Ep 2: Home Inspectors vs. Real Estate Agents

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 2, Jim and Peter discuss the often adversarial relationship between home inspectors and real estate agents.  Topics covered include how home inspectors procure their clients and the potential effect this can have on the accuracy of the inspection, understanding a report given by a home inspector, and how to properly pick a home inspector.  Jim and Peter go further in exchanging several personal stories regarding past home inspections and some of the more interesting challenges they have run into.

Do you have a home improvement question?  Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you!  Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region?  Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors”.


Ep 1: Water Heaters and Air Conditioner Selection and Considerations

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In Episode 1, Jim and Peter discuss the pros and cons of different types of water heaters and air conditioning units as well as the associated maintenance and considerations for each.  Topics include what kind of what heater works best for your home, when you should replace your water hater, as well as common problems and solutions with water heaters.  The discussion then transitions to air conditioners for residential homes where Jim and Peter discuss air conditioner selection, maintenance, and tips.

Do you have a home improvement question?  Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to get it answered for you!  Do you need help with a home improvement project and live in the upstate New York region?  Go to www.houseatwork.com and click “Find Contractors“.


A Renewed Bathroom

By Peter Schick

Vanity Selection and Lighting

My initial thought when selecting a new vanity was to have something that would provide additional storage space below it.  I always like having that space for storing toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.  Unfortunately, this is a small bathroom.  Within a few feet of the vanity was the toilet.  Increasing the size of the vanity would take away valuable real estate in the bathroom and potentially make it much more cramped.  So a larger vanity would not work and decided to stay with a pedestal.  The question now was whether to keep the original in place or to get a new one.  The old vanity seemed to be haphazardly hung to the wall and one of the two pillars that supported it in the front was no longer attached.  It’s days were numbered, so replacing it seemed like a requirement.  Some of the plumbing would have to be adjusted to


shower remodel
Shower remodel before (left) and after (right)

Initially, I thought I would be able to salvage the current shower by cleaning the grout and changing out  the lever and shower head.  After 3 days of cleaning, I found that the tiles had been discolored to a point beyond which I could clean.  I could have re-grouted the shower, but with the tiles looking as bad as they did, it made sense just to redo the entire thing instead of doing a half-assed salvage.

The demolition of the old shower was fairly simple, except for the shower base.  The base was a metal basin filled with concrete with a hole drilled in the center for the drain.  The concrete was over four inches thick below the tile, making it a real pain to break up and remove.  The sides of the shower were tile done over dry wall.  There was some water damage near the transition areas between the shower base and the side tiling, so I was sure to keep this in mind when designing and building the new shower.

Now before I describe what I do next I have to explain a little more.  From the pictures, it looks like that this is a standard standing shower only.  But it isn’t.  Its actually pretty strange.  The shower is a standing shower but instead of being 36” X 36” its actually 40” X 60”.  This creates a fairly unique problem since this space too small to put in a tub (it would have required significant remodeling to do this), and height of the shower was too tall (over 8 feet) for the usual shower side paneling (typically around 6 feet).  Based on this, I decided that tiling the walls made the most sense, though I would have to spend more.  Fortunately, a 40” wide standing shower base fit in this area (barely) so I didn’t have to get too outside the box with a solution for that.  One of the small things I feel I could have done differently with the shower remodel is using a brushed nickel shower head and handle instead of a dark bronze set.  I went with the dark bronze set namely because I thought it looked good with the tiling and it was deeply discounted at Home Depot (I got it for over 60% off, I think someone returned it for whatever reason).


The old flooring was this dingy, cheap vinyl that I felt was in desperate need of replacement:

The crappy flooring I needed to replace.

The floor space was very small within the bathroom so installing tile wouldn’t break the bank and would also be a considerable improvement.  I selected a light gray tile color that I felt worked well with the white trim and blue walls.  Installation was very easy and didn’t run into any snags considering it was one of the first things I did when remodeling the bathroom.

5 Home Improvements That Increase Home Value

For most homeowners, their home is the largest asset they own.  It is also one of the primary ways that households build their long term wealth.  There are a multitude of factors that affect the price of a home and how much it appreciates over time including but not limited to its location, market demand, and improvements to the property.  A homeowner has little control over location and market demand, but has substantial control over the types of home improvements that can be done to their home.  So naturally the question is what home improvement projects help increase the value of a home the most?  Here are a few:

  1. Kitchen Remodel: The kitchen is one of the central rooms of the house and often get the most critical observation from prospective buyers. Though kitchen remodels can easily go into the tens of thousands of dollars for higher end amenities and improvements, you can still take the curse off with a few relatively small changes.  One of these can be repainting your cabinets and adding different or new handles.  Replacing the faucet with a more stylish or new one can help as well.  Adding a backsplash or changing the lighting fixtures can also help with appearance as well.  For those who have more of a budget, updating appliances, adding a higher quality countertop, and adding a dishwasher if you do not have one already. 
  2. Bathroom Remodel: In order of value gained, the bathroom comes in a close second. Bathroom remodels can also be very price as well, but if you focus on certain aspects you can do it on a budget.  Installing a new vanity, depending on the size, can run you a few hundred dollars and can significantly change the character of a bathroom.  Changing the shower head, the shower handle, or adding a new insert can also help to rejuvenate an otherwise dull bathroom.
  3. Basement Remodel: Adding a finished basement to your home can significantly increase its value as well as the livable space available. One of the best aspects of finishing a basement is its often not counted as additional square footage to your home for tax assessment purposes.  This varies between different localities so be sure you check your local zoning laws to see if this would apply to you.
  4. First Floor Laundry: Having laundry on your ground floor will considerably help with the resale value of your home. Many people, especially as they grow older, will not want to constantly go up and down stairs in order to do everyday tasks, like laundry.  Ranch style homes that currently have laundry in the basement could see a sharp increase in value if they were to add laundry on the main floor specifically for this reason.  The impact of this improvement on other home styles will be less pronounced
  5. New Windows: Upgrading the windows around your house to more modern ones will significantly increase the energy efficiency of your home as well as reduce your utility bill. Replacing the windows should also be coupled with a home energy audit and, if necessary, adding additional insulation in order to ensure best results. 

By making a few strategic improvements to your home, you can help increase its value significantly.  The key is focusing on the right rooms and improvements while maintaining neutral styling and coloring throughout.

One Kitchen’s Amazing Transformation

So I own this duplex that’s in a nice neighborhood.  One of the units was in horrible shape when I got it so I decided it needed a complete remodel.  But I just didn’t want to take the curse off, I really wanted to make it a place that I would truly enjoy living in.  That would mean new floors, cabinets, appliances, countertop, lighting, the whole package.  Since the house is right across the street from a lake, I decided to go with more of a beach cottage feel/style and selected a soft blue for the walls accented with white as well as a medium toned hardwood floor.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning:


demolition picture
A lot of work to go!


Smashing the old cabinets and prying them off the walls was fun, of course. Prying the old vinyl flooring and the sub-board out were not as fun, but necessary. What became a hassle was what was behind the walls. Initially, I was considering keeping some of the painted over wood paneling on the wall. Unfortunately, this would have interfered with hanging some of the cabinets, so I decided to remove them. Once removed, I found a whole other problem: water damage to the dry wall and mold. Apparently, the old sink had been leaking for quite some time and caused a lot of damage to the wall. After getting some of the electrical outlets reconfigured (I had to move the outlet for the stove As a result, I tore out all the wood paneling and replaced it with dry wall. Since I planned on adding more countertop space, I needed to move the outlet for the stove and add one for the hanging microwave. After this, I was ready to get the flooring put in.

Flooring Choice and Installation
Initially, I was a bit divided in what type of flooring I should put in. Should I do tile? Or maybe hardwoods? Maybe something else. I decided to go with hardwood for several reasons. First, I know my flooring guy pretty well and he was able to get me some pre-finished hardwood floor at a rock bottom price. Also, the color hardwood he had available on close out looked fantastic with the light blue walls, white trim, and bluish gray carpet (see below).

flooring pic
Decisions, decisions…


I ended up going with the lighter colored wood (the one on the right above) and used the bluish gray carpet in the bedrooms.


lighting pic
On sale too!

I wanted to have the lighting fixture in the kitchen be different from all the other ones around the house. The main entrance to the unit is through the kitchen, so the kitchen will give any visitor their first impression of the unit. I wanted that first impression to be a positive one. I decided to go with a patterned brushed nickel light fixture. I was a bit concerned that this fixture wasn’t neutral enough and may go out of style, but it just felt like it would go well with the appliances the overall style of the kitchen.

Cabinets and Countertop

cabinet pic
It’s starting to come together…

I was able to get some decent white cabinets at an awesome price at a local Bargain Outlet. The main concern was having enough storage. I only had one drawer for silverware and such (to the right of the sink). I was also concerned about the amount of pantry storage we would have so I decided a Lazy Susan in the corner was critical not only for increased storage, but also increasing the amount of countertop space, which had been lacking. The color of the countertop was also another important factor to the overall feeling of the kitchen. We found through a supplier we commonly used that provided us with a great dark countertop that would contrast with the lighter colors of the kitchen. The countertop also had no seems, meaning it was one solid piece.

Appliance Choices
The primary choice of appliances, in my mind, was between all white or stainless. I figured that having all white appliances would have been overkill since the cabinets were white as well. I wanted contrast, but not too much contrast. I thought stainless steel would fit best and luckily this was around Labor Day so there were a bunch of sales going on at local appliance stores for stainless steel appliances. In the end I was able to get the appliances at 30% off their usual retail price. If it wasn’t for the Labor Day sale, I would have been forced to get all white appliances.

How I Got My Contractor To Stay On Budget and Timeline


By Peter Schick

I’d been down this road before.

It doesn’t always end well!

My fiancé wanted to get our bathroom redone and I couldn’t blame her, it was pretty dingy.  She had a friend who did remodeling so naturally we give him a call.  He shows up, we tell him what we want, he gave us a quote and said he would be finished in two days.  Easy day!

Well…not really.

It didn’t take two days, it took over two weeks.  And this really sucks when you only have one bathroom!  Nor was it the price we were originally quoted, it was over 50% more expensive.  Since he was my fiancées friend we never got anything in writing, all on a hand shake.  He made several mistakes that required him to return to fix once we were done as well.

Not so easy.

I never owned a home before and my DIY skills are pretty basic to say the least.  I also never expected something as basic as this to be such a pain in the ass!  It didn’t take long for me to realize the mistakes I made.

Fast forward five months.

The aluminum siding on our house is pretty old and the paint on it had been oxidizing, making what was originally green look like puke yellow.  We had been saving up and been meaning to get this done so the beginning of summer seemed like the right time to do it.

So here we go again.

I took the lessons I learned from my first experience and came up with a system to avoid the endless headaches I had when I got my bathroom done

-Get contractors to compete for your work: Get multiple contractors to give you quotes, not just the one that your friends or family recommended. Why?  Because you need a point of reference in terms of the price that is quoted.  This will help keep the contractor honest and you will get a better idea of what the project should cost.  Of note: if one of the quotes is unusually low, don’t select them.  This is a sign that they are likely to cut corners.

-Get the budget, timeline, and scope of work in writing: Separate the project into phases.  Each phase should have a detailed description of the work that will be completed.  Each phase should also have a start date and an end date associated with it.  Tie in payment draws to your contractor based off these phases.

-Set your Carrots and Sticks: Do not pay your contractor the final payment draw until the project is complete to your specifications. If the time it takes to complete your project is critical, you can attach incentives to each phase of your project like a bonus if your contractor finishes early.  You can also make incentives to keep your contractor within budget as well.  Say you set your budget at $2000.  If your contractor completes the project and only spends $1800 he gets to keep the difference.  If your contractor completes the project but spends $2500, he is responsible for the difference.

-Be actively involved: Check other the progress of your project daily, if possible. Interface with your contractor and ask questions in regards to the projects status.  Being involved and asking questions on a regular basis will not only give you peace of mind, but it will also help keep the project on timeline.

Remodeling your house does not have to be an unending nightmare.  If you come in with a solid plan and keep your contractor accountable you will greatly reduce headaches and stress!



6 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Home


By Shannon Roxborough


Gatherings to host and attend, spaces to decorate, trips to plan, family and friends to spend time with, and gifts to buy, wrap and send followed by year-end deadlines to meet. The holiday season can be a stressful time.

To help make shopping easy this holiday season, here are some gift ideas for the home bodies and DIYers on your list. With prices starting at under $5, there’s something for even the tightest budget.


Raise a Glass

A hundred years before Dom Perignon, there was Saint-Hilaire’s Blanquette de Limoux. The sparkling wine may not bear the “Champagne” name, but this bubbly is much better than most that do. The best-selling Brut gets high praise (a Wine Spectator 89 rating), the extra-dry is less overpowering, and the semi-sweet is light on the palate. And with a price tag hovering between $15 and $20 (sometimes, you can catch it on sale for as little as $9.99), if you decide to pop one too many corks over the holidays, you won’t break the bank in the process. Inquire at your favorite wine retailer.


Drink and Be Merry

Born in medieval England and popularized in colonial America, eggnog, the holiday beverage made from eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg—often spiked with alcohol—is one of those things that sounds better than it often is. Most store-bought nog is too sweet (because of high-fructose corn syrup); and too thick, due to dairy companies’ attempts to mimic the texture of whipped eggs with additive-laced heavy cream. For a refreshing alternative, consider eggnog made by farmers co-op Organic Valley. With lower fat, fewer calories and less sweetness than most store-bought brands, it naturally blends organic ingredients with fair trade flavorings. The result: a pure and clean commercial eggnog with a smooth finish that’s the next best thing to homemade. About $4 a quart; available at Wegmans.


Cozy Up

A warm, comfy throw is one of those little things that can make holiday travel bearable. It also happens to come in handy if the farthest you’re going is from the bedroom to the sofa. Warm and soft, JCPenney Home’s Velvet Plush Solid Blanket provides luxurious comfort on a modest price tag. Available in ten colors and three sizes (twin, full/queen and king), the polyester microfiber blanket is also tough as nails, resisting shrinkage and fraying even after several machine washes. $40; jcpenney.com.


Let It Snow!

Just because Western New Yorkers are accustomed to ice and snow doesn’t mean they necessarily always love it. But since it comes with the territory, why not have an ergonomic tool to make snow removal from your vehicle less of a chore? The company, which built an empire on its Good Grips kitchen gadgets with rubberized handles, has brought handy comfort to the OXO Extendable Twister Snow Brush. With a durable blade that promises to break through the toughest build-up without scratching the glass, the pivotable, extending ice scraper’s retractable brush extends up to 11 inches and pivots 90 degrees, making easy work of digging out. About $19.99; OXO.com.


Keep It Pretty in Pink

Not everyone likes girly-girl hand tools, but those who do will appreciate Apollo Precision Tools 135-Piece Household Tool Kit is fun and ideal for a variety of small, light-duty projects around the house. Plus, $1 of the purchase price goes to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The cased kit includes a 100-piece fastener set, a 4.8 volt cordless screwdriver with charger, a utility knife, 10 screwdriver bits in various sizes, a pair of scissors, an 8-ounce claw hammer, four precision screwdrivers, a roll of electrical tape, a pair of long-nose pliers, a 9-inch magnetic level, a 12-foot-long measuring tape, a 6-inch adjustable wrench, and a putty knife. All in all, a good buy (though the cordless screwdriver’s torque leaves something to be desired). $32.49; amazon.com.


Make Multitasking a Snap

When it comes to multi-purpose tools, most jack-of-all-trades products tend to suffer from master-of-none performance. Rigid hopes to change that perception of multi-tools with its JobMax Oscillating Tool. Unlike other oscillating tools, Rigid’s version does much more than just cut, scrape and sand. It allows you to upgrade the starter kit with additional quick-change attachments, like the right-angle drill/driver head, ratchet head, right-angle impact head, auto hammer head, jig saw head and reciprocating saw head. It literally is the type of gift that keeps on giving. $99 and up; homedepot.com.


A Gift to Grow Something

The Garda Dibble, a homegrown invention (conceived in Rochester, N.Y.), is a tough plastic planting tool with removable, evenly-spaced pegs that takes the guesswork out of seed spacing. Gardeners like its ability to keep plants in neat rows and the bright red color that makes it easy to keep up with in natural and manmade settings. $19.99; gardadibble.com.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.

A Guide For First Time Home Buyers


by Donna De Palma


Finding your dream home requires preparation, research, money, time and patience.  Rushing in is the number one mistake first-time home buyers make.

Reduce risk by discovering some of the things first-time home buyers wish they could do over if they had the chance.


Start saving sooner

It’s a good idea to begin saving at least two years before you plan to start looking for your dream home.  The sooner the better when it comes to saving.  Put away as much as you can each month.  Start a new home fund and deposit at least $100 a month to start.

Plan on saving up to 20% of your new home’s value as a down payment.  For a $100,000 house, you’ll need as much as $20,000 in savings for that down payment, so buying your first home may require some sacrifice. 


Take your time

Educate yourself on the local real estate market before you even begin to look.  Visit several different neighborhoods and areas when scouting for a new home.

Before deciding to buy, consider property values in the neighborhoods you like best.  Take into account the school district your new home will be in.  Research property and school taxes before signing on the dotted line.

The neighborhood you choose needs to be one you and your family will feel comfortable in for years to come.  You may be living there for a long time so choose carefully.   


Have an emergency fund

A new home means higher utility bills, home repair costs and lawn care.  Have a strict budget in place and then prepare for unexpected expenses like a hot water heater that makes it through inspection but quits a few weeks after you move in.  A rainy day fund will come in handy for emergencies.


Price shop for a mortgage

Shop around for a mortgage.  Rates vary from one brokerage firm to another and the difference can be significant.  Explore loan options and rates from several different brokers. 

Saving just a half of a percentage point on an average-priced home could result in tens of thousands of dollars in savings over the years of your loan.


Make a home wish list

A good real estate agent will ask a first-time buyer to create a detailed wish list with everything they’d love to have in a home.  Size, amenities, condition and location are key.

Do you require move-in ready or are you willing to put in some ‘sweat equity’ to create the home of your dreams?  Think about what you can handle. 

It may be hard to avoid the ‘kid in a candy store’ mindset that first-time buyers are prone to. After you’ve made a wish list, begin to prioritize your needs.  Ultimately, you’ll need to come up with a must-have list for your first home.

If you’re having trouble deciding on a style of home, ask your broker to show you an example of each style from ranch to Cape Cod.  Narrow down your search once you find a style you like.

You may want to reserve some of the items on your wish list for your second home.  Most first-time buyers are on a pretty tight budget.  Remember, the goal is to find a home you can afford.


Love at first sight

Remember what it was like to fall in love?  Most likely, you overlooked some pretty important details that had an impact on your future happiness.  Don’t fall in love with your new home while you’re in the buying process.  If something isn’t right, the rosy glow of first love may allow you to gloss over a serious problem.

Things you overlook in a property can get expensive.  Bring an objective friend or relative with you who can look at the home without bias and give you an honest opinion.  Best to bring someone who knows you well: someone who knows what you need in a new home.


Keep your eyes open

Home inspections are much more limited than many first-time home buyers expect. Keep your eyes open during the inspection process.  Don’t rely on your home inspector to catch all the flaws in the house.  Instead, follow your inspector around from room to room while he inspects the property. 

Ask questions and take notes.  Then check things for yourself.  If you aren’t satisfied with your home inspection, speak up.  Pay attention to every detail.  What seems like a small problem now may turn into a much bigger problem later.

According to Curtis Niles, president of the National Association of Home Inspectors and a home inspector himself, all inspectors are not alike and the value an inspector brings is based upon his experience and knowledge.  Don’t just accept your real estate agent’s recommendation of a home inspector.  Interview a prospective inspector to assess his knowledge. 

A good home inspection requires a reliable professional. Question your potential inspector about his experience; whether he’ll be getting up on the roof or not, and if he has any particular area of expertise such as environmental safety or knowledge specific to child safety.

If you’re purchasing an older home, your home inspector should point out the possibility of environmental risks like lead or asbestos in homes built before 1978.  If you, as a buyer, are made aware of toxic hazards before closing, you can ask the seller to cover some or all of the cost of abatement or removal.

Child safety hazards, like old railings that have too much space between posts, are a safety threat to young children.  Updated standards require posts be placed closer together.  A smart inspector will spot these problems so you, as a first-time buyer, can address them before closing. 


All homeowners insurance policies aren’t alike 

Some people get into a rut with insurance.   They feel a sense of loyalty to an insurance company that may be charging them too much for too little.  Most insurers offer a discount if you package your auto and homeowners policies.  Don’t be afraid to transfer your car insurance to a different agency that may have a more suitable homeowners policy. 

Your home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make.  Select a quality policy just in case you ever need to use it.  The cheapest policy isn’t always the best.  Instead of just shopping price, look at coverage options.  If you ever need to file a claim, you’ll be glad you did.

Evaluate the actual value of the contents of your home to avoid the default amount your agent suggests.  Once you calculate the value of everything in your home, adjust replacement value downward slightly to save on premiums.


Furniture shopping can wait

Buying brand new furniture for the home you’re about to move into is usually a mistake especially for first-time home buyers.  Take a breath, get past the move in, then purchase a few select pieces that are essential to living comfortably. 

Don’t overextend your budget only to regret it later.  It’s best to wait until you have a handle on your expenses.  You can splurge on that modular sofa, mid-century dining table or Louis XIV chaise after you’ve paid for essentials like shrubs, grass seed and the water bill.
When you have a firm grasp on your budget, start shopping sales.  Never rush into new furniture.  Save up until you can afford what you really want.


Ask for help with your move

Most of us have a large network of relatives and friends we can call on for help.  Be sure to ask for help with your move.  Just be prepared to help family and friends with their moves over the next couple of years.  Feed the people who help you.  They’ll feel appreciated and you’ll feel like you’ve taken good care of your help.

If you make a mistake or two along the way to buying your first home, relax and focus on the goal: an address of your own and a place to call home.



The Simple Dollar


She Knows

Home Holiday Prep Ideas


by Donna De Palma


It takes a little planning to prepare your home for the holidays.  When November blows in, our thoughts turn to making the season bright and what it takes to get our homes ready for family and friends. A smell of pine, the twinkle of Christmas lights, a full house, the warm glow of a fire, food and impromptu get-togethers are what we look forward to as the season draws near.

Be a thoughtful host and make your home inviting to family and friends by checking these simple tasks off your Christmas list in plenty of time to sit back and enjoy the holidays.


Clean out the junk

The day before guests arrive is no time to pull apart junk drawers and clean out linen closets. Declutter guest rooms and open areas of your home like your foyer, kitchen, living room, den, and dining room.  Remove anything that’s unnecessary from countertops and tables.

Well before guests arrive and the festivities begin, clean out, sort and recycle mail, newspapers, magazines.  Store shoes, hats, umbrellas, toys and other items that should be out of sight.  Clean out your kitchen cabinets and frig and restock essentials.


Wrap up home projects

Using an upcoming holiday or party as a deadline is one way to motivate yourself to complete home repairs already underway.  Hopefully you’ve timed your projects so they’re nearing completion as the holidays start to sizzle.  Finish painting projects, hanging lights and refreshing accessories before mid-November.


Clean it up

Now is a great time to clean carpets and windows.  The living room and dining room carpets will be front and center so freshen them up with a good cleaning.

In the kitchen, a deep cleaning of counters, sink and appliances will streamline your food prep when holiday baking and cooking go into high gear.  Sharpen knives, run stemware through the dishwasher, polish silver and wipe stainless clean.

In the bath, fix leaky faucets and consider upgrading outdated accessories or bath hardware well before your guests arrive. Be sure you have enough guest bath and hand towels. Towels with a holiday theme carry the spirit of the season into the bath.  Aromatic pine-scented soaps, or diffusers allow guests to feel indulged.


Make a budget

Have a game plan when it comes to budgeting for the holidays.  Create a budget and a list of what you’ll need.   Categorize expenses: decorating, entertaining, food, gifts.  Prioritize what’s needed then buy the essentials.

If you’re going all out to throw a party, lighten up on gifts or decorating this season.  If you want to splurge on decorating, throw a cocktail party instead of a dinner party and serve light

hors d’oeuvres. If it’s a dinner party you have in mind, ask invited guests to each bring a dish to pass.


Take inventory

Assess your supplies.   Is your kitchen well-equipped?  How about holiday table settings?  With holiday guests and dinner parties, this is a great time to update your place settings with new flatware, dishes, or a tablecloth.

Table décor, kitchenware, glasses, serving dishes, table linens, seating and dinnerware all should be ready before the menu is set.  Locate what you’ll need around the house and purchase anything else you’ll want to set a memorable holiday table.  If you need additional seating now is the time to secure it.

Stock up on candles for the table.  A rule of thumb: when burning candles one inch equals one hour of burn time.


Stowing holiday guests 

Expecting overnight guests? A thoughtful host anticipates their guests’ needs.

Anticipate what your guests will enjoy by putting towels, toiletries, a pair of pajamas and assorted books and magazines in your guest bedroom.

Have fresh linens on the bed and place an inviting seasonal arrangement of fresh flowers nearby. An extra blanket and slippers make it feel more like home. Clear some closet space or a drawer.  No one likes to live out of an overnight bag.

A reading lamp and a clock add convenience and allow your guests to relax and enjoy the time away from home.


Rummage through your garden and yard

Christmas brings two vivid colors out of the crayon box.  Make your color theme of red and green natural with finds from your own yard.

Why not make your own wreath or garland this year?  Fresh aromatic balsam pine, blue spruce or white pine boughs make a good base for any garland or wreath.

If you’re lucky enough to have holly in your yard, it makes for great color when tucked into a garland or wreath.  Berries from winter varieties of bushes and evergreens, like frosted blue juniper berries, can be wired together to decorate wreathes or greens.

Use berries, boughs and branches on your front door, your table and sills to bring seasonal scents and color indoors.


Clear a path

Be sure walkways and your porch are free from ice and snow.  Throw down salt and assign someone in your family shoveling duty during family get-togethers and holiday parties.

Add a doormat, to extend a warm holiday greeting even before you open the door.  Guests are less likely to track in snow and slush.


Light the way

Light the way so outdoor walkways are well-lit and safe.  Christmas lights on bushes, around an entryway or lining your house add to outdoor illumination.  Use only UL approved, outdoor extension cords and multi-outlet power strips for outdoor lights.

Make this season truly bright with lanterns or luminaries leading up to your front door. Simple luminaries can be made from paper bags filled with sand and battery-operated tea lights.

Adding motion sensing lights and path lights help illuminate the walkway for those who arrive after dark.


Spruce up your entryway

Focus holiday decorations on the front door and front porch or entryway.  Make your front door a centerpiece by hanging a lush, full wreath front and center.  If you prefer a more natural look, fill in with berries or artificial fruit.  If you prefer luxe, decorate your wreath with ornaments in silver and gold and a big bow.

Place planters with small evergreens alongside your door.  String lights, hang ornaments or wrap ribbon around them to add sparkle.

If you want to light up your door, add lights to your wreath or secure them to the molding around your front door.  Lighting up your entryway is all about creating an inviting welcome for your guests.


Wrap it up

Designate a room or area of your home for writing Christmas cards, gift wrapping and mailing.  Get organized and start early.  Looking for tape, ribbon or wrapping paper at the last minute, just before guests arrive, is stressful.


Hang them up

Go through your coat closet and donate or discard old coats that you no longer use.  Create space to hang your guests’ coats.  If you don’t have an adequate closet, think of an alternative like a coat stand, rolling rack or moveable wardrobe.  Borrow one of these from a friend if you’re trying to save on cost.

Consider putting a blank label on each hanger so guests can write their names on outerwear. No one wants to go home with someone else’s coat, hat or scarf.


Keep the fire burning

Bring in firewood and place it by the fire.  A warm hearth symbolizes the spirit of the season.  Have someone tend the fire while your entertaining guests and preparing holiday meals.  If you have a wood burning fireplace that gets moderate use, it should be cleaned by a professional every few years to avoid creosote build-up.


In case of trouble

Whenever guests arrive, it’s a smart idea to be prepared for minor emergencies.  Have jumper cables on hand if a battery gives out.  Keep a tool kit handy in case something breaks just as the festivities are heating up.

A fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen can put out a kitchen fire.  Keep a first aid kit handy for cuts and splinters.  A few ice packs in the freezer can help with sprains and bumps.

It’s good to start early when sprucing up your home for the season.  A check list of what needs to happen takes the stress out of holiday planning.  Enjoy spending time with those you love and welcome your guests in style.  Nothing brings people together like the holiday season so this year, make yours sparkle!





Popular Mechanics

House Logic


Good Housekeeping 

Studio Interior Design



Design On A Dime

by Donna De Palma

We searched for budget design ideas to amp up your home’s design factor.  Even if you’re designing on the cheap, it doesn’t take loads of money to bring home a design that looks like you hired an interior designer.

Use things you already have, discover the power of flea markets, visit a craft store, buy some paint and make your own art to keep cost down and impact high even on a dime store budget.


Canvas flea markets and antique stores

Search for items you can restore to new life.  Use your imagination to reinvent old and worn chairs, dressers and desks by refinishing, putting on a fresh coat of paint, replacing an old seat cushion or adding new hardware.

Flea Market Design
Many great decorations can be found at flea markets.

Look for furniture with solid construction and classic lines that new upholstery or paint will bring back to life.  Frequent thrift stores, consignment shops, church rummage sales, online auction sites and estate sales for items that spur your imagination.

Turn a fresh eye to what you already have and think about how it might be camouflaged, repurposed or reimagined.

A gently-used wicker loveseat can become indoor furniture with a plush new cushion.  Mix with upholstered chairs in a grouping for an unexpected coastal look.

An end table can be made out of anything with a flat top and four legs.  Modular storage units can be stacked to make a side table with cubby holes to display books and keepsakes.


Design art for your walls

Think big! Buy three stretched canvases, paint in three solid colors or modulate color on each, then hang them to fill a blank wall.

Or make a triptych, a trio of paneled art, by enlarging a 20” X 24” photo to 60” X 72” at a copy center.  Cut enlargement into three separate sections then adhere each section to a separate stretched canvas.  Hang them close together on a wall behind a sofa or on their own. Instead of looking at a blank wall you’ll be admiring your own artwork.

Float found objects between glass to make your own collage.  Frameless art sandwiched in glass is a contemporary way to design walls.


The power of a mirror

A mirror goes the distance in transforming your space.  Find a decorative vintage frame and have a mirror cut to fit. Hang it on a wall opposite a window to reflect natural light and the entire contents of your room.  You’ll be amazed at how much bigger your room will look.

mirror leans against a wall
A mirror against a wall can be a great decorative idea.

For a classic interior designer’s trick, prop up a large mirror – three-fourths as tall as the wall to create instant square footage.

A foyer is a great place to hang a mirror.  Not only does it brighten the entryway of your home, but functions as a place to check makeup and hair before leaving the house.

A mirror makes a sparkling tray for candles or silver serving pieces.   Repurpose a mirror by applying felt backing to the underside so it stays in place on an end table.


Accessorize with found objects

Found objects and household items that cost practically nothing can be used to accessorize a room. A bowl of crisp green apples provides a pop of color.  Corbels from a salvage yard make nice bookends. Use your imagination and the possibilities are endless.


Craft your style

Crafting is an inexpensive way to personalize accessories.  Trim lamp shades with lace or ribbon.  Customize boxes, file folders and desk accessories and display them on a desk or counter. Glue, ribbon, scissors and a few inexpensive supplies are all that’s needed.


Go natural

design materials in foyer
Having natural materials in a foyer can add a sense of calm for entering guests.

Shells, branches, sand, ferns, look for anything outside with an interesting shape or color and bring in indoors.  Shells in a glass bowl, cut beach glass in a dish, driftwood collected from the shore, white birch and cherry branches in a tall cylinder at the entryway, all give a rustic, relaxed feel to your home.  Play off the colors of nature’s bountiful palette.


Photo gallery

Find your best photos and frame at least ten of them.  Match the frames or mix and match any way you like.  Gold, silver, plain or ornate, just keep them about the same size. Select a blank wall that needs a lift and arrange them in a long row, gallery style, or choose a geometric pattern that works well in your space.


Swap the shades

Shades made with off the shelf linensReplace lamp shades to refresh the look of a tired room.  Limit your color choice to one accent color then use neutral tones like soft white or wheat for the others.  A color statement of one accent color in an otherwise neutral room is an inexpensive way to bring color into your home.


Stack colorful books

Find your most colorful and interesting hardcover books and place Books on a coffee tablethem on a coffee table or ottoman.  If you have open shelves in a living room or great room, display a stack of three or four books next to a vase of flowers or a plant.  Oversized books work best on a table or in a place of honor so they can be enjoyed.


Paint the ceiling

Instead of an entire room, paint your ceiling.  A dull, old, white ceiling doesn’t do much to enhance a room.  Try a color that’s neutral but is definitely a color.


Swap yardage for off the shelf

Flat bed sheets with bold patterns make great curtain panels, pillows, duvet covers, tablecloths, even slipcovers.  Pay just a fraction of what would for fabric by the yard and get the same results.  If you have the sewing skills of a beginner and a low-cost sewing machine, you’re ready to rock.


Chair rail to go

Break up a dull wall with a chair rail.  If you want to save on strip molding, use decorator tape to create a stick-on molding.  Paint areas above and below two different shades of the same color or contrasting but complementary colors.


What’s your number?

An inexpensive way to increase curb appeal and to spruce up the exterior of your home is to replace worn out house numbers.  Find new numbers that match the style and siding of your home.  If your house has historic quality, mount a number plaque near your front door or on a gate.  Use brass numbers if your house is regal and stately.


Paint your door

Side angle red door
Pick a bold color for your front door.

If the exterior of your home is lackluster and you can’t afford to paint, nothing has more impact than painting your front door a show-stopping color.  Not the brightest color you can find but the right color for your house.  Be selective.  Try at least three colors.  Ask for sample pints at the paint store and paint them on your door to test.  Look at your painted samples at different times of day.  Light affects color.

If your budget allows, change the hardware on your front door after you paint it and add a brass kick plate.  It will look like a new home.


Draw the curtain

Tired bathroom and no money to renovate?  A new shower curtain can rescue the day. Your shower curtain is one of the first things you see when you enter a bathroom because of its size. Choose a color, pattern or texture that draws the eye away from what’s tired and old to something fresh and new.


Light up your table

Candles make more of a statement when there are more of them.  Go big with candles.  The larger the surface, the larger the candles.  Group pillars or use hurricane-style glass and place a candle each.


Snag a deal

Deals on slightly damaged items like floor models and seconds can be found if you’re a smart shopper.  You can save megabucks on less than perfect items.

Don’t forget sales and advertised discounts.  If you can wait a week to get a better price, do it.


DIY to savings

Through sweat and tears, doing-it-yourself saves you money.  Small projects you can master on your own without the help of a designer or contractor are like money in the bank.  All of your cost goes into supplies, not labor.

Painting, installing a new floor, laying tile and sewing curtains or pillows all require minimal skill but attention to detail and lots of patience.  Do it cheap but do it right.

Enlist friends if you don’t have enough manpower at home.  Remember to feed them though so they’ll still be your friends after your DIY projects are complete.

If your design ambitions are bigger than your budget, no need to worry.  Try some of these money-saving ideas to take your home from blah to beautiful.  Using your imagination is one way to achieve that designer look when designing on a shoestring.




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