ofuro: Japanese soaking tubs


pictured above: a beautiful custom wooden ofuro designed & built by Bartok Design

A few years ago, I remodeled my bathroom, and removed a traditional shower/tub combo. In replacing it with a tiled shower stall and a tub, I faced a dilemma: how to fit these two new items in the same space? Luckily, my solution was Kohler's Greek Soaking Tub, substantially deeper, wider and shorter than their traditional tubs. However, I originally investigated building a custom Japanese soaking tub - or ofuro - before discarding that idea in favor of my lower-cost Kohler alternative.

My father is facing a similar project: he wants to turn the upstairs in his 1917 Craftsman home into a small apartment, with the 1/2 bath currently there becoming a full, albeit tiny, bathroom. Being that the entire upstairs of his house is finished in rich rough wood - mostly raw redwood planks and other woods - he wants the bath to be similarly subtle and consistent, so I recommended an ofuro.

One of the best resources on the subject is Bruce Smith & Yoshiko Yamamoto's Japanese Baths book - lots of eyecandy and ideas in it. But here are some other resources that may be useful.

  • Hydro Systems' 4040 round/square soaking tub
  • Neo-Metro's luxury baths
  • THG's Yoko
  • Neptune makes some larger whirlpools in a vaguely Japanese style
  • MTI has a huge line of luxury baths, including several space-saving corner models and a few deep soakers
  • online retailer Signature Hardware has a nice consolidated listing for several different makers of unorthodox bath & soaking tubs
  • I saw a Cabuchon tub recently installed in Portland, Oregon; it looked great but I couldn't exactly strip down and take a bath at the cocktail party where I saw it
  • Bathpro's Yubune are short and deep
  • TeakTubs look gorgeous but I'm not sure how safe they'd be on a second story, but as long as they're sealed well, I know teak shouldn't split or swell, so maybe they're fine
  • Robert's Hot Tubs makes some really nice tubs, several of which are bathroom-sized
  • Bartok Design's custom Japanese tubs are beautiful and minimalist
  • Driftwood Design also makes custom wooden baths
  • master carpenter Hiroshi Sakaguchi also makes custom tubs, all of which are absolutely gorgeous
  • of course, if the floor is strong enough, you can always frame & pour your own concrete tub to fit any possible shape or space
  • for less than $900, you can have a portable ofuro that will fit in a large shower stall or which can be placed above a drain on a tiled floor - something you can take with you, and one of the simplest solutions to this sort of problem. No reason you can't use a flexible filler, with a hook on the wall above it to turn it into a shower!

Symbolic Meaning of Color in Native American Design


Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication. CC-licensed image by Al_HikesAZ.

Since Native American textiles and pattern design are a strong influence on Prairie and American Craftsman design, we thought you might enjoy this:

If you are looking to do a design project in your home, you may be considering doing a Native American theme. For several years this type of décor has been in great demand but oddly, many homeowners aren’t aware of the fact that many of the facets of this particular style are actually mired in symbolism. Whereas other types of décor use color as an aesthetic feature, in Native American culture color means something – it is symbolic of some deeper spiritual meaning. Before finalizing your plans to remodel one or more rooms in your home, you might like to know a little bit about what color meant to these early, and very spiritual people.

Colors Vary by Nation

Sometimes a ‘nation’ is referred to as a ‘tribe’ and this varies from region to region and among tribes as well. One thing to be aware of when designing Native American décor is that colors meant different things to different nations. Therefore, if you are using a design specific to a particular tribe, it would be important to factor in the colors you are going to use. Dream catchers are an example of a craft you might want to undertake yourself, but if parts of the room are done in Cherokee fashion, for example, you would want to pay special attention to colors they found sacred.

To the Hopi tribe, the color blue signified the most sacred of all colors so that might be something you would want to use. If you are thinking of making a dream catcher, you can find an awesome guide on how to make a dream catcher by following this link. Just remember to keep colors in mind if you are looking for an authentic Native American piece of art.

The Meaning behind Some Common Colors

As mentioned, each tribe ascribes meaning to specific colors and if you are going for a particular look within one of the variants of Native American culture, you would want to ascertain that you have colors in keeping with their traditions. Even so, there are some colors that have a universal meaning. Following is a compilation of colors and the most common meanings attached to them.

  • White – death, winter
  • Black – male, night, death, disease or sickness
  • Red – blood, wounds, sunset, thunderstorms, war
  • Blue – female, moon, water, sky, sadness
  • Green – earth, summer, life, rain
  • Yellow – morning, day, sunlight

Although not all tribes (nations) attribute the exact same significance to these colors, these are the most common among the 562 tribes recognized today as genuine Native American nations.

The point in understanding colors as they pertain to specific meanings or concepts is to make sure you are creating a design that is authentic. Many tribes in today’s world believe that their way of life has been distorted because of misuse of their traditions. So that there is no misunderstanding when it comes to having respect for a culture different from our own, it is really important to pay special attention to the significance they have attached to each and every color. In so doing, you will be honoring their culture while designing a new look for your home – the best of both worlds.

Better Heating in Winter


Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication. CC-licensed photo by Keka Marzagao.

Heating and cooling is the largest contributor to the cost of housing or running a brick and mortar business. The structure itself might have a loan, but heating and cooling tend to consume the most energy. Unlike a fixed loan, the energy demands of heating in winter is adjustable. While the simplest solution might seem to be to set the thermostat lower, most HVAC units can be maintained to improve efficiency.

Residents should study their energy bill every year. A variation from the norm means either an unusually cold winter or a loss of efficiency. HVAC units should be checked every year, and the rewards of maintenance are efficiency and longer unit life. Large structures have mechanics that examine kilowatt hours and clean the system to reduce its load.

A common problem is lost refrigerant. Pressure drops as refrigerant leaks, and less viscous refrigerant does not transfer heat as effectively. The HVAC unit must run longer and harder, which both consumes power and wears the motor. Refrigerant slowly leaks from all systems, and this is one reason why HVAC units should be examined once a year by a professional heating and cooling service, such as All Weather Heating and Air Conditioning. Replacing and cleaning refrigerant is standard practice.

Another common problem is blocked vents and air ducts. Large cooling units have a complicated set of parts, including chilling towers that use water vapor to cool refrigerant. Any surface that transfers heat should be free of debris, and vents must be cleaned to allow air to circulate. Blockage is commonly provided by fall leaves and dust.

Residential HVAC units can also become blocked by leaves and even snow. Circulating air can allow lint to accumulate on interior parts, and these must be cleaned periodically. The key is easy air circulation and thermal transfer. Lint, grime, and other obstructions act as insulation and reduce the system efficiency.

Other problems lay with the duct work. Damaged insulation, leaks, and blockage all reduce heating efficiency. Leaks spew conditioned air into the crawlspace underneath a house and also reduce pressure. Blockage reduces air flow at the far end of the system and overworks the air conditioner. Regular maintenance clears all these problems.

8 lies estate agents will tell you


House sellers can make terrible mistakes when dealing with property. These errors in judgement and holes in their knowledge can cost them thousands or tens of thousands of pounds and one of the most desperate is the use of a scurrilous estate agent. Regular studies into the behaviour of an average agent rarely show a positive side, simply because of commonly heard falsehoods such as these:


The art of the short property description is a skilled one. And some words and phraseology, while undoubtedly correct, just don’t sell (‘must sell’, for example).

So other, more effervescent wordsmithery is employed, such as ‘manicured gardens’ or ‘elegant’, even if the former is a patch of grass and the latter is about as dignified as an abattoir. The key lesson; don’t believe anything until you’ve seen it with your own two eyes.

“We’ve already had several people looking around the house already”


“We had another offer just after yours that was higher, do you want to match it or beat it?”

Two heads of the same beast, both designed to extract more money. They may not have had anyone even look at the property for three months or longer, but it just so happens that on that particular day a glut of visitors decided to book spots. Or bizarrely, table an offer a couple of thousands of pounds north of yours. Totally unproved, of course.

“You like this place, don’t you? We’ll get a good deal for you”

If they’ve picked up on the fact that it’s perfect for you, then they know that they can exploit your emotions, especially if you’ve spent some period of time searching before landing here. Some clients look at 40 houses over a weekend, others get excited by the first they see and don’t search any further – just be careful not to reveal your hand too early.

“Selling a home is too complex for a non-estate agent.”

It’s 2015. Knowledge on every process and step in selling a home can be obtained online, from advice on photography and writing, to templates of forms, to legal clarification. Companies such as HouseSimple.com can also negotiate and manage the entire process for you – it’s worth looking around before diving in.

‘The fffsss sound’

Estate agent David Pollock writes here about this sound that an agent might make, in the form of a sharp intake of breath, when a buyer puts in a low offer. Sometimes that one sound convinces the buyer that their bid is unrealistic or silly and they bump up the price, costing them several thousand pounds in the process.

“You have to get a mortgage with xx company for this house”

“…because I’ll get a commission that way” is the unsaid communication. Many estate agents have connections with mortgage companies and are keen to pick up a little slice of the transaction. Do your own research and look for a lower mortgage rate than what your agent has ‘found.’

“We’ve searched all the mortgage companies and arrived at the best deal”

…which is coincidentally the same mortgage provider mentioned above. It’s very possible that they have scanned hundreds of lenders for deals, but not all of them will benefit the agent or broker.

Before signing up to a mortgage that could cost you thousands of pounds, have a quick search on the Internet, using exactly the same information you gave the estate agent. You might be surprised.

partnered post • CC-licensed photograph by Paul Mison

10 Amazing Storage Hacks for your Home


Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication. Creative Commons-licensed photograph by David Lofink.

If your home is severely cluttered and you can’t go a day without clenching your fists in frustration because of it, it may be time to consider bringing in some handy hacks to help free up space in your house. The first step is to battle one room at a time and don’t overwhelm yourself. This process may take more time than you first thought but by using some of these tips you might de-clutter your home by the end of the week.

1. Self-Storage

Many homes have a great deal of extra furniture, equipment and things that they no longer have enough space to hold. The quickest way to deal with this problem is to use a self-storage unit from Readysteadystore. This will take the burden off your shoulders so that you can instantly free space and start feeling right at home again.

2. Wall Storage to keep shoes

If you have a lot of shoes and have no place to store them, consider installing a simple wall storage compartment that is ideal for shoes, scarves and other essential items that never seem to find a place in the home.

3. Christmas Ornaments inside Egg Cartons

Christmas ornaments are quite delicate which is why egg cartons are the perfect place to store those shiny ornaments until next year.

4. Rods used to hang Cleaning Products

Underneath the sink tends to look like a bomb has hit it. By installing a rod along the bottom of the sink, you can make yourself a handy cleaning product holder so that your under sink area becomes more organized and you can easily find the products again when you need them.

5. Store Toys in Fruit Baskets

If you have kids in the house then you know how frustrating it can be to see their toys lying about the house. According to Life Buzz, a simple fruit basket can be used to hang toys or bath accessories.

6. Magnetic Strip in the Bathroom

Tweezers, nail scissors and hair clips are easy to lose and can be difficult little things to store. A long magnetic strip on the bathroom wall is perfect for holding these slippery gadgets and will make finding them again a lot easier.

7. Cereal Box Dividers

The next time you reach the end of the cereal box, cut it up and use the boxes as dividers for your drawers. These can be great devices to store sowing equipment, jewellery and stationary.

8. Velcro to store Remotes

Remote controls can be stuck to the wall using Velcro strips. This is a great way to keep track of your gaming and television remotes so that you never lose them or mix up their wires.

9. CD Racks to sort Tupperware

Sort out your Tupperware and other kitchen essentials using CD racks inside your cupboards. This is a great way to organize your drawers.

10. Wine Rack used as a Towel Holder

According to www.lifehack.org a useful way to store towels is to use a traditional wine rack. This will make separating the clean towels from the used ones so much easier and you will never have to get out of the shower without a towel ready again.

10 De-Cluttering Tips from the Professional Space Savers

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Keeping your home tidy and free of clutter can seem like a challenging task in the beginning but it is important to push past your doubts and defeat the clutter bug. These simple tips will ensure that you de-clutter your home in no time.

1. Donate to Charity

Throw out the torn and worn clothes but give those that remain in good condition to someone in need. There are hundreds of charities that accept donated clothes such as Oxfam. You will be doing a good deed and freeing some space in the closet at the same time.

2. Storage

If you have a lot of items around the house that you have no room for but are reluctant to just throw out, consider keeping them in self storage. This is a convenient way to de-clutter your home and you can rent the unit for as long as you like.

3. Only keep what you need

According to The Guardian, the focus of de-cluttering should be on what to keep instead of deciding what to get rid of. This will give you a clearer perspective on what is expendable and what is irreplaceable.  

4. Install Extra Shelves

Make the most of your wall space by installing some useful shelves to store books, photo albums, toys and other things that tend to clutter the house. You can get a little more creative and paint the shelves a colour that matches the rest of the room to add a touch of personalisation.

5. Tackle One Room at a Time

Try not to take on such a mammoth task all at once. Instead, clean and sort out one room at a time. This will make the process so much easier. If you can’t find a place for a certain item then throw it out or donate it.

6. Label Boxes

Save yourself a lot of time and effort by labelling the boxes that you fill as you de-clutter your home. Labels will help to keep your things organized and will make finding them again so much easier.

7. Use Cereal Boxes as Dividers

For those items that are often difficult to place, use cereal boxes as drawer dividers. According to www.realsimple.com, you can keep better track of items such as candles by corralling them with a ‘grid of interlocking inserts tailored to the contents—whether that’s candles, batteries, or cosmetics.’

8. Sort out Documents

Homes tend to have a lot of old letters, school documents and old paperwork lying about which can make a home look messy. Decide which papers can be thrown out and then create separate files to store the important documents to help you to keep track of them.

9. Use a Shoe Rack

Encourage your family to store their shoes on a handy shoe rack. This will keep the shoes in one place and provide a handy storage solution for all of the many pairs of shoes in your house.

10. Basket Storage

Baskets can be hung behind doors, on walls or under the stairs to store smaller items such as scarves, socks, bathroom essentials and toys, etc.

partnered post • CC-licensed photograph by Rubbermaid

Caesar Stone Quartz Countertops: Customized Countertops For Your Kitchen Space


Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication.

A kitchen is a place where all the action happens. Countertops definitely see a lot of action in the kitchen space. Because of this specific reason, they should be properly maintained, cleaned and protected. Just like any other surface, these high traffic areas should be cleaned in a proper way depending on the kind of material you have used. Keep reading this post to learn about Caesarstone’s quartz countertops.

Granite & Quartz: What’s The Speciality?

A quartz granite countertop is a very popular choice among people who love the appearance of granite but are a little worried about the stones short falls. In simple words, granite is a porous natural stone which can quickly absorb liquids; it can easily soak up any kind of cooking oils and the best thing is that it can be easily etched by acids which are found in any household items i.e. hairspray.

The reason why Caesarstone quartz countertops have gained popularity among the modern homeowners is because they are not affected by any of the hazards. When it comes to the colour or pattern of granite, it is something very unpredictable, and this sometimes will make things a little difficult for you as you won’t be able to make the right choice. They are even in their colour, pattern and texture.

Top Benefits Of Quartz Kitchen Countertops

One of the major benefits of quartz kitchen countertops is that they have some of the best qualities of natural stone i.e. when it comes to the durability and appearance of the countertops. The best thing is that they don’t have any as such cons and you can also get it at a very affordable price if you buy it from a reputed online store.

Of course, you must be very well aware of the fact that they are man-made. The process of manufacturing usually involves raw quartz crystals which is one of the hardest substances available in the market. After it has been selected and the ground procedure is done, it’s the resin and crystals which are combined together along with resin and different colours.

Once they all are mixed together, all the components are then heated and then they are vibro-compacted which creates an impenetrable surface. It’s around 95% quartz components which are used in the manufacturing process of quartz countertops or it won’t be durable. The final product is non-porous, strong and has excellent durability in comparison to granite.

Colours: What Options Do You Have?

If you have decided to choose engineered quartz countertops, you will be happy to know that they are available in a huge range of colours that cannot be easily found because dye is combined with crushed stone. They are very versatile and appealing. It is the appearance of the countertops which can dazzle the eyes.

The installation process of Caesarstone’s quartz countertops is definitely a do-it-yourself project. It is advisable to hire a professional who can carry out the task for you. You should do a complete background check of the professional before hiring them for the task.

Vertical or Horizontal Blinds: Which One Should You Pick?

Note: this is a partnered post and consideration was received for its publication.

Among the window treatments available in the market, window blinds remain popular among homeowners for good reasons. When properly selected and installed, they can make a big difference in the overall interior aesthetic of a home. They can also significantly reduce heat transfer and reflect most natural light streaming into a space, thereby reducing heating and cooling costs, not to mention help enhance the privacy of a home.

When it is time to purchase window blinds from blinds.com, your final decision will likely involve choosing between two popular options: vertical or horizontal. So how will you know which one to pick?

As both types of blinds look and perform differently, it is a good idea to carefully understand their advantages and disadvantages and use them as a basis to guide you through your choice.

Vertical blinds

Neat and elegant, vertical blinds are characterized by slats that hang vertically from a head rail that houses mechanical components that control the slats when they are adjusted. The individual slats can be rotated 180 degrees or can also be completely pulled out of the way.

One of the main advantages of vertical blinds is that they can cover large expanses of glass. They also help elongate the height of a room, allow for better air circulation and provide sufficient privacy and light control. Vertical blinds are also easier to clean, as their slats don’t easily collect dirt or dust. You can also find them in a number of colours and sizes, with some verticals having the capability to be aesthetically improved by slipping strips of materials into the vanes, thereby making them design flexible.

The problem with vertical blinds is that if you purchase cheap ones, their slats will clank together and the components that operate them are visible if there is no headrail in place. When not properly chosen they can be imposing in a room and may even make the space look too corporate.

Horizontal blinds

Horizontal blinds are the exact opposite of vertical blinds. Also referred to as Venetian blinds, these treatments are made up of long horizontal strips that hang on top of each other through a ladder system that is connected to a rotating drum that is used to rotate the slats. They also feature a pull cord or wand which when pulled or rotated raises and stacks the slats together at the top of the hang rail. The same cord or wand is used to drop the slats down when privacy is needed or when natural light has to be blocked.

The good thing about horizontal blinds is that they work well for almost all types of windows, including those that are compact or thin. They can also control light direction by twisting their slats. Like vertical blinds, they are available in a wide variety of colours, sizes and materials. Hidden brackets and no valance options for these blinds allow them to easily disappear into the inner window frames.

If you will be opting for horizontal blinds, one of the major issues associated with them is that they clank against windows when breeze enters the room. Those with route hole in the centre may also allow anyone to peek inside your home. The slats also tend to accumulate dust, making them a bit difficult to clean.

Making the choice

There are a number of factors that you’ll need to take into account to arrive at an informed choice. These include the size and shape of your windows your need for privacy and light control, the style of the room where the blinds would be involved, and your budget.

However, there are cases where vertical and horizontal blinds perform better than the other. For instance, large individual windows are a prime territory for vertical blinds as the vertical nature of the slats will provide proper coverage against prying eyes and sunlight. They will also emphasize the height of the windows. Vertical blinds are also suitable to use for areas that receive a lot of foot traffic since they are easier to clean.

Horizontal blinds, on the other hand, suit smaller and deep windows best as well as those windows whose panes are opened by raising or lowering. They also work well for less used areas, such as the bedroom.

Make your bedroom more luxurious than any five star hotel room


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. photo: CC-licensed image by Jeanne Michelle Smith

Let’s face it; we all want to live the life of luxury and that’s why we constantly dream of winning the lottery and escaping to a faraway island. In addition, whenever we plan holidays we always consider the luxury and relaxation elements of the trips. But, why do we have to get away to experience luxury? You can have luxury right in your own home and the cost implications aren’t huge. Here’s how you can make your home more luxurious than any five star hotel:

  • Save yourself time by installing a dishwasher: The best thing about a holiday is that somebody else does all the chores and this leaves you free to relax. By getting a dishwasher you can eliminate at least one banal task, giving you more time to relax and enjoy your time away from the office.
  • Upgrade your bed and mattress: One of the most notable things about a five star hotel is the comfort of the bed. It is almost impossible to have a bad sleep in a posh hotel and this is something that you can easily emulate in your own home by upgrading your bed and mattress. Four-poster beds really exemplify style and luxury and look great in any home (as long as you have the ceiling height). If this interests you, then visit Retford Pine to see what is on offer for what price.
  • Add candles and mood lighting to get the right vibe: Holidays and breaks are all about relaxation and nothing relaxes people more than scented candles. Used in the right place and at the right time, candles can improve both the smell and look of any home. They can not only add freshness but they can change the mood of any room too; particularly if you’re snuggled on the sofa watching a good film.

Five star hotels really are luxurious but they are simply unaffordable on a regular basis. Upgrading your home gradually, however, is much more affordable and sustainable. So, use your money wisely and you can live in comparable luxury in no time! All of the above suggestions are great ideas but feel free to add your own and move at your own pace. Everybody sees luxury differently, so make sure that what you do is right for you and your family. You really can be enjoying your own luxurious home in no time- you’ll never have to go away again.

Seasonal Maintenance Tasks Around The House


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. photo: CC-licensed image by Charlie Vinz

Perhaps you’ve been in your home for many years and you’ve just realised you can no longer put off all those essential repairs you’ve tried to ignore since you moved in. Maybe you’ve just moved in and discovered your dream home is a little rough around the edges. Or maybe you’re looking to sell or let and there’s a few glaring problems that you can’t sell as “rustic” to potential buyers.

Whatever stage you’re at in the property ladder, it’s always good practice to keep your home in top condition from January to December – and to that end, there’s a host of easy but effective checks and preparations you can perform throughout the year that can help prevent a lot of unnecessary work later on. Alternatively, if you’re a DIY novice who’d prefer a professional appraisal and expert work – or if you just don’t have the time - you could choose to go with a home maintenance service such as The Handy People who will supply trained handymen to fix all kinds of problems around the house.


The varying weather can take its toll on a poorly maintained house. Spring is the time to check and repair any cracks in the walls or ceilings, perhaps caused by winter ice, which can let in rain during spring showers or summer thunderstorms.


Watch out for humidity, which can lead to damp and structural damage – consider using a dehumidifier to keep the air in cellars, garages and bathrooms dry. But the good weather makes summer a great opportunity to air out rooms, give carpets and rugs a good clean, and inspect the exterior of the house and garden for any small jobs that need doing.


It’s time to check the heating – check your central heating is operating correctly, and be sure to bleed radiators so heat can circulate properly throughout the house before the cold sets in. Because the cold weather plays havoc with plumbing, take the time to check your pipes and taps to ensure the whole system works as it should.


When winter rolls around, be sure to wipe down cold windows where condensation forms – excessive water can quickly lead to damp on walls and rotting wood.

Using electric heaters and fireplaces can keep our homes cosy and warm in winter, but it sharply increases the risk of fires. Now’s the time to check the batteries in your smoke alarm and make sure you and your family know what to do if the worst happens – it could save your life.

Make your living room a place for all the family


It is important to remember that your house has to be practical and functional as well as stylish and luxurious. Above all else, your house should be a family home. There are a number of ways that you can make your home more family oriented, here are just a couple:

  • Ensure that there are family photos on display: Nobody wants to feel like an alien in their own home and achieving a sense of belonging is essential if you’re trying to create family cohesion. To make sure everyone feels at home in their own home, have family photos on display. You should be proud of your family, be sure to show them off with all the pride and prominence they deserve.
  • Don’t buy products based on style alone; make sure they have comfort value: Yes, stylish items can look beautiful but sometimes they are not practical. If you don’t buy practical items then it may discourage your family from using the room and teenagers in particular may skulk off into their own rooms rather than using the family room.
  • Create a room all the family will enjoy: Each room in your home should have something for everyone. For this reason, you cannot build the family room around the tastes of one particular family member. Remember that everyone has to feel comfortable. Yes, your room should be stylish, but it should not be off putting. Sofas and rugs are made for people to sit on- they’re not just art!
  • Centre the room around your television: Although people often do not want to admit it, most of us spend a lot of our family time in front of the Satellite TV. Instead of shunning this, embrace it and make it family time. Try making your television into a home cinema so your family can sit and watch movies together. When doing this, make sure that you use your television to its full potential by adding a backlight to enhance the atmosphere. Try checking out Northern Robotic Systems for ideas.

Your family really are the most important thing in your life; and they always will be. For this reason it is important that your house is a home and is somewhere that everyone wants to be. Converting your living room into a de facto family room will help achieve this in an instant so try some of the above tips today! 

partnered post • photo: CC-licensed image by Chunky Salsa

Why you should consider adding a pet to your family


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. photo: CC-licensed image by Adam Yoblon

Home really is a place for all the family! No matter what the scale and size of your family, you should consider getting a pet, and here’s why:

  • Pets are loving companions: This may sound a little cliché, but a pet can be an incredibly good friend. When you get a pet they are the first person that you see on a morning and the last person you see on a night. Above all else, all a pet wants is love and attention so they will never be far away. If you’re looking for extra love and care in your life then a pet really is the answer- nobody can ignore a wagging tail a pet is almost guaranteed to make you glow.
  • They bring structure and routine to your life: If you are a workaholic then you may need to force yourself to have a break every once in a while. Pets are ideal if you want to add some extra structure in your life. In some ways, pets are similar to children and they crave structure in the exact same way. This set structure can feed into your own life and can be highly useful if you struggle with over-committing to work.
  • Some pets can be great for exercise and weight loss: If you buy a mobile animal such as a dog or a horse then they will need regular exercise. If you exercise with them by either riding them or walking them then you will be in great shape in no time. It is amazing how many calories you burn walking or riding and taking a pet with you makes the experience much more interesting and keeps you committed!  

 You should always consider what pet is right for you. Dogs and cats are still the number one pet choice in the UK but both of these take a lot of care and attention. If you’re not sure that you have the time for this then consider a pet that needs less in terms of maintenance. Fish require minimum care and attention and their tank can also make a lovely decorative feature. Consider getting a feature fish tank for your home as this can make your home look like a tropical paradise. If this sounds like an idea that you’d be interested in, then visit Fish-Fish-Fish.com for more ideas.

Screwdrivers and Drills: Essential Tools For Every Toolbox


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. photo: CC-licensed image by Lachlan Donald

It pays to be prepared. Even the best organised DIY fan knows the pain of planning out a long weekend of work to put up those shelves you always wanted, finally fix the squeaky door, and give the wall a fresh lick of paint – only to discover at 6pm on a Sunday evening that vital piece of equipment you thought you had is missing, and all the shops are closed. There’s no way around it – you just have to be better prepared next time and make sure you have absolutely everything you might need ready for use. But it’s easier than you might think to be prepared for almost any construction task – simply pick up a large screwdriver set and a versatile combi hammer drill, and you’ll be prepared for almost any job.

Screwdriver Set

Whether you’re assembling flatpack furniture or just opening the battery compartment on the remote control, having the right screwdriver for the job can mean the difference between a quick disassembly and the horror of a stripped screw that will never come out. Luckily, you don’t need to purchase and store a dozen different screwdrivers to get by – a simple screwdriver set, containing a handle and an array of bits, is all you need for the majority of jobs.

Though there can be a bewildering array of screw bits available, you only need a handful to cope with almost any home DIY task. Flathead screws are still common in older constructions, while Philips and pozidrives screws are almost ubiquitous for modern DIY work. If you work with electronics or computers, it can be handy to be prepared for star-shaped Torx screws too.

Combi Hammer Drill

As the name suggests, a combi hammer drill is a versatile piece of equipment that can handle almost any DIY drilling around the house. Use them with a drill bit for wood or metal and the high torque motor punches holes effortlessly for construction projects or affixing objects to walls. Switch down to a lower torque, and they function just as effectively for taking the effort out of driving screws with the press of a button – especially ideal for tight spaces where a manual screwdriver might be awkward to turn. Plus, with a hammer function, they provide the sheer force required to drill the toughest of materials like concrete or masonry – impossible with any other type of drill. You can pick between a corded or cordless drill depending on your preferences - Anglia Tool Centre offer a range of cordless drills for freedom from dangling wires when working.

Four Ways to Make Your Bedroom Feel Cosier


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. photo: CC-licensed image by Tracie Lee

As the colder months approach, you might want to consider making your bedroom feel a little cosier, so here are some ideas for switching things up to get ready for autumn and winter…

Invest in new carpets or rugs

There’s nothing worse than stepping onto cold, wooden flooring on an early winter’s morning. Investing in a plush, fluffy new carpet will feel luxurious underfoot and will help make the bedroom feel cosier as a whole. If you can’t afford to carpet the whole of your bedroom, then a few rugs should do the trick. Try to pick one made out of a soft, cosy material; the thicker and more plush it is, the better. 

Stock up on candles

There’s nothing cosier than candle light, so having a stash of your favourite scented candles ready for those cold winter evenings is a good idea. Lavender and other calming scents work well in the bedroom as they can help you wind down and relax before dropping off to sleep. Have a few burning around the room if you’re in bed reading, and if you’re lucky enough to have an open fire in the room, be sure to light it.

Replace your bedding

Swapping your light summer duvet for a thicker one will ensure you’re always kept toasty on the colder winter nights. A throw or blanket and some scatter cushions in soft fabrics will also help to make the room feel cosier, as well as keeping it looking great.  If your mattress is feeling a little old and tired, then you should probably invest in a new one for winter. Muscles are more likely to stiffen up when your body’s cold, so you need a mattress that isn’t going to cause you any aches and pains. If you think you might need a new one, make sure you get the best deal available as mattresses can be expensive. Start by visiting local retailers and then look online on websites like And So to Bed to compare prices.

Decorate with family photos

There’s something cosy and homely about having photos of your nearest and dearest dotted around your room. Have prints made of your favourite photographs and go shopping for some decorative picture frames to house them in. You could hang them on the walls or have some standing on your bedside table. Alternatively, for a more personal touch, you could even create a collage.

Getting More Out of Small Spaces


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. Creative commons licensed photograph by Jeremy Levine design.

Compared to other markets, finding spacious and affordable housing in Denver isn’t that difficult. Still, there are a lot of benefits to living in a smaller space. Financially speaking, smaller spaces are cheaper. They also force you to evaluate not just what you already own but things you think you might want to own—which keeps you from spending money on space suckers on a whim (another financial boon).

How smaller spaces are cheaper:

  • Smaller spaces simply cost less across the board than larger spaces.
  • A small home is cheaper to insure.
  • Smaller spaces are easier to heat and cool, so your HVAC system doesn’t need to work so hard or use as much power.
  • Smaller spaces are easier to light properly (and natural light goes further within them) so your electric bill will be lower.

You can see why it’s financially beneficial to go smaller, especially when you’re concerned about your financial health.

At the same time, it’s understandable that you’re attached to the things that you’ve collected. You worked hard to bring those collections together. You’re proud of them. You don’t necessarily want to give them away or sell them or toss them out. So what do you do?

1. Figure Out Some Creative Storage Options

We’ve talked about how to make the most of the space in your bedroom. Apply these same concepts to the rest of your house. You’ll be amazed at how many things can double as storage containers (and artfully so at that)!

2. Store Things Off Site

Do you really need to keep your Christmas decorations on hand all year round? Do you really need to keep every single book, movie, vase, art print, tchotchke, etc within sight at all times? Do you really need your winter clothing to be taking up space in your closet in the summer? These are examples of things that can all be stored off site in a storage unit. Storage units have come a long way from the dank holes they used to be a decade ago. Now they are affordable, secure and most are even climate controlled (check unclebobs.com for deals in your area). This is important for an area like Denver, where we get all of the seasons and they are all intense.

Either way, you are probably going to have to pare down, at least a little bit. Go through your home and look at everything you own. Consider each item carefully. If you haven’t used it in the last twelve months and it doesn’t have significant sentimental value, you can probably get rid of it and not miss it too much.

Instead of simply tossing out the things you decide not to keep, though, why not sell them? Put them up for sale online. Have a yard sale. Use the proceeds from the sale to finance your storage unit and a few of the artful storage containers we talked about at the beginning of this article.

The truth is that living a comfortable lifestyle doesn’t require lots of space or lots of things. If you’re creative you can make a small space feel and function the same way as a large space.

Tips on How to Light Up Your Living Room


From time to time, we allow a company or craftsperson we know and trust to place a sponsored post here at Hewn and Hammered. This particular piece is from Bunning's Warehouse, a dependable supplier of lighting for a wide variety of residential projects.

Lighting is a very important element when it comes to creating the atmosphere of a room. Here are some tips to assist you light up your living room.

Planning and preparation is a big ingredient when it comes to a successful project. Some people decorate a room and only late in the piece, do they think of lighting, but if you can have it in the equation at the beginning, it will assist you greatly. Not just in terms of fixtures, but in terms of having an electrician set up the wiring to accommodate your needs.

Your lighting needs are going to be contingent on how you use the room. This will be determined by things such as the amount of people in your family, their age and the way you entertain. As the living room is a room that requires versatility so too, the lighting in the room will need to be able to fulfill a variety of functions. So bear this in mind.

As opposed to pendant lighting which a lot of people have traditionally gone for, wall lighting will make the room rich in light. This is great in terms of making the room very friendly and warm as well as creating an atmosphere which is conducive to entertaining.

If there are things in the room such as a piece of art that you would like to draw attention to, don’t be afraid to highlight it or them with a spot light. Strategically placed spot lights can create a very powerful affect.

As can lamp shades, which apart from providing light can help contribute to the aesthetic of the room. High quality lamp shades can be very expensive so pick one that is within your budget. The same applies to chandeliers which will add depth to the room. Certain pieces can become the centre piece of the whole room and depending on the atmosphere you want to create, this could be one way to go.

If there are times when you don’t want all of the light on, you may rely on some smaller more subtle plug-in or task lights. A table lamp work wells for this scenario and be very effective. Something that people fail to remember is to avoid placing a lighting fixture next to a wall. If you don’t, you will find that much of the light will be wasted.

Feel free to utilize as many different types as you need. Blend task and ambient light as well as lamps to form the combination you are looking for in order to create that right feel for the room.

Remember that installing a dimmer provides you with instant flexibility and is great if you would like some mood lighting.

While you may be blending different types of lighting, you need to be sure that the theme you are working on creating is consistent. All of the fixtures need to be in-sync with each other. If you are doing it yourself and without a decorator, make sure you keep this in mind.

Another great way to add some color to an otherwise bland room – or, alternately, to complement a very colorful theme that you already have – is to use custom-sized perspex sheets from Simply Plastics. Often overlooked, these sturdy and archival plastics – which are really more like glass in that they don't fog, bow or deform over time – can be used as window inserts or in a wide range of other places to add a splash of bright color. They come in a wide range of colors, transparency/opacity levels, and can even be pre-cut to almost any size you can imagine.

You shouldn’t be afraid to experiment and change things up. Trial-and-error is a sound way to find the successful living room lighting combination you are looking for.

sposored post • image by acrylic online

do not buy Kenmore Elite ranges: a cautionary tale

I would rather use Hewn & Hammered to steer people toward good products, but sometimes that goes hand-in-hand with recommending against those that are substandard. And this is one of those times.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to radically remodel our kitchen, tearing everything down to the boards and replacing all appliances with shiny new versions, all well-reviewed in consumer magazines and on similar websites. What we didn't realize is that those websites and magazines can only review the use of an item, and not how it will degrade over time.

We purchased a 36" Kenmore Elite black-and-steel finish range, and were (and are) happy with its operation and, to a lesser extent, its design, which seems slightly faulty, at least in materials choice. The materials it is built with tend toward the cheap, the flimsy, and – most unfortunately – the short-lived.

Within months of installation, the knobs on the stove started to come apart. At first, we thought perhaps it was just a layer of shrinkwrap that had been left on, but after consulting with a number of appliance salespeople, Sears service folks and even an industrial designer, we realized it was something else: the stove knobs are coated with a fake chrome plastic wrap, glued on, which is not heat-resistant - and the oven door seam leaks quite a bit of heat, which (as a non-oven-designer) I would guess that it probably should not. Not only is the finish almost completely gone on some of the knobs, but the knob itself is made out of a plastic that is degrading quite quickly as well, with significant cracking and the beginning of deformation.

We contacted Sears about what seemed to be a design flaw, and was told that while other people (one Sears rep admitted many other people) had complained about this, they saw it more as a consumer problem and not an issue that was theirs to remedy; they would charge me approximately $60 per knob if I wanted to replace them. Unfortunately, the replacements they offered are identical to the original knobs, and would degrade within a few years as well, making this cost repeat every three or four years for as long as we wanted the stove to look halfway decent.

I'm still looking for replacement knobs that match the stove, but luckily most of the cheap knockoffs on the market are made of better materials than the original knobs, so I'm certain I'll find something. My word of warning: if you buy a Kenmore Elite range, replace the knobs with the $15-for-5 set you can buy on Amazon, if you see some you like, and don't expect good customer service from Sears, who will do everything they can in their endless contortions to avoid the fact that they make a substandard product and refuse to fix or replace the affected parts.

Shame on you, Sears! I am hereby removing the Sears ad that I previously had in my sidebar, and ending my advertising relationship with a company whose product I can no longer endorse – and who refuses every opportunity to make whole their guarantee, presented upon purchase, of providing me an appropriately working and non-defective stove in exchange for my hard-earned money.

Update 1: a Sears representative asked me to remove this article. I believe they were expecting me to capitulate in exchange for a small discount on new knobs, which of course would fall apart as well. I will not. Since that time, the hinges on the oven door have worn out and had to be replaced. The screws that are intended to hold the new hinges in place are no longer available, either.

Update 2: I have now received more than 11 emails from other owners of Sears/Kenmore-brand ovens with similarly-eroded knobs. Most are less than 2 years old. I have also been approached by an ex-Sears installer, who tells me that the issue is most likely the door seal, and that it's so variable that Sears won't bother sending anyone to fix it even if we caught it immediately.

infographic: repair vs. replace

Screen shot 2011-11-15 at 4.22.43 PM

Our friend Adria Saracino at PartSelect recently constructed this useful infographic to help you decide "what to do with your broken appliance - repair or replace" (click the link for the full interactive infographic)?

I can attest to its usefulness; I recently had a problem with my previously-excellent Kenmore dishwasher. This wonderful device, which has made my life so easy for 3 years now, suddenly decided that it was finished cleaning dishes on the top rack. It deigned - although I worried that this might be temporary - to clean dishes on the bottom, but not the top. After a $120 Sears service call, all was fixed: it was a matter of mineral deposits from hard water clogging up the nozzles, nothing a quick acid treatment couldn't fix.

However, many times we don't have the luxury of paying $100+ for a service call when a new appliance might be only twice or three times that cost. Who knows how long the fix would last - would it be worth paying a third of the cost of a new appliance for 1 year or service, when for the full price you could have something that would work a minimum of three - and ideally close to a decade?

This chart can help you answer these questions and more!

Greene & Greene's Gamble House - in Lego!


Grant Scholbrock lives in Portland, Oregon, and - if these photographs are any measure - is one of the greatest Lego architects of our time. His focus includes architecturally significant and unique skyscrapers in the United States, landmarks across the world (check his photostream for a terrific White House and Taj Mahal), as well as important Arts & Crafts homes.

After his earlier (and beautiful) Robie House model, Grant decided to build a tableaux of the Greene brothers' Gamble House in Pasadena. After Three months worth of work and at least 500 blocks - which included a trip to Los Angeles to visit the real thing (Grant took numerous photographs of various details to supplement the images he found online; this was his sixth trip to visit the building), the piece is finally finished. He's had several requests for various Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and hopes to someday complete a model of the Blacker House, especially if he's able to visit it during the 2010 Pasadena Heritage Weekend.

See more photographs of this project - and many others - in Grant's Flickr stream. And, if you're so inclined, Grant and I would both like to know what you'd like his next project to be - do you have any favorite buildings that would lend themselves to this kind of model-making?

Greene & Greene and Christopher Nolan's Inception

Inception, the new Christopher Nolan film about psychic espionage, includes a number of scenes in an extremely striking, obviously Greene & Greene home. Scenes in a hallway, dining room, kitchen and back yard show off cloud lift cabinet pulls, green ceramic mosaic tile in the kitchen, and Japanese-inspired lamps (and a front door with some very interesting stained glass inserts) that could be made by the Greenes or very talented imitators.

Does anyone know which house this is? It may be right on the Pasadena arroyo, if it is in that city, as the backyard is gently sloped down away from the back porch. I've heard much of the film was shot in and around Pasadena, so that gives a bit more weight to the idea that it's a real Greene & Greene, rather than a set.


The main reason things have been slow around here - and I don't just mean as slow as they've been for the past year since I became a daddy, but really slow - is that I've been working on interviewing folks for Qu3stions.com, a new short-form interview blog. So far I've talked to technologist Anil Dash, journalist Chandler Burr, and typographer Gerald Lange; today's interview is with Thy Tran, a chef-instructor and food writer in San Francisco.

Know any especially interesting folks who would make a good interview? Post their names in the comment below, or drop me a line at the email link above.

10 Ways to Green Your Home Décor


Editor's note: The following comes to us from our friend Jay Chua, and while it's not expressly for owners of old homes or aficionados of the Craftsman style, there is enough good advice here that I thought it might be interesting for Hewn & Hammered readers.

You'll find people all across the planet that are making greener lifestyle and product choices. In their home construction choices, things like insulation and other building materials are now available in green options and have little to no impact on the environment. Not just in the building stage, there are plenty of ways to choose green when it comes to home décor and you may be surprised at the benefits those choices deliver to you and your family.

1) A Breath Of Clean Air

It's becoming more widely known that the manufacturing methods of the past resulted in poor air quality in our homes. The glue and formaldehyde used in the construction of inexpensive furniture was unhealthy and off-gases were a culprit of many carpets. These elements, combined with inadequate ventilation, contributed to the rise of Sick Building Syndrome (a condition known as SBS).

Now, more natural products are available for your home that won't result in unhealthy air. Choose sea grass, sisal and alpaca wool carpets or invest in wood furniture made from sustainably harvested timber to create cleaner, fresher air in your home.

2) Get A Green Light

Change up your old light bulbs for a more energy-efficient, cost saving green improvement. Switching from incandescent to CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs can result in a savings of up to 75% on your lighting costs. Since they contain mercury, CFLs are handled with care and are still not the optimum choice for a green home.

A better option will soon be available with LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. Industry experts and designers are rushing to develop a bulb that meets quality and efficiency standards while staying within a practical price range for homeowners. Once there, choosing LEDs that last for decades will be the greener choice and save you even more on hydro bills than CFLs.

As an outdoor option, solar lighting systems are a smart choice. They collect the sun's rays during the day and light up your gardens and yard from the evening and on through.

3) Trees Lend A Helping Hand

Planting a tree or two will help with your home's energy usage. By providing shade around windows in the heat of summer and as a block against the cold winter winds, both deciduous and evergreen trees are beneficial. They will help with air quality since they absorb carbon dioxide and transpire water through their foliage. Attractive trees that are taken care of and growing well also increase your property value.

4) Fire Up The Barbecue

There's nothing quite like a good grilled meal. Not only does it taste great, but your air conditioner will get a well deserved break without the additional heat created by your stove. Laze in lounge chairs and a wooden swingset, soaking in the summertime in your backyard while shrinking the amount of energy used inside.

5) Fresh Air Is Welcome and Healthy

After a long winter of heating your airtight home, it's a good idea to open up the windows and allow a breeze through. The healthy cleanse of fresh spring air is not only cost efficient, it's a welcome change. Make sure you have removable screens to keep it simple and safe.

6) Landscape For Water Conservation

You can have an environmentally conscious yard with xeriscape design. These techniques involve water conservation using native plants, rain barrels and other methods of reducing water usage. Not only will you conserve with this type of yard, but the rising costs of water won't affect you as much and you'll save money.

7) Buy Furniture For the Long Run

It may cost you more up front, but quality, well made furniture that is built to last is the most intelligent choice. Inexpensive pieces turn into disposable waste that will pile up in the landfill, harming the environment and needing replacement. When you buy solid, wood furniture built with sustainable timber like Western Red Cedar (editor's note - and, of course, oak!) you are getting better overall value and heirloom quality. Red Cedar has natural properties that resist pests and rot without any chemicals, sealants and preservatives.

8) Harmony Is A Sweet Sound

With green home décor, you are more apt to feel a certain harmony in your home. You will be at peace with the planet with nature scenes and earthy colors that feel balanced. Wood furniture and elements like counters, floors and cabinets will create a warmth and grounded atmosphere. Fill the yard with the same touches, a wooden swingset and benches wait for you to come and spend some time relaxing.

9) Reduce Potential Foreign Conflicts

As petroleum-based products are created using oil that is often sourced from foreign lands, a heavy dependency on such products can be harmful to the pursuit of peace. Eliminate or reduce the amount of plastic you buy and you will reduce the need for foreign oil. Help to work for peace by opting out of plastics.

10) Manage Our Planet Responsibly

Although our imaginations may think otherwise, we only have one home planet and it needs to be handled well. Reduce the negative effect you have on earth by making changes in your family. That way you are responsibly managing your home and planet.

Think of all the benefits of making your home décor greener. From a healthier family, to saving money on utilities and contributing to a better global community, going green around the house is an excellent choice.

About The Author

Jay Chua, the publisher of PorchSwingSets.com, spends his time outdoors and loves being close to nature. Jay lives with his wife Deisy in Vancouver, Canada, the ideal place to enjoy gardening and travelling together. Since he's often busy designing backyard retreats, Jay loves to relax on a double glider swing where a good book and a coffee are even nicer shared with his wife. At PorchSwingSets.com you can check out sustainable, eco-friendly outdoor furniture and the best swing sets on the market.

downsizing Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

The last time I wrote about Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I got in a lot of trouble. People wrote me plenty of nasty emails, telling me that I was, variously, a "grinch," an "asshole," an "overprivilidged idiot" (sic) and that I was "totally out of touch with reality." All because I was trying to make a point about both historic preservation and long-term thinking - that it could be cheaper to restore an old house in the long run than build a new one, especially when building a new one encumbred the homeowner with increased property taxes that have, thus far, caused several recipients of these new homes to lose them. And, self-centered greedy jerk that I am, I suggested that the real purpose of this television program is not to do good for folks who deserve it but to give free advertising - not to the local contractors who do the work, but to the national homebuilding firms who may "donate" materials and expertise or the big box stores that provide all the nifty new made-in-China hardware and drywall.

So you can imagine I felt a bit vindicated by Dawn Towapka's article in the Wall Street Journal this past week, which explores the various and very sad issues recipients of these dream houses have had - everything from bad loans and defaults to property taxes they can't afford to pay. Luckily, the comments on the WSJ article aren't nearly as obnoxious as those I got, nor do any of the folks leaving comments wish violence on the author, as was the case with two that I received.

...But after the cameras have gone, another trend has been developing: Homeowners struggle to keep up with their expensive new digs. In many cases, the bigger, more lavish homes have come with bigger, more lavish utility bills. And bigger tax assessments. Some homeowners have tapped the equity of their super-sized homes only to fall behind on the higher mortgage payments.

The show's producers say they are aware of the problem and are making changes appropriate to current economic reality: downsizing.

Back in the boom, the makeovers got a little out of hand because of competition among home builders aware of the free publicity that came with the show and who tried to outdo previous projects. These days, the show is backing away from the boom-era showpieces. We "scaled back," says Conrad Ricketts, an executive producer for the show created and produced by Endemol US.

Still, it's a neat idea. I'd love to see a show like this that connects with local markets a bit better: restoring and, if necessary, expanding already-existing homes using small, same-area contractors who really need the work; using recycled and repurposed materials via local nonprofits or, for example, Habitat for Humanity's Re-Use stores; sticking to sustainable woods and US-made parts. It might be a little more expensive in the short run, but nothing worth doing is easy - and it'll certainly save a lot of heartache and cash over time.

Strictly Wood Furniture: a warning to consumers

Several times in the past we mentioned Strictly Wood Furniture, their excellent prices and the seemingly high quality Mission Revival reproduction items they sold. However - and I have to admit I'm definitely behind the times on this since the complaints date back four years - I found this thread on Gardenweb detailing dozens of people's very serious problems with the company. Some have waited years for furniture or refunds that never came, others took delivery of obviously broken or incomplete orders; all had one thing in common: that they were unable to get any kind of honest answer from the seemingly friendly folks who worked for Strictly Wood. SWF went so far as to give completely fabricated fedex confirmation numbers - meant to maintain the illusion that a refund check was on its way to the customer - on multiple occasions. What a scam! And, as of last year, their flagship showroom in New York City is shuttered.

The good luck is that they have closed down; the bad news is that they've only closed down under that name, and keep reappearing under others: watch out for their other fronts (they are apparently still selling, or rather promising to deliver, via constantly-changing Yahoo stores and various auction sites, too).

Ralph Jones helped them go into receivership and writes that most of the customers who never got their money back or the furniture they ordered were eventually given something; however, after contacting a half dozen people who had posted in the Gardenweb thread, only one had received any communication at the time Strictly Wood closed down. The Turkish company that made the furniture, however, was never guilty of any wrongdoing, and still makes excellent furniture and sells via other vendors - these problems were completely the fault of the American vendor, Strictly Wood. Furniture.

special homes in unspecial places

I got this from the folks at Preservation Directory and thought some Hewn & Hammered readers might be able to help. My own home is the opposite: a very plain, unfortunately much-"improved" Mission Revival bungalow in a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorians, Craftsman highwaters and Mission cottages.

Please contact New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir directly to participate or to receive additional information about the article. Her deadline is Thursday, May 14, 2009.

I am looking for homeowners who love their historic or stunning house, even though it is in a neighborhood that you wouldn't usually find this type of home in. Perhaps the neighborhood has changed from what it was like when the house was built, and now it doesn't really fit it. The house might be next to something unusual like an airport or power plant. Or they are in a neighborhood that was once residential and is now a mall or an urban center etc.

Two caveats: 1) the neighborhood should not be "up and coming", rather a place that is going to stay as it is, but the home buyers love the house anyway. 2) The house is NOT for sale.  These can be recently moved-in residents or long time owners, but no one who is selling the house currently.

I'm looking for people who love their home where others might not give the same house a second glance.  Thanks so much I look forward to your e-mails."

selling your home when you have small children

6308753 Our friend, real estate professional Joel Macdonald, passes along this good advice for those of you with small kids who may be selling - or getting ready to sell - your home:

When you are selling your home, having the property in the best showing condition it can be has got to be your highest priority. Being able to get that feat done when you have kids can be a tough assignment at best, let alone to keep it in that condition all the time your home is on the market. There are a few easy actions you can take to keep your home showable even with little ones living their regular lives.

Organization is the Key Thing

Children of all ages tend to stockpile toys of all kinds. They like variety. As a parent you might have gotten used to the sight of clutter, but someone who is not used to being around small children can notice it. The first step to take, then, in getting your home ready to go on the market is to organize your children's belongings so they can easily be put away and mostly out of sight. This can be approached by getting and using toy chests or storage boxes. Find storage that fits into the space without being too obvious.

Clean up the Exterior of the House

Putting things away on the outside of your home is important as well. Try finding ways to set up, or store, the children's outdoor toys in a neat and tidy way to present the outside of your house well. Toys that cannot be stored in a garage or outdoor storage do not have to be all put away but they must not present a cluttered appearance.

Of course, the regular practice of clearing out things that are not needed in a systematic manner is just as pertinent to the young family members' things as it is to all the other old treasures. This is an excellent skill even if you are not going to move. Children as well as adults have to learn to make decisions. Learning the process of letting things go and moving on is a necessary part of life. This process can be a growth opportunity for the children, though it will be important to get their participation and not force their decisions. That would only interfere with the lesson to be gained.

Keeping It Up
Some discipline will be required to keep everything in order after you are all organized. Trying to keep everything reasonably neat after it is sorted can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Once you have your storage set up, keeping everything in order will be much easier. Limit the number of different things your children are playing with. You can even make the goal of keeping the house straight an adventure or challenge for your kids. They in turn may even remind you to keep other things in the house organized as well.

Don't try and keep your children from all their regular play while you are selling your home. There is no need to turn your home into a sterile clean home where it would seem no children would be allowed. Many people in the market for a family home are happy to see a house that is inviting to live in, with toys in use. Just be aware that it should be kept on the neater side of normal.

If you have children who are messy painters it might be a step-saver to put down a rug for them to play on that can be put away when potential buyers come to see the home. That way you can prevent any cleanup needed to pop back into the neat appearance of a newly cleaned home. Keeping the finger paints put away and out of sight during the time the home is offered for sale might be a good approach too.

It's not too impossible, is it, to allow the children to continue with their normal lives while you are offering your home in the good condition that a real estate sale demands. A little patience and attention, together with organization and daily attention to clearing up clutter, will make the sale of your home with young children much more manageable.

Article provided through Automated Homefinder, the Boulder home specialists of Colorado.

Home Depot to Close all 34 Expo Stores

I'll shed tears for the innocent people who are losing their jobs for shareholders’ vacation homes – since it seems that big business forgot the entire point of growing a business is to employ people, and that making a profit is simply a related function. I won't, however, shed any tears for the misguided, ridiculous idea – and poor taste – that was Expo:

Home Depot Inc. announced Monday that it was closing its 34 upscale Expo and other home specialty centers and laying off 7,000 people as a result of the crumbling US housing market and worldwide economic downturn.

The company said it would close its 34 sprawling Expo Design Center stores by April, including eight in Southern California, and 14 smaller stores.

Some employees were stunned. “Shock. It was shock. It's just 7,000 of us, just gone,” said Chris Toliver, who works in the appliance section at the company's Expo store in Westwood.

“I’m young. I'm 22,” he said. “But what hurt the most is the people in their 40s or older, people with families, who are losing their jobs here. Unemployment is nowhere near enough to feed a family.”
You might also be interested in reading an informative guide on the Home Depot return policy.

recycling materials "being dumped as landfill"

Here's something that really chaps my hide, and which gives yet more credence to so much criticism of new recycling & "environmentally-friendly" industries as being guilty of greenwashing but not really improving anything:

Thousands of tons of material put out to be recycled by environmentally conscious Britons secretly ends up at landfill, it has emerged.

Around 240,000 tons of paper, glass and plastic is either dumped or burned after being collected in green bins and bags by local council staff, according to the Local Government Association, which represents town halls across the country.

However, the true amount could be much higher as only around half of local authorities submitted their data.


The article goes on to detail that this is a result of recycling efforts not being well-funded rather than one of private contractors pocketing public money and then simply trashing collected refuse, but it's still sad to read.

Voysey clocks & more

from our friend Christopher Vickers:

Following on from the CFA Voysey Clocks postings here last August [Voysey clocks; Chris Vickers & Voysey], readers may be interested in Christopher Vickers new page featuring many of the period Voysey clocks still known to exist.

Chris would be very interested to receive further information / images of Voysey clocks, or really anything at all designed by Voysey!

contest: let's see your holiday-decorated home & win a gift card!

Heather Ferguson writes:

I love seeing old homes decorated for Christmas. This year Schoolhouse Electric Co is sponsoring a contest on 1912bungalow.com. Enter a photo of your home decorated for the holidays for a chance to win a Schoolhouse Electric Co. light fixture and shade. Second prize is a $75 Home Depot gift card, third prize is a $50 Home Depot gift card. Contest runs from today to December 24th. Enter a photo of your home for a chance to win!

ethical home sales: the hunger house

Over at cnn.com, Rusty Dornin has this wonderful story of a house sale where the needs of the many truly were put ahead those of the individual:

One day while driving with her father, Hannah Salwen noticed a Mercedes stopped next to a homeless man sitting on the curb.

"I said to my dad, 'If that guy didn't have such a nice car, then that guy could have a nice meal,' " the 15-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, recalled.   And so began the tale of what the Salwen family calls "Hannah's Lunchbox."

It started as family discussions about what they needed versus what was enough. Hannah's father Kevin, an entrepreneur, is on the board of the Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and is no stranger to community work, but he said this family conversation was life-changing.

"We stopped and paused and thought about what are the things in the world that could really make a difference, a little bit of difference in the world," he said.

They talked about selling their cars or other things, but it was Hannah's mother, Joan, who came up with selling their 6,500-square-foot house, donating half the proceeds and then moving into a house half the size.

I guess it takes kids, sometimes, to get us to put our greed and preoccupation with wealth into perspective! read the whole story

Does the Mills Act decrease public school funds?

564mills041808full California's Proposition 13 is the bane of public education in the state - and for the most part benefits the richest single segment of the population, relying on the old straw man of "senior homeowners on fixed incomes" (when tax credits for that demographic would be far more equitable in keeping folks in their homes). However, it's only one of many archaic and unethical pieces of the tax code keeping our public schools underfunded.

The whole story is much more complicated, but a recent grand jury report in San Diego took the focus off Prop 13 and turned that energy to vilifying owners of historic homes - only it turns out they got the story wrong. Kelly Bennett of Voice of San Diego reports:

One of the most heartrending arguments for dramatic changes to the city of San Diego's historic preservation program is that its tax discounts for homeowners results in an annual revenue loss to the San Diego Unified School District of nearly $1.5 million.

That sum factored in media reports, propelled damning rhetoric in a county Grand Jury report and became a talking point of Mayor Jerry Sanders in press conferences and on the Roger Hedgecock radio show earlier this month. And so, the city's Mills Act program looked quite like a fat tax break to homeowners in some of San Diego's wealthiest neighborhoods at the expense of schoolchildren. And this at a time when schools are preparing to slash staff levels and budgets.

              But it's not true.

The school district didn't lose $1,486,317, as was claimed in the Grand Jury's report titled "History Hysteria." The state reimburses the district to make sure it has a particular level of funding for schools, even if property tax revenue drops, according to the state Department of Finance and San Diego Unified School District. The program does mean losses for the city of about $600,000, for the county, and for several other municipal agencies due to the tax discounts.

The number blunder exemplifies some of the confusion swirling in the debate over one of the few programs for which San Diego leads the state. San Diego has entered into far more Mills Act contracts, more than 800, than any city in the state. The contracts with homeowners of historically designated homes trade a break in property taxes for a homeowner's promise to keep the facade up to snuff.


Read the full story at VoSD; photo  by Sam Hodgson.

3 practical suggestions to get your home ready for sale

5124607 Our friend Joel McDonald writes regularly on real estate & home ownership topics. He sent in the following article a few days ago:

Prepping your home for sale, especially an older home with its accumulation of what you like to think of as endearing personality quirks, can be a daunting task. Even in the best of circumstances, the preparations going into selling  can be stressful, complicated, and can demand a ton of work. That's especially so if you're like most sellers and prepare your home for sale a few weeks before putting it on the market.

Plan ahead
Waiting until the weekend before selling your home is going to cause you way too much stress and anxiety - not to mention a lot of unnecessary expenses. Create a list of things that need to be fixed now, and get to them a weekend at a time every few months. By taking your time to do a few tasks in the year or two before selling your home, you will be saving yourself a lot of hassles when it comes time to actually sell. Not only will you be less stressed, but you won't be as rushed to get things fixed, and you'll do a far better job. (If you hire someone, you'll also likely keep some cash in your pockets by hiring them in the off season, not in the summer when most contractors will be booked, or have higher rates.)

Taking the best picture possible
You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and when buyers are looking online, that first impression is the photo of your home.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can get away with a snapshot from the curb at high noon (which is the worst time of day to ever take a picture.)  One of the best things you can do to get ready to sell is to keep a camera handy for capturing that moment when your home won't seem colorless because the picture was taken in the unforgiving glare of the noonday sun. It will look much nicer in the early morning or late afternoon, or under sunny clearing skies after a rain.  Murphy�s law predicts that if you wait until the last minute to take a picture for the listing, it will be gloomy the entire week your agent or the photographer shows up to get it done.

Even if you're not planning on selling in the immediate future, next time after it rains, see if you can take a picture of your home with a rainbow behind it. In the spring, make sure to get an late evening shot with the amber sun glowing on your gorgeous flowers on your front porch. Tiny details like that make make a huge difference.

If you don't need it - store it!
Rent a storage locker well in advance, and start making occasional trips to it with the stuff you don't need. Tackle your kitchen, garage and basement first since those tend to accumulate the most unnecessary clutter. If you don't use that coffee pot taking up room on the kitchen countertop more often than several times a month, put it away or store it. (In fact, even if you do use it, if it could be easily stored in your cabinets - store it!) The less "stuff" is cluttering up your countertops, the bigger the kitchen feels. If your kids don't play with the toys that are sitting around the family room, have a yard sale or donate them to Goodwill! The less stuff you have around in your home, the bigger it feels!

With just a little advance planning, you can take a great deal of stress out of selling your house.

Visit Automated Homefinder for all of your Colorado real estate needs.

How to Green Your Kitchen

Given that there is a fair amount of overlap in the Hewn & Hammered and Environmentally aware Venn diagram, I present Treehugger's recent Green Guide, "How to Green Your Kitchen":

The eco-friendly kitchen begins with eating green, but it doesn’t end there. Energy-efficient food preparation and cleaning habits, using equipment made from sustainable materials, and dodging toxic chemicals are also important if you want to have a truly healthy kitchen. Fortunately, making the right choices for your well-being is also good for the pocket and the planet. Our straightforward and simple suggestions for preparing earth-friendly meals--from fridge to food to cleanup--will turn you into a greener gourmet in no time. read the whole thing

Martha Stewart's Arts & Crafts Christmas dinner

Marthastewart Reader Bob Sindelar of Sindelar & O'Brien Antique and Design imagines the following bit of holiday humor: Martha Stewart's planner for a very special Arts & Crafts Christmas dinner...

DAY I: Build pavilion for the dinner -- something in a bungalow motif. Use native woods. Strive for a Greene & Greene look. (Use original hardware from the collection if time gets too short to hammer my own.)

Quarter-saw white oak from the stand I felled last year. Build manger. Use through-tenons and pegged construction, adding corbels to the underside (Joseph may have been a carpenter, but he was no Gustave Stickley!).

Fume and set aside.

DAY 2: Shear sheep. Card and spin wool. Weave. Fashion into swaddling clothes.
Phone Dale at the Boathouse. Book time at furnace. Pick up Lino at airport. Blow life-size glass putti. (Use gold foil inclusions; the silver looked tacky in that eight-foot, sand-cast sleigh Bertil and I did last year!)

Swaddle. Place in manger.

DAY 3: Pluck goose. Fashion quill pen. Make red ink from the crushed skin of holly berries. Address 250 dinner invitations in a calligraphic hand.

Design award-winning new typeface. Carve from heart pine. Set type for dinner menus. Pull 250 prints, hors commerce, and pencil sign. Illume in six colors, plus gold. Bind in limp covers. Set aside.

DAY 4: Run off individual linen place mats and napkins on loom. Embroider with guests' initials in original Arts & Crafts design based on the Dard Hunter sketch book I found at that wonderful yard sale last week for 25¢.

Design and cast bronze mounts for those terribly plain, Tiffany salts.

DAY 5: Fuel the Aerocoupe. Fly to Colorado. Select and fell Blue Spruce for the Great Room. Fashion sled from trimmed branches. Recruit dog team. Mush tree to front yard, waving gaily to ordinary folk along the way. (They will remember this for years!)

DAY 6: Soak frostbitten toes in Weller jardiniere filled with fresh mountain spring water, to which has been added 8 oz. arctic ice. Reserve water for the ice sculpture. (Remember to wash jardiniere before serving the mulled wine!)

Clean funky old sideboard I found on the trash pile yesterday. Paint in colorful Peter Hunt design. (I'll need a place to put those three-color Grueby bowls for the soup.) Be sure to cover up that "R"-inside-a-sawmark carved on the back, probably by some bygone child.

DAY 7: Melt down old copper tubing removed from Victorian house I restored last week. Pour and let cool. Roll into sheets. Radially hammer individual place card holders. Patinate and set aside.

Hit local flea markets and garage sales. Gather enough "Ruba Rombic" in seasonal colors of Jungle Green and Ruby Red to use as party favors. (Don't tell dealers their Consolidated "Ruba Rombic" is really Kopp "Modernistic." They don't want to hear it. Particularly not from Martha Stewart!)

DAY 8: Strip Thanksgiving turkey carcass; dry. Paint red. Distress. Apply gold leaf to highlight. Invert and hang on front door. Fill with freshly cut pine boughs and cones. Add left-over mashed potatoes to pine cone tips to simulate snow. Top with jellied cranberries for that festive note.

For dinner music, record traditional Christmas melodies on period instruments, playing each myself and mixing in my studio later. Laser CDs, enough for each guest.

DAY 9: Harvest bee hives. Make wax; color with crushed and pureed fresh cranberries for that just-right Christmas-red. Line 120 toilet paper rolls saved over past year (waste not; want not!) with wax paper. Using as molds, cast bee's-wax candles. Remove and discard TP rolls.

Line drive and walk with Loetz oil-spot vases. To each, add 1-1/2 cups Gulf Coast, summer sand, to weight. Insert red candles (wick up). They will look lovely, glowing warmly, against the snow! (If summer sand is unavailable, substitute winter sand, but increase to 1-2/3 cups.)

DAY 10: The Day of the Dinner - E-mail holiday greetings to the 37 on-line discussion groups I moderate. Be sure to preface with "Off Topic." Remember to ask them to respond by PRIVATE e-mail!

Greet guests, asking after each of their children or grandchildren byname. So as to reduce guests' well-deserved feelings of inadequacy,carefully add a light splash of Beaujolais Nouveau to the skirt of the country suit I whipped up this morning.

Smile modestly. Try (sincerely, this year!) to appear slightly flustered.

Sign and dedicate 250 copies of "Martha Stewart Collects."


Architectural Salvage VI

Given the seemingly endless popularity of the DIY movement, awareness of green practices and recycling as parts of the design/build process and the high cost of new materials, salvage businesses continue to thrive:

and in the UK, where architectural salvage is a way of life:

  • Cheshire Demolition "offers one of the biggest salvage and reclamation yards in the North West. They offer everything from reclaimed doors to fireplaces."
  • The Salvage Doctor specializes in the "reclamation and restoration of cast iron architectural salvage and antiques," and carries an extensive range of radiators (cast iron, school- / hospital- /column- style, etc.), fireplaces & surrounds, woodburning stoves, rainwater systems (guttering, downpipes & fittings), gates and railings. They are located in Horsham, West Sussex.
  • In Situ trade out of their Manchester ex-pub warehouse and studio. They keep a large stock of the usual - with attention to fancy pavers, lighting, glass, flooring, entryways and doors / door furniture.
  • Cox's Architectural Salvage has operated their 12,500 sq ft covered warehouse in Moreton-in-Marsh since 1992. They are one of the largest Victorian ironmongers in Britain, and also refinish and sell their own line of nickel plate and brass hardware.
  • Toby's Architectural Antiques has shops in Exeter and Newton Abbot. They carry a wide range of exterior detail - gates, ironmongery, roofing, slate, stone, water features - as well as kitchen materials, doors, light fixtures etc.
  • Park Royal Salvage at the Lower Place Wharf in London sells everything from building materials, doors, windows and reclaimed plumbing to doors, windows, fireplaces and other old house parts.
  • Robert Mills Architectural Antiques are one of the more specialized shops of their kind, with an especially large stock of architectural woodwork, mainly panels, columns, balustrades, mouldings and friezes, window frames, etc.

news roundup, July 2007

Several bits & pieces of interest to old-house aficionados, rehabbers and others interested in A&C:

delicious del.icio.us: Craftsman links from all over

Delicious is a great way to keep track of your bookmarks between machines - and between people. I've been steadily adding to my own bookmarks, and hopefully will soon have several hundred links - furniture makers, blacksmiths, tile dealers, sellers of architecture salvage, antique buyers' guides, auction notices, do-it-yourself directions and lots more.

Eventually, I'll get around to organizing it all, but until then, I'm sure you'll find plenty to browse.