Tips for an outdoor dining space

Quick Tips for Designing an Outdoor Dining Space
RISMEDIA, Thursday, February 04, 2016— Whether your home is a house in the suburbs or a high rise in the city, taking advantage of the outdoors is a great way to expand your livable space. If you are working with a large backyard, your possibilities may be endless, but even the tiniest balcony can be transformed into a functional area. There is nothing quite like enjoying a delicious meal al fresco, so here are a few tips to consider when designing an outdoor dining space.

Determine Your Function
Depending on the square footage of your outdoor area, consider what you will be using it for. Are you creating a dining space on a cramped balcony, or do you have a sprawling back yard with room for several areas? Smaller spaces can be tricky, so try to find furniture that can double as storage, like a bench with space beneath or a table with drawers or an extra shelf. For larger spaces, consider separating areas with rugs or using potted plants to establish borders between the dining and lounging spaces.

If dining will be one of the main uses of your outdoor space, be sure to consider proximity to the kitchen or grill. Having a clear path between the cooking area and the dining area will make serving much easier and help prevent trips, drops and spills.

Find Your Color Scheme
Consider what your focal point will be to help determine your color scheme. If your outdoor space overlooks the ocean or a beautiful landscape, then choosing neutral materials will create fewer distractions from the view. Alternatively, if you’re working with an urban setting, bring in a bit of color with potted plants and vibrant seat cushions or pillows. Ultimately, your space should be a reflection of your own style, but should also complement the surroundings.

Know Your Environment
With many different materials to choose from, selecting the right outdoor furniture can be tough, but considering your environment is a great place to begin narrowing down the list. If your space gets a lot of direct sunlight, metal furniture may not be your best choice as it can get hot and uncomfortable to touch. Additionally, if you are near the ocean, salt water in the air can be harsh on metal surfaces and require additional treatment and cleaning to maintain.

If you live in an area that experiences all the major seasons, you will want to consider if you will need to store your furniture for the winter. Plastic, resin, or wicker patio furniture can be a bit lighter weight than other materials and easier to put away for the off season.

Know Your Surroundings
Is your outdoor space small and intimate or large and sprawling? For smaller spaces, less can be much more. Be careful not to force a small space into something it can’t handle, like cramming an eight-seat table into a 4-seat space. Bistro tables can be an excellent fit for city balconies and smaller patios as they don’t take up too much space and can be easily moved around. Forcing too much furniture into a small space will make it feel even smaller and may deter you from enjoying it.

For larger spaces, be careful not to overdo it! Ask yourself what you are most likely to use the space for before you plan a 50-person dinner party. Large spaces are often best utilized by sectioning into several areas. For example, an outdoor dining space, a lounge area, room for the kids to play, and a pool can coexist in a very comfortable way by sectioning each area as if it were a room inside your home. Create obvious walkways between each area, and utilize area rugs, planters or potted plants to give the illusion of borders for each area. If you need a bit of privacy, a trellis covered in vines is the perfect divider to create a more intimate outdoor dining area.

Know Your Audience
Is your outdoor dining space for you and your spouse, or do you have a large family or entertain frequently? If you pride yourself as the host with the most, make sure your outdoor dining layout allows for a smooth cooking and entertaining experience. If your grill is the primary cooking space, make sure it is safely separated from the crowd, but also close enough that you can cook and entertain at the same time. If you plan to mostly cook inside, try to plan the dining space in close proximity to the indoor kitchen to avoid long trips back and forth and easy access to the refrigerator.

Have Fun with It
There are a million different ways to design an outdoor space and it really just boils down to your own personal style. Inspiration is often just a few clicks away, or you can view hundreds of patio dining sets at

This post was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for winning real estate tips and trends.

8 Home Renovations That Will Pay You Back

8 Home Renovations That Will Pay You Back
By Barbara Pronin
RISMEDIA, Saturday, February 07, 2015— When you own a home, it seems like there is almost always something you would like to do to make it more comfortable, attractive, or eco-friendly. But, home remodeling experts tell us, if you plan to sell your home at some point, put your time and effort into one of more of these renovations proven to pay you back because they increase the value of the property:

  • New garage doors – Nothing says curb appeal like attractive garage doors – and you can’t beat the bang for the buck. A mid-range replacement will likely return more than 80 percent on your investment.
  • A wood deck – Here’s a renovation you are likely to enjoy – and a $10,000 investment will also return about 80 percent of what you spent.
  • Exterior siding – New siding will not only give your home a major facelift. It will return a strong 87 percent on project costs of about $14,000.
  • Attic conversions – Adding another bedroom or playroom upstairs give a home more usable living space without increasing its footprint. The remodel investment will likely return 84 percent of a $50,000 project cost.
  • Kitchen updates – No need to overhaul the entire kitchen, experts say. Upgrading the counters, and replacing cabinets and appliances will likely cost about $18,000 – and will return some 97 percent of cost. Oddly, a big-ticket total kitchen remodel costing over $100,000 may only return 63 percent of the investment.
  • New windows – New, energy–efficient windows throughout your home will save you money on heating and cooling bills – and you will probably get a return of 79 percent on a $10,000 investment.
  • Basement remodel – Another great way to add living space to a home is with a basement remodel. Adding insulation and flooring, and upgrading the walls and ceiling may cost as much as $60,000. But return on investment is estimated at 77 percent.
  • Back-up power generator – The unpredictable weather of the past few years has led to a surge in the popularity of this relatively inexpensive home addition. An average cost of $11,000 could net you a 67 percent return on your investment.

View this original post on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall.

Five Key Tips to a Smooth Bathroom Remodel

Five Key Tips to a Smooth Bathroom Remodel
By Andrea Davis
RISMEDIA, Tuesday, January 27, 2015— Bathroom remodeling is an extensive process involving many parts. If you miss a piece, there’s a good chance your project is going to head south, requiring you to spend more money than you’d intended on parts and repairs. It’s important to consult with a bathroom remodeling contractor before you begin your project to make sure you’re covering all the bases and avoiding these common mistakes:


Budgeting for the cost of a bathroom remodel is imperative to a successfully finished product. If you budget for small improvements and then invest in expensive materials or major renovations, there’s a good chance you’ll go over budget and find yourself cutting corners mid-project to make up for the added expenses. It’s best to shop around for materials and ideas ahead of time. This allows you to save money for the materials you really want. It’s also smart to leave some cushion in your budget for any unforeseen complications.

Energy efficiency upgrades

Bathroom renovations provide a great opportunity to go green. While some green renovations are a bit more expensive on the front end — dual-flush toilets, double-pane windows and bamboo flooring, for example — they can also save you money over the long term. Some smaller-scale, less expensive improvements can also provide long-term financial and environmental benefits. Consider LED lighting, low-flow showerheads and automatic shut-off faucets.


Replacing the ceiling fan in your bathroom will help keep mold and mildew at bay. Airflow keeps moisture from building up humidity in small areas, which can rust metal and encourage mold growth on flooring and cabinets. You might need to hire an HVAC contractor to do the installation; they can recommend the best ceiling fan for your climate and bathroom size.

Fixture Choices

Bathroom fixtures aren’t something you’ll want to skimp on. It’s best to buy quality, durable materials to avoid short-term repairs and replacements. This applies to flooring, lighting and appliances. Speaking with a bathroom designer will ensure that you get the best product for your budget — especially when it comes to your bathtub and shower. Cheap plumbing components can break down easily, causing leaks and other issues.

Strive to create enough space for the essentials without cluttering your bathroom with cabinets and shelves. You will probably need space for your linens — towels, washrags, hand towels, etc., along with your toiletries and other essentials. You’ll also want to make space for cleaning products, so that it will be easy to keep your new bathroom looking its best. Shelving is ideal for toiletries and such; cabinets are optimal for everything else.

10 DIY home staging tips

How you live in your home and how you sell your house are two different ways. Use these tips to get started with your home staging:

1. Get a different perspective. Walk across the street and take a long, hard look at your house. Put on your buyer hat…make a list of 5-10 things that are good about your house and 5-10 things that need work. Get busy! Curb appeal is crucial!

2. Make repairs a high priority. If your house needs work, get it done now. It’s the home inspector’s job to find out what’s wrong with your house and long lists of repairs can scare buyers off! As the homeowner, repairs are responsibility and you should to fix them before your house comes on the market.

3. De-clutter. Go through every closet and every room and get rid of the piles of your stuff. Buyers notice spaciousness. You are selling your space. Throw it away, pack it for the move, give it away or have a garage sale – just get it out of the house.

4. De-personalize. Remove all family photos, sports collections, trophies, plaques and hobby collections. You’ve got to let the buyers see themselves living in your house with their things.

5. Make needed updates. What about your home’s interior? Do you have old outdated wallpaper? Make it go away. Today’s buyers don’t like it and they may not buy your house because of it. Consider painting the interior walls throughout your house – something neutral in a beige tone. Keep it consistent throughout.

6. Straighten up. Once you get all of the stuff out, straighten everything – drawers, closets, bathroom vanities, pantries, etc.

7. Edit your space. Rearranging is the last step. Use your best furniture and accessories. Less is more when it comes to home staging. Create the right flow of your things and your buyers will feel it as they walk through your house. It’s hard to stage your own house so at this point you could hire a professional home stager to tweak your furniture and accessories. This would be money well spent if your stager has a great “eye.”

8. Clean everything! All surfaces, baseboards, light fixtures, windows (in and out), carpet, flooring, bathrooms, appliances (don’t forget the oven), basements, garages, etc. Buyers don’t like other people’s dirt.

9. What’s that smell? How does your house smell? If you have lingering odors now that it’s clean, get your home de-odorized. If you don’t have a good sense of smell, ask your sister or best friend. You can’t sell a home that has a lingering odor.

10. Get a first impression. One more thing. Go outside and walk up to your front door like you are the buyer. What do you see? Open the door and what do you say? Buyers will make a decision about your house within 10 seconds of opening the front door. Will they say wow?

Original article was written by Melinda Bartling  of Another Staged Home.

How do you net your fruit trees?

Its been a summer of protecting our gardens…I’ve already netted the berry patch and only found 1 bird who managed to find their way in, which after some tweaking, I haven’t seen anymore.  We got delicious strawberries, raspberries and now blackberries from that garden.

Its been a summer of protecting our gardens…I’ve already netted the berry patch and only found 1 bird who managed to find their way in, which after some tweaking, I haven’t seen anymore.  We got delicious strawberries, raspberries and now blackberries from that garden.

The next area to be protected from squirrels and birds was our peach trees. We did a lot of pruning and other maintenance this year already to battle the peach tree leaf curl we had; then the summer storms have all but knocked off almost all of the peaches on the end two trees, so we wanted to save the fruit from the middle tree as best as possible.  Kevin made a tasty peach cobbler from peaches we froze last year, so I wanted to make sure we had the same success this year.  (He made fresh whipped cream to serve with it!)

peach cobbler


We did a lot of research online, and many discussion boards suggested covering the entire tree (they must have smaller trees, because ours are about 15-16 ft high), which that would be A LOT of netting to cover the entire tree.  So, I selected to cover just sections of the tree that were fruit bearing with netting (as well as just use the left over netting I already had).

I selected sections of the tree that were bearing the most fruit and looked promising. I cut a large section of netting off, draped it over the branches and used safety pins (yes, the safety pins I have been saving from all of my races and bibs- again I’m repurposing this summer :), to pin the netting into place. I figure the safety pins would be easy to secure the netting in place, as well as easy enough to remove when I was ready to pick the fruit.

So far so good, I will keep you posted how my netting project works out. If all goes well, I will be posting about my frustration of blanching, peeling and freezing the peaches in a few short weeks!

How do you net your fruit trees?


Netted peach trees

Netted peach trees

Up close-branches netted only

Up close-branches netted only


Easy Green Tips

It’s easy to go green without even noticing or making many changes to your lifestyle.  Here are a few tips that I follow each day:

1) Don’t Preheat your oven-  unless you are cooking temperamental items, such as bread or baked goods, no need to preheat the oven.  Just put whatever you need to cook in the oven and turn it on. You may need to add 5 or 10 minutes, but at least you didn’t waste 5 or 10 minutes heating the oven and house up.

2) Clean your lint filter (and save it if you need to start fires)- If you clean your lint filter after each use, you will help decrease energy waste and speed up drying time. An adding bonus- save the lint to use as a fire starter for your outdoor fire pit or the next time you go camping.

3) Unplug unused appliances or use a power strip- by unplugging or utilizing a power strip, you will save energy on all of the appliances you are not using when they are powered off.

4) Wash clothes in cold water and watch your energy bill go down each month.


Do you have a drafty door? Try this easy DIY project

Baby, it’s cold outside!! Anything we can do to decrease our energy bill right now we will attempt.  We build fires, wear layers of clothes, a winter hat, and a heated blanket.   The next step was to stop the draft by the doors.  We used to use a blanket against the doors to stop the draft, then I bought the draft stoppers that have noodles in a sleeve on either side of the door, but that didn’t work too well.  They didn’t slide back and forth easily as your opened and closed the door, and they didn’t close the entire gap between our door and the floor.  So, we wanted to create something a little more solid to prevent the cold winter air from coming inside the house.

That’s when we searched Pinterest to find some ideas of how to make the door draft snakes.  I knew I could make it–I can follow directions and I had the necessary tools.  So, I broke out my grandma’s sewing machine this past weekend, used some fabric and old pillows we had lying around the house to create our own draft stoppers.

Necessary items:

1) Fabric of your choice- I used old fabric that we had around the house (cut into a 42″ long and 18″ wide piece for each snack–the 18″ width was really large in diameter once stuffed, so you can get away with less fabric (about 10-12″) depending on how big/round you want your door draft stopper)–You can use any type of fabric, including fun designed socks, and old sweaters!

2) Stuffing of choice: old pillows (the stuffing inside), rice, sand, etc… (I used 1 bed pillow per)

3) Sewing machine

4) thread

5) Scissors

6) Ruler


1) Cut fabric into desired size- I cut my pieces into 42″ L x 18″ W (we wanted big door draft stoppers (in diameter), but you can make them much smaller if the gap between your door or window isn’t that large).

**Make sure to measure your door and add on a few inches for sewing purposes–our doors are standard 36″, so the 42″ gave me a little room to play

** We were putting our’s between the doors, so I wanted to make it the right size to fit in between the doors.  IF you are going to put it on the OUTSIDE of the door (inside your house), you may want to add a few inches so it goes past the door frame.

Measured to 18″ width

2) Fold fabric in half (pretty/design side together)

3) Sew one end together (width side)

4) Sew other side together (length)

Fold fabric (pretty side facing each other)– Sew the end and one side together

5) Turn right side out

Turn right side out
Turn right side out

6) Stuff! I packed down the stuffing so it created a draft proof stopper.

1 pillow per stopper
1 pillow per stopper
Lots of stuffing
Rip into pieces to “fluff” up your stuffing

7) Sew open side together.  This was a bit tricky, so having a helping hand would be best!

8) Place in the doorway and miss the draft!

Door draft stopper!
Door draft stopper!

We placed ours in between the doors because we had a large enough space- this helped eliminate the draft.  I know it worked, because the glass of our front door is now always fogging up! As a warning- make sure you remember to lift up your feet when you leave the house in the dark mornings…or you’ll trip (I’m speaking from experience).

Let me know how your door draft stoppers turn out!

Seasonal Home improvements to complete during the fall

Fall is perfect for checking off a few to-do lists on your home repair checklist.

Here are a few suggestions to start with these to improve your home this fall:

Roof Repair

Replacing or repairing a roof  before the winter storms, be it rain or snow. Winter winds and precipitation (think ice) can prevent a roofer from stopping a large leak that can cause serious damage to your home.

Duct Cleaning

This seemingly small project can provide some big savings in energy costs. The build-up of debris prevents air from freely flowing throughout your ventilation system, forcing the system to work longer and harder to heat (or cool) your home. Plus, the service will significantly improve the air quality in your home.

Install a New Front Door

Lots of home improvement experts will tell you to replace your windows to improve energy efficiency. While that is true, replacing your front door will also help cut costs.

Clean the Gutters

Clogged gutters in the fall and winter will lead to water and ice build-up.  Discard all of the leaves, sticks and debris that have collected in the gutters. Seal any cracks or leaks, and install gutter covers.

Interior Painting

Warm fall days are perfect: you can open the windows to get rid of the fumes and help the drying process.


Cleaning without chemicals

Do you like to keep a clean house, yet don’t like the smell of all the chemical cleaners? Maybe you are worried about what the use of those chemicals could possibly do to yourself, your children or your pets?

I have been doing a lot of research lately to come up with natural-chemical free cleaners to use around my house.  The most common natural product that can be used in just about every type of cleaner is vinegar.  So, I bought a gallon sized bottle of vinegar for less than $3 at the grocery store and a few spray bottles from the dollar store.  Have you ever looked up all the uses for vinegar? After I started my research I was astonished at how many practical uses there are for vinegar.

Here are a few that I came across that I have tried or will be trying soon:

1) All-purpose cleaner: equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle.  You can get a bit more complicated and add essential oils, baking soda, and dawn.  But water and vinegar does the trick.

2) Fabric softener: Stop buying expensive fabric softener and start adding 1 cup of vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle or in the fabric softener compartment if your washer has one.  This will also help reduce the residue left from laundry detergent on your clothes.

3) Window Cleaner: Combine 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Shake to blend and spray on your windows.

There are many more natural cleaning products that can help you stay away from the harsh chemicals– plus, it can be more cost effective to make your own products! Just remember to label them accordingly.

Happy Cleaning!



DIY Garden Trellises

Squash Trellis

Squash Trellis

This is year two of our garden. Last year we had two garden areas that produced hundreds of tomatoes, a few varieties of squashes, broccoli, green beans and cucumbers. We did not really tame the wild garden and it is an understatement to say things were a bit overgrown. But, even overgrown, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor all summer long and into the fall!

This year we prepped the ground and planted in mid-April, however we knew we wanted to help guide our plants this year. Instead of having the tomatoes on the ground, and the squash and cucumbers taking over all the space in between every plant- we wanted to make the plants grow vertically.

After much research, we decided to create our own trellises to help our garden grow better.

For our tomato plants, we used six simple- 5′ U-Post steel light duty posts (bought at Lowes for around $4 each) and yarn to guide and support our tomato plants.

For the squash trellis, we used three-7′ U-Post steel heavy duty posts and vinyl coated fencing. We purchased Blue Hawk steel fencing with a green vinyl coating (48″ high and 50′ long). I drove the 7′ posts into the ground, evenly spaced behind the garden area. I put two posts in one direction and the middle one the opposite direction, this would allow the fencing a bit more support when hanging on the posts (the U-Posts have little hooks on the back side for easy hanging of the fencing). After the posts were driven into the ground, I measured the distance between the posts and cut the 50′ fencing to about a foot longer than needed, I figured we could just bend back any extra fencing we had. We then hung the fencing from the top of the 7′ post, which allowed about a 1-2′ gap at the bottom (the squash plants are already pretty big and were long enough to climb on the fencing given that gap). After hanging the fencing, we guided the squash plants up the fencing to help them start to grow vertically.

Trellis blends right into fence

Trellis blends right into fence

For the cucumber trellis, I repeated the steps above, however, I only used two 7′ posts and I used one 5′ post in the middle. I hung the fencing so it would start all the way at the ground since the cucumber plants are not that big yet, and also produce fruit much closer to the plants roots then the squash do. After hanging the fence, again I guided the cucumbers through the fence to help them start growing vertically.

Cucumber Trellis

Cucumber Trellis

To make two trellises, six posts for the tomato plants, and one post for the blueberry bush, it cost about $130 and about an hour to assemble. Our garden is already more organized and our plants will produce more and better fruit (hopefully). The trellises and posts should last a very long time, and if they work this year, we will use them again next year. I also have about 35′ of fencing left over, so if we decide to make more garden areas, I can easily make a few more trellises.

When you are assembling your trellises a few other tools you may need include: a ladder, hammer, and a block of wood –(I stepped on the post’s “wings” to drive the first foot or so into the ground, however you may  need a bit of extra muscle for the rest, so having a ladder, hammer and block of wood could help drive in the rest of the 7′ posts into the ground if you can’t reach the top). I also needed a pair of outdoor garden pruning sheers or wire cutters for the fencing. (Make sure when you cut the fencing to keep a smooth edge as much as possible so you don’t cut yourself with the fencing)

Happy gardening!