A Holiday Housewarming Throwback

By Kim Vargo / 11.24.14

It’s been almost a year and a half since Scott and I moved into our big, bad fixer upper of a house. As every month goes by, we say, this will be the month we throw a housewarming party! We get excited over the details, and then we remember that this is the same month we’re renovating the guest room – or home studio! Maybe we still need to paint the walls, or maybe we’re about to embark on a big kitchen overhaul, but when we stopped to think about it, we quickly realized that we’ll working on this house for years to come.

So, no more excuses! There will always be something to do, but we agreed that those tasks wouldn’t hold us back from celebrating this home with our friends any longer. Better yet, we decided to roll our housewarming fiesta into a holiday theme, and our Holiday Housewarming Party was born.

Next up? The invites! In such a digital world, we wanted to embrace a throwback to a time when invites were mailed. It’s personal, more meaningful, and it would allow us to have fun with the imagery and feel we’d be looking to achieve for the party itself. It took us all of 5 seconds to decide that our two pups, Jack and CC, would be the stars of the show:


We had foolishly thought we could snag one great shot of both dogs together under the mistletoe, but how silly we were! The excitement of a mini photo shoot combined with their curious personalities was pure chaos, and so with Scott’s help, I worked with Jack and CC individually against the green wall of our reading room. Through computer magic, I was then able to merge 3 images into 1:


Once we had our winning snapshot, we browsed through the catalog of Pinhole Press cards, ultimately landing on this one. We loved the simplicity of the font, and the berry color was the perfect complement to our gray-green backdrop – a subtle holiday nod. Uploading our photo was a breeze, and then it was simply a matter of coming up with the verbiage. For RSVPs, we created a Gmail address and kept everything else straight up and to the point. (Our address was removed from the below, but they were on the invites as well.)

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However, we didn’t stop there! Jack and CC are camera hams, and we had a handful of cute and funny outtakes from the photo shoot. We chose a favorite for each, and we added a couple packs of coasters to our order. Once our guests arrive to the Holiday Housewarming, these B-reel photos will tie everything together:

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Having ordered Thank You cards from Pinhole in the past, we continue to be really impressed with the quality of these invites! They have an excellent weight and smooth feel, although sadly, I can’t say that CC noticed:

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We even went so far as to create custom address labels using Jack’s outtake, which we hope will give our friends and family a chuckle at the mailbox. The majority of our invites have since been dropped off at the post office, but a small pile was set aside for hand delivery. I sealed those with a YAY! stamp in bold black ink to keep things light-hearted.

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As the RSVPs roll in, we find ourselves counting down the days, going over an appetizer menu and brainstorming fizzy party drinks. Our housewarming has been long overdue, and what better way to celebrate than during the most wonderful time of the year!

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Holiday Card Family Fashion: Olive Juice, Pinhole Press and PLAYFUL Holiday giveaway

By Merrilee Liddiard / 11.18.14

I’m beyond thrilled to share this killer giveaway (enter here) I have in store for you! I’ve teamed up with Olive Juice and Pinhole Press to bring you a REALLY REALLY great Christmas giveaway!

Finding just the right card and wardrobe for your little ones for this year’s Christmas card has never been sweeter! Because not only is Pinhole Press giving one lucky winner $150 toward their holiday cards but Olive Juice Kids is also giving away $150 in clothing for you to pick from for your little ones! How completely cool is that?!!! (I say it’s peppermint ice cool). And to make things that much more merry, I’ve decided to throw in a signed copy of my book PLAYFUL! And who knows maybe you’ll make your own twig crown or cardboard brownstone house for your family photo shoot too!


I’ve been a long time fan of the simple and utterly lovely design that Pinhole Press brings to the table of personalized cards and gifts. I love so many of their Holiday card designs that we just couldn’t settle on one! This JOY card design caught my eye. But I’m also really fond of this Red Accordion design.








The photos from our shoot, taken by photographer Jesse Draper, work so well with the cards too. He captured so many special moments that I’ll forever treasure.

But let’s talk about the cutest kids clothing you’ve ever seen shall we? I’ve loved Olive Juice Kids for a long time and often hoped I’d have a little girl to dress up in their perfect little frocks. I’m more than happy to now have a little doll of my own to dress up in classic dresses such as this festive red corduroy Becca Dress, but who knew that I didn’t have to wait until I had a girl to enjoy what Olive Juice Kids has to offer?!


Olive Juice has a “Little Brother” section filled with classic looks for little boys and I love everything they have. Little O was thrilled to learn that they had red Bailey Overalls. He immediately felt like he was “fire Mario” when wearing them and was happy as a clam.




I’m over the moon about this Wonderland Jumper in Crème brûlée. And this little polka dot version of the Becca dress on Miss M is just dreamy.


For boys we’re loving the following: 1) Wonderland Jumper in Creme Brulee  2) Bailey Overall in Bittersweet 3) Playtime Hoodie in the red stripe (super soft!) 4) Apache Brogue shoes 5) V-Neck Classic Cardigan in Canary 6) Playhouse Pant in Charcoal


Some of our favorite dresses: 1) Becca dress in Bittersweet 2) Holiday Trapeze Dress in Navy 3) Holiday Classic Tie dress in British Tan 4) Becca dress in Taupe Anouk Dot 5) Holiday Birdie Velvet Dress   6) Holiday Classic Tie dress in Teal



Little A wore the softest Playtime Hoodie over a cute pair of grey Bailey overalls. He loves how snuggly the hoodie is and wants to wear it constantly.



And if you can’t pick just one photo from your shoot, you can always go with this Merry Christmas Collage card that makes it possible to enjoy bunches of photos fun.



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Give Your Guests a Home Away From Home

By Kim Vargo / 11.05.14

Fires are crackling, lights are twinkling, and before you know it, turkeys will be roasting and shiny paper will be peeled away, revealing thoughtful gifts and curiosities. All that to say, it’s that time of year in which friends and family come together, and chances are – to put it quite bluntly! – they’ll need a warm place to stay. Our calendar is already filling up with out-of-towners, which has been a great push to get our spare room up to snuff! We’ve been working on gathering all the guest room essentials, browsing inspiration photos and hard at work installing shelves, closet systems and whimsical wallpaper. Along the way, we’ve been focusing on all those things that make your guest room a warm and welcoming place to stay, and I’d like to share some of those checklist items with you, too.


Let there be light – or not.

You know that feeling of sleeping in at a hotel, and you have those blackout shades to thank? The same should go in this room as well! Layer blinds and curtains, which will not only afford your guest privacy from close neighbors, but will give them the freedom to sleep in or wake up with the sun. At the same time, even artificial light should come with options. A dimmer to control the harsh overhead light and a sconce on either side of the bed will make them feel more at home.


Photo Credit: Better Homes & Gardens


Give them a place to work in peace.

More often than not, our guests have been known to travel with laptops, tablets and various electronics. Rather than have them use your dining or coffee tables as a landing zone, provide them with their own desk, in their own room. A side table will do in a small space, but be sure to place the mini office next to an electrical outlet. Stash a notepad and pen nearby, provide a task lamp (if there’s room), an additional phone charger and your wi-fi password. Your guest will appreciate the task area, whether they’re checking emails late into the night or simply reading their favorite blogs. Below, we re-purposed a vintage school desk!



Pack the room with travel essentials.

While the first question your guest may ask is what’s your wi-fi password?, there are other (perhaps more important) items that they’ll likely need during their stay. Put yourself two steps ahead and fill a decorative box or vase with miniature sized items that may not have made it into their suitcase – toothpaste, shampoo and a disposable razor. Have towels, washcloths and a bar of soap ready to go on those freshly washed sheets, and tuck a bottle of water and a few snacks on a bedside table.


 Photo Credit:  A Beautiful Mess


 Go the extra mile.

With the essentials handled (look at you go!), there are a few more things you can do to make their visit a memorable one. I recently visited my mom, and she had a new pair of slippers by the guest bed for my personal use; it was amazingly thoughtful! I made a mental note to step up my game for her next visit to Chicago, but there are other ways to kick it up a notch. Fold extra blankets into a basket, stack current magazine issues on a table, display a fresh bundle of flowers and tuck a thank-you note on their pillow. A cushy rug for their toes in the morning won’t go unnoticed, and a traditional alarm clock is a nice alternative to their cell phone. A tabletop fan will help those that need white noise, and empty hangers in the closet will keep their clothes wrinkle-free. These are small but welcome gestures that’ll keep your friends and family rested and ready to face a day of adventure with you!


Photo Credit: Victoria Pearson via Style by Emily Henderson


Have them sign off!

For fun, leave a travel log for your guests to sign. We customized this modern Pinhole book, which not only includes photos of our favorite haunts around our Chicago hometown, but close to 100 blank pages waiting to be filled. We’ll be encouraging our loved ones to share their favorite brunch spot, Windy City must-dos or how far they’ve travelled. This will not only be a unique way for our future guests to gather ideas, but a great memento to have of our loved ones visits.


We’re still putting the final touches on our own guest room, and we’re looking forward to our first friends’ stay at Hotel Vargo. Are there any other must-haves you’ve put into practice or would like to see as a guest yourself?


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Tips on taking great holiday photos both inside and out of home

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 10.09.14

The time is once again here.

You can almost FEEL the stress.

It’s… holiday picture time.

Every year, we put enormous stress on ourselves to get the ‘perfect’ holiday greeting. What usually happens is as follows: dress the children up, kids don’t cooperate, we end up screaming, and it’s far from having a holly jolly ANYTHING.

Here are some tips to help ease into this year’s holiday greeting.  Whether you are a photographer or Mom/Dad just trying to get a good shot these suggestions can lesson the pain and have you experiment with some new ideas this holiday season.

At home.

I’m a true believer in snapping your holiday card or your client’s holiday card at home.

Home is, after all, where the heart is. But instead of all piling up in front of the tree here are a few other spots that can make your holiday card more of your own:

1. In front of the house. Super welcoming. Home for the holidays kind of vibe.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

2. Using window light (for backlight or even light). Pile the kiddos all on a piece of furniture and start snapping.

This image uses backlighting…


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

This image uses light from a front door coming into the hallway while the second from a window.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


This backlit image was shot at golden hour. As the sun dips down outside and filters through the window, you can get some magical shots.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

3. Go to bed!

Whether it’s just the kids (or you too!) bed shots are really a fun way to get everyone in the frame with less pain.  If you want to go for more of an action shot, have the kids doing something they love to do, like jumping or reading to a younger sibling.

Don’t fall into the trap that everyone must always be looking and smiling at the camera. Let your card tell a story.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


4. Film them doing something festive.

Whether it’s making a ginger bread home, decorating, etc. these fun candids can also be used on the interior or back of the card.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


If outdoors is more your thing, head right outside your home or to a local park. The key here is to film during the most flattering light. Golden hour never disappoints as the sun drops in the sky and casts a beautiful, warm glow.

1. Find some trees the setting sun can filter through and you will have that beautiful ‘glow’ to your image:


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


2. Any festive store windows in your town? The reaction when children see them for the first time screams HOLIDAY!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

3. Scout your backyard for the best light, set up your self timer and go! And don’t feel everyone always has to be looking and smiling at the camera. Add a little more candid to your image to represent the ‘real’ of these moments.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

4, Use that first snowfall (if it occurs in time!) to your advantage for a truly seasonal card greeting.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


And finally, do not forget the opportunity to end on a high note: the back of the card.

I love putting images of children running away from the camera, backs turned or a shot of a child looking out of the window back turned onto my client’s holiday cards. It almost signals ‘the end’ of the holiday greeting.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Just remember, EVERYONE loves to receive holiday greeting cards. They put instant smiles on faces all around the world.

So don’t overthink it, or stress too much about it.

Have FUN with it, channel your inner child and best of luck capturing shot for the happiest time of year.


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Curate and Install a Perfectly Imperfect Gallery Wall

By Kim Vargo / 09.22.14

It’s no secret that the gallery wall has picked up in popularity with a vengeance over the last several years. What began as a simple way to show off your family photographs along the staircase has now become a staple in any area of the home – from a colorful display around the television, above the bed or your cozy kitchen nook, gallery walls are here to stay. Some of my favorites feature an eclectic and collected look; they’re seemingly effortless, and yet, do you find yourself struggling to find that same balance? With a little bit of prep, you can put together that perfectly imperfect wall in just a few simple steps!


Set yourself up with the proper tools. Are you looking for streamlined or varied? This is something to keep in mind from the beginning, as it will help you determine your overall look. In my case, I wanted my gallery wall to feel gathered and inspiring, while also pulling double duty to conceal the television in my home studio. To start, I grabbed from my stash of thrift store and store bought frames and set them to the side. I also rounded up the tools to complete the project:


  • Hammer and nails for lightweight frames
  • Drill and anchors for heavier frames
  • Tape measure
  • Blue tape
  • My “magic tool” (a paint stirrer plus screw!)


Stage your space. My gallery wall was going on a 4’ x 6’ space above my filing cabinet, so I measured and laid out my work area on our floor using blue painter’s tape. In my experience, this method is much more effective (not to mention, quicker!) than making paper templates of your frames.


Play with arrangement. Within the “stage,” I began laying out my frames, swapping them in, out and around. (This included my television, which was a non-negotiable within the installation.) At this point, not all of my frames had their final artwork or photographs in place, so I marked with blue tape which frames still needed prints made or mats cut. If your frames are already filled with what you love, keep this in mind as you curate your arrangement, but don’t force something to fit if it simply will not. Some of your frames might not make the cut, but that’s okay! Don’t worry about frame finishes at this point, as they can always be spray painted to your liking, if you wish.


Take a photo with your phone. Once you’re happy with your frame layout, snap a phone photo. You’ll use this for reference throughout the installation.


Now, hang your gallery! Because all of the frames have different hanging hardware, I used a paint stirrer with a screw to find that perfect placement – no measuring required! With the frame wire on the screw, I gently push the frame against the wall, leaving a small mark where my nail should go (as my husband so graciously demonstrates). A gallery wall has a purposeful gathered look, so I encourage you to use just your eyes and your phone photo as needed. If you have a non-negotiable within your gallery (in my case, the television), I’d recommend starting there and working outwards. Remember to use anchors for heavier frames!

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If at this point you still need to order prints, photographs or any artwork, you’ll already have the majority of the work done! I find that it’s better to curate the aesthetic look of your gallery first, rather than hope, for example, a horizontal print will fit in a vertical space. My collection includes memories and artwork that I adore – from vintage photographs to friend’s art, to a Pinhole framed photo of my husband and me in Paris and even an antique print we purchased while there.

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Perhaps my favorite photo is a small shot of our home’s renovation journey, taken in the same room as the gallery wall!

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Curating your own gallery wall doesn’t need to be difficult, rather, it should reflect your personality and display pieces close to your heart. Whether you’re going for inspirational, quirky or humorous, remember to – what is it that I always say? – have fun with it!


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