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Spruce up your home with these weekend projects Sprucing up your home for spring doesn't have to mean spending huge amounts of time and money. In fact, there are many projects that you can complete in a weekend that will improve the look and feel of your home. With a little guidance and the right tools, you can easily get your home in top shape by Monday morning. Paint refresh Commonly recognized as one of the most easy and cost-effective interior updates, painting is a weekend project that can completely trans-

form the aesthetic of your home. When purchasing paint, a quality product will ensure your end results are beautiful. Low-quality, inexpensive paint will likely require a number of coats to get the coverage needed - resulting in more time and money spent. To avoid increased time and cost, use a premium line of paint like Pratt & Lambert's Accolade, which guarantees excellent hide and outstanding durability. Popular among interior designers, Accolade is available in more than 1,000 colors to complement any style. When choosing paint for your next

weekend project, remember that a quality product will achieve the best end result and save you time and money in the long run. Lighting update Tired of the same old lamps sitting on your end tables but don't have the funds to revamp your lighting decor? A new lamp shade will completely change the look of any piece. You can also easily transform pieces by renewing the lamp bases; a quick walk down the spray paint aisle will show limitless possibilities of colors and finishes. You can even renew plastic pieces

with Krylon Fusion for Plastic, the first paint of its kind. Create a cohesive look by bringing that new finish to your hanging fixtures as well. Furniture renewal One easy way to update furniture on a budget is by recovering it or using slip covers. Premade covers are available in a wide variety of fabrics and designs, or you can create a custom cover for your sofa or armchair. More ambitious crafters may actually reupholster furniture to create a completely new-looking seating option. After repadding

and covering cushions, sand and stain or paint wood pieces for a completely modern feel. Modern flooring Carpet has seen better days? Replace it. Hardwood is scuffed and dull? Refinish it. You can also achieve the look of natural wood or stone flooring with luxury vinyl tile. This affordable option is no longer your grandmother's vinyl, now available in a variety of natural finishes that are both durable and modern. If replacing isn't in your budget, simply give your flooring a good cleaning and use accent rugs to cover

blemished areas. Accessorize Adding trendy, fun accessories will give any room a new and more put-together look. Think vases and bowls, wall art and rugs. When adding accessories, look for colors that complement what is already in the room. Plants and flowers can also add energy and color, some with the added bonus of a pleasant aroma. Check off a project on your home improvement to-do list this weekend, and enjoy the results through spring and beyond.

L ‘Observateur




Grow for it: Homegrown on your own Who would have thought getting dirt under your fingernails would ever be considered one of the hottest trends going? According to Doug Jimerson, garden core director for Better Homes and Gardens, "growing your own fruits, veggies and herbs is something Americans are doing in record numbers this season." "It's cheaper to grow your own produce than buy it – one $3 tomato plant will yield pounds of produce all season long," Jimerson says. "Plus, the produce you grow just tastes better than even your grocer's best. And while it's healthy to eat and grow your own, gardening is rapidly gaining popularity as a great way to get some exercise, relieve stress and spend healthful family bonding time." Eating foods grown in your own backyard means you won't be contributing to the carbon footprint left behind by the "food miles" it takes to bring imported produce to your local grocers – so you're helping the environment, too. Growing vegetables is easier than you think. Plan it properly, and you can enjoy a healthy, homegrown harvest from the fruits of your labor – without having to spend hours tending it.

Gardening 101 Sunshine is suste-

nance – Vegetables need at least six hours of full sun per day. The easiest thing to do is to place your garden in full sunlight. Make sure it's easily accessible for watering; if the garden is too far from your house it could get neglected. Check the last frost date in your region and wait until threat of frost is past before you begin planting. No yard necessary – Gardening doesn't require a lot of room – although if you have the space and time to go large, go for it!. Many popular vegetables and herbs grow just fine in making containers, them a great option for those with limited space. For smaller yards, raised beds are an easy, low-maintenance option. If your garden is going right into the ground, just turn the earth with a shovel, toss out roots and rocks, mix in a soil amendment for healthy soil, and plant. Water relief – Water regularly, but avoid doing so during the heat of the day when evaporation will diminish the effectiveness of irrigation. Water to wet

the soil about 8 inches deep, but don't overwater. Feed your food – All edible plants draw nutrients from the ground, and can quickly exhaust the soil without the help of a fertilizer. Always follow label directions.

Growing for it Now that you've got an idea of the basics, it's time to pick your plants. Start with transplants – seedlings are way easier to get growing than seeds, so you'll save loads of time and enjoy improved success. Fortunately, national purveyors like Bonnie Plants make it easy to find hardy, highquality, regionally appropriate plants at your local garden retailers. Bonnie offers time-tested vegetable and herb favorites, as well as new varieties, in eco-friendly, biodegradable pots that not only reduce plastic waste in landfills, they reduce transplant shock. Simply tear off the bottom of the pot and set the whole thing – plant in pot – directly into the ground. Be sure to pay

close attention to plant tags, they're packed with facts and details to help you successfully grow your plants. Here are some favorites to consider for your garden: • Tomatoes – The most popular, most-grown vegetable, tomatoes are always a best bet. Disease-resistant Bonnie Original is a hardy, flavorful addition to any backyard garden. For containers or small spots, try Sweet n' Neat, a prolific plant that sets fruit in grape-like clusters. • Basil – The perfect complement to tomatoes, basil works well in gardens and containers. New Greek Colum-

nar Basil is particularly bountiful, as it grows high, leafs out densely and rarely flowers. The flavor blends traditional basil with spicy overtones of cinnamon, allspice and cloves. • Bell peppers – Versatile, flavorful and nutritious, bell peppers are great raw snacks and make an awesome ingredient for a variety of cuisines. Harvest peppers when they're green or red when the vitamin levels are higher. • Eggplant – Black Beauty is the quintessential eggplant with a deep purple, glossy skin and meaty texture, and thrives in hot weather. White-skinned

varieties like Cloud Nine offer a sweeter, bitter-free flesh. • Mints – Easy-togrow mints are available in traditional spearmint and peppermint and in more exotic flavors like Bonnie Plant's new apple mint, orange mint and even chocolate mint, which has a flavor that echoes the classic Girl Scout cookie. Hefty harvest – The general rule: If it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. With many vegetables, the more you pick, the more the plant will produce. For more gardening tips, ideas and advice, visit www.bonnie plants.com.


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Spring into a relaxing summer with these tips Spring is here, which means one thing: it's time to get your home in tip-top shape. By completing a few easy tasks, you can spend more time soaking up the sun and less time on interior projects. Here are five ways to spruce up your home this spring to prepare for a relaxing summer – and give your home that "spring cleaning" feel without spending the entire spring, well, cleaning. • Let there be light Nothing makes the house feel drab like dirty windows. Make any room feel bright and fresh by cleaning the inside glass of your windows. A quick once over with a paper towel

and glass cleaner should do the trick. Look for a "streak-free" formula and the insides will be sparkling in no time. Get the outside just as clean – without the

hard work – by using a cleaner that attaches directly to your garden hose. All you have to do is point and spray to remove the dirt and grime left behind from winter. It's safe to use

on plastic siding and can help you easily reach second story windows. Plus, while you're outside, quickly rinse off patio furniture, jungle gyms or your children's outdoor toys to make them look good as new. • Pick up a paint brush To freshen up any room for springtime, pull out your paint. Don't try to redo the whole house – pick the room where a fresh coat of paint will make the biggest impact. Choose a fun new color, or add some flare with a unique design like stripes or chevron. And, don't forget to touch up the trim if you have the time. To make paint touchups a simple process, use FrogTape brand painter's tape. Treated with patented PaintBlock technology, this tape prevents paint bleed by reacting with the water in latex paint to create a barrier that helps ensure clean, sharp lines. Plus, no tedious preparation is needed – just make sure walls are clean, dustfree and dry before applying. "FrogTape is the best choice to help any homeowner paint with ease," said designer and Restaurant: Impossible construction manager Tom Bury. "Its PaintBlock technology leaves very little room for error, making it a great choice for quick spring touch-ups." To ensure painting is a painless process, be

sure to select the right tape for your surface. Choose FrogTape Multi-Surface for cured paint (paint that has been dry for at least three days), wood, metal, glass and more. Use FrogTape Delicate Surface on fresh paint (paint that has been dry for at least 24 hours), wallpaper and decorative painting. With the right tools, your paint project can be quick and easy, making your room look polished and pulled together. • Wash away winter grime You know that soft, comfy throw blanket you've been snuggling up with all winter? It's storing more than cozy memories. Since winter is prime cold and flu season, it's probably become home to lots of germs. Increase the clean factor in your home by tossing throw blankets, pillows, window treatments, even couch covers in the washing machine to get rid of germs. Then, hang them outside to dry in the sun and soak up that springtime scent. • Say "sayonara" to your sweaters Scarves, hats, gloves, wool sweaters and other heavy items of clothing won't be much use to you once spring is in full swing. Save room in your closets by getting them out of the way – put clothing items you won't need in warm weather in plastic storage bins. Keep them in an attic or basement, clearing

space for your warmerweather wear. As you're packing things up, pull aside anything you haven't worn all winter and donate these items to your local charity. It's an easy way to de-clutter, make your home feel more organized and give back to your community. The same methodology goes for kitchen cabinets, desk drawers and playrooms. Store away items you're not using and give what you don't need to charity – if you're not using it, someone else might. • Dust your digs Spring brings more than just sunshine – it's also the bearer of seasonal allergies. Help fight the sniffles by shaking out rugs and giving rooms a good onceover with a feather duster. If wiping down the entire house seems too tedious, focus on areas that aren't in plain sight. Throughout the year, you probably wipe down surfaces that are clearly visible – tables, shelves, countertops. But, when was the last time the top of the refrigerator or the ceiling fan saw a duster? Use spring cleaning as a chance to focus on those areas that don't often get cleaned. Your home, and your nose, will thank you. Follow these simple tips to make every moment count this spring. Your home will be sparkly and clean before you know it – giving you plenty of time to relax and soak up the sun.

L ‘Observateur




Mulch 101: A very manly guide to gardening As temperatures reach 60 degrees, one of the manly rites of spring, designed to impress the neighbors, is a fresh layer of mulch. But, did you know that it can also help prevent erosion and discourage weeds in the garden? Mulch is an invaluable ingredient to a successful growing season – so much more than shredded bark sprinkled around the base of an ornamental tree each spring. Get the facts on mulch to impress all the neighbors and have a great looking landscape to boot. What is mulch? Just like the leaf layer found on a forest floor, mulch is a covering that can benefit both plants and soil. Consider the many different mulch types. Some contain leaves and bark that decompose, breaking down over time, while others are pebbles or shredded tires. The available varieties of materials are diverse and nearly limitless. The varieties of mulch that break down are beneficial to the nutritional make-up, or tilth, of soil. Ingredients commonly used for beneficial mulching materials are: bark or wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, straw or hay, newspaper, pine needles, cocoa shells and compost. When selecting mulch, realize that not all mulches are the same. In the past, you may have laid mulch only to see it start to

It is easy to determine how much mulch you will need using the online mulch calculator from Scotts. Measure the bed size and the calculator does the rest. Then, when spreading high quality mulch, take your favorite cold beverage, draw a line around the can about two to three inches from the bottom, and use it to spread mulch to the appropriate measured level.

fade in a matter of weeks. This is a major frustration for gardeners. Scotts Nature Scapes Advanced with Color Guard technology retains its color for a full year backed by Scotts no-quibble guarantee.

chasing. Whether these mulches are sold by the bag or by the truckload, these tend to be partially composted and add a great, finished appearance to the garden while breaking down over time to add organic matter to the soil.

Where does it come from? From recycling last week's newspapers or collecting grass clippings after mowing, to composting garden and kitchen waste, inexpensive mulch materials are readily available all around. The lumber and arborist industries often sell chipped wood products inexpensively. These wood chips tend to break down slowly and are sometimes used on garden paths and walkways. Many gardeners prefer the look of the woodchip or bark mulches that are available through local garden centers. Read the labels to determine the contents or sourcing of mulches before pur-

Why do I need it? Leaves and bark mulch benefits run much deeper than beauty. • A mulch layer can moderate the soil temperature reducing the effects of extreme heat or cold. • Soil condition may be improved by the decomposing matter from mulch that provides plants with added nutrition. • Mulching a garden creates the ideal environment for earthworms and beneficial organisms. • If heavy rains or soil erosion is an issue, mulch can help reduce these effects. • Weeds will find it more difficult to grow

in a mulched area, as the mulch helps to block weed growth and access to the sun. How need?




When should I use mulch? Mulch can be applied anytime, but it is best to spread it out early in the growing season, before weeds have had a chance to get established. Remove any ex-

isting weeds and spread a two to three inch layer around landscaping plants, in the vegetable garden or along walkways. If recent rains have made the garden too muddy, mulch is also a great way to create a dry path through the muck and keep your feet from sliding around. A fresh mulch layer is extremely beneficial, and can make the garden and landscaping look awesome. The proper application of mulch demonstrates your expertise to your friends and neighbors, and helps create a naturally weed-free environment to maximize your garden's growth.


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Let your creativity bloom with floral prints A little black dress, a great pair of jeans and a leather jacket – some styles never go out of fashion. Some elements of home decor share that same sense of timelessness, and none more so than a simple

floral theme. "Flowers are always fashionable, stylish and on-trend," said Dani Nichols, a trend-watcher for home decor website MuralsYourWay. com. "Whether you're looking for just the

right touch of elegance and life for patterned upholstery or modern floral murals to make an accent wall pop, flowers are always appropriate." Nichols points to hot trends in floral decor this spring and summer: Floral walls "Flowers have always inspired paint makers to create colors that pay homage to both the boldness and the delicacy of floral inspirations," Nichols said. This year, paint manufacturers are offering a diverse palette of floralinspired colors, from dusty roses and iris blues, buttercup yellow and daisy white, to

frothy lilac and popping peony. Floral wallpaper and floral murals are also great ways to incorporate flowers into a room's decor. A subtle pattern of small, delicate flowers can create a gentle, peaceful feeling in a room. Or, go bold with an accent mural that depicts a single, showy bloom. You can find a plethora of floral options online at websites like Murals YourWay.com. Sustainability One of the most enjoyable ways to decorate with florals – cut flowers – is also one of the most fleeting. Few beautiful things are as short-lived as cut flowers. This season, look for cut flower designs to trend toward sustainability, as everyone looks for ways to get more enjoyment from their flowers for longer. While adding the packet of plant food

will help keep a florist's bouquet alive as long as possible, there's more everyone can do to make their displays more eco-friendly. Look for more florists to use biodegradable packing products, compost their leftovers and choose seasonal blooms that don't require long-distance shipping. Daring pairings When you think of floral design, you probably envision bright, rich hues paired with background neutrals. This year, however, florals are going daring, mixing in metallic accents and deep, saturated purples and blues that almost appear black. A touch of silver or gold matched with pure white creates an upscale, classic effect. A dash of bronze or copper married with vibrant yellows or blues is an unexpected and delightful decorating

twist. And while bright or light colors are as intrinsic to floral decor as the background greenery, dark blooms impart an almost mystical aura, whether the hue is natural or dyed. You'll see these daring pairings pop up everywhere from throw pillows to centerpieces, this year. Nichols also predicts designers will continue to experiment with combinations of floral patterns. "Long gone is the conventional wisdom that if you had one bold floral pattern in a room, you couldn't do more," she said. "It's perfectly alright to experiment with one floral pattern on the drapes and a complementary – or even competing – one on accent pillows." "Few decorating themes afford the timelessness and flexibility of florals," Nichols added.

L ‘Observateur




Transforming your backyard into an oasis A home is a place of comfort and relaxation. Many homeowners are now taking to the outdoors and making this space an extension of the dream home they've always wanted. One way to transform a house into a dream home is by utilizing the outdoor space with the addition of a new deck or improvements to an existing deck. A deck creates the perfect backyard oasis to escape the stresses of a busy lifestyle, to enjoy the outdoors, grill out, have a party or simply relax. With a deck, a couple can celebrate with friends, children can play outside and parents can retire in comfort. Many alternative decking choices are available for homeowners seeking high-quality materials with lowmaintenance features. Choosing to go with alternative decking materials helps homeowners

save money and have more time to spend outdoors enjoying time together. While composite products will need occasional cleaning, they don't need the sanding, staining, sealing or painting that wood decks require. There are many choices for deck designs, materials and colors that can make choosing a dream deck a little overwhelming. But deck design tools like those found at TimberTech can help ease the deck design process without having to leave the house. For example, TimberTech's product selector can help homeowners determine which alternative decking material works best for their lifestyle. Families with children, pets or even special needs equipment like wheelchairs will be interested in the products offered by TimberTech that can easily withstand high

traffic volumes without showing scratches or wear. These products will maintain their good looks and durability in the years to come with minimum cleaning and maintenance. Online design tools help homeowners envision the perfect colors that match the house and find environmentally friendly decking and railing products. Some homeowners are interested in a clean appearance by using hidden fasteners or railing systems with no exposed hardware, while others pursue a more economical approach to picking the perfect decking. Railing systems provide additional safety and style while lighting options help homeowners illuminate their space for extended time on the deck once the sun has set. The beauty of composite decking – in addition to the multitude of color and material options – is that it's fully customizable to whatever style or look is wanted for the deck. Homeowners can opt for a deck and railing design all in one color to perfectly blend in with the house, or can go the contrasting route to make the deck a unique design feature to beautify the backyard. Decks can be both practical and stylish, which is why many homeowners looking to enhance the look and the value of their home and increase their liv-

ing space consider replanking an existing wooden deck or adding a new deck. Composite decking products pro-

vide many different style options and allow homeowners to enjoy their deck without annual sanding, staining,

sealing or painting. To get started on planning a new deck or upgrading your current deck, visit timbertech.com.


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Design your home office for comfort and productivity There's no doubt that we're a connected society – and connected like never before through email, social networks, video conference technology, instant messaging, smart phones, the list goes on. While this influx in connectivity has made it easier to do business, it has also blurred the lines between work and home life, resulting with many of us working in our homes at least a few hours each week. If your kitchen countertop has become your goto place for paying bills, responding to emails and conducting business, it may be time to consider adding a dedicated office space in your home. Whether you telecommute for work or just need a work space to organize personal documents and files, a wellthought home office can help you stay productive, efficient and organized. Before beginning the design process for an office space, think through how the space will be used and ask yourself these questions:

• What activities will take place in the space? • Who will be utilizing this area? • What are the storage needs? • What time of day will you be doing most of your work? • Where in your home will you set up the office? • What type of connectivity/technology will be necessary for this space? Once you have a handle on your needs, you're ready to start the planning and design process. Here are a few important things to consider when you're setting up a home office: Flexible and functional: A home office should be comfortable, but not too casual that it lacks structure and function at the expense of productivity. Whether you opt for a desk or a table, be sure to evaluate how much work surface is needed before you make the purchase. Consider how much space your computer and phone equipment, wires and cords, files

and paperwork and office supplies will occupy. All of these things can quickly swallow space you might need to work comfortably. After you've selected the furniture, it's wise to invest in a high-quality ergonomic chair that can help promote your overall well-being. Orderly and organized: It's easy to let a home office become overrun with paperwork, mail, bills, etc. Giving thought to smart storage solutions from the get-go will help minimize stress in the long run. The good news is you don't have to settle for commercial-looking metal file cabinets to store everything. Cabinets have long been used to create stylish, orderly kitchens and baths, and can do the same for a home office. QualityCabinets offers a number of affordable cabinetry options that provide smart storage and have the ability to blend in with the decor of the rest of the home. "Cabinets shouldn't be limited to the kitchen and the bath," said

Sarah Reep, director of designer relations and education for QualityCabinets. "A cabinet has the ability to look and function like a high-end furniturequality desk for the home office, at a fraction of the cost." Once you have an idea of your storage needs, check out some of QualityCabinets' online design and planning resources at www.qual-

itycabinets.com to get started. Light and lively: Good lighting in a home office is essential. While overhead light is helpful, your desk and work spaces should also feature a few task lights for reading, writing and computer work. Adding a decorative table lamp can help maintain a homier feel. The amount and type of

lighting really depends on when you'll be doing the bulk of your work and can vary drastically throughout the day. Installing light dimmer switches and adding window treatments can keep light at optimum levels. Painting a splash of color on the walls or adding textiles or artwork reflective of your personality will make the space feel lively and inspiring.

L ‘Observateur




Buying a new mower this spring? What to look for Ah, spring! The weather warms, songbirds return and backyards burst with showy spring blooms. Of course, all this resurgence of life will require some care, which means it's also time to start thinking about lawn mowing. From saving money to getting exercise, there are plenty of positives about mowing your lawn. To do the job right, however, you'll need the right tool of course – a good lawnmower. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute recommends replacing worn out equipment with the latest models to take advantage of new equipment efficiencies. If you're in the market for a new mower this spring, here's what you should consider before you buy:

• How big of a mower do you need for your lawn? Generally, the more grass you have to mow, the more mower you'll need to buy. If your lawn is relatively small – a half acre or less – a walkbehind mower should be sufficient for your job. For larger lawns, you'll probably want a riding mower (also called a lawn tractor). If you decide on a walkbehind model, you also need to consider whether it should be self-propelled or a standard push style. While a push mower will give you a better workout, if your lawn is rough or hilly, self-propelled can make the job more manageable. • How frequently will you need to During the mow? height of summer, grass can grow quickly,

especially in regions with moderate temperatures. It's not unusual for a lawn to need care twice a week. Grass may grow slowly in dryer, hotter regions, so mowing once a week may be sufficient. • How important is energy efficiency? If you have a very small lawn, you may be able to use an electric mower. With most lawns, however, a gasolinepowered mower will mostly likely be the choice. Assuming most homeowners will opt for a lawnmower with a gasoline engine, here are key items to look for in that engine: • How easy is it to start? Some walk-behind mowers can be as complicated to start as they are to repair. Look for a model, like Kohler's Courage XT6.75 that requires no priming or choking to start. The mower manages the start-up process so all you have to do is pull the cord and go. • Can it handle your lawn and terrain? A professional grade engine can give you the power needed to cut through the grass of your lawn. Whether you are trimming your yard or tackling a little taller grass and weeds, the engine should deliver consistent power to maximize cutting, bagging and mulching performance. Plus, a tough cast-iron design helps your engine last longer, so you can keep the mower longer and reduce costly trips to the

repair shop. • How easy is it to maintain? From filling it before each use to cleanup tasks before storing it for the winter, your equipment will require routine lawnmower maintenance to keep it running well. Look for models that

make all these tasks as simple as possible. For example, the Kohler Courage XT features the trademarked AccuFill gas tank, which is designed to ensure fewer spills and less wasted gas. Simple measures like changing the oil and spark plugs, and

cleaning the air filter, can help keep your mower running better, longer, and you'll be more likely to keep up with those chores if they're easy to do. Finally, perhaps the most important question to ask before you invest in a new mower is how much it will save you over the life of the product. When you compare the cost of a new mower to the average cost of professional lawn care, it's easy to see that the scales tip in favor of doing your own mowing. Choosing the right mower with a quality engine can help ensure your mowing experience is productive and positive.


10 L ‘Observateur


Living large in smaller spaces: the shrinking American home The American home may be shrinking, but not the Great American Dream. Americans are still living large, just doing so in smaller spaces. To some trend-watchers, the downscaling of the American home comes as good news. Architects, designers and social observers say our willingness to resize our floor space means Americans are rethinking the way we really live and how we use whatever space we do have. Home, they say, has become less about impressing others and more about making ourselves happy. And since we are mostly baby boomers – that tidal wave of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – who have long been accustomed to getting what we want, happiness is often defined in terms of luxuries and personal amenities. "Natural materials like American Hardwoods are redefining the word 'luxury,'" said Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center. "Hardwoods bring

richness and warmth to even small rooms, whether it's used on the floors and walls, or crafted into built-ins. Custom hardwood furnishings like bookcases and cabinets make a home personal, yours alone, and isn't that the ultimate luxury?" This new definition of luxury – top-quality,

mostly natural materials, careful attention to architectural details like natural wood window frames and mouldings – is one that architect and author Sarah Susanka agrees with. And what Susanka thinks matters. In 1998, her professional hunch launched what has become the

"build-better-not-bigger" movement, when she published the first in her best-selling series of "The Not So Big House" books. Her mantra is indeed, think smaller, and she also believes that "luxury comes from the materials we surround ourselves with. Beauty comes from natural

materials. You can see where they come from in the grain, the veining. The more natural the materials, like real hardwoods and granite, the more content you are. There's a quality you can't name, but you can feel it." Gale Steves, author, editor and design industry consultant sums up a similar concept in her book about "RightSizing Your Home." According to Steves, "Right-sizing is about making the best use of the spaces you have for the way you live." She suggests these ways to best enjoy the shrinking and changing American home. • "Create a room within a room," Steves advised. Her ideas begin at floor-level. Install hardwood flooring throughout to unify the spaces and make them look larger, then use area rugs to define separate areas. Lay hardwood on the diagonal to set off special architectural features. Create a "rug" under a dining table with an inset frame of contrasting hardwood. Or outline an entire room with

two courses of contrasting hardwood. • More ideas: Use a sectional sofa to delineate an intimate seating area within an open floor plan. And – of special interest to the many boomers who are eschewing retirement – find a standing woodpanel screen to create privacy or isolate a work space, say, in a bedroom office area. • And don't forget to make it sustainable. Living green is a high priority for the antiMcMansion generation. As Susanka sees it, we should think of the 21st-century house as "a well-tailored suit: you use less material, but it fits you perfectly." So while the size of the "average" U.S. home may be shrinking, remember that it's more about space that works and that satisfies the psyche in the process that defines the ultimate in luxury. Think custom kitchens with pro-quality appliances, posh home-spa baths, stone countertops and the beauty and warmth that only come with hardwood flooring, cabinetry and millwork.

L ‘Observateur




Weekend spruce-up projects to tackle this spring When it comes to home improvement, most of us have two "todo" lists: the things we need to do, such as paint the shutters and clean out gutters, and the list of those we want to do, such as fun and easy projects that add visual interest or practical enhancements to the outdoors. Since our budgets for both lists are usually limited, it makes sense to seek out projects that are easy, affordable and that create the most impact in a short amount of time. Spring outdoor projects often show up on both lists. Upgrades can provide a welcoming retreat for your family, or can improve your home's marketability and appeal to potential buyers when it comes time to sell. Fortunately, it's easy to find simple projects that take only a weekend and a modest budget to accomplish. "Adding elements like planter boxes and raised garden beds is a great way of creating impact without a huge commitment of time,"

said home improvement expert Mark Clement, co-host of "My Fix it Up Life" which airs nationally, on iTunes, Blog Talk Radio and at MyFixitUp Life.com . Clement offers some easy tips to help guide weekend projects that anyone can build: • Raised bed gardens – Some of the most abundant vegetable, herb and cutflower gardens grow exceptionally well in raised beds because there is less soil compaction, and they allow for excellent drainage. While raised beds are extremely functional, they can also add style to your yard and garden. Their organized appearance lends a structural element, particularly if you construct them with quality materials like cedar. "By carefully selecting the right materials, your garden bed will last longer and look better. Western Red Cedar is a good choice because it is easy to work with, rot-resistant, and it ages beautifully and maintains its shape and

strength over the years, even when exposed to extreme weather," Clement added. • Window and planter boxes – An easy and fun green project, wood planter boxes can be built in an afternoon. Whether arranged in a group or hung as window boxes, they instantly add a warm texture and welcoming touch to your front porch or backyard deck when filled with foliage. This project allows do-it-yourselfers to inject some personal-

ity that transforms the look from simple to elaborate and tie into the character and style of your home. "Even if you've never built a box, you can create a classic look by adding a bit of thin trim to the top and bottom of the box," Clement says. "You can also buy wooden brackets to support the window box for a more traditional look." • Simple structures – For those looking to tackle a bigger project, invite friends over and

make it a do-it-yourself project party. From small decks to barbeque platforms, or front door arbors to backyard gazebos, gather friends to help assemble projects that create new spaces and places to entertain or dress up your outdoors. "I love to make things that give my yard and home a finished touch," Clement said. "And making something as a project makes it truly yours and a part of your home – something you can be proud of

and really enjoy." Power washing your deck, play equipment and even your furniture is also an easy, lowcommitment, low-cost way to spruce up your outdoor environment. You can buy or rent a power-washer and accomplish the job in a day. Clement does advise to carefully follow the manufacturers' instructions when using a power-washer, as too much pressure can cause damage. "If used properly, it will brighten up the space like you wouldn't believe," he added. "If you're really ambitious, add a clear finish or dark-colored stain to your wood deck, and the neighbors will think it's brand new." Finally, Clement's top tip this spring is simple: Have fun. Share your experience and project photos with friends and family via Real Cedar's Facebook page. For detailed steps on how to construct these projects, visit: http:// www.youtube.com/user /WRCLA/featured.