8 Little Remodeling Touches That Make a Big Difference

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.44.33 AMMake your life easier while making your home nicer, with these design details you’ll really appreciate

When we did our remodel, our contractor suggested a thousand things I had never really thought about. They weren’t necessarily design considerations; they were more quality-of-life considerations — just little things you didn’t know you were missing until you had them.

Here are eight little touches I didn’t know I couldn’t live without until I lived with them. What are yours?

10 Reasons to Love Big, Comfy Sectionals

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 3.01.08 PMWith their soft lines, visual heft and casual versatility, modular sofas are a great choice for many rooms

They’re big, comfy and totally napworthy. If something’s been holding you back from indulging in the pure comfort of a sectional, here are 10 reasons to just go for it. Whether your space is large or small, family friendly or slick and modern, see if there is a sectional that will work with your style and space.

It’s Black and White and Fall All Over in a Holiday-Happy Home

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 7.29.34 AMGet inspired for budget-friendly fall decorating by a resourceful stylist’s thrifty but sophisticated adornments

Sarah Macklem’s children have different ideas about Halloween decorating than their mother has.

“The kids love severed body parts and all that stuff,” says Macklem with a good-natured shudder. A home stylist based in suburban Detroit, she forgoes disembodied limbs for a seasonal decorating style that looks elegantly understated, but is sourced largely from thrift stores and discount retailers.

To keep things sophisticated, Macklem builds upon her home’s black and white palette, overlaying touches of autumnal color in things like dishes and towels, while rendering familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. (White ceramic pumpkins, anyone?) Her seasonal handiwork goes up around Labor Day and culminates in a neighborhood Halloween party at her house.

“Decorating is my life,” says Macklem, “and I take advantage of every opportunity I have to do it.”

How Brick Fits Into Today’s Gardens

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 7.26.59 AMNatural brick is often considered a traditional building material. Here’s how people are using it in contemporary gardens too

Leaning against a brick garden wall warmed by the autumn sun, I pondered whether this ancient building material has a place in contemporary garden design. Is it a relic of traditional gardens? Brick has been a favorite material for gardens for centuries, from Roman courtyards and Tudor knot garden paths to the walls surrounding Victorian vegetable gardens. Winston Churchill, the British wartime prime minister, found brick laying to be a form of relaxation and built an extensive wall at his Chartwell garden.

Brick, which has been with us in one form or another since humans first started building, is most often formed from kneaded clay, molded into its familiar shape and then fired at a high temperature. Today, with garden designers embracing other construction materials, is there a place for brick in the garden? I think there is, and I’m sure that when you’ve had a look at some examples of great contemporary garden design using brick, you’ll agree.

7 Quick and Easy Indoor Halloween Decorating Ideas

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.41.42 PMMake a pumpkin family portrait — no carving! — and other simple but eye-catching fall tabletop and mantel arrangements

Even with just a few days till October 31, it’s not too late to decorate. Pumpkins from the grocery store, leaves from the backyard and a few things around the house can transform a table or mantel into Halloween central.

Eco-Friendly Ranch House: Hupomone Ranch

hupomone-ranch-tgh-architectsThis beautiful eco-friendly ranch was developed by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects. Located on 160-acres in California’s Chileno Valley, the Hupomone Ranch is owned by a young family with three children that had the dream of building a barn house that would reflect their commitment to sustainable farming. The main house spreads over 2.498 square feet and the interior has a close connection with the outdoors, the stunning light-filled open living area and huge slide away windows open directly to the garden, inviting a healthy, happy and conscious family life.

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Water Heater Woes: Repair or Replace?

Water heater 101: you should replace your water heater if the heater is leaking, the unit is more than 8 years old, and a newer model could save energy costs. 

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Music Review: Michael W. Smith “The Spirit of Christmas”

MWS SPirit of ChristmasYou may have noticed Christmas CDs showing up at your favorite coffee shop, or bookstore (yes, some places still have those…) Me? I’ve been playing Christmas music since April. When I saw Michael W. Smith’s latest release, I ordered (no, not downloaded, I want the CD booklet with all the information), immediately. There are some really stunning orchestral arrangements combined with some dramatic studio magic on this, Smith’s fourth Christmas albums. Watch the teaser video of recording sessions.

Christmas CDs are a cash cow for most artists. They sing these songs like they are reading the Yellow Pages and still be able to get away scot free simply because these carols by themselves are already seasonal successes. Michael W. Smith avoids this completely. “The Spirit of Christmas” isn’t elevator muzak – this album is a story…a story worth listening to.

Smith put a lot of creativity and focus into this record, and the stars have shown up for this CD -all 9 of the renowned artists have had at least one #1 hit on the charts. From the country music world, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride and Vince Gill. We have Smith’s lifelong friend Amy Grant and from the pop/rock genre we have two legends, U2’s Bono and Doobie Brothers’ crooner Michael McDonald. My favorite guest artist is the London Symphony Orchestra who sounds spectacular on the entire disc.

This album isn’t like other Yuletide recordings where songs are just thrown together randomly. The sequencing of the songs I tell a story. The London Symphony starts us off with a childlike awe of the magical beauty of Christmas playing Smith’s composition of “The Miracle of Christmas”, followed by classic tunes “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”“Happy Holidays/Holiday Season”“Christmas Time Is Here”featuring Vince Gill sounding quasi angelic. “White Christmas”has Lady Antebellum joining MWS.

Smith’s granddaughter joins him and the Nashville Children’s Choir on “Somewhere In My Memory”. It is the poignant melody that most will remember from “Home Alone”the movie. It is breathtaking in its simplicity and emotion. The Symphony sets up the next section with “The Spirit of Christmas”a medley of carols; Deck the Halls, Good King Wenceslas, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Feels Like Christmas and, O Come All Ye Faithful. Brilliant programming here, it is impossible not to find a favorite among these chestnuts (had to do it…).

Little Big Town sings a traditional“Silent Night”, while Martina McBride joins Michael with an ethereal sounding“What Child Is This”. “Almost There” features Amy Grant starts with an almost medieval tone with its instrumentation and harmonies. These two sound the same as when they started singing together thirty years ago. Their harmonies blend so well its like they are the same person.

The most dramatic musical moments come in the last section of the album. Carrie Underwood’s rendition of Smith’s “All is Well,” is sensational. This CD s worth every penny for this song alone! I’m very familiar with “Christmas Day,” having performed it with the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree in 2012. Here Jennifer Nettles almost overshadows Smith on this timeless MWS seasonal ballad.

I’m not sure what the vision was for “Darkest Night”, U2’s Bono delivers a breathy narrative on how evil and good clash on the day of Christ’s birth. It feels like this was a way to get a legend on the album with little effort. “Peace” is one of my favorite tunes on the disc. While Michael McDonald and Smith have such different tones, they come together to create a beautifully haunting version of this song.

Smith’s no stranger to Christmas music. With such a star-studded line up of guests, well-chosen songs, and the rich sounds provided by the London Symphony Orchestra, “The Spirit of Christmas” is his best Yuletide album to date.

Welcome the Winter With Mood-Enhancing Lights

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 7.33.55 AMRelish the prospect of darker evenings with statement lighting to illuminate and inspire

It’s true the nights are getting darker earlier, but before you book your ticket to somewhere sunnier, explore other ways to brighten up your days. The right illumination can transform a room and also act as a stylish focal point. So invest in an attention-grabbing light or two and start looking forward to sundown.