Go for Warmth in the Cozy Home

What does “cozy” look like in your home? For most of us, warming up the home is a matter of pairing the right surfaces, colors and designs in a way that makes anybody feel right at home.

Warm up the home with wood tones, area rugs, seating that encourages close conversations, and, of course, a raging fire.

When those cold winter winds blow, we find ourselves drawn to a warm and inviting dwelling where there’s comfort and coziness.

But what does cozy look like to you? Maybe it’s cuddling in front of a blazing fireplace on a cold day, or maybe it’s settling in with family and friends over a warm meal and good conversation. Then again, maybe it’s a place where you can escape the demands of the modern world.

Indeed, there are many ways to achieve coziness in every corner of your home, given the right combination of colors, textures, ambience and space. And even in the most industrial loft, the whitest kitchen, and the most open floor plan, warmth and comfort are attainable – with the right touches.

“Layers and textures draw you in and make the room feel complete, instead of being overly stark,” says Megan Lebar, designer at Blue Ribbon Millwork in Woodstock. “There’s a collected, lived-in-there-awhile feel. There’s a history and a story that make a home unique.”

On the Surface

Perhaps the easiest place to cozy up your home, visually speaking, is in layering together colors, textures and finishes.

“If you’re doing a white kitchen, layer warm wood tones on the floors with window treatments, natural stone backsplash tiles and barstools,” says Lebar. “It’s about mixing fabrics with wood surfaces and painted surfaces. Those layers create an inviting, cozy feeling.”

Gray, in many variations, is still very much in trend, but it’s evolving – especially when it comes to cozying up a room. Gone are the colder grays with undertones of ice blue. They’ve been replaced with more earthy blends of graphite, taupe and “greige” (gray beige).

Try mixing those warm grays with cocoa browns and more colorful fabrics on seats and area rugs, says Lebar. Then, look for something with a pop of color to add personality – like the mint green KitchenAid mixer in her own kitchen.

“The mint green is more of a cool color, traditionally, but to me, because it’s so cheerful and happy it’s also very warm and friendly,” she says.

Dave Wegner, a fellow designer at Blue Ribbon Millwork, shakes his head. When going for cozy, he prefers traditional warm colors – reds, yellows and oranges – over cooler greens, blues and purples.

“Warm to me is like a fireplace,” he says. “Blues and whites, in my mind, aren’t as cozy. But they’re very contemporary. Rich brown stains have been popular for islands to bring warmth and depth to a light and airy white kitchen.”

However, the pair are both impressed with the new Cobalt finish available through the Bertch cabinet company. This deep navy finish is rich and bold.
Such navy colors are well-suited for the white kitchen, where they provide both a pop of color and an accent on the island cabinetry.

“I say interior design is like the English language: there are many ways to correctly break the rules,” says Lebar. “Even though navy is a cool color, because it’s something fun, and it comes off as interesting and intimate, it’s still cozy and inviting.”

This kitchen by Blue Ribbon Millwork, in Woodstock, combines white painted cabinetry with warm, rich tones in the floors, the furniture and the communal island.

Bathroom Retreats

Warm, luxurious baths are not a thing of dreams. For many homeowners, a bathroom remodel means creating a cozy, romantic retreat.

“Lots of people still like the claw-foot tubs,” says Stacy Thomas, a designer with McDowell Remodeling in St. Charles. “I’ve done a lot of bathrooms where they’ve removed the whirlpool tubs and wanted an old-school tub like you see in Europe. They just love that feeling of escape.”

Match the tub with warm accents around the room, starting with warm chocolate wall colors or a greige, like Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter.

“The nice thing about Revere Pewter is it gives color to the wall without giving a coldness, because it’s much warmer,” says Thomas. “It’s kind of a putty gray. It works with lots of tones in the bathroom.”

It pairs well with glass mosaic tiles and a dark navy because it also complements accents like towels and floor rugs, adds Thomas. Similarly, the calming grays of Repose, an almost linen-colored cabinet choice by Fieldstone Cabinetry, pairs well with other colors.

Don’t forget about what’s under your feet, adds Ingrid Rowlett, a new addition to the design team at McDowell Remodeling. Large-format tiles and fewer grout lines are simplifying the overall look.

“Tile can bring a lot of interest just by changing the direction of the same tile,” she says. “Or, you can coordinate your tiles so they all work together.”

Warmth Underfoot

When Jeff Moritz, flooring manager at Mayfair Furniture & Carpet in Crystal Lake, thinks about coziness, his mind immediately goes to a vision of the big bear skin rug by a fireplace on a cold winter’s day. But, he knows each individual shopper has an idea of what’s cozy in the home. No matter the vision, coziness boils down to one thing.

“You’re creating an illusion of comfort,” says Moritz. “That’s an illusion of serenity and relaxation, which is just colors, atmosphere, exposure to textures.”

Carpeting, of course, is one of the warmest, coziest choices. It absorbs sound and reduces echoes in a large, open room, and it provides a warm spot for the kids to play.

In the modern, open-concept living space, flooring tends to run together from room to room, such that the same material will span the living room, the dining area and kitchen – where carpeting just isn’t practical.

This is where an area rug, set over a hardwood or tile floor, becomes a cozy accent. It’ll not only define a living area, but it’ll also provide warmth – literally and visually.

Mayfair carries ready-made rugs and offers custom options, which can be a big help when trying to define a living area.

“People always ask, ‘How far should the carpet go in the dining room, so I can slide my chair out and still be on the rug?’” says Moritz. “That isn’t necessarily the most important question. It’s room size that dictates the size of the rug because you want to have a consistent perimeter of exposure around the room.”

Selecting the right kind of hard-surface flooring is both a matter of taste and need. Southern climates often turn to ceramic tiles or look-alike luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), but those surfaces are typically cold to the touch, and in the Midwest, where winter’s chill takes a real bite, they’re often less favored than a traditional hardwood floor.

Warm up your bathroom with chocolate colors and “greige” wall paints that match well with tiles and home accents, as seen in this bathroom by McDowell Remodeling, in St. Charles.

“Tiles will retain that coldness, while vinyls, laminates and woods aren’t as cold,” says Moritz. “Ceramic isn’t as preferred here.”

When ceramic is the preferred option, Moritz finds many homeowners turning to radiant heat flooring, a technology that’s come a long way over the past decade.

“If the customer were to consider radiant heat in their bathroom at the start of a new project, there is an underlayment that can be used by several different manufacturers,” says Moritz. “It has cables woven through the actual subfloor, and then you just install your flooring on top of it.”

Warm Embellishments

How you arrange your furniture will impact the degree to which your room feels cozy. The closer together pieces are, the more intimacy they’ll evoke.

Standing inside the cozy showroom of Strode’s Furniture, in Huntley, owner Bob Wozniak points out an arrangement that’s intimate and ideal for casual conversation. A plush couch sits at one end, with a loveseat opposite. A colorful chair that ties in with the sofa’s colorful throw pillows completes the look.

“You’re sitting across from each other, and if you bring in the sofas a little more, it’s an even cozier sitting area,” Wozniak says.

Creating a cozy assembly of furniture really boils down to establishing a focal point, he adds. Maybe it’s the fireplace or the TV, or perhaps it’s a coffee table around which conversation is shared. Then again, it could be a single piece of furniture – like a cuddler couch, which looks like a loveseat but has one side deeper than the other. A conversational sofa is curved at either end.

“It does bring your conversation in closer on this kind of sofa,” says Wozniak. “Trying to create room gathering places or settings helps to make a room more intimate and cozy.”

While the furniture provides an important focal point, the right accessories also contribute. Wozniak turns to accents such as vases, books, antiques or candles to warm up a room, and he may use brushed bronze or nickel lamps to further enhance the mood. In each arrangement, he looks for one good pop of color.

“Whenever we’ve got a piece on the floor that has red in it, it sells in a snap,” says Wozniak. “It’s a much warmer color, and it goes with anything. It goes with gray tones especially, and it’s a nice accent color.”

Wood grains bring a warm, rich accent in their own right. American hardwoods like maple and cherry show very little grain, instead letting the warm stains show through. Woods like red oak or elm, on the other hand, are rough and grainy, with streaks of dark and light mixed together.

“When you use the right stain, you really get that warm look of wood as the grain comes through,” says Wozniak. “It really lets the beauty of the wood show through, where some furniture has such dark stains you don’t see the grain coming through at all.”

And, depending on what you buy, it may not even be real wood. Wozniak carries a variety of high-quality, Amish-made dining and bedroom sets all constructed from real, solid hard wood – unlike most imported, big-box store furniture, which is often comprised from particle board covered in a veneer.

“The way you can tell if it’s veneer is really easy,” says Wozniak. “The Amish join together wide boards to make a plank. You can see the seam where the two boards meet, and then you can follow the seam through the top, and you can see the seam on the edges. If it’s veneer, you won’t see the seam on the edges.”

Defining Your Space

For years now, kitchens have been a central gathering place, where the family naturally congregates. But now, the center of this kitchen – the island – is taking on a larger role than ever before, as it becomes a hotspot for both cooking and eating.

These communal islands now typically include room for barstool seating on three sides. In her own home, Lebar expanded the gathering space with a built-in banquette.

“It just has this stay-awhile feel to it,” she says. “It gives you a purpose for sitting and staying at the island. And now everything happens at the island, from kids’ homework to paying bills. We have many clients wanting an expanded island in lieu of a kitchen table. The boundaries of a home have been blurred so that the kitchen island is really part of the family room, too.”

Finished basements, like open-concept living areas upstairs, tend to be common gathering spaces that are wide open. They’re often an extension of the upstairs, with unique areas – a game table, a bar/kitchen, a television with sofas. Lest the space feel too open, Thomas tries to define each sector with accents such as pendant lighting or permanent fixtures. Then, she’ll cozy it up with wall colors, plush flooring and inviting furniture.

“I always want this space to feel family-friendly, and not just ‘I’ve walked into a finished basement,’” she says. “I always want for you to say you’re walking into the ‘lower level’ of your home.”

Bringing the Heat

No cozy home is truly complete without a fireplace to warm things up. It’s a natural gathering space on a cold day, and it provides a strong focal point around which you can design your room.

And there’s no better time to add or update a fireplace than when you’re remodeling, says Kevin Sandell, sales associate at House of Fireplaces, in Elgin. The firm specializes in fireplaces and accessories, and its showroom contains 50 burning models.

Determining what’s right for your new space often comes down to the look and the location.

Advancements in fireplace systems leave many more options beyond the traditional wood-burning or gas-burning unit. Those tend to warm a room but suck a lot of hot air up the chimney. Sealed-combustion units, by contrast, look like traditional fireplaces and burn like traditional gas units, but their design allows them to quickly radiate heat.

“It’s still nice aesthetics, but you won’t get the same big flames you’ll get with a traditional unit where you have about 100,000 BTUs of flame rolling around,” says Sandell. “These units are 80 percent efficient, so if you had 100,000 BTUs going, you’d have it on for 20 minutes before you’re cooked.”

Compared with their traditional counterparts, these units are optimal for finished basements. Their design allows them to easily ventilate through the side of the house, rather than running through the floors above.

Electric fireplaces are growing in popularity, too, and they can vary widely in their ability to give heat and create visual warmth. They can look very traditional, ultra-modern or somewhere in between, and they can mount just about anyplace there’s an electrical connection.

“There are units that use light and shadow or reflection to simulate flames,” says Sandell. “There are others using ultrasonic water vapor and steam to give a flame effect, because there are no flames in an electrical unit.”

Traditional fireplaces can be easily retrofitted with newer, more efficient units, and installation typically requires few modifications, says Sandell. These inserts, which are typically sealed-combustion units, fit right into an existing unit and existing gas line.

“Our tagline says this: “A house is just a house until it has a fireplace,’” says Sandell. “Then, it’s a home.”

Reclaimed lumber can be used in several applications around the home, such as flooring and decorative overhead beams.

Reclaimed Lumber Adds The Warmth of Wood

One of the fastest ways to warm up a room is to infuse it with an authentic part of Mother Nature. And few kinds of wood sport the same level of character as the reclaimed lumber that’s been a staple at J. Hoffman Lumber Co., in Sycamore, for the past 25 years. The family-owned firm specializes in lumber from two sources: urban trees cleared during land development and old-growth timber salvaged from 19th century commercial and agricultural buildings.

“This reclaimed lumber has beautiful patina, warmth and unique characteristics, which you won’t get in present-day lumber,” says Jon Hoffman, co-owner with his wife, Judy. “There is very little old-growth lumber left.”

The Hoffmans’ old-growth lumber products often show up in restaurants and venues like the Whiskey Acres Distillery Tasting Room, in DeKalb, but they also find their way into homes, sawed down into decorative exposed beams, flooring, paneling, fireplace mantels and furniture.

The couple also offer specialty lumber such as live-edge slabs and bowling alleys crafted into bar tops and tables. But their primary product is richly colored, wide-plank flooring milled from old timbers and salvaged urban trees.

“This isn’t your typical, out-of-the-box flooring,” says Judy. “It has its own character and unique history from where it is sourced. That’s what’s special about it.”

Some people choose reclaimed wood for its aesthetic quality, because it can be used in a formal or rustic setting, says Jon. Some people also choose it for the environmental factor, because all product has been diverted from a landfill and given a new life.

For much of the past 25 years, the Hoffmans have worked wholesale, dealing directly with interior designers, architects and custom builders. As they expand their reach to consumers, the Hoffmans encourage customers to visit their new retail showroom and select the lumber themselves, in person.

“We’ve been doing this for 25 years,” says Jon. “We’re the largest in the Midwest doing anything on this scale, full-circle from salvaging lumber to on-site sawmill/millwork. We pride ourselves on having one of the largest reclaimed lumber inventories in the Midwest.”