The Wall Street Journal – April 2023

Only The Best Seat In The House Will Do.

WGN TV – Chicago

2023 Design Trends

Chicago Tribune

The Darling bringing cocktails, Vaudeville-style acts to West Loop

abc7 – Chicago

West Loop gets a new cocktail bar: The Darling

Eater – Chicago

Inside the Darling, West Loop’s Charming Two-Floor Performance Den

CS Magazine – The Darling

Chicago Tribune

Sneak peek at The Darling, the cool-whimsical bar transforming the former Won Fun space


Best New Bars in Chicago

CS Magazine January 2019

Capital One – Night with your friends.


Give Me Your Best Table

By | Dining, Food for thought, Interior Design | No Comments

The perfect table can elevate the dining experience. The Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso, of all places, reinforced the importance.

Understanding seating preferences can enhance the restaurant dining experience, increase revenue, and drive repeat customers. Sophistication, functionality, and sustainable design-focused strategies can transform a restaurant into a cutting-edge, stylish, and inspiring dining destination. Here are a few ways to establish a unique space and create an experience people will want to return to again.

Elevated Restaurant Interior Design

Utilizing high-quality, sustainable materials such as natural stone, wood, and textiles can create a luxurious, functional, and stylish ambiance. Lighting plays a pivotal role in the design, so consider using adjustable fixtures, dimmer switches, and natural light sources to enhance the mood and atmosphere. In addition, incorporating greenery and plants into the interior design can provide a refreshing and calming atmosphere that connects with customers’ natural surroundings. Similarly, creating a functional layout that optimizes the use of space can enhance the overall customer experience and promote a seamless flow of service.


Infuse Your Brand

Color, texture, and material selections can convey a restaurant’s brand messaging and value. Displaying artwork and décor that inspire, evoke emotion, and make an unforgettable impression on customers can enhance the overall dining experience. Depending on the brand, incorporating interactive elements such as live music, an open kitchen design, or a chef’s table can create an immersive and memorable dining experience.


Incorporate Multiple Dining Experiences

Offering separate bar areas or communal tables for group dining are examples of creative ways to accommodate a variety of customer preferences. By incorporating flexible dining spaces, restaurants can stay ahead of the competition and adapt to the changing needs of their customers.


The perfect table in the right environment can make all the difference. By prioritizing the design and functionality of the restaurant space, owners and operators can create an unforgettable dining experience that sets their establishment apart in the competitive hospitality industry.

The Role of the Architect as We Prepare for the Next Phase

By | Architecture, Food for thought, Interior Design | No Comments

These days we are having many conversations and asking questions centered around ‘how do we move forward from this?’  That is only natural, of course, but what is also natural is the need for architects to problem solve.  The very nature of the study and practice of design is to provide an optimal solution that balances function, aesthetics, context, and budget.  Our current situation requires a quick, yet informed, response to a new set of problems, but fortunately the strategies to find the solutions are no different to those deployed by our profession on a regular basis.

collaborative board

At d+k, we view ourselves as collaborative partners with our clients and their customers.  We feel it is our job and our responsibility to use the creative tools at our disposal to provide forward-thinking, proactive solutions in the best of times, and also in challenging ones.  There are opportunities out there right now for both businesses and service providers to craft inventive responses to stressful situations, and we know there are ways to integrate the data around this pandemic situation to make sure we move forward in a responsible, yet still positive, manner.


In our office, we have been having big conversations about the civic role we – as a team- want to play in the near future, and to that end we have tasked our teams with preparing concrete plans that could be implemented by our clients, help revitalize our city, and provide options to consumers.  Ideas are flowing, conversations evolving, and solutions are emerging.

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 1.09.13 PM

If your design needs are changing right now, or if you are unsure as to how to proceed with your ongoing projects, we can help!  Using tools like virtual whiteboard sessions and online consultations, we can discuss your challenges and plan the next steps.  Our network of vendors and installers includes products and services ready to deliver and integrate into designs for your spaces, and we can provide guidance and education regarding what options might be appropriate.  Many businesses are not looking to renovate, but need a temporary strategy for reopening, and we can help with that as well.

Please feel free to reach out to us if your family or your business needs design-based solutions to the challenges you are facing.  Together we can move forward!



d+k Q and A – First Ascent Climbing

By | Architecture, Food for thought, Interior Design | No Comments

At d+k, we take pride in connecting with our clients and partnering in their success and happiness.  To provide some insight on our process and how we provide a comprehensive level of service to a variety of clients, we are sharing a series of conversations with clients that have completed projects with us recently.  First up is First Ascent Climbing, an indoor climbing and fitness community with several Chicago area locations, and more on the way – we spoke with Dan Bartz, Director of Marketing and Adult Programming.


d+k : What is First Ascent’s ultimate goal as a business? (Where do you see First Ascent in the next 5 years?)

DB: Our mission is to serve and grow the climbing community by creating a warm, welcoming “third place” for people of all ability levels to experience adventure, explore movement, meet new people, connect with old friends, and enjoy life in real life – no devices required.

That mission has enabled us to impact thousands of people in Chicago and Peoria over the last few years, and making that impact really is our ultimate goal. As we consider the future, we’re excited to continue expanding our impact by building more First Ascent locations in the Chicagoland area and beyond.

Some have asked us: why do you think climbing is so popular right now? There are many reasons we could point to, but I think the best reason is simple: people need to move, and traditional fitness is boring and isolating for many. Boutique fitness is exploding because it’s fun and social. Climbing creates that same fun, social vibe with a splash of adventure and a dash of problem solving. It engages the full person: body, mind, heart, and soul. And a climbing gym makes all of that accessible and approachable for the general public. If that sounds exciting to you, then let’s climb!

We also feel the sector of boutique and specialized fitness facilities is growing because of the increased density of urban locations populated with our target demographic.  Customers might not be willing or able to drive long distances to get to locations that fit large, traditional gyms.  They want to be able to walk to their workout, or drive less than 5 minutes if possible.  Smaller, specialized facilities can more easily fit into dense neighborhoods and still be profitable.


d+k : How did d+k integrate with your team?

 DB : d+k team members made a sincere effort to work with us as a partner, and act from a ‘pursuit of understanding’ towards the specialized needs of our business.  HVAC, lighting, and other building basics have to be approached differently in a climbing facility, and d+k made a more concerted effort to listen to our concerns and integrate them into the design than other firms we have worked with in the pas

d+k : How has your brand identify evolved since working with d+k? (Has d+k, Help/assisted in this?)

DB : d+k helped elevate the ‘fit and finish’ of our branding and corporate identity, and achieved it in an affordable way.  They were able to integrate our brand into lighting, finish and furniture selection, color choices, and the design in general.

d+k : Where do yfirstacent2018teasers-007ou think d+k has added value within First Ascent projects?

DB : The design team provided guidance as to where to add aesthetic focus, and that process became streamlined as designs for subsequent locations were composed.  Each iteration has made the design process more successful and efficient for both FA and the design team

d+k : What did d+k bring to the table that might have surprised you?

DB : Their level of attention to detail and their effort to understand FA in all aspects was a pleasant surprise.  From a marketing standpoint, FA found that having an ‘aesthetic partner’ in the d+k team meant that photography, presentation of the spaces, and first impressions of customers all became more successful.  It was appreciated that d+k brought with them an appreciation for professional photography and how the space will be shown on social and print media.  User response has been positive, with great feedback from members, guests, and even from pro climbers like Alex Honnold, who called the Block 37 location a ‘next level’ facility.


d+k : What could d+k have done better? (within the process)

DB :  While we don’t have complaints about our experiences thus far, we are confident that the First Ascent team is continuing to learn from and observe how we interact with our new spaces.  We intend to relay any new concerns or necessary changes to the team and d+k, knowing they will find solutions that evolve with us and our business as it grows.

All photography by Kyle Flubacker Photography

Can Art Installations Help Your Business Rise To the Top?

By | Architecture, Interior Design | No Comments

In a time when consumers put a premium on individuality and “social media worthy” experiences, it’s no wonder that a lot of businesses have embraced design as a tool to differentiate themselves and build up brand recognition. When done right, design can really bring the brand to life in the physical space, increasing its authenticity as well as its ability to emotionally connect with the customer.

In this context, art installations are emerging as a powerful element to up the expressive potential of branded spaces. We are not talking about artwork used as an after-thought to “dress the walls” but as an integral part of the whole design concept and the experience it wants to elicit.

It’s about creating custom pieces that communicate the spirit of the brand and do so in a unique and interesting way.

This is the kind of immersive design approach that the d+k team specialize in. It starts from getting a deep understanding of the client’s brand – its roots, its psychology, and the culture to which it contributes – and then using it to guide every design decision.

What Art Can Accomplish When Integrated Into the Design of Your Place of Business.


Designing art pieces with social media in mind helps the business increase curiosity and engagement, becoming a go-to destination. In this project, for example, we used a custom neon sign that not only speaks to the philosophy of the brand but also makes customers want to share it on social media, generating buzz and amplifying brand exposure.



Art installations can emphasize locality, knitting the brand into the character of its community. In this case, the use of a bike and bucket light fixtures spoke to the urban and “on the move” lifestyle of the brand’s customers.


For retail chains, custom art can help tie each location to unique aspects of the local culture while keeping the core brand elements consistent from place to place.


Murals and 3D art can heighten the ambiance of the space, immersing customers deep into the world of the brand and transporting them into a different time and place.

2020-04-28_0001Taking it even further, art can be used to invite the customer into unexpected moments of interaction that enrich the experience, as we did here with this wall-mounted scrabble board. Not only did it give patrons something to do; it was also perfectly in line with the overall atmosphere the client wanted for their old English-style pub.



The use of art is not limited to customer-facing places. It is also a powerful design tool for corporate offices to express the brand culture. For the Simple Mills offices, we used a fun, informal and interactive installation to remind employees to stay true to the company’s down-to-earth origins by recalling the way the business developed organically from its founder’s own thoughts and vision.


Doing It Right

Just like with everything else we do, the d+k team approaches every art installation looking at how it can support your business goals. We then take care of every detail – from concept and partnering with the right artist to overseeing every step of the process – ensuring it is consistent with the full design, the brand, and its customers.


How can art and design help your business rise to the top? Give us a call to discuss your project!



For Boutique Fitness Studios, Design Is Critical To Success

By | Architecture, Interior Design | No Comments

Boutique fitness studios are in hot demand. These specialized workout spaces are still a relatively new trend but one that has quickly taken the wellness industry by storm. New companies are entering the market while already established ones are multiplying their presence.


For these new generation fitness companies, the design of their locations is critical to fulfilling user expectations.

Unlike the rather anonymous and one-size-fits-all gyms of the past, boutique studios must offer a unique environment reflective of a specific brand (and lifestyle) philosophy. After all, that’s what their customers are seeking and willing to pay a premium for: a different kind of experience, accompanied by the feeling of belonging to a very cool and well-defined community of like-minded individuals.

To facilitate the desired connection with the customer, the design must integrate the brand fully into the space and execute it in every detail.

Using Design To Create Brand Super-fans

At d+k, we call this “brand elevation.” We work with both existing and developing fitness brands – from rowing and climbing gyms to revolutionary yoga studios – and use design to magnify their differentiation points and expand the experience they deliver, all while staying true to their identity.

Our approach is rooted not just in design but in our expertise in brand development and execution, from A to Z. That’s why we believe in the importance of really understanding the four core aspects of every project:

  • The soul of the brand
  • The psychology of its customers
  • The specifics of the lifestyle it fits into
  • How the user should feel in the space


We also believe that the brand’s business goals and what it wants to communicate should be the North Star that guides every single design decision.

Developing an in-depth knowledge of how our clients want to position their business in the boutique fitness movement enables us to knit ourselves into their brand and bring it to life in the space, in all its nuances. No detail is overlooked, as every aspect of the design must work in unison with all the other elements of the brand identity in order to maximize differentiation.

We plan the flow, look, and feel of our clients’ studios – from the moment the user walks in to the moment they walk out – to help them turn their customers into super-fans.

Row House –

First Ascent –

Y7 Studio – Coming to Chicago VERY SOON! –

Ready for it? Give us a call to discuss the vision for your boutique fitness studios.

Re-energizing Retail

By | Architecture, Dining, Interior Design | No Comments

So much has been said about the death of brick-and-mortar retail and shopping malls but the gloom-and-doom talks, in our opinion, miss the point: The evolution of shopping habits presents a great opportunity to re-imagine these large retail centers into places more in line with today’s lifestyle.

Shopping malls can still be what they were originally conceived for: destination community spaces. In order to play that role, though, they need to adapt to the new ways we like to gather, shop, and spend time. The truth is, consumers of all ages – even digital natives – still enjoy in-store shopping…providing it offers them an experience they cannot have on their device. Re-engaging them means making alternative and creative uses of the existing spaces.

Key Components

Step 1: Giving Consumers New Reasons to Come into the Mall

EXPERIENTIAL COMPONENT: Anchor tenants like Sears and JCPenney used to be a shopping mall’s main draw and all the other retailers wanted to be close to them. Now, those empty units must be reborn into dynamic hubs of community activities.


“Places that were once unwelcomed in malls – event venues, gyms, skating rinks, rock climbing spaces, dirt bike tracks and other recreational facilities – are now the very thing that can turn the fortunes of a mall around because they bring people in.”


“On the other hand, places that have long been a staple of shopping malls – like food and beverage establishments – must evolve from being purely a commodity to deliver a more comprehensive experience rich in entertainment and engagement value.”

Creating an alluring experience also implies dismantling the impenetrable “big box store” architecture in favor of a more open and welcoming exterior aesthetic that invites people to explore all that the site has to offer.


SERVICE LOCATIONS: In the context of bringing people in, even outpatient medical facilities, co-working spaces, and some type of corporate offices can now find a place in malls.

LOCAL FOCUS: Consumers are showing a growing interest in supporting local businesses, so upping their presence can make malls a more attractive destination. Plus, local businesses are less likely to offer online shopping options, which further increases their role in drawing foot traffic.

Lifestyle ConceptLOCAL FOCUS: Consumers are showing a growing interest in supporting local businesses, so upping their presence can make malls a more attractive destination. Plus, local businesses are less likely to offer online shopping options, which further increases their role in drawing foot traffic.

BRINGING THE ONLINE IN: Online sellers are now starting to expand their visibility with pop-up stores. Whether these are short-term or long-term retail strategies, malls can greatly benefit from presenting themselves as ideal locations for these physical extensions. Creating opportunities for visitors to engineer “Instagram-able moments” is another way to integrate the online world into the new mall experience.

2016-03-31 AE - Lab Rendering


*Mojo’s Kiosk located in the common area of the AMA Plaza. 

Step 2: Designing for Engagement

The choice of which type of amenities and stores to bring in is only one part of the equation. Ultimately, it’s the design of the entire mall space that will determine how much time consumers will spend there and what they will do while there.

Key Qualities

At d+k, we believe the goal of design is to maximize the value of the property, for both the user and the owner. That is why we have long focused our expertise on revitalizing commercial buildings that have lost their appeal and using immersive design to create experiential spaces for greater engagement. We are constantly studying trends – how people live, shop, interact with each other and their surroundings – and create designs that not only address those trends aesthetically but first and foremost, turn the trends into business opportunities for our clients.

When it comes to reviving malls, we pay attention to how each asset interconnects with the rest of the space. We look at how the design can facilitate the seamless integration of the retail moments with the social and lifestyle moments people crave, so that the amenities enhance the shopping experience instead of distracting consumers away from it. We make sure that every detail is cohesive and every square foot that is re-purposed into a community space raises the value of the entire mall and goes to the benefit of every tenant.

Do you want to explore the opportunities that revitalizing your mall can create? Let’s talk!

The Art and Science of Brewery Design

By | Architecture, Interior Design | No Comments

The architecture and design of a brewery is a layered undertaking.

It requires an in-depth, industry-specific knowledge of the mechanical and technical aspects of operating a brewing facility. It calls for aesthetic and functional considerations on how to bring the customer into the craft beer culture in novel ways. It demands creative thinking to help the brand cut through a very competitive field.

Brewery design is one of d+k’s areas of expertise and we are able to bring a unique vantage point to it. With one of our Owners as the co-owner of a popular Wisconsin-based brewery The Lone Girl Brewery Company, we have an insider’s view of the complexity of the craft beer business, the passion of its fans, and the role that breweries play in their community. Plus, having designed well over 100 restaurants, we also have quite a bit of knowledge of the dining part of the operations!

Most importantly, we understand what it takes to design the right space to make the business thrive and use this expertise to leave no stone unturned when designing your brewhouse – from concept to completion.


Brand Integration

Every corner of your brewery is an opportunity to deepen the connection between your brand and its customers.

d+k makes sure the core character of your beer brand is reflected in the design of the space, from the signage to the choice of materials. Details like merchandise displays and Instagram backdrops are curated to be integral to the customer experience, without disrupting it.13 Ale

Retail vs. Distribution Model

Running retail operations is very different from a distribution-only model so, depending on your business plan, the architecture of the brewery must account for that from the very beginning.

d+k always studies the best placement and design options to maximize the revenue generating power of your retail or distribution space.


Brewhouse Operational Flow

First and foremost, the brewery must meet the proper functional requirements to operate safely and efficiently on a daily basis.

d+k helps you plan the entire operational space, including:

  • Key elements like brew house, fermenters, boilers, grain storage, brite tanks, glycol chillers, W.I.C, canning/bottling area, and kegs/cans storage for distribution;
  • Design of the brewing facility as separate from the customer use areas, while making sure the on-site production equipment remains visible as an important part of the aesthetics and the experience of the space.


Food Service Area

The design of the food service experience will have a big impact on your profit margins and the feel of your brewery. Will you be offering a full-service, brewpub type of environment or a quick-bite taproom setting? Each comes with its own set of requirements.

d+k uses your business goals and customers’ profiles to guide the design decisions so you can make the most of your dining area. Through our meticulous attention to detail, we can even help you carve out multiple dining spaces – each with its own feel and purpose – yet all consistent with your brand.


The Brewery As Event Venue

As social hotspots rooted in the community, local breweries have become very in-demand as event venues. Designing your establishment with this objective in mind can significantly increase your revenue opportunities.

d+k helps you:

  • Plan the space to be both operationally successful and flexible enough to accommodate events of different sizes;
  • Incorporate echos of the local culture into the design to give the space a very distinct character (a major selling point).


What kind of vision do you have for your brewery? Let’s talk about how to bring it to life!



Elevating Brands Through Experiential and Immersive Design

By | Architecture, Interior Design | No Comments

Imagine a space where every detail and every interaction is carefully curated to evoke specific emotions. Your customers are fully present and engaged in the moment. They are transported to what feels like a different time and place. They are genuinely connecting with each other. They are writing a piece of their story. Everything else is forgotten. The feeling and the memories will stay with them long after they’ve stepped out of the space…and they’ll have your brand to thank for it.

*The Backdoor Saloon – the client was looking for a velvety, sexy, historically accurate western saloon feel. No detail was overlooked in creating a design that transports partons to a completely different time and place. (experiential design)

In an age where experiences matter – and are craved – more than things, where attention is fleeting and distractions are the norm, the businesses that can deliver these kinds of engrossing and all-authentic moments rise to the top.

That’s why experiential design has become so important. It’s about honoring the uniqueness of your brand, the desires of your customers, and the values that bring the two together.

To really do it right, though, you have to go all in, thinking even beyond the creation of unique and custom environments.

That’s what d+k does for brands with its immersive design services.

d+k’s Experiential and Immersive Design Process

In d+k’s immersive design approach, the focus is not solely on the structure and finishes of the space but also on how each user or customer will interact with your brand in its environment. Every detail is carefully thought-out to tell a particular story and amplify the experience, so the customer stays fully engaged with no moments of disconnect. Nothing is left to chance.

When you do that, the space becomes a destination that is not just physical but also lives in the mind and heart of the customer.

Here’s how d+k helps you bring that to life.


The d+k team spends time with you to truly understand the brand, its backstory and what it stands for, your business goals, and your ideal customers/patrons. There is a certain language associated with every client or business, and by learning how you speak about your brand, we are able to translate that vocabulary into a framework for the immersive design plan.

Darling1 Darling2

*The Darling – Every client or business has a language around their project, and by learning how the client speaks about themselves, we translate that vocabulary into a framework for building the design concept. 


We discuss the different levels of engagement that your customers should experience to allow the interaction with the brand to get deeper, more meaningful, and more memorable as they move through the space.



The d+k team creates a comprehensive design concept with curated elements to exemplify the brand and elevate the customer’s experience of it, while fulfilling the business goals.

Elements can include: branded graphics, signage, art installations, the customer’s journey within the environment, how service will flow, food or merchandise presentation, music, employees’ presentation and clothing, and more.

The elements included are unique to your project and whatever is needed to deliver the vision and the feelings you want the space to evoke.


*Another example of immersive design, in which our process works with the client to identify their ideal customer, the experience they will have, and the feelings they want the space to evoke. 


*After the goals for the immersive design process are outlined, elements above and beyond the physical space are outlined and curated to elevate the entire experience. For this client, food service items, server clothing, merchandise, and presentation were all part of the package d+k brought to the project. 


The d+k team helps you execute the entire concept, taking care of all the details.

By unifying the brand activities with the architectural and interior design, d+k delivers a cohesive concept that creates a memorable and well-executed space and a completely realized business installation.

The Darling, Chicago Illinois*The Darling – Intimate, Instagram-worthy, theatrical speakeasy. 

What memorable experience is your brand waiting to create for its customers?

Let’s have a conversation.

How To Increase Occupancy Rate in Old Office Buildings

By | Architecture, Interior Design | No Comments

For owners and managers of old office buildings, it’s becoming increasingly hard to keep occupancy rates and property values high. In the age of creative Google-style offices and cool co-working spaces like WeWork, outdated buildings retain little appeal, dredging up images of an office life from bygone eras.

Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem and is one that doesn’t just help the commercial property but also its tenants; a win-win situation.

The idea is simple: Revitalize the building’s common areas by turning them into modern, amenities-driven spaces that improve the work experience and answer a variety of functional needs. Places that even the most demanding Millennial will approve.

It’s the kind of “space activation through design” that d+k love doing.

Interior Design, Architecture Design


Revamping an Old Commercial Property Through Its Common Areas

Jason Simon from Colliers International and Adam Firsel from Core Acquisitions came to d+k facing such a challenge with the Chatham Centre (1901 N Roselle Road in Schaumburg, IL). Their goal was to create value by increasing the building’s occupancy rate from 70% to 90% or more. The Centre, however, was far from the true Class A office building they were envisioning.

The common areas hadn’t been changed since their construction nearly 30 years ago. The lobby, in particular, felt cold and lacked energy. Jason and Adam wanted something appealing and functional that would bring people together to create a sense of community in the building.

Melissa Lockwood, d+k Director and manager of this project, immediately saw there was a lot of potential to create a more experiential space.



From a Static Lobby To a Dynamic, Multi-Functional Space

Taking a cue from their hospitality design experience, the firm developed a concept that included a variety of different seating options and multi-purpose gathering hubs. “Think of inspiring places that function as fun break rooms, meeting pods, and alternative work stations…all within one lively space that you can truly enjoy.” Melissa explains. “You can go to the common area to read a book, have lunch, and even work or meet with clients and coworkers.” It gives people a chance to rejuvenate and re-focus, breaking the monotony of working at their desks.


For employers, this brings many benefits. It makes for happier employees, which translates into increased productivity and higher talent retention rate. An amenities-driven workplace also makes a company more attractive, giving employers a leg up when it comes to hiring top professionals.

d+k were able to create a design that included pre-existing elements, like the finishes for flooring and walls. The old lobby plants, which were too overwhelming, were eliminated and replaced with others that would feel more organic to the space. Melissa’s favorite part of the project was actually figuring out how to preserve the large planter boxes while having them contribute to the flow of the environment, instead of disrupting it. This was done by adding built-in reading nooks and meeting places within the planters.



The design accomplished its goal. It increased the value of the old office building and helped increase its occupancy rate to the targeted 90%.

Adam says he now understands how common areas with amenities can shift the entire dynamic of an office building…and the economic impact that comes with it. “I learned how to take an existing cold space and activate it through design.”