Get your house in order — from the outside in

Courtesy Wallcandy Arts & Land of Nod

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 19, 2008

As we head into the tail end of 2008, some of us are hitting panic mode.

Visitors will be stopping by for holiday meals. Guests may be staying for long weekends. And it seems like it will take years, much less a couple months, before we can get our house in tip-top shape.

Have no fear. With the guidance of some experts, we’re here to help you get your house in order, from the outside in. We’ll tackle simple and cost-effective ways to tidy up your home’s curb appeal, organize your most cluttered rooms and also offer a few do-it-yourself design tips that will have guests remarking on your good taste.

Outdoors: Curb appeal

The first thing visitors see is your front lawn. Spending a little time now to tidy up your lawn can help ensure a beautiful front yard come spring. Ron Hazelton, author of Ron Hazelton’s HouseCalls: America’s Most Requested Home Improvement Projects, says that winterizing your lawn now can make your life a lot easier in 2009. His easy-to-follow recommendations:

••Take advantage of the cooler weather to weed your garden now. Use weed control on areas that are especially weedy.

••Rake and blow the leaves off the lawn.

••You feed your body and you feed your pets. Now think about feeding your lawn, too. You can find a good winterizer — which provides nutrients for your lawn — in the home and garden section of your favorite store. The “food” will be stored in your lawn’s roots and will help it endure the cold Chicago winter better.

Sun-Times “Chicago Style” columnist Frank Fontana, who also offers advice on HGTV’s “Design on a Dime” has one other suggestion: Take the time to store some of your outdoor furniture and accessories.

“A lot of people wonder why they have to replace their seat cushions so often,” Fontana says. “When things get rained and snowed on, they don’t always look their best the following year. So even if you’re not going to store all your chairs away, think about storing your cushions, hammock and anything else that might not do so well in the snow. You also don’t want to tempt squirrels to nest in them and shred the material.”

What we did:
While we were outside, we took a few minutes to tidy up our front porch and back deck. We used a broom to get rid of cobwebs. Sweeping grew old fast, so we used our Black & Decker Leaf Hog blower — originally used for clearing leaves from our lawn — to blow away dirt and debris from our deck super fast. It literally took less than 3 minutes to clean both the porch and the deck.
Like many of you, we had some sturdy plastic shelving in our garage that was half empty. We took the cushions off our deck furniture and neatly put them away on one of the shelves. We stacked the chair frames, threw a towel on top and moved them into a corner of our basement. Voila! Our cat thinks he has a new “condo.”

Indoors: Organize in style

We can all take a tip or two from shows like “Mission: Organization” and “Clean Sweep,” which encourage homeowners to purge, purge, purge! Go through your house, room by room, and look for things that can go. Give them away to friends and family. Donate them to charity and get a nice tax writeoff. Sell them on eBay. Have a garage sale. The point is, get the superfluous stuff out of your house.

But first, look through your “junk” to see if anything could function as something that you actually need. For instance, if you have a pair of night stands that you no longer use, could they be tweaked to become end tables in your living room?

Got an extra dresser you want to get rid of to free up some space for baby furniture? Keep the dresser, put a changing pad on top and you’ve got a changing table and saved yourself a few hundred dollars in the process.

And you know all those plastic storage bins that currently are housing a lot of your junk — which you will throw out? Robb Whittleff, who hosts the Trash-to-Treasure segments on HGTV’s “Decorating Cents,” suggests labeling the outside for easy reference.

“Don’t forget to make a few extra labels for holiday decorations. Once the new year rolls around, you’ll have a home for all the lights and ornaments that you currently have all over the place,” he says.

“You want to get busy work like this done before the holidays roll around,” says designer Jackie Davis, who also regularly appears on “Decorating Cents.” “After Thanksgiving, people tend to get in panic mode trying to clean up the house and make room for guests. That’s so much easier to get a grip on when your house is in order. I’m not talking perfectly organized, but in order.”

She adds, “I’m a big fan of decorative function. If it fits your design elements, put bed skirts on your beds or cribs. Not only will it brighten up the room, but you can store bins of bedding under there out of sight.”

Plastic storage bins are great when they’re hidden away. But you can hide items in plain sight and incorporate the decorative boxes into your decor.

What we did:
We took a couple cheap, pressboard bookshelves that were sitting empty in our basement and moved them into our closets. They’re perfect to store books, toys, unused knickknacks and yes, even clothes.

We also vacuum sealed some of our belongings into airtight Spacebags. They’re easy to use and actually work. We especially liked the hanging bags to store away some of our warmer-season clothes. They also make a nice size bag perfect for hiding under your bed. We stored away freshly laundered bedding in Spacebags and placed them underneath the guestroom bed. They’re now ready for holiday guests. (Note: This isn’t a substitute for getting rid of outdated clothes you are never going to wear again.)

Heeding the advice to think outside the box, we took a canvas bucket designed for holding children’s toys and used it to store away yarn and sewing supplies. The collapsible buckets also are perfect for beauty products, golf balls and, of course, small toys.

And finally, we’re all set for our next vacation — whether it’s to the Caribbean or the Wisconsin Dells. Taking Davis’ suggestion to consolidate our travel toiletries into one place, we now have them all stored in a sturdy tote bag, which also has room for a swimsuit, change of underclothes, wallet, iPod and Blackberry. It also can double as a purse.

Decals offer low-cost decor

In these economic times, why pay a design consultant to tell you what to put on your walls when you’re the one who knows your taste? And why pay a decorator to do the work after you’ve figured it out?

For those of us with a taste for whimsical designs, on a modest budget, removable decals may be your saving grace. You can find all kinds of designs online, but if you tend to change your mind, make sure that the decals not only are removable, but also repositionable. You can get decals with phrases, photos or drawings.

“I think decals are a great idea for people who don’t think they’re particularly artistic,” says HGTV designer Jackie Davis. “If you make a mistake, just lift it off and try it again. It’s a lot less labor intensive than painting and a lot cheaper than hiring an artist.”

Also, take a few moments and look through the photos you shot with your digital camera all year long. Chances are you’ve got memory cards full of wonderful images that also could be made into art.

“We tend to look at photos as we shot them and think it’s just a picture,” Davis says. “But just about anything can be art. You take a photo of a child. You can isolate the face, crop the photo and then blow it up on your photo printer at home or take it to the drugstore to have it blown up. Make another photo of the same size isolating the child’s hands. And then another one of her feet.

Print them out in color, or black-and-white for a dramatic effect. Mat and frame them and position them on your wall in a way that’s pleasing to you. You now have a creation that’s a one-of-a-kind piece of art that is as good as anything you could buy in a store. And it’s an original.”

What we did:
We loved the decals designed by Wallcandy Arts, available locally at Land of Nod ( Appropriate for non-formal spaces such as children’s rooms, kitchens and dens, the decals offer a cozy and fun decorating element. Plus, they’re surprisingly easy to use. Simply peel and stick on the wall. If you want to try it on a different wall, unpeel it and try again. Ours lasted through multiple peelings without chipping away any wall paint in our nursery.

We also printed out about two dozen family photos in black-and-white on our office printer, put them in black frames with white matting and displayed them on a staircase wall. For our living room, we printed out landscape shots in sepia and matted and framed them. A tip to get a good layout for the frames: arrange them on the floor first to get a feel for how they will look hanging.

Use a level to make sure the pictures are hung straight and then enjoy the view. Grouping photos with either a common subject or a common frame design helps maintain continuity.

For all those other images that you don’t have time to print out and want to share, consider investing in a digital frame and have a slideshow for your guests to view.



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