An Interview with Horizon’s Interior Designer : Maria Bortell

Horizon’s in-house interior architect and designer, Maria Bortell, is a design star. When she’s not working on a new kitchen design for Horizon’s remodel of a historical 1980’s building, she’s picking out furniture for a new lobby of a brand new northside apartment.  

Her passions for hospitality and residential design merge into one when she works on Horizon’s buildings and she always keeps residents in mind when while designing.  

We think you should get to know her, so we interviewed Maria about her design process, tips for turning your apartment into a home and designing on a budget. 


What’s your education and work background? 

My background is extremely varied but as far as design goes, Horizon Realty Group hired me right out of grad school in 2013. I had been designing for years but during the crash and when everyone was out of work, I went back to grad school to expand into hospitality design. I’ve always worked on residential design with private clients. But when you’re designing apartment rentals, it’s still a mix of residential, commercial and hospitality. When I graduated, I thought I’d stay as a private designer with my own business. However, one of the private design jobs I picked up through a friend was this position. He is now actually one of our lighting suppliers. He introduced me to Danny Michael right when they had just purchased The Merion. At first, I was asked to help with window design but Danny then asked me to furnish an apartment model for the building. Once I did a model, we realized we needed to fully furnish the building. 

Then I said, “You know, I think you just need to hire me.”  

I’m glad I went toward this direction rather than privately designing condos because of how much things have changed. People are building more luxury apartments than condos throughout Chicago and they’re making them nicer, offering amenities, etc. which is stuff I’ve been fighting for forever. You can’t be cheap about apartment rentals! And now the whole market is following suit. 


What is your creative process for architectural and interior design? 

We always have to look at how much we are planning on altering the building and asking ourselves who is our core client? Where is it? And of course, what is our budget? For our older buildings, since we don’t have much leeway, the best I can do is figure out how I can open up the layout and create more space. Since the style in the 70’s and 80’s were kitchens with private and closed with doors and walls, we now usually try to open that up so it’s one larger room and more closet space. 

When I decorate Airbnbs or model units, I think each building has its own personality. So when I’m working on multi-unit housing, the building tells you how the units can be laid out. 

As a private residential designer, it’s always about turning a house into a home and that’s something I try to create. When you’re going from house to home, you want to use mementos to make it cozier. I love color and I try to incorporate them one way or another.  

Back when I had to rent, I vividly remember walking through buildings and seeing stark white walls over and over again and noticing that they all look the same. However, I always remembered the ones that were different, which usually meant a paint or flooring. Choosing this is difficult because you’re never going to be able to please everyone. I try to incorporate everyone, but it’s just never going be everyone 100 percent. The point is that we hit our target audience.  


How do you recommend residents decorate their apartments? 

I think we’re all eclectic. The way we all live is more eclectic than going to a furniture store and buying a all-in-one furniture display. You might have grandma’s old table and it might be traditional, but it could have been a very mod-60s thing or turn of the century.  

I love color and know very few people who do the all-white or off-white design. I agree, it looks beautiful on pictures, but it’s not very practical for the average family. I love red wine, but would you sit on your sofa with that wine? And what about kids? And pets?  


Where is your favorite place to shop for furniture and design? 

Oh, I’m everywhere. It’s such a harder question now with the web. Because now anyone can get anything online. Since most things are made in China, you first have to look at where your price-point is. I shop all over the place so it really just depends. I love the idea of using quartz counter tops. It’s more durable and eco-friendly and for years the trend was black absolute counters and that was chic. But white is really bright and opens up a kitchen.  

HomeGoods is every designer’s best friend. Every time I go to the Chicago HomeGoods store, I see another designer there. Target has stepped up their game immensely. I find a lot of things online – I have no shame! Overstock, Wayfair, etc. I use it all. I also use some local artists. When I see some local art I really like, I find out who made it and try to use it. 

Keep up with Maria’s designs! You can follow her on Pinterest here.

Fall Decorating – Bring the Outside In

Fall is my favorite time of year and decorating is always about bringing the outside in. So when I decided to Fall-up the lobby mantle here at the Uptown Regency, I chose to keep the colors and feel of the décor exactly that… organic and simple.

The most important tip for decorating a mantle is to keep it balanced.  Nothing to heavy or tall on one side if you aren’t balancing the other side.

Here I just started layering… first some green leaves and tree limbs… then the pumpkins, squash, lemons and other natural elements.  I positioned the lanterns and then decided I needed something tall on either side.  I chose the two tall vases with the sunflowers to tie in all the colors and textures.  And the finished project is perfect for fall right thru Thanksgiving.  Maybe you prefer Halloween décor instead… just remember if you do a mantle for that you will have to change it again once November 1 hits… and then again after Thanksgiving.  This mantle will get you through the end of November without much upkeep. Enjoy this wonderful time of year!


Dogs Home Alone – accidents, barking and chewing of your stuff

Apartment dwelling has its challenges with or without our furry roommates…dogs Barking complaints from neighbors, coming home to chewed up non-dog items, accidents on the floor?  The good news is that you are not alone and there are people who can help! We sought advice from experts and trainers at Urban Pooch Training & Fitness located in Ravenswood.

Barking dog:

  • If your neighbors are complaining about your dog barking and have contacted your property manager, the first thing to do is to inform them that you are aware of the problem and working on a solution. The quickest path is a peaceful happy dog is training. Urban Pooch offers free 15 minute consults to get you on the right track.
  • Determine why your dog is barking. This will help your trainer too. This great post, Barking When Left Alone, on petfinder details types of barkers and offers some tips to quiet the barking (barking set-ups)

Dog accidents in the house:

  • Take some extra time in the morning with your dog and take them on a longer walk.
  • There is a product called PoochieBells – which you hang on your front or back door and you can train your dog to ring the bell when they need to go to the bathroom. It’s quite amazing how your dog can communicate with you. This of course requires a bit of training in order to accomplish this.
  • Crate training helps tremendously – as dogs usually will not pee in their crate. It’s important that the crate is not too far from the door where you take your dog out to the bathroom.
  • Speak with a trainer, every dog is different and the trainer needs to talk with the parent to understand what’s going on.
  • In some dogs, it could be a bladder infection that causes excessive urination.

Chewing non-dog items:

  • It could be that your dog is suffering from anxiety, boredom, not getting enough exercise or he needs a base training on how to not chew on things. We feel it’s essential to do basic training with your pooch. Not only does it help him/her, but it provides great value for Mom and/or Dad. –Urban Pooch
  • echoes Urban Pooch’s suggestion to crate train. They suggest confining the dog with acceptable chew toys like a Kong toy that you can stuff with a treat and your pooch is occupied with working for the treat. Read more here.


Talking with a trainer can offer some insights into your dog’s behavior. Call Urban Pooch to set up your free 15 minute consultation by visiting, emailing or calling 773.961.8880.

Urban Pooch offers Daycare, Cageless Boarding, Grooming, Training – group classes, private one-on-one, one and two-week Pooch Camps, Agility, Therapy Dog training, and have an amazingly Fun Retail Store filled with thoughtful, fun and healthy food, treats and products.

They have two facilities – Urban Pooch Canine Life Center – 4501 N Ravenswood Avenue (Sunnyside) and Urban Pooch Training and Fitness Center – 5400 N Damen Avenue (Andersonville/Bownmanville).

Pet Policy Reminder

While we love being able to offer pet-friendly housing, there are some restrictions and rules. All dogs must be registered and go through an approval process. Continued disturbance of other residents could result in the termination of your lease agreement and eviction with the Sheriff’s department. We want to promote a peaceful environment for all of our residents, pet owners and non-pet owners alike.

Review the policy below. Contact your property manager if you have any questions or concerns.

Pet Policy

Horizon Realty Group welcomes most adult dog breeds that meet the criteria herein described. For exact acceptable weight limits, please contact your property manager.


  1. A maximum of 1 dog is allowed per apartment.
  2. At selected buildings, the dog must be carried out of the premises or placed in a dog stroller and it must exit through the rear of the building in walk-up style courtyard buildings.
  3. No puppies are allowed unless prior written approval is obtained from the Lessor. This provision may apply to only select breeds and may be revoked at any time without notice or demand. Dog must be 1 year or older and must be potty trained.
  4. Dog must be neutered or spayed and must have all vaccinations and submit proof thereof.
  5. Prospective renter/resident agrees to pay the required fees & additional rent:
  6. Non-refundable dog fee of $350 per dog

b. Additional pet rent is determined by weight. Please ask your property manager for rent amount.

Patio Restaurant picks on the Northside

Once it starts to get warm in Chicago, we try to spend as much time outside as possible. That means patio time in Chicago dining al fresco. It is going to be in the 60’s this weekend, which feels like the 90’s to us after our brutal cold winters. We wanted to share some great places in our north side neighborhoods where you can dine outside. This is just a small sampling. Share ones you love in the comments.


Gather – 4539 N. Lincoln Ave – Website
Gather has an adorable covered patio in back. They are participating in Chef Week April 17th through April 22nd. During this week they are offering a prix-fixe menu! Time Out Magazine describes one of their desserts served in a cast-iron skillet as “a soft, buttery mess of dough and caramel.” Yum.

The Fireside – 5739 N. Ravenswood – Website
Tucked away along the trains tracks in Ravenswood you’ll find The Fireside. They have a year-round patio in back and a small seasonal one right in front. Their beer list is outstanding!

Rogers Park

La Cazuela – 6922 N. Clark – Website
La Cazuela boasts breakfast wraps and Mexican food. When I scoured the internet for reviews, many people rave about their garden seating…and the seafood.

Heartland Cafe – 7000 N. Glenwood – Website
With adorable sidewalk patio seating, Heartland Cafe has been serving “good wholesome food for the mind and body in Rogers Park” for over 35 years. Time Out Chicago also lists it as one of Chicago’s Essential Restaurants. They offer vegetarian and vegan food! You might see me here this weekend. 🙂


Tweet – 5020 N. Sheridan – Website
Patio? Check. Bloody Marys and Mimosas? Check. Brunch menu? Check. Tweet is located steps away from our Uptown Regency property and offers veggie and gluten free options. Come back at night and visit their bar, Big Chicks right next door for drinks and dancing!

Loyola Off-Campus Housing & Student Living

In February we spent a couple hours talking with students at Loyola about our off-campus housing options with Horizon properties near the Rogers Park campus. Right as you enter Rogers Park on Sheridan, you will find Sheridan Lake at 6401 N. Sheridan. The two-tower property is steps away from the Loyola campus. Just south of Sheridan Lake is Kenmore Place, a complete gut-rehab mid-century building. The property offers free hi-speed internet, state-of-the art fitness center and has available parking.

  • What makes a Horizon property a good choice for students (and parents)?
  • Sheridan Lake’s attentive property manager, Jordan Simmons is on-site
  • Sheridan Lake and Kenmore Place offer FREE Hi-speed internet
  • Walking distance to campus, but parking available on-site
  • Both properties are pet-friendly! Call to ask about the pet policies.
  • 24-hour emergency maintenance line
  • On-site fitness
  • No security depositsWe are also giving away an i-Pad mini! Head over to our Facebook,Instagram or Twitter page and add, like or tag us for a chance to win! We are announcing the winner Monday, March 7th.


Get On Board with Horizon!

Sign an 12-month lease with Horizon and receive a five-day luxury cruise!* This luxury cruise for two includes an interior stateroom (based on double occupancy), all gourmet meals and snacks, 24 hour complimentary room service, a wide range of nightly entertainment (Las Vegas style shows), all onboard activities, a state-of-the-art fitness center, plus fabulous international cities to visit and shop.  Upgrades such as an ocean view room, balcony room, an extended cruise, bringing kids or traveling with another couple are available at special group rates through AIM Cruises.

* Restrictions and fees apply. This offer is valid only for NEW RESIDENTS who sign an 12-month lease at any Horizon Property. Not valid with any other promotion. Applicant must mention this promotion before submitting application. Valid only if leased through Horizon property manager or Horizon leasing agent. No cash value. Cruise Certificate- recipient is responsible for port charges, taxes, customs and fulfillment fees and getting to and from port of choice. See cruise certificate for full details. Ask property manager or Horizon leasing agent for promotion details.

Hi winter. Bye cold.

Ugh. Winter is finally here. Here are a few apartment warming tips. I did not include booze…but that helps too.


1. Fake it.
Some of our apartments have fireplaces, but if you live in a building without a fireplace, you can still have the cozy glow. YouTube has a bunch of fireplace videos with crackling sounds and all. Cozy up on the couch under a warm blanket and a good book.

2. Stop the drafts
Drafty doors and windows rob you of warmth and money on your energy bills. Etsy has some affordable customizable options. Check them out here. Or just roll up a towel or blanket to put by the door.

3. Blackout curtains
Blackout curtains help keep the heat inside in the winter and the heat from coming in during the summer. They come in a array of colors, are affordable and they let keep the light out so you can sleep in on the weekends. Check out for some affordable options.

4. Reverse your ceiling fans
Use the switch on your ceiling fan to switch the direction so the blades go counter clockwise. Heat rises and this will draw it back down where you can use it the most.

5. Aluminum foil behind your radiators
You can use your kitchen aluminum foil or get heavier foil from a hardware store. Placing a layer along the wall behind your radiator bounces the heat back and keeps it from being absorbed into the wall.

Jay Michael 1981-2016

Jay Michael, the co-founder and managing partner of Cedar St. Cos., one of the busiest developers in Chicago, passed away Friday, January 8 after a year-long fight with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition to his career in real estate development, Michael was also one of the cast members of the Bravo show 100 Days of Summer. A self-described “lifestyle architect,” Michael was keen on good design and played a major role in launching the FLATS Chicago line of apartment buildings, as well as Chicago’s Heritage Bicycles. And while Michael earned praise from design enthusiasts, affordable housing advocates often cried foul at Cedar Street’s formula of purchasing derelict buildings and rehabbing them as hip and somewhat pricey micro apartments. However, over the last few years, Michael and Alex Samoylovich, a lifelong friend and partner at Cedar Street, quickly became one of the busiest and most successful duos in Chicago real estate.

And as much as Michael was a true developer, he was also represented what could be considered the anti-developer. Michael cared for design,preservation and function, and his focus on these aspects of development served as the foundation for Cedar Street’s success. Major projects include the renovation and overhaul of the historic Bush Temple of Music in the Gold Coast, the redevelopment of the Combined Insurance office complex in Uptown, and the redevelopment of the former Salvation Army Freedom Center campus located in the Near West Side.

A true believer in good design and micro-living, Michael practiced what he preached. In June 2014, Michael invited Curbed to tour his own personal residence at his No. 5411 Flats building in Edgewater. In addition to Michael, other FLATS dwellers invited us to explore their micro apartments to get a look at what it’s really like to live in a 300-square-foot space.

Michael, who had written extensively about his battle with cancer, worked through his illness to ensure that projects were moving along. Michael’s funeral service will take place tomorrow afternoon.

-Curbed Chicago


Click here to make a donation in honor of Jay Michael to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Horizon Instagram Giveaway

Let’s see your style! A few residents let us photograph their apartments to feature on our new website. We were wowed by all of the personal style. Let’s see yours! We will choose a winner at random to receive a $25 gift card from Amazon. 
Here are the rules:
1. Follow Horizon on Instagram or like us on Facebook.
2. Post a picture of your favorite room in your apartment.
3. Tag or hashtag #HorizonChicago