Category Archives: home improvement

How to Get a Glam Home Office

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By Laura Gaskill

If you work from home, having an inspiring home office to call your own is something you may wish for – but have you ever considered that it may help your career, too? Whether or not you have client meetings at home, a workspace that is not only functional but beautiful might just inspire and motivate you to go the extra mile. (After all, who wants to show up to work in sweatpants when your office looks like a million bucks?) Ready, set, let’s get to work!

Modern Moroccan. Glossy black walls, trim and floors create an opulent backdrop for a plush Moroccan-style rug and a hammered pendant light in this stunning home office.

If your room gets good natural light, the high sheen of the black walls will actually help the room feel brighter than you might think — but be aware that rooms without much natural light may feel too dark with black walls.

In a mostly black and white scheme, it often helps to include a small touch of color, like the pink Mongolian lamb pillow in this space; a colorful vase or tray would also work.

When we take a step back, we can see that this workspace has sliding glass doors. These are a great choice for a home office, because they provide privacy when you need it while still allowing natural light in from the next room.

Elegant textures. Mixing textures is a great way to create an elegant look. Here a hemp grass cloth brings richness and depth to the walls, while a high-gloss lacquered table brings the shine. The elegant chandelier, table lamp with black shade and soothing color palette are refined and graceful.

Tip: Have a cute vintage desk with a poor finish? Revive it by having it professionally lacquered in a hue you love.

Bright and modern. This fun, sun-drenched workspace is built around simple basics: white walls, light floors, a Parsons desk and a sheepskin rug. Pairing a modern chair with a vintage Louis armchair is a great way to build creative tension. A single large, colorful piece of artwork, a bright cushion and a coral lamp add personality.

Tip: Want to float your desk in the center of the room but need to plug in? If you’re not planning to hire an electrician to add outlets anytime soon, simply place your desk perpendicular to the wall instead. You’ll get the feeling of a centered desk, but your cord will be able to reach the wall.

Laid-back chic. A simple desk, black pendant light, classic fretwork desk chair and kilim rug create a cozy, homey feeling in this office — but then things take a less expected turn with a red zebra-print armchair and big botanical wall chart thrown into the mix.

Neon pop. A simple space can be made current with just a few additions: a black and white striped rug, stools with neon painted bases and a bold canvas on the wall. If you use your office more for projects than computer work, consider going with a comfy settee instead of a traditional desk chair.

Tip: Wish you had a great big piece of art for the wall? If you’re artistic or adventurous, try making your own. Blank, prestretched canvases are available at art stores, and a simple design can be accomplished even by DIY newbies. Go freehand, or for a crisp look, mark out the pattern using painter’s tape before applying color, and let each shade dry before adding the next to avoid smudging.

Fresh air. An oversize pendant light from Ikea sets the tone in this delightfully charming space. A big, cushy ottoman in the center of the room can do double duty as an extra seat and a coffee table, and the love seat is perfect for welcoming visitors. A light, spring-inspired color palette and stylized floral motifs make for a fresh, feminine space.

Posh eclectic. Blue lacquered walls, a zebra-print rug and antique armchairs mingle in this swanky home office. An oversize botanical art print and a bright orange table lamp have a youthful energy that helps the space feel fun and comfortable, even with all of the high-style glamour.

Professional polish. Just because you’re not in a big office building doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your workspace with the same respect you would if you were surrounded by colleagues. Try setting out your business cards on a glamorous tray; put matching pens or pencils in a gleaming metal holder; and use real stationery to pen thank-yous from time to time instead of emailing.

 

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Five Housing Trends for Summer

(MCT)—It may still be hard to find the home of your dreams with the limited inventory for sale. But at least when it comes to getting a mortgage, you might have more options as lenders loosen some of their standards. Here are some of the housing trends you should expect to see this summer. Mortgage […]

Diggin’ In: Landscapes Need Renovating Just Like Homes

Your landscape is very much like your home’s interior décor. It grows old, sometimes tattered and torn, and needs updating from time to time. Sometimes, plantings need to be completely torn out and totally replaced. Sometimes, old porches, patios and decks just don’t work any longer. Landscape design classes typically teach that a landscape lasts […]

Kitchen Remodeling: 14 Ways to Take Thousands Off the Cost

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beautiful kitchen in new luxury ...
ShutterstockThe choice of materials makes a big difference in how much you’ll spend on a kitchen remodel.

By Teresa Mears

We always hear that remodeling a kitchen is one of the most expensive home improvements. And it can be. The Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report listed the average cost of a major kitchen remodel at $54,909, and even a minor remodel came in at $18,856. But kitchen remodeling doesn’t have to be that expensive.

“If you take it piece by piece, you can do something good on a budget,” says Aimee Grove, a communications and marketing specialist in the San Francisco area. She and her husband have remodeled two kitchens on a budget. “I have my dream kitchen now,” she says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

The choice of materials makes a big difference in how much you’ll spend. Custom-made, solid-wood cabinets with a premium finish and decorative molding can easily cost $1,200 or more per linear foot, which is the way cabinets are normally priced. But you can get attractive cabinets at Ikea or even a local shop for a quarter of that cost if you shop around. And while granite countertops definitely cost more than laminate, if you visit enough stores, you’ll learn that granite itself varies widely in price. “We went to 10 different marble places until we found the slab we wanted at the right price,” Grove says.

[See: 8 Home Remodeling Projects That Are Worth the Money.]

She and her husband remodeled the kitchen of their cottage-style home for about $12,000 after getting a quote from a contractor for $32,000. They chose to paint rather than replace their existing cabinets, but added a marble countertop and a subway tile backsplash, plus two new stainless steel appliances.

They found that it really pays to shop for materials and labor. For example, the price of the marble they wanted varied from $80 to $13 per square foot, and the fabrication quotes ranged from $3,200 to

“If you have the capabilities to be the general contractor yourself, you can definitely save some money.”

$6,000. Quotes to paint their cabinets ranged from $1,500 to $7,000. Tile, both for flooring and backsplashes, can run $1 to $15 per square foot. You may find the cabinet hardware you liked most in the store for half the price online.

Danielle Colding, who runs Danielle Colding Design in Brooklyn, New York, recently redid her kitchen with sleek, ultramodern gray lacquer cabinets from Ikea. “They’re really affordable,” she says. “You can do a normal kitchen for $4,000 to $5,000.”

Colding, who won HGTV’s “Design Star” competition in 2012 and also hosted “Shop This Room” on the network, says local shops can also be an excellent option when remodeling on a budget. Grove and her husband chose to act as their own contractors, hiring separate painters, marble fabricators and tile installers. They gathered names from a contractor friend and the marble yard, and then asked those companies for bids and references.

Being your own contractor creates more work because you’re screening multiple contractors rather than just one general contractor for the entire project. Plus, you have to be available during the day to supervise, and you have to shop around to find the best price on supplies. But for someone whose remodel doesn’t include knocking down walls, reconfiguring the layout or dealing with city permits, appointing yourself contractor can be a way to cut costs.

“If you have the capabilities to be the general contractor yourself, you can definitely save some money,” says Jason Kloesel, owner of VK Construction and Remodeling in Austin, Texas. “If you don’t have the smallest construction knowledge, I would not recommend this at all.”

[Read: Which Home Remodeling Projects Are Worth Your Money?]

Whether you hire a general contractor or individual companies, make sure the contract is very specific about what is included when it comes to labor and materials. Here are 14 tips for remodeling your kitchen on a budget.

Know what look you want before you start interviewing contractors. Drop by local showrooms to see cabinets, countertop options and combinations. This will help you get a sense of costs for different options, too.

Keep your plumbing and gas lines in the same place. A kitchen remodel costs considerately less when you don’t change the layout.

Keep your plumbing and gas lines in the same place. A kitchen remodel costs considerately less when you don’t change the layout.

Don’t assume big-box stores have the lowest prices. A local cabinetmaker, in some cases, may offer a better deal than the larger competition.

Shop around. Explore all options for both labor and materials, from granite to hardware to appliances. Price varies a lot.

Consider used. Entire kitchens are routinely sold on Craigslist and at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore as well as architectural salvage stores. Hiring a local cabinetmaker to create a piece or two is much cheaper than creating an entire kitchen. “It’s used, obviously, but it’s usually very high-quality,” says Cathie Pliess, design program coordinator for the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.

Look for remnants of granite and marble. Most fabricators have stone left over from previous jobs, and they’ll often sell it for a fraction of the original cost.

Make friends with cabinet shops. Once they’re finished with a display, it is sold at a deep discount. And don’t forget about big-box stores. You can score deals on cabinets by being friendly with them, too.

Shop online. Hardware, plumbing and lighting fixtures are all great items to buy online.

[Read: 10 Do-It-Yourself Home Projects You Can Finish in a Weekend.]

Don’t skimp on planning. The exact layout of the kitchen and choice of cabinets will make a big difference in how well your kitchen functions.

Find out where contractors shop. Many of those stores and fabricators are open to the public. Some offer discounts for bigger purchases, and many sell products that aren’t available in retail stores.

Be flexible on materials. If there is a look you want, see if there is a cheaper way to get it. Subway tile and glass tile, for example, are available at many price points, as are granite, marble and porcelain floor tile.

Do your due diligence. Check references of any contractors you plan to use, and make sure the contracts spell out who is responsible for buying materials, exactly what materials the contractor is supplying (down to brand and model number) and what the cost will be if you make changes during the job. Cheaper is not necessarily better.

Paint when possible. Know that paint is cheaper than stain, and that goes for the labor, too. “People shouldn’t overlook what a difference it makes to paint your cabinets,” Pliess says.

Consider alternative materials and designs. You can take the doors off the top cabinets or repurpose old furniture as kitchen storage or to create an island, Pliess suggests. Beadboard creates an attractive, inexpensive backsplash. And you might be surprised at today’s laminate countertops.

“Laminate has come a really long way,” Pliess says. “It doesn’t have that ugly laminate look anymore.”

 

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5 Tips for Dodging Higher Energy Bills This Summer

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many plugs plugged into...
ShutterstockAll of the gadgets you leave plugged in during the day, called the “phantom load,” are increasing your utility bills.

By Kate Rogers

After a brutal winter, most Americans are embracing the warm weather. But summer heat brings higher electricity bills thanks to increased regulation on the coal industry. According to reports, tighter regulation on coal, which powers about 40 percent of the nation’s energy, will cause electricity prices to increase by about 4 percent this year. This is the highest increase since 2008.

And over the next several years, energy prices are expected to increase by about 13 percent come 2020. Last year, the average summer electricity bill was about $395, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Here are a few simple tips to help shave down costs ahead of the summer season:

1. Manage your Consumption: Making small changes to your living habits can bring significant savings to your cooling costs. Programming your thermostat to a higher temperature when not at home can help reduce your bills along with keeping shades down to let in less sun heat. Another option is turning to gadgets like the Nest thermostat to manage temperatures in the home. Nest is a

“Sealing your home will help you see a drastic reduction on your electric bill.”

smart thermostat that allows users to zone their homes and control temperatures via their phone. Nest also learns what temperatures owners prefer.

“If you already have a programmable thermostat, you don’t necessarily need to update to a Nest,” says Julia Scott, founder of BargainBabe.com. “But turning down your thermostat in small increments can help you to save on your electricity bill.”

Nest retails for about $250, and the company’s website claims it can cut down electricity bills by about 20 percent.

2. Use Energy-Smart Appliances: If you are in the market for a new air conditioner or refrigerator, consider buying an energy-smart model. They use less power and may be tax credit eligible. Check out Energystar.gov for more information on energy-efficient appliance and possible tax breaks.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Scott says. “Also, consider dusting the bottom of your refrigerator coils to help them run more efficiently. If it’s covered in dust, it has to work harder to release that heat.”

3. Clean Out Air Conditioner Filters: Experts recommend cleaning out air conditioner filters once a month, either on your own or hire a professional. “If they are covered in fuzz and dust, they can’t cool the air as much,” Scott says.

4: Look for Leaks and Cracks in Home: Make sure your house is properly sealed in order to keep the cool air that you are paying for in. You can do this yourself by walking through your home and finding cracks and leaks in windows and baseboards, or you can pay a professional to come in and indentify any leaks. Fill any holes with rubber or caulk, available at your hardware store, Scott recommends.

“Do anything you can to fill these leaks and cracks. There’s a huge debate out there [on the topic of green homes] of whether you should install solar panels, or just make your home an airtight box. Sealing your home will help you see a drastic reduction on your electric bill.”

5. Use Power Strips: All of the gadgets you leave plugged in during the day, called the “phantom load,” are increasing your utility bills, Scott says. She suggests using a power strip with about five to six different plugs and connecting gadgets in one strip. This way, you can either turn the entire strip off when you leave the house for the day, or find a “smart” model that only turns on when you want it to.

“It’s great because we all forget to turn off our appliances,” she says.

 

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