February Checklist for a Smooth-Running Home

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February means the thick of snow and cold across most of the country — but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of spring. Spruce up your home this month by giving your bedroom a feng shui makeover in honor of Valentine’s Day, plus take stock of cleaning supplies, keep road salt out of the house and refresh walls with paint (and maybe some new art, too). These 10 to-dos can help you keep your home in top shape, even if the weather outside is still frightful. 

1. Tune up the bedroom with feng shui. With Valentine’s Day this month, it seems like a good time to spruce up the bedroom. If you are in the market for new bedding, consider shades of pink and red to encourage romance. Rotating your mattress regularly will help prevent it from developing hills and valleys, which in feng shui can be seen as separating partners in the bed. While you’re moving mattresses around, have a peek underneath the bed — what’s hiding down there? In feng shui a clean area beneath the bed is best for relationships, so be sure to vacuum up dust bunnies and deal with hidden clutter. 

2. Fluff pillows and duvets. Duvets and pillows looking flat? That’s because over time, air is pressed out of them, and the filling (whether down or synthetic) can shift and clump.

Some synthetic-filled pillows and duvets can be machine washed (check the labels for instructions), and even down-filled items can be fluffed up in a dryer on a no-heat setting. Toss a few tennis balls into the dryer with your duvet to help it regain maximum fluffiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Clean up road salt from entrances. If the winters are chilly where you live, you know how grimy road salt and melted snow can leave your floors, especially in high-traffic areas. After giving these areas a thorough cleaning, stow your supplies nearby so it’s easy to sweep floors regularly.

4. Clean seat cushion covers. Like floors, entryway seat cushions can take a beating at this time of year. Take off removable covers and launder them; spot clean upholstery. 

5. Tidy and restock cleaning supplies. Get prepped for spring cleaning by sorting out your cleaning supplies. Toss products you tried that didn’t work and fill in gaps with fresh cleaning supplies and tools. Look over your dish towels, mop heads and microfiber cleaning rags, and replace them as needed. 

6. Rotate art and touch up walls. Give your home a winter wake-up call by swapping out a few pieces of artwork, patching dings in the walls and touching up paint. 

Make rearranging your collection easier in the future by installing a few narrow shelves around the house, like the one shown here.

 

7. Recycle e-waste. Old tech devices, CFL bulbs, ink and toner cartridges, and batteries contain dangerous toxins and cannot be tossed in with your other garbage or recycling. Store up your e-waste in one place and take it to a recycling center that accepts these items. Some office supply stores, like Staples, have free e-waste recycling programs — just drop everything off at your local store, and you’re done. 

8. Change furnace filters. A clean furnace filter will help your heating system work more efficiently and trap more dust and allergens. Most high-efficiency filters should be changed every three months — but it helps to inspect them every month, just to be sure.

9. Spruce up your favorite reading nook. This is a good time to get cozy with a book. Spruce up your reading corner with a warm throw, a soft rug and a comfy ottoman to put your feet on. And if you find yourself stuck in the house on a snowy afternoon, why not spend it organizing your books?

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Book a summer rental … and consider renting your home out, too. Seem a little early to be thinking about summer vacations? Not if you want to book a cottage — highly coveted locations arebooked months in advance. 

And if you want to offset the costs of your trip this year, consider listing your home as a rental or look into doing a house swap to stay somewhere for free.

How to Remodel Your Fireplace

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The fireplace is often the most commanding element in any room it’s in. Size and abundance of material are often factors, but as renovation specialist Ron Parko points out, our eyes are naturally drawn to the darkest object in a room anyway. Oftentimes, that’s the firebox when it’s unlit. 

Naturally you want this element, and everything that surrounds it, to complement the rest of your home. In many older homes where large brick fireplaces prevail, this can pose a challenge. What do you do? Cover it, paint it, rip it out? Here’s what to consider. 

Project: Remodeling a fireplace wall.

Why: Replacing a fireplace wall is mostly an aesthetic choice, but besides pleasing you now, an updated fireplace can also can add resale value. 

Who to hire: Someone with plenty of experience remodeling fireplaces is recommended if the job is more than just drywalling or plastering. Someone like Rita Henry, will consult with clients through email and provide renderings and design plans so they can hire a local general contractor to do the actual work. 

Brick fireplaces are the most popular to replace. Henry says a quick and easy solution is to simply wrap the brick in either tile or wood, leaving the exposed brick for the firebox. “It’s a more updated look that’s one of the least expensive,” she says. And that way the brick will remain beneath the new material in case a future home buyer prefers brick. 

For the brick fireplace shown here, she wrapped the whole thing in tile. 

AFTER: The stone tile runs wall to wall, creating a dramatic look. It completely changed the tone of the living room in this Denver home

You could also choose to drywall or plaster over the brick, creating a blank canvas that you can then do pretty much anything you want with.
 

Painting is also an option. While Henry doesn’t prefer the look of painted brick, it’s a relatively inexpensive update that can easily be changed. 

For this project Henry ripped out all the existing elements, flattened the niche and cleaned up the wall. 

AFTER: A new mantel and built-ins transformed the space. Henry says an upgrade on this scale could be done for around $3,000.

Length of project: A standard drywall installation with mantel and surround can be completed in two days. A custom mantel or more extensive ductwork or electrical installation can take five or six weeks. 

For this 1950s fireplace, renovation specialist Ron Parko’s client wanted to add bookcases and extend the hearth to each wall.  

AFTER: Because the fireplace is off center, Parko tried to mask it while also extending it out. Raising the elevation made it dominant, while photos and accessories help distract the eye from the imbalance. 

Cost: Drywalling over a brick fireplace could run about $1,500. Parko says a 6-foot-wide floor-to-ceiling paint-grade oak or poplar fireplace with a tiled hearth could run around $2,000. Wrapping an entire fireplace wall in stone and adding a custom mantel could run around $9,000. The most expensive remodel Parko did was for $12,000, which included bookcases, hidden drawers and a mantel leg that concealed a shotgun. 

Permit needed: Only if you’re altering the firebox, adding a wood burner or converting to gas.

Best time of year to do this project: This is a year-round project, but if you’re considering adding hardwood to a room or doing anything to the walls, including painting, it’s best to do the fireplace first. 

January Checklist for a Smooth-Running Home

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January brings fresh starts and renewed hopes for the year ahead. Of course, with the excitement of the holidays done and months of winter stretching out before us, January can also be a bit of a downer — especially for those in cold climates. Make the most of the first month of 2014 by taking time to say goodbye to the old year (and the holiday decorations), give your home the TLC it needs to see it through winter storms, and dream up plans for the months ahead. Here are 10 to-dos to get your year off to a good start. 

1. Keep your home fresh and cozy postholidays. Once the glow of the holidays has passed and you shift back into your usual routines, the house can suddenly feel a bit empty. Fight the winter blahs by giving your home a good cleaning (those pine needles end up in the strangest places) and boosting comfort with extra candles, cozy throws, hot drinks and good music. 

2. Store holiday decorations properly. Yes, it’s sort of a pain, but taking the extra time to sort your Christmas lights, ornaments and decor now will save you loads of frustration next year — you owe it to your future self! Wrap each strand of lights around a stiff piece of cardboard to prevent tangling. (Remember to test them first.) Very delicate ornaments should be individually wrapped in tissue paper and stored in shallow boxes. Sturdier ornaments can be lightly wrapped and stacked in a box with cardboard dividers. 

3. Organize warranties and manuals. Get any new gadgets or appliances over the past year? Take a few moments to flip through that stack of old manuals and warranties, tossing out paperwork for stuff you no longer own — and remember to send in forms to activate new warranties as needed. Store everything together in one binder or document box. 

4. Install flood alarms. If you’ve had problems with flooding, you know how awful even a minor flood can be. Installing individual sensors in likely leak spots (behind the washing machine, toilet and drainpipes) can alert you before leaks become a disaster.

 

5. Keep hard surfaces sanitized. Cold and flu season is fully upon us. Do what you can to keep illness at bay by regularly sanitizing often-handled surfaces. Tables and counters are obvious spots, but don’t miss sneakier areas like doorknobs, faucets, phones and tech devices. 

6. Get inspired and set goals for the year. Want to get more organized this year or save up for a renovation? Then sit down on a blustery afternoon with a hot drink and your Houzz app or a pile of inspiring home magazines and start plotting and planning! Once you’ve settled on a few goals, try writing specific to-dos and deadlines on your calendar to keep your eyes on the prize.

 

7. Protect pipes from freezing. If you haven’t yet and still can, insulate any exposed outdoor pipes to prevent freezing. If you plan to be away from home during a freezing spell, have a friend or neighbor stop by to turn on your water to a trickle. Find out where your home’s water shut-off valve is, if you don’t know already, so you can quickly shut off water if a pipe does burst.

8. Inspect your house after winter storms. 
Get ahead of problems by carefully looking over your home’s exterior after each storm. Especially keep an eye out for any tree limbs that have come down and any damage to your roof or siding.
 

9. Provide for feathered friends. Wild birds in cold climates can use extra support. You can help by providing a safe place to land and fill up on fresh birdseed. Bigger birds like cardinals and jays prefer larger, dark seeds — look for a seed mix that caters to the kind of birds you see in your yard. Fresh (unfrozen) water can be difficult for wild birds to find in winter, so consider regularly providing a dish of fresh water, or a heated waterer. 

10. Out with the old, in with the new. Got some new goodies for Christmas? Instead of packing them into overstuffed closets and drawers, take a few extra minutes to seek out something similar to let go of. New set of sheets? Pick out an older set to give away. New pair of boots? Dig in your closet for a worn-out pair to toss.

December Checklist for a Smooth-Running Home

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With winter officially beginning on December 21 and holiday festivities around the corner, there is a lot to prepare this month! For those in cold climates, it’s time to begin thinking about snow and ice removal, blocking drafts and getting cozy indoors … and we can all use a good dose of Zen as the busy holiday season gets rolling. Here are 13 home tasks to consider adding to your list this month. 

1. Put up holiday decorations. If you like to decorate for the holidays, now is the time! Dig out the Christmas lights and test them early in the month, so you have ample time to replace nonworking strands. Hang exterior lights, wreaths and swags, being sure to use only exterior-rated lights, and plug them in safely to an outside outlet if possible.

2. Plan for holiday home safety. With night falling earlier this month, and many people headed out of town, it pays to be extra safety-conscious — whether or not you are going anywhere. Always lock doors and windows, set your alarm system if you use one and keep the area around your house well-lit and your bushes trimmed back. 

3. Simplify your holiday. Take a moment to sit down and really consider what you love — and don’t care for — about the holiday season. No one can do it all, and trying to accomplish too much only creates stress and disappointment. Pick your top three favorite holiday activities or traditions, and commit to doing them this month. Then list your threeleast favorite holiday activities and vow to skip them this year. 

If you are feeling pressure from friends or relatives to keep doing certain things (i.e., baking a dozen different kinds of cookies), tell them that you are simplifying your holiday this year, and are focusing on the things you love most. Then invite them to share in something youdo want to do, like going ice skating or drinking hot cocoa. 

4. Add layers of warmth. Drape soft throws or thick sheepskins over chairs and sofas, and roll out plush rugs on your floors. Aside from being decorative, extra layers of textiles provide a wonderful boost of warmth in winter.

5. Add weather stripping and door sweeps as needed. Feel a draft? Don’t ignore it. Apply weatherstripping to the drafty area and your house will feel warmer right away. If the problem is cold air flowing in from under a door, what you need is a door sweep. Usually made from hard plastic, a door sweep attaches to the bottom of your door, closing the gap that lets cold air in. 

6. Carve out your own space to get Zen. Boost energy and relieve stress during the holiday season by creating your own private space to meditate, do yoga or simply relax. Ideally, choose a sunny corner of your home where you can get a bit of morning sun. 

7. Consider a backup heat source. If you live in a cold climate with regular winter storms that sometimes knock out power, it may be beneficial to invest in a woodstove or generator— something to provide backup heat if your regular heat source is unavailable. If a woodstove is your backup, be sure to stock up on plenty of firewood. If you decide to go with a generator, enlist a pro to teach you how to set it up and use it safely — when used improperly, a generator can start a fire.

8. Update your emergency kit and store it with your camping supplies. If you already havea household emergency kit, check the expiration dates on food and medications in it, and replace as needed. If you do not yet have one, get one! You may find many of your camping supplies helpful in an emergency, so consider storing your emergency kit and camping gear in the same (easily accessible) place. 

9. Beware of sneaky mice and rats (ugh!). Not so nice to think about, but if you see signs (i.e., droppings) that little critters have invaded your home, it’s best to take care of the problem as soon as possible. To prevent future problems, store all food in airtight containers, clean your pantry regularly and seal up any holes or cracks in your home that may lead outside.

 

10. Keep walkways clear of snow and ice. As we get further along in December, many folks living in cold climates will get their first snow. Be prepared by stocking up on snow shovels and ice melt, and store your tools where you can easily get to them during a storm. Just be aware that certain ice melting products can be harmful to pets and plants — read the labels carefully before buying, and try to keep products off of your lawn and garden beds.

11. Check your roof for ice dams. Ice dams are areas of built-up ice that can accumulate on your roof, potentially causing leaks when they melt. If you can safely reach them, break them up now to prevent future damage.

12. Knock snow from tree branches. Large amounts of snow can cause trees to lose branches, which can be especially dangerous if a large limb is positioned near your home. Use a long-handled broom or other tool to gently knock snow from branches. 

13. Thinking about remodeling next year? Use downtime this month to begin creating ideabooksand scouting for pros, and have an initial discussion about the job.

8 Ideas for High-Functioning Mudrooms

Mudrooms help us transition from our adventures in the great outdoors to the comforts inside our homes. But when packed with clever built-ins, space-maximizing storage and nifty organizers, a mudroom can also become a high-functioning, double-duty space that can accommodate anything from folding laundry to making crafts. 

Don’t believe me? Check out these fantastic mudrooms and my space-saving mudroom organization tips to see how you can make the entry to your home attractive, functional and clutter free.

Office space. Transform your mudroom into a double-function space with a built-in desk and file storage. One wall is all you need if you plan it right. The cubbies and hooks help keep outdoor gear and clutter separated from the desk area. 

Helpful hooks. Turn an awkward or a dead space into something you’ll actually use. A row of simple hooks around the perimeter and a few well-placed wire baskets have turned this once-empty nook into a valuable drop zone near the home’s entry. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neat and clean. Not all of us like to have our jackets and coats on display. These floor-to-ceiling cabinet doors keep clutter out of sight and add an architectural statement.

 

Laundry time. If you have a spacious mudroom at the back of your house, take advantage of all that room. Consider including a laundry section to make life a little easier. A washer, dryer and small sink mean you can throw dirty clothes right into the wash as soon as you get home. 

Pet station. If you share your home with furry friends, your mudroom is the perfect place for a doggie stop. This pet-friendly mudroom’s special space for cleaning pets means the owners will never see a muddy paw print in their house again. A sophisticated palette of durable materials makes it feel sleek, despite its practical purpose.

 

Seasonal storage. Mudrooms can be the perfect place in which to store outdoor sports gear for all four seasons, with the right organizational techniques. This ski-loving family came up with a great solution to keep their winter gear under control: Cubbies for gloves and hats up top, spots for boots below the bench and custom ski racks keep everything neat and tidy.

Personalized. Clever and colorful solutions help bring this mudroom to life. Let your little ones choose a favorite color to make their special space in your mudroom more fun. Color-coordinated baskets add a little personality to an all-white space with minimal cost and effort.

 

Get crafty. If you have the room, incorporate a workstation into your mudroom. Wrap a gift, help your child with a school project or prepare a package for the mail on your way out the door. Having everything in one spot will make multitasking much easier. 

10 Popular Home Design Trends | Timely or Timeless?

Weigh in on whether these of-the-moment decorating elements will have staying power or become a memory of these times.

It’s hard to know what’s going to stick and what’s going to go down in history as the next macramé plant holder. Interior design trends come and go and come again, to be sure.

In the ’50s, people ripped out Victorian details and claw-foot tubs in favor of vinyl and plastic and elements with the sleek, modern aesthetic of the atomic age. in the ’70s and ’80s, Danish modern pieces and other icons of the ’50s were eschewed as symbols of a stuffy, bygone era. Now they are sought-after treasures with giant price tags. 

In the last decade, we’ve seen some new decorating trends emerge. Some will have staying power, and some will go down with macramé plant hangers. We may see them in 20 years and think, “That is so 2012.” But which is which? I have my predications.

What are yours?

Moroccan Poufs

Image Source: Bungalow1a (blog)I am a huge fan of Moroccan poufs. They are great extra seating. They are great foot rests. They are both exotic and modern, and they come in a rainbow of colors.

They’re modern looking, but with just the right amount of flourish. Not too sleek, not too busy.

And they go with any decor:

  • Modern

  • Traditional

  • Boho

  • Eclectic

But are they here to stay? I’m not sure.

Woods Wallpaper

This beautiful and serene pattern hit its apex in about 2010, when it was absolutely everywhere.

It’s simple, symmetrical and classic.

But that may have been what whoever put up the wallpaper of cartoonish bathing ladies in my childhood bathroom thought.

Image Source: Piet Hein Eek Wood Wallpaper via Charlie and Caroline (blog)

Mid-Century Modern Wallpaper

Image Source: UltraswankI love wallpaper, and I love the big, graphic patterns inspired by mid-century designs. But they’ve already done their comeback circle and I’m betting that in a few more years they are going to fall out of favor again. 

In 1990 no one would have put this in their home. Now everyone is. What about in 2025?

Same goes for mid-century textured wallpaper. Trend.

Mid-Century Starburst Mirrors

A starburst mirror is to my mom what a salmon and seafoam room is to me: a design trend from my youth that now seems horribly misguided. She cannot imagine why anyone would want this in a home. 

But many, many people do want starburst mirrors in their homes. You see them in all sorts of different styles. Does that make them a classic or are they just enjoying one last moment of favor?

Image Source: Bright Bazaar (blog)

Mid-Century Everything

Image Source: Jay Johnson | Examiner Home DesignAll the mid-century design icons have made a huge resurgence in the past decade:

  • Eames

  • Saarinen

  • Nelson

  • Bertoia

You can’t turn around without hitting your shin on a Tulip Chair.

Mid-century modern design had real beauty and a very recognizable aesthetic. It is grounded in the philosophy of its time, which sought a sleek simplicity and an integration with the outdoors.

The ideas and designs of that time will never fade away. But the trend of creating a period-piece room will. We will always have Danish modern and Nelson lights, but I don’t think there will be quite so many rooms that look like Mad Men sets in 20 years.

Butterflies

Butterflies are the insect of choice for everything from little girls’ rooms to sophisticated dining rooms. In the early aughts it was birds; now it’s butterflies.

Nature never goes out of style, and we’ve been stealing its designs since we first wrote on cave walls. But will butterflies scream “2012” in five years? 

Image Source: Etsy via Aliette | The Hand Made Home (blog)

Old Globes

Image Source: Longwood Eduation (blog)These are another staple of modern, eclectic design. Just try to score a cheap out-of-date globe at a garage sale. There is no such thing, such is the demand. 

Old globes do have an innate loveliness. They are bright and round and colorful. They represent exploration and mystery.

But will the old globe’s current ubiquitousness be its undoing? Ten years from now, will you be able to score one at a garage sale for next to nothing?

Fake Taxidermy

This is another big one in eclectic modern design. It’s funny and winking and ironic – very much a product of the time. 

But animal heads fashioned out of cardboard, plaster and ceramic have a limited shelf life.

Image Source: Etsy via For Each Wind That Blows (blog)

‘For Like Ever’ Posters

Image Source: Style Files, Plush Palate, Coco & Kelley via CreamyLife (blog)Already dated. They were just too popular for their own good. 

It’s always possible that they will make a nostalgic comeback in 20 years when all the children of today recall them from their childhoods. But they will never be a classic.

Wall Decals

They are great for people who can’t or don’t want to commit to wallpaper. And they are certainly a lot less expensive than art. But does the wall decal mural have a future?

I think wall decals might be here to stay for short-life rooms like nurseries, but their best days are behind them for adult spaces.