23 May 2017

Outdoor Grills 101

Get ready for barbeque season with our introductory class on outdoor grills. We break down each type and give you the pros and cons so you can get the most out of your investment.

We humans have been cooking over an open fire since the dawn of man. You’d think by now we’d know everything there is to know about outdoor grills. But thanks to ever-changing grill technology and design, we spend most of our time scratching our collective heads trying to figure out which one best suits our needs and budget.

We will help your decision-making process along by breaking down the three main types of grills based on how they work, their strengths, weaknesses and average price tag.

Grilling purists swear by the simplicity of the charcoal grill. Based on its name, this type of grill relies on chunks of charred wood (carbon) to cook your food. If you have a leisurely afternoon or evening to prepare your meal, charcoal grilling is perfect for you. This method takes time but the end result is definitely worth the wait. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of a steak cooked over charcoal embers.

When you hit the stores or online retailers, these features are a must: purchase one with stainless steel, porcelain or ceramic grates to make clean up easier. Design choices are wide and varied. The ubiquitous kettle grill is one of the most popular, followed by barrel styles and egg-shaped—plus many of shapes in between. The kettle grill is mainly for cooking up a quick dinner. Barrel and egg grills are more along the lines of smokers that rely on low and slow grilling.

The Good: Charcoal tends to cook hotter than gas or electric which is great for searing meat and getting a tasty char on veggies. This keeps foods moist and juicy while creating a nice flavorful crust on the outside.

The Bad: As we mentioned earlier, charcoal grilling take a bit of patience to the coals glowing. The traditional method takes at least 30-45 minutes to get the coals hot and ready for cooking. You could use a lighter fluid, but it’s not a healthy option and gives the food an extremely unpleasant taste. Use an electric wand or chimney starter to help speed up the process. At the end of your meal, it takes time to clean out the grill and properly dispose of the ashes.

The Cost: Cheap charcoal grills are out there for as little as $20. However, those of higher quality can fall within the $160 to $350 range. If you want the best available, high-end models can be had for $1000 and more.

Traditionalists may consider gas grills cheating, but  most admit that grilling with gas is quicker and easier than charcoal. Statistics show almost 60% of Americans purchase gas grills versus charcoal or electric. If you are a renter, you probably run your gas grill via a propane bottle. Homeowners with natural gas can hook up their grill to an exterior line, eliminating the need to run out at the last minute or during cooking to refill the propane tank.

Basic gas grills feature black powder coated aluminum and can have either one or two burners. For the occasional outdoor chef, these meet most of your requirements. If you take care of your basic gas grill, it can easily last for 10 years.

Higher end gas grills often have stainless steel cases and multiple burners to allow for indirect grilling. Plus, your grill will probably have a side burner or two and stainless steel or porcelain grates. Top of the line models feature warming shelves, a rotisserie function, heat zone separation, wood chip drawers and built-in digital meat thermometers.

The Good: These grills heat up in a matter of minutes, making them the perfect option for getting out of the kitchen on warm summer evenings to prepare a quick and easy meal. There’s really no messy cleaning involved—burn food particles off the grates and empty the grease trap once the unit has cooled.

The Bad: Less expensive models don’t have all the bells and whistles, and you don’t get quite the same smokiness of a charcoal grill. The cost of propane and especially natural gas can make gas grilling less attractive if you are on a tight budget.

The Cost: Basic gas grills start at about $150. If you’re looking to impress, you can find them upwards of $10,000.

While they may not be everyone’s go to grill, electric versions do provide a viable alternative to those who live in apartments or high rises with restrictions on gas and charcoal grills. These types of grills are compact and operate with electric elements that produce high heat instead of flames.

Your food either rests on a griddle type surface or a ceramic grate. Infared technology has made electric grills more efficient and popular. They not only maintain even heat distribution for juicy cooking, they also prevent big flare-ups.

The Good: Electric grills are compact, portable and will work wherever there is an electric outlet. The cooking technology in the electric segment has improved greatly.

The Bad: You won’t get the smoky flavor like you do from charcoal and gas grilling. You can, however, add a pan of wood chips to add a little extra zip. Depending on your local electricity rates, it could be costly to operate.

The Cost: Electric grills range anywhere in price from $60 for a tabletop model to over $1,000 for a deluxe smoker.


09 May 2017

Goodbye Hygge, Hello Lagom

If  Scandinavian 'hygge’ has somehow passed you by, don’t worry, you can take advantage of another trend from the land of the midnight sun. There’s a new kid in town that's even better than hygge and it goes by the name ‘lagom’. Remember that word.

If you don't know, hygge is pronounced ‘hoo-gah’ and roughly translates to coziness. Over the last year or so, hygge has been EVERYWHERE. You could hardly open Pinterest, flip through a shelter magazine or shop anywhere without being bombarded by warm knitwear, rough wood, comfy throws, scented candles, hot beverage recipes and sheepskin rugs. That’s hygge. But hygge is over and overdone. Enter its younger, cooler, socially-conscious cousin, lagom. 

First of all, lagom is pronounced just like it’s spelled. That gives it a definite leg up over hygge. Its meaning, translated into English, is ‘just the right amount’—a Scandinavian trait that’s quite the opposite of snuggly cozy. Lagom is more along the lines of frugality, practicality, equality and symmetry. It’s kind of like channeling Goldilocks—Not too much. Not too little. Just right.

While hygge focuses on a specific point in time, like curling up in a comfy chair on a snowy afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate, lagom is seen as a key philosophy of life. Instead of creating a moment of hygge in your day, lagom is an overall approach to daily living. Lagom is extremely popular in the UK and is quickly making its way across the pond into your home and life.

If you’re wondering how to get lagom in your life, look no further than furniture and lifestyle retailer, IKEA. They have a project called ‘Live Lagom’ to show consumers how to create a more sustainable life. Other companies are also getting in on this hot trend by introducing health and beauty products, clothing and furnishings to help you get more out of life and save money at the same time. Now, that’s a concept we can really get on board with!

In relation to design, lagom has a minimal look and feel without all the trappings associated with hygge. If you decorate your home in moderation, add a few plants to the mix and you’ll be on trend. Simple, right? Take lagom a step further by keeping track of your expenditures and create a monthly budget. Cut back on energy consumption, buy only the things you need, recycle as much as you can, purchase fair trade products and use more organic materials in your home. You will then be living lagom.


28 April 2017

Design Crush : : Triptychs

We’ve all heard of the rule of three in interior design and art. There’s something magical and almost mystical about this odd number—which makes triptychs ideal for adding visual impact to a room. The word and concept of triptychs derives from the Greek word meaning “three fold”.  In home design, triptychs are commonly referred to artwork that is divided equally into three sections.

These impressive works of art were initially discovered gracing the walls of eastern European churches of the Byzantine Empire. Today, triptychs can be photographs, painted works or reproductions of a single image split up into three separate panels. Occasionally you’ll see triptychs consisting of three distinct images that work together thematically.

Let’s take a look at a few fun examples and we’ll give you ideas on how to work them into your décor.

Birch Tree Forest
An abstract take on a birch forest is the perfect complement to a contemporary room. These oversize panels are the perfect backdrop for mid-century inspired design and contrast beautifully with an edgy, industrial wall treatment. This particular triptych is reproduced on canvas panels and covered with a gel coat to give the illusion of brushstrokes or application with a palette knife.

Still Life Palm Fronds
This triptych features a realistic composition of banana palm fronds created from metal. The open sections and pressed metal fronds add texture, interest and a hint of color to a dining room above a sideboard or a headboard wall in the master bedroom. A triptych can transform your room into a tropical vacation getaway.

Graphic Photography
An up close and personal tri-panel split photograph of a hybrid wolf dog aims to impress. This triptych is printed on HD aluminum metal panels to give the image a lustrous finish. This engaging trio will surely be the  focal point of an office or expansive wall in a great room.

Coastal Getaway 
This is a wonderful triptych with a calming coastal feel that would be right a home in any casual living area. Its generous dimensions make a big statement, while the soft, beachy hues prevent it from dominating the space. These three pieces work as one large piece of art. They would look great over a sofa in a vacation home or an urban loft apartment. 


19 April 2017

Make a Big Design Statement with Your Walls

While that geometric wallpaper or metallic paint finish is to die for, is it worth taking the risk? You could be making costly mistake and one you might not like once it’s up on your walls. The safe alternative is neutral paint, but let’s face it, that’s pretty boring. If you’re a bit skittish, about infusing your home with color and pattern, take a hint from the pros and start small on the walls to build up your confidence.

Hang Wallpaper Where You’d Least Expect
Here’s the perfect way to test the waters. Buy a single roll and cover a small area like the back wall of a bookcase, the inside of a closet or glass front kitchen cabinets. It will provide a harmless pop of color and will give you a chance to get used to the print. Another option is to cover a nook or niche to add a cozy feel to a room.

Experiment with Color
If you are tired of a neutral palette and want to go a little bolder test a few colors on your walls, choose your favorite and start by painting a hallway or powder room in a dramatic color like charcoal or dark blue. If you want a bit more pizzazz, bring in fanciful throw pillows, art and accessories. As you become accustomed to color, you can add bright accent walls to coordinate with your furnishings.

Use Oversize Art
Dominate one wall with a huge piece of art. Here’s an opportunity to make a big statement in a living room without having to rely on extraneous paint or wallpaper. The key is this oversize canvas of a beautiful blue agate stone slice. The extra large print livens up the space and keeps decorating costs down. Stunning blue plays against the neutral backdrop to strike the perfect balance between bold and serene.

Install Graphic Tile
Open almost any home décor magazine or tune in to shows like Fixer Upper, and you've probably seen fabulous encaustic cement tiles. These handcrafted tiles were originally designed as flooring but are now making their mark on walls from trendy bathrooms and dining rooms to kitchens and mudrooms across the country. Picture these graphic tiles installed as an eye-catching kitchen backsplash paired with crisp white cabinets and lime washed floors.


12 April 2017

Design Styles : : Cottage

What do you think of when someone mentions the term “cottage style”? Each one of us has a slightly different notion, probably because this quaint style takes in a variety of different design influences. In a nutshell, cottage style is a charming amalgam of color and texture, old and new, personal treasures, handcrafted items and flea market finds.

You won’t find a cozier or more welcoming design style. You have several options within the category depending on your personal preferences. Whether you want a little country hideaway, a cozy mountain cabin or a place on the beach, cottage style could work for you. Whichever version you choose, you’ll love the casual feel, fun accessories and a down-to-earth vibe that can be easily replicated in your own home.

Mind you, cottage style could take some getting used to, especially if you lean toward a modern aesthetic. It is a style that celebrates life’s imperfections and turns up its nose to high-end furnishings and the latest trends. That’s what makes this unpretentious style so popular and enduring.  (This post contains an affiliate link.)

Beach Retreat
Recreating the look of a beach cottage is a pretty easy job. Work with casual furniture and accessories and incorporate the color palette of the sand and sea. Look through photos and artwork or magazines like Coastal Living for more inspiration.

Start with a neutral backdrop. White, off-white, subtle gray or pastel blue wall colors will be the first step in your journey to beach cottage style. Select furniture pieces with simple lines like a grouping upholstered in durable natural cotton canvas. Picture this against sandy colored walls and bright white trim.

Layer on a jute area rug, weathered furniture pieces and breezy curtain panels.  Inject color through throw pillows and artwork. Sprinkle in woven baskets, shells, driftwood and coral specimens to bring home the beach cottage look.

Shabby Chic
The doyen of California casual, Rachel Ashwell opened her first Shabby Chic boutique in Santa Monica in 1989. While the business has evolved over the years, it remains true to the original concept of understated elegance. Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture features custom furniture, beautiful bedding and accessories, which have become the essence of cottage style.

Soft neutrals and muted florals blend with natural materials and textural fabrics give this distinctive style its laid back look and feel. A mix of slipcovered seating, vintage furnishings and slightly rumpled curtains create a look that not only fits perfectly with today's relaxed lifestyle, it will remain fresh and relevant for years to come.

Cabin Cozy
Whether it’s by the lake, in the mountains or tucked away in a forest glen, cabin cottage style introduces rustic ambience by way of natural elements. Even if you live in the city, you can add cabin cottage touches to virtually any space to give the sense of living in the great outdoors.

To keep this style true to form, a combination of organic surfaces and furnishings are a necessity. A natural stone fireplace, river rock accents and slate flooring will give your home the feel of a mountain getaway. Architectural features like wooden ceiling beams, columns and weathered wall panels give cabin cottage style depth of character.

Lodge style furniture, overstuffed upholstered pieces and earth tones lend authenticity to the space. Bring in tree stump side tables and faux wood wallpaper for a bit of whimsy. Round out the look with comfy down comforters, flannel sheets on a fluffy featherbed to while away long winter nights.

Retro Appeal
Vintage cottage is the one that's most closely associated with the term "cottage style". It is less restrained and features pops of color and a retro vibe. If you love to rummage through thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales, this cottage style is perfect for you.

Coordinate your wall colors with the fabrics in the room or install white shiplap for real vintage flavor. Don’t be afraid to use a mix of patterns like florals, plaids and stripes—that’s the true essence of this cheerful style. The great thing is you can still find actual vintage fabrics, pillows, curtains, dishtowels and funky tablecloths to pull your design together.

There’s nothing quite like retro appliances and light fixtures to round out a vintage kitchen. White cabinets paired with thrifted dinnerware and accessories serve as the perfect accent colors in the space. Painted furniture pieces mixed with natural wood flooring keeps the look from feeling too theme-y.


06 April 2017

Decorating Dilemmas : : Arranging Throw Pillows

Dear Homeagination:
I’ve just purchased a gorgeous new sofa for the living room and bought a bunch of pillows to accessorize it. I’m at a complete loss as to how to arrange the pillows to make it look pulled together. Every time I try to style them, it just seems like a big jumble of colors and patterns--far from the sophisticated look I’m after.
— Pillow Predicament in Sioux Falls

Dear Cushion Challenged:
One of the biggest stumbling blocks we’ve found in home decorating is getting throw pillows to look just right on a sofa. We’ve spoken to numerous homeowners who eventually give up the fight and toss a couple of random pillows on the sofa as a token attempt.

Today, we’ll reveal a few secrets regarding the art of pillow arranging. The main objective is to make the placement of the pillows look effortless, but as with most accessorizing, it pays dividends to be somewhat deliberate in your approach.

One of our favorite tips is to begin by starting from the outside (the sofa arms) and working your way towards the center. Use your largest pillows to anchor the ends and place smaller pillows as you work your way in. Not only does this technique make seating more practical, it also provides a sense of symmetry and balance.

Most designers go with odd numbers of pillows (as with any other type of accessorizing). Odd numbers, for some reason, are much more visually appealing, hence the “rule of three” in design. Now, if you prefer two, four or six pillows, feel free to go for it.

Don’t forget to mix colors, solids, patterns and textures to create visual interest. Just make sure your throw pillows coordinate with the other elements in the room and fit with the style of your space. In addition, vary the shapes and sizes to keep your arrangement from looking too forced. Stick in a lumbar or round pillow to jazz things up.

One last important word of advice has to do with the pillow fill. If you can, select pillows or pillow inserts that are down filled versus polyester. They have a more comfortable feel and relaxed look. They will also last longer and won’t break down—especially if you have a sofa sleeper in the family.

Hope this helps!


29 March 2017

Essential Spring Prep for a Glorious Garden

Preparing your garden this spring will make your job a lot easier and result in bumper crop of glorious color and fragrance for months to come.

1) Inspect the Yard
Trim up tree limbs, take off dead growth and clean up the previous season’s perennials and send it to compost. Clear mulch around bulbs. Check and repair steps, paths and fencing for damage from winter extremes.

2) Purchase Plants and Supplies

Clean up gardening tools in preparation for planting and cultivating. Do an inventory of your tools and supplies and purchase those that need replacing. Lay out a plan for your garden and make a list of plants to buy including trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.

3) Do a Tune-Up
Get your lawn mower and leaf blower cleaned and serviced if you didn’t do it at the end of last season. Sharpen the mower blade and replace the spark plugs and change the oil. Make sure all the moving parts are lubricated and working. Before you take on the lawn, pick up sticks and rocks to prevent damage to your mower.

4) Trim and Prune
Take off dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs. Thin out bushes that bloom all summer long like hydrangeas and roses. Once they’ve started producing new growth, go in and prune areas that were damaged during the winter. Wait to trim spring blooming trees and shrubs after they’ve dropped their flowers.

5) Test the Soil
Take a cursory soil sample from a variety of planting beds around the yard to check for pH. Feed and treat the soil as needed. If you're not sure what to do, visit your local nursery and consult the resident master gardener. You’ll be amazed at how robust and more colorful your plants are when the soil is amended with the proper nutrients.

6) Make the Beds
Clear the planting beds as soon as the soil has warmed and can be easily worked. Pull weeds and remove sod chunks and other debris. Distribute a layer of compost and additional amendments and turn the soil to a depth of 10 inches to ensure everything is mixed well.

7) Time to Plant
Plant all your shrubs and perennials like daylilies by early spring so they have adequate time to get established before the summer heat. Pick a cool and cloudy day for planting. Transplant your container plants and water them thoroughly. Sow seeds for spring flowers and leafy green vegetables and herbs.

8) Feed Your Plants
Trees and shrubs need a balanced fertilizer and possibly additional amendments based on your soil testing. It’s best to feed them when tiny leaves starts to appear. For folks in the South, use a high-acid fertilizer and pine mulch around your azaleas and camellias. Fertilize perennials when you see evidence of new growth. Use a liquid plant food mixed with water to feed your annuals.

9) Start Composting
If you haven’t tried composting, it’s a good time to start. Use all the plant debris collected from yard cleanup. Get in there and chop the plant material up as fine a possible to accelerate the decomposition process. Use equal amounts of dried materials and green matter in even layers with water and a bioactivator. Turn the compost regularly and keep adding to the pile throughout the gardening season. You’ll end up with a rich and fertile growing medium for next year.


22 March 2017

5 Incredibly Easy Ways to Reset Your Home for Spring

OK kiddies, spring is finally here, which means you need to shift into high gear, shake off the winter blahs and reset your interiors to read cheery, light and airy. Think about your house like your wardrobe: Toward the end of winter, you're desperate to swap out your heavy, monotone clothes, boots and woolens for lightweight sweaters, pastel colors and kicky shoes. That’s no different than reworking the inside of your home.

Not only will little updates lift your spirits, they will give you a chance to clear the clutter and get rid of things you really don’t need. Best of all, resetting your décor doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or time. Here are five quick and simple ways to give your home a spring redo that will give your home a new attitude!

1. Change Your Art
Swapping out a few photos or images on your gallery wall can give your room an entirely different look and feel. Choose tropical vacation photos, pastoral landscapes or anything nature-inspired. This living room has an assortment of wall art that’s just right for a spring warm up.

2. Ditch the Heavy Accessories
Faux fur throws, wool rugs, bulky pillow covers and thick curtain panels are all good for staving off winter’s chill but it’s time to put them aside to make way for lovely silk curtains, stonewashed linen throw pillows and jute rugs. This living room is the essence of spring’s lightness of being.

3. Restyle Your Shelves
Shelving throughout the house is great for organization and accessorizing. Let your bookcases and shelves become integral design elements by styling seasonal knick-knacks, kids’ toys and, of course,  books. In this remodeled bathroom, DIY shelves house hand towels, bath necessities and cute vintage accessories.

4. Bring In the Outdoors

Incorporate nature with floral arrangements, flowering branches or containers of fresh fruit. Even the slightest hint of the outdoors brings to mind the change of seasons and that summer is fast approaching. This welcoming kitchen is accented with beautiful yellow flowers and an arrangement of fresh lemons.

5. Get Colorful
As the days get longer and the temperatures rise, it’s natural to want to introduce color into your home. Add colorful sheers and unexpected pops of color around your house to get ready for summer. On this comfortable sitting porch a mix of colors unite to create the perfect palette for warm weather months.


15 March 2017

Design Styles : : Traditional

Traditional style highlights the finest in historical detail spanning centuries and countries the world over. Some of the more familiar traditional influences of the 18th and 19th centuries include neoclassical, Greek revival, French provincial, Georgian and regency.

A traditionally furnished room is best described a stately yet comfortable. Elements such as handcrafted millwork, luxurious textiles, rich colors, beautifully turned furniture pieces with elegant lines define this enduring design style. All this and more contribute to a traditional room’s trademark look and feel.

Symmetry is a subtle but effective principle in traditional design. Everything from architecture and furniture arrangement to the painstaking placement of accessories is based on the logical model of balance and order. While important to traditional style, designers sometimes stray from the strict definition of symmetry to create a space that caters to today’s more relaxed lifestyle.

To master the art of symmetry in a living room, position seating pieces across from each other to create balance. A fireplace, artwork, television or picture window can serve as the room’s focal point and is best situated at either end of the conversation group. Use lamps, plants and side tables in pairs to flank a sofa, fireplace or a built-in bookcase. Maintain symmetry when hanging artwork by centering the pieces horizontally and vertically on either side of a center point.

Pattern and Hue
Choose pleasing colors for a traditional space. Avoid extremes and stay with similar wall colors when moving from room to room. As far as fabrics go, many familiar patterns work well in traditional rooms. Florals, damasks, toiles, paisleys, stripes and plaids are all solid choices. You can save the abstracts and polka dots for another time and place.

Rich Wood Tones
From a Queen Anne dining set in mahogany to dark walnut columns, beautiful wood grain and elaborate turnings are an essential element of traditional style. Traditional wood furniture features details like barley twists, curves, bun feet and ornamental carving, which give these time-honored pieces graceful movement that modern lines can’t match.

You often see wood furniture painted to create an antique or weathered finish. In a traditional setting it’s best to leave the wood in its natural state. Rich wood tones provide just the right amount of warmth and elegance keeping it true to the style.

Windows and Floors
Understated window treatments are best suited for traditional spaces. Anything too ornate takes away from the beauty of the architecture and furnishings. Layering natural woven shades or gossamer sheers under simple panels of linen, silk or velvet create classic perfection. Shutters are also a traditional option for a library, dining or sitting room.

Traditional rugs are always in style and are the design standard in the world of interiors.Styles in the traditional realm include all too familiar Persians and Orientals but Aubussons and Axminsters are equally suitable accents in traditional spaces.

Choose refined pieces and avoid over ornamentation. Keep accessories to a few carefully curated items. When arranging accessories, focus on simplicity and place items in groups to create simple vignettes on bookcases and side tables. If you are a collector, pick a few favorites and rotate them every few months to maintain a clean and uncluttered appearance.


09 March 2017

Trending : : Throw Pillows

There’s nothing like refreshing your home on a budget. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to incorporate new style and color is to switch out your throw pillows. Virtually every retailer has a fabulous selection of decorative pillows suitable for every room of the house. With all these options available, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. We’ve put together a quick guide to help you navigate through the latest throw pillow trends. Have fun picking the perfect pillows to liven up your décor!

Glitz and Glam
We know you’ll take a shine to throw pillows that give off a subtle sparkle. Propped up on your bed or gracing your sofa, pillows featuring sequins, metallic beadwork, shimmering threads or made with a silvery fabric will be certain to turn heads and create an air of elegant sophistication. This trend works well with contemporary and traditional décor.

Neutral and Organic
Throw pillow covers made from organic cotton and hemp to bamboo, stonewashed linen and seagrass are great accents for a casual living room, bedroom or even a covered porch. Beige, tan, taupe and cream tones are far from boring. A monochromatic palette is understated and timeless. The natural fibers of the throw pillows add dimension and interest to any space.

Abstract and Geometric
Undefined shapes and graphic patterns on throw pillows are the perfect complement to trendy mid-century modern design. Choose from bold black and white angles or figurative forms in vibrant colors that resemble modern works of art.

Nature Views
Soothing geodes, wood grain, marble and feathers add sense of nature and texture to decorative throw pillows through artistic renderings or photographic reproductions on fabric. These realistic images designed to fool the eye will add new energy and a hip vibe to your home

Sweater Weaves

The transformation of a cozy, classic sweater into a chic and comfortable throw pillow adds a sense of warmth that speaks to your distinctive style. These charming chunky knits and crocheted pillows look right at home artfully arranged on a sofa, bed or oversized chair. Sweater pillows lend a classic and familiar feel to traditional and boho rooms alike.

Faux Furs
While these other materials are quite beautiful, faux fur pillows are extra special. They’re elegant and glamorous, and can work on the bed, sofas or accent chairs. Faux fur offers luxurious comfort and a look that works alone or coordinates with other pillow fabrics. Whether you use a single faux fur pillow to add drama or create a sumptuous grouping—the possibilities are endless.