. It was on the raw, naked, sanded, new wood by the back door. Dan soaked it up as best he could. A minor annoyance in the process of getting out of town.

Then two days later we get this text from our GC…


The floors were cupping and the acid had discolored the wood. The three bowls of water turned into replacing all the wood in the stained area, re-sanding and then starting the staining process (that’s dripping with irony) all over again.

At this point, all that matters to us is that we get back into our house on Sunday, New Year’s Eve, and can stop being nomads.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde

The lesson here? We’re human. We make mistakes. It might mean a little delay or a little more cost, but that’s just the price of gaining experience.

And better communication — with humans and dogs — could definitely help.

practicing hope

Stick with me on this one. It’s going to get a bit spiritual. But no matter your religious beliefs or traditions, I hope you can relate to the theme of this post — hope.

This past weekend marked the first Sunday in Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. To mark the coming of Christ, we light a candle each week of Advent, with the first week signifying hope. That same day I stumbled on an email recommended by my mother-in-law that talked about the season of Advent and the “Time for Practicing Hope.”

Then it hit me. Beyond the never-ending mess, the constant inconvenience, the stress and the anxiety and the worry, there’s always hope. This project is a constant exercise in hope. Hope that the project will go smoothly. Hope that no one will fall off a ladder and die. Hope that we won’t regret any design choices. Hope that the eventual increase in property taxes won’t suck us dry. Hope that it will all turn out okay and someday our home will be back to normal (and preferably be dust-free).

Hope is a powerful thing. It can get you through times far far more challenging than living in a home during a remodel. In this year of increasing global and local uncertainty, hope is what we cling to when we really want to just crawl under the covers and turn off all media. But what’s great about the holiday season is that we get to practice hope all over again. Kids hope that Santa comes. We hope we get our lists crossed off in time. We hope the last-minute Amazon delivery gets here on time. We hope there are no family feuds on Christmas Eve. We hope that joy will appear and that we will remember we are here to love one another and this planet.

We may be getting extra-credit building up our hope muscles with this project, but in some small way I think it will serve us well in the long run when there are far more serious reasons to call on the power of hope.

Oh, and if you think we hope to finish the house this year…we’ve already lost hope on that pipe dream. But end of January is looking better and better.

And there is a silver lining of not being done by Christmas. We are taking a simple approach to the holidays with only a wreath and a half-lit skinny tree as decorations. But look out 2018 – I’m saving up extra tinsel for you.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief view of the progress. Let me know what you think!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.