11 Distinctive Finishes for Original Floorboards

Whether you go for glossy, painted or matte boards, make your wood floor the star

By Cheryl Freedman  / Courtesy of Houzz.com

The beauty of solid wood adds warmth and character to rooms, so if you’re lucky enough to have original planks in your home, make the most of them by choosing a finish you love, whether oil, varnish, stain or paint. Think about practicalities and your aesthetic sensibilities: Is your floor in a high-traffic area? Do you like things to look smart and traditional, or is lived-in and Shabby Chic more your thing? Take a look at the following floorboards for ideas and inspiration.

Beautiful in black. You might assume they’d look too gothic or severe, but black-painted boards can be dramatic, modern, grown-up and sleek, as evident in this stylish kitchen. 

As you’d expect, they go brilliantly with white walls, but they also provide an excellent neutral backdrop, allowing other colors to shine. Wooden furniture also stands out beautifully against a black floor, as seen with these stools. 

Bear in mind, however, that some people think black floors can show dirt, dog hair and dust even more than white floors.

Weathered and worn. A distressed floor can be a surprisingly effective way to add interest to, or “dirty up,” a minimal space. These oak floorboards have been painted white and then left to peel and flake. The result is perfectly Shabby Chic, and it looks brilliant with the super-modern furniture in tangy brights — a lesson in how not to be dull.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to wait for authentic wear and tear, you can DIY distress; search for tips online or seek out a workshop. The techniques are similar to those for distressing furniture (often applying waxes to certain areas so paint doesn’t stick, or scraping and sanding back patches of paint to reveal the wood underneath).

Natural beauty. High-gloss varnish not for you? If you prefer a natural, matte surface to your floorboards, try oiling them instead. Oiled floors can be easier to repair if damaged or stained — you can sand down the area that needs touching up and re-oil (rather than having to start from scratch). 

Instead of sitting on the surface, like varnishes and lacquers, oil sinks into the wood, adding another layer of conditioning. It’s a good idea to top up the oil every year or so to keep the floor pristine. Look for special Danish floor oils containing natural ingredients for a beautiful effect.

Perfect pine. If you live in a period property, chances are you’re in possession of original pine boards. Sanding back and finishing with clear varnish is a classic way to show off the natural beauty of the wood. In this updated country kitchen, the floor adds color, warmth and personality, while the blue island cools the orange tones down. 

Rent a professional sanding machine for a polished effect. Choose a tough varnished finish for kitchen floors to withstand mopping; if you prefer less sheen, go for matte or semi-matte options.

Bright white. White floorboards are ever popular and it’s no wonder: They instantly brighten and freshen up a room, and they can also make it feel larger. These slim boards have been painted in a durable white floor paint for a Scandi Chic look that will last. 

Think carefully before you commit to painting boards, however. Once you’ve painted them, it can be hard to turn back (unless you fancy an epic sanding session!).

Whether you’re painting, oiling or varnishing, always make sure the floor is vacuumed, scrubbed and squeaky-clean before you start. Remove any beading, edging or skirting to ensure a perfect finish.

A softer wash. Don’t want to go for a bright ’n’ sparkling white-painted floor but aren’t too keen on the look of wood either? One compromise is whitewashing:using white paint thinned down with water. (Try a mix of one part water, two parts paint.) 

Unlike conventional, thicker paint, this pale effect allows the wood’s grain to peek through and has a cottagey, homespun feel. Apply repeated coats until you get the look you want, then finish with a sealant to make it more durable.

Dramatic stain. A dark stain can look dramatic and elegant while still showing off the natural grain of original floorboards. In this bathroom, the chestnut floor looks stunning next to the white fixtures. It’s a great solution if you don’t want to rip out your perfectly serviceable pine boards but would prefer a different hue.

Always experiment with stains by patch-testing on a spare piece of board or in an unseen area until you get the shade you like. Try a dark oak or walnut hue, then finish with three coats of clear varnish for a glossy, grown-up look. Don’t be tempted to use colored varnishes on very pale boards, as chips and scratches will show through.

Special color. A colored painted floor can add real wow factor to a room. It also covers up a multitude of sins if your ancient boards are looking less than lovely. And it detracts from the clash that might arise when you have multiple tones of pine, oak and beech competing with one another. 

This matte blue looks fabulous and is a sophisticated alternative to white. Choose a special floor paint designed for heavy traffic that will resist spills, stains, scuffs and scratches. Make sure you sand first, and fill any holes and cracks before you wield your paintbrush. Also check the paint can’s instructions to see whether you need to prime the boards first, and apply knot sealant so the knots don’t peek through.

Nicely polished. Let the light reflect by going for some serious shine. A high-gloss polyurethane varnish can help bounce light around a room, can be easier to keep clean and tends to be more resilient to scrapes than waxes or oils. Look for a varnish that won’t yellow over time, and apply multiple coats to build up shine.

Beautifully bleached. This beautiful solid-wood floor is made from oak bleached with lye and finished with a soap treatment. This is a technique popular in Scandinavia that lightens wood for a sophisticated, pale look. Here it adds to the light, airy feel in this modern dining room. Look for products in specialty flooring stores, or buy pre-treated boards.

Rustic charm. Perfectly smooth, filled boards aren’t for everybody. In this striking Essex, England, barn, the charming rustic boards speak for themselves, their scratches, texture and gaps only adding to the country vibe. A neatly laid, engineered-floor would have looked much more sterile in this context.

Bathroom Backsplashes Make a Style Statement

Be inspired to turn this small bathroom detail into a big design feature

By Meera Innes / Courtesy of Houzz.com

The functional nature of sinks might not always inspire style, but the backsplash can be a bathroom centerpiece. Backsplashes help to protect the wall from water damage, but the myriad materials, colors and finishes also make this a small feature that can transform the feel of a bathroom and add drama, polish or character.

Create a centerpiece. Extending the backsplash over an entire wall — or, as here, a column — creates a feature wall that showcases the sink area. The use of white subway tiles throughout a large bathroom might appear too sterile, so choosing the same tiles in a different color with contrasting grout is a fresh idea that gives a pristine bathroom some much-needed zing.

Go for glamour. If opulence is your style, then it doesn’t get much more gorgeous than this custom inlaid wood backsplash. Polished natural wood inlaid with floral motifs isn’t your everyday sink backdrop and will require maintenance to keep it in perfect condition, but why not choose stunning artwork to gaze at first thing in the morning and last thing at night?

Contrast with polish. Give distressed furniture a twist by combining it with a clean, contemporary backdrop. The backsplash used here is made simply from two large, distinctly modern concrete tiles that quietly showcase the understated sink. 

Leaving the wall behind the sink bare could have rendered this area wanting in the style stakes, but the tiles make it a focal point, tying everything together with their smooth and rough finish that’s midway between the sleek sink and the Shabby Chic–style washstand.

Give it character. The vintage feel of the materials in this bathroom, from the stools to the mirrors, calls for a backsplash in a similarly antique style. The small cut and colorful pattern of the tiles used here make them an appropriate contrast to the stark white subway tiles. 

If you’re feeling bold, choosing slightly mismatched tiles in the same size and shape for each sink could also work in a bathroom aiming for this sort of bohemian charm.

Don’t be scared of brights. A backsplash is an easy way to add punchy color to bathroom decor, which often errs on the neutral side. This backsplash’s smooth, modern finish and long lines are in keeping with the overall style of this contemporary bathroom. Aim for cohesion, not clashing, in a space as streamlined as this.

Define your sink area. Backsplashes aren’t just for the wall — your floor could use the love, too. The way this backsplash rolls down into the floor tiles gives this sink the red-carpet treatment. The Moroccan design is a quirky choice that lends the contemporary feel of this bathroom a pleasing bohemian twist.

Keep it quiet. If your bathroom is a haven where you like to unwind and escape the chaos of life, then a muted palette might just hit the right tone. The gray-blue of this backsplash doesn’t fight with the striking Victorian-style ceramic floor tiles, yet quietly enhances the gray tones of the vanity unit and paneling.

Choose white in a small space. Even the simplest backsplash can make all the difference to a sparsely decorated bathroom. Here, the humble subway tile adds plenty of interest to a run-of-the-mill white suite. All-over white was the best choice for keeping the decor clean and enhancing a sense of space in this mini loft bathroom, while wooden details in the door, window and accessories add a warm edge.

Play with color and texture. It could have been tempting to follow through on the reflective theme here by creating a mirrored backsplash, but these colorful iridescent tiles provide a refreshing contrast with enough shine for consistency. The hint of art deco about the tiles complements the style of the mirror and cabinet while keeping the overall look modern.

Work a neat repeat. If you’ve used tiles elsewhere in the bathroom and you have some left over, it makes perfect sense to use the remainder on the backsplash. It’s a less adventurous choice, but it ensures that your theme is consistent, and you can be certain it’ll match the decor.

Why You Should Embrace a Solid Slab Backsplash

The effect is stunning, and yet the cost can be minimal. Here’s what to know about using full slabs of stone in your kitchen

By Yanic Simard / Courtesy of Houzz.com

A solid slab backsplash is a custom look that says luxury in a kitchen of any size. But it doesn’t require a luxurious budget. Take inspiration from this trendy yet timeless look, and give your next kitchen remodel a solid head start.

A slab backsplash is simply a backsplash made of a continuous material (or in cases like this one, a few large pieces with the occasional break for an appliance or a cabinet). The solid surface creates a different visual effect than, say, tile. When matched to the countertop, it creates an especially big, bold look.

The minimalist sensibility of unbroken planes makes the slab backsplash a key ingredient in many contemporary or transitional kitchens, balancing a modern form with a timeless traditional material for the best of both worlds.

Plus, a stone treatment on the wall is naturally more eye-catching than one on the counter, as the eye gravitates to vertical surfaces first.

A stone with large-scale veining suits spacious kitchens perfectly, making it a natural match for open-concept kitchens where the backsplash is on full display even from a distance.

However, it can also be an achievable look for a less expansive kitchen (more on that in a moment).

When combined with a wrapped island, the look is ultraluxe. It’s no small investment, but the unique architectural nature of the installation means it will always have classic elegance.

A slab backsplash does not have to be created from high-contrast stone either. An engineered materiallike Corian or Caesarstone also looks beautiful facing forward, especially in a more modern setting.

Layered with open shelving, it becomes the perfect backdrop for a rich but fuss-free look.

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You can match the slab to the counter and island, or let it be a feature on its own paired with simpler materials for the other surfaces, even combining up to three materials for a subtly diverse look. 

To play it safe, I would avoid choosing more than three materials, and for a no-fail option use a solid-colored slab for one area and simple subway tile for another to avoid clashing.

Get the Look for Less

There are several budget-friendly ways to achieve this look. One is to simply clad a smaller feature area, such as the space between the range and hood. This is especially effective in a space where much of the wall is already eaten up by a window. With a pale or plain treatment for the remaining walls, the stone will dominate the statement.

Similarly, you can use two book-matched pieces of stone (two layers sliced from the same source and flipped to make a mirror image) to create an elegant effect from smaller pieces. 

If you shop around, you can likely find a stone supplier that will sell you smaller off-cut pieces at a discount; you’ll need to be flexible about the type of stone you’re seeking. This can be a great way to inspire the rest of the look — starting with a stone and working from there to choose coordinating colors and finishes.

In a kitchen renovation project of my own, I needed only one slab of material to dress this galley kitchen, making the compact size an advantage in creating a big look. Because the backsplash reaches the upper cabinets, it feels like a full-impact effect, even though the actual material square footage is low. I then backed the stove and fridge niche in a subdued material (sheets of smoky gray mirror) to let the stone speak for itself.

Another trend is to use a short backsplash, often just a few inches high, to give the sense that the material is traveling up the wall while protecting the wall from dings and dents where it’s needed most. In fact, you may prefer this look for its more understated nature.

You can then combine this low-lined look with a secondary tile wherever you need a little more coverage, such as behind the stove.

Using an engineered stone on one third to half of the wall above a countertop leaves room for a display of art, decorative plates or a stunning painting to give your kitchen a gallery-like feel that softens the functional feel.

You can also create a similar effect by choosing tiles that have a chunky, high-contrast grain or color variance. When the tiles are put together in a complex pattern (like herringbone), their geometry gives way to a sense of organic rippling that has the energy of a slab with a subtle layer of extra sophistication.

Make sure to take the treatment all the way to the ceiling for that high-impact look.

Last, take inspiration from this idea and get the look not with stone but with paper. A wallpaper backsplash creates that continuous custom look while tying the room to another space in your house (if you repeat the pattern in, say, your living room or dining nook). Just add a layer of glass on top to create that wipeable surface.

Key Measurements to Help You Design the Perfect Home Office

Fit all your work surfaces, equipment and storage with comfortable clearances by keeping these dimensions in mind

By Steven Randel / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Even if you don’t work at home, your partner or your best friend probably does. The shift in communications and information technology has created a new work lifestyle that demands a home office. At minimum a home office should have a personal computer, a printer and modest file storage. Those who work mostly at home also will need a dedicated room they can close off for privacy. What do you need in your home office? A computer is just the beginning.

Floating Desks

Consider your desk first. Think about whether the desk should float in the room, as here, be placed against a wall or be built in. The standard desk height is 29 to 30 inches (74 to 76 centimeters). Freestanding desks range in size, but common dimensions are 48, 60 and 72 in. (122, 152 and 183 cm) wide and 24, 30 and 36 in. (61, 76 and 91 cm) deep. Get the largest desk that fits comfortably in your space, as you can never have enough work surface. 

This elegant home office accommodates a large freestanding desk. The built-in credenza and shelves hold a computer, files and books. Leave at least 30 in. (76 cm) between your own desk and credenza. On the other side of the desk, allow 48 to 60 in. (122 to 152 cm) for additional chairs and tables.

This unique floating desk defines a minimalist workspace set amid staircase landings. This clearly illustrates that your workspace does not have to take up a whole room. You can get by with a footprint that’s slightly larger than the desk if the configuration is sufficient for your needs.

Take a closer look at this office

Built-in Desks

Built-in desks have the same basic dimensions as other desks but often provide more work surface, since you customize the design. In this house the desktop is braced to the wall, allowing plenty of knee space so someone can maneuver from one end to the other. This area also offers a place for trash cans, paper shredders and items that need to be tucked away. The built-in bookshelves hold books, file boxes and supplies.

Desks Against a Wall

Your other option is to place desks against the wall. Two desks in this space are placed on opposite walls, creating a good work area. Keeping 54 to 66 in. (137 to 168 cm) between desks works best for this type of arrangement. With this amount of space, you can get up from the chair and walk around it without being hampered by the other desk and chair.

Drafting Boards

This large room has a generous-size pedestal desk floating in the middle and a drafting table tucked into one corner. Drafting boards are not as common as they once were, but some professions still need them. The height is what is most important about a drafting board. Most are adjustable and tilt, but a standard one has a top that’s 36 in. (92 cm) above the floor and rises up toward the back. A stool with a coordinating height is required for this arrangement. Plan to allow plenty of space, since the footprint of drafting tables is significant. You can get them as small as 48 in. (122 cm) wide and 30 in. (76 cm) deep, but most are 60 to 72 in. (152 to 183 cm) wide and 36 to 42 in. (91 to 107 cm) deep. Light tables (surfaces with a glass top illuminated from below) can be similarly configured and need about the same amount of space.

Computers

Computer dimensions vary greatly and are constantly changing. Keep the area where you will place your computer as flexible as possible. If you wish to place it in a built-in, as has been done here, keep in mind that any new equipment will need to fit in that space too. The other important consideration is the position of the keyboard. You can get away with placing a keyboard on the desk surface, but keyboard trays set at 24 to 26 in. (61 to 66 cm) high are more ergonomic. Many people use only a laptop and don’t need room for a keyboard tray; they simply need a clear area in which the electrical supply can be easily accessed.

Printers

Most people need a printer in their home office. These also vary in size, but you can plan on a footprint of at least 18 by 24 in. (46 by 61 cm). The height will depend on how the machine operates. Doors may open at the top, sides or back, allowing printer cartridges to be replaced or paper to be added. Allow room for these functions in your layout so that when you are on a deadline, you can quickly add paper or change a cartridge without having to push things out of the way.

Paper Shredders

Another piece of equipment that has become common is the paper shredder. These are usually trash can size: about 14 to 16 in. (36 to 41 cm) wide, 8 to 10 in. (20 to 25 cm) deep and 14 to 18 in. (36 to 46 cm) tall. Allow space for one as well as for a regular trash receptacle. You can usually tuck these items under the desk, as has been done here, but be sure you do not block your knee space.

Filing Cabinets

In this room the two desks accommodate plenty of file storage. Filing cabinets are another item that can take up considerable space in a home office. A standard two-drawer letter-size file cabinet is at least 15 in. (38 cm) in width, 30 in. (76 cm) in height and 29 in. (74 cm) in depth. For two-drawer legal-size file cabinets, bump up the width to 18 in. (46 cm). Lateral file cabinets begin at 30 in. (76 cm) in width, 18 in. (46 cm) in depth and 32 in. (81 cm) in height. Investigate which type you will need while planning your home office, since these cabinets can be large relative to the space you have. A quick way to find out more is to visit the website of an office supply chain and look up the dimensions of the file cabinets sold.

Flat Files

Less common, but very handy, are flat file cabinets. These are cabinets designed to hold large-format prints such as architectural plans and artwork. This home office features a handsome stainless steel design in the corner of the room. There is plenty of room to fully extend the drawers so the contents can be clearly viewed. These cabinets can be quite large, so if you need this type of storage, allow plenty of space. Common widths are 38, 44 and 50 in. (96, 112 and 127 cm); common depths are 26, 32 and 38 in. (66, 81 and 97 cm). The height depends on how many drawers you need and how many you can safely stack. The one in this photo is about 54 in. (137 cm) high. Allow a footprint of 40 to 60 in. (101 to 152 cm) in width and 50 to 80 in. (127 to 203 cm) in depth for proper function.

Desk Chairs

Desk chairs come in a great variety of styles, shapes and sizes. The one thing they have in common is the footprint of space in which they should be placed to allow for movement in front of a workstation: about 42 in. (107 cm) square, give or take a few inches, depending on the chair and individual requirements. This excludes and is outside of knee space. You’ll need to back up and slide from side to side as you reach for items on the desk, drawers and other furniture. Notice the well-defined space behind the desk in this minimalist scheme. The desktop, shelves and drawers all can be easily and quickly reached in this configuration.

Shelving

Each shelf in a unit is most commonly 12 in. (30 cm) deep and 14 to 16 in. (36 to 41 cm) high. Built-ins such as this design are popular and can make your home office feel intimate. These shelves nicely transition into a credenza along the back wall. You will need a hefty budget and plenty of space for this kind of setup. If you have a 10-foot by 10-foot room (304 by 304 cm), this configuration reduces the floor space to about 8 by 9 feet (244 by 274 cm). If you need more flexibility and plan to move within a few years, stick with freestanding bookshelves. Many sizes are available, but plan to have at least two pieces that are 36 in. (91 cm) wide and 48 in. (122 cm) high.

Additional Seating

Your office may need an upholstered sofa or chair if you have clients visit or if you use the room for reading or studying as well. Chairs need a footprint of space that’s about 40 in. (102 cm) square, and a love seat could be 40 in. (102 cm) deep and 62 in. long (157 cm). You won’t need a great deal of space in front of extra seating, so allowing paths as little as 14 in. (36 cm) wide may work. Set at an angle to the room, this desk and chair disguise the printer at far right and leave room for a cozy love seat in front of the window.

Note: Metric conversions provided are for relative reference only. Your country may have similar or specific standards, which you will want to follow.

This illustration shows a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when planning your home office. Always be sure to leave a clear space in which to maneuver your desk chair. File cabinets need enough room that you can open their drawers fully. So much equipment is now wireless that you might be able to place the printer across the room or even in a closet that has an electrical outlet. How you use your space will dictate its circulation path. If you have people visit your office, it’s important that they be able to move through it without obstructions. Think ahead to the type of storage you will need so that you have plenty of room for files, books and collections.

Help for Selling Your Home Faster — and Maybe for More

Prep your home properly before you put it on the market. Learn what tasks are worth the money and the best pros for the jobs

By Laura Gaskill / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Selling a house is a major undertaking. Where do you begin? First you’ll need to establish a big-picture view of how to prepare it. This ideabook will help you do that, so you can get your home in shape to sell quickly at the best possible price (without breaking your budget).

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The project: Get a home ready to sell.

Why: Taking the time to prepare your home before putting it on the market can help it fetch a higher price and increase buyer interest, making for a quicker sale. Taking a big-picture look at what to do to get your home ready to sell will help ensure that you make the best decisions and stay under budget.

Things to consider: It makes sense to start with the outside of your home, since that is what potential buyers will notice first. Shoot for nice landscaping, a freshly cleaned exterior, a driveway and walking path in good repair, a well-lit porch and an eye-catching front door.

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Make a list early on of all of the repairs your home needs, from the tiny (change a lightbulb) to the major (new roof) before deciding what to get done. The fact is that the cost of most repairs and upgrades will not be recouped in the sale price, so focus on taking care of the minor repairs and tackle bigger projects only if you feel you must.

Remove clutter and organize what’s left. Any real estate agent or home stager will tell you that getting rid of clutter and excess personal items is essential to making your home look its best to potential buyers. Less stuff will make your space look larger, which is almost always a positive thing. Overstuffed closets and drawers signal to buyers that there is not enough storage space in the home, while neat and orderly closets help buyers envision living an organized life in your house.

If you need to get a lot of furniture and accessories out of your home while it’s on the market, think about renting a storage unit. The cost could be worth it if it means your house shows better and sells faster (and hopefully for more money).

Who to hire: The pros you’ll hire to help prep your home for sale will depend on how much work your home needs and on how much work you plan to do yourself. Consider these:
 

  • Real estate agent: This is the first pro you will want to hire. Your Realtor should be able to give you an honest assessment of what your house needs to position it well on the market.
  • Handyperson: Hiring a handyperson for a single day is often enough to take care of a whole list of small repairs.
  • Electrician: Get that broken doorbell and porch light fixed, and update interior lighting.
  • Cleaning service: Getting your house sparkling clean is a low-cost way to make your home look its best. A professional house cleaning team can make your house shine in a single day.
  • Painter: A fresh coat of paint indoors and out is a surefire way to make your home stand out.
  • Stager: A professional home stager can help declutter your home, arrange furniture (sometimes bringing in loaner furniture) and accessories, and make paint and landscaping recommendations to get your home in top shape for a quick and profitable sale. 
  • Landscape designer or gardener: Landscaping consistently makes the list of things that can influence a home sale. If you do not have a green thumb, it could be worth it to invest in pro services from someone who does.

Cost breakdown: Sage advice is to spend as little as possible on your home to prepare it for sale. Small changes and upgrades will give it a boost in perceived value without your having to dip too far into your savings.
 

  • Expect to pay $50 to $85 per hour for a handyman and $60 to $100 per hour and up for an electrician
  • Home staging consultations (you implement most of the changes) run $150 to $500, but it can cost $2,000 and (way) up for full-service staging and furniture rentals. 
  • Should you decide to rent a storage unit, expect to pay about $100 per month for a 10- by 15-foot unit. 
  • House painting generally costs about $2 to $4 per square foot.

Best time to do this project: The boom time of year for home sales is summer, so it’s a good idea to set late spring or early summer as a goal date to have your home ready to sell. You can start preparing your home to sell anytime, but sooner is always better than later. 

If you can, begin preparations the year before you plan to sell to give landscaping time to fill in, and to give yourself ample time to get work done. For instance, you could plant spring bulbs in the fall, take care of interior house repairs in winter and finish up the rest of your projects in spring to ready your home for its first open house in early summer.

First steps: 

  1. Interview and choose a real estate agent.
  2. Assess your property  not just the value but also what could be done to the interior or exterior to appeal to more buyers.
  3. Decide what work you are going to do yourself and what you would like a pro to do.
  4. Hire a home stager. Your stager will have important input on what repairs and changes will be most worth your time and money, and which ones to skip.
  5. Hire additional pros as needed, starting with a landscaper. Remember, the landscape needs time to fill in.

How Your Landscaping Can Keep Burglars Away

Prevent home break-ins with strategic landscaping and good practices instead of menacing — and maybe less effective — measures

By Julie Kim / Courtesy of Houzz.com

I recently moved to a home in a very urban — some might say gritty — neighborhood of Los Angeles. Since nothing calms my baby more than a walk around the block, I spend a great deal of time wandering around my neighborhood on foot pushing a stroller. As a pedestrian, I started to notice countless “Beware of Dog” signs, iron bars bolted against windows as guards, menacing wrought iron and chain-link fences lining the entire perimeter of properties, and tall hedges obscuring houses from public view. 

I understood the purpose of these security measures, but I wondered about their effectiveness in protecting the residents from crime. I wondered if there were subtler, friendlier and, dare I say, more visually appealing strategies for promoting safety at home and on the streets.

Washington Post feature, “The Anatomy of a Burglary,” uncovered interesting details about the typical American burglary: Burglars prefer to spend no more than 60 seconds breaking into a home; most burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and last eight to 10 minutes, and the typical house burglar is a male teen who lives within a few miles of the home, not a professional thief. Clearly, strategies for deterring break-ins should consider that most burglaries are the quick, disorganized work of an amateur.

A police officer interviewed by the Sun Sentinelsuggested that landscaping and lighting are more critical to securing your home than replacing doors, locks and windows. The article referred to an approach called “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,” which uses natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, access control and “target hardening” to deter crime.

Increase visibility by trimming all bushes and hedges to 3 feet or shorter. Anything taller and you create a hiding place for criminals. Lower shrubs also increase visibility for your neighbors and pedestrian onlookers, who can report fishy activity.  

Interestingly, police officers at Tulane University have indicated that an ideal target for a criminal is a house surrounded by large hedges and shrubs, because they block visibility from the street and neighbors’ homes.

Cover the ground near your windows with gravel. The loud crunch of footsteps on gravel is enough of a deterrent for a burglar to search for another target.

Plant low, thorny bushes beneath your windows. Bougainvillea, barberries, roses or any prickly specimen ought to deter break-ins. Yuccas and other large succulents are a lower-maintenance option.

Make your home appear occupied when you are away. Leave your car in your driveway or carport, turn on your radio or TV loudly using a timer, and ask a neighbor to pick up your newspaper, mail and flyers attached to your door every day if you are on vacation.

Request a free survey of your property from your local police station. Most stations will survey your property for potential weaknesses if you ask.

Install a security system. The Washington Post feature revealed that homes without security systems are three times more likely to be broken into than homes with systems. Prominently displaying a sign on your front lawn might be enough to deter some criminals, even if it is fake.

Sunforce Outdoor Lighting Solar Motion 60 LED Security Light - $34.99

Light up dark exterior corners with motion-activated lights.The Sunforcesolar-powered LED motion-activated light is ideal for outdoor use. It frightens would-be trespassers, who think a person has switched on the light. No need to worry about connecting a power source or about the batteries’ running out, either.

Be a good neighbor. Rather than shutting out your neighbors with “Beware of Dog” signs and tall hedges (which don’t seem to work well anyway), befriend them and become one another’s allies. Maintain upkeep on your own property and show your neighbors that you care, and watch them follow suit.

A Nice Little Desk Just Where You Want One

Do you have a desk area hiding in plain sight? These stylish work perches give rooms extra purpose

By Lauren Walser / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Whether you’re a diligent telecommuter, a weekend novelist or simply looking for a place to store your paperwork, a home office is essential for organized living. But sometimes there aren’t enough rooms in a house. Not to worry; these hardworking combinations prove that you can mix business with pleasure.

Master Bedroom

A custom built-in desk in the bay window of this 15- by 15-foot master bedroom creates a serene workspace. Bookshelves and drawers help hide the clutter when it’s time to turn off the computer and catch some shut-eye.

Carpet: Missile Wheat, Stark; wall paint: Mannequin Cream, Benjamin Moore

If your bedroom is on the smaller side, like this one, a sheer curtain can help create a division and hide a study space while still allowing plenty of natural light into the room.

Here, the homeowner hung an iron curtain rod from the ceiling and used matching clip rings to hang a long, sheer panel, folded in half. A beaded curtain attached to the ceiling in front of the curtain rod adds sparkle.

Wall paint: Lemon Grass, Behr

Guest Bedroom

If you don’t host many overnight visitors, a guest bedroom is an ideal room to double as a home office. Before your guests arrive, clear your desktop to give them extra space to spread out. Be sure to have plenty of drawers and shelving units to stow your documents and to make your visitors feel like they’re not invading your private space.

Bed: custom

Murphy bed folds neatly into the wall of this home office when not in use. When a guest needs a place to rest his or her head, the homeowners can simply clear off the desk, tuck in the chair and pull down the bed.

See more of this central London apartment

Media Room

Eye-catching wallpaper creates a clear division between this television room and the home office. Facing your chair away from a television will encourage you to focus on the task at hand and not the reruns of your favorite show.

Wall paint: Autumn Gold and Straw Hat, Benjamin Moore

Laundry Room

Whites and darks, cotton and wool, bills and bank statements: This 10½- by 7½-foot laundry room can help sort it all. Adding a desk and a tall shelving unit to a room that doesn’t get much foot traffic will let you tackle work projects in peace.

Dining Room

Dinner guests won’t know the hard work that goes on in this room after the dishes are washed. A sleek dining room closet hides an organized home office, and a dining chair doubles as a desk chair.

Kitchen

With matching hardware, drawers and cabinet doors, this office space is a seamless, not distracting, addition to the kitchen.

Landing

The space at the top of a staircase can be tricky: It’s not private enough for a bedroom, but it’s not always cozy enough for a sitting room. Rather than let it go unused, add desks, chairs, shelves and cabinetry, and make it your home’s command center. An ornamental light fixture and a collection of family photos help make it stylish and personal as well as functional.

Cabinets: The Kitchen Studio; desktops: leftover walnut plank flooring

Tell us: Does your office work extra hard as a sleeping, cooking or hobby space? We want to see your setup!
 

12 Breakfast Bars With Coffee Shop Appeal

Give even a small kitchen a sociable vibe by inserting a stylish seating post

By Cheryl Freedman / Courtesy of Houzz.com

It’s that little perch where you sip your morning coffee, eat your oatmeal and skim the headlines on your tablet. There’s no doubt the breakfast bar is a brilliant way to sneak extra living space into the kitchen. Even a very small one, given a little planning, can accommodate one, and I speak from experience — my breakfast bar is where I start, and often finish, the day.

Breakfast bars are also ideal spots for perusing cookbooks or sorting the mail, or for letting cooks rest weary backs and feet while keeping an eye on bubbling pans. All you need is a couple of stools and a skinny ledge to work that coffee-shop-at-home vibe: Suddenly your humble kitchen feels like a sociable hangout, instead of merely a place to cook, stack the dishwasher or load laundry. Here are some ideas for planning yours.

Look for unusual stools. An eye-catching set of bar stools can perk up even a tiny breakfast nook. These vintage metal and rose-colored-velvet numbers have elevated a cozy galley space into a stylish coffee stop. 

Bar stools come in just about every style under the sun, so don’t rush your decision when planning your breakfast bar — take your time until you find a design you really love. And don’t forget to sit on them before you buy. Are they comfy enough, are they high enough and will their dimensions work in your space?

Highlight with pendants. Low-slung pendants are the de rigueur way to mark out a breakfast bar. Hung over an island unit, they provide softer lighting for cooking and entertaining than harsh spotlights. 

These pea-green pendant shades add a fresh, vibrant edge. Note also how the stools have been squeezed in around two sides of the island to accommodate four.

Love a ledge. Consider whether you could use a wall for your bar, rather than placing it in the center of the kitchen. In this loft apartment, a skinny ledge has been tucked in by the window, away from the main chaos of the kitchen — ideal for contemplative moments. Exposed piping, industrial bar stools and subway tiles all add to the hip, metropolitan vibe.

Offer a movable feast. Breakfast bars don’t need to be built in, as this freestanding wooden butcher’s block demonstrates. It doubles as a place for a glass of wine and a sandwich, or a croissant and coffee. The wooden stools, red bricks and wicker baskets all add to the warm, country effect.

Create a breakout cafe area. You don’t have to sacrifice a slice of countertop or island unit when you build in a breakfast bar, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have a roomy kitchen. Here a separate high table adds the air of a continental coffee shop, the perfect perch for espressos. Red Tolix stools add fiery color.

Think small. It’s amazing how little space you really need to sneak in a breakfast bar. 

By extending the top over the end of this slim island, there’s just enough space to squeeze in two compact stools. Their neon orange coordinates cleverly with the painted feature wall, tying the room together.

Extend the island top. In this long, slim kitchen, the owners have extended the top of the island unit, meaning people can tuck feet under without knocking knees while enjoying a cuppa. When they’re finished, they can tuck the stools underneath to keep things streamlined.

Work a glam angle. Champagne and oysters, or cornflakes and tea? The choice is yours, but this superglamorous kitchen looks as if it could pull off either. It’s proof, if proof were needed, that kitchens and breakfast bars don’t have to be simply functional. 

Here the winning ingredients are gleaming metal-framed stools, a pale, polished worktop and shiny silver lights, while even the cocktail trolley looks fit for an A-list nightclub.

Mix up your surfaces. The cooking and eating zones on this island unit have been ingeniously divided up, thanks to different worktop materials. It’s a simple trick that makes it instantly feel less like a workaday kitchen and more like a multifunctional space. Curvy, upholstered stools also help give the wooden bar area a more relaxed, comfortable feel.

Add some metal magic. The sturdy metal Tolix stool is something of a breakfast-bar staple for a reason: This 1930s classic looks great in just about any setting. 

Here in silver it gently toughens up a pretty white country kitchen (complete with sparkling marble), but it works in modern, vintage and eclectic settings too, and comes in a range of colors.

Raise the wooden bar. For a breakfast bar with a difference, think about using reclaimed wood; it has tons of ramshackle character. The owners of this charmingly rustic room used their old floorboards to clad the island. Painting the floor white prevented any wood clash, while the vintage stools add the perfect style note.

Go to the outer edge. If your kitchen and dining room are open plan, don’t neglect the outer edge of your countertop. Here the breakfast bar looks into the kitchen area, an ideal setup if you’re cooking for dinner guests and want to chat but don’t want them directly under your feet while you season your casserole. In this setup it also means a lovely, leafy view of the garden.

Imo Bar Stools: The Conran Shop; pendants: Caravaggio, Made in Design

Do you perch at a bar in the kitchen or sit at a table? Please share your tips and photos in the Comments below.

Need More Space? Look Under the Stairs

Use that extra room under a stairway for extra storage, office space or a secret hideaway

By Becky Harris / Courtesy of Houzz.com

I remember visiting my great aunt's house every Thanksgiving when I was a little girl. My brother, cousins and I loved going there, mostly because she had a tiny closet underneath the stairs that we thought was the greatest secret fort ever. 

Space underneath the stairs is often wasted. This area can provide spaces ranging from recessed nooks to powder rooms, depending on your home's configuration. Whether you're planning on building a new home or trying to find a spot for storage, don't forget to think about the possibilities under the stairs.

This ingenious little powder room makes the most of this staircase.

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The latest in under-stair storage: Drawers that hide everything you need to store, like magazines, movies, games and toys.

I spy a coat closet for with a short door and recessed bookshelves. Did I mention that a short door makes it even cooler to kids?

Don't forget about borrowing space underneath the attic stairs. This nook even has a comfy built-in seat in front of it.

Bookcases like these make the most of what is often wasted space.

A space carved out of the stairway like this one is a throwback to a time when the household's one (rented) phone would be placed there, along with a telephone table and built-in bench for sitting and chatting. I remember my grandparents' early-1900s tudor had a telephone table and built-in bench in this very spot. 
 

Borrowing a little bit of space beyond the stairs gave this designer enough room for a home office.

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This is the ultimate fort, complete with kid-sized opening and porthole windows.

Another secret fort hidden by a curtain is bright pink inside.

This designer created the ultimate fort for for kids and adults, complete with comfy cushion, pillows a curtain for privacy and a reading light. This even works as a spot to tuck an extra guest when one has a full house.

This home has a barware cabinet and a microwave (not shown) recessed into this side of the staircase wall.

On the other side, a shelf for the homeowner's many books backs up to the barware cabinet.

Everything You Need to Know About Farmhouse Sinks

They’re charming, homey, durable, elegant, functional and nostalgic. Those are just a few of the reasons they’re so popular

By Anne Ellard  / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Being from Ireland and having included the beautiful Belfast farmhouse sink in many traditional country and farmhouse kitchen designs, I have a bit of a soft spot for farmhouse-style sinks. The farmhouse sink originated in a time when there was no running water. The idea behind the sink was that it was a place to hold large amounts of water, which was fetched by hand from nearby wells, lakes and rivers. 

The two original farmhouse-style sinks emerged in Ireland and Britain in the late 17th century. They were of similar design but had their own characteristics. The Belfast sink was deep and had an overflow so that excess water could easily drain away instead of flowing over the sides. The London sink — designed for an area where water was scarce and therefore more precious — was shallower. It had no overflow so that every last drop could be kept inside the sink. 

If you’re thinking about choosing a farmhouse-style sink for your kitchen, here’s what else you should know.

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The traditional farmhouse sink is generally a lot deeper than modern stainless steel undermount or top-mount sinks. Its design enables the user to stand directly in front of the basin, with no cabinets or countertop in between. This feature made the farmhouse sink more comfortable to use at a time in the past when women would spend a large part of their day there — preparing food and washing dishes, clothes and even babies.

Though you could still wash a baby in today’s farmhouse sinks, you’d probably find them more useful for washing large pots, big baking sheets and oven trays, and even barbecue grills — items you would generally struggle to wash in a typical sink. 

And if one large bowl isn’t enough, you can find several double-bowl options too, like the one seen here.

Installation

Farmhouse sinks were originally designed to sit slightly to the front of the surrounding cabinets, so that any water flowing down the front of the sink would run to the floor instead of landing on and damaging the cabinets. This is how farmhouse sinks still are typically installed in a kitchen. 

They also are usually installed just under the level of the countertop so the counter can slightly overhang the sides of the sink, making it easy to wipe water from the counter straight into the sink.

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Drainage

Having a space on the counter where you can drain your freshly washed dishes is a bonus. Here some shallow channels, know as drainer grooves, have been routed into the countertop. They increase in depth the closer they get to the sink, which aids the flow of drained water into the sink. These drainer grooves are a great way to have the practicality of a draining area without taking away from the look of the farmhouse sink.

Fixtures

Farmhouse sinks add a feeling of nostalgia to a kitchen and bring a sense of rustic character that enhances country- and traditional-style kitchens. Complete the look by pairing your white porcelain farmhouse sink with a beautiful traditional-style tap, many of which are available with matching white porcelain handles, as shown here. Typical farmhouse sinks do not have a hole for the faucet, so the tap needs to be positioned in the counter or in the wall behind.

Materials

White farmhouse sinks are most commonly made of fireclay or porcelain. 

Fireclay. Fireclay sinks are made of clay, which is heated to an extremely high temperature that makes the sink hard and durable. It also gives the sink its beautiful high shine. The durability of fireclay means that it is resistant to scratches and chips and is easy to clean. 

Porcelain. Porcelain sinks are a ceramic material, again heated to high temperatures, although not quite as high as fireclay. They look similar to fireclay sinks but are less expensive. Porcelain sinks are not quite as durable as fireclay and are more prone to chipping and discoloration.

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Stainless steel. Farmhouse sinks are now available in a wider variety of materials, including stainless steel. Stainless steel is affordable, durable and easy to clean and maintain. Stainless steel adds a contemporary twist to a sink that is typically associated with traditional- and country-style kitchens.

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Copper. Farmhouse sinks are sometimes made of copper. The copper can sometimes have a hammered finish and a colored patina applied when the sink is manufactured. Over time, natural copper develops a beautiful patina as it reacts with the different substances that come in contact with it.

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Modern Style

There are redesigned versions of the farmhouse sink, such as the one pictured here. Unlike the original farmhouse sink, this one sits on top of the countertop and has a space for a tap hole incorporated into it, eliminating the need to have a countertop run around the back of it. The fact that this sink sits on top of the counter eliminates the risk of water’s finding its way down the sides of the sink. This makes for a more watertight, though less authentic, option.

Considerations

Seal. The measurements of fireclay and porcelain farmhouse sinks can vary slightly, and the surfaces can be a bit uneven. These are natural characteristics of these materials and shouldn’t be considered flaws. This means, however, that when the sink is fitted under a perfectly even countertop, there can be slight gaps where water can escape. 

After it is installed, ensure that your farmhouse sink is correctly sealed around the edges. Designing the countertop so it overhangs the edges of the sink sufficiently will help water flow straight into the sink bowl and keep it away from the edges.

Design. Though designing a farmhouse sink into a new kitchen layout is easy, it can prove more difficult to incorporate one into your existing kitchen layout. The size and nature of farmhouse sinks mean they require custom cabinets to be designed to suit them, as well as a different countertop design. Ask your cabinetmaker if he or she can alter your existing cabinets and countertop to fit.

Surface. Pristine white porcelain sinks look stunning; however, they are a bit unforgiving in that they show every bit of dirt and grime. Having said that, they are easy to keep clean. 

And the hard surface of fireclay or porcelain farmhouse sinks can be noisy when you’re washing dishes in them and is far less forgiving than stainless steel when breakable items are dropped in them, so take extra care when washing your wineglasses. 

Size. If you are concerned about wasting water, look for a farmhouse sink that has a smaller capacity. The depth of the traditional farmhouse sink is great for washing big items, but it means to fill it you’ll need a lot more water than for a typical sink. 

Tell us: Have you incorporated a beautiful farmhouse sink into your kitchen? Share your photos and experience in the Comments.