Garage & Entry Doors

Garage & Entry Doors

Now is the perfect time of year to spruce up your house by replacing or refinishing your entry and/or garage doors. Nothing welcomes a guest better than a beautifully inviting entry. Our team is well-known for our knowledge, experience, and quality execution of such work. Wether your door requires a full refinish or just a touch up, we can guide you through the entire process from assessment to color selection to future maintenance.

Check out some one of our recent projects! This entry door was custom ordered, finished and installed for a Stanley Anderson home in Lake Forest.

Best of Houzz 2014!

Best of Houzz 2014!

Ragsdale, Inc. of Lake Bluff Receives Best Of Houzz 2014 Award

Annual Survey and Analysis of 16 Million Monthly Users Reveals Top-Rated Building, Remodeling and Design Professionals

Lake Bluff, Illinois, February 4, 2014 – Ragsdale, Inc. of Lake Bluff, Illinois has been awarded “Best Of Houzz” by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. The 37 year old fine painting, decorating and finishing firm was chosen by the more than 16 million monthly users that comprise the Houzz community.

The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Customer Satisfaction and Design. Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2013. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 16 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers,” who saved more than 230 million professional images of home interiors and exteriors to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site, iPad/iPhone app and Android app. Winners will receive a “Best Of Houzz 2014” badge on their profiles, showing the Houzz community their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

“We love what we do and it shows! That’s our tagline and it’s the honest truth around here, day in and day out. We are thrilled to receive this award and grateful to our entire staff for all of their hard work and effort in getting us where we are today,” says Grace Ragsdale, Vice President of the company.

“Houzz provides homeowners with the most comprehensive view of home building, remodeling and design professionals, empowering them to find and hire the right professional to execute their vision,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of community for Houzz. “We’re delighted to recognize Steve and Grace Ragsdale among our “Best Of” professionals for customer satisfaction as judged by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts who are actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”

With Houzz, homeowners can identify not only the top-rated professionals like Ragsdale, Inc., but also those whose work matches their own aspirations for their home. Homeowners can also evaluate professionals by contacting them directly on the Houzz platform, asking questions about their work and reviewing their responses to questions from others in the Houzz community.

Follow Ragsdale, Inc. on Houzz 

About Ragsdale, Inc.

Since 1977, Ragsdale, Inc. has been one of the top painting, decorating and finishing firms along Chicago’s prestigious north shore. The firm produces the most exquisite painted finishes in the industry, utilizing an arsenal of environmentally progressive products. From pristine exterior restorations to the finest of interior wall finishes, paper hanging, and cabinet and furniture finishes, each member of the Ragsdale team truly embodies the term “master craftsman.” If you place value in legitimacy, professionalism, and a meticulous finished product, then Ragsdale, Inc. is the perfect partner for you!

About Houzz

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community powered by social tools, Houzz is the easiest way for people to get the design inspiration, project advice, product information and professional reviews they need to help turn ideas into reality. For more information, visit .

Exterior Paint & Solid Stain – What’s the Difference?

Exterior Paint & Solid Stain – What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between exterior paint and solid stain? We get this same question year after year. The truth is, not much!

A solid stain is, essentially, a paint. Both are films that sit on the surface of a substrate. A penetrating stain differs from a solid stain entirely in that the product actually absorbs into the wood.

To determine which product is right for a given project, there are a number of different things to consider. Start with the substrate – is the wood rough or smooth? A solid stain will better accentuate the texture of the wood, so a rough surface likely calls for stain over paint. The disadvantage here is that solid stains are very flat and thus are typically less durable than paint. You can still expect 6-8 years of longevity out of a properly executed exterior stain application. Additionally, a degraded stained surface is typically less work to prepare than a degraded painted surface, so you can expect that less labor will be involved when it comes time to re-stain.


Exterior Paint ——>

Paint, on the other hand, is a much thicker film that solid stain. This allows it to bridge cracks and imperfections in the substrate, resulting in a smoother finished surface. We recommend a low-lustre sheen on most exterior surfaces – it wears the best with weather conditions. However, increasing sheen level also increases the visibility of substrate imperfections. For this reason, low-lustre paint isn’t usually the best choice for rough surfaces. An exterior paint application can last anywhere from 5-10 years, depending on the quality of surface preparation and the quality of the paint product.

Solid Stain

Solid Stain ——>

Whether you finish coat the wood with solid stain or with paint, keep in mind that both require the wood be primed first. And always remember that mistakes are easily made, but not easily fixed (and can be unbelievably costly). Be sure to hire a pro for the job the first time around!

Ragsdale, Inc. has been in the business of exterior surface restoration and finishing for over 35 years. We learned our hard lessons a long time ago! If you’re looking for a worry-free experience, give us a call. We have the knowledge and experience to execute most any project without a hitch!

Historical Restorations

Historical Restorations

This year has been fantastic for the restorative painting part of our business! We have had the great fortune of undertaking restoration and decorating work on several historic homes in Lake Forest, including three Adler’s, one Shaw and a marvel by Philip Lippincott Goodwin.

The projects included maintenance painting, the rebuilding of rotted architectural components, cabinet finishing, faux finishing, sash restoration and a considerable amount of paint restoration. Our talented crews of skilled craftsmen met these challenges with their usual professionalism, laying the foundation for what we hope will become and/or remain cherished long term relationships.

Building great relationships is what drives us to be the best that we can be. We know that every house we work on, big or small, is a home to those that live there and deserves to be treated as such!


Looking for a Little Inspiration?

Looking for a Little Inspiration?

Being in the decorating business, I am constantly coming across interesting paint ideas from both clients and trade partners alike. In the “old” days we perused magazines, waiting on edge for the latest issue to arrive in the mailbox so we could see who was doing what! In today’s technological era, the internet has become a major source for design inspiration and sharing. I didn’t really “get it” in the beginning – I explored Pinterest a bit, sort of browsed through Houzz, but it wasn’t until I really sat down and spent a few hours with both that I began to recognize their real value.

These sites provide the opportunity to share and discuss your work with colleagues across the world and to gain targeted exposure to your market. Further, the ability to exchange ideas back and forth with clients, like a sort of online design board, one that also allows you to click through to specific product information right then and there, is transforming collaboration within the design process.

If you haven’t visited these sites yet, find a little time. It will be well spent. Be sure to visit the Ragsdale, Inc. profile on Houzz and check out my Interesting Paint Ideas board on Pinterest.

Follow me on both for continued inspiration!

Mohawk Finish Training

Mohawk Finish Training

Did you know that Ragsdale provides on-site furniture restoration services?

A few weeks back, I spent two days at a Mohawk Finishing Supply furniture restoration training.  This was a great time spent! I was able to refine my skills and increase my knowledge of furniture dent, scratch and ding restoration.  This was an intensive course that spent one day on dent and scratch filling techniques, and the second day on color, grain and finish replacement.  I learned a bunch of new tricks to add to our arsenal.  If you have, or know of someone who has need for this service,  we would be happy to be of service.



All About Wood (And Staining It!)

All About Wood (And Staining It!)

I’ve had a few situations come up over the past year where clients were confused over the concept that all woods take stain differently. This holds true between different species, between trees of the same species, between boards milled from the same tree, and even within a single board. I figured I’d write a little something about this topic to illuminate those of you that are unfamiliar.

Selecting the right wood for a project needs to be based upon the goal of achieving balance between the desired appearance of the finish and the required strength of the substrate.

The grain of a wood is largely responsible for its appearance. The grain is the result of how the tree grows along the main axis of its trunk. If it grows straight, it is “straight grained” wood. If the cells deviate from the main axis of the tree as it grows, the result is “cross grained” wood. Further, if the tree twists as it grows, it produces “spiral grained” wood. Trees with an undulating cell structures result in irregular or “wild grained” wood.

wood grain

Texture also plays into appearance. This refers to the relative size of the wood’s cells, or its porosity. Woods with small, closely spaced cells produce a fine texture; a course texture is the result of relatively large cells.

wood texture

Contrary to popular belief, the strength of wood has nothing to do with whether it is considered a “softwood” or a “hardwood” – this refers to the botanical grouping of the wood rather than its physical properties. However, the majority of hardwoods are indeed harder than softwoods. Strength is actually determined by density of the wood, which can be figured by driving a metal ball halfway into the wood’s surface. The force used is recorded in pounds; the higher the number the stronger the wood.

Softwoods come from coniferous trees such as cedar and pine. They are somewhat yellow or reddish in color, and since they grow fast and straight, they are usually less expensive than hardwoods. Softwoods are primarily used for building construction and joinery.

Western red cedar, Thuja plicata  eastern white pine

Cedar                      Pine

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees and include such species as ash, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, poplar, teak and walnut. In our finishing business, we work primarily with hardwoods. Although they are more expensive, their variety in color, texture and grain make for beautiful cabinetry and furniture – so long as you appreciate that variety!

white ash  natural birch  cherry wood

Ash                    Birch                    Cherry

mahogany  walnut  oak

Mahogany                   Maple                             Oak

poplar  teak  walnut

Poplar                    Teak                    Walnut

Now that we understand the properties of the substrate (wood), we need to understand the properties of the finishing product (stain). A wood stain is a colorant that is suspended or dissolved into a vehicle such as water, alcohol, or a finishing agent (shellac, lacquer, varnish, polyurethane). Colorants can be pigments, which are opaque, dyes, which are translucent, or a combination of both. Pigments are large particles suspended in the vehicle while dyes are microscopic crystals that dissolve in the vehicle.

dye stains

Dye Stains

opaque stain

Opaque Stains

The overall color and shade of the finished product is the result of a combination between the properties of the wood and the properties of the stain. Because every piece of wood is so unique, wood stained finishes will always have some sort of inherent variation. This is why selecting the right wood and the right product is critical in order to closely approximate the desired aesthetic. Here are a few more points to consider:

  1. Highly porous wood, or portions of a board that are more porous than others, will absorb more stain, thus darkening considerably in those areas.
  2. Finely grained woods have pores too small for pigments to attach themselves to without the help of a binding agent. Dye stains, however, will easily color finely grained wood.
  3. Aged wood absorbs stain better than “green” lumber. New lumber can also sometimes have a wax-like sealant put on it at the mill. This will prevent the wood from accepting stain if not properly prepared.
  4. Woods that have been heavily subjected to strippers or washed down with solvents will have an increased open grain and accept more stain than normal.
  5. Different species take stain better than others. For example, a medium-dark stain tends to look blotchy on maple, but shows more consistent coloration on cherry.

blotchy maple

In addition, technique can have a major affect on the appearance of the finished product. Following proper methods of preparation, properly conditioning the surface when necessary, sanding evenly between coats, knowing how long to keep the product on the substrate, and proper application of a protective top coat are all important things to factor into the process.

As you can see, the art of wood finishing is a complex thing. For best results, you should always rely on a professional contractor to complete the project. The Ragsdale crew has been at it for 35 years. We are highly experienced, extremely knowledgeable in product technology, and run a totally legitimate operation. If you’re looking for the best finish with the least amount of risk, you know where to find us.

The (Recent) Story of Ragsdale, Inc.

My father, Steve, started his company back in 1977, focusing his services specifically on the restoration, painting and decorating of estates along Chicago’s prestigious north shore. I joined the operation in 2009 after graduating from Lake Forest College with a degree in philosophy, of all things. I’ll discuss how my education plays into my job a little bit later…

As we all know, our country’s economy suffered a major collapse in 2008, resulting in some extreme changes in the structure of my father’s business. Middle management was let go, and Dad, after five years or so of semi-retirement, was once again fully holding the reigns. Where I was going to fit into the picture was, frankly, completely unclear. But I needed a job, no one was hiring, and my father was in need of some inexpensive assistance.

At this point in time, his company had tackled everything from basic house painting to historical renovations, large-scale commercial projects, and, most recently, the finishing of cabinets for small, local shops. We had an extensive client base and a phenomenal reputation as to the quality of our work and the depth of our expertise. At our prime, we were running over 20 painters; now we were down to 11.

It was a time of major anxiety for my father; however I saw it as an opportunity to revamp the whole operation. We were in desperate need of modernization, whether he could see it or not. I set to work, and in my first year I wrote a 60 page safety manual, and implemented it; I designed and built out a new website, and I learned the current bookkeeping system. In the second year, I converted our office to an entirely Mac-based system, took everything to an electronic format, and re-orchestrated our bookkeeping and project management systems. In addition, I re-designed the website again in order maximize our presence on the web through search engine optimization. I also began a social media marketing campaign, getting us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I re-joined the PDCA and completed the Contractor College program, obtained my official certification as an interior decorator, began training in custom finish design, and underwent the training to certify our company under the new RRP regulations. Lastly, I converted our front office into a showroom for our work.

Over the past year, I began to engage in serious networking efforts, joining ASID as an industry partner, participating in our local chambers of commerce, and attending various conferences and expos relating to our industry. Through these venues, I began to develop a phenomenal resource base and to build our relationships with local architects and designers. I also obtained further certification as a REGREEN trained professional through ASID and USGBC. Lastly, I launched my own business restyling vintage furniture pieces.

Throughout this time my father was working hard on developing our finishing operation, which has now blossomed into providing nearly half of our revenue. Seven years ago, he had the foresight to convert to a totally water-based operation, and I attribute our great success in that area to this decision. We are now not only finishing for small cabinetmakers, but for furniture makers as well. We have also developed a solid refinishing business, breathing new life into tired kitchen cabinets, outdated vanities, and furniture in need of an aesthetic overhaul.

In addition, I convinced Dad to bring on a highly motivated, super efficient foreman to take over our field operation. All of our employees bring a lot to the table (some of them have been doing so for twenty years!), but after the initial wariness that always comes with change, the new addition to our team eventually led to a heightened sense of enthusiasm from everyone involved.

Nonetheless, our business is not, and I think will never again be, what it once was. We’re now down to 6 employees. Our biggest challenge today is the struggle against unscrupulous business practices. As the marketplace has continued to degrade since 2008, legitimate painting businesses in our locale have simply disappeared. Almost overnight, not only were we fighting the underground economy, we were now also “competing” with companies who promoted themselves as legitimate operations, but behind the scenes were playing the 1099 game, thus dodging taxes and insurance. Right off the bat, that placed us 35% above everybody else. As people’s ethics dissipated, so did the quantity of work we were contracting. And as subcontracting became the name of the game, corner cutting became even more prevalent, and as a result, quality dissipated as well.

This is where the education part comes in. If I learned nothing else in the study of philosophy, I solidified my principles and ethics in a way that will never leave me. Although we’ve fought endlessly over advertising, employees, services providers, paperwork, and what the future of our business looks like, my father and I are both 100% committed to running our company in the manner we believe is right – legally, ethically, and thoughtfully. We strive to be conscious in all that we do, from paying our employees fair wages and providing for their safety on the jobsite to purchasing the most environmentally friendly products that we can and obtaining them with as little environmental impact as possible. Loving what we do will always be our driving force, but for us, the quality of what we produce and the legitimacy of how we do it will always trump getting rich at it.

I’m truly blessed – I get to work with my best friend (Dad) every day, and I get to wear many hats so I’m never bored! Not only do I love what I do, I feel really good about how we do it. I’m grateful to my father for what he built, and I hope that despite our ever-changing world, we will persevere, preserving the integrity of our craft.

Thanks for reading our story.