How to Organize Your Outdoor Space for Ultimate Summer Enjoyment

As with most organizing projects, my modus operandi is “declutter, organize and style” — in that order. Each project you take from start to finish can be as small or as large as you can manage. In other words, you can take one small category, such as yard games, and go through the entire process of decluttering, organizing and then styling them before moving on to another category.

Alternatively, you can do all of your decluttering first (including many categories at a time) and then organize and style afterward. The former may be less overwhelming and work well if you have only small chunks of time and you already know where you want to place things. However, the latter might be a good approach if you’re not quite sure where things should belong and you want to see what remains after you’ve decluttered.

Get Started by Decluttering

Here are some common backyard categories to consider decluttering:

Outdoor games. A lot can change in a year, especially if you have young children. Lawn games that were popular last year may not hold any interest today.

I recommend reviewing outdoor games annually, as they can take up a lot of space. If it’s something your family won’t enjoy anymore, it may be time to donate those games in good condition to someone who will. Also, look for damaged and broken games and toss the ones that no longer function well.

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Gardening tools and supplies. You know how hard your gardening tools work. Maintain them well so they can continue to be efficient and accurate for your task. Be sure to keep them dry, clean, sterile, oiled and sharp, as applicable for each tool.

Pare down the excess and ones you don’t use. Dispose of those that are broken or beyond repair, but be sure to dispose of them according to your local guidelines, as some tools may not be acceptable in your regular trash.

The purpose of gardening gloves is to protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, chemicals, blisters and more. If your gloves no longer serve these purposes because of holes or wear, consider replacing them with ones that do.

It’s not uncommon to amass a large collection of empty pots, which take up a lot of space. Even if you like the style of the pots, consider whether you’ll realistically reuse them or whether you have too many. You may be saving some to fill with plants to give as gifts. I’ve saved such pots in the past and never used them. I now know myself better and will swiftly donate ones I know I won’t use, at least in the near future.

Many people store soil, fertilizer, landscaping rocks and mulch left over from their garden projects. If you have bags of excess materials lying around, first review them to see if they’re in good condition. Dispose of any unusable soils and mulch that have foul odors, mold or insect infestations. Then decide if you want to keep the remaining usable materials. You may want to keep potting soil and fertilizer if you use it regularly, but perhaps you don’t need those landscaping rocks from a previous project and can free up some space.

Grilling tools. Be sure your barbecue tools and grill are clean and free of rust. According to the USDA, “Rust is not a food-safe material so it should not be ingested.” There are many online solutions for removing rust; if you can’t remove it, you may want to replace your tools and cooking grate.

You may want to consider purchasing individual tools instead of a set. While a set may be offered at a better value, you may actually be paying more per tool if you’re not using all of them.

Outdoor dinnerware. Take some time to review tableware dedicated to outdoor dining and entertaining to make sure everything is still relevant. If random items such as takeout utensils, hand-me-downs from the kitchen or catering trays default into your outdoor dining storage, consider parting with the items you don’t use.

From a guilt standpoint, I understand how difficult it can be to get rid of disposable items that are still fully usable. During the pandemic, you may have ordered takeout more frequently, resulting in a large stockpile of plastic utensils that would be wasteful to toss. I don’t believe in waste, but I also don’t believe in keeping unwanted items out of guilt.

You may want to research mutually beneficial options, such as donating to a homeless shelter. Another suggestion would be to check your local community or neighborhood groups to transform your trash into treasure for someone else.

Water toys. My childhood summers in the New York suburbs were spent running through sprinklers and playing in free-flowing water.

I now live in California, and while I desperately would like to give my daughters the same fun experiences I had, I just can’t justify it with the droughts we experience here. Choosing to discontinue my childhood summer traditions and purge our lawn water slide, oscillating sprinkler and other water toys not only made me feel more responsible and considerate, but it also removed the temptations to misuse our precious water.

If you live in an area where you don’t have to worry about water conservation, make sure your summer inflatables don’t have any leaks or mildew and that you’re not using your space to store defective items.

Furniture. The elements can be hard on outdoor furniture. Even if your furniture, cushions and rugs have been covered or otherwise protected, check for mildew, dirt and rust and be sure you allow enough time after washing for the items to dry thoroughly.

Consider repairing any cushion tears that may compromise water resistance. Donate any excess pillows and blankets you’ve accrued.

Organize Your Outdoor Spaces for Current and Future Use

Keep your yard tidy by making sure off-season items are put away. Enclosed spaces will keep your items safe from weather and pests and help you avoid visual clutter.

Organizing your spaces will help make putting things away easier and therefore more likely to get done. Some solutions that have worked well for my clients include:

Shed with shelves. An outdoor shed provides a great footprint of space for keeping your belongings dry and organized. Consider installing a shelving unit inside so that all parts of the shed are easily accessible. If you stack boxes and items on top of each other, no matter how organized they are it will still be troublesome to access items in the bottom box.

Weather-resistant storage boxes. There are many styles and options for outdoor benches with storage. Benches typically have less storage space than a shed, but they may be more inconspicuous and may work well in smaller spaces where they can also serve as seating. Storage benches usually work well for keeping pillows and seat cushions dry and clean.

Potting benches. Plant and gardening enthusiasts may want to invest in a potting bench, which can neatly store your supplies and provide you with a workspace. Many potting benches can also be arranged to be a nice focal point in your outdoor space.

Hanging storage. I prefer to store items off the ground when it makes sense. It allows me to keep the ground cleaner (indoors and out), allocates a designated space for each item and makes finding specific pieces easier.

For larger tools like rakes, loppers and shovels, simple hooks or a wall system will do the job. Be sure the weight limits for the hooks are suitable for their purpose.

Set the Style and Mood You Want to Create in Your Backyard

A few minor changes can make a big impact.

String lights. There’s something very inviting and cozy about outdoor lights — nothing glams up an outdoor space more than string lights. There are many different types, from fairy lights with tiny bulbs to larger lantern-style lights. Edison bulb string lights are my favorite. These larger bulbs give my backyard a slightly more dramatic, modern vintage feel.

Outdoor rug. Consider getting an outdoor rug to give your yard an indoor-outdoor feel. A rug can serve as a focal point and also pull everything together to create the feel of being in a room.
Outdoor art. Art in any medium can bring color and personality to your space. Don’t be afraid to show your personality.

You can even use non-art items to boost the ambiance. For example, resting your surfboard in the corner of the yard and adding a few large planters with tropical plants will lend a beachy feel.

Summer is here, and you may be thinking about spending more time in your backyard. With a little decluttering, organizing and styling, you can turn your outdoor area into a fun and relaxing space for lounging and gathering. Keep reading for a few ideas to help get your outdoor space in tip-top shape.

This content was originally published here.


Kitchen of the Week: White and Wood With a Touch of Rustic Style

“After” photos by Justin Krug Photography

Kitchen at a Glance
Who lives here: Empty-nest couple Todd and Tina Gifford
Location: Tualatin, Oregon
Size: 330 square feet (31 square meters)
Design: Gina Loewer of Northland Design & Build

Before: The previous kitchen had served the Giffords well, but there wasn’t much worth holding on to. They had grown tired of the muddy brown walls, basic oak cabinets, laminate countertops and plain white tile with a decorative strip used on the short backsplash and narrow island countertop.

The honey brown flooring seemed to blend in with the cabinets, and the placement of the aging electric cooktop in the island felt like an afterthought. Over time, the built-in desk area had become a cluttered drop zone. The refrigerator, which stood on a wall separating the kitchen and dining area, protruded into the traffic flow. “The kitchen just felt drab,” Loewer says. “It was enclosed, compartmentalized and the aisleways were tight.”

After: Loewer removed the back wall to open the kitchen up to the dining area, and she extended the kitchen into the dining room a little to add about 24 square feet to the kitchen. “When you take the wall down, you’re going to increase the natural light for both spaces,” she notes.

A two-tier peninsula now splits the rooms, with tall storage cabinets on the dining side and a new range on the kitchen side. A decorative hickory beam with custom stain over the peninsula gave the homeowners some of the warm rustic style they were looking for. “We were over-the-moon excited when Gina proposed it,” Tina says. “We always wanted warm and neutral with a touch of rustic, but neither of us thought it would be something that would work.”

Loewer brightened the room with a lighter color scheme that includes white maple cabinets (Extra White by Sherwin-Williams), greige walls (Pale Oak by Benjamin Moore) and crisp white ceiling and trim (Pure White by Sherwin-Williams).

The new island has a hickory base that coordinates with the beam and refinished floors. The countertops are a marble-look quartz. “It’s nice to have that wide-open space for baking pies and entertaining,” Tina says. “It’s so much more functional not having the cooktop there.”

The backsplash is 2-by-8-inch white ceramic tiles with a bit of texture. “We tried to look for ways to bring in rustic elements,” Tina says. “I wanted to bring in a handcrafted style of tiles, and this is what Gina and her team brought to us. They’re wonderful.”

The greige walls, gray composite sink, stainless faucet, light pewter grout color and cabinet pulls in a gunmetal finish create cohesive gray-tone elements that provide subtle contrast to all the whites.

Faucet: Sleek, Moen; cabinet hardware: Belcastel in Gun Metal, Hardware Resources

A stainless steel hood hangs over the new pro-style 30-inch range in the peninsula. “I love the location,” Tina says. “Given the original cooktop was in the island with only one functional burner, having this Wolf range is dreamy.”

Wide drawers on either side of the range keep pots and pans within easy reach. Each top drawer has an integrated spice rack and dividers for utensils.

This side of the island has numerous drawers for essentials like mixing bowls and stockpots. “We wanted this island to be heavy on storage,” Loewer says.

Bronze pendants with glass dome shades keep sightlines open through the kitchen. Recessed LED ceiling lights and undercabinet LED tape lighting provide a layered lighting design.

Loewer relocated the new paneled fridge here. “This refrigerator is great because you have two doors instead of one,” she says. “We had to be careful and not go with a large one-door fridge that would swing into the aisleway.”

Double wall ovens sit to the left, a tall pantry is on the right and a tip-up cabinet above provides storage for seasonal items.

A cabinet above the ovens divides cookie sheets and serving platters. “It’s so much more efficient, utilizing the space that way,” Tina says.

A drawer beneath the ovens holds baking and roasting pans.

The custom pantry cabinet has five deep rollouts for dry goods. “People are nervous when you remove a wall in a kitchen, when it comes to storage,” Loewer says. “This is a great way to have a highly functional pantry with deep rollouts that doesn’t take up lots of space.”

A new beverage center takes the place of the built-in desk. Glass-front upper cabinets show off Tina’s favorite collectibles. Drawers offer storage for napkins, corkscrews and other entertaining supplies. A beverage refrigerator makes it easy for guests to grab a drink without getting in the way in the main work zones.

Before: This wide view of the former kitchen shows an informal breakfast nook on the left. The large, rectangular table created a traffic flow problem. “Previously with the dining room being walled off, we needed that size of table there,” Tina says. “We made it work, but it was definitely too large for that area.”

The beam features integrated LED lights. “We went back and forth about it, but I’m so glad we have those added lights there over the peninsula,” Tina says. “They’re fantastic.”

The upper level of the peninsula gives the couple a buffet space when entertaining.

This photo shows the pop-out-style electrical outlets placed around the kitchen. This one is on the end of the island across from the range. When not in use, the gray cube portion can be pushed inside the plate area for a sleek look.

The now-open dining room enjoys a closer connection with the kitchen. “It absolutely reclaims real estate that has been forgotten for years,” Loewer says. “Now this dining room has a connection with the kitchen, and the flow between the spaces is great.”

This content was originally published here.


10 Bathroom Design Features Pros Always Recommend

1. Heated Floors

By far, the most recommended bathroom feature from design and building pros is heated floors. “Most people would assume the must-have bathroom amenity is a giant tiled shower or a freestanding tub,” says home builder Stephen Alexander. “We do recommend those, but the one feature that’s always overlooked is the cold tile floor that can diminish the spa experience. So we always specify heated floors.”

Many pros say the feature is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. “Every client who makes the investment absolutely loves the feature and will never go back to cold floors if they build again,” says designer Kathryn Chaplow.

2. The Right Lighting

Attention to lighting is also high on bathroom remodeling pros’ recommendation lists. They encourage a layered approach with overhead lights, accent lights like sconces and decorative lighting like chandeliers.

If you get up frequently during the night, don’t forget to include a nightlight. “I like to do these at the toe kick or underside of a floating vanity,” says designer Jamie Leonard of Vertical Interior Design. “This light is set on a sensor so that it’s only on at night or when the room is dark. This helps with those middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks so you don’t blind yourself.”

If possible, a skylight over the shower, preferably operable for ventilation, is something you’ll never regret. And a dimmer switch for light fixtures is a must, pros say. “Sometimes you want it to be dim, sometimes you need to shave or put on makeup,” says architect Tim Barber. “We strive for several different choices of lighting to set a mood.”

And be sure to cast yourself in the best light. “Always install lighting on the sides of the mirror so there aren’t shadows on your face,” says designer Tiffany Waugh.

3. In-Drawer Outlets

Most of us use some sort of plug-in gadget in the bathroom. Hiding an outlet in a drawer or cabinet helps keep those hair dryers and other items off the countertop and can prevent them from encountering pooled water and creating a hazard. “With bathroom technology moving more and more electric, I always recommend storage with outlets in it for electric toothbrushes and razors,” says designer Selena Fitch. “That way they are off the counter and hidden. It can be a medicine cabinet that has been designed with outlets, or even a plug strip inside a vanity cabinet.”

This approach also keeps unsightly outlets from diminishing the look of a backsplash or other feature.

4. Storage, Storage, Storage

A bathroom can’t function without proper storage. And most pros recommend a mix of open, closed, drawer, cabinet, niche or any other necessary solutions. “You always need a lot of storage for towels and other bathroom accessories, and there are so many ways to include bathroom storage in a beautiful and functional way with gorgeous cabinetry,” says designer Christie Veres of CDV Interiors.

Designer Melvin Stoltzfus often recommends a hidden hamper near a shower, either in a vanity or linen cabinet, to prevent dirty clothes and towels from piling up.

5. Shower Niche

Speaking of storage, few pros these days design and build showers without dedicated space for shampoo bottles and other products. And a niche recessed into a shower wall is by far the most popular solution.

There are many different designs to consider, but you’ll want to make sure the dimensions can accommodate the height and amount of products you typically keep in the shower, and maybe a little extra room for overflow. “I recommend that clients include a middle shelf inside the typical rectangular cutout, but place it in the bottom third of the space, so that the bottom is a smaller compartment for soap and razors,” says designer Sheila Mayden. “The upper shelf is for taller items like shampoo, conditioner and body wash.”

A niche also offers an opportunity to introduce some extra style into the shower with a contrasting accent tile or other material.

6. Natural Materials

Many people feel, either consciously or subconsciously, that natural materials have an inherent quality that’s hard to put into words. They provide a feel-good something that seems absent in synthetic materials. “Our bathrooms represent rest, relaxation and self care,” says designer Kymberlea Earnshaw. “For these spaces, I always look to nature. I recommend using natural materials whenever possible — real stone, wood, plants, etc. The earthy elements balance out the water element, and together they create that spa-like feel that is so nourishing for our mind, body and souls.”

Consider wood vanities, natural woven elements or, many pros’ favorite, marble. “Marble is our No. 1 favorite material,” says designer Tracy Huntington. “If a client can enjoy a few marks and some wear, marble patinas beautifully over time. It’s a total classic. You can’t go wrong with marble.”

7. Handheld Sprayer

A handheld sprayer might seem like a small detail, but its inclusion can have an enormous effect on the shower experience. They are great for rinsing shaved legs, cleaning shower walls and more. “I always recommend adding a handheld in the shower,” says designer Chloe Rideout of Cummings Architecture + Interiors. “It makes cleaning pets, kids or the walls so much easier.”

8. A ‘Wow’ Moment

Every space needs a focal point or feature that makes you smile or say “wow” every time you see it. It could be a wall treatment, a decorative light fixture, a graphic floor tile, a standout vanity or anything else that keeps things interesting. “I always try to incorporate something unexpected,” says designer Whitley Wirkkala of Oak & Linen Interiors. “This could be wallpaper or a funky light fixture. This keeps the room fresh and brings in a little flair.”

9. Quality Plumbing

Don’t judge faucets and other plumbing fixtures on looks alone. The inner components are vital to how these pieces function and how long they will last. Poorly made fixtures often have plastic gaskets and other pieces inside that quickly break down, affecting water flow and other performance features.

“High-quality plumbing fixtures are an absolute must,” says designer Carmit Oron. “This is not an area where it’s wise to save money. I usually explain this to my clients during our initial meeting, which takes place in a plumbing showroom. For me, quality plumbing is the starting point for everything, and where my design process begins.”

Bathroom remodelers know a thing or two about which design features make homeowners really happy. So we asked 50 design and building professionals to share the bathroom elements they confidently recommend to everyone. Here are the 10 bathroom details that came up again and again.

This content was originally published here.


Fix It or Not? What to Know When Prepping Your Home for Sale

General Questions

These first three questions will help you take the temperature of the real estate market in your area and assess the competition.

1. How hot or cold is the market in your area? Are homes being snapped up after the first open house, or are they languishing on the market for months? Are homes being sold at or near the asking price, or for much lower? Are open houses bustling with people, or is attendance sparse? Get a feel for the market in your area by talking with your real estate agent and checking local listings. If it’s a seller’s market, you may be able to get away with doing fewer repairs and modifications before selling, and still have good results — in a buyer’s market, expect to do more work to make a positive impression on buyers.

2. How fast are you looking to sell? If you need to sell your home immediately — say, because you have already committed to buying another home or need to move because of work — it is in your best interest to do everything in your power to ensure a quick sale at the highest price possible. If you have more flexibility, and you feel uncomfortable making too many pricey changes to your home before selling, it may make more sense to focus on cleaning, decluttering and making small cosmetic changes (like painting) — particularly if the market is hot and favors the seller. If you aren’t getting the offers you would like, you can always decide to spring for a few bigger changes later and relist your home.
3. What is the condition of comparable homes on the market? It can be quite helpful to know a little about the homes that buyers in your area are looking at. Examine photos of homes for sale in your area or even attend a few open houses, and make a mental note of how the other homes compare to yours. Are the kitchens updated? Are the floors in good shape? If all of the other homes you see have a certain feature (for instance, an updated kitchen) that yours lacks, consider making that a priority. You don’t need to make your home exactly like all the other homes on the market; just make sure there isn’t a single factor that could give your home a disadvantage.

To Fix or Not to Fix: Deciding Which Repairs Are Worth Tackling

The next five questions will help you assess whether or not to make a specific repair or change before selling your home.

4. Does the faulty item give the impression the property has not been well cared for?Leaky faucets, cracked tiles, an overgrown lawn, broken appliances or anything else that doesn’t work as it should can immediately turn off buyers. At an open house, people often zip through quite quickly, and if they notice one or two things that send up red flags, they may not give your home another chance.

5. Can you find a less expensive fix? Let’s say you scoped out the comparable homes on the market in your neighborhood, and they all have updated kitchens but yours hasn’t been touched for some time. Rather than spend big on a full kitchen remodel, why not give your kitchen a less costly refresh? For instance, you could paint the cabinets, swap out cabinet hardware, change the light fixtures and upgrade the appliances to something current and functional but not top-of-the-line. You will put some money into it but not nearly as much as with a full remodel — well worth it if it gets your home in the running in a competitive market.

6. How much will you realistically need to lower the price if you don’t fix it? If you have a lot of costly repairs to tackle to get your home ready to sell, you may be considering selling it as is. But keep in mind that buyers looking for a fixer-upper will also be looking to discount the selling price for the repairs plus the hassle. In other words, you won’t be able to simply estimate how much the repairs will cost and deduct that from the selling price; you’ll need to deduct even more to make it worth the buyer’s time and effort. Discuss this with your Realtor and look into other fixer-uppers for sale in your area to come up with an appropriate selling price.

7. Is it one of the first things potential buyers will see? First impressions are key, and that is never more true than in the real estate business! If you have a repair you are unsure about tackling, use this as a litmus test: Is it something the buyer will see as he or she approaches your house and walks through the front door? If so, fix it.

8. Could it be a deal breaker? Some home repairs, like a new roof, are just so major that they will scare off all but the most determined buyers. If the market in your area is hot (see No. 1) and you have ample time (see No. 2), there’s no harm in trying to sell without making the big repair, as long as you are willing to price it accordingly (see No. 6). If it’s a buyer’s market but you don’t have time to make the repair before listing, you could offer to pay for it as part of the sales agreement — otherwise it’s probably best to make the change first and then put your home on the market.

Tell us: Are you selling or have you recently sold your home? What has worked or not worked for you? Share your experiences in the Comments.

When you make the decision to sell your home, it can be tricky to know which changes would make your home sell more quickly or boost the sale price — and which would be a waste of your time and resources. Each home (and each homeowner) is different; that’s why we’ve come up with eight key questions to ask yourself before making any changes to prep your home for sale.

This content was originally published here.

Home Improvement

How Does a Hot Water Radiant Floor Heating System Work

Hydronic radiant floor heating systems can create heat in different and specified areas of a home by sending warm water through something called PEX tubing, which is made out of flexible plastic. The tubing is located within the building’s floors or underneath them with PEX standing for cross-linked polyethylene. Along with PEX tubing, the radiant floor heating systems also consists of a heat source, manifolds, pumps, and controls. There are no joints in the PEX tubing used therefore uncut lengths of the tube are designed to snake through the floor and they both start and end at a manifold.

Whereas forced-air heating systems work by blowing warm air through ducts, the hot water radiant systems use a boiler or water heater as their source of heat. However, high-efficient solar and geothermal sources may also be used to provide heat. Since the radiant floor system can heat specific rooms and areas of a home you can have different temperature settings for each one. This makes it a highly energy-efficient system since you can lower the heat settings on unoccupied rooms and those that are less-frequently used.

The radiant floor heating system works when the circulating pump sends hot water flowing through the tubing and then returns it to the heater. The manifold is designed to balance the water in individual lengths of tubing which are known as loops and this vents the heating system. When the water makes it back to the water heater or heat source it is approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than it was when it left. When the PEX tubing is installed it goes down in long loops which are placed approximately nine inches apart and it’s attached to the floor via a staple gun. Mortar or concrete is then poured on top of the PEX tubing.

For the most even heat, it’s recommended that the hot water is circulated through PEX tubing and is also covered over in a layer of material and ceramic tile flooring. This material could be dry-tampered mortar, Gypcrete or lightweight concrete. When the tiling is combined with this cement-type layer, it is able to store heat in it for quite some time and it can still radiate the heat even when the hot water is no longer circulating through the system. This makes a radiant floor heating system an ideal heating source in areas with colder climates.

The cost of the radiant heating system typically goes by square foot and generally depends on the size of the job and where you reside. It’s important to work with an experienced flooring contractor that knows that they are doing since this is not a typical flooring project.  Installation of radiant floor heating systems includes the all of the necessary tubing as well as the water heater, manifold, and the pump. The tubing will need to be embedded, usually with dry-tampered mortar, and the floor is then finished with ceramic tiling being the best option. Many Bay Area area homeowners install radiant floor heating systems in additions to their homes since the operating costs are lower than a furnace. In addition, the water heater takes up less space than a furnace and the ductwork.

Home Improvement

8 Wet Basement Solutions To Keep Your Basement Dry

Where I live in Toronto, basements can get wet quickly due to the age of the homes as well as the crazy weather we experience. A damp or wet basement can certainly lower the value of your home as well as pose health and danger risks to those living in it. If left unattended, moisture can easily destroy the walls and floors as well as lead to destructive mold.

Some wet basements are simply the result of clogged gutters, but it could be a more serious problem such as surface or underground water seeping into the building or water entering from storm drains. Water can cause severe damage to a home and the longer you leave it the more damage it will cause.  It is important to seek out a high quality home renovation contractor to make sure the water issue gets fixed.

Here are eight ways of helping keep your basement as dry as possible.


  1. Installing Gutter Extensions
    If the downspouts of your gutters are emptying rainwater within a five-foot radius of your home you should install metal or plastic gutter extensions to guide the water further away. You can also solve this problem by installing a drain pipe under the ground. This can be done by digging a sloping trench which will direct the water away from the home.
  2. Plugging all Cracks and Gaps
    Water can seep into a basement through cracks and gaps around the plumbing pipes. These can typically be filled in with polyurethane caulk or hydraulic cement. Plugging holes is an effective way of stopping runoff from wet soil or the surface. However, if water is entering the basement at the joint where the walls and floor meet or through the floor then plugs won’t be effective since the problem is being caused by groundwater.
  3. Restoring the Home’s Crown
    If you’ve plugged any cracks and your gutters are fine, but you’re still seeing water seep into the home from the top of foundation walls it means the surface water isn’t properly draining away from the home. The house should be sitting on a ‘crown’ of soil which slopes a minimum of six inches in all directions over the first 10 feet. The soil around a building’s foundation settles over time, but it can be built back up with dirt and a shovel.
  4. Reshaping the Home’s Landscape
    The home’s siding should overlap the foundation slightly. If the crown is built up you could feel the soil is too close to the siding if it’s not at least six inches away. In this case, you can create a mound of dirt, known as a berm, or a shallow, wide ditch called a swale. These options are both designed to redirect any water before it can reach the home. Swales are typically used for larger properties since a great deal of soil would be needed for a berm.
  5. Cleaning Footing Drains
    If water is seeping into the basement where the walls and floor meet or low down on the walls it’s usually because of hydrostatic pressure which pushes the water upward from the ground. If this is the case you should check to see if you have any footing drains installed. These are underground pipes which are used to carry water away from the home’s foundation and were installed during construction. You should be looking for a cleanout pipe that has been capped several inches above the basement floor or a drain or manhole in the floor. If these are clogged, the pipes can be flushed out with a garden hose. An augur may be needed though if the hose isn’t strong enough to do the job.
  6. Use a Curtain Drain
    If the home doesn’t have footing drains or you can’t get them to work, you can divert the underground water by installing a curtain drain. This is similar to a French drain as it is a shallow trench which is one-and-a-half feet across and two feet deep. It’s filled with perforated piping and gravel. The piping is designed to intercept any water uphill of the home and it carries it down the slope and away from the building. If the drain has to navigate through bushes or trees you can use solid piping to keep any roots from growing and clogging it up.
  7. Pumping the Water from the Inside
    If you can’t keep water out of the basement it will need to be pumped out from the inside. An indoor drain system can be created by digging a channel around the floor’s perimeter, otherwise known as an interior weeping tile system. The concrete can then be chipped out and perforated pipe is installed. This piping will drain the water to a collection tank at the low spot of the basement and it can be sent outside via a sump pump. This is often an ideal solution for an unfinished basement that is easy to access. It’s also recommended for landscaped yards which may be ruined by an outdoor drainage system.
  8.  Waterproofing the Walls
    The water may be removed from the home via an indoor drainage system, but the walls won’t be waterproofed. You’ll need an exterior waterproofing system to achieve this such as a French drain and exterior waterproofing. This involves excavating around the home and is often the best method if the foundation has numerous cracks. Everything is kept to the outside of the home and it won’t disrupt a finished basement.

Damp and wet basements are caused by indoor humidity and/or water which seeps in from the outside. The methods of keeping your basement dry will depend on the cause of the damp/wet basement and how serious it is.


What to Know About Adding a Garden Arbor

How to Use an Arbor

An arbor can take on many roles in a landscape, such as defining an entry or passageway, adding support for climbing plants, framing a garden feature and creating a shady spot to relax. Arbors often play several of these roles at once.

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Entry. Use an arbor to highlight entry points to your yard. Combining an entry gate and an arbor at the front of your home or as the entry point to your backyard is a classic look that works with any style or material.

Stand-in for a door. Equally effective is the use of an arbor to indicate transitions between different areas of your landscape, such as to separate a vegetable garden, a children’s play area of your own secret garden.

Passageway. Expand the depth of an arbor or combine several smaller arbor structures in a row to define a path or walkway. Installing a series of arbors allows you to stretch the look for some distance.

Shade structure. Arbors also can give you a shady spot to grow plants that prefer a little less sun. Set one against a fence or wall to provide filtered light and some protection for plants such as ferns, hostas and hydrangeas.

Frame. Place an arbor around a garden fountain or other landscape feature to show it off. The arbor will immediately draw the eye and give the feature even more prominence in your space.

Another option is to use an arbor to frame a part of your home. A full or partial arbor over a garage door or along a wall helps soften the look and adds a three-dimensional element.

Seating area. Rather than adding plants or a garden focal point beneath an arbor, create a seating area. A simple bench or a swing can fill the space. Another option is to make the arbor deep enough to have benches facing each other on both sides, with access through the middle.

Support for plants.No matter what other purpose your arbor serves, adapt the time-honored tradition of using it as a way to highlight your prized plants. Vines, roses and climbing perennials and shrubs all appreciate the chance to stretch out toward the sun.

Grapes have long been used as a topper on arbors, but consider branching out with other fruits, such as kiwis (as long as your arbor is sturdy). You can also use an arbor as a support for vegetables, such as tomatoes or pole beans. Think about being able to pluck a ripe tomato every time you enter your garden!

Hiring a Pro

Many arbors, especially those purchased from a nursery or the outdoor section of a large retailer, can be assembled and set in place by a homeowner. You can set the arbor on a solid surface or place it on or slightly in the ground. For more stability, though, you’ll need to add footings or anchors to keep it in place.

Shape. Wood and wood-look arbors can vary from a simple structure of two posts with lattice between them and on top to elaborate structures with individualized design elements.

Using beams and rafters overhead is an easy way to add interest to a basic arbor design. Finishing the corners with decorative bracing or changing the supports to rounded pillars are other ways to customize your arbor design.

If you want to take your arbor design to the next level, turn the flat roof into a peak or an arch. Extending the arbor on either side or making it deeper will give it more presence in your yard.

Many metal arbors are topped with a gentle, continuous arch, which works well for almost any landscape design. Squaring off the top is another popular option. If you’re looking for a more elegant style, a gothic-inspired arch at the top might be for you. To add more interest, look for double arches that incorporate a design between the two edges.

A semicircular or full-circle metal arch is a contemporary take on a metal arbor (or version of a moon gate). Either a single- or double-arch design will create a garden focal point. A double arch has the added advantage of providing support for any number of plants.

There’s no rule that your arbor needs to be anchored directly to the ground. Create a more stately look, especially at an entrance, by installing stone, concrete or masonry pillars as the base.

Size. The size of your arbor depends on how you plan to use it.

  • Height: Most arbors are 7 to 8 feet tall.
  • Width: The width can vary, from 3 to 4 feet for over a gate, a bit less to show off a garden fountain, and up to 10 feet or more to stretch along a wall or create a focal point in a space. If you’re opting for a longer arbor, consider a row of connected arbors to keep the structure stable, or add supports every few feet.
  • Depth: Most arbors are fairly shallow, perhaps the depth of a lattice panel, but you can adapt to fit your needs. A deeper arbor will allow you to add a seat or seats, provide the feel of a true passageway or cover a garden path or specimen plant.

Material Options for an Arbor

Wood has long been the typical material for arbors, with metal a close second. New options include wood composites and vinyl. You can also mix different materials for a custom look.

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Wood. A classic wood arbor is a landscape staple. Wood is a top choice for outdoor projects and is often the least expensive option. Wood generally lasts at least 10 years, and even 20 or more if you maintain it.

When possible, choose locally grown and naturally rot-resistant woods, such as cedar or redwood. Other options include Southern pine, spruce and fir, although these may need to be treated to use for outdoor structures, and treated wood is not available in some areas. Teak, mahogany and ipe are tropical hardwoods that are known for their resistance to rot and weather, especially in coastal climates. They are usually more expensive than locally grown wood. Whatever your wood choice, look for sustainably harvested lumber.

Boards and posts are usually the first choices for arbors, but you can add a more informal or natural feel by using unfinished branches or tree limbs.

Wood requires more maintenance than most other outdoor materials. Sealing natural wood will protect it from turning gray. For more protection, stain or paint it. All of these treatments will need to be redone every year or so.

You’ll also want to check annually for any damage, such as broken boards or chips, and for rot. Wood can also be damaged by the humidity and moisture of plants growing on it or even by the vines themselves. Choosing a twining vine rather than one that clings or wraps around the wood can lessen the damage.

Wood composite. This option, which is a blend of different materials, including recycled plastic, has come a long way in both looks and color choices. Wood composite is more expensive than wood, but it’s more durable, can handle harsher weather, is easier to care for and will last longer, usually around 25 years or more.

Maintenance usually consists of rinsing the composite with water and scrubbing any stubborn grime with a diluted dish soap solution. You should also check periodically for any damage and make repairs.

Metal. Metal arbors can be deceptively fragile-looking but in reality they’re very tough. You can use almost any metal to form an arbor: aluminum, stainless steel, wrought iron, weathering steel, even pipes or rebar.

Metal, except for the last two options, is usually more expensive than wood, but it’s extremely durable — a quality metal arbor lasts 20 years or more. Metal is good for harsh climates and is easy to care for.

Metal arbors can be fabricated to almost any size and shape. The metal won’t fade and generally can be cleaned periodically with water to preserve its looks.

Aluminum and stainless steel are popular midpriced options.They’re also easy to care for, generally requiring only a rinse with a hose and perhaps scrubbing with a diluted dish soap solution for stubborn spots. Aluminum is lightweight and rust-resistant and is good for damp climates. You can also find powder-coated aluminum, which will allow you to choose a color you love. Its light weight does mean it won’t be as sturdy as other options. Stainless steel is heavier and stronger than aluminum but with the same rust resistance. Stainless steel can chip, making it vulnerable to rust, so repair any damage as soon as you can.

Wrought-iron arbors are more expensive than aluminum and steel, but they add a sense of permanence and tradition to the garden. Wrought iron is highly durable, but chips will need to be sanded and refinished to prevent rust. Expect wrought iron to last for decades.

For a more casual look, pipes and rebar are inexpensive choices that add an industrial touch. On the other end of the scale, weathering steel, while one of the most expensive options, will give you a rustic-contemporary look.

Vinyl. Vinyl gets great marks for its durability in the garden. It won’t rot or shrink, can handle diverse weather, including areas that are warm and damp, and will last 30 years or more. It cleans up with periodic hosing and tackling of stubborn grime with a diluted dish soap mixture. A drawback for many has been a limited color choice, but that is also improving.

Vinyl is more expensive than wood, although its life span can offset that. It’s difficult to damage, but repairs can be tricky.

Other Considerations for Adding an Arbor

Permitting and codes.
While most arbors, especially those that you purchase directly, probably won’t require a permit, it’s always wise to check first. Building codes can vary widely, even in neighboring towns. Your arbor should be covered under the required permits if it’s part of a larger project.

You should also check with any homeowner association regulations regarding heights, setbacks and locations.

Project duration. Most arbors should take only a few days to build and install. This generally includes the time required for any concrete to set. A more complex design will take longer, as will an installation that involves concrete or masonry posts. If you want a custom-order metal design, you’ll need to check on the fabrication time.

This content was originally published here.


Yard of the Week: Elegant Poolside Retreat and Front Yard Lounge

Photos by Julie MacCalus

Yard at a Glance
Who lives here: A couple and their daughter
Location: Haddonfield, New Jersey
Lot size: About half an acre
Designer and builder: Ledden Palimeno

The pool itself was in great shape, but everything around it needed an upgrade. For the pool decking, Palimeno chose Blu 60 slate slab pavers by Techo-Bloc in beige and cream, which feel cool underfoot on hot summer days. His crew salvaged the original brick pavers and incorporated them around the pool and the perimeter of the property to add color and contrast.

Before: Here’s a look at the pool before the renovation.

After: Palimeno made use of a spot against the garage, where there had been some plantings, to place two chaise lounges where they would receive sun during the day. “We were able to take that space and make it really functional where it wasn’t before,” says Palimeno, owner and lead designer at Ledden Palimeno.

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While it can be tricky to work around an existing pool, Palimeno says defining functional areas on different levels proved challenging as well. “It’s kind of strange to walk out of your house, down off your deck to grade and then walk back up to your pool. That’s not a typical design for us,” he says. “We would have set that pool elevation down when it was originally built and have some walls around that, so keeping those different levels was our biggest challenge.”

To ease the path and create interest, Palimeno put in two semicircular stairs topped with Pennsylvania bluestone and edged with the repurposed brick.

Cozy Outdoor Kitchen

A new ipe wood deck and integrated grilling station — featuring soapstone countertops, undermount lighting and a brick surround — create an ideal setup for family meals and entertaining. “The brick surround also acts as a separation from their driveway,” Palimeno says. An ipe slat wall adds more warmth to the space.

Inviting Front Yard Seating

Here’s a view of the front yard before Palimeno redesigned it. In the front of the house, which faces a quiet street, the homeowners wanted another sitting area where they could relax while their daughter played in the yard.

After: Palimeno created an intimate patio furnished with Adirondack chairs. “It’s what you would have if you built a porch on the front of your house,” he says.

Before: A straight brick pathway used to lead from the driveway to the front door.

Low-Maintenance Plantings

To complement the hardscaping, Palimeno chose a variety of regionally appropriate plants that require little maintenance. “This is a palette that we use all the time in our designs; we know which plants do well in our soil, our climate and our zone,” he says. “We use a lot of ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus ‘Green Velvet’) and Incrediball smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), a hybrid variety of Annabelle, that has big white flowers and stands up more firmly than an Annabelle, which flops when there’s lots of rain.”

Several varieties of ornamental grasses were added to soften the overall look. “Grasses are just nice; you’ll see them moving in the breeze, and they make for easy gardening because you’re not pruning — all you’re doing is cutting it down in spring or fall, whenever you choose to,” Palimeno says.

Perimeter Fencing

Palimeno designed a custom cedar fence that brings a modern flair to the yard. “It’s hard to find a ready-made fence that has a horizontal slat look like that, and we also designed a hollow post system so we were able to fish wire through for the lighting,” he says.

Palimeno welcomes clients doing plenty of online research prior to beginning a large project. “We use Houzz as a resource all the time, and almost every client shares an ideabook with us,” he says. “Houzz is such a great resource to quickly get a sense and feel for the client’s taste and their style.”

This content was originally published here.


Bathroom of the Week: A Pro’s Own Nature-Inspired Space

“After” photos by Dandelion Dreams Photography

Bathroom at a Glance
Who lives here:
Interior designer Susan Wintersteen of Savvy Interiors and her husband, along with their daughter and dog
Del Mar, California
Size: 90 square feet (8.4 square meters)

Before: The house was built in the mid-1990s, and typical of that era, it had a large tub surround, low vanities and a small shower stall. “We aren’t really bathtub people, and we were getting a hot tub for the backyard. We knew we’d never use that tub,” Wintersteen says.

The bathroom also had a small, cave-like shower stall. “We really wanted a bigger shower,” Wintersteen says.

After: “I knew the best place to put the shower would be in front of the windows where the bathtub was, but my husband was concerned about that,” Wintersteen says. As it turned out, that corner of the house is quite private, but to be on the safe side, the designer added a tree outside to thoroughly block any view into the shower.

“The windows in the shower have become one of my favorite features. I love all the natural light and being able to see outside from the shower,” Wintersteen says.

She knew that at 6 by 6 feet, the shower might appear overly large. She used her designer’s eye and playing with scale to address that. She created a smaller square of white hexagonal tiles in the center of the shower pan, then surrounded that with a wide border of the large-format gray tiles she used on the bathroom floor.

Wintersteen covered the shower surround in a zellige-inspired tile from Bedrosians. The handmade texture and subtle variety of colors in the tiles add an organic feel to the shower.

Here’s a close-up of where the shower stall’s threshold meets the bathroom floor. Wintersteen covered the threshold in the same zellige-inspired tiles used on the shower walls.

Designers often use their own homes as laboratories to test out ideas for their clients. Look to the right of the photo to see where Wintersteen added half-inch penny rounds in the grout lines between the bathroom floor’s large-format tiles. “I had never done this before, or seen it done before, so it was a real risk,” she says. It was the kind of risk designers are willing to take on their own homes to make sure it will work for clients in the future, and it paid off.

Finding a great tile professional was key. “I had the tile installer cut these lines of dots from 12-by-12-inch penny round tiles,” she says. “Good tile installers get excited about trying something new and different.”

Wintersteen also put her tile installer to the test on the shower walls. She had him create wide, horizontal lines in the composition with grout. “In order to grout this way you need to go heavier on the sand in the grout mix to prevent cracking,” she says.

Using a neutral color palette on the walls puts the focus on the windows. The windows also help balance the large scale of the shower. “The teak bench also helped break up the space,” Wintersteen says. “And it’s far enough from the shower head that it doesn’t ever get very wet.”

She covered the area over the vanity with a gorgeous green grasscloth wallcovering. “Because the shower stall is so big and because of the windows, we don’t get much moisture in here. So I wasn’t worried about using it,” she says. The color and texture of the wallcovering kicked off a nature-inspired, organic color and material palette.

Wintersteen designed custom cabinetry for the vanity and adjacent towers. The wood is white oak with a custom white stain.

The door and drawer fronts have a reeded texture. The inset cabinetry lends a streamlined element to the textured piece. The hardware finish is brushed champagne.

This photo also provides a closer look at the floor tiles. They’re made of digitally printed porcelain that looks like cement, another organic material.

The designer bookended the double vanity with tall mirrored cabinets that serve as medicine cabinets. “This is not a big bathroom but we have more storage than we even know what to do with now,” she says. After living in the house for several months, the couple find they still have a few empty drawers.

The mirrored door at the left in this photo leads to a closet.

The countertops are marble, the faucets are polished nickel and the light fixtures are brushed gold. “I like to use polished nickel when mixing with warmer metals because it will take on the reflection of the cabinets. And polished nickel reads warmer than chrome does,” Wintersteen says. She also notes that mixing metals is a good way to stay trend-proof, avoiding a dated look in the future.

The faucets are from Brizo. “I like to use one-hole faucets for universal design reasons. They are so much easier to use than faucets with an 8-inch spread, and they work well in a small space,” Wintersteen says.

The toilet room used to contain both the toilet and the dark, cramped shower stall. That shower was the main impetus for the renovation.

After relocating the shower, Wintersteen had room to install additional cabinetry for storing items such as toilet paper. A painting of lotuses plays off the rich range of greens in the wallcovering.

With their youngest daughter about to head off to college, interior designer Susan Wintersteen and her husband decided to downsize to a house about half the size of the one where they’d raised their children. With her ability to create beautiful spaces, Wintersteen transformed the Southern California home into one that felt exactly the right size for them. In the en suite bathroom the couple share, she replaced a bathtub she knew they would never use with a roomy shower stall, added lots of storage and created a nature-inspired palette that relaxes her the moment she walks into the room.

This content was originally published here.


Your Guide to 6 Kitchen Island Styles

1. L-Shaped

This type of island can ebb and flow with the shape of your kitchen or fill in the blank space with more storage and prep space.

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Pros. L-shaped islands tend to be large with correspondingly generous storage. Their sprawling design ensures that workspace isn’t crowded, a huge perk for households with avid chefs or more than one cook. You won’t have an issue finding room for bar-style seating. If you aren’t a fan of clean lines, L-shaped islands bring some intrigue to the table.

Cons. While L-shaped islands may be larger and provide more prep space, they aren’t exactly open-concept. They can chop up your kitchen design, which can hamper efficiency during meal prep. The shape may be too spread out for some homeowners, and it doesn’t always maximize storage space since corners tend to decrease accessibility.

2. Galley

With fewer frills and a straightforward design, galley islands are built to be workhorses. They can be a good fit for any type of kitchen layout, assuming that there’s enough space for one.

Pros. Often considered the quintessential island design for open-concept kitchens, galley islands ensure that your space has flow and remains efficient with their streamlined design. They usually maximize storage space because there aren’t any corners or curves. Appliances and stored items are always accessible. The design also favors bar-style seating.

Cons. Yes, galley islands are simple and efficient, but some homeowners may think they’re boring. They certainly won’t wow the eye unless they’re larger than life or have an intricate exterior. Sometimes they’re too small to comfortably fit an appliance, which can create problems with your layout.

3. Circular or Curved

If you’re looking to add personality to your kitchen layout, a circular island may be for you. The design can go full circle or feature a half-moon.

Pros. Circular and curved islands add an interesting visual dynamic to kitchens. They’re a go-to option if you don’t want a run-of-the-mill island design. Like L-shaped islands, they’re packed with prep space. There’s more than enough room to operate during meal prep. Circular designs can incorporate expansive seating areas that leave enough room for four-plus guests to comfortably eat and socialize.

Cons. Prep and storage space aren’t always efficient with circular islands. Your counter is spread out and curved, which can limit the way you cook. Storage units can be harder to access in some designs (they may be underneath a countertop overhang, for instance). Plan on wasted storage space unless your cabinets are customized to include creative options.

4. Furniture-Style

A unconventional choice, furniture islands can make your kitchen feel like your home’s premier hangout spot. Wide-ranging options can include a custom piece designed by a local carpenter and an antique table or chest of drawers.

Pros. It doesn’t matter if it’s custom-built, an age-old heirloom or store-bought — a furniture piece adds character to your kitchen. It’s one way to put your personal touch on your space and make it your own. The detail and decorative nature of the furniture will catch the eye of guests. These pieces usually aren’t bulky and fit seamlessly within your kitchen. Open-style designs can create fine displays for your decor.

Cons. Furniture pieces weren’t always built for storage, so that antique you had to have may not hold much of your cookware. There’s also the issue of durability. Older pieces may not last in the hustle and bustle of a modern kitchen. Wear and tear can take its toll. Furniture tops can’t take a beating the way granite or quartz can.

5. U-Shaped

U-shaped islands may be a chef’s dream. Three walls of cabinetry and appliances are enough to increase the efficiency of any kitchen.

Pros. Both highly functional and spacious, U-shaped islands are perhaps the largest and most accommodating. Extra storage space? Check. More workspace? You got it. Room for seating? There’s even that too. They can house more than one appliance if they’re big enough. You may not have to leave your island when you’re prepping food.

Cons. Their sheer size can also be the U-shaped islands’ biggest downfall. Some homeowners may find cooking and cleaning less efficient, and may hate going the distance from one side to the other. These islands are bulky and can close off your kitchen from the rest of your home. The double corners will sacrifice accessible storage space unless they feature a Lazy Susan or swing-out device.

6. Rolling

No room for a built-in island? No problem. Rolling islands are a convenient alternative. You can whisk them around as you roam your kitchen and then tuck them neatly aside when you’re finished cooking.

Pros. Rolling islands are the crème de la crème in versatility. A godsend for smaller kitchens that lack adequate prep space, they can function as a worktop, food tray or a spare surface to place your ingredients. Depending on their size, they’re easy to stow and move. Best of all, they’re extremely affordable compared with cabinetry

Cons. Whipping up meals on wheels isn’t for everyone. Rolling islands are compact, which simply won’t work for some homeowners, even ones who are short on space. They can be a hassle to roll out during meals or to store. Bigger designs may be hard to move for some homeowners. They offer little to no storage.

Feeling Inspired? Shop for Similar Products

There are plenty of reasons to include an island in your kitchen — extra storage, seating and workspace, for example. But there are also several reasons why you might want to choose one island shape and style over another. This guide to six popular kitchen island styles will help you determine which one is right for you.

This content was originally published here.