HOME 2021

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HOME 2021



Create the perfect workspace for efficiency and inspiration


HOME 2021

UP FRONT PRODUCTS 10 Avoid direct

contact using these touchless devices


Organize your closets, cupboards and cabinets

DESIGN 18 Stay uplifted with wall art that sends a message

Transcend BY PPG



BACK TO THE ’BURBS Homeowners leave cramped cities for more spacious neighborhoods


DESIGN DUO HGTV hosts Ben and Erin Napier welcome you to their Home Town

70 ON THE COVER A home office designed by Terravista Interior Design Group PHOTOGRAPHER Colleen Scott Photography

6 HOME | 2021


OUTDOOR DÉCOR Patios, porches and plants provide a reprieve from the indoors

Determine which dress works best for your windows


Texture adds new dimensions to your walls

TRENDS 26 Here’s how to use that space under the staircase


2021 colors are sure to enhance your décor

HOBBIES 34 Video games

help maintain connections


Traditional pastimes ease quarantine blues

BY DESIGN 80 84 88


All product prices and availability are subject to change.






KRISTEN SEYMOUR Kristen Seymour is a writer, editor and aspiring author whose work has appeared in digital and print outlets including Healthy Pet, Forbes and Women’s Running. Although she lives in a one-story home in Sarasota, Fla., she was inspired by the tips provided by experts for her story on using the space beneath the stairs (PAGE 26).

ADAM STONE Adam Stone is a writer from Annapolis, Md., where he covers technology trends, government, education and more. His work appears regularly in a wide variety of national consumer and trade publications. In this issue, he takes a look at how COVID-19 has affected homebuying trends (PAGE 56).

DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com ISSUE EDITOR Tracy Scott Forson ISSUE DESIGNER Hayleigh Corkey EDITORS Amy Sinatra Ayres Harry Lister Deirdre van Dyk Debbie Williams DESIGNERS David Hyde Debra Moore Gina Toole Saunders Lisa M. Zilka CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Karen Asp, Marissa Cass, Ana Pelayo Connery, Gary Dinges, Jennifer Bradley Franklin, Pam George, Jazmin Goodwin, Adrienne Jordan, Jessica Kasparian, Jacqueline Klecak, Jennifer E. Mabry, Roberta Pescow, Brent Schrotenboer, Sarah Sekula, Kristen Seymour, Mike Snider, Adam Stone


VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com

JENNIFER BRADLEY FRANKLIN Jennifer Bradley Franklin is an Atlanta-based journalist who has written for publications such as People and Architectural Digest. She recently chatted with small-town designers-turnedstars Ben and Erin Napier of HGTV’s Home Town (PAGE 64). “Their story sounds like a made-for-TV fairy tale, but I was struck by how down-to-earth and approachable they are,” she says.

ANA PELAYO CONNERY Ana Pelayo Connery is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in HGTV, Real Simple and other outlets. The native Floridian is renovating her second fixer-upper, an experience that came in handy when reporting on the many ways Americans have turned their attention to their patios and yards since the pandemic began (PAGE 70) and on 2021’s top kitchen and bath trends (PAGE 88).

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Vanessa Salvo (703) 854-6499 vsalvo@usatoday.com


BILLING COORDINATOR Julie Marco Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved herein, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the written consent of USA TODAY. The editors and publisher are not responsible for any unsolicited materials.


This is a product of









Home Town

Stars Erin and Ben Napier breathe new life into old homes on HGTV.






Create a touchless environment with smart technology BY JACQUELINE KLECAK


ith the continued spread of COVID-19, contactless home devices may help ease hygiene concerns. Motion-sensored and voice-activated products allow for hands-free maneuvering in every room.

Just a wave of your hand activates the Sensate touchless kitchen faucet by Kohler. Starting at $800.70, kohler.com

10 HOME | 2021

The Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 notifies your smartphone when someone approaches your home and allows for two-way video chat. $249.99, ring.com

The Lutron Maestro motion sensor turns the lights on when you enter a room and off when you leave. Starting at $37.98, lowes.com


The fourth-generation voice-controlled Echo Dot speaker plays music, makes calls, checks the weather, sets alarms and more. $49.99, amazon.com

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A simple wave gesture flushes the motionactivated Swiss Madison Hugo one-piece dualflush elongated toilet. $389.99, wayfair.com

Using sensor technology, the Royal Sovereign personal hand dryer works in 15 seconds. $89.99, walmart.com

Through the corresponding app or your voice assistant, schedule the iRobot Roomba 677 vacuum for daily cleanup. $374.99, kohls.com

12 HOME | 2021

Hampton Bay’s Bayside Mission 150-degree, outdoor, motion-sensing lantern detects movement up to 30 feet away. $39.46, homedepot. com

The iTouchless ultraclean sensor foam soap dispenser uses motion detection for nocontact handwashing. $57.49, overstock.com


The Simplehuman 45-liter semi-round sensor can features an antimicrobial agent that limits the growth of bacteria. $150, simplehuman.com


GET IN ORDER Shelving and organizing systems maximize space in closets, cupboards and pantries BY PAM GEORGE


reate a place for everything, and put everything in its place. These organizing accessories will help keep away the clutter and make your storage areas neat and tidy.


Store dry goods and save space with the OXO Good Grips POP 10-piece stackable set. $99.99, bedbathandbeyond. com


A lazy Susan like this one by Copco lets you access items on high shelves or in corners more easily. $12.99, amazon. com


OBSERVATÖR, Ikea’s clip-on basket, adds more storage space beneath shelves. Use it to hold fruit, veggies or linens. $4, ikea.com


14 HOME | 2021



Acrylic bins by mDesign let you view what’s inside. These bins with pull-out drawers are stackable. Starting at $19.99 each at mdesignhomedecor. com










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The Honey Can Do adjustable chrome shelf is ideal for the bottom of a closet or cabinet. $134.99, michaels.com


Woven hyacinth baskets are practical and pretty. Starting at $53.94 for six, containerstore.com





Organize your spices and fit them snuggly on the shelf with these Simple Houseware bottles, which also come with a funnel and labels. Set of 12, 4-ounce containers, $14.87; set of 6-ounce, $15.87, amazon. com


16 HOME | 2021

NEAT Method recently launched a retail product collection that includes repositionable preprinted pantry labels. $45 for the set, neatmethod.com




MEANINGFUL MESSAGES Your walls can talk with this artwork


fter months of quarantine, being in the house may become a drag. Keep your family’s spirits lifted with encouraging words meant to inspire and motivate.


Boldly believe that tomorrow will be better than today with this modern Faith script. $115.95, wallsofwisdomhome.com Sometimes, all you need is love in a cursive metal sign. Hope, inspire, dream and other encouraging words are also available. Starting at $34.99, bobbiejodesigns.com

This Perfectly Imperfect canvas reminds us that our differences make us unique. $148.95, wallsofwisdomhome.com A bright floral bouquet serves as a reminder that Happiness Blooms from Within. $8.99, pgrahamdunn.com

18 HOME | 2021


A simple message on a simple background, the You Are Capable wooden sign can fit in with almost any décor. $98, shop. magnolia.com


WINDOW WEAR What dress is best to regulate natural light in your home?


o let the light in or not to let the light in? That is the question many ponder when selecting the best treatments to adorn the windows in essential areas of their homes. Window treatments can vary greatly based on personal preference, and just like so

20 HOME | 2021

many other aspects of home design, there are several factors to consider when selecting the best option. Fabric curtains can enhance the design of the room through a variety of colors and patterns. “Curtains can range from thick blackout drapes to sheers, depending on how much

light you want to let into your home,” says Caroline Harmon, Lowe’s Home Improvement trend strategy manager. “While light-omitting curtains may work great in a bedroom or media room, sheer curtains might be a better choice for a living room or dining room. Cost can vary greatly, depending on >



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the brand, curtain length and type of fabric you choose.” Blinds are one of the lower-cost window coverings, and their utility makes them a practical option. They can be made out of myriad materials, from vinyl to velvet.

22 HOME | 2021

Plastic/vinyl blinds are low-maintenance and moisture-resistant, making them a great choice for areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. However, vinyl blinds tend to be slightly less durable, especially when

outfitted for larger windows, says Harmon. Blinds made of fabric will need to be removed, cleaned, dried and reinstalled, says Bill Taylor, of mybackyarddream.com. They offer a neat look and can hang either horizontally or vertically, making

them versatile for windows in most rooms, says Taylor. “Lowe’s carries a wide variety of options from brands such as Bali and LEVOLOR,” says Harmon. “While you’ll see white faux wood blinds in most homes, you can also opt for shades of gray, brown or black depending on your style and preferences.” Similar to blinds, roller and Roman shades are practical options that are best for narrow windows. If you love the look of Roman shades but still want to block out light, be sure to look for lined, cloth shades. “Roller and Roman shades provide several options for style and color if you want something different from traditional window blinds,” says Harmon. “Roller shades look best when mounted to the inside of your window frame and come in a variety of sizes and colors. Roman shades in bamboo bring a bit of nature inside and are very on-trend. Fabric shades bring a classic element. Layering either option with curtain panels finishes the look and brings warmth to the space,” she adds. Shutters are a great choice if you’re looking to bring an extra layer of charm to your décor. They can easily accommodate varying degrees of light and privacy. “The shutters option is a bit more expensive than blinds,” says Harmon. “So I would recommend using them in kitchens or family rooms if you aren’t ready to outfit the whole house.” l




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TOUCH OF TEXTURE Add character to your walls BY KAREN ASP


24 HOME | 2021

T I PS uWALLPAPER Follow the instructions carefully and do the necessary prep work like sanding down the walls or using primer; tape a swatch of paper on the wall for a few days to make sure you won’t tire of it quickly. uPAINT First, do a sample test on paper board or even a small section of the wall.


hen you want to make a room in your home feel warmer and more inviting, even add dimension to it, consider textured walls. Twenty years ago, people were using the sponging technique or applying stencils. “Today is more about re-creating organic textures and (Japanese) wabi sabi elements,” says Kelley Mason, manager of creative and content at Lulu and Georgia, an online interior design resource. “Texturing walls is more about adding a patina and a story to a home, rather than trying to solely add visual interest to a space.” Textured walls offer numerous design benefits. “They can give a room more dimension and add warmth and movement,” says Dolley Frearson, co-founder of High Fashion Home, an online retailer with a storefront in Houston. “In a home or room that’s minimal and simplistic, a textured wall can make the space feel more cozy and inviting.” Even in a space where visuals might seem overwhelming, textured walls can give the room a layered look that feels rich and alive. For example: Oftentimes, a small powder room can feel larger and more interesting with

wallpaper. “The movement or pattern makes walls appear endless,” says Frearson. There are numerous ways textured walls can be achieved in a home, and painting techniques like limewash (a mix of water and crushed limestone, sometimes pigmented) and Venetian (fired limestone) plaster are growing in popularity, Mason says. Wallpaper remains a popular way to adorn walls. Fabriclike options such as grass cloth and silk are preferred for their ability to add character and texture. Materials like cork are being used to add an organic element to walls. 3D panels are also trending, and while wood paneling from the 1970s might be passé, people are choosing carpentry texture that matches the style of the home, Frearson says. Think, for instance, wainscoting in a traditional space, wall molding in a European-inspired room or paneling that incorporates wood in modern stains and finishes. Unless you’re a skilled DIYer, textured walls can be tricky to do on your own, Mason says. “Things like applying limewash or wood paneling aren’t beginner projects and require a certain level of artistry and talent, not to mention some basic carpentry skills,” she says. Of course, if you’re not up for trying these techniques yourself, you can always hire a professional. Choose experts who have completed similar projects and can show you samples of their work, Mason says. Bottom line? Don’t be afraid to make your walls come alive with texture. “Once you find something you love, it will bring you so much joy,” Frearson says.



UNDER THE STAIR SPACE How to make the most of your home’s hidden gem BY KRISTEN SEYMOUR


inding clever ways to utilize previously unused space in your house is always a smart idea — and it’s never been more on trend than during the last several months, when so many of us are spending more time than ever at home. One of the areas homeowners and designers alike are finding creative uses for is the space beneath the staircase. Whether you opt to tackle this project yourself or enlist the help of a professional, “The space under the staircase is a hidden gem,” says Nicole White, president and principal designer for Nicole White Designs in Miami. From streamlined

26 HOME | 2021

storage and workstations to mud nooks and powder rooms, this space has the potential to become a cozy and coveted corner of your home — especially if you keep the following in mind.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN Don’t start swinging that sledgehammer just yet, cautions White, who says you should never assume the space exists. “There could be plumbing or electrical (systems beneath your stairs), so don’t just start knocking out walls.” In fact, if you have a bathroom at the top of your stairs, it’s very likely that you’ll have plumbing in that area — which can be a good thing if you’re interested

in turning the space into a powder room. You may be able to tap into that existing plumbing, but you’ll need to embark on the demolition process with care. If your home has a staircase below your main stairs, you may not be able to do much with that space, says Ben Herzog, principal at Ben Herzog Architect, PC, in Brooklyn, N.Y. At least, not without a little extra work. “If you can relocate that lower stair or eliminate it, there are loads of options,” he says, although he recommends thinking long and hard before removing a lower staircase entirely in case you (or a prospective buyer) need access to your basement in >


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The area beneath the stairs of this home is transformed into a functional and stylish workstation, complete with shelving and drawers.

28 HOME | 2021

MAKING IT YOUR OWN While hidden storage and powder rooms are popular picks — and are generally beneficial when it comes to resale — you need not limit yourself to what you’ve seen in magazines. “It’s your house. Do what you want to do. I would love to walk in and be surprised — not just that you’re using the space, but with how you’re using it,” says White. “I love to be dramatic in a small space, so if you love leopard print, leopard print that wall. Put in wallpaper, tile, shelves. If a stripper pole under the stairs would be fun for you, do it!” By using the space to reflect your interests, you can let your personality shine. Bring in a turntable and LPs to create a little music spot, make a little library station and use materials and surfaces that speak to you. With the right planning — and maybe a bit of professional help — this can be an interesting, intimate, one-person alcove, says Herzog. “It doesn’t have to be a Harry Potter-esque cell,” he adds. “A desk or customized daybed, a reading nook or a playroom can be a really neat use of that space.” l

Pull-out drawers for shoe storage

Make Your Space Great Don’t create a closet of consternation. “Stairs are typically about 3 feet wide, which is a bit deep for a closet, and things can get lost back there,” says Herzog, who suggests using pull-out or roll-out shelves for shoes or sports gear. Cut back on customization. Not everything needs to be custom, especially if you’re on a tight budget, says White, so don’t be afraid to buy retail cabinetry if space allows. “Go to a big box retailer, get a couple drawers and cabinets. Have fun!” Power up. When creating any sort of workstation or nook (versus storage), don’t forget to add plenty of outlets or charging stations, says White.


the future. Your first instinct may be to place a coat closet in the space, but consider your family’s needs when deciding what will work best, says White, who is converting her under-stairs closet into a workspace/coffee and wine bar. “COVID has taught us all to purge, so think about it,” she says. “Do you really need a closet there, or would you rather have a workstation now that you work from home?” You may end up with a little less height than you expect once you factor in the structure of the stairs above and the ceiling below that structure, says Herzog. But, at the same time, you might be surprised by how little space you need for something like a powder room. “One pro tip is that you can easily locate the toilet on the ‘low’ side underneath the stairs, as you only need about 5 feet of height for the wall behind the toilet,” he says. White is also a big fan of adding a powder room, noting that it’s a solid investment if space and budget allow. “You will never lose value in adding a bathroom to the home,” she says.





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BRIGHT HORIZONS Keep calm and carry on with these colors BY AMY SINATRA AYRES


30 HOME | 2021

of Pulp Design Studios, with locations in Seattle and Dallas. “Everyone is wanting to be enveloped in a bit more comfort, but without sparing a bold approach.” You could choose to use these colors as paint for your walls, which can be an affordable and relatively easy way to update your space, or you might want to incorporate them on an accent chair, throw pillow or cabinets. Dotolo and Gentry weigh in on a sampling of trendsetting colors for 2021:

ULTIMATE GRAY A ND ILLUMINATING PANTONE “The combination of yellow and gray is so telling for where we are at this year,” Dotolo and Gentry say. “Ultimate Gray is that perfect solid-as-a-rock shade, while Illuminating shines a bright light of happiness.” uWhere to use them: as accents in pillows, rugs and lamps; Emery suggests gray for an office or dining room and yellow for kitchens or entryways


ooking ahead during trying times with a shot of optimism, Pantone chose two hues for its color pairing of the year for 2021: Ultimate Gray, for fortitude, and Illuminating, a vibrant yellow that signifies hope. Many paint companies also offer color-of-the-year choices, tapping into or creating trends — but Pantone’s choice often gets the most buzz. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to change the color palette of your home, but it might give you some design inspiration. “It does provide a nice conversation starter for the beginning of the new year about color and paint ... and a fresh new start,” says home improvement and lifestyle expert Kathryn Emery. “Gray matches anything, but it is not a warm color. (It’s) best used for a home office or dining room — or trending now — that Skype/Zoom wall behind you.” As for yellow: It provides energy where you want to evoke emotion and happiness, she says. Meanwhile, paint companies are choosing cozy, saturated colors this year. “Warm browns, rich wine tones and dusty earthy shades are very of-the-moment,” say Beth Dotolo and Carolina Gentry


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BE WE LL TRIO PPG Misty Aqua, a soft turquoise; Big Cypress, a ginger shade; and Transcend, an oatmeal color, come together in a calming palette. Together, they are warm and earthy, and the aqua color offers a dash of freshness. This combination “exudes security and peace,” say Dotolo and Gentry. uWhere to use them: with walls in a whole room, kitchen cabinets or as design accents

A QUA FIE S TA GLIDDEN The company’s first-ever accent color of the year, this hue “is all about looking ahead, reminding us of fun, vacations and socializing after tough times,” Dotolo and Gentry say. “There’s comfort and optimism in being bold and playful in your interiors.” uWhere to use it: kitchen island cabinets, on a painted piece of furniture or on the back of bookshelves

EPOC H GRAHAM & BROWN This “wonderfully amethyst shade” brings in both red and purple tones. “It’s exactly what we need to make us want to hunker down, stay a while and be creative,” Dotolo and Gentry say. uWhere to use it: home office, bedroom or home bar

BENJAMIN MOORE A “forever favorite,” this is a bold color in a muted hue, allowing you to play with color. “The soothing blue reminds us of the ocean, and the earthy undertones keep this color grounded,” the designers say. uWhere to use it: any room, floor to ceiling; kitchen and bath cabinets; as an accent color for furnishings

32 HOME | 2021

PA S S IONATE HGTV HOME BY SHERWIN-WILLIAMS A modern color with historic influences, this deeply saturated red (pictured on the wall) pairs with the other choices in the Delightfully Daring collection. “Rich wine and red tones are definitely of-the-moment in 2021,” say Dotolo and Gentry, adding that they create a dramatic, yet cozy vibe. uWhere to use it: home office, bedroom, library or cabinetry



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CONSOLING CONSOLES Video gamers find comfort in online communities during pandemic


ideo games have always been a source of solace in tough times for Rosemary Kelley, and as states continue to encourage and enforce physical distancing, she has increased her streaming frequency from two to three times a week to nearly every day. “Now, I’m spending a lot more time just play-

34 HOME | 2021

ing games for fun,” says Kelley, an esportscaster and host for games like Pokémon and Overwatch. “It’s been an outlet for me to be creative but also to keep my mind working.” In the U.S., the average gamer plays for six hours and 46 minutes each week, slightly more than the global average of six hours and 20 minutes each week, according to The State >



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Multiplayer video games allow enthusiasts to interact and connect with other players from home.

HOMEBOUND AND WHOLE Video games can be more than just a good diversion, they also provide a way to connect socially with friends and family around the globe while at home. Many forms of gaming, especially multiplayer games, have increased levels of social presence — including the ability to share screens and interact with characters, says Don Forsyth, a social and personality psychologist at Virginia’s University of Richmond. “Social loneliness occurs when people feel cut off from their network of friends, acquaintances and associates,” Forsyth says. Interacting with others via video games “creates this feeling of togetherness, true presence, that you’re no longer distant from another person. It completely satisfies the need for belonging.”

36 HOME | 2021

Kelley attests to that. “I wouldn’t be able to get through my own selfquarantining if I didn’t have this community of people I can communicate with on a regular basis. That goes from playing games with them to just chatting about what’s going on,” she says. Companies are taking note and making it easier for gamers to connect, even when they’re not playing. Last March, gaming chat app Discord raised the limits of its Go Live function after noticing increased usage on its platform, allowing people to privately stream or screen-share apps from 10 people to 50 people. Mack Montague says he uses Discord daily to communicate with gamers. “That’s been my go-to app

when I’m trying to stay connected.” Steam, a video game distribution service for PC gaming, reached an all-time record on March 15, 2020, with nearly 20 million users active on the platform at the same time. The surge in gaming amid coronavirus lockdowns follows a roster of new game releases. One of the newest online games, Call of Duty: Warzone, a free-to-play battle royale video game, launched last March for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Within its first 24 hours, publisher Activision says more than 6 million people had played the game. “With the new titles, it gives you something to look forward to,” Kelley says.

As recently as 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed video games a threat to mental health. Now, they are being supported as a possible antidote to our ongoing homebound existence, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, WHO announced a partnership with major gaming companies to launch #PlayApartTogether, an initiative that encourages healthy social distancing and hygiene guidelines. “While we can’t comment on the WHO’s historical stance, we do know that making and playing games bring people together, create joy and yes, bring a sense of relief,” says Unity Technologies chief marketing officer Clive Downie. “There’s no better time for the games industry to band together than now. We’re honored to be a part of this larger initiative that encourages physical distancing to help flatten the curve.” For Kelley, who says video games have been there for her at some of the most difficult times of her life, relying on them now is a comfort. “It’s a form of consistency,” she adds. “They’re going to be there for me now, too.” l


of Online Gaming report by Limelight Networks, a service provider that helps deliver cloud-based content. According to Verizon, U.S. data usage for gaming saw a 75 percent weekover-week surge last March, when states began to impose COVID-19 quarantines. “This (increase) isn’t just out of boredom, but an intrinsic desire to be social. New gaming capabilities allow people to engage with one another virtually,” says Nigel Burmeister, vice president of Limelight Networks.


Gamer Gear Take video gaming to the next level with these consoles, controllers, headsets and more BY MARISSA CASS

The Quantum ONE headset allows for an immersive spatial sound experience to enhance the PC gaming experience. $299.95, jbl.com v

The HyperX Alloy Origins Core mechanical gaming keyboard is ultracompact and sturdy to give gamers the best in style, performance and reliability. $89.99, hyperxgaming.com x

The new Xbox Series X offers true 4K gaming, 8K high-dynamic range and faster processing time. $499.99, Walmart


The Microsoft Xbox One wireless controller offers textured grip and Bluetooth technology for gaming on Windows 10 devices. $64.99, gamestop.com


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y Game with lightning-fast loading, deeper immersion and an all-new generation of games with the PlayStation 5 console. $399 to $499, playstation.com

Lightweight and compact, the Rockme PU leather folding game chair by Loungie easily moves to fit your gaming space. $130.65, homedepot.com w


RETRO RECREATION Quarantines prompt resurgence of age-old hobbies


hen it comes to finding activities to occupy your time during the coronavirus pandemic, what’s old is new again.

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Knitting and solving jigsaw puzzles are among the hobbies that countless Americans are embracing since COVID-19 restrictions began. These age-old creative outlets are

experiencing renewed interest as governments discourage large gatherings and urge social distancing. They also offer a welcome distraction from the barrage of grim COVID-19 headlines.



Making handmade things is always a good thing. These gifts are being made with love during this crisis.” AMANDA NEAL, manager, Tempe Yarn & Fiber

KNITTING Amanda Neal, store manager at Tempe Yarn & Fiber in Arizona, has seen a steady stream of orders from regulars, as well as newcomers looking for something to help pass the time while they’re cooped up at home. The business offers curbside pickup and also ships yarn and other items. “Most of them are just bored,” she says of her customers. “Some are a little stressed out. They want to keep their hands busy while they’re watching TV

and keep their hands out of the refrigerator. It really does help your brain and keeps you occupied, not focusing on the scary times we’re living in.” Typically a favorite of seniors, Neal says she’s seen younger women pick up knitting during the pandemic. Many turn to YouTube for guidance on how to get started. Blankets are a popular option for novices: “It’s just a big square or rectangle,” Neal says. Experienced knitters are opting for more complex projects, such as sweaters. “Making handmade things is always a good thing,” she says. “These gifts are being made with love during this crisis.” Robin Suber, one of Neal’s longtime customers, has been knitting for 15 years. Lately she’s been working on a number of shawls, and she also knitted a face mask. “Knitting during the pandemic has been a source of comfort and calm in all the chaos,” she says. “It is something that people can do and not be tied to something that has to be start-to-finish fussy. It can be picked up and put down over and over. It can

be as simple as a one-stitch pattern or as complex as lace.” The knitting community is a close one, Suber says, and she’s hopeful groups can resume meeting in person sooner, rather than later. “I am looking forward to the time we can all be back to some semblance of normal and can get together,” she says.

PUZZLES Jigsaw puzzles — originally images painted on wood that were then cut into multiple pieces — date back to the late 1700s. Later, most puzzles were printed on either cardboard or paper board. Some of the largest and more challenging puzzles on the market today have in excess of 40,000 pieces and span more than 20 feet. Membership in the Jigsaw Puzzle Swap Exchange jumped about 50 percent per month during the early months of stay-at-home orders, organizer Aleta Gerard says. The website helps connect jigsaw puzzle fans, allowing them to swap completed puzzles for new ones. “Puzzles are a great stress >



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friends’ doorsteps, and people are always texting me pictures of their completed puzzles,” says McClellan, who agrees with Gerard. “Puzzles offer a family pastime that every age can participate in, at any hour of the day.” Catherine McCarthy, another puzzle swap member, says she completed a dozen 1,000-piece puzzles between March and May of 2020.

“Puzzling is a great way to pass the time during the quarantine and stay in place,” she says. “It makes me feel productive. It also forces me to focus on the present rather than on the news and all of the anxiety that comes from watching and listening to all that is going on. This positive distraction is welcomed at this time.” l


reliever,” says Gerard, whose operation is based in Palm Coast, Fla. “They are also great for mental stimulation and a wonderful alternative to digital addiction. Puzzles can provide a much-needed family time activity.” Gerard has been a puzzle fan since childhood. “Puzzles were a common activity in the home when I was growing up,” she says. “They were great when the weather was bad and you couldn’t be out. Now that I no longer have children at home and have more free time, they give me a break and allow me to let my mind unwind from the thought-provoking computer work that I do.” Keri McClellan, a member of the Jigsaw Puzzle Swap Exchange, says she’s had a number of friends reach out lately asking to borrow some of her puzzles. “I have made several puzzle drops to


4 Ways Home Protection Plans Can Simplify Homeownership 2. Save money on major breakdowns Homeowners spend an average of one to four percent of their home’s value annually on maintenance and repairs — and saving for those expenses can be tough. In fact, a recent Cinch Home Services survey found 1 in 3 people couldn’t afford an unexpected home repair right now. Fortunately, home protection plans can help alleviate this financial burden.

Whether you are a long-term homeowner or just getting started on your journey, the past year has undoubtedly redefined home life. Closures of schools, offices and attractions transformed homes into classrooms, conference rooms and movie theaters as the country adapted to a new normal. Plus, with companies allowing more flexible work options, more people are relocating than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, 22% of U.S. adults reported changing their residence due to the pandemic or knowing someone who did. More time at home means increased wear and tear on home systems and appliances. Eventual breakdowns can lead to unexpected, and pricey, financial hits to the wallet. A home protection plan — or home warranty — can put your mind at ease. Here are four ways home protection plans can be valuable whether you’re buying, selling, or staying in your existing home.

1. Protect systems and appliances not covered by home insurance Homeowners insurance protects homes from unexpected perils like fires, theft and injury on your property. Home protection plans, on the other hand, cover breakdowns from normal wear and tear of critical home systems and appliances you rely on every day. These include HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as appliances such as refrigerators, ovens and washers and dryers.

3. Find a qualified service technician with ease Unless you have trusted service technicians on speed dial, you’ll likely be stuck searching hundreds of look-alike listings at the worst possible time. And if the problem occurs on a weekend or holiday, finding anyone to answer your call just got much harder. Home protection plans provide access to qualified technicians when you need them the most.

4. Enhance the home selling and buying process Buying or selling a home is complicated enough — and the risk of a sudden home system or appliance breakdown can create yet another obstacle to closing the transaction. For sellers, including a home protection plan can add value and make your property stand out. For buyers, adding a home protection plan — whether as part of the transaction or after closing — ensures peace of mind as you settle into your new home.

Whether you’re a new or veteran homeowner, there’s a Cinch Home Services plan that can meet your needs and budget. Visit cinchhomeservices.com/usatoday to learn more.

Discover a fresh approach to home protection with Cinch.

Keep your home up and running with qualified, expert service pros and a 180-day guarantee on covered repairs. Call (844) 961-4230 or visit us online to learn more.


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OFFICE Find the perfect place for a remote workspace BY KAREN ASP hile home offices have been growing in popularity in recent years, they’re no longer just a trend, but the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more individuals to work and study remotely. While working from home has its perks, it’s not always a glamorous option, namely because most homes aren’t designed to function as an office, too. The good news? You don’t have to ditch your current residence and relocate to create a functional home work area. Whether big or small, turning that room, nook or corner into a home office has never been easier when you have expert designers on your side.



COMMON MISTAKES When the pandemic first hit, many scurried to create makeshift home offices. Others may have already had designated offices used a few days a month. However, the new demands of daily remote working require thoughtful design of these areas. “When you spend eight hours in a space, you need to make it look nice so that you look forward to going there every day,” says Gala Magriñá, designer and principal

of Gala Magriñá Design in Long Island City, N.Y. “When you’re working from home all day, you need to rethink your space and design it for all-day use.” Mary Maydan, founder and principal of Maydan Architects in Palo Alto, Calif., points to, for instance, a husband and wife who were previously sharing office space close to the living room and kitchen, complete with chairs for their kids to hang out in while they knocked out extra work at home. >




When the husband started working from home full time, he needed quiet so that he could make phone calls and take video meetings, which meant the current afterhours workspace no longer fit his needs. So, he relocated to the basement, setting up a designated office there. Whether your basement will suit you is another matter, and perhaps the most obvious mistake is choosing the wrong place in the house for an office. You certainly want to be away from distractions, but those differ by individual. “You need to think through what distracts you the most,” Maydan says.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION Location really does matter, which may be why one of the big-

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gest trends happening with home offices now is ADUs, or accessory dwelling units. Essentially, these are separate structures from your main home. “Until last year, only designers knew what ADUs were, one reason I used to refer to them as ‘guesthouses’ with clients,” Maydan says. Although designers have typically created them, you can now buy prefab ADUs. “Today, everybody is talking about ADUs because if you have the space and your zoning codes allow, it’s a wonderful solution that allows you to be close to your family and home but still have a quiet place to work.” Of course, not everybody has the funds or space necessary for an ADU. So, when considering where to place your office, think first about your working style and




what your weaknesses are, Maydan says. Are you easily tempted to eat? Then being near the kitchen isn’t a good option. Do your kids regularly break your concentration? Then make sure you’re away from the family room. “It’s best to identify your weaknesses and move away from them,” she adds. Consider places in your home that aren’t only quiet — you can always put gaskets under doors to improve soundproofing or hang acoustic panels, Maydan says — but will also allow for storage, especially cabinets and closets so that you’re not drowning in clutter. Natural light is another important variable to consider. “The sun sends cues to your body throughout the day that affect your circadian rhythms, making you more alert and productive,” Magriñá says. Natural light can even give you a psychological boost, improving your mood, according to studies.

MAKE UNIQUE SPACES WORK At the end of the day, there may be no getting around the fact that you need to optimize a less-than-ideal space. But even some of the less obvious spots in your home can be made to work. Nooks in the home can also serve as offices. For instance, you could position your desk in the space between two bookshelves. Even corners in the home could work, Magriñá says. What if you have an open-concept floor plan and can’t create a separate area? Try placing shelves behind your desk and decorating them with books, plants and other objects, Magriñá says. Not only will the shelves serve as a >

Virtual meetings have become the norm for most businesses and organizations. The technology is convenient, but it comes with the added pressure of an appealing background. “People now care as much about the wall behind them as their workspace,” according to architect Mary Maydan, who says that clients frequently hire her to design the walls behind their desks to be more attractive. While the library background was popular when virtual meetings became the rage, a piece of art, a plant or a pleasing wall color will also do the trick. The less elaborate, the better, as you don’t want to make your background too distracting for others, Maydan says. If your desk is located in a high-traffic spot in the house, either move or put up a temporary barrier so that meeting attendees can’t see people moving behind you. Consider two high-quality faux plants that you can place to your left and right during meetings and add proper lighting. If you’re seated with your back to a window, you may need to relocate. — Karen Asp



boundary but also as storage. Or consider adding either a screen or a glass door to separate space, something Maydan has done with several clients. With a little creativity, a basement or even a garage can double as a home office. The No. 1 rule with both? “Clear the clutter,” Maydan says. Otherwise, that accumulation could distract you. Flex that creative muscle a bit more, and you may find office space in an even more unexpected place: the closet. Cloffices, essentially closets turned into offices, are trending now as well. While it might sound like a crazy option, it comes with a hidden perk. “With a cloffice, you can close the door so that you no longer see the desk when you’re done working,” Magriñá says. That

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can go a long way in helping create a work-life balance. Consider using a compact statement desk versus a traditional office desk to create more space. Of course, the biggest downfall with many closets and basements is not having access to natural light, which is why Maydan recommends using brighter colors on the walls. “Different colors impact your mood in different ways,” Maydan says. While dark colors tend to be depressing, bright colors like reds and yellows are energizing and light colors are calming. Hang art and inspirational quotes that give you joy. In basements, you can also introduce an element of nature by adding 4- to 5-foot faux plants. Fortunately, many garages have windows that provide a bit of

natural light. There are usually numerous electrical outlets so you can easily add lighting as well. Just avoid fluorescent lights, which can cause disturbances to your circadian rhythms and may give you headaches if you’re sensitive to them, Magriñá says. She recommends looking for lights with 3,000 to 5,000 lumens. Heating and cooling can be adjusted with space heaters and window air-conditioning units, Maydan says. In the end, the effort to create the best setting for your home office will benefit your health and well-being. “Think of a wellintentioned home office space as a form of self-care,” Magriñá says. “Taking the time to create this space will help you be happier and more productive.” l



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n March 2020, Robin Salcido and her husband began sharing a small home office as America eased into the era of remote work. But as the months ticked on, the couple in Louisville, Colo., longed to separate their work environments. “Let’s face it, no matter how great a relationship is — and ours is pretty fantastic — no one wants to be on top of each other 24/7, especially when you’re working,” Salcido says. So they ordered a prefabricated backyard shed that Salcido now uses as her office. These detached, mostly selfcontained spaces, also known as accessory dwelling units, are more affordable and more practical than taking on a full-scale construction project, experts say. Most people are choosing to buy spaces that offer an additional 120 square feet, says Mike Koenig, president and co-founder of Studio Shed in Boulder, Colo. Tim Vack, general manager at Modern-Shed in Seattle, says there was a 400 percent rise in shed interest last summer. These structures are more premium than the standard metal sheds sold at home improvement retailers. You decide on what style of wood you’d like to use, where you’d like the windows to be placed

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and various other customization options. The more you want, the more you pay. Salcido says she saved more than $150,000 by choosing a backyard shed office rather than adding to her existing house. “We would’ve had to tear down the garage to add more concrete to support another level,” Salcido explains. “It would’ve been way too much work to go through just for another studio room.” The Studio Shed unit she chose comes with electrical outlets and mini splits for AC and heating. While many are turning to companies for help with their sheds, some are going the do-ityourself route, which is often a more affordable option. Last spring, Julie Masson’s husband and a neighbor teamed up to build a 120-square-foot “she shed.” The Kansas City, Mo., DIYers bought materials from Lowe’s, Home Depot and Menards. The entire project cost $5,000, including office furniture from IKEA. The most difficult part was digging an 18-inch-deep trench from the house to the shed for the electrical wires, says Masson, whose office serves as an escape from the kids’ distance learning in the main house. “I have this routine at the end of my day where I lower my standing desk,” says Masson. “I shut the shades. I turn off my air conditioner. I turn off the lights. I lock my door, and I commute home, just a few steps away.” — Dalvin Brown




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OFFICE ADORNMENTS Hot picks to perk up your workspace

Level up your coffee break with the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew trio coffee maker. $99.99, target.com

Let your personality shine with fun, eclectic touches like this Safavieh Shepherd faux fur task chair. $217.35, perigold.com

Shed some light on your latest project with the Hudson Valley Lighting Bowery LED table lamp with metal shade. $396.80, lumens.com

Have a seat without sacrificing style with the Flynn Task chair, available in several eye-catching colors. $260, allmodern.com

Go from sitting to standing in seconds with the Vari electric standing desk. $550, vari.com

Small updates can make a big impact, and this 2021 Best Year Ever desk calendar, featuring 12 months of art, is proof. Flip a page an prepare to smile! $7.97, bando.com

You’ll never need a virtual Zoom background again with the Brewster Home Fashions Amazonia wall mural. $78, perigold.com

This Belkin wireless charger makes it simple to keep your devices and accessories ready at all times. $39.98, amazon.com

Give your office a burst of color with the bright, bold and beautiful Bajo desk. $699, highfashionhome.com

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PLACES Real estate market adjusts to pandemic living BY ADAM STONE



Ted Anderson recently purchased a home that better met his family’s evolving needs, during the pandemic.

ed Anderson’s townhouse in the historic Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis, Md., was already a little snug for him and his two high school-age kids. Then COVID-19 really put the squeeze on. “It’s adequate, but it’s very tight. There’s no garage and no basement, so the bikes have to be in the living room,” Anderson explains. An associate at Morgan Stanley, he is working from home while his kids are distance learning. “We all have to sit around and do our work at the dining room table, or my kids do their schoolwork with their laptops sitting up in bed.” >


That was last November. A month later, Anderson purchased a four-bedroom, colonial-style home on the other side of town with a garage and a basement. He’d been thinking about making a move for a while, “but it was COVID that put me over the edge,” he says. He’s not alone. In recent months, the pandemic has reshaped homebuying trends across the nation. People are looking for more living space. Some are leaving dense cities for elbow room in the suburbs. And there’s been a rise in virtual tours, with real estate agents leveraging technology to show more homes while limiting human contact.


With parents and children working and learning from home, it’s not surprising that families are seeking larger living spaces. “People started feeling really claustrophobic in the early months of the pandemic, when work and school and family was all happening (under) one roof,” says Amanda Pendleton, Zillow lifestyle expert. The National Association of Realtors (NAR), for example, found that 18 percent of sellers who closed in April 2020

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or later say they sold their house because it was too small, versus 13 percent who had the same reason pre-pandemic, says Jessica Lautz, NAR’s vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. “We saw the home office at the top of the list for months as the home feature that everyone needed and wanted,” Lautz says. “It then transitioned to a bigger kitchen, a nicer bathroom. As we are all home 24/7, people are needing to embrace their home in different ways, whether that’s having more counter space or just having a more luxurious bathroom. It all makes a difference.” A Zillow survey conducted by The Harris Poll found a similar trend. Some 66 percent of those surveyed say that if they could continue working remotely, they would consider moving. Realtors say their experiences align with these findings. In addition to more space for a dedicated office, more homeowners are requesting “space for a functional classroom, an in-law suite so parents can help take care of the kids — or sometimes all three,” says Bill Golden, a real estate agent with Re/Max in Atlanta. “Homes with office space in particular are in high >


Anderson and his teens at their new home in Annapolis, Md.

“The suburbs allow buyers to have more space.” JESSICA LAUTZ, National Association of Realtors

demand,” he says. “Once folks have spent time working at home, they come to realize that the dining room table doesn’t make a great office, at least not if you actually will use it for meals.” With housing inventory tight, homes built with office space in mind are a hot commodity. “We’re in such a hot market,” says Pendleton, who is based in Seattle. “Everyone would love a designated home office right now, or a basement where the kids can run rampant, but most people are constrained by budget. At the end of the day, that budget is the ultimate reality check.”

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Technology allows real estate agents to show properties to prospective buyers while maintaining a safe distance.



While there hasn’t been a wholesale exodus from cities, real estate professionals say the pandemic has prompted some city dwellers to rethink the pros and cons of urban living. Nearly a third of Americans are considering moving to less densely populated areas, according to Harris Poll data. Urbanites are almost twice as likely to have recently browsed a real estate website for homes and apartments. Realtors are reporting much the same: A survey by NAR found that 5 percent of members say COVID-19 was causing their clients to shift their sights away from cities to the suburbs. This trend has translated to a small but measurable shift in actual buying. “Before the pandemic, we saw 50 percent (of homebuyers) purchasing in the suburbs, compared to 57 percent during the pandemic,” Lautz says. “The suburbs allow buyers to have more space at a time when the No. 1 reason why people say they are selling is because their home is too small,” she says. “It also gives them the outdoor space and the yard, as well as a less dense neighborhood, which so many people are craving right now.” At the same time that people are seeking more breathing space, remote work is expanding options for those who previously were constrained to live within a comfortable commuting distance. “With the ability to work or school from home, families and individuals have been moving away from larger metro areas like New York into the less expensive suburban markets,” says Loren Keim, professor of practice with Lehigh University’s Goodman Center for Real Estate in Pennsylvania. >

Priscilla Holloway, a real estate agent and new construction expert at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Suffolk County, N.Y., has seen it firsthand. “People are coming out to the Hamptons. Over 21,000 requested an address change to Suffolk County since the start of the pandemic. We Realtors have been very busy,” she says. “People don’t want to share elevators. They don’t want to share their washer and dryer,” she says. “There is just more space. For the same amount of money as a co-op or a condo in Manhattan, you can get a nice four-bedroom house in Westhampton.”


In addition to shifting trends around size and location, the pandemic has caused a change in the way homes are shown. Realtors increasingly are leveraging technology to offer virtual visits, either in the form of prerecorded tours or live “in-person” walk-throughs. Tania Isacoff Friedland, a member of Warburg Realty in Manhattan, has been offering virtual tours throughout the pandemic. “A virtual tour is a FaceTime tour on my iPhone,” she says. “In one instance, it was a buyer who was in Montreal and who cannot leave the country right now because of COVID

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constraints. I walked through the apartment. I showed them around, first as a general tour and then going back to look at the details, honing in on the highlights.” Zillow noted a sharp uptick in the use of its virtual tools, reporting a near doubling of the number of 3D tours created in the week after the pandemic took hold. Realtors have embraced these virtual tours that offer both safety and efficiency, Lautz says. “People are still looking at homes in person, but they are being more strategic. They are seeing fewer homes in their search process. With limited inventory, it’s a way to be strategic in how you see a home,” she says. Of all the pandemic-inspired real estate trends, experts say, this shift toward remote visits seems most likely to persist. “Even once COVID is no longer an issue, the virtual tours will be there,” says Isacoff Friedland. “Buyers will probably still want to see things in person before buying a home, but a virtual tour can narrow your choices and save you time. It’s becoming a normal part of the initial legwork of the search.” For those looking to buy in what has lately been a very tight marketplace, Lautz advises: “Have patience. Know that you might put down multiple offers before you buy a house. And find a really good Realtor who knows the area and knows what is available.” l


Former city dwellers are moving from urban areas, like Manhattan, to hamlets in the Hamptons, where homes provide more living space.







Town Heroes

HGT V’s Ben and Erin Napier have mastered the art of down-to-earth design

en and Erin Napier are well on their way to becoming household names for DIY and design aficionados. The genesis of their story is the stuff of TV fairy tales. It goes like this: College sweethearts Erin, an artist and graphic designer, and Ben, a woodworker, craftsman and former minister, had their historic home in Laurel, Miss., featured in Southern Weddings magazine in 2014. Erin gained a slew of Instagram followers practically overnight, one of whom happened to be an HGTV executive who loved their collected, easygoing >


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Ben and Erin Napier renovate the interior of a Laurel, Miss., house damaged by Hurricane Katrina.


By Jennifer Bradley Franklin


Sweet Start The pair met at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss., each secretly harboring a crush on the other. When Erin scored an assignment to interview Ben for the yearbook in 2004, he used the conversation to ask her out on a date. The two became inseparable. “December 8, we took the photos for the yearbook. December 9, we went on our first date, and he met my mama. December 10, we looked at the Christmas lights in Mason Park. December 13, we decided we would get married someday. It sounds crazy to you, maybe. But it makes perfect sense to me,” Erin shared on Instagram on the 15th anniversary of that fateful week. They transferred to the University of Mississippi in Oxford in their third year and married after >

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C ozy Up

Erin Napier has become an expert at designing comfortable, inviting spaces for families to enjoy. Here are four of her tips for creating your own:

Bright idea. Don’t be afraid of bold wallpaper, especially in pass-through rooms like foyers and baths. It’s changeable and can create so much visual impact.

Contrast. Mixing metals in a kitchen isn’t crazy. Don’t feel like you have to commit to one color.

Lighten up. White slipcovered sofas are great with kids, contrary to popular opinion. When grape juice spills, it’s easy to clean it with bleach.

Budget finds. There are some beautiful rolled vinyl flooring options these days — it’s not your grandma’s harvest gold daisy linoleum anymore. Some look like 1920s patterns or classic hex tile floors. These work well on a tight budget.

Plants, pillows and poufs accent this colorful living room reimagined by the Napiers.


style. She wondered, might the couple consider a new chapter on television? They accepted the challenge: Home Town debuted in January 2016, and the Napiers have been amassing a loyal audience ever since. “It’s pretty unexpected. This was not something that we thought about or dreamed of,” says Ben. “This is all sort of a happy accident,” adds Erin. That ability to complete each other’s thoughts and take the notoriety in stride — maintaining an approachable style and small-town pride — are key components of their appeal.


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Being Neighborly The town of Laurel (population 18,338) itself is a starring character in Home Town, and it’s a huge part of what keeps the Napiers grounded. “Everybody here knows us,” says Ben. “When we’re in places like New York, Atlanta, Nashville or (Los Angeles) and people stop us on the streets ...” Finishing his thought, Eriin says “It’s very surprising.” Laurel, located about 90

miles southeast of Jackson, was founded in 1882 and flourished thanks to the timber industry (the region is known as the state’s Pine Belt). Mills and factories followed, bringing economic prosperity. Even now, the town boasts the state’s largest collection of early 1900s residential architecture. But as companies moved their operations offshore seeking a cheaper bottom line, the town languished. When the Napiers planted roots in 2008, there was virtually nothing to draw visitors or locals, with vacant storefronts lining the brick streets. Still, they saw its potential and looked for ways to support it, with Ben volunteering with economic and preservation organization Laurel Main Street. Now, thanks in no small part to the success of Home Town, “People come to visit Laurel every day, and that’s amazing. It’s incredible. It’s why we agreed to do the show,” says Ben. Living in a small, tight-knit community makes them especially mindful about the way they approach home renovations. “With everybody who we do a house for, there’s a 90 percent chance we’re going to have an ongoing relationship with them because Laurel is such a small town,” Ben says. They’re also known for their exceedingly personal touches, a result of getting to know the homeowners who will inhabit their designs. It’s not uncommon for them to use a piece of

childhood memorabilia or a family heirloom displayed in a clever way to make their TV clients feel at home. “We are surrounded by the people we work for,” says Erin. “We want to make sure that they’re happy and that they feel seen and heard when we design their house.”

Locally Made After observing the impact of manufacturing migrating away from towns like Laurel, Ben and Erin were determined to use their platform to support and amplify makers and artisans, not just in Mississippi but across the country. After they signed on with HGTV, in 2016 they made plans with two other couples to reopen the Laurel Mercantile Co., which operated from 1901 to the 1930s. Now, it’s a downtown attraction, calling to mind the meteoric success of another HGTV power couple: Chip and Joanna Gaines, whose Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, pulls a steady stream of fans-turned-shoppers. Everything in Laurel Mercantile is made in the United States. “Without American manufacturing or American industry, Laurel wouldn’t exist,” says Ben. “(Having American-made products) is putting our money where our mouth is.” Although they could source mass-produced items at a lower cost, domestically made products were a non-negotiable from day one. “If we’re going to say we care about small-town revitalization, yet we have all of our


“People come to visit Laurel every day, and that’s amazing. It’s incredible. It’s why we agreed to do the show,” says Ben.

graduation in 2008. The newlyweds moved into a loft in historic downtown Laurel, where Erin grew up. “We renovated it together on a shoestring budget,” she recalls. She had her heart set on a $5,000 armoire (“which we could absolutely not afford”), so she took photos of it from every angle and asked Ben to build it. “He’d built me picture frames, so I figured surely he could build me an armoire,” she laughs. Ben took on the labor of love, learning from the process and deepening both his love for and competency in woodworking. Although he notes, “There’s a lot of stuff I can’t stand about it,” Erin still declares it “beautiful,” and it holds a place of honor in the couple’s home. Those lean years provided some valuable lessons they bring to every Home Town renovation they do today. “We were trying to figure out how we could stay on budget but still do as much to the place as we could,” Ben says. “That’s what we do now, just for other people.”

The Napiers updated this chic kitchen with all-new appliances, countertops and flooring.

products made overseas, then we wouldn’t really care about small-town America,” says Erin. Their company employs 35 locals and uses more than 100 vendors from around the country. This year, the pair will debut a spinoff show, Home Town Takeover, in which they’ll make over elements of Wetumpka, Ala., (population 8,371). They hope to bring some of their approachable star power to revitalize the struggling town. They’ve also debuted Home Town: Ben’s Workshop on Discovery+. “It’s me in my woodshop, building furniture with some type of celebrity

guest,” says Ben. Singer Chris Lane, astronaut Scott Kelly and tennis legend Martina Navratilova are some who’ve visited the show.

Family Matters Fans of Home Town enjoy the loving banter between husband and wife, who seem uniquely suited to working together. Erin recently shared via Instagram that Ben writes her a little love letter each morning, and she frequently gushes on social media about still having a crush on him. He told People magazine last year, “Erin is my dream girl. Why would I not continue to court her

and win her over every day?” With an adorable toddler named Helen, three television shows, a retail business and other projects in the works, it’s an understatement to say the couple is busy. And, while some with a similar meteoric rise to stardom might embrace the prospect of moving to somewhere bigger, closer to the bright lights of Hollywood, such a move holds no appeal for the charming couple. “This is our hometown,” says Ben. Erin adds, “I’m a homebody. I like to take a trip, but I also like to get home as fast as I can.” l

Laurel, Miss., visitors can shop in person at the

Laurel Mercantile C o.

, where the Napiers stock American-made wares from more than 100 vendors. You’ll find candles, tea towels, leather laptop cases, handmade furniture and more must-have items. laurelmercantile.com


Superior Exteriors 70 HOME | 2021






fter stay-at-home orders took effect last year, homeowners began making their way toward their patios, porches, backyards and balconies — any spot where they could extend their living space while enjoying fresh air and privacy. As a result, outdoor spaces became oases — gardens were planted, hammocks were hung and patio furniture was set up to mimic the look of indoor rooms. “It was the year of the outdoors, and I’m sure it will continue into 2021,” says Mary Maydan, principal of Maydan Architects in Palo Alto, Calif. “In a way, COVID has changed outdoor living. … Everyone is noticing how much they want their outdoors to be appealing and connecting. A lot of experiences that until now we’ve mostly had inside have moved outside.” With restaurants restricting indoor dining and many entertainment venues closed, “the backyard is now a way of ‘going out.’” Tara L. Paige, a mom of two living in Dallas, says when the pandemic hit, her attention immediately drifted to the >


outdoors, in part because she needed a break from having her entire family home around the clock. “With everything halted, I decided to tackle the patio as a way to get outside of our four walls.” Sprucing up her outdoor space was something she’d been meaning to do, but never seemed to have the chance — until the pandemic gave her the gift of time. “We bought our 9-acre forever home last year, in part because it had a beautiful front porch, a side patio and a back patio,” she says. “Suddenly, I had all the time in the world to make the most of it.” In April 2020, Paige’s new hobby inspired her to launch the Black Women Who Love Outdoor Living Spaces Facebook group as a way to

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document her progress and connect with like-minded women. In just a couple of months, the page had more than 200,000 followers. Soon after, she launched The Patio Chic, a website where she and other outdoor enthusiasts share makeover and DIY projects for their balconies, decks, sheds and other exterior spaces. Paige’s first “pandemic project” involved spraypainting an old patio set and adding new cushions. “A can of spray paint is like pixie dust for DIYers,” she says. “You can spray-paint something and give it an entirely new look even if you don’t want to go through the process of sanding and scraping. It’s easy.” The key to making the most of any outdoor space, she says, is to make it

MAYDAN: When it comes to adding trees, shrubs and flowers, look at the areas where you might want privacy or shade yearround and plant accordingly. This way you’ll always have privacy, comfort and something beautiful to look at.

feel like home. “Think of an outdoor lounge area in the same way you would think about your indoor spaces,” Paige says. From pillows to lighting, it’s the details that make the space comfortable. “Even indoor pillows can be sprayed down with Scotchgard, so they become water-resistant. Just make sure you flip cushions over regularly to prevent (insect) nesting and fading.” She also recommends anchoring your outdoor lounge or dining space with a rug, just like you’d do indoors. “I’m not a fan of plastic rugs because they’re so lightweight that the wind just blows them, so I use a regular rug and just spray it down” with a fabric protector. Having the right lighting is also important. “It really sets the mood,” Paige says. “I’m a huge fan of solar lighting because it gives the right amount of glow at night, so you can still see people and move around. I even have a solar chandelier hanging from a tree over my outdoor table.” Another simple way to take your outdoor space to the next level is to think



MAYDAN ARCHITECTS — GUESTHOUSE about the sounds you’d like to hear when you’re outside. Consider adding a soothing water feature like a fountain. “It’s a pretty inexpensive way to add another layer to your outdoor space,” Paige says. For podcast and music lovers, outdoor speakers with Bluetooth technology make it easy to listen while outdoors. As high-impact as simple changes can be, some homeowners have chosen to tackle bigger projects that require construction. Among the most popular are outdoor kitchens. “We’re not just talking about space to grill, but also space for a sink and a stove, basically everything but a dishwasher,” Maydan says. “It’s like people are thinking about how to move their whole lives outside.” Gardens and greenhouses have also gained popularity, with some retailers reporting record sales last year. It’s not the first time Americans have turned to Mother Earth to help them get through a crisis. During World War I and World War II, “Victory Gardens” sprouted because of food shortages. Today, the pandemic has morphed the farm-to-table move-

PAIGE: To keep critters away and make your space smell divine, place plastic bags filled with cinnamon and cloves under patio furniture. You can also soak cotton balls with peppermint oil and toss them under the furniture.

ment into the yard-to-table movement, with vegetable gardens sprouting in yards everywhere. “It’s a way to connect with nature, be creative and deal with stress, too,” says Paige. Gardening is also a great activity for all ages, providing a way to bond with loved ones. For those living in regions with a wide range of temperatures, greenhouses make year-round gardening possible. “People think of them as a warm place, so why not create a heated sitting area as a way to get you outside during the winter,” Maydan says. Record sales of patio heaters and fire pits mean more people than ever are enjoying the night skies. “One thing I like to do is create multiple areas for different activities, so you

might have a sitting area with a fire pit for s’mores in one corner and a reading nook or stargazing spot in another,” Paige says. Wherever you have sitting areas, Maydan says it’s important to have easy access to them. “Try using steppingstones to make a path,” she says. When it comes to adding trees, shrubs and flowers, “look at the areas where you might want privacy or shade year-round and plant accordingly. This way you’ll always have privacy, comfort and something beautiful to look at.” Whether you decide to make changes that are big, small or something in between, there’s never been a better time to make the most of your outdoor space. l


As trips to the grocery store have become more anxiety-ridden and the food supply chain more susceptible to shortages, there’s increased interest in having access to fresh produce in your own backyard. Tim Fye, owner of Canterbury Greenhouse in Green Bay, Wis., has noticed an increase in demand for common vegetables and fruits like strawberries, grapevines, blueberries and raspberries. When Roots on 9th on Green Bay’s west side

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posted on its Facebook page that it had received a shipment of patio citrus trees, all 78 were purchased in four hours, says owner Jamie Hemenway-Peotter. Joe Masabni, a horticulturist with the Texas A&M University AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton, has been busy responding to a barrage of emails from people interested in vegetable gardening. He’s not surprised. “Vegetable gardening is always popular with middle-aged and older populations,”

he says. “In times of uncertainties, it is even more popular as people worry about having enough food and resort to growing their own.” In addition to growing your own food, gardening is a form of exercise and is very labor intensive, says Masabni. “The most important benefit for gardening is that it is the exercise that people do and continue to do for the longest time in their lifetime,” he says. “Some people run for 20 years, swim >


Growing Green

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Try a seed-starter kit Tender plants, including tomatoes, basil and peppers, or flowers such as marigolds, moon vine and salvia, can be started indoors and planted outdoors in pots or window boxes later in the spring, says Kevin Warhurst, vice president of Merrifield Garden Center in Virginia. “You can use a seed-starting mix, plant the seeds in trays or small pots and place them in the sunniest area possible and keep them moist.”


Go for easy-to-grow plants Gardening expert Randy Schultz says some indoor plants need almost no care. A snake plant has air-cleaning properties, according to recent studies, needs little light and “it’s just plain hard to kill.”


Grow vegetable scraps Many leafy vegetables such as romaine lettuce will regrow from the parts you don’t use. Just cut off 1 to 2 inches at the base and place it cut-side up in a bowl or shallow saucer filled with about a ½ inch of water. Place it in a sunny spot until the roots start to grow, then transplant it into soil in a pot.


Grow a vegetable garden If your gardening area is limited to a sunny patio or balcony, self-watering containers make it easy to grow two full-sized tomato plants or whatever vegetables and herbs you choose. The built-in reservoir automatically keeps plants watered.


Grow flowering plants Many flowering plants are easy to grow, says Schultz. African violets thrive in bright, indirect sunlight and abutilon plants are a good choice for a sunny windowsill.


Get the light right Research what kind of light will help your

houseplant thrive. Grow lights, which offer the full spectrum of light plants need, can help if your home has low-light conditions. LED lights are very efficient, long-lasting, Warhurst says. “Place the grow lights close to the plants and leave them on for 12 to 16 hours per day.” Low, indirect light is best for plants such as pothos and Chinese evergreens.


Repot houseplants Snip dead heads and trim foliage on houseplants. Judicious trimming of a pothos, for instance, produces new plants in new pots and promotes fullness in the original. “If they’ve been in the same container for more than three years and they are not growing as fast as usual, it’s probably time to move them into slightly larger containers,” says Warhurst.


Use proper pots Make sure pots have holes in the bottom for drainage, with a saucer underneath to catch excess water. When repotting, add some indoor potting mix to the bigger pot. Plant roots need oxygen, but if water doesn’t drain, the roots can drown and the plant will die. Before you transfer, “cut into and loosen the outer, circling roots and gently pull them away from the root ball to ensure they are ready to tap into the new potting mix,” Warhurst says.


Dust and fertilize houseplants Don’t forget fertilizer, Warhurst says. You can add fertilizer to water or use fertilizer encased in a resin coating and placed in the soil where it will be slowly released to the plant over several months. “Wipe the dust off the leaves of foliage plants (to) make them look better and shinier,” Warhurst advises. “The dust may actually be blocking sunlight that plants need to grow.” — Gary Dinges, Kendra Meinert and Maria Puente


for 40 years, but gardening has been shown to be the (activity that people will continue to do the) longest.” “According to the Journal of Health Psychology, gardening is also a great stress reliever, which most of us can use now more than ever,” says Kevin Warhurst, vice president of Merrifield Garden Center, with three locations in Virginia. “Just 30 minutes of gardening lowers cortisol hormones, the fight-orflight response.” For those new to the hobby, Masabni suggests doing some research. Check with master gardeners in your area, search the internet for reliable information on what works — and won’t work — in your area, test your soil and become educated on good and bad insects. “Gardening is a skill that takes years to master,” Masabni says. “Preparation is key to success. Success in gardening is 50 percent preparation and 50 percent regular, daily activities. Expect huge successes and big failures, even if you did everything right. It happens. Learn from it and try something else.” l

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Welcome guests with a fabulous foyer BY AMY SINATRA AYRES

Many of today’s entryways combine function and style.

80 HOME | 2021



fter months of social distancing, many of us are itching to welcome friends and family back into our homes. Now’s your chance to refresh your foyer and create a great first impression. “An entryway really sets the tone for how people feel upon entering your home because it is the transitional area between the outside world and your personal space,” says Dawn Wilkinson, CEO of Six Walls Interior Design in Mercer Island, Wash. “Creating an entry area that provides a warm and welcoming feeling, inviting you to come further into the home, is where we typically start” with design. Among the several factors to consider are flooring, storage, lighting and accents. “Think about what you need when you are entering and departing your home and have those things close by >

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interior designer Michelle Foerster. “It can be subtle or something grand (that makes a) statement.” Wilkinson suggests a chandelier or beautiful wall sconces. “Not only so you can see coming in or out regardless of what time of day it might be, but also from the outside looking in. It sends a signal to people arriving as to where the front entry actually is.” Think about how to bring sunlight in, too. “The entry is a great place to bring some of the outdoors in with lots of natural light and plantings,” says Jamie Nusser of Denver-based J Designs. “This softens the transition from outside to inside and creates an inviting atmosphere rather than a stark contrast.”

The proper lighting, stylish accents, adequate storage and decorative flooring can elevate your entryway space.

FLOORING “It’s important to think about the type of flooring used in an entryway since that is the foundation for the entire area in terms of style and personality, as well as durability and ease of cleaning,” Wilkinson says. One possibility she suggests is extending the materials from the outside into your home, such as using brick laid in a herringbone pattern inside if you have a brick walkway outside. Another is to add interest with a decorative area rug, which you can change depending on the time of year or as your taste evolves, Wilkinson suggests.

SEATING AND STORAGE The answer to one simple question can help you determine your entry needs: Is yours a shoes-off household? If so, provide an obvious place for

82 HOME | 2021

visitors to sit and remove their shoes, and a place to put them. “Most guests will notice that that area is available to them and utilize it without you even having to ask them to,” Wilkinson says. This could be an entryway bench or a chair. Having a table in the space provides a place to put things down on your way in, and you will need a place to keep bags, coats and other items. “If you are the type of person that prefers everything is hidden behind closed doors, an entry closet to hang guest coats is always a nice feature,” Wilkinson says. “You can really jazz up that closet with some decorative doors and stunning hardware. For those who welcome a more informal approach, open cubbies below and hooks above can provide a fun and family-friendly way to provide storage that is visible and easily accessed.”

LIGHTING “Good lighting is a nice element in an entryway — something that glows in dusk hours,” says San Francisco-based

A mirror is the quintessential accent for a foyer. “Adding a statement mirror with a handsome frame detail can serve three purposes,” says Wilkinson. It allows you to do “a quick self-check before exiting the house” or for guests to do the same on the way in; it reflects more light in the space; and it can serve as a form of artwork, she says. She also recommends relocating decorations from other parts of your home to the entry as “a way to infuse that style to the space.” That vase in the family room may add just the right touch to the entryway table. Nusser suggests adding scents to the entry with a favorite candle or fresh flowers, and Foerster suggests wallpaper or a pop of color to “bring life to the space.” “Because the entry is not an area that gets constant use, like a kitchen or living room, you should feel free to have a little fun with the design,” Nusser says. “It is a great place to incorporate art or sculpture that makes more of a statement.” l


ACCENTS and convenient in a tasteful way,” says home improvement and lifestyle expert Kathryn Emery.



Easy ways to upgrade your bedroom


any people would like their bedroom to be a sanctuary space, a place to relax, settle in and unwind after long days. It helps to feel like an oasis when the room reflects your personality and has key fixtures for comfort: a mood-setting paint color, thoughtfully placed plants and a cozy bed. The bedroom is also a great space to take some design risks because it’s typically closed off from the rest of the house. These affordable interior design recommendations can make your bedroom luxurious and inviting:

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PERF E CT PA INT First, decide on a paint color, then coordinate furnishings around that hue. “No matter your style, I recommend finding ways to infuse your personality into the bedroom, whether that is through a fun paint color, statement rug or unique piece of furniture,” says Caroline Harmon, trend strategy manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement. “Architectural details, like selecting a patterned wallpaper, (are) a great way to infuse a ton of style into your space without breaking the bank.”

GO GRE E N There is also something to be said about adding greenery to your bedroom, both for looks and for creating a fresh source of oxygen. “A leafy plant in a nice planter adds freshness and life to the space,” says Harmon. Casper, an innovative sleep and mattress company, recommends certain plants that help to purify the air. English ivy, golden pothos, spider plant and gardenia can help relieve anxiety and improve sleep, according to studies.

86 HOME | 2021

Replacing that old, creaky bed frame is another way to perk up the bedroom. Many companies are now shipping “beds in boxes,” so setup is something you can easily do by following included instructions. For example, Phoenix-based Brooklyn Bedding manufactures mattresses and frames with power adjustable bases that allow for ergonomic sleep. “Setting up an Ascension series adjustable base is fast and easy,” says Doug Hale, Brooklyn Bedding’s director of store operations. “We recommend you have plenty of space to work with and follow the instruction manual closely to ensure all wires are plugged in correctly and the base is properly supported during installation.”



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88 HOME | 2021

TRENDY TOUCHES Kitchen and bathroom upgrades combine function and fashion BY ANA PELAYO CONNERY


othing sells homes like great-looking kitchens and fresh-feeling bathrooms. But even if you’re not putting your house on the market anytime soon, these make-it-or-break-it necessities are most appealing when they’re clean, comfortable and stylish. A remodeling boom during the COVID-19 pandemic has found homeowners re-creating kitchens and bathrooms to be as fashionable as they are functional, says interior designer Eilyn Jimenez, founder of Sire Design in Miami. “The more people spend time at home, the more they realize that the aesthetic they really want in these rooms is something timeless that won’t quickly go out of style.” With transitional looks that combine a little bit of traditional and a little bit of modern becoming more popular, the following kitchen and bath design trends fit right in:

KITCHENS Larger islands. Kitchens have long been the heart of the home, with islands serving as the central pulse. More families are remote learning and working from home, which means this counter space has been put to even more use. As a result, L-shaped islands are becoming popular as a way to maximize counter space, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association

Interior designers are extending kitchen islands where meal prep, remote work and dining happen.

(NKBA). The added space isn’t just limited to the counter; another major bonus is the extra storage you can create underneath. “It turns the island into the ultimate multifunctional feature,” Jimenez says. High-tech, smart devices. Connectivity is more in demand than ever, especially in the kitchen. Top trends include dedicated device charging and viewing stations as well as voice-activated lights and touch-free faucets and water dispensers. Pushing the envelope further are appliances that can detect leaks and freezes, alerting >


K I T C H E N + B AT H R O O M S

you before a problem becomes unmanageable. These features can make everyday life not only safer and more convenient, but more efficient, too. Return of white appliances. After years of stainless steel reigning supreme, General Electric’s Café Collection has helped facilitate a comeback for bright, crisp, white appliances. Slick and modern and with (in some cases) customizable hardware in

90 HOME | 2021

brushed black, bronze, copper or stainless steel, today’s white appliances tend to wipe down easily and not show fingerprints. Unlike classic white refrigerators, ranges and dishwashers, today’s versions are made of metal with modern matte finishes that instantly brighten any kitchen. “Imagine the coolest matte white with bronze handles,” says Keia McSwain, principal designer at Kimberly + Cameron Interiors in Denver. “This white fridge is coming back. It’s proof that everything comes full circle. Depending on how chic they continue to make them, this trend may be here to stay.”

BATHROOM Open-concept bathrooms. With 41 percent of homeowners using the bathroom to rest and relax, according to the 2020 Houzz Bathroom Trends survey, the bathtub and shower have become two of the home’s most important features. Free-standing tubs have held America’s >


Once a space-saving combination, showers and bathtubs have recently been designed to stand alone, sometimes requiring renovations to expand the space.

Vibrant ventilation hoods. According to the forwardthinking designers at NKBA, over-the-stove hoods are poised to become the new focal point of the kitchen. While their primary purpose is to ventilate the kitchen and extend the life of your cabinetry by keeping it free from buildup, hoods also provide an opportunity to make a design splash. When covered in metal, wood or an eye-catching accent tile, ventilation hoods become the new centerpiece of the kitchen. Artistic slabs. “For a long time, the trend for kitchens, especially, was white on white with a little bit more white,” McSwain says. Today, lightcolored quartz and marble continue to be favorites, and extending the slab beyond the countertop has become more commonplace. “Waterfall islands and counters that go all the way up the wall in lieu of tile backsplashes are here to stay,” says McSwain. “Clean, chic and not at all overwhelming, this look creates cohesiveness throughout the space and turns that slab of marble or quartz into a work of art.”

K I T C H E N + B AT H R O O M S

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Subway tiles continue to be a popular choice for showers, but various patterns and application techniques offer more options.

attention for several years now, but combination spaces large enough to accommodate both a free-standing tub and an open shower are gaining popularity with remodels and new builds. Zero-clearance shower entryways remove barriers along the floor and require strategically placing floor tile at an angle, so water drains rather than pools. The expansive, open-air feel of these shower and tub combinations adds a luxurious

touch that’s reminiscent of high-end hotels and spas. Larger tiles. In the bathroom, large format tiles have been popping up, especially inside showers, and the trend is expected to continue beyond 2021. With fewer grout lines, there’s less to clean, plus it makes a space feel bigger, says McSwain. This includes largerformat subway tiles, though the trend involves stacking them vertically or horizontally in clean lines for a more modern, minimalist twist on what has long been considered a traditional aesthetic. Bidet boom. Commonplace throughout Europe, low toilet paper stock during the

pandemic helped reignite interest in bathroom bidets, with nearly 1 in 5 renovators opting to add a seat with a bidet. High-tech toilet features such as a self-cleaning system, heated seats and overflow protection are also increasing in popularity.

KITCHEN + BATH Mixing metals. Not only are brass, copper, gold and matte black making a splash in hardware, but combining them is trending, too. “Today’s homeowners want a mix,” Jimenez says. “I think of it as the jewelry of the home. Having a variety of different hardware adds an extra layer of detail.” l


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BACKSPLASH BEAUTY Protect your kitchen’s walls with these five materials BY ROBERTA PESCOW


acksplashes have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Once installed to protect walls from water, grease and food splatter, most early iterations were about 4 inches high and had little decorative appeal. Today’s backsplashes are essential kitchen accents, adding vibrant pops of color, light and texture — in addition to protecting walls from inevitable messes. If your kitchen needs a face-lift, here are five dynamic backsplash ideas to provide a finishing touch:

For a quick and affordable touch of whimsy, try a chalkboard paint backsplash. This oftennostalgic choice dries to a finish much like a real chalkboard so you can write menus and messages. Chalkboard paint is usually classic black but is available in other colors, too. Use a standard chalk eraser or damp cloth to wipe clean. While these backsplashes require only periodic touch-ups, be aware that a dark backsplash may make your kitchen look smaller.

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Moving is the best medicine. Keeping active and losing weight are just two of the ways that you can fight osteoarthritis pain. In fact, for every pound you lose, that’s four pounds less pressure on each knee. For information on managing pain, go to fightarthritispain.org.



Those craving historic authenticity need look no further than ceramic tile, the original backsplash material. This beautiful look remains popular for its durability, versatility, low maintenance and affordability. Ceramic and glass tiles are generally resistant to water and heat, are easy to clean and can add a captivating play of light. You can find colors, shapes and patterns to fit with modern and traditional kitchens.

For a small kitchen, there’s nothing like smoked mirror or colorful glass panels to create the illusion of space. Mirrors open the room by reflecting light, making a bold statement that gives a kitchen a clean, modern look. Glass is waterproof, lowmaintenance and easy to wipe down, but because of its reflective surface, it can require more frequent cleaning. Splatters and fingerprints will show.



Much like glass, metals such as copper and stainless steel reflect light to open up space. Metal backsplashes come in many textures and sheens, including shiny, brushed and hammered. This durable and heat-resistant option can be expensive. Stainless steel requires little maintenance other than wiping up acidic splashes quickly, but copper may require sealing or a periodic salt and lemon rub to remove a green patina.

From the elegance of polished granite to the understated vibe of slate, smooth cool stone makes any kitchen feel luxurious. Stone backsplashes come in countless colors and patterns to match almost any décor, and this popular choice could add value to your home. While stone requires annual resealing, it’s highly durable and heatresistant. Engineered quartz provides an attractive, low-maintenance alternative to natural stone.

Roberta Pescow writes for NerdWallet, a personal finance website and USA TODAY content partner.

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K I T C H E N + B AT H R O O M S

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Renovating older attics requires special considerations


raditionally viewed as a storage space, attics are being revived in new and creative ways to accommodate homeowners’ lifestyles. Susan Denk, owner and principal of White Crane Construction in Minneapolis, says her company entered the new year with more projects on the books than ever before. “It’s not just robust for (us); it’s robust across the country,” she says. Although White Crane works on a variety of design projects, the firm’s specialty is remodeling homes built during the pre-war and World War II eras. Denk says homeowners considering an attic renovation should make sure the general contractor, architect or designer they hire is thor-

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oughly knowledgeable about building codes, especially for decades-old structures. There are many challenges involved in renovating an older space that has not previously been updated or has been renovated in a more piecemeal way over time. If a project is not properly planned and executed by a professional with considerable experience

in that sector, it could cost the homeowner extra money and time, says Denk, who has 40 years of construction experience. Many structures from this era were built with “dormers” — a loftlike room with windows that project beyond the plane of the roof, adding height to the attic space. That’s an architectural element designers have to



Ti p If you plan to take out a construction loan, you’ll need to have your home appraised and provide your financial institution with plans showing what the home will look like after the renovation is complete.

Getting Started Before diving into an attic renovation, Susan Denk suggests considering the following:


What’s your budget? Denk says expect to spend $90,000 to $120,000 minimum to get the most efficient and desirable result.


Your team. Understand the distinctions between working individually with a general contractor, architect and designer versus a company, like Denk’s, which manages all of the tradespeople, including the project manager, plumbers, electricians, painters and interior designers.


Building codes. Be sure to work with someone who thoroughly understands the building codes in your state and the upgrades required to bring the attic into compliance for occupancy. Also, research whether tradespeople in your state are required to be licensed or certified to work specifically on older homes.

Dormer before

Dormer after work around, and they also must consider that many attics aren’t built to protect against cold temperatures. A requisite for attic modernization is spray-foam insulation that cools the space in the summer and traps warmth in the winter. Bathrooms are a popular attic addition because contractors can easily “stack” them above bathrooms on

the floor below without disturbing the mechanics of the plumbing. Home offices and bonus hobby rooms are also popular additions. The end goal of an attic renovation, says Denk, is to create a functional, well-insulated room that is light-filled and, of course, complies with the building codes of the state in your state.


Dormers. Evaluate the serviceability of dormers based on the existing height of a room. Denk says it’s not uncommon for homeowners to create dormers to add space to an older home, which entails raising the roof line at least 8 feet to create more livable space if, for example, you want to add a bedroom in addition to a bathroom.


Insulation. This is key to upgrading the space so that it is habitable. Denk also recommends using double-pane argon gas windows, which are energy-efficient.


DOG DOMAINS Incorporate your fourlegged friend into your home’s design BY SARAH SEKULA

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pending more time at home this past year has had its benefits, especially when it comes to spending time with furry loved ones. For some, it’s also provided extra time to renovate, and pet-loving folks are even adding features specifically for their dogs. “Pets are part of the family, so incorporating them into individual rooms, like a dedicated feeding area in the kitchen, or a cozy cubby near where the family spends time, are the way to go,” says Jen Pinto, senior interior designer at San Diego-based Jackson Design and Remodeling. Pinto says she routinely gets requests for dog-centric designs. “Whether it’s a pet-washing station, a special area for

their food or cubbies for sleeping and easy access to outdoors — this is a trend we see continuing in the future.” Designer Denise Davies, founder and CEO of Connecticut-based D2 Interieurs, agrees. She was hired to create a fun and functional space for her client who lives on a 30-acre property. The client’s three dogs roam free and need to be constantly cleaned. Davies decided a dog-washing station was a great solution because it doesn’t require the owner to stoop over, which means it’s easier on your back than a regular tub might be. “You can close the doors, and the dog can drip dry,” Davies says. “It also has the adjustable showerheads and nozzles so that you can really get all the shampoo and conditioner out of the dog’s hair.” >




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NOOKS AND CRANNIES Nooks have the advantage of giving the dog a nicely contained hideaway that makes good use of otherwise wasted space. A nook can be under the stairs, under a coffee table (or even built into a coffee table) or under the kitchen counter. Marnie Oursler, president of Delaware-based Marnie Custom Homes, created an under-thestairs nook with a sliding barn door that seamlessly blends in with the kitchen décor. Similarly, Tamara Day, host of HGTV’s Bargain Mansions, created a hideaway with durable hardwood floors and also tiled the walls from floor-to-ceiling for easy cleanup from spills and slobber. The doggy nook is right off the kitchen door to allow the dogs easy passage. To top it off, she included a dog bed designed in a washable fabric to match the tile and overall look of the home. The recessed dog bed, which can be pulled out when needed, allows the homeowners to fully use the countertop space. Next to the nook is a built-in fridge to store fresh dog food and treats. l


The goal with dog décor is for it to fit in with your existing interior design and give your pet a special place of comfort or maybe a place to release some energy. Jackson Design experts dreamed up a safe outdoor space for a client so the dogs could run around as often as they liked. “Both turf and concrete were used to give them surface options in varying weather,” says Pinto. “The dogs can safely access this outdoor space from a door in the doggy den — even when the clients aren’t home — and will still be comfortable and protected.” Pinto emphasizes considering the pet’s personality and specific needs before designing anything. For example, when Pinto designed a kitchen feeding area, she made sure there was a light above the bowls, so the homeowner’s pup could see her food when she takes nibbles at night. Better yet, it’s brilliantly tucked away beneath a countertop. Studio Dearborn, an interior-design firm based in Westchester County, N.Y., did something similar on a recent project where it installed built-in dog bowls that can’t get knocked over.

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Solid wood construction and the ability to set the door to open on the right or left are key features of the Camaflexi Ruffluv large white end table pet crate. $416.90, camaflexi.com



Durable and secure without sacrificing style, the New Age Pet Ecoflex Habitat ’n’ Home InnPlace dog crate will give your pup an ideal den. Starting at $159.99, petsmart.com

ut a little fur in your furniture with these aesthetically pleasing dog crates and houses:

This Zoovilla Fairview triple door crate, available in black or white, has a single front door and double side doors for easy entrance — and cleaning access. Starting at $247.99, petco.com

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Make a statement while keeping Fido secure in Archie & Oscar’s customizable Brooke double-wide credenza pet crate. $1,449.99, wayfair.com


Function and fashion make a paw-fect pair with the DenHaus Bowhaus end table and dog den, available in two sizes and colors. Starting at $549.99, denhaus.com



Quarantine life creates a thriving economy for man’s best friend


hile we humans may be hating the COVID-19 pandemic, our canine companions are likely feeling the exact opposite, enjoying all the quality time and attention from owners that quarantining affords them. >

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Despite the many tragedies and trials of 2020, the year wasn’t a total disaster for some canines. More dogs found homes. Fewer were left at shelters where COVID-19 precautions restricted public visits starting in March. While the number of dogs entering shelters and even the instances of adoptions decreased, that ultimately turned out to be good news for dogs. Instead of housing pups and cats, shelters instead transitioned “almost solely to placement of animals into foster homes,” says Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Block says the rise of animals in new foster homes “has been significant.” In one case, an 8-year-old Chihuahua-pug mix in Indiana named Dominic had been having a difficult time. Having sustained injuries from being dropped over a fence, he was brought to an emergency vet facility. “He needed a foster home to recover,” says Samantha Morton, the Humane Society’s Indiana state director. “We thought with the pandemic, we’d be home all the time to help and care for his needs, and obviously fell in love with him. The rest is history. We adopted him.” Twenty percent of respondents to a Nielsen survey last July said they adopted one or more dogs or cats between March and June, up from less than 5 percent over the same time in 2019. Shelter euthanasia is down 43 percent because of decreased intake, expanded fostering and an increase in the percentage of pets finding homes from January to June of 2020, according to Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit that helps share data

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By the Numbers

Dog leash sales increased 13 PERCENT TO $44.6 MILLION°

Pet toy sales increased 18 PERCENT TO $243 MILLION°

Daily revenue at veterinary practices increased MORE THAN 14 PERCENT*

Pet medical insurance enrollment increased 29 PERCENT*


on shelter animals. Subsequently, the dog economy is booming: Sales of dog diapers increased to $24 million during the 24 weeks ending Aug. 15, 2020, up 202 percent from the same period the previous year, according to Nielsen research. “There were more people adopting puppies, and so there were more people doing housetraining,” says Pam Runquist, executive director of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. “I think also, in places like New York City, people were not wanting to go outside and were utilizing those methods.” This has led to a bull run for the dog market. For the diaper sellers, that includes owners of so-called pandemic pooches, as well as sick or elderly dogs, says Lisa Williams, founder of PeeKeeper, a dog diaper brand. A similar swell has swept through Petco, another pet product retailer. “We’re seeing strong growth across both consumables like food, treats and chews, and supplies for the home and new pets, including beds, furniture, kitten milk, puppy pads, training tools and grooming supplies,” says Nick Konat, Petco’s chief merchandising officer. Retailers aren’t the only ones benefiting from increased pet placements. “Vets are very busy right now,” Runquist says. People “may have noticed their animal is scratching or losing fur, or not exactly feeling right.” From a dog’s point of view, the longer this kind attention lasts, the better. In the meantime, Block says, “as long as foster numbers stay high and overall population in the shelters stays low, we’re on the right track.” l



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SOCIAL DISTANCE. If you become sick (with confirmed coronavirus or otherwise), the CDC recommends restricting your contact with your pets, the same as you would with humans. This doesn’t mean an ill person can’t take a dog for a walk or personally put down the cat’s food bowl, but limit petting, snuggling or kissing (basically, maintain a social distance), just in case.


EAT UP. Maintain your pet’s regular healthy diet. Stock up on favorites to ensure you have at least a couple of weeks’ worth of meals, just in case.

Protect your furry friends from COVID-19 BY JESSICA KASPARIAN

you’re trying to work from home or you’re feeling sick, there are plenty of options to keep needy pets busy and out of your personal space. Consider a DIY scavenger hunt: Hide treats around the room, house or (fenced) yard and let ‘em hunt. You can also give the dog the remnants of a nearly empty peanut butter jar. A rope or chew toy can also keep them busy.

Jessica Kasparian writes for Reviewed, a USA TODAY content partner offering product testing and recommendations at reviewed.com.

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hile the American Veterinary Medical Association largely maintains that pets do not appear to be easily infected with the coronavirus, there’s been at least one confirmed canine case in the U.S., proving that dogs can catch COVID-19. Although there’s no evidence to suggest that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus, there may be a low risk that animals can pass it to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There’s still a lot to learn about this illness, but erring on the side of caution is never a bad idea. There are healthy habits that the CDC recommends for pet owners, including washing your hands after handling them, to ensure the health of you and your pet.


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The relationships between pets and their owners have become stronger during the coronavirus quarantine, according to a 2020 survey. Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, Ore., the largest general veterinary practice in the country, released a survey last May that showed 84 percent of pet owners became more conscious of their pet’s health, and 67 percent planned to change how they care for their pets. Nearly half of those surveyed are committed to spending more quality time with their pets, 21 percent plan to schedule more at-home time with their animals, and 10 percent plan to adopt another pet to be a companion for their dog or cat. The survey results reinforce the power of the that connection, says Brian Garish, president of Banfield Pet Hospital. “The human-animal bond now, more than ever, plays an integral role in people’s lives,” Dr. Molly McAllister, the hospital’s chief medical officer said in a news release. “This survey shows that pets are always here for us — even, and especially, during the most difficult of times — and we’re encouraged that as a result of spending more time together, people are committed to finding new ways to better be there for their pets.” — Jessica Flores

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How do you make sure Doug is comfortable at home? MOSIER: Doug has many beds, cozy corners and blankets. He is a king at home in every sense! We have a fenced-in front and backyard, so he can explore and play. Where is Doug’s favorite place to lounge in the house? Truthfully, his favorite place to be is wherever we are. He follows me all around the house. If I am having a sick day in bed, he won’t leave me all day. I’d say his all-time favorite spot is at the front door, barking at the neighbors walking their dog. What is Doug’s favorite toy? Doug’s absolute favorite toy is his Lambchop, or as we call it, Lamby. He is obsessed. Lamby is life!

Doug the Pug is more than just a pretty mug BY TRACY SCOTT FORSON


ith more than 18 million followers across his social media channels and more than a billion video views, Doug the Pug is one of the most well-known dogs on the planet. The 8-year-old pooch has slapped paws with Fall Out Boy members, Shakira and John Legend. (He’s got his sights set on Harry Styles and Tom Hanks next.)

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However, it’s not all about glitz and glam for the Tennessee-based canine and his owners Leslie Mosier and Rob Chianelli. Six years after the launch of the @itsdougthepug Instagram page, the Doug the Pug Foundation was created to help children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. When he’s not out spreading doggy delight, here’s how Doug enjoys his time at home:

Tell us more about the Doug the Pug Foundation. We launched the Doug the Pug Foundation in December of 2020. ... We have brought Doug to children’s hospitals several times, and we quickly realized that this was a true mission behind what we do. How has Doug changed your life? Doug has given us opportunities to travel the world, meet people we admire and have a platform that can truly make a difference. He is a constant source of smiles and entertainment, even when the world feels scary. He is loved more than words can describe.



What’s the biggest benefit of sharing life with a dog? There is a quote I always think of: “A dog is the only animal that loves their owner more than they love themselves.” The constant love and companionship, and just overall connection with such a special being, is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.



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SPECIAL DELIVERY Get your pet’s favorite food by mail BY PAM GEORGE


rom veggies to whole meals, consumers receive a variety of foods at their doors. So why not pet food? Prices depend on delivery frequency and, in many cases, your pet’s characteristics. Most offer free shipping and discounts for new customers.

Spot & Tango makes meals with humangrade meats, fruits and vegetables. Consider turkey and red quinoa. Fresh food plans start at $15 a week, spotandtango.com

Wild Earth is a subscription-based, meat-free dog food brand. The company also sells supplements and treats, and you can make a one-time purchase. $70 for a one-time purchase of an 18-pound bag or $56 for a subscription, wildearth.com

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Nom Nom’s fresh preportioned pet food has no fillers, additives or preservatives. Pick your delivery plan. Starting at $27 per week for an 8-pound cat or 20-pound dog, nomnomnow.com


Answer questions about your dog’s age, weight and activity, and The Farmer’s Dog will prepare customized fresh food for Fido. Plans start at $2 a day, thefarmersdog.com


Raised Right sells food for dogs and cats. Choose from prepacked recipes or customize a plan. Starting at $19.99 for a 2-pound bag, raisedrightpets.com

JustFoodForDogs, a pioneer in the fresh dog food category, will auto-ship, but it is not a subscription-only service. There are also pantries in retailers like Petco. About $35 a month for a 30-pound dog, justfoodfordogs.com

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Portland Pet Food Company features a flexible dog food subscription for fully cooked fresh meals and treats. $6.99 for a meal; $9.99 for a bag of treats, portlandpetfoodcompany.com

The Cat Person offers proteinpacked dry food in flavors such as salmon and tuna. Wet foods include mackerel and bream. $11 for a 2-pound bag of dry; $7.25 for packs of five wet foods, catperson.com


In addition to meals, PetPlate offers snacks, such as organic Chicken Apple Sausage Bites. $8.95 per bag (not including firsttime promotions), petplate.com



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AWESOME ALOE Succulents top the list of most popular houseplants BY TRACY SCOTT FORSON



hen you’re confined indoors for months at a time, having a little flora around can make you feel more connected to the outdoors. As quarantined homeowners filled their abodes with plant life during the pandemic, a growing appreciation for aloe vera blossomed, according to Flowercard, a floral greeting card company. In 2020, aloe vera topped Flowercard’s list of most popular houseplants, followed by lavender, snake plant, peace lily and money tree. All five of the crème de la crème are lowmaintenance varieties, excellent for amateur green thumbs.

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