4 Ways to Get the Character of Historic Window Architecture in a New House

2(BPT) – History tends to repeat itself.

The saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” rings true with architectural styles. We have smarter ways of building, and the layouts have evolved with lifestyle changes, but historical and authentic design is only growing in demand.

“Post-war in the mid to late 20th century, many homes began losing that historical European influence due to the need for mass produced, affordable housing,” says Deryl Patterson, an award-winning residential architect and president and founder of Housing Design Matters, Inc. “Fast forward 30 years, and homebuyers began demanding those historical styles again—with the convenience and functionality of a new home.”

“One of the features often overlooked when designing a ‘new old house’ is the window style,” says Mark Montgomery, vice president of marketing for Ply Gem Windows. “Instinctively, people realize the curb appeal of a home is not quite right when the windows do not fit the architectural style, but they can’t point out what’s wrong. Windows are so much more than white rectangles and can really make or break the home’s design.”

For homebuyers who want an authentic older home look, the exterior must be designed in a specific manner, down to every little detail, especially the window architecture. Montgomery advises buyers to consider the color, grilles (decorative pattern that can simulate the look of separated glass panes), operating style and shape for historically-influenced design that complements the home’s style.

To get the look, here are four examples of how history influenced window architecture in home design:

1. French Country: This is a very elegant style, focusing on vertical proportions. Windows are a defining characteristic that should emphasize this. A 3-foot by 6-foot window with a two-over-two window grille pattern is a classic combination. The single vertical mullion (a post that separates two windows) in the window further reinforces its striking proportions.

2. Modern Tuscan: Windows play a vital role in the design. Imagine them as geometric forms, creating interesting patterns across the front of the home. Consider combinations of single hung and fixed glass windows. The windows should be relatively free of grilles – perhaps a simple single vertical or cross pattern – to keep the style fresh. If the budget allows, consider upgrading to a Ply Gem MIRA Series window and using one of the bold, saturated tones, available in nearly 50 different colors.

3. Craftsman Bungalow: This style was developed from the British Arts and Crafts movement and features double-hung or casement windows. In Craftsman-style homes, the exterior trim traditionally contrasts with the window frame color, and the windows include grille patterns that create vertical proportions.

4. Prairie: A bold departure from the typical European-influenced styles, windows in modern Prairie architecture are typically tall casements in warm tones, providing the perfect complement and contrast to the horizontal lines of the style. A Prairie-style grille pattern is essential to complete the look.

To find the window style that best fits your “new old house,” Patterson recommends researching the options.

“One of the best ways to find inspiration is to drive through older, historical neighborhoods. If you don’t live close to such neighborhoods, old travel magazines and history books are also great resources,” she says.

Websites like www.plygem.com also help provide inspiration and take the guesswork out of architectural styling and color selection through historically accurate visual renderings, window design specifications and suggested style and grille patterns.

Top Tips For A Safe Yard

Hurst Photo via ShutterstockOnce winter ends, all your kids will want to do is go outside and soak up the sunshine as they play in the yard. Before they do though, you’ll need to make sure that your yard is perfectly kid-friendly — and that means ensuring that it is a safe place for them to play.

However, kids will likely get into everything. After winter, your yard may be filled with lots of little hidden dangers that will result in cuts, scrapes and bruises — or worse. Here’s a look at how to kid-proof your yard after a long winter.

First, Do Some Serious Cleanup

Wintertime is notorious for causing trees and shrubs to shed branches, and if your yard is close to the road, you may find cans, bottles, bottle caps or even nails hidden in your yard. In addition, trees and shrubs may have branches sticking out where an unsuspecting child can run into them.

This means that the first step to making your yard safe is to clean it. Pick up all the branches and debris that you find, then give the grass a thorough raking to remove dead leaves, and smaller objects like nails, stones and broken glass. Once that is finished, prune trees and shrubs to remove broken branches or branches that are sticking out too far. For the final step, do a thorough search for pipes or wires that may have become exposed during winter. You might not find these immediately, but your kids almost certainly will!

Remove Hazards

If you have a pile of leftover firewood from winter, or even a stack of lumber from a construction project, make sure that it isn’t near your children’s play area. Kids love to climb on piles of firewood and lumber, which puts them at risk for anything from a splinter to a serious fall if the woodpile collapses. Woodpiles also tend to attract all sorts of critters, including rats, mice, spiders and snakes — some of which can be dangerous.

Fix Play Equipment

Winter weather is harsh on outdoor equipment. Wooden playground equipment, for instance, is highly prone to developing splinters — large, long splinters that could require medical attention. Make sure to inspect wooden outdoor equipment, and if necessary, remove large splinters by hand.

The same goes for metal and plastic. Wet winter weather and freeze-thaw cycles can cause rusty edges or shattered plastic. Plastic may need to be replaced, while rusty items can often be repaired by removing the rust and then painting over the affected areas with a quality metal enamel.

Search for Poisonous Plants

Once the greenery starts to grow again, you should most definitely search your yard and garden for any plants that are known to be toxic or poisonous. Even if you keep a perfectly manicured yard all year, some of these plants can invade your lawn through seeds that birds have carried from nearby areas.

Be sure to rid your yard of poison ivy, oak and sumac if they appear. Across the southern half of the United States, you may find a pretty flower known as Datura, which is actually a powerful and deadly hallucinogenic if ingested. In other parts of the United States, you’ll find pokeweed, which is a plant that produces edible-looking berries that are highly poisonous. Familiarize yourself with dangerous plants in your area, and then remove them when you find them.

Use Rubber Mulch in Play Areas

Under swing sets, play equipment, and in or around gardens that your children are likely to play in, be sure to put down mulch as a soft barrier that will prevent your children from getting hurt if they fall. What mulch should you choose? Woodchips are full of splinters and sometimes toxic chemicals, depending on how they were processed. Sawdust and sand can get into the eyes or in the case of sawdust, spark allergies.

If you’re looking for a safe, nontoxic option, try rubber mulch. Schools and playgrounds tend to use rubber mulch because it provides a soft, safe play surface. In addition, several studies, including a study by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, proved that rubber mulch was nontoxic and harmless for children.

Once you’ve done all of these things, you can be reasonably certain that your yard will be safe for the kids. However, as previously noted, kids are known for getting into everything, so don’t discount their natural ability to get into trouble even in a perfectly safe yard!


 

 

Author Bio:

Penny Klein is the owner of Perfect Rubber Mulch (perfectrubbermulch.com). She has extensive experience in the industry, understands the best product fit for her clients’ needs, works with customers to guarantee the right amount of product is purchased, and makes certain the delivery process is best in class.

Protect Your New Plumbing System: Just Say No To Drano

spartan-plumbing-blog-postIf you recently purchased a new home, you will obviously want to do everything you can to protect that investment. This goes for the areas of the house you can see as well as those that may not typically be top of mind — such as your plumbing. In order to protect your pipes as effectively as possible, never use a harsh chemical such as Drano. These are just a few of the reasons why, as well as some alternative methods of cleaning your pipes that will keep them as safe as possible.

Why Drano is a No-Go

One of the easiest ways to damage plastic pipes is to use Drano or a similar product. The reason is simple: The chemicals in harsh cleaning agents will quickly start to eat away at them.

If you use these types of products on a regular basis, they can even start to cause metal pipes to corrode. This is especially the case if you have a particularly stubborn clog that does not clear after using Drano, Liquid-Plumbr or something similar. The chemicals will remain in your pipes, slowly eroding them over time. If you have this type of clog, call a professional to have it removed for good.

Toilet Clogs and Drano — A Damaging Combination

A lot of homeowners make the major mistake of trying to use Drano to clear a toilet clog. Even the makers of the product recommend against it, because its caustic chemicals can do a lot of damage. Drano’s oxidation process can clear a clog, but it can also create a great deal of heat inside the toilet bowl. The tougher the clog, the longer the chemical will continue to generate heat. This can lead to a toilet bowl crack that is so severe you will need to replace the entire unit. In some extreme instances, Drano use in a toilet has led to damaging explosions, requiring the replacement of not only the commode but other substantial repairs as well.

Drano could even cause an injury if it fails to clear the clog. Many people have become so frustrated they have tried using a plunger to get rid of an obstruction not thinking about the fact that the caustic chemical is still in their toilet bowl. As a result, water containing Drano can easily splash and burn the skin.

What are Your Options?

You will be much better off using a flange plunger or a toilet auger (also called a drain snake) to try and clear a toilet clog. A flange plunger, which is shaped similar to a bell, is specifically designed for toilets. Stay away from the traditional cup-shaped plunger, because that is made for sinks and other flat surfaces.

A toilet auger is a coil that extends down the toilet to push a clog down the drain so it can be flushed through the sewer line. The drawback to this approach is that most augers from your local hardware store will only go a few feet. If the obstruction is farther down the line, then you will need to call a professional plumber.

If you do not have either a flange plunger or a snake, there are still far better alternatives to Drano. For example, try using dishwashing soap and hot water to clear a clog. Here’s how to do it:

  • First, pour a small amount of dish soap (about a teaspoon should do it) into the toilet bowl and let it sit for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Get a small pot, fill it with water, and put it on the stove to boil. Just make sure it does not come to a complete boil, because that could damage the toilet bowl. Take the pot off the stove just before the water begins to bubble.
  • Pour the hot water into the bowl, making sure it goes in with enough force to loosen the clog. Pouring from about waist-high should do the job.
  • If the obstruction does not clear, let the soap/hot water mix soak for 10-15 minutes. If that doesn’t work, try the process again. If the obstruction still won’t clear, call a plumber.

In some instances, a mixture of baking soda and vinegar can also be effective. Remove some water from the bowl, pour in a half box of baking soda and a bottle of white vinegar on top of that. Let the mixture bubble for 30 minutes and gradually add some hot water. Repeat the process until the drain is gone.

Whatever solution you try, just remember to always steer clear of harsh chemicals. If a clog simply will not dissipate, call a professional to get rid of it for good.


 

Patricia Bonacorda knows from first hand experience the effects of homeowners using Drano. As the President of Spartan Plumbing a plumbing and HVAC company, she has assisted all types of businesses and residential homes since 1964. Spartan is a licensed, bonded and insured business that provides professional plumbing, heating and air conditioning services.

Ready Your Patio for Spring

Iriana Shiyan-ShutterstockSpring is right around the corner, which means everyone is ready to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. Whether you put your patio furniture in storage for the winter or left it outside, you’ll have some work to do to get your outdoor furniture ready for spring. Consider the following tips:

  1. Assess Damage

Between the cold and damp weather, winter can cause a lot of damage to patio furniture — even if it has been in a garage or shed for the winter. Steel may rust, wood can crack and splinter during freeze-thaw cycles, and wicker is especially prone to damage from expanding and contracting. Water and freeze-thaw cycles aren’t the only things that can cause damage, however. Mice or other rodents can chew cushions or wood, and things like sliders on the feet of chairs and tables may have loosened or broken as you put your patio furniture away in the fall. When you bring your furniture out of storage, make sure to assess it for any damage that occurred.

  1. Start Cleaning

Before you start repairing, it is wise to clean your patio furniture. Over the fall, winter and early spring, your furniture may have accumulated not only dust and grime, but potentially mildew and mold spores, too. Use dish detergent mixed with water and a soft cloth to cleanse your furniture. For steel items that are rusty, you can use a wire brush to remove the rust.

  1. Repair or Replace Damaged Pieces

Some things, like a cushion that has been chewed by mice, might not be repairable. Make a list of the things that you can’t fix and plan to replace them later. After that, you can focus on what can be repaired:

  • Once rust is removed from steel, paint over it with primer and apply a finishing coat to prevent further rust.
  • Splintery wood furniture should be sanded smooth. Once you’ve finished sanding, clean the furniture to remove dust and coat the wood with a protectant to keep it from turning gray with age.
  • Cracked wood furniture can be repaired as long as the cracks aren’t so large that they’re affecting the structural stability of the piece. Simply fill the cracks with putty or wood filler. This may take a few applications depending on how much the filler shrinks. Then, sand the filled areas smooth, clear the dust, and apply a finish or protectant as you normally would.
  • Check chair slides and other bits of hardware to make sure that they are intact. If you find broken hardware, remove it and search online or at your local home improvement store for replacements. Depending on the manufacturer of your furniture, you may even need to order parts directly from the manufacturer.
  • Tighten any screws or other fasteners. This is particularly important for metal furniture with moving or adjustable parts, such as the frame that holds your hammock. This step can protect you from an accident later in the spring.
  • Some furniture either folds for storage or has wheels to make it easy to move. Each of these moving parts should be lubricated, not only to make them easier to use, but also to protect the joints from wear. Use a spray lubricant containing Teflon to lubricate joints. Avoid using oil-based lubricants because these can actually make the problem worse since they tend to collect dirt.

It will take some work to get ready for spring — cleaning, repairing and replacing. However, when you’re enjoying springtime flowers and fresh green foliage from the comfort of your patio, you’ll realize that the effort is totally worth it.


 

About the author:

Jessica Kyriakos is Brand Manager of Superior Site Amenities. Jessica has worked in the site furnishing industry for over 15 years and brings her knowledge of the industry to her role with the company. They provide outdoor furniture for your unique space, including grills, picnic tables and more.

Smart Ways to Boost Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

23160632_original(BPT) – You wouldn’t know it with the mild weather we’re having this winter, but spring is fast approaching. Building industry experts say now is an ideal time to carefully consider and prioritize home renovation plans. Most homeowners will opt to address the cosmetic features of a home when completing a renovation project to add comfort and value. However, it’s often what you can’t see that can have the biggest impact.

Before diving into any home renovations, consider the “skeleton” of your home, known as the building envelope, rather than just the cosmetic features such as chrome fixtures or granite countertops. For instance, high efficiency windows are an excellent investment for any home renovation to help drive down excessive energy waste and high utility costs. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests that traditional windows contribute to as much as 10 percent of the total amount of air escaping from a typical home, while improperly sealed doors can contribute a further 11 percent.

Another easy renovation idea to consider is researching and selecting high efficiency, green materials in commonly used rooms, such as bathrooms. Low flush water systems, solar hot water systems and even small-scale geothermal energy systems, as well as Energy Star-rated appliances, can reduce energy consumption and your overall carbon footprint while maintaining a comfortable, enjoyable living space for you and your family.

Investing in an effective insulation solution also can make a noticeable impact on reducing household utility costs. Building experts suggest that homeowners completing a home renovation should be as involved as possible in determining the best insulation type for their home. This means that homeowners should actively research the types of materials available and how well they perform over the long term.

Spray foam insulation, available from Icynene, is growing in popularity among homeowners since it is an energy-efficient insulation material that delivers year-round benefits. Spray foam insulation works well in all types of homes across the country, regardless of climate, to curb air loss and retain the conditioned air within your home to maintain a consistent, even temperature.

Spray foam insulation performs for the life of the property, ensuring that homeowners can enjoy comfortable indoor temperatures all year round without overrunning their heating and cooling equipment and accumulating high heating and cooling costs every month. More information on the effectiveness of spray foam insulation is available online at www.icynene.com.

4 Things to Consider When Choosing Siding

(BPT) – Selecting new siding is one of the most important decisions homeowners face when building new or remodeling an existing home. With sosiding 2 many options – both classic and modern materials – there’s a lot to consider.

Many manufacturers are now combining traditional styles and materials with high-tech finishes, delivering a product homeowners can love for years to come. Among all the options on the market, vinyl siding – with its various styles, textures and colors – remains the most used product. In fact, 2015 marked 21 straight years vinyl siding held the top spot in cladding for new single-family houses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual home report.

Whether you are building a home or remodeling one, there are four key areas homeowners should account for when determining which siding option meets your needs: durability, design, maintenance and affordability.

Durability

Siding selection is typically a once-in-a-lifetime decision, making durability a key factor for many. Homeowners should look for a siding option that is resistant to every element, including rain, wind and even the sun. Manufacturers now offer siding products with technologies that resist the damaging impact of the sun, preserving color for the lifetime of the home. Options, like Mastic Home Exteriors by Ply Gem SolarDefense, expand exterior home design with darker, on-trend colors that make your home the envy of the neighborhood.

siding 1Design

Perhaps the most-overwhelming decision for most when considering siding options is deciding on a style and color. There are seven primary siding material options available to homeowners – vinyl, metal, wood, brick, fiber cement, stucco, and stone – and countless color and style options within each material type. To guide you in determining what would look best, it is recommended to ask a siding specialist like a contractor, builder or architect for help. They can educate you on color coordination and what would go well with the neighborhood, while still giving personalized options for your home. They will also be able to weigh in on accent pieces like trim and shutters, which can help bring out your style.

“Homeowners are looking for more creative and colorful options,” said Pat Verlodt, president of Color Services & Associates, an organization that identifies color trends and educates consumers and manufacturers about those trends. “Whether you’re looking for a specific panel texture, such as cedar shake or wood clapboard, or a certain period-specific color scheme to align with historical significance, my recommendation is to look at vinyl. It provides the homeowner the freedom to add low-maintenance color and definition that will never be out of style or need painting or refinishing.”

Maintenance

Beyond style and color, homeowners are also seeking siding that is low-maintenance, which reduces or eliminates the cost and personal time expended for proper upkeep. Each siding material type has a different level of care and maintenance required. Vinyl typically requires just soap and water for periodic cleaning. Wood and fiber cement can require repainting every five to seven years. Stucco will need to be repainted and sealed. Brick and stone require re-pointing of mortar. The earlier point about durability plays a part here too, ensuring the option you select is free from potential time-consuming – even costly repairs – due to storm damage such as wind and moisture.

Affordability

Lastly, set a budget. Do your homework on the options and secure estimates, then compare them with your budget. Don’t forget that sometimes investing a little more into the project up front may reduce issues and maintenance costs down the road.

As you look to select new exterior siding, be sure to keep in mind these important factors – durability, design, maintenance and affordability – to make the best choice possible for your home and lifestyle. To get started on siding your house, look to manufacturer websites such as plygem.com for siding choices, as well as home visualizer and color selection tools that help homeowners experiment with different color and textures before making a decision.

All the Rage: What’s Trending in Hardwood Flooring

hardwood(BPT) – After months of online browsing, you’ve found the perfect, wide plank hardwood flooring. Or so you think! You absolutely love the look, but how can you be sure it’s the right product for you? Ask the pros.

In order to make an informed, purchasing decision, Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center, (www.hardwoodinfo.com) suggests you do your research. “All hardwood flooring is not the same,” she says. “Consulting with the experts will help determine if your product of choice will perform well in your unique home or office environment, and in your part of the country. And a little extra due diligence will eliminate guess-work, and the pain of an improper product choice.”

Getting Started

The pros at Tennessee-based Mullican Flooring (www.mullicanflooring.com), offer this need-to-know information regarding the differences between solid and engineered hardwood flooring, and the appropriate applications for each.

Solid hardwood flooring is just that, solid wood milled to a three-quarter inch thickness that can be installed only on a subfloor of wood, plywood or oriented strand board. Because of its thickness, it can be sanded and refinished over several generations of use. As a natural product, it will expand and contract with the humidity changes in your home or office. To compensate for this movement, installers should leave an expansion gap between the wood flooring and the wall, and install baseboard moulding or quarter round to hide the extra space. Remember, solid hardwood flooring cannot be glued onto concrete, does not perform well in high-moisture areas, and can require up to 14 days of acclimation time.

Engineered hardwood flooring is not one solid piece of wood, but rather a cross-layer construction of five to nine layers of hardwood, bonded together using heat and pressure. As a result of this process, engineered flooring is less likely to be affected by changes in humidity, reducing expansion and contraction. In most cases, it can be sanded and refinished, however special care must be taken with the thinner profiles. And it can be glued onto concrete, making it an appropriate choice for all levels – upstairs, ground level and basements – and a great choice for what’s all the rage these days, wide plank flooring!

Another Great Resource

The flooring professionals at the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), www.nwfa.org, concur. Requests for wider boards, random widths and rustic species full of character and color continue to dominate the hardwood flooring marketplace.

“It’s a significant trend that will likely continue for quite some time,” says Brett Miller, NWFA vice president of Education and Certification. “And it is a trend that can present certain challenges, especially if the installation is subpar and the end-user is uninformed.”

So, act wisely and be in-the-know. Engaging the services of professional, certified flooring installers will ensure your gorgeous flooring will stay that way. These knowledgeable craftsmen understand the importance of acclimation and the control of temperature and relative humidity. They in turn will pass that information on to you, the end-user. An educated customer is a happy one.

More on What’s Trending

Other trends being followed by NWFA member companies, especially custom, wide plank flooring manufacturer, Shannon & Waterman (www.shannonwaterman.com), include a continuation of gray stains and finishes, texturing of wood versus smooth finishes, utilizing random widths in a single installation, a preference for rustic species, selecting boards based on significant character inclusions like knot holes and saw blade marks, and a return to oil finishes.

It’s spicy. It’s classy. And it’s all the rage! Visit www.HardwoodInfo.com to see more on flooring, cabinetry and other products made from American Hardwoods.

Why You Should Consider Getting A Maintenance Plan With A Contractor

Maintenance COOL House Plans BlogRegularly scheduled maintenance is already standard practice in many industries like dental cleaning, car tuneups or annual physicals.

However, many overlook the benefits of getting coverage for much costlier services like standard home maintenance. They reason that one-off fixes are so rare, it’s easier to simply pay out of pocket.

However, when something in your home does break, having built-in protection can end up saving you a lot of money. Financial savings is only one of several advantages that having a maintenance plan can offer.

Let’s take a look:

1. Lower Utility Bills

Even if nothing in your home is broken, scheduled maintenance can save you money in the here and now. Take heating and air conditioning for example.

According to FacilitiesNet:

“Facilities in which proper HVAC maintenance is completed will use at least 15 to 20 percent less energy than those where systems are allowed to deteriorate.”

By regularly servicing any and all appliances that consume resources, you can lower your monthly utility bill spending.

2. Cheaper Repairs

Frequent checkups can also extend the lifetime of your home, whether your plan covers plumbing, roofing or electrical wiring. Periodic inspections make it easier to catch problems before they become worse. As a result, you end up spending less money on repairs and replacements.

3. Higher-Quality Fixes

You might be pretty handy with a hammer, but even the most dedicated DIYers can’t compete with professionals who service and maintain homes for a living.

Knowledgeable contractors can consistently perform the job:

  • Faster. They already have the tools, they know what to do, and they’re more familiar with relevant building codes and permitting requirements.
  • Safer. Because contractors receive extensive training, they’re able to avoid the types of accidents that put 8 million DIYers in the hospital every year.

When you factor in speed and avoided injuries, hiring a professional is also cheaper than the DIY route. However, not any contractor will do. In order to receive these benefits, you want someone who specializes in the type of upkeep required. A general contractor isn’t much better than a DIY enthusiast.

When dealing with garage doors, for example, you should only get a maintenance plan from someone who is an expert in this area. What’s more, if you want foundation repair coverage, select a technician who excels in this field.

4. Fewer “Other” Costs

Most homeowners think of cost as money directly paid for a product or service.  Yet maintenance and repair jobs carry many “hidden” expenses that are easy to overlook. You must:

  • Find someone for each job
  • Thoroughly vet every candidate
  • Compare different prices
  • Apply for permits and approvals

The ticket price for a standard repair job might only be $500. However, when you factor in all of these additional “transactional” costs, you could end up spending twice that amount in the form of lost time and extra effort.

Hiring a professional is cheaper than doing it yourself — and hiring a dedicated contractor reduces these “other” costs even more. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time something breaks.

Arguably the Biggest Benefit of Maintenance Plans

Maintenance plans can save you money and dramatically reduce headaches —but one of the biggest benefits is peace of mind.

Here’s why:

Professional contractors are notoriously busy, often juggling multiple jobs at the same time. Also, they typically take care of customers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Long waits are not uncommon, and it’s best to think of these delays as another transactional cost of one-off repair jobs.

But with a maintenance plan, you receive priority service and jump ahead of all other customers in line. Remember that you have an established relationship with that contractor, and he or she has a vested interest in keeping your business for as long as possible.

Your home might be brand new and future breakages may be rare. However, when your toilet overflows or your furnace conks out, you’ll pay any amount of money to receive speedy assistance.

By having a maintenance plan already in place, you don’t have to worry as much about preventable repairs, unnecessary delays or unexpected expenses.

 


 

Justin White is the marketing director for Garage Door Repair LLC, Justin is extremely resourceful with resolutions on common garage door problems.

From Modest to Magnificent: Create an Entertainment Space for Any Home

kitchen 2(BPT) – Entertaining at home? Whatever you’re planning – big bash or intimate soirée, cheery beer fest or elegant wine tasting – an inviting and accessible built-in bar featuring handsome hardwood cabinetry can help transform mundane household space into the life of the party. And once the festivities are over, all the accouterments such as glasses and silverware, not to mention wine, liquor and mixers, can be stored in those cabinets, either displayed behind glass or hidden by solid wood doors.

“Today, the term ‘built-in bar’ covers a variety of possible set ups,” says Linda Jovanovich, of the American Hardwood Information Center at www.HardwoodInfo.com.

At its simplest, a bar may occupy the end of a kitchen island – nothing more than a short length of dedicated countertop above a neat grid of cubbyholes to store wine and a small fridge to cool it when necessary. Slightly more ambitious bars comprise a niche or doorless closet fitted with wood shelves and cabinets, a countertop and perhaps a faucet and sink. Then there are more imposing affairs, the modern equivalent of a traditional butler’s pantry, fully plumbed stations where not only drinks, but also finger foods and hors d’oeuvres can be prepared and served. Finally, there are dedicated sit-down bars. Complete with stools, behind-counter serving space, and semi-professional equipment, these pull-up-a-chair facilities have special requirements that take them beyond our present consideration.

“Many houses and apartments have a closet or unused space that can easily be converted into an attractive and useful built-in bar,” says Laura Bohn, a New York-based interior designer who has done this for several clients over the years. “If you live in a house with stairs, the space beneath them is often an ideal place to install a small, modestly equipped drinks center. It should be able to accommodate enough countertop to prepare cocktails, enough storage for a liquor cabinet, and maybe enough room for a fridge or wine cooler.” A sink is not an absolute necessity, but if the small space you requisition is near a kitchen, powder room, laundry or bathroom, you may be able to make use of the existing plumbing and create a true wet bar.

As Bohn notes, one advantage of using such confined spaces for built-in bars is that they can be closed off when not in use, so that a commandeeredkitchen closet looks just like a closet, an appropriated staircase just like a staircase. “But a well-designed, well-crafted hardwood mini-bar needn’t be hidden,” she adds. “Made of walnut, cherry or some other distinctive wood – my favorite is maple – it can be an integral and pleasing a part of the décor.”

Of course, larger butler’s pantry-style built-in bars cannot be hidden. Ideally, they are located discreetly in transitional spaces between kitchens and adjacent dining or living rooms. But in today’s more open-plan houses, such built-in bars, often dubbed buffets, are likely to be in either the kitchen or living area itself – wall-spanning installations that are on full public view and should therefore look as elegant as pieces of fine hardwood furniture.

“Walnut is very popular right now for this type of bar,” says Christine Donner, a kitchen designer in New Canaan, Connecticut. “It is an elegant wood and its cool tones complement the white-and-silver palette that my clients currently favor. It can be bleached to a lighter tone, left natural, or stained much darker, almost all the way to black. Limed oak, bleached to a lovely honey-blonde color, has a marvelous midcentury-modern feel that is slowly catching on, too.”

For Donner, functionality is as important as aesthetics. “Wine connoisseurs often have an extensive collection of varietal-specific glasses that they want displayed, so I get asked a lot for glass-fronted cabinets with interior lighting,” she says. “Much of this stemware is oversize or extra tall, so I make sure the shelves can accommodate their height. And I always include solid-door cabinets to stow motley collections of assorted liquor bottles.” Fine hardwood cabinetry can also be used to conceal icemakers, refrigerators, bottle-cooling drawers, dishwashers and other unsightly appliances and equipment.

“A small bar sink is also very useful,” Donner continues. “Less for the water coming out of the spout than as a place to dump out old drinks or melted ice.” Loading up your built-in bar with such practical, laborsaving features will free you up to enjoy your own party to the fullest. And that, surely, is the point of the exercise. Visit www.HardwoodInfo.com to learn more about cabinetry for built-in bars and other products made from American hardwoods.

The Answer to Overcoming Color Cowardice in Home Decorating: More Natural Light

natural light 2

(BPT) – Have you ever picked a paint color you loved in the store, only to hate it when it’s on the walls at home? Or purchased throw pillows that you thought would be delightful on your neutral-hued couch, only to decide they look positively garish there? In both cases, you loved the colors when you first saw them, so what happened between the store and home? The problem is simple – the light changed.

Every color looks different depending on the type of light by which you view it. You probably first viewed that ultimately disappointing paint color and throw pillows under fluorescent light bulbs in the store. When you got home, your light bulbs are all old-fashioned incandescent bulbs or (if you’re eco-minded) compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

This effect is one reason why so many people hesitate to decorate with rich, dark or vibrant colors in their home, opting instead to stick with neutrals. While neutral tones can be a wonderful background that allows the beauty of a home’s architectural bones to shine through, decorating with neutrals atop neutrals can leave a room looking bland and lifeless. Your neutral background still needs pops of color, and wouldn’t you secretly love to have a dark plum wall or two in your dining room or hot pink accents in the family room?

How can you make the most of color in your home while minimizing the risk of disappointment? The solution is as simple as the problem – decorate your home with natural light.

Daylight contains all the colors in the visible spectrum, so hues of every depth and saturation always look their best in natural light. That’s because the essence of that color is already present in natural light, whereas certain colors dominate different types of artificial light. For example, LEDs are highly energy efficient, but blue is the dominant shade in most LEDs. Halogens emit more light in red wavelengths, while fluorescent bulbs are heavier with green light.

natural light 1Only natural light perfectly blends all colors in a pleasing balance. Chances are good, if you just reposition those couch pillows slightly to capture the light from the living room skylight, you’ll love the color again.

Bringing more color-friendly natural light into your home can be as basic or as grand as you wish. Simply opening blinds and drapes can alter how colors look in a room. Or, if you want to maximize natural light with a tactic that’s also a stunning design element, try installing skylights.

Skylights like those from Velux America can admit ample natural light into your home, enhancing not only the colors of your home decor, but your mood as well. Place a remote-controlled, solar-powered fresh-air skylight in a kitchen or bath and you may feel more comfortable taking a bold color risk, plus you can reap the benefits of passive ventilation. The skylights carry a no-leak warranty and close automatically in case of rain. Add solar-powered blinds, and it’s easy to give a room a whole new look simply by closing or opening the blinds. What’s more, light blocking or light filtering blinds – available in a variety of designer colors and patterns – further enhance the Energy Star-qualified skylights’ energy efficiency.

Dorian Lytle, the architect for the 2014 Coastal Living Magazine Show House in Coronado, California, specified solar-powered fresh-air skylights for that home. “One of the big reasons was for natural light,” he says. “I like the way skylights will bring natural light in from above. Ventilation was another reason. If you have the opportunity to strategically place skylights in your home, they will make a world of difference. Skylights are a terrific and easy way to bring natural light and ventilation into a home.”

Installing the latest solar-powered fresh-air skylights with solar blinds, both of which are operated by programmable remote control, can qualify you for a 30 percent federal tax credit on the products as well as installation costs – and you can spend the savings on bold, intoxicating color executed with confidence. Visit www.whyskylights.com to learn more.