Category Archives: DIY

Understanding the odds

Welcome back from the holiday weekend! I have a fast and easy home decorating tip for you today. It will never let you down. Ready?

When grouping a collection of things together for display in your home, be sure to group them in odd numbers.

Easy, right? Want to see it in action? Here you go:

Image courtesy of Pottery Barn

Image courtesy of Restoration Hardware

Count the pillows...nine of them! Image courtesy of Macy's

If you actually look for it, you can see design experts at big retail stores put this tip to use in almost every catalog.

Why does an odd number of items look better? It’s just one of those mysteries of the human brain. No one really knows the answer, but the results are clear. Here’s a little comparison experiment I put together for you using items I have in my own home. With one exception, these are all colorful variations of art glass, which I adore. (And collect like a magpie.)

There are seven pieces in the first picture (above). Now, lets just take one piece away:

How does it look now? Take a minute and really look at it.

It just looks…off…in some inexplicable way, doesn’t it? Now let’s take away one more piece:


Now it looks okay again, because we are back to an odd number of items. Scroll up and down between the last three pictures and see if you agree. It’s a subtle thing, I’ll grant you, but if you look at these items every day, you’ll notice it.

This “Rule of Odd” (my term, feel free to steal it) works anywhere in your home. Test it with books stacked on your nightstand. Use it when you consider hanging a gallery wall. (You can read more about that right here.) Try it with table centerpieces at a holiday meal. There is just something lovely about odd things. And if that isn’t a good rule for life, I don’t know what is.

Look around your own home. Have you naturally grouped things in odd numbers? What are they? Leave a comment and let’s see what we’ve all collected!

What so proudly we hailed

It’s Flag Day. You might not have even known that. I found it printed in small type on my planner. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday. Do any of you celebrate Flag Day?

Flag Day happens every June 14th in the US. It commemorates the adoption of the Star Spangled Banner as our nation’s official flag. This adoption took place through a resolution passed during the Second Continental Congress in 1777, on June 14th. Very interesting, but what does this have to do with our real lives today? Well, I’ll tell ya. (Some pet peeve venting ahead…brace yourselves!)

I live in Baltimore, where the national anthem that shares the same name as our flag was written. “And the rockets red glare…”? Those rockets were fired here, over Baltimore, during the War of 1812. We take out-of-town guests to visit Fort McHenry, I drive on Francis Scott Key Highway, the beautiful Key Memorial is in my neighborhood:

I love the design of this memorial and fountain. I like originality of using the formal column and pedestal, then breaking the form by allowing Key to wash up on its solemn shore in his boat. Someone clearly put some heartfelt craftsmanship into the design of this memorial.

And that is why this makes me CRAZY:

This is also at the edge of my neighborhood. A giant torn flag waving in the breeze. This flag does not look like it is being respected, yet alone “hailed”. (Did I mention that this is in Baltimore?! Heresy!) I bet you can find torn flags in your area, too. There are laws against this, as well there should be.

I believe if you are going to make the effort to show our flag with pride, then do it right. Too many people have sacrificed for the ideals the flag represents to do otherwise. Full disclosure: I have been known to call business owners and shame them about their US flag display. Do you hear me, Used Car Salesmen of America? I’m comin’ for ya!

So, in honor of Flag Day, I’ve excerpted the US Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1 (which is a long and detailed  read, let me tell ya!). My excerpted version below should be all you need to help you display your own Star Spangled Banner with pride and dignity outside your home. Feel free to print a copy of this and share it with others. Our flag is so beautiful, long may she wave.

Time and occasions for display

  • It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
  • The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:

New Year’s Day, January 1
Inauguration Day, January 20
Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
Easter Sunday (variable)
Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
Flag Day, June 14
Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
Independence Day, July 4
Labor Day, first Monday in September
Constitution Day, September 17
Columbus Day, second Monday in October
Navy Day, October 27
Veterans Day, November 11
Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day, December 25
and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
the birthdays of States (date of admission)
and on State holidays.

Position and manner of display

  • The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
  • When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.
  • When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
  • When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
  • The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

Respect for flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

How to fold and store a flag properly

For a great visual tutorial on how to fold the US flag properly, please visit this site:  http://www.usflag.org/foldflag.html

If you are interested in more info on flag decorum and care, visit:  http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/faq.htm for FAQ and other details.

All the images in today’s post (excepting the first two) are courtesy of art.com, a favorite source of mine for all kinds of beautiful images.

Do you have an opinion about all of these flag regulations? All comments are welcome, because we are a free country! Happy Flag Day, everyone!

Hang ’em high!

As we discussed last week, Salon style with its “gallery walls” is very popular again. You can find this wall decor in most dwelling magazines and home furnishing show rooms. (Learn more about their long popularity and history in this Design Vocabulary post.)

This is one of my favorite DIY techniques to teach my clients. I did it by myself for several years before realizing how much my clients enjoy participating in this step of the room installation process. Now I teach it to everyone who wants to learn!

As much as they are popular, gallery walls can also be quite intimidating. So much relies on getting the arrangement right and then hanging it all to match what you’ve imagined in your mind.

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

Beginning today, those worries are over! We are going to hang a gallery wall of art without making one single mistake. Not one nail hung in the wrong place and not one picture hung just a little too high/low/close to the next one.

I promise you that this method is foolproof. To prove that I practice what I preach, I’m gonna show you step-by-step pictures from hanging my own gallery wall in our narrow foyer. Mr. CARO and I just finished this project last week. Let’s get started:

Supplies needed

  • Measuring tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Roll of brown paper or gift wrapping paper (I really like to use Scotch Postal Wrapping Paper, which I often buy at Target for around $4.50. One roll of this heavier paper will supply you for many projects.)
  • Pencil
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Art (fine art, framed prints, photographs, mementos, etc.)

Technique

  1. Measure your entire wall and decide on the total area that your art gallery will take up on that wall. We’ll call that decided-upon-area the “gallery box”. 
  2. On clean and open floor space, roll out your paper roll to mimic the total area measurement of the gallery box. If you are using wrapping paper be sure to have the white side of the paper facing up. If your gallery box is taller than your paper roll, use the painter’s tape to secure two rows of paper together on the back sides of the paper. Weigh down the corners of your paper with books, as needed. 
  3. Now lay out your art on the floor within the gallery box. Move the art around as you play with the layout. Look at the gallery box from different angles. If you have a very large gallery box, like mine, try viewing it from atop a tall step stool or short household ladder to gain perspective. Keep moving your art around until you are satisfied with all of the placements.
  4. When you are happy with your art layout, take a picture of the gallery box as a whole with the art in place. Get back up that ladder if you need to, you’ll thank yourself later!
  5. Next, take your pencil and mark the top of each frame in its proper position on the gallery box paper. 
  6. Here’s the hardest part of this whole project: you have to mark exactly where each frame’s hook is on the gallery box paper. You have to get this part very accurate or it will undo your careful spacing and your gallery will migrate oddly on the actual wall. If you missed it earlier, there are two easy, accurate ways to measure this and I’ve put them both within the steps of this tutorial post.

    (Mr. CARO is a "Gunslinger", per the picture hanging tutorial.)

  7. When you are done with all of your markings, remove all of your art from the floor. Your gallery box should now be covered with lots of little markings for each frame, which should all look similar to this: 
  8. Using your painter’s tape, you are now going to attach your gallery box to the wall on which all of the art will hang. Use extra tape to make sure that the paper is secure.

    Blue tape + blue walls makes for difficult contrast, but you can see what I mean...

    This is great time to make sure that you like the height at which your gallery will be hung. It’s quite common for people to discover they want their gallery to begin a little higher up on their wall then they had originally considered. With this method, you don’t have to re-hang all that art, just adjust your paper!

  9. With the gallery box now secured on the wall, let’s get some nails up. Hammer the nails right through the paper. (To use your hammer properly, check out this tutorial right here.) All of your nail placements are perfectly marked, so all you have to do is work down the wall until you are done. 
  10. Nail work done? Take the tape off of your gallery box paper and then GENTLY, so as not to pull out any smaller nails, tear away the paper from the nails. 
  11. Use your photo (the one that you may have taken from the top of the ladder) to hang up all of your art on their respective nails.

 Congratulations! You’re done!

(Without a single hammer/nail error to fix! Huzzah!)

Now that you understand this gallery art hanging technique, you can use it for small or large groupings of any kind of art in your home. It takes away any guesswork and nail hole patching by letting you see your art collection as a whole before it is on the wall. Imagine how much easier this can make hanging a gallery of pictures up in a tricky place, like up a staircase wall!

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

Where can you use this technique in your home? What have you been dying to get up on your walls? Be sure to leave a comment! You may inspire others for their projects!

Going to great lengths

Here is my #1 tip for making your bathroom feel bigger:

Change your shower curtain.

No, really. But not just to any old new shower curtain. You want an extra-long shower curtain. Did you know those were available? Most clients are shocked when I suggest such a thing.

Who did decide that 72 inches would be the standard length of all shower curtains? I’m guessing it was someone who lived in a time when we were all a little shorter.

Image courtesy of ioffer.com

But back to my tip…

Buy an extra long shower curtain and hang it as high as you can with the bottom hem just grazing the floor. These extra long curtains are 84 or 96 inches long. You can even find them in 108 inch length varieties, for those of you with very high ceilings of claw foot tubs. There are plenty of curtain liners available to match these sizes, too.

If your curtain reaches the ceiling and the bottom edge of the fabric puddles a little on the floor, you may need to hem it a tiny bit. Don’t risk tripping as you step out of the bath! (Those of you with real sewing skills could even consider making your own shower curtains. You can pick from any fabric you like!)

Image courtesy of The Container Store

After you have hung your XL curtain, leave the bathroom for a few minutes, then come back in. The room will feel taller! You see, the long uniform lines of the fabric draw the eye up. They give the illusion that there is more height in the room because you are used to (really used to) seeing a shower curtain at a certain height. (This is the same principle used by all of those shoe designers producing “nude” colored heels.)

Give it try in your home. You’ll be amazed at the difference! Pictured below (and linked to their sources) are some great examples of XL shower curtains out now, but it won’t be too hard for you to find them in stores near you, either.

This is the kind we have in our home. Simple, waffle-patterned, white cotton. It feels very spa-like.

This model is called "Hitchcock", which made me laugh.

Have a great tip of your own for bathroom savvy decor? Leave a comment for everyone to see!

How to cheat a hangin’

We’re breaking the rules here today.

I like to be all “professional” most of the time, but sometimes I do like to cheat.

Call me lazy. Call me crafty. Either way, I can hang pictures faster than anyone in the West.


(I say “West” because, really, I live on the Eastern Seaboard, so that’s all I have to compare against…sometimes I feel like I should clarify things…maybe too much…*clear throat*…)

Saddle up, amigos! We’re gonna take this job like an unarmed stagecoach! (Too far? I really have watched a lot of John Ford films…)

The Professional Way

Supplies:

  • Picture frame
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Nail

Technique:

  1. Hold your picture frame up to the wall and find the placement you like best.
  2. Using the pencil, mark the wall with a small dash at the very center of the top of the frame as it is held on the wall. 
  3. Remove the picture frame from the wall.
  4. Using the tape, measure the distance from the top of the picture frame to the top of the frame’s triangle hook / row of pointy teeth / whatever would catch on the nail thing. (If it is a wire, you’ll have to put it up to an inverted “v” to compensate for the frame’s weight when it is on the wall.) 
  5. Now take the measuring tape to the mark on the wall and carefully measure the same distance down that you did on the back of the frame.
  6. Put a dot on that measurement spot. 
  7. Erase the original dash, so you don’t see it on the wall above the frame.
  8. Hammer a nail into the wall on the remaining dot. (You can learn how to swing that hammer properly in this post.) 
  9. Now you can hang your picture.

The Gunslinger Way

Supplies:
  • Picture frame
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Nail

That’s right. No measuring tape. Walk tall.

Technique:

  1. Put the pencil between your teeth and the hammer on the floor at your feet. We’re shooting from the both hips on this and you’ll need your hands free.
  2. Hold your picture frame up to the wall and find the placement you like best, using only the hand that you write with
  3. With your non-writing hand, reach up over the back of frame, still holding the frame against the wall, and slide your middle finger down behind the frame so the tip of your finger is centered against the top of the triangle hook / row of pointy teeth / whatever would catch on the nail thing. (If it’s a wire, you’ll have to pull it up to an inverted “v” account for the frame’s weight when you hang it.) 
  4. Press the top of the frame into your finger against the wall, making an impression of the hook thingy into your finger pad.
  5. Now move fast! Leave the non-writing hand in the same place on the wall and use your other hand to put the frame between your knees.
  6. Take the pencil out of your teeth and place the point right on the top of the still indented mark on your non-writing hand, which should be on the wall. 
  7. Gently slide your finger out from under the pencil point and guide the pencil the few remaining centimeters to the wall and make a dot. 
  8. Drop the pencil, grab the hammer and put a nail clear through that dot. (Learn how to do it like you mean it right here.)
  9. Hang your picture. Time to move on, partner.

Like any true skill, The Gunslinger Way does take some practice. But you can sure feel like Annie Oakley when you get good and fast at it. (And thank you for indulging my sillier side with this post. Much appreciated.) Now if I could just figure out how to spin my hammer around my index finger…

Do you have any DIY cheats you can recommend? Any picture hanging nightmares you’ve lived through? Leave a comment and share your story!

Mount up!

Have you ever noticed that most framed “art” is always mounted on some sort of matte board? Here’s an example of what I mean:

The color of the matte does add some nice extra color to the frame, but unless you have a standard-frame-size piece of art, all of that matting can quickly get expensive.

Is matting really necessary? Well, yes, but there is also a savvy budget solution!

Yes, it matters:

Mounting any art or photograph on to a matte protects the surface of the art. When exposed to light and heat (like sunlight), glass will bond to the surface of paper. When you go to remove the art or picture later, it will be stuck to the glass and can tear easily.  Like this:

Image courtesy of photorestoration.co.nz

Ouch! That is a lovely, old family photo…ruined.

So, mounting art to a matte board does matter because it protects the life of the image.

However…what if we didn’t frame the original? Could we avoid some of those mounting costs?

Savvy Budget Solution:

Make your scanner or a good color copier your new best friend.

Scan and print or copy your pictures to the size you want. (If you are using a copier, be sure to use the color “photo” setting for the best resolution.)

Now store your original art or photograph safely in an album or art storage box, away from light. If you ever need to replace a copy, the original is safe and sound.

Next, take your great color copy and let’s run an errand. We are going here:

There is an almost-secret area in this store that I am going to show you how to use for your copied art. First, we have to find the custom frame section:

Okay, now we don’t want an actual custom order, but we want to look at the other framing supplies available in this area. So, look around until you find an aisle that looks kinda like this:

Now, go to the end caps at the back of these aisles and you’ll see one that looks a little like this:

This is where all of the rejected custom frames, custom mattes and scrap pieces of expensive matte board go to be sold at clearance prices. Score!

Dig through those racks and look at all the options. You can find a custom cut mattes in great colors at a steal!

$1.25?! I can afford several of these!

But wait, let’s get savvy. We don’t actually have to have a matte for our art, because it is just a great copy. Let’s just get the look of a matte mount for a lot less!

Look at the plain scrap pieces of matte board. Find a color you like and a size that would look like a matte if we put it behind your art.

Now flip over that matte board and look at the price:

$1.00

Amen to cheap prices. We’ll take it! Now we just need to find the mounting tape. Off to the scrapbooking section of the store for another savvy deal…

Dig around in the glue/tapes/other sticking things bins of the scrapbook section until you find this:

This roll of little square stickers are a photo-safe (meaning the glue won’t eat through the paper) way of mounting art to other paper. You get 500 of these little babies for around $4.

Time to ring up our $5 purchase and go home to frame it all!

When you get home, cut the matte board to the size of frame you will use. Then, just use the sticker squares to mount your art in the center of the matte.

Just to show you how I have used this in my home, here is a color copy of a pretty, sentimental note card card I have mounted on a scrap of matte board:

And here it is in its frame:

Can you even tell the art is mounted on top of the matte board? Not really.

Bonus Points:

Want to add in some more style for little money?

Consider using big sheets of scrapbook paper in place of the matte board. You can find big pads of coordinating scrapbook papers for decent prices.

Most of these pads come with a couple of sheets of each pattern, which would allow you to pull together an easy gallery of matching mattes.

You can also find multiple sizes of these pads, so you only have to buy what you really need.

Looking for something a little more mod? There are some great papers that use photographed images as the paper’s pattern.

How can you use this art mounting technique in your home? A gallery of your children’s art? A framed collection of great vacation photos?  What about a cheaper way to give great photos as gifts? What is your idea?

The Perfect Guest Room, part 2

Here are the last easy how-to steps for making the Perfect Guest Room. If you missed the first part of the post, “The Basics”, you can read it right here.

Today’s list is the honest what and why of all “The Bonuses” that make your guest room easy to maintain and a step above the usual spare room fittings.  As you read this list, you may not think all of them are necessary, but just think how glad you would be to find these options when you needed them.

As I mentioned earlier, none of these tips are hard or expensive to do. You can implement them a little at a time, as your budget allows, toward a perfect end product. Most of the tips just require a little planning and organization. Once you set up a great guest room, it almost takes care of itself.

The Bonuses

Easy Maintenance

  • Store the guest towels in the guest bedroom.  Stack them, neatly folded, in the closet, a drawer or some kind of closed container.  When guests are on their way, all you have to do it place them on the bed.
  • After each guest leaves, wash the guest bed linens and guest towels immediately, then follow the above note for the towels and remake the bed so it is ready for the next guest. The bed is now ready for any unexpected company. No more digging around for the guest sheets when what you really need to do is vacuum the family room before your guest arrives in 10 minutes.

  • Once everything is in place for the next guest, whoever they might be, dust sheet the whole room. Just use old sheets and channel your inner Victorian parlor maid. Cover the bed, the dresser, the nightstand with lamps and any other pieces of furniture. Sound silly? You won’t have to dust this room before anyone else shows up. Just put away the old sheets and vacuum!
  • Extra points for rubbing a few fabric softener sheets across the clean pillowcases when you take off the dust sheets, before the guests arrive. Ah! Fresh linens! (I won’t tell if you won’t.)
Room Perks
  • Place a small tray or decorative platter on the nightstand or dresser. Men empty the change from their pockets and women take off their jewelry at night. This tray corrals everything safely and keeps people from searching for lost things under the bed (where your abandoned yoga mat is hibernating).
  • TV.  A small tv is all that is needed, if you want to include it. Just make sure the batteries in the remote are good.
  • Picture this scenario: Your cellphone dies just as you are going to sleep. You have the charger, but where is an outlet in this room? Do I unplug the lamp or the alarm clock? Where do these cords even run to? A free outlet that is visible is always a plus for cellphones, hair dryers, etc.
  • A tabletop or ceiling fan is always helpful for those who prefer to sleep with a cooler room or could use some extra white noise.

  • A small iron and ironing board are really useful and saves your guests having to sheepishly ask if they can use yours, wherever it lives. Any travel iron you take on your own trips can be used here at home.
  • Robes are often the first items jettisoned when travelers are trying to fit the stuff-they-really-need into one bag. A clean, fluffy robe on the back of the door or in the guest closet is very welcoming. If you happened to have an “extra” one from a great hotel (I know you have NO idea what I’m talking about) this is a great place to use it.
  • A small chair is lovely, but only if you truly have the room for it. Don’t try to throw one in just for the idea of it. You could also use a bench at the foot of the bed, if you have room.

Guest Perks

  • Small water glasses and a carafe of fresh water are a very nice touch for any guest. Many people like to take a glass of water to bed, especially if they need to take any medication.
  • In the bathroom the guests will be using, keep an easily accessible, basic collection of First Aid items. Band-aids, Neosporin, cough drops, thermometer, Tylenol, Imodium, etc. Think of the worst thing you would want to have to ask a host for and try to stock it for your guests.
  • Toiletry items. Sometimes 3 fl.oz just isn’t enough. Visit your drugstore travel bottle section and choose neutral, fragrance-free items. Lotion and sunscreen are also a great help. Put all of these small items in a small open container and leave them out in the guest room. (You can dust sheet right over these, too!)

  • A few candy treats and some good pretzels can be very nice for arriving guests. They can use them in their room if they are peckish or pack them for outings they are taking in your area. Just make sure you buy them in individual sizes and keep them all together in an open container on a visible surface. (Dust sheet over these, too? Yep!)
  • Maps and local area sightseeing brochures are great conversation starters, especially if your guests are visiting for the first time. Your local Chamber of Commerce has a wall of brochures up for anyone to shop. Take a few home for your guests.
  • Last, but not least, is reading material. This can be anything you think your guests might like: local area magazines, current news magazines, that great paperback you just finished reading, some beautiful coffee table books, guide books to area museums…use your imagination here.

And that is it! Whew!

Were any of these ideas eye-openers for you? Do you have any additional suggestions? What is most annoying thing you ever forgot to pack for a trip?

Need another perk?  Today is the last day to enter the current giveaway. Make sure you get in on the chance to win. You can enter right now, right here!

All of the items pictured today are linked to their pages on Amazon. I do believe that Amazon is magical and can be the source for almost anything you can ever need. (I say “almost” because I am still hoping to add “house-trained puppies” and “time travel” onto my “Wish List”. I’ll keep you posted…)

The Perfect Guest Room, part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a list of tips for “The Perfect Guest Room”. All of my tips are about making your guests feel really welcome and comfortable. I’ve divided the tips list into two posts so it won’t seem tedious to read. This also allows me to explain my “why” for each point, which I normally just talk through with my clients.

None of these tips are hard or expensive to do. You can implement them a little at a time, as your budget allows, toward a perfect end product. Most of the tips just require a little planning and organization. Once you set up a great guest room, it almost takes care of itself.

Forewarning: I’m gonna give it to you straight in these two lists. I’m gonna tell you all the things guests are too polite to mention. I’m not trying to be rude, either, just honest. Most people think their home is the exception to the rule. Or, that any guests “won’t really notice” all the things about their guest room that the hosts already know, in their hearts, are really not so great.

The Basics

Bed

  • Quality matters. The guest room is not where your old furniture should go to die. Do not put your own old, used mattress in the guest room, especially if you KNOW it is uncomfortable. Replace that old mattress with something comfortable, basic and on sale.
  • Size matters. Less-than-a-queen-size bed is most adult’s version of a bad night’s sleep, even if they are alone in that bed.
  • Use a bed skirt. We all store things under the guest bed. It is prime real estate for storage. Just don’t make you guests look at your jumble of stuff. A good bed skirt in a neutral color (white, cream, etc.) hides a multitude of sins AND all of your Christmas wrapping paper.

Linens

  • Use a mattress pad.  For just the same reasons you use one on your bed, buy a basic one for the guest room and use it.
  • Guest linens should be used in the guest room only. Keep them separate from the rest of the household and they will last longer.
  • Have four pillows on the bed.  One pillow per person just looks like a prison bed nowadays. Decent pillows are only $10 a piece at Target. You won’t have to replace the pillows for at least 5 years, because they are on the guest bed.
  • Two of those four pillows should be “soft” and the other two should be “firm”. Put a firm pillow behind each of the soft ones when you make the bed. Every guest can choose just what they need to sleep well.
  • Always have a spare blanket visible in the guest room. You don’t want guests digging through your linen closet in the dark at 2 am.
  • Keep the bed linens luxurious feeling, but neutral. The bed should be inviting to everyone.  No heavy, dark stripes and no pink, swirling flowers.  Classic, neutral bedding also needs less updating.

Nightstand

  • The bed should have a nightstand on both sides of  it. If you can’t fit in a traditional size nightstand, consider a small but sturdy table as an option. Just make sure there is enough surface space for a book or a pair of glasses.
  • If you have the room, use a small dresser with drawers as each nightstand. You can keep the guest towels and linens in the drawers.
  • Place an easy-to-use alarm clock on one nightstand.  A small travel alarm clock works great here.
  • Place a box of tissues on each nightstand.
  • Place a small, nicely lined trash can next to one of the nightstands.

Lighting

  • Change your ceiling fixture bulbs to be 100w or less. If you have more that two bulbs in your fixture use 75w for each bulb. Remember that a bedroom is for resting and winding down from the day. It seems obvious, but many people light their bedrooms as if they were offices.
  • Put a regular size lamp on each nightstand. Use 75w bulbs for these lamps, since people will only be using them for bedside reading or relaxing.
  • If you are using smaller tables as a nightstands, consider hanging two swing arm lamps on the wall above each table. You can find very reasonable prices on these at Home Depot and Lowes. to find the right hanging height, sit in the bed as if you were sitting up in bed reading. The bottom of the lampshade should be right above your shoulder.
  • Whatever window treatments you choose, make sure they are room darkening.  Allow your guests to sleep in a little, even if you don’t.
  • Visit your own guest room at night with the lights off. Are there any outside lights shining into the room? Fix them! (I once stayed in a guest room which featured the home’s outside architecture lights focused right on the guest room windows. All night I was expecting Batman to arrive.)

$4.50 for 8 wood hangers at Ikea

Clothes Storage

  • Leave clothing hang up space in the guest room closet for your guests to use. 1 foot of clothing rail space per person in a guest room is ideal. (There were actual studies done for this measurement. I’m editing the boring parts out for you.)
  • Provide hangers for this hang up space. Not old, bent dry cleaning hangers. Plastic hangers in a ten pack from Target work great.
  • If you have a dresser in the guest room, you must leave at least one, if not two of the top drawers empty for your guests. No one likes to stand on their head searching for socks in the dark corners of their luggage. You also don’t want to look like a candidate for “Hoarders”.
  • A luggage rack is nice, but floor space in the bottom of the closet for your guest’s empty suitcases works just fine, too.

Bath

  • Regardless of how you share the bathroom in your home, remember to leave space for a guest to hang their towels to dry. This can be a simple hook on the back of their bedroom door.
  • Every guest should have their own color of towels. None of these colors should match the towels you use. This saves everyone from that slightly panicked moment in the bathroom. (You know the one I mean.)
  • When you buy new guest towels, run them through the washer and dryer several times before putting them to use. This gets them nice and soft and really gets rid of any fuzzy towel shedding.
  • Have the guest towels stacked nicely and visible in the bedroom when your guest arrive. This is an old school technique, but it immediately shows your guests that you have planned well for their visit.

Those are the basics!  The rest of the list will feature “easy maintenance” and “simple perks”. Look for that post next week!

With one noted exception, all of the images in this post are courtesy of The Company Store. The Company Store offers a great selection of stylish and affordable products, including eco-friendly bedding products and solutions for those with allergy issues. I recommend them because I’ve used their bedding in my home for years. If you ever find yourself in the LaCrosse, Wisconsin area, they have a great outlet!

Hammer time

Whether you are building or repairing something or just simply hanging one picture frame, everyone should know how to use a hammer in the proper, efficient way. This might seem like the MOST obvious thing in the world, but it is one of the most common things I find I need to teach my design clients. Based on that, I thought a little DIY know-how might be a handy post. Let’s get started…

Get out your hammer. Any old hammer, whatever kind you have, get it out of wherever you keep your jumble of tools. Mine live in a tool box at the bottom of a closet. Here’s the one we’re using for this post:

Pick up your hammer. How are you holding it? If you are holding it like this:

then this is the problem we are about to fix for you forever. Keep your hand on the middle of the hammer handle, for now, just where you have it. Draw the hammer back by bending your wrist upward, as if you are just about to hit a nail. Just like this:

Now swing the hammer forward to hit a (imaginary) nail in a wall. Do it few times. Watch your wrist. At the end of each movement your wrist is straight, almost tight feeling, in line with the rest of your arm, right? Okay. When you make the motion to hammer, this is the arch of motion from the hammer head:

When the hammer head reaches (roughly) the point in the arch shown by the second arrow:

the weight of the hammer head takes over the forward momentum from your wrist muscles. You should be able to feel the hammer handle kinda shift forward in your hand as the hammer head takes over the weight. Practice a few times to notice that weight shift. That weight you feel shifting is the real force that drives the nail into the wood/wall/etc. and it is called “torque” and is pronounced: TOR-k.

Torque is defined as, “the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot .” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) In our application, the “pivot” is your wrist, and the weight shift you feel is the “force”. Fascinating, I know, but hang in there for my point: Torque is your friend. No, really. It will actually do the hammering for you. Let me show you. We are going to use hammer correctly now. Pick up your hammer again, but this time hold the handle properly, by its end. Like this:

Okay, we’re gonna swing the hammer again but with a few changes. First, move back a little from your computer. (No computers should be injured in the reading of my posts.) Next, you’re going to draw the hammer back again, but keep your wrist loose this time. Very loose! Let the weight of the hammer head drop it back toward your forearm. Like this:

Now, when we swing the hammer, use wrist muscles to start the swing, but don’t try to stop the swing with your wrist muscles. Just let torque work. Ready….swing!

Do it a few more times. See how much bigger the arch of motion from the hammer head is:

That larger arch brings more power to your swing. Your wrist went further, too. Didn’t it? Try it a few more times. See how your wrist is more relaxed at the end of these hammer swings? That is because the torque is doing the real work, the heavy weight lifting work. And the weight shift has happened much earlier in the arch of this swing. See:

Can you feel the difference? If the answer is yes, congratulations! You may still need a little aim experience, but you can now hammer like you mean it!

It will now only take you half the quantity of your previous hammer swings to hammer anything. Maybe even less. And your wrist won’t get tired. And you can say to others, “What are you doing with your hammer?! Let me show you…” And you can pretend you’re one of these guys:

Image courtesy of This Old House

Next time you’re watching good home improvement show or find yourself near a construction site, watch how the real pros do it. An experienced contractor will start their hammer swing with their elbow bent and the hammer head almost back at their shoulder. That is some torque at work!

Was this an eye-opener for you? How will you use your new technique? Would you like more DIY tips like these? What do you need help with?

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