Thomas Rhett

The country superstar showcases his diverse musical sensibility

Genre Labels

I’m always trying to figure out where country music is heading, and this record (Center Point Road) has that perfect balance of pop-leaning progressive and the songwriting side, which is the truest side. If you record in a genre, then you are recording in a box and that’s not how music was supposed to be made. There are a lot of things on here that are pop and hip-hop influenced. 

Getting Personal

I never in a million years thought I’d be writing records like I am now. After my first record, there weren’t many songs that were personal about me, because I didn’t know that it was OK to do that—it really wasn’t until about “Die a Happy Man,” [that I did] and I was still nervous to put that song out. But when I saw what it did, it really opened a lot of doors to say, “Hey, maybe if I do write personally then this will really resonate with a lot of people out there.”

Screen Break

I think the thing to do in country music these days is to have a gigantic video screen, a bunch of lights, and then play a bunch of your music videos behind your songs. But I’ve noticed a lot of fans start to just watch the music video rather than watching the show. So we’re not going to do video screens—period—this year. We’re going to make the biggest light show anybody’s ever seen. We’ll make it like an event, and like every song has its own unique experience to it.

September 14 at United Center
1901 W. Madison, Chicago
Tickets: $59.75–$104.75,

Open Gym

By Kristina McGrath

Low humidity and mild temperatures—and the impending threat of the cold weather to come—make September the perfect month to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Instead of hitting the gym, why not head to one of three local parks? Nike Sports Complex (288 W. Diehl Rd.), Meadow Glens Park (1303 Muirhead Ave.), and Commissioners Park (3704 111th St.) all have outdoor fitness stations, plus surrounding jogging paths. Jogging from station to station is a nice way to incorporate cardio into your day’s workout.  

GOAL: Connect with nature, get some fresh air and vitamin D, and get in a great workout. Teens (13+) and adults can tailor the exercises for all fitness levels. Perform three sets of each movement, 10 to 15 reps, resting 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

EQUIPMENT: Each station includes an illustrated guide to the exercises.
Adjust resistance on machines as needed. Search the Naperville Park District’s YouTube channel for videos of each workout.

Pull-Up and Dip

Multiple strength-building exercises for the upper body. Pull-ups work the lats, and dips work the chest and triceps.

Ab Crunch and Leg Lift

Works both the upper and lower abdominals to tone your core. Insert feet into upper bar to perform sit-ups. While lying on bench, hold lower bar and lift legs 90 degrees.

Squat Press

Step under the machine arm to work quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Change the level of resistance by turning the knob on the base for this move that builds leg and hip muscle endurance.

Chest Press and Seated Row

Push out to work your chest (chest press), and pull in to work your back muscles (seated row). Adjust the resistance under the seat.

Assisted Row and PushUp

This upper-body workout exercises multiple muscles with several activities in one station. Bars of multiple heights accommodate all fitness levels.

Illustrations by Ievgenii Volyk

Cranberry Surprise

Yield: 8 servings

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup real maple syrup

¾ cup water

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

freshly grated nutmeg

1 pound fresh cranberries

4 navel oranges, peeled and cut into segments

½ cup chopped walnuts

In a 3-quart saucepan, bring sugars, water, syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Add the cranberries, then continue to simmer, uncovered, stirring until the cranberries begin to pop. 

Remove from heat and stir in the orange segments and walnuts. Serve warm. 

This recipe is from Abbey Farms’ Fresh Flavors: Pleasing Pairings for the Holidays cooking class with chef Dave Voirin on September 5.

Photo courtesy Abbey Farms

2019 Best of Naperville award winners

By Christie Willhite

What’s your go-to shop for a unique gift? What hits the spot when you need dessert? Who can save your outdated bathroom? We asked for your beloved businesses in Naperville, and you answered the call, casting more than 15,000 total votes. Read on for this year’s 50 favs—the 2019 Best of Naperville award winners. 

Shopping and retail

Women’s Boutique 

Bri’Zan Couture

Known for personalized service, Bri’Zan offers two-hour appointments to ensure a bride can try on every dress she might like. Consultants listen to a bride’s vision and offer suggestions until, together, they find her dream dress. The boutique offers the same care for those shopping for bridesmaid, mother-of-the-bride, prom, quinceanera, and other special event dresses.

Runners up

• Evereve

• Karisma Boutique

Gift Shop 


The selection of distinctive jewelry, candles, serving pieces, home decor, holiday items, accessories, and more makes Occasions a must-visit spot for every gift-giving opportunity, whether shopping for a persnickety aunt, a fashionable friend, or the perennial hostess. Styles range from shabby chic to quirky to elegant. Most pieces are artist-designed, and every so often the boutique hosts artist events. 3027 English Rows Ave.

Runners up

• Nona Jo’s

• SaraBoo Creek

Car wash 

Delta Sonic

This franchise aims to be a one-stop shop for routine car care and maintenance. In addition to the ride-through car wash with hand drying, Delta Sonic’s service menu features interior detailing, oil changes, and light repairs, along with free self-serve vacuums. Memberships offer customers a set monthly fee or discounts for services. The Naperville location includes a gas station, convenience store, and Dunkin’.

Runners up

• Brighton Auto Detailing

• Fuller’s Car Wash


Costello Jewelry Company

A classic jewelry store in the heart of downtown Naperville, Costello strives to offer fine jewelry at fair prices. The store, which has a second location in Glen Ellyn, staffs full-time artisans and gemologists to offer original pieces. Jewelry repairs, adjustments, cleaning, and appraisals also are available.

Runners up

• The Diamond Gallery of Naperville

• Fey & Co. Jewelers

Pet Store 

Two Bostons Pet Boutique

When dog lovers want to spoil their pooch, their favorite destination is Two Bostons, where they’ll find unique treats, toys, food, clothes, and more. The Naperville shops—downtown and in Springbrook Prairie shopping center—even feature bakery items especially for pets. The staff is eager to help customers find items suited for their pets, even if their furry friends are cats.

Runners up

• Dog Patch Pet and Feed

• Pet Supplies Plus


Phillip’s Flowers and Gifts

Customers can choose every bloom in a custom-crafted bouquet, or be on their way in a matter of minutes with one of the prepared options that come in an array of sizes, colors and flower combinations. The shop offers wedding services, funeral arrangements, and corsages, and will deliver locally directly or nationwide through FTD and Teleflora.  Floral- and garden-themed gifts are available in the Ogden Avenue location of this family-owned west suburban chain.

Runners up

• Celidan Creations

• Trudy’s Flowers

Auto dealer 

Continental Motors Group

Customers say it’s the knowledgeable, attentive staff that sets Continental Motors Group’s Acura, Audi, and Mazda dealerships in Naperville apart from the competition. Family-owned and operated, Continental also is known for its support for community causes, providing cars for families in need through Loaves and Fishes’ CARES car donation program and raising money for groups such as DuPage PADS, Inside Out Club DuPage, and Turning Pointe Autism Foundation.

Runners up

• Gerald Auto Group

• Fair Oaks Ford Lincoln

Men’s Store 

Dean’s Clothing

Dean’s, a downtown institution since 1959, carries upscale business attire and weekend wear for men and women. Made-to-measure men’s suits and dress shirts are crafted to fit each individual. An in-house tailor helps customers achieve a personalized fit. With Dean’s selection of accessories, jewelry and shoes, customers can put together a complete outfit—or wardrobe.

Runners up

• JoS. A. Bank

• Trails & Tides

Food, Drink & Hospitality


Sharko’s BBQ

Awarded honors for Best Sauce at Naperville’s first Ribfest, Sharko’s BBQ now serves diners with two Naperville locations. Here the spotlight is on ribs, and the menu also includes brisket, chicken, and turkey sandwiches, along with meats sold by the ounce or by the piece. Families especially will enjoy the free soft-serve ice cream cones to finish off their meals.

Runners up


• Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ


Aurelio’s Pizza

Thin, crispy crust. Just the right cheese and toppings to order. Square-cut pieces instead of slices. Aurelio’s pizza has many distinctive qualities, but fans say what lifts it above the ordinary is the signature sweet sauce. The menu includes six specialty pizzas, in addition to the build-your-own options, plus an array of appetizers, thick crust and stuffed pizzas, calabreses, sandwiches, and pasta dishes.

Runners up

• Little Italian Pizza

• Lou Malnati’s


Little Italian Pizza

If you’re just ordering pizza from Little Italian, you’re missing out on some of the restaurant’s tastiest dishes. Start with the bruschetta or sausage and peppers, then head for the homemade lasagna or gnocchi quattro formaggi. Or try the traditional parmigiana—this hand-breaded and fried dish is baked with mozzarella and marinara and served over rigatoni, but save room for the homemade tiramisu. Little Italian also hosts private parties and will cater your event.

Runners up

• Che Figata

• Francesca’s Restaurants


Catch 35

As a premier seafood and steak restaurant, Catch 35 brings in fresh seafood for signature dishes like Chilean sea bass, Alaska king crab legs, seared yellowfin tuna, and Sichuan scallops, as well as seasonal favorites such as Alaskan halibut and Georges Bank cod. Customers say the food is as delicious at lunch as at dinner. A halal menu, including a choice of chicken or steak, is available when requested 24 hours in advance.

Runners up

• Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House

• Chinn’s 34th Street Fishery

Outdoor dining 

Mesón Sabika

This famed eatery describes itself as “a taste of Spain,” a phrase meant literally for a restaurant that specializes in tapas. Diners are encouraged to order a sampling of three or four Spanish-flavored dishes to eat on their own or to share with the table. The restaurant itself is a converted 1847 mansion, seating diners in various rooms that afford a feeling of exclusivity. Situated on four acres, Mesón Sabika’s beloved brick patio is a place where food lovers can enjoy a meal and some sangria away from the bustle of nearby downtown Naperville.

Runners up

• Empire Burgers + Brew

• Potter’s Place

Romantic restaurant 

Mesón Sabika 

See outdoor dining, above

Runners up

• Sullivan’s Steakhouse

• Francesca’s Restaurants

Specialty desserts 

Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery

When a little cake would make a big difference, readers say to head to Smallcakes. The cupcake bakery features a standing menu of 15 flavors—classic chocolate and vanilla plus specialties like hot fudge sundae, birthday cake, lemon drop, and red velvet—along with 18 flavors each month, including gluten-free varieties. Customers rave about the Smash, a layered cupcake-and-gelato delicacy. The Ogden Avenue shop even offers dog-friendly cupcakes.

Runners up

• Le Chocolat du Bouchard

• Beans and Sweets


Egg Harbor Café

This downtown spot for traditional breakfast comfort foods features eggs from cage-free hens raised on a diet free from antibiotics and hormones. When possible, other ingredients are organic, local, and sustainably sourced. The result is hearty, delicious breakfasts, brunches, and lunches that keep diners coming back for more. A gluten-free menu includes pancakes and cinnamon rolls, and coffee served in a carafe for the table is a special touch. Guests can enjoy the scenic Riverwalk, including Dandelion Fountain and a charming covered bridge, just steps away.

Runners up

• Buttermilk

• Butterfield’s Pancake House


House of Emperor

A Cantonese-style restaurant with an extensive menu, House of Emperor serves dishes as individual entrées or as part of a multicourse buffet for the table. The fresh lobster and Peking duck are customer favorites, along with the Hong Kong-style eggplant. The menu is available for carry-out orders, and the staff easily handles the largest of parties dining in.

Runners up

• MingHin Cuisine

• Chinese Kitchen

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern 

Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill

Founded in Naperville in 2009, Naf Naf has grown into a chain of nearly 40 restaurants in the Midwest with an eye toward further expansion through franchising. Each location serves a menu of fresh products, including locally baked pitas and handmade chicken shawarma and falafel from recipes that made the first Naf Naf a hit.

Runners up

• Basil’s Greek Dining

• Pita Inn


The Indian Harvest

The restaurant offers a sizable dinner menu with vegetarian options along with chicken, lamb, seafood, and rice specialties, but Indian Harvest may be best known for its lunch buffet. The selection introduces diners to a smaller sampling of the full menu, and is served with tandoori chicken and naan. Catering is available.

Runners up

• Cuisine of India

• Deccan Spice


Sullivan’s Steakhouse

An upscale steakhouse in the heart of downtown Naperville, Sullivan’s prepares hand-cut steaks to diners’ specifications and pairs them with complementary sides like the popular garlic mashed potatoes. Regular customers say the lengthy cocktail menu and tasty desserts enhance the meal. Sullivan’s bar features an appetizer-and-meal menu of its own, with live music Thursday through Saturday.

Runners up

• CityGate Grille

• Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House

Coffee shop 


Naperville offers plenty of choices for coffee aficionados, but readers say it’s worth seeking out Lavazza in Hotel Arista. The Italian coffee chain is known for its espresso and creative coffee drinks, such as the popular Orange Mocha Mio. Baked goods, plus breakfast and lunch options, round out the menu. The café has a street entrance, with street and garage parking, making it a convenient place to meet friends and associates.

Runners up

• Starbucks

• Sparrow Coffee

Beer bar 


Aurelio’s highly rated pizza is only part of the restaurant’s story. Aur Bar serves a lengthy beer list dominated by local brews and craft beers, both bottled and on tap. A beer of the month and a changing collection of featured beers encourage customers to try new and seasonal brews.

Runners up

• Red Arrow Tap Room

• Empire Burgers + Brew

Sports bar 

Tap In Pub & Carvery

Fans not only can watch their favorite teams on the TVs throughout Tap In Pub’s bar and restaurant, but they also can compete themselves. HD golf simulators allow golfers to test themselves against famous courses, such as Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and Bethpage Black. The food itself can be a contest—the Ultimate Smash Challenge dares the hungry to polish off a four-patty burger and a pound of fries in 30 minutes or less.

Runners up

• Bottoms Up Sports Bar & Grill

• Crosstown Pub & Grill

Cocktail bar 

Zorba Lounge

An upscale, contemporary lounge in Hotel Arista, Zorba mixes creative, tasty cocktails and serves quality liquors. With black leather couches and benches around sleek glass coffee tables, Zorba invites associates to discuss business over a drink and friends to share memories over a nightcap.

Runners up


• Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House

Southeast Asian 

Pho Thien Vietnamese Kitchen

While regulars love the pho menu at Pho Thien, they can’t get enough of the restaurant’s weekend special: bun bo hue. The soup starts with pork and beef bones, plus lemongrass, annatto, and shrimp paste, and is topped with herbs, lime juice, and extras. Customers also declare the smoothies are a special treat.

Runners up

• The Bangkok Village Restaurant

• Yum Yum Thai


My Chef Catering

Whether you need casual noshes for an intimate gathering, breakfast for a corporate meeting, or an elegant dinner for hundreds of wedding guests, My Chef has the menu to make the event special – from a picnic with burgers, brats and kebabs, to a wedding dinner centered around beef tenderloin or Chilean sea bass.

Runners up

• SanguCHE

• Chef By Request


Jackson Avenue Pub

Set in a cozy brick building downtown, Jackson Avenue Pub strives to serve creative, gourmet bar food paired with local and craft beers. Specialty burgers are built around a choice of half-pound Angus beef, grilled chicken breast, or black bean and quinoa vegetarian patty, with unique combinations of toppings, all served on a selection of buns, including a pretzel bun and a gluten-free option.

Runners up

• Empire Burgers + Brew

• Ted’s Montana Grill

Special Event Venue 

Cress Creek Country Club

The banquet room in the plantation-style clubhouse overlooks Cress Creek’s golf course, providing an elegant setting for events and celebrations, while the attentive staff helps plan and see to every detail. In addition to hosting parties, business events, and wedding receptions, Cress Creek welcomes wedding ceremonies both indoors and outdoors, against the sweeping backdrop of the North Side golf course.

Runners up

• Elements at Water Street

• Mesón Sabika

Entertainment Venue 

BrightSide Theatre

Proudly proclaiming itself as the only professional theater company performing in downtown Naperville, BrightSide each year stages an eclectic season that may feature award-winners, premieres, classics, and modern works. The upcoming season opens with A Christmas Carol: The Musical and features the drama Steel Magnolias, the rom-com Mamma Mia!, and a concert version of the musical Nine. BrightSide’s Youth Project will stage Frozen Junior.

Runners up

• Top Golf

• Pinot’s Palette

Live Music Venue 

Wentz Concert Hall

Renown for its stellar acoustics that can be tuned to a performer’s liking, Wentz Concert Hall is home to North Central’s fine and performing arts and draws a broad variety of venerable and contemporary touring performers (jazz musician Herb Alpert and improv comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood headline the upcoming season).  Both the Chicago Sinfonietta and the DuPage Symphony Orchestra perform their concert seasons at the venue.

Runners up

• Potter’s Place

• Board & Barrel


Hotel Arista

An independent boutique hotel, Hotel Arista is a getaway all on its own. Guests find contemporary rooms and suites well-appointed with smart TVs, Bluetooth speakers, televisions embedded in the bathroom mirror, and even a choice of slumber style from the pillow “menu.” With a spa and fitness center in the hotel, and on-site restaurants Che Figata, Zorba Lounge, Lavazza, and the Tap In Pub & Carvery, guests may not want to leave.

Runners up

• Hotel Indigo

• Chicago Marriott Naperville

Japanese and Sushi 

Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge

Sushi may come second in Shinto’s name, but it’s first in the hearts of customers, many of whom make the most of Mondays, when the dishes are half-price. The sushi’s a bit of a fusion, marrying traditional flavors with cream cheese, jalapeños, or Sriracha. The hibachi menu features steak, seafood, and vegetarian selections.

Runners up

• Kiku Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge

• Blue Sushi Saki Grill

American (Tie) 

Ted’s Montana Grill

In an upscale setting that echoes a classic western saloon, Ted’s serves a menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrées where bison is the star ingredient. Diners can select either bison or beef steaks, and burgers are offered as a choice of bison, beef, or chicken. Customers celebrate the complimentary pickles, hearty sides, and tasty desserts and cocktails, as well as the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability.

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish house

Decidedly upscale with a multicourse menu, Hugo’s caters to the seafood lover with fresh salmon, tuna, Chilean sea bass, plus specialties like whitefish, shrimp, crab legs, and lobster. Gibson’s prime Angus beef is served in a variety of cuts. Regulars enjoy the signature frog legs, plus the elevated cocktail and dessert menus. Live music and seasonal alfresco dining add to the Main Street Promenade experience.

Runner up

• Jackson Avenue Pub



Named for the Peruvian word for sandwich, SanguCHE boasts serving “epic Peruvian sandwiches” drawing on the flavors of Indigenous, Spanish, Italian, African, and Asian cuisine. Fresh ingredients and recipes developed by co-owner Cesar Chang, a chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute of Lima, set the sandwiches apart. Customers also love sides like the Peru poutine and treats like the alfajores cookies, which are available daily until they run out.

Runners up

• Quiubo

• Fat Rosie’s


Dental Practice 

Innovative Dental Partners

This practice strives to offer comprehensive service, providing complete care for families, offering pediatric and adult dental care, as well as orthodontics. The practice has a welcoming, spa-like atmosphere, and uses the latest technology to ensure treatments are safe, gentle, minimally invasive, and effective.

Runners up

• Riverwalk Family Dental

• Gantos Dental Group


Mike Martin Photography

Photographer Mike Martin focuses on senior portraits, taking time with each teen to capture natural, relaxed photos that show their personalities in this pivotal year. Martin turns Naperville’s natural areas and iconic locations into backdrops for his two-hour sessions, and adds studio lighting to flatter his subjects. Family portrait sessions also are available.

Runners up

• Veronica Adams Photography

• The Zazu Exchange

Hair Salon 

Studio Luxe Hair Salon

Even if you don’t know what to do with your hair, the stylists at Studio Luxe do. Clients praise the staff for listening, then knowing how to combine the right cut with color and other treatments to compliment the client’s look. Stylists regularly take classes—sometimes even traveling abroad—to stay on top of trends and techniques. The salon uses Davines color and products.

Runners up

• Solaia Salon & Spa

• Zazu Salon & Day Spa



When you need to recharge, Me Spa can make you feel like you’ve found a resort amid the bustle of downtown Naperville. The spa features a range of restorative massages and body treatments—from the 30-minute reflexology foot treatment to the 80-minute organic herbal body contouring wrap. Classic and deep tissue massages ease aches, soreness, and tension, while the relaxing hot river stone massage melts away stress. The full-service spa also offers facials, waxing, and manis and pedis. Thoughtful touches include fuzzy robes, heated neck wraps, a foot bath before services, and a relaxation room where clients continue to unwind afterward. Clients say the zero-gravity pedicures are not to be missed.

Runners up

• Solaia Salon & Spa

• Tilson Chiropractic FamilyCare

Full-Service Spa 

See Massage, above

Runners up

• Solaia Salon & Spa

• Zazu Salon & Day Spa

Medical Practice/Group 

DuPage Medical Group

Since 1999, DMG has provided a continuum of patient care from pediatrics and primary care physicians to specialists, simplifying the process of coordinating on behalf of the patient. With more than 700 physicians in more than 100 locations, DuPage Medical Group treats about a third of the county’s population and is the state’s largest independent multi-specialty physician group. Practices offer video appointments, and all use the MyChart digital records service that even has an app allowing users to make appointments, message doctors, and view test results right on their phones.

Runners up

• Edward Medical Group

• Naperville Women’s Healthcare

Law Firm 

Rosenberg & Parker

Founded in 2016 when partners Blake Rosenberg and Heather Parker merged their individual practices, Rosenberg & Parker provides legal services in residential real estate transactions such as preparing or reviewing sales contracts, reviewing and resolving title issues, and preparing documents for closing. Rosenberg draws on his previous experience handling closings for a title company, and Parker’s background includes financial services litigation and mortgages.

Runners up

• Heather Ryan Law

• Grunyk Family Law

Chiropractic Practice 

Tilson Chiropractic FamilyCare

This comprehensive practice treats adults and children, helping patients find pain relief and healing through adjustments in conjunction with laser, massage, or vibration therapies; intersegmental traction; and kinesiology. Tilson’s professionals also can help athletes and weekend warriors overcome and stave off injuries.

Runners up

• Advanced Health of Naperville

• Elite Recovery Chiropractic

Investment Adviser 

Calamos Wealth Management

Providing clients with personalized guidance through a team of financial and legal experts, Calamos coordinates all through a wealth adviser who keeps the individual’s unique challenges and goals at the forefront. Family financial planning may focus on preparing for college or retirement, estate planning, philanthropic giving, and more.

Runners up

• Edward Jones

• Ledebuhr Wealth Management

Fitness Club 

Orangetheory Fitness

In small group classes that focus on cardio and strength training, Orangetheory clients (and trainers) monitor their fitness in real time. Using high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, the ever-changing workouts are designed to push clients’ heart rates into the target orange zone on a wearable monitor that connects to displays on treadmills and other equipment. The theory? Spend enough time in the orange zone and your body continues to benefit after the workout (the “Orange Effect”) for even better results.

Runners up

• Beyond Measure Fitness Training

• Olympus Executive Fitness Center

Plastic Surgeon 

Bryan W. Rubach

Dr. Bryan W. Rubach is the director of the Center for Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, which provides both surgical and nonsurgical treatments to help clients enhance their self-image. He was involved in the initial clinical research on laser resurfacing, and brought CoolSculpting and other treatments to the Chicago area.

Runners up

• John Bull Jr.

• James Ferlmann

Mortgage Lender 

Inlanta Mortgage

A regional mortgage company serving much of the Midwest and Florida, Inlanta Mortgage guides homeowners with conventional mortgages as well as FHA, VA, and USDA options.

Runners up

• Chase Bank

• U.S. Bank



Reliable Home Improvement

In business since 1967, Reliable offers start-to-finish services on home remodeling, improvements, and additions with in-house designers, architects, job superintendents, and craftsmen. The firm specializes in finishing basements and updating kitchens and baths. A 15,000-square-foot showroom (open to the public), features full-size vignettes of kitchens, baths, and more, to spark client creativity.

Runners up

• DJK Custom Homes

• Strahan Construction


C.B. Conlin Landscapes

Whether you’re looking to turn your yard into a lush oasis or dreaming of a stone patio with a fireplace and an outdoor kitchen, C.B. Conlin Landscapes has the design expertise to make it happen. The company designs and installs landscapes; imagines and installs pool decks and patios with a focus on natural stone, brick, and precast concrete; and creates pergolas, decks, and more.

Runners up (3-way tie)

• Green Works Landscaping

• J&B Landscape Solutions

• Oak Grove Gardeners

Realty Company 

John Greene Realtor

As a family-owned boutique Realtor, John Greene staffs full-time agents who have a deep knowledge of—and commitment to—the community. Backed by supportive training, agents not only help clients find their next house, they offer the Realtor’s City Guide and business recommendations to help newcomers feel at home. John Greene also provides commercial, land, and industrial real estate services.

Runners up

• Baird and Warner Real Estate

• Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage


djk custom homes

Whether you want to select the finishing touches for your new home or prefer to design your dream house from floor plan to cabinet pulls, DJK offers the experienced architects and design experts to make your vision a reality. The builder, founded in 1988 by Dan Kittilsen and his wife, Kim, crafts high performance houses that emphasize energy efficiency. DJK’s Eco-Smart line includes the city’s first homes to qualify for LEED platinum-level certification.

Runners up

• Lakewest Custom Homes

• Eastman Properties

Illustration by Maeve Norton

Hang On

Whatever their size, pendants have taken over Pinterest—and the most stylish homes

Machinist Glass Cloche Pendant: Restoration Hardware, $625–$1,195

Leighton Pendant: Room & Board, $299

Ray Quartz Pendant: CB2, $799

Net Globe Indoor-Outdoor Pendant: Pottery Barn, $299

One Light Mini Pendant: Lightsource Lighting, $144

Pod Multi-Light Pendant: Galleria Lighting, $1,548

One Light Pendant: DuPage Lighting, $1,030

Fulton Pendant: Ferguson, $1,549

Room by Room

Today’s modern home isn’t just about the ever-popular open floor plan. Dining spaces are becoming more casual. The study has become more useful than ever with the rise of remote work. The formal living room (as it once was) is all but dead—instead, families are converting the space into a playroom or forgoing it altogether—making the family room the primary gathering and entertaining space. And, of course, every homeowner needs a blissful master bedroom for the day’s end retreat. 

We asked four local designers to walk us through the creation of these rooms in homes around the western suburbs. Whether you’re in the throes of a home remodel, or just daydreaming about a redesign, prepare to be inspired.

Master Bedroom—For an offbeat twist, Bowman positioned artwork on either side of the bed. “I just wanted to incorporate them a little bit differently than you might typically see,” she says. “You don’t have to put anything over the headboard.” The table legs, vase, and lamp base all feature different metallic finishes. “Trying not to be too matchy with things, and mixing metals, will also help to keep the space timeless as well … as metals go in and out of trend,” Bowman says.

Leslie Bowman
The Design Bar, Burr Ridge

This Western Springs master bedroom is a picture-perfect example of design director Leslie Bowman’s “transitional glam” style, which mixes formal, glamorous pieces with organic elements. 

Draperies in a charcoal geometric shibori fabric inspired Bowman to decorate the room in shades of gray, from light gray paint on the walls to the deeper tone of a dramatically tall upholstered headboard. Paired with white bedding, that headboard provides a neutral base for pillows in a whimsical gray print that could be switched with other colors years later, or even seasonally. “You can add in blue; you can add in hot pink; you can add in green … you could even throw orange in there and it would look pretty,” she says.

And her one tip for a bedroom? “Never buy the whole bedroom set,” Bowman says. She especially likes nonmatching nightstands. For this room, she used an oval table on one side and a bed table with iridescent capiz shell drawers on the other. 

Photo by Erin McCarthy

Study—Built-in drawers beneath the window seat provide bonus storage, while the tweedy seat cushions and striped pillows lend a pleasing punch of pattern. Grass cloth wallpaper on all four walls provides a rich, organic-looking texture. “The grass cloth is a natural material with an underlying hint of that slate [blue color],” Abrams says.

Michael Abrams
Michael Abrams Interiors, Chicago

At this family’s newly built home in Hinsdale, the study was separate from the rest of the open-concept first floor—including its neutral tones and white trim. “It gave us the opportunity to do something very different and dramatic, with doing a dark trim color that we don’t have anywhere else in the house,” Michael Abrams says.

The rug, with its subtle geometric print, was Abrams’s springboard for the room’s palette of ivory with shades of slate blue. “It provides some contrast [against the darker floor, trim and walls] and it has that subtle hint of slate blue-gray undertone, so I think that really pops.”

A desk, credenza, and side table—painted white and slate blue, respectively—provide storage in the form of pull-out trays to hide equipment such as a printer or shredder, along with a few file drawers. “We are seeing so much less demand for file space these days,” Abrams says. “People are not heavy paper users as they were.”

Dark iron hardware on the credenza and window seat drawers matches the iron chandelier and sconces. “I like to layer in lighting sources and give as many different sources as possible … so you can have different lighting levels depending on the day or what you’re doing,” he says. 

Photo by Scott Shigley

Dining Room—White sheer curtain panels with a geometric pattern add a contrasting softness to the room’s hard surfaces.

Lauren Collander
LC Interiors, Naperville

When you step through the front door of this Woodridge home, the dining room is the very first thing you’ll see. “[The family] wanted this ‘wow’ moment, and they also wanted it to be a more casual dining space,” says interior designer Lauren Collander, owner of LC Interiors. 

A round wooden table sets the laid-back tone from the start. “I wanted the room to feel as large as possible … and with the darker table and darker floors, it feels bigger,” she says. Collander selected the cognac leather chairs for their warm hue and durable, kid-friendly finish.

A board-and-batten wall painted charcoal gray adds architectural detail, while a matte black metal chandelier with smoky glass orbs draws the eye upward. “It’s triangularly shaped, so it offers a different geometry than the round table … and really coordinates with geometry of the chair legs,” Collander says.

Photo by Marcel Page Photography

Family Room—Alonso-Carmona whitewashed the original tan stone fireplace and replaced the original smaller mantel with this chunkier reclaimed wooden beam. “I wanted to bring in a rug that was very forgiving to kids and animals but would still look lush and beautiful,” Alonso-Carmona says. This woven sisal and wool rug is “fairly indestructible—it won’t absorb any liquids or things of that nature.”

Gaby Alonso-Carmona
Urban 1111 Design, Lombard

For this home remodel in Wheaton, the homeowners hired principal interior designer Gaby Alonso-Carmona to transform their family room into a more adult space where their three children could also be comfortable. 

“The formal living room became a playroom, so they wanted the family room to be a place where they can entertain and not feel embarrassed about it,” she says. The result is light and bright with an eclectic farmhouse vibe. 

Alonso-Carmona positioned a clean-lined modern sofa across from the fireplace and softened it with an armful of pillows. A pair of gray chairs with nailhead trim, and square ottomans in a cowhide motif, round out the seating options. “It’s also soft place for the kids, so nobody’s running straight into the fireplace,” she says. 

To outfit the existing shelves, Alonso-Carmona shopped the other rooms of the family’s home and repurposed some accessories that matched the farmhouse feel; she also added some new pieces, such as the curvy gold sculptures on the mantel. “Metal, geometric pieces don’t go out of style,” she says. “I always try to integrate them into any of the decors I do, traditional or ultramodern.”

Photo by T. Greene Photography

Oak Brook Taste

Tomato salad with feta and cucumber

Four Lettuce Entertain You restaurant brands will host a special culinary event on September 23. Chefs from Mon Ami Gabi, Beatrix, AnticoPosto, and Wildfire have created a four-course menu with wine pairings to showcase offerings from each location. $75/person. Passed appetizers and first pairing at 6:30 p.m., seated dinner at 7 p.m. Call 630.586.9000 for reservations. Wildfire, 232 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook.


Pappardelle al cinghiale

Restaurateur Wendy Reed opened the comfortable eatery Gaetano’s in downtown Batavia with a partner in 2014. But after a medical leave of absence last year, Reed took sole ownership of the business in 2019 and has rebranded the Italian restaurant with a new name: Veritá, which means truth in Italian. 

“The inspiration for the name comes from Roman mythology and the story of Veritas, the beautiful goddess,” says Reed. She worked closely with a designer to implement new signage, intended to attract the eyes of pedestrians and motorists passing the restaurant’s prime location at the corner of River and Wilson Streets, as well as to put her personal mark on the space. 

“This is about how our restaurant has evolved. We are upscale without being pretentious,” says Reed. “We think our love for the food shows in every dish we serve, and our love for our guests shows in how we welcome them in and invite them to be a part of our family for the evening.”

Menu favorites include handmade pasta, crab cake al chipotle ai frutta, and filetto di chinghiale (Wild Boar tenderloin).

Lifespring Ministries

A young Lifespring Ministries resident, Bella, with volunteer mentor Janet Hershey

Janet Hershey knows what it’s like to be a single, teenage mom struggling with addiction. As a mother of two by the age of 18, she was fortunate enough to have the support of her family. Now she pays it forward by mentoring other women suffering from addiction, abuse, and financial difficulties as a volunteer through Lifespring Ministries.

Located in Aurora, Lifespring is a division of Wayside Cross Ministries that provides long-term transitional living programs for homeless women. As a Christ-centered recovery program, Lifespring focuses on healing the whole person through Bible studies and biblical counseling, as well as classes in parenting, finances, cooking, nutrition, GED tutoring, computer skills, and résumé writing. 

Women live in the facility from six months to a year in adherence to strict rules designed to empower them to turn their lives around. “The program is very structured,” Hershey says. “It helps women to really look at their personal issues, figure out what brought them here, and what they need to do in order to break the cycle.”

Housing is available both to individual women and those with children. Residents share cooking and housekeeping responsibilities as they learn to work together and live in a cooperative environment. Hershey points out that working through issues together is a big part of the program. “When you are at the worst point of your life, and you end up at a place with other women who are at the worst point in their lives, it can be very challenging. Plus many [residents] are moms with very different parenting styles and abilities. They really have to be committed to the program in order to succeed.” If someone doesn’t follow the rules, they are asked to leave to make room for someone else. The need is so great that Lifespring turns away 24 families (about 40 to 50 children) and 14 women without children every month, simply due to a lack of space.

Once residents graduats from the program they are able to receive 12 to 18 months of additional support, including living in one of Lifespring’s apartments. Regardless of where they live, Lifespring helps them furnish and set up their new homes with items donated to the Wayside Cross thrift shops. At this point in the program, the women have jobs, with their children in a safe environment. They have built up a support network and are on their way to self-sufficiency. “Although not everyone is a success story, many women I’ve worked with have graduated from the program, have their own apartments, and are doing really well,” Hershey says. Committed to their success, she always encourages them to reach out to her whenever they feel the need.

Hershey began volunteering at Lifespring nine years ago. After finding her faith in her mid-’30s, she felt a strong calling to help others. One day she noticed a childhood friend on social media, who had been addicted to heroin, was living at Lifespring. Surprised she had never heard of the local nonprofit before, Hershey immediately volunteered as a mentor. 

“When I first meet women there, they can’t imagine that I’ve faced similar struggles. I share my story with them and let them know I’ve been there. I’ve been addicted. I got pregnant in my teens. I’ve been emotionally and physically abused. But now I’m a successful businessperson. If I can do it, so can they,” she says. “Lifespring truly cares about the people who stay there. I know God wants me there to help these women. Their pain is so much greater than mine.” 

Lifespring Ministry’s annual benefit dinner will be held on September 19 at Danada House in Wheaton. To volunteer, purchase tickets, or learn more, visit

Photo courtesy Janet Hershey

Old Pieces, New Life

They don’t make them like they used to” is a familiar refrain among furniture shoppers, who often long for the unique designs, classic craftsmanship or sentimental associations of an old end table or bookshelf. But can’t quite make those outdated pieces work amid their more contemporary surroundings. Decorative painter Laura Campbell believes that in many cases all it takes to bridge the gap between past and present—and to save money, update one’s home and help reduce waste in the process—is a good coat of paint. 

Best bets

Campbell says end tables, bookshelves, and bedroom furniture tend to be the most common redo projects, especially when someone likes the look and size of a piece but it just doesn’t match their décor. Other popular candidates are items where the owners like the sentimental value, but not the look—like grandma’s curio cabinet or an old portable bar cabinet from the ’50s. “There’s a sense of pride when tackling a project, especially with a piece of furniture that has a special history or meaning to it,” she says.

The right materials

Just about anyone can be a furniture rehabber, according to Campbell, as long as they do some solid prep work. This means having sandpaper, oil-based primer, quality paint, and a wax or polyurethane sealer on hand and ready to go.

Eschewing perfection 

Campbell says to start small with something small, like an end table or accent piece, and just let the muse take it from there.  “Remember that there’s a little artist in all of us—it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “Painting something with a perfectly smooth and flawless finish can be hard to do, but nowadays everyone likes the distressed/worn look anyway.”

Photograph by John Jennings

Inclusive Play

It has been a team effort to bring an all-inclusive playground to the Lisle Park District, which is expected to begin construction in Community Park (1825 Short St.) this fall. The idea began with Lisle Park District director Dan Garvy, who also serves as president of SEASPAR’s Board of Directors, which led to discussions with Little Tikes and the nonprofit Unlimited Play. Matt Corso and Greg Pavesich from SEASPAR, Lisle resident Sharon Helderle, as well as a team of park district employees have also been involved in the project.

A few months into the process, Lisle resident Jill Magsam Zmaczynski emailed Garvy with an inquiry about making new playgrounds more accessible, prompting him to invite her to join the project. As a mother to a 3-year-old with a rare, genetic neuromuscular condition, Zmaczynski has a very personal connection to the cause. “When we go to a playground, [my daughter] looks for one or two pieces of equipment she can sit on,” she explains. “Her opportunities for interaction are limited, especially with me constantly by her side spotting her or moving her around.”

Zmaczynski and her family are looking forward to a playground that will allow both her children to play side by side. “Making a playground inclusive doesn’t make it less appealing or functional for people who don’t need those inclusive aspects,” she notes. “The unique aspects make it more appealing for everyone.” 

Discovery Playground, set to break ground this month, will create new opportunities for all children to connect, learn, and grow in a safe environment. The Lisle Partners for Parks Foundation is currently raising money to help offset the cost of the project. To make a donation or learn more about the fundraiser, visit—MD

Photo courtesy Lisle Park District