Flexible Kids’ Rooms with Modular Seating

Decorating the kids’ room is hard at the best of times and poor choices here can lead to expensive mistakes as you are left redecorating over and over again. A smart kids’ room is one that is flexible, adaptable and evolves easily as they grow up. Transitioning from that nursery / playroom to kids’ room / study and a teen room / guest room requires a design template that is both cost-effective and space-savvy. As a rule, we suggest parents use a neutral backdrop while adding bright colors with wall decals, accents, décor and a few quirky toys. Beyond the color scheme though, it is versatile modular seating that helps you immensely in creating a nifty, flexible kids’ room.

Mah Jong sofa is another colorful classic that never fails! [From: Susan Fisher Photography]

Modular seating brings along with it a host of advantages that combine elegant aesthetics with adjustable ergonomics. Modern modular seating solutions allow you to create a kids’ room that grows with the needs of your little one and as they grow older, you can either cut back or expand on the sitting space. With individual pieces that can be easily realigned, you also have an open, empty floor whenever your kid needs a bit more room for activities. Here is a look at some smart kids’ rooms that showcase different approaches to adding modular seating in style –

Colorful Modern Classics

When it comes to stylish and versatile kids’ room seating options, there are two colorful icons that never seem to fail. The iconic Togo Sofa is amid-century modern classic that has been around for more than four decades now and yet is still as popular as ever! Its plush form, relaxing presence and the vivacious colors it comes in makes it a great choice in any kids’ space. The best part is how you can easily move its individual pieces around and combine it with other chairs, ottomans and floor pillows without any hassle.

Loft playroom and TV area with colorful modular seating [From: Studio H Design Group]
Modern kids’ room and play area with colorful modular seating and plenty of natural light [From: David Rausch Studio]

If the Michel Ducaroy designed classic is not your preferred choice, then the more modern Mah Jong Sofa from Roche Bobois could be the one for you! Much like the Togo Sofa, there is plenty of color here as well and you also get a dash of pattern and even greater modular ease with this cool contemporary sofa.

Contemporary kids’ room with Togo Sofa in bright blue [From: Plath & Company]

Creating Space Out of Nothing!

In the small kids’ bedroom, playroom or nursery, every inch of space matters. Modular seating comes in even handier here and you can transform even a small nook next to the window or that space under the loft bed into a relaxing hangout for your little one. Sometimes you just need a plush floor cushion or four along with few of your kid’s favorite toys and maybe even a teepee that you can tuck away after playtime to shape that comfy and fun playzone.

Small bench next to the window and plush cushions can create a cozy seating option [From: Kate Jackson Design / Nat Rea Photography]
Space-savvy contemporary kids’ room with loft beds and modular seating below [From: Vick Vanlian Architecture and Design]
Cozy and casual reading nook from Mommo Design

Multiple Seating Options

If you want a seating arrangement that is flexible, the easiest option would be to combine a variety of chairs, floor cushions, hanging chairs, plush and small sofas and maybe a window bench as well. Kids do get pretty bored with structure and repetition. The best way to keep them interested even while adding functionality to the room is by bringing in diverse seating options, which can be moved around easily. Most of these should also serve you well in the family room or the living space whenever you need a few additional seats for a casual evening with friends and family.

Chic kids’ room ottomans combined with hanging chair create a fun hangout
Combine different types of seating options for a more stylish kids’ playroom
A relaxing lounge in the kids’ room is something parents can also enjoy [From: Grace Blu Designs]



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Alex Proba’s Colorful, Patterned Rugs

Colorful, Patterned Rugs by Alex Proba for cc-tapis

Alex Proba, of Studio Proba, is a master collaborator as proven by her previous efforts, and her latest for cc-tapis is also ridiculously good. The New York based designer brings her wicked design sense to a pair of geometric rugs, entitled The One and The Other, that feature contrasting abstract patterns in rich color palettes. Her keen eye for bold graphic patterns perfectly translates to the collage-like rugs which can only be described as floor (eye) candy.

The One

Each rug is hand-knotted out of Himalayan wool and pure silk by Tibetan artisans in Nepal and can be made in custom colors.

The One

The One \\\ Photo by Lorenzo Gironi \\\ Art Direction by Motel409 and Studio Milo

The Other

The Other

The Other \\\ Photo by Lorenzo Gironi \\\ Art Direction by Motel409 and Studio Milo

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Kitchen Organizing Ideas

Is cooking and entertaining in your kitchen a harder task than it should be? A small kitchen space does not mean you should not entertain in your home. It just means you have to be smarter on the décor items you do use. The way your counter space is set up can make a huge difference in the amount of space you will have in your kitchen.

In order to get the most amount of space in your kitchen, regardless of how big or small it is you need to have counter space. Counter space is the ultimate kitchen necessity. Here are some ideas that will help you free up your counter space while giving your kitchen an upgrade.

Bright Kitchen

Add a tile backdrop to your kitchen counter in a color that matches the rest of your kitchen decor. Doing so will help give your kitchen the put together look you seek while making the space appear larger.

Before you even think about your counter space. Think about the appeal of your overall kitchen does it look small and cluttered? Or does your kitchen feel like it needs an upgrade? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it may be time to brighten up your kitchen. A bright and well-lit kitchen will enhance your entire space.

Consider painting your kitchen a light and bright color such as white, beige, pastel gray or cream. These colors are known for being room enhancers. What this means is they help the space appear larger. The larger your kitchen appears, the more organized it will seem.

Bring on the Lights

If you want to add a lot of extra light to your kitchen consider using different light fixtures of multiple different sizes. The bigger the light fixtures the more light and uniqueness the space will have.

The kitchen area has never been known for having the best lighting in a home. In fact, many homeowners choose to add additional lighting in hopes of fixing this problem. Adding extra lights to your kitchen is another great way of helping the space appear larger.

Consider having direct lighting above your counters. Doing so will make them appear larger while still offer a focus area for the items you wish to have on them.

Bold Cabinet Doors

When you are deciding what color would work best in your kitchen do not shy away from pastel colors. Pastel colors work great in a kitchen because they are soft colors that offer a bold impact.

A modern way to revive and give your kitchen counter an upgrade is by changing your outdated dark colored cabinets and painting them a bold color. Bold colors in the kitchen remove the attention from the areas you do not want it in and cause your eyes to immediately focus on the bold colors. Likewise, this is an excellent way of rejuvenating the space without having to make drastic changes.

Have a Kitchen Island

Kitchen islands can be customized as well. Consider a marble island like the one above if you want to add an elegant touch to your kitchen space. Likewise, consider having stools be part of your island for an added seating area.

Islands are excellent to have in a kitchen as they offer not only more counter space, but also storage and can be even used as a breakfast bar. Small, round or rectangle islands are best in kitchens that are smaller and square inside. Meanwhile, if you happen to have a larger kitchen, consider having a rectangular island.

If you are not convinced about having an island in your kitchen, consider a rolling island instead. A rolling island works the same way as a permanent island would but it is movable. Therefore, giving you the option of placing the island in any area that you would like.

Floating Shelves

When selecting which floating shelves to incorporate into your kitchen consider shelves that match your current decor. This will help your shelves blend in seamlessly.

If you don’t have much counter space, but you do have a large wall space in your kitchen. Consider adding shelves. Shelves are great for having necessary items on display. The idea is to have more storage as well as space area that allows you to have your needed kitchen items.

Floating shelves are a modern take on cabinet space. They offer the same amount of space yet they look contemporary and put together.


Adding mirrors to your kitchen can make it appear twice its size. In fact, a mirrored backdrop can make your kitchen counter look less cluttered and even more open.

When you are thinking about kitchen counter space ideas the last thing that may come to mind is adding mirrors. However, if you are familiar with using mirrors in your home, then you know mirrors have the capacity to make everything appear larger than it actually is. Therefore, using mirrors as a backsplash or even as a decorative piece in your kitchen can help give you the appearance of a large counter space.


There are multiple different things you can do with a bookcase in your kitchen. Not only can you have it as an island with all your necessities but it can ultimately also double as a breakfast bar.

Adding more cabinet space in your kitchen can be expensive and an extensive project. Instead of removing or adding new cabinets add a bookcase instead. Recently bookcases have become quite popular to have in the home because of all the space they provide. Look for tall but narrow bookcases that will not take up too much room in your kitchen, but will give you the counter space you need.

Mount Your Pots and Pans

Make your mounted pots and pans a statement piece in your kitchen by hanging them in the very center. This will cause any visitors you have to directly focus on them. Plus let’s not forget it is getting them out of your counter space which is exactly what you want.

Pots and pans tend to take up a lot of space regardless of where and how you store them. Instead of having them take a portion of your counter space mount them on your wall. This is an easy way to get them out of your counter space while still being available to you whenever you need it.

Keep Electrical Appliances Hidden

Create an appliance cabinet space to further hide appliances that may not be in use as often. If you do want to use them often consider having a power source near the cabinet for easy usage.

Your counter space is typically filled with electrical appliances such as a toaster oven, microwave and/or coffee machine. These appliances tend to be pretty large in size and can take up a large about of space. Therefore, in order to have more counter space you want to place your appliances inside of a kitchen cabinet instead of having them out on display. This will not only free up some counter space, but it will also give your kitchen a more organized appearance.

Minimal Items

Consider adding flowers or a plant to your kitchen space for a natural feel. This is also a great idea if you enjoy growing cilantro, parsley or rosemary as these can be grown in a smaller pot and environment.

The best way to organize and maintain your counter space is to only display the items that you typically use over and over again. If you do not use a specific item as much as you would like. Consider storing it in your kitchen cabinets or displaying it on your wall shelves. Doing so will prevent your counter space from being over filled and it will display a minimal amount of kitchen items.

Having a well-organized counter space can help you feel more at ease when you are cooking and entertaining your guests. Let us know below if you have other kitchen organizing tips.

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Planting Hornbeam

Hornbeam, Carpinus: “The Hedge of Dreams”

“Build it, and they will come,” the voices told Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, prompting him to make an entire baseball stadium from scratch on his Iowa farm. While we’d be loath to look out the window to find the Chicago Black Sox trampling the lawn, it turns out the same formula works for hornbeam: plant it, and a hedge will come. A beautiful hedge.

Hornbeam, a small hardwood tree, can grow to be 30 feet tall (or happily pruned to make a perfect border) and looks beautiful in any season. Of its dozens of species, Carpinus betulus (European hornbeam) is preferred for the narrow crown that makes its shape easily adaptable when clipped.


Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

In plant classifications, the hornbeam tree is often mistaken for a shrub, though in fact, it belongs to the same family as the hazelnut tree and yields wrinkly brown nuts (that are not edible).

Pleached hornbeams by Matthew Williams
Above: Pleached hornbeams. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista

Cheat Sheet

  • Perennial tree with gray bark
  • Hardy from zones 3 to 9
  • Bright green leaves turn rust-colored in winter

Keep It Alive

  • Plant in early fall
  • Seedlings need light shade; subsequently transplant it to partial or full sun
  • Water regularly during dry seasons


Above: Photograph by by Deborah Nevins. For more, see Hedge Fun: At Home with Garden Designer Deborah Nevins.

The leaves of a hornbeam hedge, or a standalone hornbeam tree, are a bright shade of green in the spring and summer. But hornbeam is the most stunning as cold weather approaches. The leaves turn a delicate shade of rust and crisp in the autumn sun. Then, best of all, their serrated and slightly raised edges catch snowflakes so each leaf is finely enameled with white powder. With hornbeam, there is a new surprise every season always better than the last.


Above: Photograph via Wikipedia.

Growing hornbeam from seeds is an investment in the future of your garden. First, plant in 5-inch pots with two seeds per pot and cover with loamy soil mix. Layer with compost, and water when the compost feels dry.

Long Barn Vita Sackville West hornbeams hedge garden door by Clare Coulson
Above: A wooden door in a hornbeam hedge leads to a secluded miniature green garden. Photograph by Clare Coulson.

Young hornbeam seedlings do best in partial shade outdoors. Seedlings will germinate in the spring, and after a season, can be transplanted to a brighter area of the garden (spaced 25 feet apart). It takes several years for hornbeams to grow together into a hedge, but after they do, you can prune them like a fancy English garden or leave them be for a luscious and shady border.

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Turning a Gravel to a Garden with Designer and Author Carolyn Dunster

While many of us strive to perfect our lawns, for others turf can be a serious turn off. When Carolyn Dunster, the north London-based author behind the book Urban Flowers: Creating abundance in a small city garden, realized that her son was old enough to play football at the local park rather than in the family garden, she took her chance and stripped away all the grass. And then replaced it with a beautiful gravel garden in which she can grow myriad annuals and perennials.

“I do not miss the lawn a single bit,” says Carolyn. “It was the bane of my life as it never looked as green and verdant as I wanted it to. It provided a safe space for my children to play on when they were little but I am much happier, as a designer, with the way my garden looks now.” Read on to find out how to turn a garden over to gravel.

Photography by Nicholas Hodgson.

gravel garden London Carolyn Dunster by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: Removing the existing turf and roots by hand was the biggest job—although, Dunster says, it’s a job two people can easily accomplish over a weekend. She then dug out the brick borders that had edged the original flower beds and leveled out any dips with sharp sand.

Before turning her attention to the 600-foot garden behind the house, Carolyn, a florist and garden designer, had already seen how effective laying gravel could be because she’d done the same thing in her beautiful front garden.

gravel garden London Carol Dunster echinacea by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: Pink echinacea blooms in the gravel garden. For more tips on how to grow and care for echinacea, see Gardening 101: Coneflowers.

All the gravel had to be brought through a side access, so Carolyn ordered it in builders’ bags that were more easily transported. She simply laid it on top of the bare earth to a depth of 3 centimeters (approximately 1 inch). “I purposely did not put down a membrane as I wanted to plant directly into the bare soil below and give my flowers the best chance of setting seed,” explains Carolyn. “My plan was to do away with any formal beds so that I have a profusion of flowers and shrubs growing in what looks like a totally natural setting.”

gravel garden Carol Dunster London nicotiana by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: Nicotiana blooms against the house.

Carolyn is convinced that the gravel speeds up the germination of annuals, and she also plants successively in spring and autumn to ensure a constant supply of flowers. She grows masses of self-seeding annuals including love-in-the-mist, cornflowers, scabious, nicotiana, Queen Anne’s lace, poppies, and cosmos along with biennials such as antirrhinums, honesty, and sweet rocket.  She also collects seed to resow, but encourages self-seeding wherever possible.

gravel garden Carolyn Dunster London outdoor cafe dining table chairs by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: “My aim is to achieve the right mix of colors and shapes to make  hand-tied bunches that look as if they have just been picked for my floristry work,” adds Carolyn, who works on a bespoke basis at Urban Flowers.

There are also long-flowering perennials including astrantia, penstemon, verbena bonariensis, monarda and red valerian.  And so far there aren’t any plants that have not flourished in the gravel; even the existing evergreens that were left from the old garden are happy sitting in the gravel.

gravel gardening Carolyn Dunster galvanized watering cans by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: There’s no irrigation but Carolyn will water with a hose if there’s no rain for more than a week.

The benefits to gravel are numerous. “I think it sets all my plants off beautifully and adds a textural dimension. There are no ugly spaces of bare earth left when the flowers have gone over and I don’t find it difficult to look after. The key is to recognize your seedlings so that you can remove them if they are weeds or in the wrong place. The gravel also provides extra protection for the roots over the winter.”

Above: Roses in bloom.

Carolyn also notes that since turning over her garden to flowers, the space is now a haven for wildlife with bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects as well as the birds that follow them.

gravel garden Carolyn Dunster London by Nicholas Hodgson
Above: “I advise all my clients to dig up their small city lawns and replace them with gravel,” says Carolyn. “It is cheap, attractive, better for the environment than paving slabs as it allows the rain water to sink through, and best of all it means you get loads of flowering plants for free if you allow them to self-seed.”

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Video Of A 21st Century Sod House

This is an amazing story of what may be the best sod house in the world. It is now on the historic registry of Canada. It’s energy efficient and was continuously lived in for 100 years.

Built by prairie pioneers and occupied continuously into the 21st Century this sod house and its long term resident, Edith Gardiner, have a lot to teach us about history and energy efficient living for today and the future.


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Easy-To-Do Crustless Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie

It’s starting to feel like fall, which means—if you’re anything like me—you’re ready to break out your slow cooker. Perhaps you’ve started making overnight oatmeal in it. Maybe you’ve started making slow cooker soups, or used your slow cooker to transform those end-of-season tomatoes into a thick, tangy tomato compote.But I’ll bet you haven’t made pie in it—yet.

Here’s why you should make amends, and try making pumpkin pie in your slow cooker:

1. You don’t have to bother with making a crust, which pumpkin pie fans will agree, is not the best part of pumpkin pie.

2. Unlike a shallow pie dish, you can go deep—like, inches deep–with your pie filling in a slow cooker. This slow cooker pumpkin pie recipe (which contains two pie’s worth of filling) gives you a pumpkin pie that’s 3 inches tall.

3. Should you decide to make this pie recipe at your next Thanksgiving, you can make the pie on your countertop while the holiday bird does its thing in the oven.

There’s very little to this recipe—basically, put everything in the slow cooker on low. After 4 hours, turn it off, and let it cool. You can eat it while it’s warm, but at this stage it will be puffed up–like a big cloud of hot pumpkin spice pudding. (While it’s very tasty, it doesn’t hold its shape well). Instead, give it an hour to cool—if you have time, chill it in the fridge—and it will collapse into a dense, rich pumpkin pie.

(Try topping the pie with homemade whipped cream made in a mason jar!)

There’s just one catch of course—no crust. I don’t miss it, but if you do, try serving the slow cooker pumpkin pie with shortbread cookies, granola, crumbled ginger snaps or vanilla wafers.

If you have more time, make Pie Dough Crackers: Roll out your favorite pie dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 1-inch thick strips, turn and cut into 3-inch long crackers. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 400°F oven until golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Serve alongside the pie.

For a boozy hit, serve with bourbon whipped cream. Beat 1 cup heavy cream, 1 Tbsp powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp bourbon, and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract until soft billowy peaks form. Dollop onto pie and sprinkle with candied pecans.

Slow Cooker No-Crust Pumpkin Pie

Serves 8-10

2 (15 oz) cans or 3 cups pumpkin puree
2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk
1½ cups brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt

Whisk together the ingredients in a 6 qt slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until puffed and golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 4 hours. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Serve or refrigerate until cold.

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie Recipe96475; 101964

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Guide To Warm Contemporary Kitchen Designs

Many people are drawn to the cool colors, clean lines and minimalist shapes that characterize a modern decor style. And some of these same people want their kitchen to feel like a cozy and inviting gathering space. So what do you do when you desire the cool vibes of modern style but also crave warmth? You plan a warm contemporary kitchen. Here’s our guide.

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6 Things You Must Know Before Buying Your First Home

Earlier this week I was reading this piece at Man Repeller about what writer Verena von Pfetten wished she’d known before moving into her first NYC apartment. I had immediate flashbacks to so many bad apartment experiences during my 13 years in Brooklyn. Looking back, there were so many times that I wish I’d spoken up about red flags or taken the time to investigate things and talk to neighbors or think more seriously about how the location and transportation options would affect my life and my budget. But these days I spent most of my time thinking about the things I wish I’d known — or could tell other people — before buying a first home.

First and foremost, buying a home of any size, kind, budget or location is a privilege. I am very aware of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, period; let alone one that makes me so happy and has been able to house and nurture not just us, but our friends and family during difficult times over the past few years. I’m working on an in-depth piece related to bigger issues in the real estate world (more on that later this month), but today I’m taking an honest look at the advice I was given and which pieces I wish I’d listened more closely to and which ended up not being so important. If you ever find yourself about to sign on a dotted line, I hope this advice will come in handy. And as always, I would LOVE to hear your stories about what you wish you’d known before buying your first home. From the nitty gritty to the big picture issues, hopefully sharing our stories in a safe space will help prevent others from hitting our hurdles or motivate someone to speak up when they spot a red flag. xo, Grace

First, here’s some background on my homebuying experience:

  • I’ve only rented apartments (all one-bedrooms, mainly in Greenpoint, Brooklyn) for the better part of the last 15 years. For all but 1.5 years, I had a roommate or significant other to split rent with.
  • My income has been consistent for the past 5-6 years with no raises or significant decreases. That’s been tough to maintain in today’s blog economy, but it’s allowed me to come up with a clear housing budget and stick to it.
  • My first big real estate risk came when I was given an eviction notice from my landlord because I adopted my first dog, Hope, while living in a no-dogs-allowed building (it’s a long story). I was given a one-week notice, so I rented the first safe place near the park I could find, but it was way above my budget. In the heat of the moment that decision meant I needed to make some HUGE budget cuts, but it felt worth it for the joy of having Hope in my life.
  • I met my wife Julia a month later, and shortly after she moved into this new apartment. Together the rent became manageable and we decided to stay.
  • A year later we took a vacation to the Hudson Valley to get to know the area better and to think about the idea of a small weekend house. After looking online we realized we were priced out of the area we loved (Woodstock, NY) and, on a whim, had lunch with a friend 30 minutes south and discovered a new town with lower real estate prices.
  • This friend sent us a listing, we booked an appointment with an agent and decided to drive up and see five houses in one trip. We fell in love with the last house immediately. It was larger and more expensive than we planned, but we did the math and the mortgage was actually less than our apartment in Brooklyn.
  • We made an offer under asking price, which was accepted a few days later. Our plan was to keep both homes for one year and then make a decision about keeping the NYC apartment (which would require re-budgeting and more work) or letting it go. We ended up deciding to let the Brooklyn apartment go after only four months, realizing we were happier in the country and were living more affordably here.
  • Managing the mortgage and upkeep has been a learning curve, but we learned to plan our finances quickly based on our different income schedules (as the owner of my own business I can pay myself a regular monthly income, while Julia receives payments for her work based on a freelance schedule).

When Julia and I first moved into our house, she made a HUGE and very organized list of things we needed to get done. From painting and setting up systems (propane, wifi, snow plowing, etc.), she had it all down to a T. But then we realized that our free time and budget would only allow for so much. So the decorating fell wayside to more important things like getting squirrels out of our walls and sealing up walls and ceilings that were open and rotting.

In the midst of that realization, Julia said, “Being a homeowner means the list never ends, it’s just about deciding what goes at the top.”

That really stayed with both of us and has been powerful to remember in times when we wish we could do something more “fun” with our budget than, say, fix the heating system. But at the end of the day, if you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head and can afford to keep that roof intact and the space under it heated and safe, the rest is just gravy.

So don’t worry about rushing to paint walls, hang art and get every room “finished.” It will never be fully finished. You will hopefully get to a point where you feel comfortable, but there will always be something that needs to be tended to. So rather than rushing to buy things to decorate and fill rooms and feel “done” (like I did for a while), save your money for the bigger things your home needs to stay safe.

If I could look back and tell myself one thing, it would be, “Ask, push, wait and DEMAND what you need to feel comfortable.” I fell into the same trap I fall into all the time at work, which is worrying about being perceived as “bitchy” if I push too hard for what I want. I’ve gotten over worrying about whether or not I seem “smart” when I ask basic questions over and over until I understand them, but I still worry too much about people thinking I’m being “difficult” when I ask or demand more before handing over my time, money or resources.

Looking back at our home inspection, I wish I’d spent more time understanding each issue that came up and getting a second (and third) opinion. There’s often a rush to ensure your bid is considered seriously, and in that rush you can forget to listen to those voices of concern or to accurately address red flags. But that is time you can’t ever get back. It might be hard to lose what seems like a dream house in exchange for more time to investigate things, but unless you have an endless budget to work with, make sure you ask the right questions, get ALL of the answers and, if you’re not satisfied, wait until you get what you need. Once you sign the papers, all those house issues (good and bad) become yours and yours alone.

As a renter, I never had to think of home budgeting beyond the basics: rent, electric, and heat. But when we became the sole people responsible for ensuring our home was safe and running properly, those expenses sky rocketed. It took me about a year to get a handle on all the extra expenses that come with home ownership (especially in a rural area and in 150+ year-old home). Thankfully, all of those expenses still don’t cost more than what we paid in the city for a small, one-bedroom apartment — and they come with a lot more privacy, open space and fresh air.

Here are things to consider that people may not bring up, depending on your region:

  • Propane/Oil: I had NO idea how high these costs could be until we moved to a place with serious snow. Now we factor these into our budgeting big time.
  • The Great Outdoors: While our 3-acre plot of land is considered teeny by our farming neighbors, it takes a lot to maintain a yard, house, and driveway, especially when snow is involved. Keeping pipes insulated, driveways de-iced and interiors free of pests, can cost a lot. We have a steady stream of trades people coming in and out of the house in certain seasons when dealing with pests (like a huge snake in our basement rafters), and getting used to padding our budget to handle these occasional “call a pro” moments is now something we plan for.
  • Taxes: Depending on where you live, these things can change dramatically over time. Our school taxes go up every year and I feel happy to know where they’re going, but we’ve gotten involved in local government now that we realize how much control they have over where the rest is spent. Get involved with your local town meetings or community boards if you want to ensure your tax money is spent in a way that you support.
  • Travel/Tolls: Do you live near public transportation or toll roads and bridges? Factor those into your commuting if you think you’ll be going back and forth regularly.
  • Water and Heating Systems: How old are your home’s systems? Do you know where they are and how to fix them if they fail? Do you know who to call if they fail and you can’t fix them — and how much they cost? We learned this one the hard way and I’m glad that we now better understand how to budget for everything from well testing and septic systems to finicky water heaters.
  • The roof! Roofs are expensive. And they typically need to be done in times of the year when working on them is practical. So have yours inspected and make sure the warranty is valid and you know who to contact if it fails and is still under coverage.

There are always hidden fees in homeownership, so be sure you talk to the previous owner or other people in the area to understand what sort of hidden fees you will incur living in this new area/home.

When we met our first neighbor, she said, “I hope you like snakes, because you’re going to get a lot of them in your basement.” I shivered and realized we hadn’t even begun to think of the right questions to ask neighbors before we moved in. All of the issues we’d had in the city (Do people throw parties? Is the building maintenance decent?) didn’t apply here.

After moving in, we slowly started to meet people in our area who had a lot to say about the previous owner of our home and how little they were involved in the community. We’ve worked hard to do the opposite and have learned so much about our town in the process — much of which I wish we’d known ahead of time.

So before you buy, talk to the people who have lived in your desired location for a while. How has the area changed? Is there tension between neighbors or groups of people (ie: locals and weekenders, etc.)? Have taxes gone up significantly? Have they seen local crime increase? Do you live near a loud airport, stadium, or a fire station? These sorts of basic things not only give you an idea of what you’re in for when you move in, but they give you a chance to get to know people around you and understand the area from different points of view. The neighbors on either side of us would describe our area very differently, so I’m glad we’ve gotten to know both.

And if you’re in a rural area for the first time (like we are), ask about wildlife and septic and well water — people will let you know things that might take you years to figure out and can save you time and money.

One of the many things that I let go in one ear and right out the other during our homebuying process was the idea of a property map. We had more space around us in this home than I’d ever dreamed of, so the idea that it eventually ended at some point didn’t seem like a problem. But then one day we saw someone right up against our fence (not far from our windows) and watched them mark the property with electric orange spray paint. I immediately called our agent and realized that the land behind us (that gave us lots of privacy) that we were told would never be built on was, in fact, being divvied up and offered up for sale.

To make a long story short, thankfully the land ended up selling to the people who were already behind us (they bought up the sliver of land to ensure even more privacy for their home), but because we never got our own property map and looked through it closely, we had no idea that that land was available and that part of our property on one side didn’t go nearly as far over as we thought. Thankfully we didn’t build the fence close enough to that line, but we were awfully close — and redoing it would have been way over our budget.

A property map gives you not only an idea of property lines and who/what is next to you, but it lets you know where YOU can build, where city property begins and (hopefully) gives you a clear idea of where your utility lines are. The last bit is very important if you ever plan to do anything to your yard.

In addition to property maps, make sure you discuss and fully investigate any outstanding tax or lien issues with your home. Sometimes these things don’t come up in the first round of research and they can stall processes for months (if not longer) and they can hold up a down payment if it’s discovered after you pay. So be extra sure these issues are examined until you fully understand and can make an educated, comfortable decision.

Housing markets change. Relationships change. Families grow and needs expand. Jobs and incomes can shift quickly. All of the circumstances surrounding a home are constantly in flux, so thinking ahead is crucial.

Whether or not you have a child or children now, if you’re considering it at some point down the road, looking into school systems (and their ratings) around you is always a good idea. Whether or not you commute to a job now, having access to high speed Internet and reliable transportation is always worth considering. Are you living beyond your means now in hopes of catching up with an income raise at some point? All of these questions are absolutely crucial to consider before signing on any dotted line.

It’s not always easy to have these discussions if you aren’t in the stage of life yet when you’re considering bigger family/life planning issues, but they’re important to consider because once you’re settled into a mortgage and a home, it isn’t always easy to get out of them. Houses can be deceptively hard to sell and markets change all the time, so if you’re planning on living in your first home for only a few years (so called “starter homes”), be sure that your basic family/life needs are met in this space if circumstances change and you need to stay there longer than expected.

Longterm planning is always a good idea when you’re making a longterm investment. Sure, some homes are flexible and you can add on or commute if that’s in your budget. But if you’re living on a tighter budget, take your time and make sure the choice you make for your first home is one that will support you and your lifestyle (or your family’s lifestyle and needs) for years to come.

via Design*Sponge ift.tt/2wbW0Rc

Easy Leather Bench Making

I have a confession: Sometimes using power tools scares me. I know – that’s embarrassing for a DIY-er to admit. But I also know, deep down, I can’t be the only one who feels this way. So, what if I told you that you could make this bench with minimal tools and minimal upholstery skills? Seriously, there is no sewing involved. A stylish bench like this one can go a long way, giving an entryway more definition, or finishing off a bedroom with that high-end, end-of-the-bed bench look. Either way, it’s furniture design at its simplest.

What You Need


  • 2 yards leather or vinyl in your choice of color
  • Leather or vinyl straps in your choice of thickness – you’ll need at least 80″ in length
  • Upholstery foam (18″W x 50″L x 1″H)
  • 4 tapered furniture legs (15.5″H)
  • 4 angled top plates
  • Screws
  • Laminated pine board (18″W x 48″L x 3/4″H) – you can buy a piece in these exact dimensions
  • Thin piece of underlayment plywood (16″W x 46″L)*

*Most hardware stores can cut the underlayment to size on their big fancy machines for a small cutting fee, but if you’re more intrepid than I am, you could always cut the underlayment yourself.


  • Staple Gun
  • Scissors
  • Drill

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)


Step 1. Screw the tapered legs into the angle top plates and measure for placement on the underside of the 3/4″ laminated pine. I set my legs 5″ from the short edge of the bench and 2″ from the long edge.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 2. Once you’ve finalized the leg placement, attach the legs by screwing down the angled top plate. I chose to have my legs angle outward so that when looking directly at the bench, the legs form a trapezoid shape underneath the seat. You could also attach the legs so that they form a trapezoid shape only when looking at the side.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 3. Now that the base is made, it’s time to assemble the cushion. Lay your fabric upside-down with the foam cushion between your fabric and the piece of underlayment. Cut the fabric to size (you’ll want about 3″ of overhang or enough to wrap the fabric around the cushion and staple to the wood. Oh, and grab your trusty staple gun.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 4. Working in opposite sides, wrap the fabric over the foam and staple to the underlayment. Don’t pull too tight that the edges of the bench pucker — you’ll want to pull just enough to keep the fabric taut but still have a straight line down the edges of the bench cushion.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 5. When you get to the corners, use your fingers to tuck in the excess fabric and then fold the corners under and hold in place.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 6. Staple the corners down with your staple gun. Now it’s time to attach the cushion to the base.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 7. Center the base upside-down on top of your cushion so that the top of the wood base is touching the wooden underlayment of the cushion. Attach them together with a few screws – but be sure to use screws that are just long enough to reach through the laminate pine to the thin underlayment without protruding into the foam and ergo your arse when you sit 😉

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 8. Lay the bench base and attached cushion on top of the leather strap and cut to size so that it wraps all the way around the bench (approximately 40″ per strap). I placed my straps about 3″ in from the edge of the bench.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 9. Pull your straps tight enough to lie flat across your bench cushion (but not too tight as to pucker the edges of the bench) and staple them in place at the edge of the bench as well as the ends of the straps.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Step 10. Flip your finished bench back over and admire your sleek, minimal leather bench (that you made with minimal power tools).

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

via Apartment Therapy | Main ift.tt/2gKwv3C