Enhance Your Living Space With a Flip of a Switch!

Light is a marvelous interior design tool. As a homeowner, you can use it to express your personality, set a mood, enhance your enjoyment of living spaces, and much more.

Beyond improving a home’s natural light, there are dozens of ways to boost interior spaces with lighting effects. It just requires a little imagination and a basic understanding of design techniques.

Light expands space. This is why small spaces can appear more substantial with the addition of bright lighting, light colors, and surfaces that reflect light, like mirrors. Likewise, dark colors and muted light sources can visually shrink a too-large space, making it feel cozier.

How can you bring lighting strategies into your home, like a pro?

Showcase Your Favorites

Light can also be used to direct someone’s attention because we automatically notice bright objects over darkened corners.

Photographers and artists frequently play with light to draw our eyes across their images in an intentional sequence, using light and shadows to focus our attention here, then there.

How can you employ this technique in your home?

Imagine walking into a room where a light shines on a framed painting, while the rest of the room is dimly lit. Will the painting appear to have special significance? Apparently, yes.

“Throwing a little light” on any object elevates its importance in the same way the star of a theatrical performance gets the spotlight.

For example, if you want to make your favorite fiddle-leaf fig tree more visually prominent, throw a spotlight on it—either a canned light that illuminates the leaves from below or a directional light from above that highlights its shiny leaves.

Or, go old school and wrap the tree with tiny white lights. Any of these techniques will be attention-getting.

Change the Mood

Creative lighting choices also alter a room’s atmosphere. For example, imagine a room with dozens of candles. Now imagine the same space, but replace the candles with strobe lights. It’s a significant shift in mood.

The intensity of light, as well as where the light falls on the color spectrum, changes the way a room “feels” when you are in it.

Blue-white, super-bright lights feel more sterile and powerful, whereas soft golden and lower-wattage lights bring warmth, relaxation, and a sensual mood to a room. (There’s a reason candlelight is considered romantic.)

When selecting a bulb, pay attention to where it falls on the color spectrum. Popular lighting options now include Edison-style bulbs, halogen bulbs, and LED bulbs, with substantial differences in color quality and energy efficiency.

Vintage style Edison bulbs provide warm yellow light, although you may need a lower-wattage version to achieve a genuinely soft glow. (Or install a dimmer switch.)

LEDs, on the other hand, are now available at every point on the warm-to-cool Kelvin scale of color temperatures—and in differing degrees of brightness.

Divide and Define

Beneficial lighting design in your home is about more than setting a mood and creating dramatic visual effects. Lighting also plays an essential supporting role in making spaces more functionally enjoyable.

Use lighting to subdivide a room into different purposes, such as visiting and relaxing, managing paperwork, or curling up with a good book.

Effective lighting design is particularly important in kitchens, where it must be visually attractive while also supporting various tasks. Under-cabinet lighting, island pendants, ceiling downlights, and track lighting all play vital roles.

Lighting decisions go far beyond selecting a style for a single overhead fixture. The way lighting is employed throughout your living spaces will impact every aspect of how your home looks, feels, and functions.

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How To Love Your Laundry Room

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Let’s face it. Laundry rooms don’t get much love. It doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few tweaks and a little forward-thinking design, you can have a laundry room you adore on a budget you can afford.

Here’s how:

Make it Easy to Use

Tackle appliances first. If you are cramped for space, consider stacking your washer and dryer or buying a compact washer-dryer combo unit. If you prefer keeping your washer and dryer side-by-side, make sure the doors open in a direction that allows a smooth transfer of clothes from the washer to the dryer.

Create a folding area. Tired of stuffing freshly washed clothes into a basket and carrying them to another room where they wait to be folded? If your machines are side-by-side and you can keep the tops clear, this can be your folding space. Another option is to install a fold-down shelf that stores flat against the wall when not in use.

Add hanging space. Hanging your clothes as soon as they’re dry can reduce ironing chores. Hanging space is also useful for delicate air-dry items. Try adding a built-in rod or a fold-down bar that disappears when not in use. If you have room, you might want to purchase a rolling clothes hanger cart that includes space for laundry baskets below the hanging items.

Banish Unnecessary Items 

Cut the product clutter. Eliminate any laundry products you don’t use and store your favorites on a shelf or in a tote next to the washer and dryer, so it’s easy to access them right where you need them.

Remove what doesn’t belong. Don’t let your laundry room become a catch-all for household cleaning supplies, mops, vacuum cleaners, or other items that have managed to accumulate in this space.

Get Organized

Use gaps. If there's a substantial space between or beside your machines, fill it with a rollout shelf that can hold your products and tuck them away when not needed. Placed at the right height, this can also expand your folding space.

Clear the floor. To eliminate piles of dirty clothes on the floor, add tall, slender, side-by-side baskets that match your typical laundry cycles: one for whites, one for darks, one for delicates, etc.

Personalize it. If you’re folding clothes for other family members, keep a small, labeled basket for each person on a shelf, so folded items can go straight into the baskets, where each person can grab their clothes and put them away!

Simplify Clean-Up

No more sticky stuff. Does your liquid soap make a mess after each pour? Try tossing it in with your (non-delicate) clothes. The washer will get the residual liquid, and you will have a clean cup to return to your shelf!

Collect lint with style. Instead of finding floor space for a trash bin, try hanging a slender apartment-style mailbox or a planter on the wall beside your dryer to conveniently catch lint and reduce lint dust in your laundry space.

Care for All Clothes

As a central care center for all of your clothing, be sure your laundry space includes:

  • A designated place for outgoing dry cleaning items.
  • Hanging space for your iron and ironing board. (The back of the door will work!)
  • A small basket for clothes that need some tender loving care, like a missing button or an unraveling hem. (You may want to keep a basic sewing kit in the bottom of that basket, so it’s easy to make quick repairs while waiting for a machine to finish a cycle.)
  • A basket for single socks—or a clothesline hung against the wall to display socks in search of their “sole-mate.”

Make it Bright and Cheerful

No one enjoys working in a dungeon. Keeping your laundry area clean and bright will make it easier to tolerate these chores.

If your laundry space includes one or more windows, keep any window treatments as minimal as possible so lots of natural light can stream in.

If your space lacks windows or you tend to do laundry chores in the evening, try adding more light with higher wattage bulbs, a better overhead fixture, or task lighting under the shelves. A fresh, light-colored coat of paint on the walls may also do the trick!

Create a Luxury Home on a Limited Budget

You don’t have to spend a fortune to make your home look and feel a bit more luxurious. When it comes to luxury living on a budget, it’s more important to set a few priorities and get creative. Here are many ideas to get started!

Eliminate Clutter

Creating an orderly environment is one of the easiest ways to make your home appear more luxurious. That costs nothing but time!

  • Remove any pieces of furniture that you don’t use or don’t love. Too many chairs, tables, shelves, etc. jammed into a room looks claustrophobic.
  • Keep all surfaces as clear as possible. When displaying items, select carefully. Single pieces or groupings of three look best.
  • Hide your television. In sumptuous rooms, it’s never the center of attention.

Textures Versus Colors

Luxurious homes avoid using bright colors or limit them to select accent items. Emphasize a mixture of engaging surfaces within a tight color scheme.

  • Find beautifully textured pillows in colors that complement your sofa—or as large floor pillows. No, they don’t have to match. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be identical. Create a collection of textures!
  • Consider adding a beautifully textured throw to your favorite chair.
  • Update your window treatments. This can be quite an investment, but you may be able to find creative and budget-friendly ways to add “I just want to touch it” textures.

The Power of Lighting

Light fixtures can be expensive, but there are many budget-friendly ways to decorate with light.

  • Inexpensive canister lights placed behind a real or artificial plant or some other focal point can make a once-dark corner become an attention-grabbing feature.
  • Add dimmers to your wall switches to fine tune the intensity of your home’s lighting. You can also install plug-in dimmers to control table or floor lamps.
  • Consider going all out and dressing up your room with one statement lighting fixture. You may be able to find your perfect feature at a thrift store or an architectural salvage warehouse. Also, search for treasures on Craigslist and Facebook’s marketplace.

Go Big with Art and Nature

To make a grand statement, choose a single, sumptuous, noteworthy piece instead of many smaller items.

  • A substantial work of art can set the tone for an entire room and grab the interest of anyone entering the space. It can be a photograph, a painting, a tapestry, or anything else. Just go big.
  • Trim back the green thumb. Limit plants to one or two large, impressive specimens and replace any plastic or cheap-looking pots. If you love cut flowers, create an abundant arrangement in any given room.
  • Select a sculptural element. This will add texture and substance to your decorating scheme as well as visual interest. Scour antique shops, second-hand stores, and architectural salvage outlets to find something interesting.
  • Consider a large fish tank, if you (or someone you live with) is willing to take on the project and keep it looking beautiful.

Think “Luxury Hotel” in Private Spaces

In your bedrooms and bathrooms, attempt to duplicate the look and feel of an expensive hotel room.

  • Make your bed a focal point. (And make your bed!) Invest in superb, high thread-count sheets, a natural textile blanket, extra pillows, and a fluffy throw. The bed should beckon you when you enter the room. That is luxury!
  • Use white or light monochromatic colors. Luxury hotels offer big, fluffy, white towels and a matching robe. Beds are white, the sheets are white, the duvet is white. It’s all so pristine! White may not be your thing, but a lighter or neutral color will provide the same feel. Think light slate blue, barely pink granite, pale stone, steel gray, taupe, or beige.
  • Your bathrooms should be spotlessly clean. This is a luxury that only requires investing a little time and effort, but it’s so worth it!
  • Minimize containers. Display as few bathroom products as possible inside your shower or on the countertops. Clean and uncluttered is the way to go.
  • Towels and washcloths should be plentiful, and on display, so they are easy to find and use.

With a little work, some creative treasure-hunting, and a couple of investments in quality items, you can have a home steeped in luxury, even on a shoestring budget!





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Setting the Stage for Outdoor Entertaining

It’s summer! For many people, it’s time to get out of the house and host outdoor gatherings, whether it’s enjoying an outdoor living room or kitchen-like features, perfect for entertaining.

After all, who wants to cook inside and haul everything outdoors? Likewise, who wants a constant parade of people flowing in and out of the house?

There are many ways to create great outdoor entertaining spaces and simplify the process of serving food and drinks, including some economical options. Claim some space in your own great outdoors and make it happen!

Great Grillin’

The centerpiece of any good outdoor kitchen is a great grill. If you select from manufacturers’ models, pick one with surfaces on either side of the grill, to simplify food prep. You may also prefer a gas grill with a burner on one side to prepare items that don’t grill well.

Use your grill to enjoy the bounty of the season. If you want to go beyond traditional burgers and dogs, consider mixing it up with these less common options:

Go vegetarian (or not) – Kabobs of fruits and vegetables make it easy to cook and serve your guests with minimal hassle. If your company prefers it, include meat options. If you don’t mind the extra serving dishes, consider providing plastic gloves and letting guests build their own kabobs!

Rack ‘em – Slather a few racks of ribs with your favorite sauce and grill them, along with foil-wrapped Irish or sweet potatoes, and ears of corn. Add a big bowl of fresh green salad for an easy meal that’s sure to please.

Go fishing – For an impressive option, catch or purchase whole fish and grill them, stuffed with lemon slices and herbs. This is easier than grilling filets (which crumble and make a mess) and it will wow your guests. Add roasted fresh vegetables and a herbed potato salad for a complete meal!

Liquid Libations

An outdoor bar is a great way to serve drinks with a meal—or to create a focal point for a gathering that includes snacks instead of a complete meal. (To avoid disasters, be sure to select a sturdy table!) Options include:

Self-service – Let guests choose from a large glass container of sangria, a non-alcoholic punch, a colorful bucket of coolers/beer/sodas, or a long planter box filled with ice and a selection of wine bottles. Supply beverage glasses, extra ice, water, and a large bowl of fresh fruit (on ice) for garnish.

Pick a theme – Reduce the options (and the hassle) with a theme. For example, a Margarita Madness Party only requires two or three types of premixed margaritas, perhaps including a non-alcoholic version. Set up a pretty bucket filled with ice, a large platter of salt for storing pre-moistened glassware upside down, and a bowl of sliced limes and fresh strawberries for garnish. Done!

Drinks plus – If you don’t plan to serve a meal, but want more than just drinks and a veggie tray, consider serving Bloody Marys loaded with wonderful savory treats, presented on long skewers slipped into the drink including shrimp, mozzarella cheese balls, jalapeno peppers, strips of crispy bacon, olives, prosciutto, celery, stuffed mushrooms, or anything your imagination can conjure.

Beyond the Grill and the Bar

If you have the finances and the inclination, you can build a permanent outdoor kitchen, complete with an ice maker, a refrigerator, a fully-plumbed sink, and an island for bar stools. If, however, you prefer keeping things casual and flexible, there are several less expensive options.

Simple Sinks

Buy it – Purchase an outdoor sink cart from your local home and garden store, or online, and connect a garden hose for running water.

Build it – Construct a frame to hold a five-gallon water bottle (placed upside down) over the sink, with a removable plug. Attach a garden hose to the drain so you can control where the water goes.

Re-purpose it – Foot pumps and electric pumps (usually used in camper sinks) can push water from a five-gallon bottle to a faucet. For this option, consider finding a used stainless steel bowl at a tag sale or thrift shop.

Avoid it – Stick to bottled drinking water and hang a sign that reads “Dirty Dishes Station” over a large metal or plastic wash bin. This way, dirty dishes are easily carried inside, where your dishwasher can handle cleanup.

Keep it Cool

Outdoor refrigerators can be expensive to purchase and operate. Other options:

A small apartment size refrigerator – Put it on a rolling cart and tuck it in the garage, when not in use.

A high-quality chest cooler – Fill it with ice and, for more comfortable access, set it on a raised platform.

A sizable open-top container – Loaded with ice, and placed in the shade, a galvanized watering trough or similar tub can keep items cool (anything that doesn’t have to be protected from melting ice).

Other Considerations

When you are creating your outdoor kitchen and entertainment areas, you may want to find sturdy counter space for food prep and serving. Keep an eye out for second-hand sales, industrial auctions, and sales from restaurants that are closing to pick up stainless steel tables, carts, and other weatherproof items to repurpose for your outdoor kitchen.

Also, consider ambiance and comfort for your guests:

Seating – Be sure there are enough comfortable chairs. Unless you’re hosting an outdoor sit-down dinner, you won’t need a chair for every person. Instead, assume a few guests will stand and mingle around several comfortable resting spots.

Music – Bluetooth speakers are an easy and affordable way to enhance the mood.

Lighting – Daytime entertaining won’t need any help (beyond providing some shade), but evening get-togethers will benefit from a gently lit atmosphere.

Plants – If you have a lush backyard, you don’t need to add a thing! If your yard is a bit sparse, you may want to add planters with bright flowers or a couple colorful table arrangements.

Whether scaled down or elaborate, the most essential part of outdoor kitchen entertaining is spending time with the people you enjoy. Happy summer!

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Two Cool DIY Patios to Complete in a Weekend

Interested in creating a little outdoor living space on a shoestring budget? Instead of hiring someone to pour concrete or pour a concrete patio, consider one of these DIY options. Either one makes a great weekend project!

1. Gravel Patio

Gravel is a low-cost material, perfect for patios and paths. If you plan to walk barefoot on your new patio, skip the crushed stone and go for pea gravel or creek gravel, both of which are tumbled by nature to round off the sharp edges.

Mark off the area you want to turn into a patio and dig up the ground to make the area (mostly) level. (The gravel will handle the rest of the leveling work.)

If you plan to use the earth itself as your patio base, dig down about 2.5 inches. If you prefer a tamped-down gravel underlay below the looser surface stones, dig down 4.5 inches to allow space for the stone base. Smooth and even out the soil beneath your future patio, using a 3-foot level to check your work.

Edging the Patio

Although the dug-out edges of your yard can hold the gravel in place, it’s better to add structured edging to keep the gravel from spreading into the yard. Edging also lengthens the life and improves the good looks of your patio. Options include:

  • Low-cost plastic landscaping edging from a home improvement store
  • Pavers from a local garden store
  • Natural stones you harvest yourself
  • Railroad ties, cedar planks, or other treated lumber edging

Be sure the edging material rises about half an inch above the gravel, to help keep things in place.

Prevent Future Maintenance Issues

Before adding any stones, cover the leveled soil with a thick layer of landscaping fabric, which will allow water to drain, but will not allow weeds to grow through. Skipping this step will guarantee a constant battle with weeds on your patio. Landscaping fabric… it’s your patio’s best friend!

Gravel it In!

Fill the framed patio area with gravel on top of the landscaping fabric. Using a shovel and a garden rake, distribute the gravel and level it off.

Personalize Your Space

Gravel patios can be enjoyed as is or turned into a place to display beautiful, natural, sentimental, or eclectic flat objects purchased or collected as time goes by. Turn it into a mosaic!

Have a big flat rock you hauled back from a trip? Great! A brick you salvaged from the old family home? A paver you thought was beautiful? A concrete hand-imprint from the children or grandchildren? A piece of slate from a creek?

If the item is weather-proof and mostly flat, just dig out a bit of the gravel, fit in the new find, rake the gravel back into place around the item, and enjoy your personalized outdoor living space!

2. Pallet Patio

Sure, you know that people make all kinds of things from pallets, but a patio? Can you really make a patio out of pallets? Yes, you can!

Be sure the pallets you select are:

  • Heavy-duty, industrial pallets
  • Made to hold 1,000+ pounds
  • Do not have missing or broken boards (unless you want to repair them)
  • Have small, rather than large gaps between the boards

Sizing and Foundation

It’s best to pick patio dimensions that don’t require cutting any of your pallets. For example, if you’re working with 4ft x 4ft pallets, 16 pallets are perfect for a 16ft x 16ft patio.

To create a stable foundation for your pallet patio, set concrete blocks at the corner of each pallet. Dig down enough to “sink” the blocks into the ground, making each hole is as deep as the block, plus another 2 inches to add sand or gravel.

Tamp the sand/gravel base down, until you have a solid, level surface for each concrete block. Make sure all the blocks are level with one another, adding additional base material as needed. The blocks should extend high enough for the pallets to rest on the blocks, above the surface of the ground.

It’s also a good idea to lay down landscaping fabric, secured by these blocks, so you don’t have unwanted plants growing up between the patio slats.

Preparing the Pallets

Be sure to paint or spray the pallets with a weather coating, sealant or weatherproof stain. If you prefer, they can be painted with outdoor or porch paint. A paint sprayer will make the job faster and easier.

Once dry, place the pallets on the blocks with the slats all going in the same direction, or by turning every other one to create a checkerboard effect, adding visual interest.

Attach them to each other for a more stable platform, or leave them “floating” for the ease of moving them around, replacing sections or changing the shape of the patio in the future.

Now, add an indoor/outdoor rug, furniture, and planters and begin enjoying your pallet patio!



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Landscaping: Striking the Right Balance for Resale Value

If you have a green thumb, you want to let it show. After all, it’s not only your personal passion, but it’s also a skill most people envy because so few of us have one! Having a beautiful yard full of landscaping and color is a good thing, right? It improves the value of your home as well as the beauty of the neighborhood, right?

Perhaps, but not always. Home improvements, including landscaping projects, are generally a good idea, but only if the next buyer views them as an added benefit. A yard that requires hours and hours every week to maintain—pruning, weeding, mulching, and keeping up with other chores—may actually be a turn-off to potential buyers.

Here are six ways to enjoy your yard—and your gardening hobby—while also keeping your landscaping efforts focused on resale value:

1. Create color with shrubs – Think beyond green. Many shrubs have foliage that adds visual interest by pulling in shades of yellow, white, red, or purple throughout summer, plus pops of autumn color. You can also add seasonal color by selecting a few flowering shrubs. Certain varieties of evergreens offer year-round shades of green-leaning toward yellow and blue.

2. Supplement with annuals – Adding annuals to existing beds of shrubs and trees inserts a temporary pop of color without creating a year-after-year commitment. Just be sure the beds will look neat if the spaces for annuals are later filled in with mulch or rocks.

3. Container gardening – A beautiful large pot on either side of your entry, overflowing with color and textures, is an easy way to show off your green thumb, while also adding drama and curb appeal. Container plantings can also be strategically placed in other parts of the yard.

4. Make yourself a backyard vegetable and/or herb garden – This will provide a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs for your cooking and can be easily re-seeded with grass should you decide you want to sell your home (or easily re-seeded later by the next owner).

5. Create outdoor rooms – In terms of big-ticket landscaping items, decks and patios that accommodate cooking, eating, or gathering around a fire pit are almost always a worthwhile investment. Include a few planter boxes too! Enjoy these spaces now, with the knowledge that future buyers will also welcome them.

6. Add fencing – If you live on a busy street and/or in a neighborhood that attracts young families, a fence can be a welcome yard feature that may integrate well with other landscaping projects. It can also be a great way to create privacy. Dog owners will light up too, knowing a fenced-in yard will give their “best friend” outdoor exercise and take a little pressure off dog-walking obligations.

Remember, the idea of preparing your home to sell is to make it as attractive as possible to the greatest number of buyers. Your potential buyers need to be able to imagine THEIR life in YOUR house.