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Easy Ways to Add Character around Your House

You can add plenty of personal style and visual interest to your home without a lot of effort or money; all you really need is a can-do attitude and a desire to improve your home.

Update lighting.

Add comfort, convenience and character with the right lighting. Update the chandelier over the dining room table. Add simple plug-in puck lights under kitchen cabinets and inside closets. Cozy up a dark corner with an accent light. Install mini accent lights above wall art or framed family photos.

Frame the views.

Dress up your windows with colorful treatments. Hang the draperies higher than the windows to make the room seem taller.

Put unused space to work.

Give an awkward area a purpose and appeal. Transform a basic bay or boxy window into a reading nook. Or furnish an empty corner of the living room with a game table and storage cabinet.

Be savvy about storage.

If you have a home that lacks closet space, place pegs and shelves in convenient nooks to provide places to hang, store and display everyday necessities.

Make way for shelf displays.

Use open shelving throughout the house to store and display collectibles. In addition to adding storage, the airy shelves can also make a small room feel larger.

Accent with architectural details.

Bring your basic builder’s kitchen to life. Frame windows with wide molding, install cornices on top of cabinets, or add bun feet or carved legs to cabinets for furniture-style accents.

Try wood underfoot.

A natural wood or bamboo floor will last longer than synthetic materials and will transform the character of your interior. Plus, it won’t trap allergens. Use machine-washable area rugs to warm the space and protect heavy-traffic areas.

Add old-fashioned appeal with antiques.

Visit a flea market for vintage signs, furniture and collectibles that will fill your home with friendly charm.

Paint kitchen cabinets.

Can’t afford to purchase brand-new kitchen cabinets? Fake it by using bright paint to take your cabinets from dull to darling.

Update doorknobs.

Reinvent your entry or interior doors with antiqued brass, crystal, porcelain or colored-glass doorknobs.

Install beaded board.

Add dimension and charm to bathroom walls with beaded board. Save money by tackling the project yourself in a weekend and using panels. Panels are virtually identical to authentic beaded board, and they are sold in lightweight 4×8-foot sheets for about $20 each.

Add decorative shutters.

Make your home look good inside and out with decorative indoor shutters. Traditional wood shutters and plantation shutters add rustic appeal. Some even help insulate your cozy spaces.

Claim a plain wall for a showcase.

Transform a blank wall into a storage-and-display showcase by adding stacks of open shelves or cutting out drywall to create a recessed niche.

Enhance the exterior.

The simple and affordable addition of shutters, window boxes and planters near the front door creates a friendlier facade and provides cheerful color. Hang the window box at a height where you can care for the plants. Fill it with your favorite blooms, or add candles for a quaint touch.

Let your garden glow.

Outdoor lights, including floodlights, globes, tier lights and lanterns, are easy to install and are the perfect way to add warmth and color to your front yard. For a touch of romance, use candlelit lanterns to create soft pools of light along a garden path.

Dress up your deck.

Make a boxy builder deck look like a custom addition with decorative metal or glass balusters and post caps that double as planters or light fixtures. Add delightful details with colorful plants, pillows, furniture, outdoor rugs and accessories.



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Discover the Perfect Time for Buying a Vacation Home

If you’re lucky enough to have reached the time in your life when you can seriously contemplate buying a vacation home, there’s much to be excited about. According to the National Association of Realtors, one in eight homeowners are thinking of buying a second home. While summer may be the time of year you start to think longingly about sun, sea and sand, it may not be the best time to buy a cottage.

Here are some things to consider when you’re buying a vacation home.

Peak of season is seldom a good idea

Avoiding peak seasons makes sense in supply and demand terms. Peak season, whether you have your eye on a Vail ski chalet or a Cape Cod sea shanty, is when the area in which you’re looking is at its finest. Since vacation homes can be sentimental investments, many who’ve inherited them rent them out as additional sources of income so they can hang onto a property. They may be sharing it with siblings or have had to buy them out. They also may be part-time vacation home investment owners who got in early on a new resort but need to ensure 100 percent occupancy during peak season to make their investment pay off.

Aim for the final weeks of the high season to make your offer or hold off until just after peak season ends. If you’re looking for a summer vacation home, the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is the perfect window of opportunity. You’ll still take possession early enough in the year to be able to get a glimpse of what future summers can hold, and you’ll also have a chance to do any needed repairs before winter sets in. Then you can spend the winter planning what you need to do to make the place your own the following summer.

If you’re looking at a winter vacation home, spring is the best time to make an offer. While diehards may still be renting or occupying their vacation homes, hoping to get one or two more days of spring skiing or boarding in, most will have placed their properties on the market. Just be careful not to leave your offer for too late in the year if the area you’re interested in is remote. Some owners board up their properties for the off season, making it harder to get viewings. Also, don’t forget the power of spring mud. Properties accessible through three seasons may become harder to access during spring thawing and flooding.

Be sure the time is right

Before buying a vacation home, you need to think long and hard about a whole host of considerations. First and foremost is whether you will be able to use it enough to make it worthwhile for you financially. Even if you buy a vacation home and plan to rent it out to defray expenses, that means your time there will be limited. While you may love a cottage on a lake in fall, not everyone else does. If you can’t afford to spend the 4th of July at your own cottage, this may not be the time to buy.

Second, have you considered all the duplicate expenses involved? Whether you want your vacation home to mirror your principal residence in all ways, you can’t escape the fact that you’re going to need two of everything now. Unless, that is, you want to treat every weekend you spend at your vacation home like a camping trip (which may well be the case). You’re not going to want to haul lawn mowers and leaf blowers to the cottage every summer weekend. That goes double for appliances, linens and furniture. You’ll also have a second set of bills for property taxes, insurance, yard maintenance, internet and cleaning costs. In addition, there may be HOA fees, too.

Third, what are your vacation goals? If you want to visit every continent and are running out of time to tackle Asia and Africa, does a vacation property make sense? If you find you’re drawn to experiential vacations like hiking the Appalachian Trail, swimming with the dolphins or building someone else a home with Habitat for Humanity, a vacation home may be an anchor you don’t need.

On the other hand, if you know you can afford to invest in a second property and have a long-term plan to use it as a home base while you globetrot in retirement, or if you want your family to have the freedom of the great outdoors while they’re growing up, it might just be time to seize the day.

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How to Choose an Artificial Tree for Christmas

If you don’t want the mess of a real evergreen in your home this holiday season, or if allergies prevent you from having a live tree in your house, an artificial tree may be the perfect solution for your holiday decorating.

Buying Tips for Artificial Trees

Christmas trees are a nearly universal element in most homeowners’ holiday decorating. Some people don’t like the fuss and mess of a live tree, while others have allergies that preclude them from having a real evergreen in their house. If you’re considering purchasing an artificial tree for your home this holiday season, use these ideas as a guide:

Choosing Artificial Tree Accents

  • Pre-Lit Artificial Trees: Pre-lit artificial trees are a great way to minimize setup and cleanup (and avoid the holiday trauma of a giant ball of tangled lights). However, pre-lit artificial trees are generally more expensive, and you can’t change the size or color of the lights from year to year. Swapping burned-out lights for fresh ones may also be a challenge. If you choose a pre-lit artificial tree, look for one that is labeled “continuous on” or “with burn-out protection.” This means that if a single bulb on the strand burns out, the rest of the lights stay on.
  • Flocked or Accented Artificial Trees: When an artificial tree is flocked, its branches look like they have been dusted with snow or glitter. You can choose how flocked you want your artificial tree to be; some are dusted more heavily than others. Additional artificial tree accents also may include natural-looking elements, such as pinecones and berries. Keep in mind that these items cannot be removed, so a flocked or accented artificial tree may not match your decorating style if it changes from year to year.

Selecting Tree Height and Width

Most artificial trees for the holidays come in one of three widths, generally labeled as full, slim or pencil. Artificial trees also come in a range of heights, beginning at tabletop size and increasing, usually in half-foot increments, up to about 12 feet. To ensure the best artificial tree for your home, measure the spot where you plan to display the tree and leave enough room to maneuver around it to decorate.

Choosing Artificial Tree Material

  • Types of Branches: Artificial trees come with two types of branches—hinged or hook-in. Hinged artificial trees, which consist of just a few parts, have permanently affixed branches and are generally easier to set up. Hook-in branches are individually hooked into a specific spot on a central tree pole. These artificial trees take much more time to put together and cannot be pre-lit, but they also tend to be less expensive.
  • Types of Material: Artificial trees are made using one of two types of plastic: PVC or PE. The main difference in materials is in how the trees look. PVC needles are attached to the artificial tree branches using wires. PE artificial trees are fabricated, so both the needles and the branches better resemble those of a real tree. Branch tips may also be sculpted, which means they better replicate the look of a real evergreen.
  • Tinsel, Feather and Other Artificial Trees: While many artificial trees for Christmas are designed to resemble real evergreens, some of them are designed to fill a different decorating need. Tinsel and feather trees are two common examples; these are typically white, silver or gold. While many are often used as tabletop trees, tinsel trees are available in full-size as well.

Note: The density, or tip count, indicates how full your artificial tree looks. When purchasing, evaluate your artificial tree’s branches for sturdiness; if you have lots of ornaments, you want branches sturdy enough to hold them.

Additional Considerations When Choosing Artificial Trees

  • Price: Just as artificial trees can be found in all sizes, they can also be found in all price ranges. Ultimately, the quality of the tree and additional accents will affect the pricing. While off-the-shelf varieties are generally affordable, custom artificial trees are also available.
  • What’s Included: The general life expectancy of an artificial tree is about 10 years, and some may come with a warranty. Stands are usually included; plastic versions may be less stable than those made of metal. Some artificial trees also include additional accessories such as a storage bag. Your artificial tree should also be fire-retardant and fade-resistant.
  • Decorating with Both Artificial and Real Trees: Both artificial and live evergreens can be deftly worked into a variety of holiday styles and schemes within your home. A small artificial tree is a great tabletop choice to display a themed set of decorations or to complete a room’s color scheme, in addition to a full-size live evergreen. A miniature real evergreen can be used in a room where there isn’t lots of space, such as the kitchen or guest room, for added fragrance.

Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens. Used with permission. © Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved.


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Fun and Festive Christmas Color Schemes

Get in the spirit of the holidays with color schemes that offer a new take on the old red-and-green Christmas theme.

Green, blue and silver color scheme

This light and airy holiday color scheme incorporates light green, bright blue and silver to create a sophisticated Christmas living room. Hang light green-and-blue oversize stockings from your mantel beneath potted lemon cypress trees wrapped in teal paper and green ribbon. Decorate your Christmas tree with an assortment of blue, silver and green glass ornaments, and color-coordinate a sea of blue-and-white wrapped packages to complete the color scheme.

White-and-brown color scheme

Play up a minimal living room for the holidays with brown, gold and silver accents. A frosted Christmas tree displays oversize silver and gold ornaments; white and brown wrapped packages are placed neatly beneath the tree. A glass-top coffee table holds tall apothecary jars filled with white candies and Christmas cookies.

Green, white and brown color scheme

An earthy holiday color scheme of green and brown gives a natural look to this Christmas living room. Green-and-white stockings hang from a wooden mantel, and light-brown throw pillows sit on off-white armchairs. The colors stay consistent through the tree decorations, with bright-green glass ornaments and creamy felt poinsettia flowers. Woodsy ribbon and an owl ornament wrap a light-green box under the Christmas tree, and other patterned wrapping papers play up the mellow, earthy tones.

Editor’s Tip: You don’t have to decorate your whole house in a different color scheme every year—just focus on small areas, and simply carry the scheme through wrapped presents or tree decorations.

Blue-and-white color scheme

Mimic the icy colors of winter with this blue-and-white Christmas color scheme. Birch logs, frosted pinecones and branches in white ceramic vases provide the indoor winter wonderland. Accent with blue velvet ribbon and clear blue goblets for cool pops of color.



Silver-and-gold color scheme

Let your indoor Christmas decor shine with this pretty silver-and-gold color scheme. Decorate your mantel with a silver-and-gold ornament ball wreath, cream stockings and greenery. Add in ornament-filled cloches and apothecary jars for a decorative dimension. Adorn a frosty Christmas tree with silver, gold and blue ornaments, and display gorgeous wrapped packages in the same hues to create a festive scheme that sparkles.

Turquoise-and-orange color scheme

Try a zesty Christmas color scheme using bright, contrasting colors—such as turquoise and orange—to give your holiday decor a bold look. Here, wide orange ribbon wraps large boxes covered in patterned turquoise paper, and an urn brimming with oranges dresses up the bottom of the Christmas tree. A light-blue coffee table holds a teal vase of orange flowers and a footed dish filled with oranges; a blue-and-orange decorative pillow pulls the color scheme together on an off-white couch.

Editor’s Tip: Stabilize the Christmas tree trunk with sand and gravel before adding the oranges to the top of the urn.

Red-and-tan color scheme

Red-and-tan color scheme

Swap tan for white in this Christmas color scheme to give your home a vintage holiday feel. Light brown upholstery webbing is transformed into a large bow to accent this Christmas wreath, and tiny packages fill the bed of a red toy pickup truck. A handmade burlap pillow with Christmas words and phrases finishes the natural color scheme.

Red, pink and blue color scheme

Play up the color of holiday poinsettias with this unusual Christmas color scheme. Fuchsia-color poinsettia bracts (look for Polly’s Pink variety) complement a ceramic dish filled with pink and silver ornaments in different shapes and sizes, an ideal decoration for your Christmas mantel or a holiday table centerpiece. The flowers and ornaments offset a blue-and-white striped couch with wintry accent pillows for a unique holiday look.


Red, cream and white color scheme

Give traditional Christmas colors a break by removing the green and adding cream and white for a warm and cozy color scheme. Cream and red throw pillows—with a cream rosette wreath above the chair—add a warm element to the decor, and a 3-foot tabletop tree adorned with red and white ornaments stands in a cream pot on a white table to round out the color scheme.

Multicolor festive Christmas scheme

Celebrate the season with all the colors of the rainbow—the bright hues are perfect for adding holiday cheer to a table. Create mini trees and wreaths out of ball ornaments by removing the ornament caps and hot-gluing the balls onto foam shapes.

Red, white and blue color scheme

Red, white and blue color scheme

You’ve heard of Christmas in July, but now bring the spirit of July to your Christmas decor in December. Red, white and blue is a classic color scheme that suits the holiday. Create stockings from red and blue felt; embellish with snowflake appliqués. Attach stockings to antique wooden skis or other cold-weather icons for a winter scene.

Teal, white and cranberry color scheme

Twist a classic color combination with cranberry and teal. For an easy tablescape, cover your table with a teal tablecloth and create place cards from family photos. Copy the photos onto light red paper. Make a cardboard frame for each photo and attach the photo to the back of the frame. Place each framed image in a holiday-inspired photo clip or place-card holder.


Pink and green color scheme

Typically thought of as a springtime combination, pink and green will add cheer to your home during dreary winter months. For this bright centerpiece, place a metallic bottle-brush tree in a heavy planter, weight as necessary with rocks or gravel, then cover the base with fake moss. Accent the room with patterned pink and green pillows to emphasize the color scheme.

Red, white and green color scheme

If you prefer a more traditional approach to holiday decorating, try a red-and-white color scheme with added pops of green. This festive place setting combines the three colors with white chargers, a red place mat, and sprigs of evergreen tucked into folded napkins. A burlap runner, pots of moss and apples offer inexpensive finishes.







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Easy Exterior Home Tweaks

Whether your home is an often-renovated Cape Cod or Craftsman or a relatively new build, chances are good there’s something you don’t like about the exterior.

A complete exterior home remodel can be expensive. Luckily, there are some easy tweaks you can do yourself that will boost your home’s curb appeal and transform it into a house everyone wants to visit. Read on for a few suggestions.

Change Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

You may only need one light to see by in order to get your key in the lock, but does it have to be ugly? Does it have to be centered over the door? Think about your home’s symmetry when replacing light fixtures and choose a design that works with your home’s style. Eclectic exteriors can quickly become neighborhood eyesores, so “ye olde carriage lantern” fixtures are unlikely to work on a Craftsman style house.

Make Your Door the Focal Point

If you’ve got an old or standard builder’s door, think about replacing it with a door that welcomes visitors. Red doors signify welcome to travelers in American tradition, and in feng shui red is believed to drive away evil forces and promote positive energy. There may, of course, be some exterior colors that just won’t work with a red door. But if you can pull it off, it’s well worth it. If your interior entryway is dark, buy a door with a decorative glass pattern at the top and consider installing glass panels on either side of the door. It gives the illusion of a much bigger, more expansive entryway. If you worry about privacy, you can always apply adhesive panels that let light in but prevent people from seeing your interior hallway. Door panels come in dozens and dozens of designs these days, and they’re another way to showcase your home’s personality.

While you’re working on your home’s entryway, consider replacing your street numbers with ones that are easily visible from the street.

Rethink Front Yard Landscaping

There is lush and there is jungle. As your home matures, trees, shrubs, and perennials expand to fill the space available to them. While there’s no doubt the shade from a deciduous tree can lower your cooling costs significantly, it can also darken your interior in a way you can’t control. If you have mature trees that are reaching the end of their lifecycle, consider removing some of them and installing shutters instead. That way you can keep heat out when you need to and let light in when you want it.

As our summers get hotter, replacing standard grass that needs constant watering with drought-resistant plants and lawn cover that never needs mowing makes sense. You can still get a lush, bursting out all over midsummer look you want by installing hanging baskets and porch-flanking flower containers. You can donate perennials you no longer want at plant exchanges, and you may be surprised by the visual impact a less-is-more approach to landscaping can have.

Paint and Restore

Sometimes builders or previous owners just don’t get it right. A combination of brick, stone or stucco on one part of the house with the wrong color siding on the rest of the exterior can be jarring. The good news: brick, stonework and stucco can all be painted, and this is one of the cheapest and most dramatic exterior transformations there is. If you decide to replace the siding instead, remember you can always replace the siding at the front of the house and leave the existing siding on the sides and back for a later date.

If you live in an older home whose exterior has been renovated in a way that doesn’t match its original design, consider restoring it. Wrought iron porch railings are never going to work on a Craftsman home, and replacing them with something more in keeping with the home’s original design will eliminate the visual disconnect.

Transform Your Porch

An enclosed front porch can be claustrophobic if it’s too small, and unless you use it often, you might want to consider ripping it off and installing a portico instead. The inherent drama of a classic, column-supported portico gives your house instant curb appeal and the open front and sides give the same impression of space as high ceilings do in a home’s interior. This is one of the easiest exterior home remodels you can make. And if you invest in stylish bistro set and some nice pavers, you may find yourself sitting out in your front yard more than you ever thought possible.

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Ask a Pro Q&A – Selecting the Perfect Backsplash: Tie your kitchen’s look together with these tips

Don’t let a little water damage make your next backsplash a wash out with these designer tips. Jennifer Adams, our interior design pro, answers this reader’s kitchen remodeling question after a hurricane hit her home.

Question:  We were flooded during the hurricane and have to rebuild most of our house. My kitchen has bamboo floors, alabaster white cabinets and Blanco Azul granite with black stainless steel appliances and stainless handles. I am trying to figure out a good backsplash to tie it all together. Any help would be great.

Whether your countertop patterning is dramatic and bold or quieter and more textural, a backsplash that is simple will be better. Oversized rectangular tiles in light tones to match the whites in your granite, along with matching grout, will look great. For a more textural approach, choose a monotone tile mosaic in whites or pale grays. Even classic subway tile with gray grout will bring in a bit of pattern without being over the top or competing with your granite.

For a finishing touch, tie in the bamboo tones throughout your kitchen with accessories and art in the same color.

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5 Ways to Get Involved in your Community by Participating and Volunteering

When you’ve just moved into a new community, getting involved with your neighbors and neighborhood can be a great beginning to a happy life. Our communities can be pillars of support when we need them or friendly faces we’re happy to see each day. Through volunteering, joining clubs and groups, taking part in community sports activities and hosting events, you can bond with those who live around you and create a wonderful home for yourself – and others.

Here are 5 ways to get more involved in your community:


  • Join a community garden


Join a community garden in your neighborhood, and if you don’t have one, start one. Growing organic produce on a shared plot is a great way to connect with people near you. It also helps everyone involved develop a deeper understanding of the importance of keeping the air, water and ground clean and safe in a community.

While you till, water, plant and harvest, try to get to know the members of your community. Tell stories of where you came from and ask others about their backgrounds. If you have kids, get them involved with a beginner’s food scrap garden and encourage neighbors to bring their children participate too.


  • Start conversations


Learn more about the people who live near you by starting conversations within your community. This is easily done through book clubs or groups that come together to make jewelry, create art, cook and learn new languages. Ask your immediate neighbors if they know about any clubs or meetups you can join. If there aren’t any, start one yourself.

If you have a community center or other public space available, use it to form friendships while you learn something new. Sometimes taking turns meeting in members’ homes, either weekly or monthly, is a good way to break the ice with small talk or enjoy truly enriching conversation. Think about planning a series of special gatherings or ongoing drop-in events.


  • Become a community volunteer


Volunteer in a local clinic, hospital, nature center, library or community center. Volunteerism is a superb way to meet people and contribute skills and talents to those who might need them. Not only will you probably experience a sense of accomplishment after sharing the gifts you have to offer, your neighbors will likely notice your contributions and consider you a valuable member of the community.

How can you help those who share your small part of the world? Perhaps tutoring, offering legal aid, mentoring, teaching a language, organizing a food bank or visiting the elderly in your community resonates with you. Children can often be persuaded to join the community volunteer force by teaching older adults all the ways of the Internet.


  • Get active in after-school programs


Families can get to know neighbors by becoming active in after-school programs. Even if you don’t have kids, meet new people in your neighborhood by volunteering your time to these activities.

Children often enjoy becoming members in Girl or Boy Scout-type groups, YMCA memberships, parks and recreation classes or mommy and me groups. Often, parents of kids in these programs go on to become friends for life. If you don’t have little ones, it’s still possible to coach, teach a craft, be a dance instructor and get involved in your community in other ways.


  • Attend or host charity events


Many big cities and small towns have carnivals, holiday gift boutiques, formal dinners and similar charitable events to bring the community closer together. Attend these events and enjoy being a part of shared experiences. You’ll likely meet people who have many of the same interests as you do, which is a good way to form friendships.

The good thing about getting involved in your new community is that if there aren’t gardens, clubs, organized activities, volunteer opportunities or other programs in place for you to meet people, you can always be to facilitator of these types of gatherings. Your new neighbors will probably be glad you took the initiative to provide ways to connect.

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Seven Reasons Getting Rid of Clutter Helps a House Sell Faster

Whether you bought a starter home or what you hoped would be a forever home, circumstances change. One thing that doesn’t change though, is the inevitable expansion that occurs when you become a homeowner. As time goes on, you acquire tools that need to be used just once or twice a year, like step ladders and extension ladders, lawn mowers, edgers and leaf blowers. When it’s time to sell, you may find you’ve expanded just a bit too much. Getting rid of clutter is the first thing you need to do when you’re thinking of putting your home on the market, and sadly, unless you move frequently, there are very few people who don’t accumulate more than they should.

Here are seven reasons you need to get rid of that clutter to ensure a quick home sale.

Minimalistic spacious house interior with two floors
Minimalistic spacious house interior with two floors

1. It’s all about imagined lives

Clutter makes it hard to think. You may not think of your collection of exotic masks from your foreign travels as clutter. But let’s face it, we don’t all like the same things, and if your home is bursting with small objects, buyers can’t imagine themselves in your space. You have to make room for them and their imagined lives in what might soon be their home rather than yours. Store the highly personal collections during the selling process so buyers can see the space as theirs, and they’ll be more likely to make an immediate offer.

2. Help the potential buyer maintain focus

Extra seating, family photos and bone china tea cup collections are all distractions. You don’t want potential buyers to become so intrigued (or puzzled) by the things you’ve collected—none of which they’ll be purchasing—that they don’t actually register the house itself. You want them to look at the space, appreciate its best features and become convinced of its potential for their family.

Built in closet with warderobe in home interior
Built in closet with warderobe in home interior

3. Create the illusion of space to entice buyers

By getting rid of extra seating, paring down the clothes in your closets and weeding out everything in the pantry that’s past its best-before date, you create the illusion of more space, which is always a good thing when trying to sell a home. After all, empty rooms always look bigger than rooms filled with furniture.

Be strategic, though, and don’t leave yourself with nowhere to sit. Think of your home as wearing its Sunday best rather than sweats and a t-shirt, and if there’s a chair the cat’s clawed, the sun has faded or that needs cleaning or reupholstering, get it out of the house while potential buyers are viewing. There will be plenty of time to kick back and relax in that past-its-prime lounger when you’re moved into your new home.

4. Well-staged homes photograph better

While you might get a viewing from a drive-by or after an open house, most potential buyers these days are going to look at your house and its listing online. Good photos make all the difference here, but you’re not going to get them if you haven’t decluttered. Put the family photos away, get all the toys into the toy box, remove the gym equipment that’s migrated from the basement to other living areas and make your real estate agent’s job easier by presenting a home that shows to advantage in both photos and real life.

white and steel kitchen interior

5. Maximize kitchen counter space

Yes, it’s a pain. But even though your family uses the toaster and blender every day, putting them away in cupboards before viewings provides a clean slate and makes potential home buyers think about all the meals they’re going to prepare in their new home.

If your home’s being shown to first-time home buyers, chances are good they’re looking for more space, particularly an opportunity to expand from a galley kitchen to one that has room for a table and chairs. Help them believe they’re going to be transformed into hosts with the most when they buy your home by giving them the visual space they need.

6. Don’t borrow trouble

Cluttered homes make potential buyers uneasy. Viewing someone else’s occupied home is slightly uncomfortable for most people. Clutter is not only a distraction; it makes your home look uncared for. This can make potential buyers start to ask themselves, “if they haven’t taken care of their possessions, what other problems are brewing here?” You could lose an offer if this kind of nebulous doubt sets in.

7. Let your home show itself

Let’s face it—you’re selling your home, not the couch and coffee table. By getting rid of clutter and replacing it with neutral but stylish accessories, you lead the buyer’s eye to the features of your home that are its true selling points. That means you’re going to get a quicker sale and a higher price than if you make a potential buyer struggle to see your home’s merits.

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How to Create a Craft or Sewing Room

Making and enjoying crafts requires space to spread out and be creative and to quickly store your masterpiece-in-progress whenever you’re interrupted or called away. In addition, you’ll need even more space to store the materials and tools you use in an organized and productive way.

You can start small with a corner desk in a spare room, or double up so your home office allows you to do personal work. Or you can find space in your basement, addition, or heated garage. Before you create a room of your own, think about craft room decor at the start and you’ll end up with a room that’s not only functional, but one you want to spend time in..

Lighting, a good, big working surface, storage, and easy access to tools are four of the most important aspects to creating room for your crafts. A devoted crafter needs a large working table, a storage cabinet, an easily organized and accessible grab-’n-go tool rack, and a sink or rough equivalent to get started.


LED panels are cheap and quick to install. Go to a Home Depot or Lowe’s to find easy-to-install, plug-in lighting panels that will illuminate even the darkest space. 1000 lumens is more than enough light for the average-size room. A new 1000 lumen LED panel should cost you less than $60.

Work Table

Most kitchen counters are 31 inches above the floor. Using that as a guideline, a 31-inch surface  provides you with an easily accessible working platform that doesn’t require stretching or stooping.

If you don’t have a folding table already, check online used shopping sites in your area for cheap or free tables. If you want or need to make a solid table, go to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore and purchase an old hollow core door as a table surface. In larger cities, you could try your local Ikea and purchase a table or desk surface for less in the discount room, where the components of broken furnishings are unpacked and sold cheaply.

Online shopping is useful not only for cheap, ready-made table surfaces, but also for free, broken tables. If you find one with functioning legs, detach its broken surface and reuse the legs for your hollow core door or Ikea desk surface. The advantage of screw-in legs is that they’re not bulky, so you can store other material you will need for your crafts right there at hand. Anything from fabrics to colored or wrapping paper can fit, and larger tools like hair dryers or paints might also be accommodated, depending on their size.

Once the table is assembled, attach rulers or measuring tapes to two adjoining sides of your surface to help you measure your crafts quickly and easily. You can also use a yardstick to draw a square grid on the table surface with a pencil, then make these marks permanent with an indelible marker or chalk paint. You can attach magnetic strips to hold tools you will use for your crafts on the wall above the table.

Storage Cabinet

A lot of material goes into making crafts. You need to organize them or you’ll get buried in an avalanche of paper, ribbons, and fabric. When it comes to getting organized, you can store hangers for school-sized colored paper rolls on the back of your craft room’s door. It’s a little extra space bonus.

Then,  find an old filing cabinet, a kitchen hutch, or a library card catalog in any one of your favorite thrift spots. Repaint your treasure so that it’s fresh (you could even color-code the partitions), then position it against an easily accessible wall and attach a light on a spring arm so you can root around in the various cubbies looking for that gorgeous spool of thread or ball of wool.

Alternatively, find an old desk with many drawers. Remove the desktop and replace it with a thick sheet of glass. Now you have a second working surface that enables you to look into the storage drawers to locate things as they come to mind. On top of the repurposed desk, you could put a modular bookcase to store more material and tools.

Grab-and-Go Tool Rack

Do you sew, knit, or do paper crafts? You will need special tools for each craft. Organize your pencils and markers and your needles and scissors by color and size, and deposit them in visible and easily accessible mason or pickle jars. If you are short on jars, you may be able to find some at your local recycling center.

If not, you can chop equal lengths (five to seven inches) of PVC piping with a hacksaw blade and glue them together with plumber’s adhesive. If you’re storing paint brushes, stuff strips of corrugated board into the open necks of the PVC containers to separate different colored brushes.

Happy crafting!

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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Five Great Gifts for Neighbors

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Five Great Gifts for Neighbors

Moving to a new neighborhood is never easy. Why not show a warm welcome by giving a welcome basket to your new neighbors? As an established ambassador of your block, now’s your opportunity to bring over a few little gifts for neighbors to make them more comfortable in their new home.

Fruits, vegetables and flowers

If you’re a gardener, consider sharing the bounty. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a big hit. They may even inspire some fun, future garden rivalry. Feeling inspired? Pack your treasures into a box with a few seed packets that easily grow outdoors, a tool for weeding and a nice pair of gardening gloves.

Snacks and a drink

Who doesn’t love treats? Although it used to be the tradition to bring by a bottle of wine for new neighbors, be cognizant of the fact that some may prefer not to drink alcoholic beverages. Instead, bring over a bottle of sparkling water and fruit juice to make a spritzer. To accompany the refreshers, pack a small fruit basket and chocolates.

If you really want to impress your new neighbors, bring them baked goods straight out of the oven. Make sure to provide a full list of ingredients in case your neighbors have allergies. You may want to make options that are free of nut, dairy and eggs.


A gift card to a great local restaurant

Your new neighbors may not feel up to preparing a meal. After all, their kitchen may still be filled with boxes! Offering a gift card to your favorite local restaurant is a nice gesture that will also prevent your neighbors’ stomachs from rumbling. Fortunately, gift cards can be purchased in a wide range of amounts to avoid worrying about overspending. A typical amount for new neighbors is anywhere between $20 to $50. Try to choose a restaurant with a lovely view and a wide variety of menu items to suit all dietary needs.

Host a small gathering

Plan a meet and greet as a gift for neighbors. It’ll give you an excuse to have a party and will help your new friends acclimate to the neighborhood. You don’t need to plan anything fancy. A small backyard BBQ is always fun. You can move the party indoors during the cooler months. Have plenty of snacks on hand, including an assortment of finger foods. This is also an opportunity to ask everyone in the neighborhood to contribute. Rather than prepare all of the food yourself, plan a potluck and have people bring their favorite dishes.

A touch of green

Even neighbors who don’t have green thumbs will appreciate a nice plant. Stick with a plant that doesn’t require a lot of care. Spider plants, devil’s ivy, philodendrons and calla lilies are safe bets. Instead of a houseplant, put together a small herb garden as a gift for neighbors. Mint, basil and thyme come in starter sizes. Get creative with the containers you choose. Whether you give your neighbors a houseplant or a selection of herbs, just make sure to provide instructions on how to care for their new plant.

After giving your neighbors a small gift, ask if there are any ways you can help them get settled in and just generally make yourself useful.