10 Ways to Decorate With Christmas Lights

Use these techniques to light up your house and garden for the holiday season

By Lauren Dunec Hoang  | Courtesy of Houzz.com

As anyone who has untangled a snarled string of lights or come up 5 feet short on the roofline can attest, the process of hanging holiday lights is more complicated than it looks. A satisfying result depends both on having the right products on hand as well as proper installation. Let us help take the guesswork out of your holiday light setup this year with tips from lighting professionals, including tricks for hiding cords, the best lights for tree-wrapping and how to evenly hang lights along the eaves of your home.


1. Wrap shrubs. Adding just a few lights to the landscape can make a big difference in making the garden an inviting place to walk through or gaze at. In this walled garden in Manchester, England, a pair of clipped shrubs wrapped with white lights makes a lovely entrance to a garden room.

Get the look: To evenly cover outdoor shrubs, pick up “net lights,” which have bulbs distributed over a square or rectangular lattice of cords. Energy-efficient LED net lights often have a more true-white or bluish-white color than those with incandescent bulbs. Read the packaging to be sure the netting is large enough to wrap all the way around your shrubs.


2. Deck out your front porch. This front porch in Atlanta — done up with festive garlands, strings of lights and a Santa figurine — looks lavishly festive without being overwhelming.

Get the look: Concentrating outdoor decorations in a single area, such as the entryway or a garden bed, can be a great way to go all out with holiday exuberance without turning your front yard into Disneyland. 


3. Showcase trees. Gardens this time of year are primarily quiet. Highlight the branch structure of deciduous trees by wrapping the trunk and individual branches with white lights. Choose a single tree as a specimen, or illuminate a cluster of trees for greater impact.

Pro tip: To get the professional look in this photo, Ryan Morici of Heritage Oaks Landscaping recommends swapping regular holiday lights for LED mini lights to save on power consumption. “The LED lights allow you to use many more lights per circuit versus the incandescent lights,” Morici says.


4. Line a pathway with luminarias. Welcome guests this year with an enchanting walkway lined with glowing luminarias. 

Get the look: You can purchase luminarias or make your own with paper bags weighted with a handful of sand at the bottom. If you’re thinking of a large display, gather some helpers to place tea lights in each one — or use battery-powered candles — and light just before guests arrive.


5. Hang snowflakes. Trade traditional string lights for a set with glittering snowflakes. Hang them where they have room to stand out, such as just below the eaves or along large branches of a tree in the front yard.


6. Illuminate potted branches. You may not have small trees or shrubs to wrap with lights along driveways or paved entryways. But you can light up container plantings instead.

Get the look: Pick up branches from the backyard or a florist, and set them upright in containers filled with sand or gravel. Wrap the branches with lights of your choosing, and use conifer trimmings to hide the plugs and containers.


7. Add magic to snowy landscapes. Lights twinkling like tiny stars hovering over a snowy garden are just about as magical as it gets. To mimic stars overhead, wrap branches that overhang garden walkways or beds to create a softly lit canopy.


8. Light up a treehouse. As if a backyard treehouse weren’t magical enough, this one is fully decked out for Christmas. A Houzz favorite for the past few years — with good reason — the treehouse was built by a Dallas couple, with the help of an architect, to give their grandchildren a place for imaginative play. 


9. Highlight a wreath. If you already have landscape lighting that washes a wall with light, use this as an opportunity to hang a holiday wreath or swag. Weave string lights into the wreath or simply leave it as is — either way looks classic and understated.


10. Outline the eaves of your home. Perhaps the most classic style, perimeter lighting along a home’s eaves and roofline creates an inviting arrival. Pelham McMurry from Light Up Nashville shares these tips for getting a professional look at home:

  • Upgrade your lights. “Even the most expensive sets of LED lights at box stores are cheap-quality,” McMurry says. “Commercial-grade LED lights purchased from specialty retailers is the way to go if you don’t want to repurchase your lights year after year. Quality lights cost more, but in the long run, you’ll save time, frustration and money by not having to repurchase every year.” To get those perfectly straight lines, where every bulb seems exactly aligned with the next one, attach lights to your trim with commercial-grade clips.

  • Consider a professional. “There are many reasons to hire a professional to install your holiday lightings, but maybe the most important is safety,” McMurry says. To avoid the risk of falling from a ladder or slipping on an icy roof, consider hiring a local lighting professional.

12 Halloween Decor Ideas to Scare and Delight

Gather inspiration for your seasonal style with these spooky tricks and treats

By Gwendolyn Purdom Courtesy of Houzz.com

Getting dressed up for Halloween is hardly limited to people and pets. Decking out your home with jack-o’-lanterns, spiderwebs and other creepy decor details can be just as fun as getting your little pirates and witches in costume this time of year — and often easier. Here’s a goody bag of our favorite tips and inspirations.

1. A Gothic Glow

Part Phantom of the Operaand part haunted house, a cluster of flickering candles sets an instantly spooky scene. To get the most wow for your wicks, combine tapered candles of varying heights and thicknesses all in the same color (white is classic, black a notch more mysterious). If you don’t have an appropriately unnerving candelabrum or individual candleholders handy, a heatproof tray or platter should do the trick as a base. Keep the candles in place with a dab of candle adhesive to bond each candle directly to the display surface.

Decorator beware: Candles packed together like this mean more heat and more danger if they aren’t monitored closely. Never leave the candle arrangement unattended, and if you have young kids or pets nearby, flameless candles will likely be a safer bet.


2. Spooky Specimens

Going for Mad Scientist Chic? A collection of classic candy dishes goes from sweet to sinister when you swap out the gumdrops for snakes and spiders. Stock up on rubber critters in the toy aisle and show off your specimens on a mantel or as a chilling centerpiece. Bonus points for (gently) knocking one over so it looks as if the creepy crawlies are on the move.


3. Freaky Foliage

Fall color palettes go beyond oranges and reds. Plant an unexpected jolt of black blooms or foliage in the yard or your front porch container garden to keep things feeling haunting but not over the top. Fall is a great time to plant the perennial black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) shown here, for instance. It adds visual interest, texture and a contrasting backdrop for the pumpkins.


4. Trick-or-Treat-Ready Front Door

The warm wood door that Boston design firm JS Interiors found at a Maine salvage company combined with frosted-glass star lanterns, a friendly Halloween doormat and three pretty pumpkins makes for a well-appointed, well-lit entryway to welcome candy-seeking boys and ghouls.


5. Color-Coordinated Candles

Make these cute candy-corn-inspired candles yourself or just use the iconic sugary fall treat as color inspiration. An array of glowing orange, white and yellow candles gets across the same sweet and seasonal idea.


6. Orange-Free Zone

Some design-minded homeowners may shy away from Halloween decor for fear of overdoing it on the orange. But black, gray and silver accents, like the paper skull garland, tombstone and candles on display here, feel just as holiday-ready without all the intensity of the season’s dominant shade.


7. Eerie Terrarium

You don’t have to be crafty to give planters or terrariums you already have an unsettling Halloween upgrade. A handful of moss, faux cobwebs or a flameless candle or two can evoke a Halloween feeling without sacrificing style. Or, if you’re up to it, you can build your own seasonal terrarium from scratch.


8. Words of Warning

There’s a way to get into the holiday spirit without turning your yard into a parade of zombies and ghosts. Why not have some fun guiding visitors to the door with a not-so-threatening warning written with vinyl decals? Similar messages could work in the window or on the front door too. 

Want to make things even scarier? Throw in a terrifying guard dog, like the one shown here. (Just kidding, that pup’s adorable.)


9. Gourd Goals

With the autumn-tastic art above the mantel, the bold candleholders and the eclectic pile of pumpkins spilling from the fireplace, this whimsical scene gives an example of how to take your Halloween decor in a more playful direction. And by using painted pumpkins instead of carved ones, the homeowners also saved themselves a lot of time, effort and goop.


10. Taking Flight

With a little creativity, the Houzz user’s garage door shown here went from wasted space to an unexpected canvas for a colony of bats. With the help of stick-on vinyl decals, yours could too.


11. Sophisticated Scares

You might as well think about your mantel as a little art gallery for you to curate. These homeowners in Brooklyn, New York, took that concept and filtered it through a sophisticated Halloween lens. Clean white gourds, a bouquet of black ostrich feathers, a faux crow and a cloche jar filled with seasonal root veggies capture an easy-to-replicate fall feeling with a dash of grown-up Halloween scares.


12. Rethinking the Definition of Decor

Sure, candy corn is great by the handful and fall leaves signal the season in the yard, but they can make for great home accents too. Display the colorful corn in a pretty glass vase, thread the best leaves you rake up into a festive garland, and keep an open mind when it comes to other autumn staples and how you might be able to repurpose them around the house.

Five Ways to Ease into Back-to-School Routines

By 425 staff | September 10, 2018 | Courtesy of 425magazine.com


It’s tough to get kids back in a routine after long summer days, late nights, sleeping in, and loose schedules. Here are some tips for the whole family to get back into the September school groove.


Use A Family Calendar

It is difficult to keep track of it all — and each other. Find a family communication system that works for your family. It can be an old-fashioned paper calendar everyone can write on, or an app like Cozi Family Organizer. In addition to keeping track of schedules, it also features to-do lists, family journals, and shopping lists!


Check Homework First

Check backpacks when everyone gets home, and encourage kids to do homework as soon as they get home, while enjoying a healthy snack. The sooner homework is done, the better for everyone’s sanity. It’s tough to do homework when everyone is tired. Now put that prepped backpack by the door for tomorrow morning.


Plan Dinners

It’s tough to get a healthy meal on the table with all that homework help, after-school activities, and your own work schedule. We get it. To make life easier, try meal prepping over the weekend. Cut veggies and fruits, boil eggs, and bake chicken breasts, all building blocks for meals later, or quick snacks. Utilize your slow cooker — and dinner can be done before you walk in the door! Not a planner? Maybe it’s time to invest in a new and improved pressure cooker to speed up the process.


Get Ready at Night

If you pick everyone’s outfits out the night before, pack lunches, get backpacks and computer bags ready, and have shoes by the door, your morning will be a lot better. And you will have more time to deal with everything that is bound to still go wrong, because, well, mornings.


Go To Sleep

If you hope the kids are sleeping at 8:30 p.m., make sure they are ready for bed at 7:30 p.m. — getting to actual sleep might take longer than you hope, and unwind time is essential. Plus, this gives more time to read some books, or talk about whatever is on their minds.

10 End-of-Summer Cleanup Tips for Outdoor Spaces

Roll up your outdoor rugs, take down the string lights and plant those bulbs before it gets too cold

By Leslie Reichert  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

You’ve hopefully had a glorious summer with plenty of vacations and day trips to parks and beaches. But fall is just around the corner and it’s time to get ready for the change. Here are 10 cleanup tips to help preserve your outdoor spaces through the winter so they will be ready to go when the warm weather returns.


1. Clean and Protect Wood Decking

September is a great time to clean your outdoor wood decking before bad weather hits. First, remove all the furniture from the area and use a leaf blower to remove all large dirt and debris. Then, fill up a large bucket with warm water and just a few drops of gentle dish detergent. Using a scrubbing brush or a brush attached to a long wand, scrub the deck. Rinse with a hose and let the deck completely dry. Finally, most wood decks require a coat of wood sealer every other year to protect it from water damage and the sun — so your deck might be due for a coat.


2. Store Outdoor Rugs

Don’t plan on leaving your outdoor rugs outside for the winter season. After you’ve removed them to clean the deck, roll them up and put them in storage for the colder months. This will protect them from the weather and also protect your deck from being damaged by the extra moisture that may build up underneath the rug.


3. Clean and Store Outdoor Furniture Cushions

At the end of the summer, the fabric covers on your outdoor furniture should be washed, dried and stored in a protected storage unit, such as a shed, basement or garage. 

You should wash removable outdoor furniture fabric in a washing machine on cold-water setting. Add a small amount of detergent and use the permanent-press setting on your washer if you have it. Once washed, let the covers air dry to avoid shrinkage.


4. Remove and Store Outdoor Lighting 

Don’t make the mistake of leaving your outdoor string lights up all winter. The odds are great that the bulbs and wiring will get damaged by wind, ice and snow. Take the time to wrap them up and store them until next spring.


5. Clean and Maintain Gas Grills 

Plan to give your grill a thorough cleaning at the end of the summer. Remove all the pieces that could be contaminated with food and grease and empty and clean the drip tray. Once the grill is clean, check to make sure your grill cover is free of holes and rips. Cover the grill and tie down the base so the cover isn’t damaged by the wind and weather. Make sure the propane tank is in the “off” position and the supply line is disconnected from the grill.


6. Clean Outdoor Showers 

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor shower, it likely got a lot of use during the summer but was rarely cleaned. Take the time to clean every inch of the shower with a large bucket of warm water and just a few drops of gentle dish detergent. 

Friendly reminder: If you live in a climate where temperatures drop below freezing, remember to schedule the water to your outdoor shower to be turned off in October. You don’t want to deal with frozen pipes this upcoming winter.

7. Hot Tub Maintenance

If you’re also lucky enough to have a hot tub, it’s important that you keep it clean and the chlorine level balanced on a regular basis. But making sure the water is clean and disinfected is only half the battle. You should also use a Mr. Clean magic eraser to remove the film and rings above the interior wall’s waterline so you don’t contaminate the water with dirt and excess cleaning chemicals.


. Clean the Garage 

September is the best time to get your garage ready for the colder winter months. While the weather is still nice, empty the entire garage and sweep it out completely. It’s a good time to check the floors for oil and gas spills and use a specialized cleaner to get those spots removed.


9. Front Walkway Upkeep 

If you were busy traveling or hitting the beach all summer, you may have neglected your front walkway. Spend a few minutes giving it a cleaning. Start by removing everything from the front stoop and give it a good sweeping. Make sure to check for cobwebs around light fixtures.

Crabgrass loves this time of year, so it might be a good idea to do some weeding. Take a few minutes with a bucket and your gardening gloves to pull out the weeds and grass that have sprung up on your walkway. Those few minutes will make your walkway look more welcoming to guests.


10. Think Spring and Plan Ahead

If you have a few minutes, purchase some bulbs to add some extra color to your front walkway or garden. Now is the time to get them in the ground so you can enjoy their colorful blooms next spring.

Clear the Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Purifiers

Get the lowdown on air filtration systems for your house — and what to do if you are affected by wildfire smoke

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

If you have allergies or asthma, or are sensitive to pollution, you may have considered purchasing an air purifier to clean the air inside your home. When wildfires burn, even 100 miles away, even those without specific health concerns think about ways to improve indoor air quality. 

With so many types of filtration systems on the market (and prices ranging from $100 to nearly $1,000), it can be hard to know where to begin. Check out this quick guide to home air purifiers to figure out which are worth the cost.


Why use an air purifier? Indoor air pollution comes from a combination of particulate matter (dust, mold, pet dander and particles from smoke and cooking stoves) and gaseous pollutants (vehicle exhaust, smoke and chemical fumes) and can be far worse than the pollution outside, simply because it has no way to dissipate. 

Those who suffer from asthma or allergies can be especially sensitive to air quality, and using an air purifier could be helpful, together with other methods of keeping out pollution and allergens.


Purify your home, not just the air. Air purifiers can do wonders for removing particulate matter from the air; the problem is that dust, pet dander and the like don’t stay in the air for long. Allergens drift to the ground and become embedded in rugs and soft furnishings — places an air purifier cannot reach. A combination approach will reduce indoor air pollution and allergens more than any one method alone. Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting; go for easy-to-clean hard flooring and washable area rugs.
  • Vacuum and dust with a microfiber cloth regularly.
  • Ban smoking in and around the house.
  • Do not use a fireplace.
  • Do use the exhaust fans over the stove and in the bathroom.
  • Establish a no-shoes policy.

What to do if you are affected by wildfire smoke. Depending on wind direction and other atmospheric conditions, smoke from wildfires can drift 100 miles or farther from the source of the flames. If you are affected by wildfire smoke (but not in an evacuation area), the Centers for Disease Control recommends staying indoors when possible, with windows, doors, and fireplace dampers closed. Here are a few more things you can do:

  • Use your central air-conditioning system if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed to prevent smoke from getting inside.
  • Clean or replace the HVAC filter more frequently as long as you are experiencing smoky conditions.
  • Cut down on activities that contribute to indoor air pollution, including burning candles and using a fireplace, wood stove or gas stove.
  • Avoid vacuuming, as this can stir up large particles that have settled.
  • If you do not have an in-duct air filtration system, it can be helpful to use a portable air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove some of the particulate matter from the air.
  • If you have a medical emergency from smoke, you should call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room immediately.

How air purifiers work. There are a few different types of air purifiers on the market, and not all of them are especially effective or safe. It is important to know what you are buying, so read the fine print on your air purifier before purchasing. The main thing to check is how the purifier cleans the air. It will likely use one or more of these methods:

  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter: This is the most common and one of the most effective methods available.
  • Activated carbon: Usually used with a HEPA filter or another filter, activated carbon can help reduce pollution by attracting some chemicals, which bond to the surface of the carbon.
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) cleaners: These use a UV light to kill viruses, bacteria, allergens and some molds. UVGI cleaners may not reduce allergy or asthma symptoms, because typical home cleaners have limited effectiveness.
  • Electrostatic precipitators: Particles entering the purifier are given a charge and then trapped on oppositely charged plates. These machines create a small amount of ozone, which is a lung irritant and pollutant itself, so this type of purifier is probably best avoided.

Not effective as an air purifier at all, ozone generators are being marketed as air cleaners, but they actually add lung-irritating ozone to your home, which can be hazardous. The Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend buying ozone generators.


When to choose a whole-house air cleaner: If you have a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system in your home, you have the option of having a whole-house air cleaner installed right in the ductwork. The benefits of a whole-house system are that all of the air is cleaned and there are no bulky appliances to deal with. In-duct systems are expensive, and they must be professionally installed and maintained.

When to choose a portable room purifier: Room purifiers are a good choice for smaller spaces, and multiple units can be used to clean the air even in a larger home. They are portable, so they are a good solution for renters, and cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per unit.


Get to know the rating systems. For in-duct air filters, look for the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) to tell how efficiently they pull particles from the air. MERV values range from 1 to 20; a system rated 7 or higher is about as effective as a HEPA filter. True HEPA filters, which have MERV values of 17 to 20, are not typically installed in HVAC systems. However, some newer homes may be specially designed with in-duct HEPA filtration.


When shopping for a portable air purifier, look for a clean air delivery rate (CADR) of at least 250, but the higher the better. This is a voluntary system developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), so not all appliances have a CADR.

An Energy Star label on any air purifier indicates better energy efficiency but does not necessarily mean it is more effective — so also be sure to check the MERV or CADR rating.

Want to be really sure your air purifier is doing its job? Look for the AHAM Verifidemark on your portable air cleaner, which indicates that the manufacturer’s claims have been independently tested and certified.

How to Store Your Outdoor Gear for Summer and All Year

Bikes, boats, boards and beach chairs can take over at this time of year. Here’s how to store them safely and neatly

By Jeanne Taylor | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Warm-weather activities are among summer’s greatest pleasures, whether you prefer riding a bike, camping or paddling a kayak or canoe. But all these wonderful activities also can lead to an accumulation of outdoor gear — sometimes with no organized system for stashing it. 

Here are some tips for storing your summer activity gear so you can easily find and use it this summer. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can serve as inspiration for storing gear in your home.

Before you start organizing, take stock of your gear and reflect on how often you’ve used the items in recent years. If you own items that you haven’t used in a while, think about whether you’ll continue to use them. If not, consider donating them, selling them or sharing them with a friend who might enjoy them more often. 

Where to Store Camping Gear

As a professional organizer, I usually recommend that my clients store camping gear in the garage so they can quickly pack up the car for a weekend getaway. Consider using a sturdy shelving system, unless you have a garage closet or cabinetry system, which would also work. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tarps and coolers should all be stored in the same area. You can purchase one or two clear plastic containers to hold smaller items like flashlights, matches, eating utensils, plates and cookware. That way, you can simply load these into the car when you’re ready to head out. Several smaller containers are usually more functional than one large container, which can get heavy.

If you do not have a garage, you could store your camping gear in a hall closet or extra bedroom closet.


Camping gear storage tips:

  • To make getting away simpler, I recommend keeping a checklist stored with your equipment so you don’t forget anything for your trip. Your list should include all items you will typically want to bring along.
  • After using your tents and sleeping bags, spot-clean them with cold water and a mild soap to remove any dirt. Be sure these items are completely dry before putting them away to prevent mildew.
  • Store tents and sleeping bags loosely in cotton bags or breathable mesh bags (an old pillowcase will work well). Loosely fold your sleeping bag rather than rolling it tightly, as compressing a sleeping bag can eventually damage its fill. Avoid watertight storage bags for tents and sleeping bags, as condensation can build up inside of them and result in mildew.
  Photo by  Dani Jace

Photo by Dani Jace

Where to Store Beach Gear

I store my beach bags and beach towels in the same area as my beach chairs so I can pack quickly. I recommend hanging beach chairs and toys in the garage for a quick grab-and-go into your car (see next photo).


Personally, I like the mesh baskets that hold shovels and balls in this photo. If you have garage shelving, you can place toys in clear plastic storage containers so they are easily visible.

If you do not have a garage, a hall closet or spare bedroom closet will also work. As with camping gear, the key is to keep everything together so you can get out of the house quickly.

Beach gear storage tip:

  • The most important thing to remember with beach gear is to hose off the sand before you store it!

Where to Store Canoes and Kayaks

Canoes and kayaks are financial investments, and proper storage will help prevent damage. Manufacturers and retailers recommend storing these items indoors so the elements do not degrade fiberglass, plastic, fabric or epoxy-coated wood hulls (the bottom of the boat) or cause painted surfaces to fade or crack.

Outdoor summer storage. While indoor storage is generally best, you don’t want your canoe or kayak to be so inaccessible for the summer that you never use it. You can store boats outdoors if you take precautions. Limit exposure to ultraviolet rays by placing your boat under a deck, covered patio or suspended tarp. If you use a tarp, keep it from touching the hull, as this could lead to mold or fungal growth in areas with summer rain.


Outdoor winter storage. Although storing your canoe or kayak inside during winter months is generally the best option, for those without access to a garage, shed or basement, outdoor storage might be your only option. If this is the case, keep in mind that exposure to moisture from rain and snow can cause hull materials to degrade over time. You can use the same strategies as for summer outdoor boat storage (store under a deck, covered patio or suspended tarp), but during the winter you’ll need to take a few extra steps to keep your gear in shape.

After storms, check to see if rain or snow has collected inside the boat, and if so, remove it. If you use a tarp, be sure it doesn’t fill with snow or rain and press down on your boat’s hull, which could deform its shape. Also consider storing your boat off the ground using a rack or suspension system. Placing a boat directly on the ground for long periods of time can cause the hull to become deformed. Unfortunately, you probably also need to think about whether theft is a concern. It’s a good idea to keep your boat hidden from view and in a position where it would be difficult for a thief to grab. You might also secure your boat to a post, fence or building using a durable cable.


Indoor winter storage. Before stowing your canoe or kayak inside for the winter, wash it with water and a mild soap to remove dirt, sand, salt or grime. Make sure the boat is completely dry before storing. Keep your boat away from heat sources like furnaces or hot water heaters, as extreme heat can deform the hull. You might also use a rack or suspension system to raise your boat off the floor. 

Canoe storage tips:

  • Spread out your canoe’s weight by supporting the boat at several points along its length using padded cradles or wide nylon straps.
  • A rack or pulley system not only gets your canoe off the floor but also will allow you to store other items underneath.
  • Don’t store your canoe upside down on the ground, support it from its ends only, stand it up on one end or hang it from its grab handles (or thwarts), all of which can damage the boat.

Kayak storage tips:

  • To protect the hull of your kayak, consider using a rack that keeps the boat off the ground and supports it either on its side or with the hull facing up.
  • Suspending your kayak from the ceiling is another good way to get it out of the way. Never hang the boat by the grab loops (carrying handles) because this can bend the boat. Instead, use wide straps that wrap around the body of the boat.
  • Whether you put your kayak on a rack or suspend it from the ceiling, be sure to distribute its weight evenly using padded cradles or wide nylon straps. Don’t strap the boat down too tightly because over time this can deform the body of your kayak.

Where to Store Bikes

Inside the home. Bulky bikes can be challenging to store, particularly if you don’t have a garage. If you use your bike as daily transportation, then easy access is key. Hanging bikes from wall-mounted racks might be a good option if you must store bikes in your living space. In this Manhattan apartment living space, the bike blends in as part of the decor.


Inside the garage. If you have a garage, a wall-mounted bike rack for that space can work nicely for people who want their bikes easily accessible. In this photo, the back tire rests on the floor and supports the weight of the bike. This setup makes it possible to lift the bike and remove it from the rack without having to bear the bike’s full weight.


A pulley system or bike hoist works well in the garage for people who like to have their floor free for other storage. In some cases, if your ceiling is high enough, you may even be able to park your car underneath. (This pulley solution may also work inside the house.) Of course, you can always simply park your bike inside the garage if you have the room.


Where to Store Stand-Up Paddleboards

Stand-up paddleboards are generally 10 to 12 feet long and heavy, making them cumbersome to store. So before you buy one, think about where you’ll keep yours. Indoors offers the best protection against sun, moisture and heat. But as with other summer gear, sometimes you want your paddleboard easily accessible. 

If storing your board outdoors is your only option, avoid direct sunlight, because ultraviolet rays can discolor or damage the board’s shell. Place your board beneath the roof eaves, a covered patio, a deck or a strung-up tarp. Do not wrap a tarp around a board because it could cause mold or mildew to develop. 

If storing your board indoors, you’d be wise to use racks to keep it off the floor. Distribute the weight evenly and avoid strapping the board too tightly or it may warp over time. Hanging your board from the ceiling is another good option to get it out of the way. You can purchase a suspension system designed specifically for a paddleboard. To best protect the hull (the bottom of the board), hang it with the hull facing the ceiling.

Paddleboard storage tips:

  • If you are leaning a board against a wall, be sure to lean it on its side or tail, as storing a board on its nose can damage it over time. It’s also a good idea to put some padding between the board and the floor to protect the paddleboard.
  • If you’re storing your board upright, you may want to secure it in place so it won’t fall. To do so you can fasten a wooden peg to the wall on either side of the board, then use a strap to secure the board to the pegs.

If you love the outdoors and own a lot of gear, in an ideal world you would have ample storage indoors to protect all your gear from weather and theft. For those lucky enough to have sufficient space, this photo is an excellent example of using one wall in a garage to hang a variety of equipment in a central location. This allows for easy access and transfer to your car so you can make a quick getaway to the mountains, beach or trail.

To-Dos: Your June Home Checklist

Get your house ready for summer with a mix of maintenance musts and breezy room refreshes

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

Summer officially begins June 21 this year, but why wait until then to get into the summer spirit? Get a jump-start by prepping your home and garden for warm weather, setting up the perfect drip-dry spot for beach towels, reorganizing the kitchen (hello, smoothie bar) and more. These 21 to-dos cover all the bases, so you can enjoy the season to the fullest.


Things to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less

1. Make your summer must-do list. Beach days, lemonade on the porch, pick-your-own fruit farms — with so much to look forward to in summer, don’t let it zip by in the blink of an eye. Be sure you are making the most of your season by creating a list of your personal must-dos and posting it where you can see it. A big chalkboard or family bulletin board would be ideal.

2. Empty standing water regularly. The best way to keep mosquito populations down is by regularly checking your property for standing water and emptying it. Even a saucer of water can become a mosquito nursery, so leave no pot unturned!


3. Set up a spot to dry beach towels and bathing suits. Soggy, sandy beach towels getting dragged through the house is a mess waiting to happen — but you can easily prevent this with a bit of planning. Choose a dedicated spot, either just outside the door (a covered porch works well) or in the mudroom, as shown, and hang a row of sturdy hooks for wet towels and bathing suits. Once dry, sand can be easily shaken off outdoors, so it doesn’t end up in your washing machine.

4. Corral summer necessities in a bowl or basket. Stash extra sunscreen, shades and bug repellant in a container near the front door for easy access when you’re in a rush.


Tackle These Tasks Over a Weekend

5. Install screen doors. If you use them, now is the time to take down the storm doors and put up screen doors to let the summer breezes pour in. Be sure to inspect screens carefully, patching holes as needed — even a tiny hole can be enough to let in a mosquito.

6. Check play equipment for safety. Over time, wood, ropes and fastenings can degrade, making outdoor play equipment potentially unsafe. Check swings, zip lines, slides and other structures for safety; repair or replace as needed.


7. Hang a clothesline for summer energy savings. While the weather is nice and warm, consider skipping the dryer and hanging your clothes to dry in the fresh air instead. It may not always be possible, but even occasionally putting a clothesline or drying rackto work will save energy. 

If hang-drying isn’t an option, you can still reduce your energy bill by washing in cold water, cleaning the lint trap and having your dryer vent serviced to increase airflow.


8. Reorganize your kitchen. The change in seasons is a good time to rethink how you have things arranged in the kitchen. If there are small appliances you use more in the warmer months (a blender for smoothies, perhaps, or an ice cream maker), move them to a more accessible spot, and you will be more likely to use them. 

Stations devoted to a certain purpose can also do wonders. If you have children on summer vacation, create a self-help station stocked with healthy snacks. Or create an iced-coffee bar or smoothie-making station for yourself with all needed supplies within reach.


9. Make space for summer crafts. A dedicated space for arts and crafts can provide screen-free entertainment and a creative outlet — and it’s not just for kids! Even if you must work all summer, having a space to devote to a hobby can re-energize and inspire you.

10. Organize and put away school papers. If you do have kids, at the end of the school year, it can be tempting to jump right into summer. But taking the time to sort through each child’s school things will help prevent clutter from piling up, and you can start the summer fresh. Sort through the papers, artwork and projects from the year, choosing the best representative pieces (and those that most pull at your heartstrings) to save in a portfolio or document box and then recycling the rest. If you want to preserve more than you can keep, consider scanning the artwork into your computer and creating a photo book with the pictures. 


11. Keep cooling systems running smoothly. Take the time before hot weather sets in to dust ceiling fans, install window air-conditioning units and schedule maintenance for a whole-house cooling system.

12. Lighten up decor. Roll up heavy rugs, put crisp percale or cooling linen sheets on the beds and bring in accents in lighter hues for the warmer months ahead. Breezy white curtains look delightfully cool in summer, but if the weather gets quite hot where you live, you may want to leave heavy window coverings in place. Closing the shades during the heat of the day can actually help keep your house cooler


13. Plant bee-friendly flowers. Help give pollinators a place to thrive by adding bee-friendly native plants to your garden now for fall blooms. Which flower species you choose will depend on your region; ask for assistance at a local nursery specializing in native plants if you are unsure.

14. Keep an eye on irrigation systems. A faulty sprinkler or irrigation hose that goes unnoticed can quickly cause big problems for your lawn and garden. Make a habit of checking each component once a week, especially in summer.


15. Give your garage or shed a clean-out. Since you’ll likely be spending more time in your outdoor spaces during the summer, it’s a good idea to take some time at the start of the season to clear out space in your storage area. Take old paint cans to a hazardous waste drop-off point, sell or give away items you no longer want and organize what’s left into zones of use: garden tools and supplies, outdoor adventures and sports gear, and household tools.

16. Get seasonal gear ready. What with camping and beach trips, summertime activities come with a lot of gear. Get it cleaned up and ready now, so you’re not surprised by a leaky tent or blown-out beach umbrella when it’s too late to replace them. And if you plan to waterproof anything (tents or outdoor tablecloths, for example), now is the time.


Maintenance and Extras to Budget for This Month

17. Refresh your bathroom. Shower curtain liner looking a little dingy? Bath towels seen better days? Give your bathroom a mini spa makeover, and swap out your tired old bath linens for fresh, fluffy new towels and a new curtain liner. Use a woven basketto corral rolled towels. And contain toiletries on a tray or in zippered containers.

See a wide range of bathroom makeovers

18. Update first-aid kits and emergency supplies. Be prepared for everything from minor snafus to natural disasters with well-stocked first-aid kits in the house and car, plus emergency supplies for your family and pets. Not sure what to include? The American Red Cross has a helpful checklist.


19. Clean gutters and downspouts. If you did not get your gutters cleaned in spring, be sure to get this essential task checked off your list as soon as possible. Leaf- and debris-clogged gutters can lead to leaks and siding damage with summer storms.

20. Schedule major outdoor projects. Whether you are dreaming of a new patio or need to replace a deck, don’t delay booking a landscape architect or contractor for your projects. Their schedules tend to fill up quickly in the summer. 

21. Catch up on projects and maintenance. No one is perfect, and chances are there are a few home-maintenance projects you’ve been meaning tackle. Why not make June the month to get caught up?

Fly a Flag! 7 Ways to Make the Most of the Long Weekend

Honor our veterans on Memorial Day, and use the extra downtime to rest up or prep for summer

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Memorial Day is coming up on Monday, May 28, in the U.S., which means it’s time to salute those who died while serving in the armed forces by displaying the flag, visiting a memorial or attending a local parade. It’s also part of a long weekend — and the unofficial start to the summer season. Use your extra time off to get that grill ready for backyard barbecues, spruce up the garden and relax in bed with an extra cup of coffee. Here are seven ideas for your long weekend.


1. Get the grill ready for barbecue season. This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer — and grilling season. Get your grill ready by scraping the grates with a grill brush, checking gas burners for clogs and wiping down the exterior with warm, soapy water. Check your setup and get any tools or supplies you still need, including fuel, heavy-duty oven mitts, tongs, foil and a grilling spatula.


2. Declutter the kitchen counter. Give your counters a fresh start by clearing off all the papers and random items that have accumulated there. Recycle old paper, give mail and keys a dedicated home (a tray, for example), and corral tech devices and chargers in a basket or drawer. When you’re done decluttering, wipe counters clean and set out a small potted plant or a vase of flowers to beautify the space and encourage future neatness.


3. Relax with coffee in bed. Breakfast in bed can be less fun than it sounds (hello, crumbs). But coffee in bed? That’s a winner. Make your weekend morning feel extra special by making yourself up a tray with coffee or tea, reading material and a bud vase of flowers. Even a few extra savored minutes in the morning can really help start the day on a positive note. 

Kids barging in on your morning peace? If they’re old enough, pass out fun reading material like comic books, graphic novels or kids’ magazines. Or put on a kid-friendly story podcast (Circle Round from NPR is a favorite at our house) and let kids listen and draw while you sip and read.


4. Stock your picnic basket. Picnic season is upon us. Is your basket ready? At minimum, a good picnic kit has a blanket or tablecloth, bottle opener, small cutting board and knife, and a few reusable cups and plates. Nice-to-have extras include reusable cutlery, a tiffinfood container, cloth napkins, salt and pepper shakers, and a tray to set drinks on. 

And while you can’t go wrong with a classic wooden picnic basket like the one shown here, a picnic backpack, French market basket or cooler would all work as well.


5. Freshen up mulch — or just add more plants. The right mulch, applied judiciously, can help suppress weeds and add organic matter to the soil. If you use wood chips or shredded wood mulch in your planting beds, chances are a lot of what you applied in the past has broken down or blown away. After weeding, apply a new layer of mulch to freshen up the beds. 

Tired of adding mulch year after year? Instead of switching to inorganic mulch, like river stones, which can absorb and radiate heat, consider planting ground cover. With enough plants covering the area, you may be able to skip the mulch entirely, which may be best for the plants, soil and wildlife.


6. Give your parking strip some TLC. That poor sliver of dirt beside the road gets trampled, splattered with mud and sprayed with road salt. No wonder it’s often called the hell strip. But this little zone is also often the first thing visitors — and you — see when approaching your house, so it’s worth putting some time and effort into making it look good.

How to Design Your Hell Strip

  • Check with your homeowners association or local code enforcers before getting started to learn what is allowed in your area.
  • Incorporate gaps so visitors can exit vehicles without stepping on plants.
  • Add interest with low-growing perennials or soft ornamental grasses.
  • Not sure what to choose? Ask at a local garden center for recommendations on local plants that can stand up to the abuse of a parking strip planting spot.

7. Honor service members. Memorial Day is May 28 this year. Get involved by attending a Memorial Day parade, visiting a cemetery or memorial, or flying a flag. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, if you do choose to fly an American flag on Memorial Day, you should fly it at half-staff from sunrise until noon and then raise it briskly to the top of the staff and keep it there until sunset.

What to Do for Mom on Mother’s Day

Show Mom you care by giving her a special dinner, taking care of household tasks and creating new memories together

By Becky Harris  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com  

Houzz readers have the best ideas. When we asked you about the most special things you’ve done for your mom (or had done for you) on Mother’s Day, you had great stories from the past and suggestions for this year’s celebration. Here are some of the best.


1. Make her coffee or tea. Houzz user Joel Restel noticed that the best start to the day was missing from our original list: Wake up before Mom does, get that java or tea brewing, grab the paper from the lawn, arrange fresh flowers from the yard in a vase and set it all up. She’ll wake to the wonderful aroma and be drawn right to the nice welcome in the kitchen. If you want to add a gift to the mix, treat her to a bag of gourmet coffee or her favorite tea, or a lovely new teacup or mug.


2. Set up a brunch spread. Houzz user helenjorna likes the sound of something a little more elaborate. “I’d like to add getting in a hard workout and then coming home to mimosas and brunch,” she says. 

If Mom enjoys doing the cooking, then you can set the table and offer to be a sous chef she can order around — gathering and prepping ingredients, making the toast and handling all those other sous chef tasks.


3. Plant a vegetable garden. The idea of completing gardening tasks together was big with Houzzers. Reader darla1116 was excited about getting a vegetable garden started with her kids on Mother’s Day. 

If you’re not ready for veggies, starting an herb garden is a nice way to begin growing your own edibles.

Houzz user penthousenester also liked the idea of getting out into the garden on that special Sunday. “In our neck of the woods, Mother’s Day marks the time it is safe to plant tender annuals — so that is what we always did,” she says. If spring hasn’t sprung enough to put in plants, start sowing seeds as a Mother’s Day project.


4. Help with the spring mulching. “As for me I would love for my son to go pick up some mulch for me and lay it in my garden,” reader tshome says. 


5. Tackle Mom’s household to-do list. “My grown sons, 28 and 30, have given me the gift of a Honey-Do list for the past 10 years,” reader 55snownowwrites. “I make a list, they show up with tools and start working. It’s a great time to talk and laugh together while we work.… I absolutely adore them for making the day special for me.”


6. Take care of a week’s worth of household tasks. One Mother’s Day, “my hubby and kiddos surprised me with a card that announced it was Mother’s Day Week,” reader swsunshinewrites. “They said I could relax, and they were going to take on all the chores and cooking that week. I have been married for 20 years and this was a first. I was totally surprised and may have shed a tear.”

To do this yourself, attach a blank numbered list to your Mother’s Day card and invite Mom to write down tasks she’d like done that week. Hang it on the fridge to remind you of your new duties. You’ll finish with a whole new appreciation for all that your mother does for you — and maybe an idea of a task or two you can take on from here.


Taking care of Mom’s to-do list will give her the gift of time to do things she loves, reader candoli notes. “I personally like spending time doing projects at home, so it would be lovely to have the house tidied on its own without me having to do that in lieu of a project I wanted to start and finish,” she writes.


7. Put your cooking skills to use. Reader Andy Gibbs cooked Mom her favorite dish. If you’re lacking in kitchen skills, pick up her favorite restaurant dish instead. Get out the tablecloth, the good china and the candlesticks to mark it as a special meal.


8. Don’t leave the cleanup to Mom. “The kids cleaning their room and planning, putting on and cleaning up dinner is music to my ears,” reader daffodilmama writes. Clean up the kitchen, clear the table and do the dishes. (That includes putting them away.)


9. And don’t forget the most important thing you can give your Mom: time spent together. “Any day I can spend time with my kids is special,” Ann Stewart writes. “No money can buy the memories we make.” 

To-Dos: Your May Home Checklist

Get your house and yard in order now, and you’ll be ready to enjoy the summer days ahead

By Laura Gaskill  |  Courtesy of Houzz.com

With Mother’s Day and Memorial Day coming up this month, there is plenty of incentive to get those outdoor spaces ready for entertaining. From scheduling house painting to organizing your outdoor cooking tools, tick these 13 items off your to-do list so you can get to the good stuff: hanging out around the grill, kicking back on the porch and savoring the season. Let the countdown to summer begin!


Things to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less

1. Check outdoor lighting. Make sure all outdoor lights are in working order, including porch lights, landscape lighting and motion-sensing security lights. Replace bulbs or schedule repairs as needed.

2. Give potted plants some TLC. If you have potted plants that stay indoors over winter, bring them out once the danger of frost has passed. To help your plants acclimatize, find a protected spot out of direct sun for the first several weeks outdoors.


3. Inspect kitchen and bath fixtures. Keeping an eye on these areas can help prevent costly water damage and repairs later on. Make a plan to regrout or recaulk around counters and tile as needed. If you come across any slow leaks, have these repaired as well.

4. Check safety devices. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, smoke alarms should be tested at least once a month and replaced every 10 years — even if they still appear to be in working order. Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; replace batteries as needed. Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace it if necessary.


Tackle These Tasks Over a Weekend

5. Get ready for grilling season. Giving your grill a deep cleaning before the start of the season will help it work more efficiently and prevent flare-ups. Clean the grates and interior with a grill brush and wash the exterior with warm, soapy water. Clean and organize your grilling tools (tongs, spatula, skewers) and pick up charcoal or propane if needed.

If you have a gas grill, be sure to check the fuel line for cracks and clean out any clogged burner holes.


6. Maintain and repair garden paths. Create neat edges, pull weeds, fill in gravel paths with fresh gravel and replace or reposition broken steppingstones.


7. Clean walls and touch up paint. Use a dusting attachment on your vacuum or an electrostatic duster to remove dust from walls, paying special attention to corners and baseboards. For a deeper clean, wipe down walls with warm, soapy water after dusting. Rinse with clean water, using a lint-free cloth. Touch up paint as needed on interior walls and trim.

8. Clean items on open shelves. Infrequently used items stored on open shelves can get pretty grimy over time. For items with a thin layer of dust, swipe with an electrostatic duster. If there is a thicker layer of dust, of if the items are in the kitchen (where cooking grease can be an issue), wash each piece in a tub of warm, soapy water. Rinse and allow everything to dry before replacing.


9. Refresh bedrooms.Rotate the mattresses on all beds and flip over if possible. Dust nightstands, lamps, headboards, blinds and decor. Swap heavy duvets for lighter-weight bedding for the warmer months.


10. Thoroughly clean the laundry room. Run the washing machine with a specialty tub cleaner (or with vinegar for a natural solution) on a hot water cycle. Wipe the rubber rim inside the washer and dryer doors and remove lint from the dryer vent with a vent brush or vacuum attachment. Clean countertops, mop floors and restock supplies.


Maintenance and Extras to Budget for This Month

11. Paint or stain your home’s exterior. Longer days and generally milder weather make May a good month to schedule house painting. If your home has a wood-shingled exterior, replace any damaged shingles and have a fresh coat of stain applied if needed.


12. Put together a picnic kit. This is the season for alfresco feasts. Be ready for impromptu picnics by sorting through your outdoor dining supplies at the start of the season and keeping a basket of essentials within easy reach. 

Your kit doesn’t need to be extensive to get the job done: a cheese knife, small cutting board, bottle opener and blanket, plus a few outdoor dishes and cups, should see you through many a picnic. Note any supplies you’re missing and restock your basket as needed.


13. Add a relaxing porch feature. Make your porch an inviting place to relax and hang out with the addition of a porch swing, rocking chairs or a glider. Too much sun? Crisp white outdoor curtains can provide shade and look chic. Just add a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade, and you’ll be ready to savor the season in style.