950 North Michigan Ave Unit 2604 - Dining Room


By Barbara Laken and Annie Alexander

Anyone surfing Zillow, Home Snap or Houzz who has ever signed a lease, or negotiated an offer to purchase, knows that buying or selling real estate is not strictly a business decision. In fact, when it comes to just about any kind of transaction involving personal living space, we’re all irrational — it’s just a question of degree.

It will come as no surprise, then, that entire industries (and more than a few motivational speaking careers) have been launched in the interest of identifying and harnessing that intoxicating current of elation and desire we feel when confronted with a residence that satisfies nearly all our expectations.  While psychologists conduct experiments, surveys and focus groups to uncover the tangle of emotions that influence consumer decision making, Chicago decorator Susan Abercrombie has already identified the magnetic urge that propels us toward particular styles and products with the force of a rip current.  She calls it “The Ooh Aah Factor.”

“The Ooh Aah Factor” is that special architectural flourish, design element or focal point that speaks to an individual’s self-regard, ambition and aspiration by representing something so unique and defining, that it elicits a rush of emotion. Call it the “Wow” effect, the hook that reels you in, that ineffable, undeniable, unforgettable feature that captures your imagination. Susan puts it this way, “When a client walks into a room, I want their reaction to focus on that special result that sends them over the top.”   After fourteen years running her own decorating service, Susan’s expert eye can usually make an accurate guess as to what that special result might be, by carefully listening to what her clients say– or don’t say — about themselves, their passions, their lifestyle and their budget.

Most of us don’t think of interior design consultants as investment counselors, but to Susan’s way of thinking, good design decisions depend on carefully weighing which choices will contribute most significantly to the client’s enjoyment of their living space. “I always tell clients to think of design improvements as long term financial investments. Sort of like stocks. You can play it safe and steady if your goal is minimal excitement…but, if you want your investment to really pay off on an emotional level, you might have to stretch your vision and prioritize improvements based on their personal significance to you.”

Susan reminds us that good designers should advise clients not only how to spend their decorating dollars, but how not to spend them. “It’s my job to find the best quality workmanship and the best resources at the best price. I want my clients to be able to get real value for their money, and value their design choices when their home is done. Which means success is measured by how accurately a home reflects the values, passions and traits of the owner(s).”

“Design is emotional, not logical,” Susan reminds us, “Which is why helping clients recognize and achieve their own “Ooh Aah Factor,” while staying on budget, is one of the most necessary and fundamental elements of any successful design job.” Naturally, this led us to wonder about Susan’s own “Ooh Aah Factor,” in a Gold Coast apartment she recently finished renovating for husband, Doug and herself.

“I personally love understated drama, and the imperfect beauty of natural elements,” She says, with a wry smile, which, in the case of her own personal space, informed the selection of wide plank oil rubbed wood flooring and the construction of a Breakfast Bar topped with Iceberg Quartz countertops, which transforms into a gleaming translucent counterpoint to Chicago’s glittering evening profile, by simply switching on an under mount light; as we admiringly say, “Ooh, Aah”.

950 North Michigan Ave Unit 2604 - Kitchen

Below are some additional examples of Susan’s work:

 AB Homes Inc. - The Ooh Aah Factor

 AB Homes Inc. - The Ooh Aah Factor

You can contact Susan by e-mail (susan@oohaahinteriors.com) or phone (480.390.1184) for assistance creating your own “Ooh Aah Factor.”

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