Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to make a small yard seem huge

Some of the most beautiful homes in the world have teeny, tiny backyards for one reason or another. Whether you're located deep in the heart of a city or perched high on the edge of hill, there's no reason your small yard can't have big style. To get the most out of your space, you simply need to think outside the box. Here's how: 

Create a little mystery
It might seem contradictory to hide parts of an already tiny lawn, but hear us out: A yard separated into "rooms" doesn't give away how far it extends. You can achieve this by separating segments with a trellis, shrubbery, you name it – anything that hides portions of your yard from plain sight will work. Many people assign an activity to each room, such as gardening or entertaining.

Forgo fences
If your neighborhood (and your neighbors) allow it, opt to go totally fenceless. Not only does this blur the line of your backyard and your neighbor's, but the changing landscape creates visual contrast.

Choose a focal point
The easiest way to make a backyard look bigger is by drawing the eye outward as far as possible. You can choose from a variety of focal points, from fountains to statues to outdoor furniture, but you'll want to put them at the farthest corner of your lawn.

Add some height
You may not be able to add width to your yard, but there's a whole lot you can do to add height. Vertical walls of plants or tall awnings can create serious depth when they're placed nearly anywhere in your yard. If you created a focal point, try centering the vertical height directly behind it to create even more drama. 

Move your patio
Patios are traditionally attached directly to the back of a house, but that can make a small yard look even more diminutive. Moving the patio to the center or back corner of your yard will create the illusion of extra space. 

Make room
When you're working with a small space, it's natural to want to render all your decorations in a size that matches. The two things you don't want to skimp on, however, are the size of your entertaining area and the width of your walkways. Leave an ample amount of room for people to walk and relax, and shrink your landscaping or lawn space instead – the quickest way to draw attention to the size of your backyard is to make people feel cramped. 

Use your lines
Artists create depth using lines all the time, and so can you. If you have landscaping or fencing running along the sides of your lawn, gently slant them toward each other as they move away from your house instead of sticking to standard straight lines. This will create the illusion of a long, sprawling yard – even if yours is just the opposite. 

Mix up your materials
When it comes to creating a lawn that looks larger, you can't have too many landscaping materials. Instead of having a predominantly patio-and-grass lawn, incorporate segments with concrete pavers, gardening plots, wooden decks and more.

Making a small lawn look larger comes to down to how visually interesting the space is. Create as much height, depth and contrast as you can, making sure to carve out an area for outdoor seating and entertaining. Your backyard might seem small you to you, but we promise no one else will notice!

Enjoying nature during winter

Most people avoid going outdoors during winter, save for a few ski or sledding trips. The cold weather can be difficult to endure for long periods of time, but remaining cooped up for the whole season isn't healthy either. In fact, you need vitamin D, which comes from the sun. It boosts the immune system and maintains strong bones, as the vitamin aids your body's absorption of calcium. What's more, sunlight is the most effective source of vitamin D. Fortunately, you can find ways to enjoy views of nature and soak up some rays this winter. Here are a few tips for getting your daily dose of the outdoors:

Make yard space
While you may not want to spend all afternoon lounging in a snowy yard, getting outdoors for a few minutes to soak up the sun can do you a world of good in winter. Create a little getaway in your backyard you can use when the sun comes out. For instance, you can keep your patio clear of snow and bring outdoor lounge chairs to the spot. These furniture pieces fold up so you can store them indoors and away from the chilly weather when not in use, and then pull out to enjoy the outdoors. 

Decorate the area with potted winter plants, like poinsettias, to add color to your backyard hangout. Wreaths and garland also provide a sense of life to an otherwise barren environment.

Fire up
If you have an outdoor fireplace, you should definitely make use of it this season. Get the fire going, then pull out a few chairs. Grab blankets and snuggle up before the flames. Doing so will let you enjoy the crisp and surprisingly refreshing winter air while staying warm. If your fireplace is located in a covered deck, you may leave your outdoor sectionals in place. That way, you have comfortable seating when you want to be outside.

Create a winter wonderland
Wouldn't you be more tempted to spend time outside if your yard looked like Narnia? Consider decorating your space with string lights, votives, etc., to give it that magical touch. The trees in your yard can carry oversized ornaments while your walkways can be lined with potted plants. Add some outdoor seating and you'll be clamoring to explore your yard.

Keep outdoor gear at hand
If you have to dig for snowshoes, skis or sleds, you'll be less likely to use them. Pull them out before winter weather arrives so you can quickly grab your gear when the mood takes you. You don't have to head to a ski slope to have fun this winter – the backyard can be a haven. Hike around your house wearing snowshoes, or build a snowman.

Bring plants indoors
Sometimes, you just can't get outside. Whether a snowstorm keeps you homebound or the cold is too hazardous, you can still be among nature indoors. Just keep some plants in your house. Calla lilies and Christmas cactus bloom this time of year, so they'll add some color to your home. Plus, plants help purify the air in the house.

Planning a backyard hot tub

Hot tubs are especially useful backyard additions because they can be used year-round, unlike pools and are fun for all ages. With winter fast approaching, now is a great time to start planning one for your backyard so you can get the most out of it. Before breaking ground, however, it's a good idea to evaluate what kind of hot tub will best fit your family's needs and where it should be located. Beyond the standard "in-ground or above ground?" question, there are few additional things to ask yourself while you're in the planning stages.

The location
The most important part of picking the location for a backyard hot tub is the proximity it will have to utilities. While electricity and water can be wired to virtually any place in your backyard, it can get pricey, so establishing a spot nearby existing lines is a good idea. A second consideration is its location in relation to your house; a 25-feet maximum distance is a good rule of thumb, particularly if you live in a cold climate. Any trees should be avoided, since they will drop unwelcome leaves into the water (and your hair), while you may also want to pick a place that will be appropriately shielded from your neighbors. 

The surface
The ground your hot tub is located on can be in your actual your yard or a on a deck, but the surface must be completely level. Oftentimes this means that a concrete block must be installed in your ideal spot in an area large enough to accommodate the tub itself and the water line feeding into it. If you're planning for yours to be installed directly on your patio, don't sweat – it will be ready to go as is.

Awesome accessories
Additional items, like beverage coolers, outdoor furniture, cover lifters and interior lighting can make a great tub even more awesome.

Size
The size of the hot tub you select should accommodate your family plus the amount of guests you anticipate will regularly use it. If you entertain outdoors often, consider buying a larger one. If it's typically just you and your hubby, a two-person tub will suffice. An important thing to remember is that the larger the tub, the more expensive it will to feed electricity and water into. 

Accessibility and safety
Above-ground hot tubs can be particularly tricky to get into, so thoroughly evaluate the entrance and interior steps of your tub when you're at the store. Some hot tubs come with cool safety features like automatic shut off, locking covers, and slip-free interiors.

Lighting
Many people primarily use their tubs at night, so make sure you're either placing yours where there is already ample light or plan to install some along with it. Many houses have outdoor lighting installed on their exteriors, so if your hot tub is especially close to your home, you may not need to account for any.

Weatherproofing your shed before winter

Storing your outdoor furniture sets is important during winter, as the harsh conditions of some climates can cause wear and tear. Many homeowners choose to keep their pieces in a shed, as the structure is outside where their furniture normally sits. Sheds also prevent you from taking up space inside you house – nice, right? However, you should take precautions when keeping your outdoor sectionals inside a shed, as some can be leaky. You don't want snow damaging your belongings, so follow these steps to weatherproof the structure:

Treat the wood
Wood sheds look nice and are durable, but the material can hold moisture. For this reason, you should use timber treatments that seal the wood and prevent it from soaking up moisture. Your shed may have already been treated by the manufacturers, so find out before you purchase the treatment yourself. If you do have to seal your shed, try using a wood cream – it will penetrate the wood, filling it so there's no room for water.

Check the floor
If water seeps onto the floor of your shed, your outdoor furniture sets may be at risk. For this reason, checking on the quality and construction of your shed floor is a must. The flooring should be raised so groundwater doesn't pour in. If your shed is not currently lifted, place brick or cinder blocks beneath the floor – they'll become the shed's substructure. Furthermore, look for cracks in your foundation and fill them in, otherwise liquid has a route to your furniture, and your pieces won't look nice come spring.

Seal the roof
Examine the shed's roof for gaps and seal any you find with water-resistant filler or caulk. Furthermore, take a look at the felting your shed has. Felt helps lock the roof so no air or moisture can get inside the structure. Mineral roofing felt is the strongest option and provides lasting protection. If your shed doesn't use this kind of felt, consider replacing it – keeping your furniture in good condition is worth the upgrade.

Look at panels
As with the floor and roof, check the siding of your shed for gaps or holes, then close any you find. Though the wind doesn't often blow sideways, pouring snow into your shed, precipitation can drip down onto the siding – those sneaky droplets!

Tips for storage
Sealing your shed may sound like a lot of work, but you can make the process easier with these tips:

  • Take your belongings out of the shed so you can see any cracks in the walls or floors.
  • Talk to a sales associate at your favorite hardware store to find the best sealing products.
  • Always put the covers on your outdoor furniture pieces. Even though the shed will be protected from environmental elements, you could have missed a crack. The covers help shield your items from water, denting (as a result of contacting other furniture) and dust.

Thanks to a bit of work and smart storage, your outdoor furniture sets should be in good shape come spring. 

Home renovations that put money back in your pockets

It's no secret that renovating portions of your home can yield a huge benefit when it comes time to sell. In fact, many of you have probably already performed a few household projects or purchased a new place after seeing some really stellar new additions. While we all dream of upgrading our homes with renovations that will please us now and new buyers later, we need not dream big – it's often the most expensive projects that yield the least ROI. What should you upgrade, regardless of when you plan on selling then? Well – it might surprise you. 

Start with the basics
Seemingly small things, like a damp basement, chipping exterior sideboard or a small leak in the roof are actually the first things you should focus on when you're renovating. While they may not be that visible to you (or potential buyers), minor things that need maintenance are the most likely to scare viewers off. Though they are relatively inexpensive to fix, new residents don't want to start their new lives having to sink thousands more dollars into basic repairs.

Get on your neighbors' level
When people come to view a new house, they will usually compare it to others in the neighborhood. Maybe yours is the only house in the area without a pool, or maybe everyone on your street has impeccable landscaping. The best thing you can do to make your abode seem more appealing is to make it as good (or better) than the other digs on the block. 

Keep it mainstream
While the way you decorate your home should be wholeheartedly personal, you want to avoid making updates on your home that won't appeal to many potential buyers. You might find an in-home yoga studio to be imperative to your lifestyle, but will the majority of the people coming to view it feel the same way? It's better to focus on something that almost anyone will appreciate instead, like new kitchen appliances or hardwood floors. That being said, if you're planning to remain in your house for some time, don't skimp on the things that make you happy – it's your life, after all.

It's all about the bathroom
And the kitchen, technically. While these can, in fact, be pricier renovations, they are the most likely to catch buyers' attention so long as the rest of your house is in good condition. If you'd like to stick to a more moderate budget, opt for new countertops or a fresh coat of paint, which will instantly update the room. When it comes to bathroom, it's important to note that such renovations should only be done if you have more than one bathroom. If not, invest your cash into building on a second.

Add a deck or a basement hangout
Increasing the livable space in your house is one of the most effective ways to add to its value, but it doesn't have to involve building on a whole new room. Adding a covered patio in your backyard and setting it up with some high-quality outdoor furniture creates an impressive outdoor lounge, while incorporating a few bar tables and barstools in a finished basement is perfect for hosting parties.

Renovating your home can be a great way to have more fun while you live there and receive a greater ROI when you sell it, but that doesn't mean you need to shell out big bucks. Instead, start with the most practical tasks, and move up to the more luxurious. And if you build a wine cellar first, it's OK – we won't tell. 

How to decorate your backyard for Christmas

The Christmas season is fast approaching, and many folks start adorning their homes in holiday cheer immediately after Halloween. One area frequently void of good tidings and great joy, however, is the backyard. It may not get a whole lot of public visibility, but with a little sprucing can really round out the festive vibe of your home. Whether you're a Nov. 1 decoration fiend or insist on waiting until after Thanksgiving, we've got a few decoration trends you might want to check out.

Cover your tree trunks with twinkle lights
Though this is stealing an idea from your front yard, it's a great way to add a little winter whimsy to the back of your house. You'll be able to enjoy the view from your kitchen or living room, even if the neighbors can't.

Put Christmas ornaments on branches
Outdoor Christmas ornaments are usually much larger than their indoor counterparts and look wonderful hanging from outdoor tree branches. A variety of colors are available, meaning it won't be difficult to match them to your outdoor furniture.

Decorate the fence with wreaths
Whether your fence is wrought iron or wood, it will serve as a beautiful backdrop for festive wreaths. Some come with lights to provide visual appeal after the sun goes down, but it's certainly not a necessity. This technique looks particularly alluring when there are half a dozen hung in a sequence.

Drape garlands on your outdoor furniture
Few things will emulate "Winter Wonderland" quite like an outdoor sofa framed in evergreen. Garlands can also be used in arches and doorways to up your backyard's holiday vibe. 

Add twinkle lights to the rim of your patio umbrellas
Connect them to an source of electricity by twining them around the umbrella base all the way to your patio floor. 

Turn a shed into Santa's Workshop
A decorative extra that is sure to put a smile on your kids' faces, a backyard shed that looks like the North Pole only requires a few extra items. A "Santa's Workshop" sign is a necessity, of course, along with a lighted reindeer and snowman. Taking the theme all the way into the interior might be difficult, but would quickly become a popular stop for all of your neighbors and their families.

Create poinsettia centerpieces
This could also be done by filling a bowl with pinecones. Both options are easy to find in stores and won't die with the rest of your outdoor plants.

Arrange plastic candy canes in empty planters
Barren backyard planters can be filled with a bouquet of plastic candy canes or small faux Christmas trees.

Fill bird baths with fruit
This outdoor decorating trick is one of the most visually interesting, but it will only work if you live in a perpetually frozen area. Fill an empty, clean bird bath with water and then add winter fruits, such as cranberries and orange slices, arranging them in a cool pattern. They will freeze that way within a few hours and stay there all season long. 

String lights around gazebos and arbors 
Gazebo and arbor legs are just one more opportunity to wrap things in festive twinkle lights. 

How to attract winter birds to your backyard

Goldfinches, mockingbirds and red-winged cardinals; mourning doves, song sparrow and yellow-rumped warblers; downy woodpeckers, American robins, and European starlings – you'll see them all if you give them a helping hand (or wing) during the winter.

Contrary to popular belief, not all birds head south when the leaves are falling. While most of them can find a way to survive after the first snowfall, there is a lot you can do to keep them well-fed and warm. The bonus? Their striking, spectacular colors look beautiful against an all-white backdrop, keeping your backyard looking top-notch even when it's too cold to use your outdoor furniture. Attracting and protecting winter birds is exactly like attracting and protecting any other animal (or human): They need only three things.

Food
Birds may not hibernate like bears, but they do need extra food and fat to keep them warm in the winter. Choices like peanut butter and sunflower seeds make a particularly good selection. It can be as simple as rolling pine cones in PB and then in bird seed and then hanging them from trees or filling an existing feeder with a combination of sunflower seeds and peanuts. A good rule of thumb: The wider variety of food you offer, the wider variety of birds you'll attract to your yard.

Water
Birds can usually melt away at ice and snow to hydrate themselves, but it's a tedious process. To make it easier on them, use a heated bird bath to give them an easily accessed supply of fresh H2O. If you don't own a heated bird bath, don't worry – many pet stores sell products you can add to the water to safely keep it from freezing.

Shelter
Resting places out of the wind and snow will make winter birds extra grateful to have you around. Adding bird houses and nesting pockets to your yard is a great way to accommodate your feathery friends throughout the next few months, but you can do things as simple as leaving nesting materials around so that they can construct their own shelters. Evergreen trees form a hardy natural shelter, and nearby bushes make great hiding places from hawks and other predatory birds.

A few extras when it comes creating a backyard bird oasis: Don't let any cats outside, as they are not particularly cordial with aviary species, and put up a few window clings to prevent bird-window collisions. Keeping bird feeders and baths clean and bacteria-free will help their survival rates as well, as disease kills off a surprising amount of cold-weather flocks. Make sure that your patio dining tables and outdoor sofas aren't underneath backyard trees as to avoid bird droppings. Last but not least, be extra wary during the month of February, as it's the most difficult one for birds to make it through. A little extra food and water will go a long way!

Creating cohesion in your outdoor material choices

Designing a backyard that seems cohesive requires planning. The materials you use throughout the space play a huge part in the final product. For instance, you can tie your outdoor furniture sets, fence and patio together through material choice. Nice, huh? Of course, if you're going to pull off this highly coordinated effort, you'll need a few tips. Here's how to choose materials that unify the independent elements in your vision:

Use throughout
First and foremost, when you plan to unify a space through the materials you choose, you should be prepared to repeat. Applying wrought iron to your fence, patio furniture and outdoor firepits makes all those pieces seem like one planned space. Pick one key material and stick with it. You don't have to be exclusive – never-ending iron can be overpowering. Instead, use the material as an accent or focal point in several yard features, never letting it take over.

Find complements
Complementary colors cause one another to pop – blue seems more vibrant next to orange than next to green, for instance. The same goes for materials. Your key material can be made more glorious when used in conjunction with a secondary one. Some stellar combinations include wood and metal, metal and glass, brick and metal, and stone and wood. Sticking to a pair is easiest to pull off, though experienced designers often reach for a trifecta, such as wood, brick and metal. Remember that one material will be the star and the other is the supporting character.

Match your home
Your backyard design will look the most cohesive if you plan it with your house's architecture in mind. For instance, if you have stone details on your home, extend them to your yard. Stone makes a great patio material or table top. If your home features industrial metal window frames, pick outdoor sectionals with metal bodies. Your complementary ideas can come from your house's current architecture as well. However, don't let your home's state stop you from doing what you want. You can upgrade your house and yard at the same time to create a cohesive look. 

When in doubt, go for color
Extending your material match to your furniture may not always be practical – a stone bench isn't very cozy, after all. If buying wood or metal furniture isn't an option, then use color to match it to your material choice. For instance, a tan wicker piece looks great with a stone patio of a similar tone. Dark wicker, on the other hand, could bring out the deep shades in your iron fence.

Don't forget decorations
A well-placed tray or vase can tie your decor together outside. For example, a clay pot could complement clay tiles. Lay a wood serving tray filled with candles on your outdoor dining table if your deck is made of wood. The details help tie everything together and give your yard that clean and careful finish. 

Creating an outdoor s’mores station

One of the best things about outdoor fire bowls is that they make the perfect excuse for a party at this time of year. Next time you have friends or family over for a gathering, consider heading outdoors and giving a s'mores party a try!

The s'mores bar
You can't beat a traditional graham cracker, marshmallow and Hershey's bar s'more; the classic campfire combination is almost a rite of passage. There are a bunch of ways to give you and your guests s'more selection, though, and quite a few ways to make the gathering gourmet.

Beginning with the shell, there are so many ways to switch up your sweet treats. Ritz crackers are said to make great graham substitutes because they create a salty-sweet effect you can't get from the latter. Girl Scout cookies make them extra indulgent, while waffle cones cut down on mess. Milk chocolate can be substituted with anything from Reese's peanut butter cups to York Peppermint Patties, and marshmallows come in a multitude of flavors. 

Beyond the traditional trifecta, there are plenty of extras to incorporate onto your buffet table. Almost any fruit can be added, such as crushed blackberries or banana slices, while bacon is currently taking the s'mores scene by storm. You can also put out a few spread to put between the chocolate and cracker – try out Nutella, peanut butter or Biscoff cookie spread. Ice cream sundae toppings such as toasted coconut and chopped pecans are also very popular.

If you're hosting an adult gathering, there are even a few drink pairings you can consider. As with all food and drink pairings, there are two ways to go: you can complement the s'mores or you can contrast them. Complements include anything that will enhance their gooey sweetness: think chocolate stouts, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, or even a cocktail made with s'mores vodka. To cut through the rich flavor of the s'mores, try a raspberry lambic or a Belgian quadruple. Whichever adult beverage you choose, it's sure to kick your backyard campfire up a notch.

The s'more supplies
There are no s'mores without marshmallow-roasting skewers, and no roasted marshmallows without one or two firepits. Beyond these crucial components, be sure to stock up on plenty of paper plates, napkins and paper towels. You'll also need a fair amount of trash bags to accommodate all the gooey, discarded plates and charred marshmallow mishaps.  

Set up your s'mores bar on a few outdoor coffee tables or a patio dining table (using a festive table cloth will help protect your table from any rogue ingredients and set the mood). Serve the ingredients on metal trays or stack them into clear jars to save space. If you've got a particularly eclectic sampling, consider placing a stack of paper and pens on the table so guests can write down their favorite combinations. A cute way to spice up your buffet table even more is with fun labels. You can do this with simple adhesive name tags, chalkboard-style place cards or by writing directly onto a paper table cloth.

Last but not least, make sure there is plenty of outdoor furniture around for your guests to sit on while they enjoy the cozy evening. 

Shakespearean inspiration for your outdoor spaces

Your backyard is as much a part of your living space at your home's interior, so it deserves special attention in the design department. From outdoor furniture sets to landscaping elements, you can impart a style on your yard. Of course, you have a ton of options when it comes to choosing a theme – have you seen gardening and home decor magazines lately? The trick to making a successful backyard design scheme is having a clear vision and picking details that support it. You can find inspiration in many places, even from literature! If you love the romance and drama of William Shakespeare's works, then use these tips to execute a fitting design:

Think Mediterranean
"Two houses, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona where we lay our scene," – "Romeo and Juliet"

Many of Shakespeare's plays take place in a Mediterranean setting. "Romeo and Juliet" is staged in Verona, Italy. "The Merchant of Venice" occurs in, you guessed it, Venice. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is near Athens. So if you want your yard to be sweeter than a summer's day, then you might consider going with a Mediterranean design. This category of architecture and interior decorating takes inspiration from the landscape in this region. Blue waters, red earth and green trees all lend to the style. You'll also find Greek, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan and African elements in the design, as those countries circle the Mediterranean sea.

Design features
Mediterranean style includes more than seaside colors and local architectural inspiration – the area yields certain materials that make their way into design. As such, you should include such materials in your backyard. For instance, you'll find stone, stucco, clay tiles and wrought iron in many Mediterranean schemes. Just picture it: Your red stone-paved porch acts as a lounge space while your yard is fenced in with wrought iron. It would be a fitting spot for Juliet. 

You can also include plant life native to the Mediterranean region. Lemon trees, rosemary, lavender, succulents and Oriental grass are all common near the sea. Use these plants in your yard to invoke the feel of a romantic Mediterranean seating area where one of Shakespeare's characters might relax.

Decorations
Having a stone patio, iron fence and a pergola might create the perfect romantic atmosphere, but gardening and materials only get you halfway there. Outdoor seating, lighting and decoration finishes up the look. 

Furniture: You can choose pieces that incorporate colors and materials common in Mediterranean design. For instance, Mercutio may have lounged with his friends on a chair made with metal covered in burnt orange covers – that look is very Italian. The couples from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the other hand, may like a light rattan wicker sofa with blue cushions, as it's more Greek-inspired.

Lighting: Warm tones define the Mediterranean/romantic look that's appropriate for a Shakespeare play about love. Lighting can help you achieve warmth in your design. Use candles, chandeliers or a fire pit to bring about the right atmosphere.

With the right design choices, your backyard can become the setting of a Shakespearean romance – we hope our tips help!