Home & Garden

12 Ways to Make Your Home Shine

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It’s a brand new year, and we’re ready to freshen up our homes. Even if major projects aren’t in the budget, there are plenty of ways to give ourselves a lift and put our digs in tip-top condition. Here are a few simple ideas.

1. Color Your World: Paint

When it comes to quick fixes for breathing new life into a familiar space, nothing compares to a fresh coat of wall paint. Also, wallpaper is making a big comeback this year, but don’t worry; new versions are designed to strip off easily.

And what are the color trends for 2013? Calming shades of blue and green, sometimes punctuated by emerald green, the 2013 Pantone Color of the Year.

“Green is the most abundant hue in nature – the human eye sees more green than any other color in the spectrum,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, Carlstadt, N.J. “Symbolically, emerald brings a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today’s complex world. This powerful and universally appealing tone translates easily to both fashion and home interiors.”

Clean and soothing blue represents stability and comfort, and is making a comeback on walls. From watery and tropical teals and aquamarines to the soft grey-blues of dusk, it’s used both as a background that’s nearly neutral and as a bright focal point.

But don’t choose a paint color only because it’s trendy, advises Ruben Zagros, a longtime Rockford home interior painter. “The most important thing is to choose a color you just like to look at,” he says. “Look at a sample under your own lighting conditions. If you’re really uncertain, buy a small amount and try it out on a section of your wall. I’ve seen people agonize over choosing a paint color, but that’s not necessary. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have to re-paint if you don’t like it.”

2. Let the Sunshine In: Wash Windows

Winter days can be dreary enough, without dirty windows adding to the gloom.

“People are often surprised at what a difference it makes to have their windows washed,” says Karyn Pearcy, office manager at Norwegian Squeegee, a Rockford-based window washing company owned by Mark Matson (who is, you guessed it, Norwegian). “It’s one of those things you often don’t think about, but once you have it done, you start doing it regularly, because you realize how much nicer your rooms feel with clean windows.”

Professionals recommend cleaning windows twice a year, in spring and fall, although prices may be lower during colder months when business is slow. “We can wash year-round on days when temperatures are above freezing and it’s not raining or snowing,” says Pearcy. Most companies, like Norwegian Squeegee, provide free estimates and package options.

“Some people like to have just the outside glass cleaned. Others want glass inside and outside cleaned. Still others choose a package that includes cleaning all glass and vacuuming and cleaning all window tracks, sills and screens,” Pearcy explains. “Aside from convenience, some people hire us because they don’t feel safe climbing ladders to reach upper windows. Our people are trained on safety as well as how to get a great result.”

Prices vary widely, depending upon the number and types of windows; those with many divided panes or outer grids take longer. Sometimes people hire professionals to clean only their upper floor and most difficult windows, tackling ground floor windows themselves, one at a time.

If you do the job yourself, start by brushing the worst dirt from panes, frames and sills, and then spray with a glass cleaning product or simply use a clean cloth dipped in water/ammonia or water/vinegar to clean each pane in an up and down motion. Dry with another dry, clean cloth. Doing the job with a companion – one person inside, one person out – not only makes it easier to locate streaks and spots, but also makes the job more fun.

3. Look Down: Refresh Your Flooring

Even after a good Saturday housecleaning, you sense that dirt is lurking in the crevices of your flooring and that you’re just pushing it around when you clean. You’re right.

An occasional professional cleaning not only restores beauty but extends the lifespan of wood, tile and carpet flooring by actually removing deep dirt from your house.

“The biggest enemy of any floor is dirt,” says Lonnie Presson, owner of Lonnie’s CarpetMax, 6551 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. “Gritty dirt acts like sandpaper and wears down the flooring, whether it’s carpet fiber or hard surface like tile and wood.”

Lonnie’s cleaning division deep cleans carpet, wood, tile and grout, as well as furniture and mattresses, and ductwork.

The hot water extraction method is the only good way to clean carpet, says Presson. “When you’re dirty, you take a bath. People have come up with all sorts of gimmicks for cleaning carpet, but hot water that’s removed with a powerful suction tool is still best.”

“You wouldn’t believe how well tile and grout clean up, using that method,” says Mark Presson, a manager at the store. “When you clean a tile floor without a suction tool, you’re basically pushing dirty water from one place to another. Sometimes you just need to remove that dirt entirely.” The 27 HP suction unit in Lonnie’s cleaning trucks serves that purpose.

And if you have a hardwood floor hidden beneath an old carpet, don’t be afraid to pull up a corner and check its condition. Chances are it can be polished and stained to look nearly new, which is like getting a brand new wood floor for the price of a refinishing session.

Sometimes it’s enough to deep clean a hardwood floor without sanding the surface, says Mark. Other times, the only way to restore luster is to gently sand off the top layer, stain or seal the floor and top it with a protective coating that contains polyurethane. This is a process many homeowners once dreaded, because of the dusty mess and long drying times, but Lonnie’s uses the Magnus Anderson Dust Containment System.

This dustless refinishing process immediately captures dust and suctions it out of the house into a truck. “An average floor takes us about a day-and-a-half from start to finish, and homeowners can walk on the floor within four hours,” says Mark.

For better or worse, the condition of a home’s floors plays a major role in how a home “feels.” Gravity brings dirt to the floor, and even the best of housekeepers should consider an occasional professional floor cleaning.

4. Let There Be (the Right) Light

Lighting improvements can make your home more beautiful and more efficient. While many of us have resisted energy-efficient lights because we didn’t like the side effects of early models – inferior light color, a delay after switch-flipping, resistance to dimmer switches – we shouldn’t be afraid to check out new and improved versions.

“In my own kitchen, I recently retrofitted three recessed can lights with LED fixtures, and I absolutely love them,” says Randy Krup, owner of Krup Electric Co., 1125 Railroad Ave., Rockford. “They’re supposed to last for 50,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for the old incandescent bulbs. That’s a big deal, because nobody likes climbing ladders to change out bulbs in an 8- or 10-foot ceiling can.”

Krup’s new 4-inch can Halo LED bulbs each use fewer than 14 watts, compared to the 65 required by traditional incandescent bulbs, yet they produce much more light.

“They generate very little heat, have no operational delay, and work great on the dimmer switch,” he says. “I don’t even turn them up all the way most of the time. I wasn’t sure I’d like these, but I just love them. I like to try products out before I offer them to customers, and these are winners.”

The only downside to the new fixtures is that they’re about three times more expensive to buy. “They’re new, but the price is already coming down, and will keep coming down,” says Krup. So far, they’re only available for flat ceiling fixtures, but sloped ceiling models are in development.

Kitchen designers recommend that homeowners take a layered approach to lighting, rather than relying upon one big fixture. Task lighting ensures efficient work zones; ambient lighting softens shadows; accent lights direct attention to focal points; and decorative lights are just plain pretty.

5. Bring on the Kitchen Bling

Perhaps no room in the house has more potential for improvement than the kitchen, says Diane Feuillerat, owner of Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. Feuillerat offers full design and remodeling services, but says homeowners can add sparkle to existing kitchens with some easy kitchen bling.

“Something as simple as burning a few nice candles, adding a small lamp to your countertop, displaying some pretty bowls or replacing your kitchen towels can really give you a lift,” she says. “Or what about upgrading your faucets? People are enjoying the new taller styles and pull-out nozzles that make it so much easier to do everyday tasks, like filling a pot or rinsing the sink.”

If your cabinets are sturdy but look a little tired, consider changing out only the hardware. “I just outfitted an average-sized kitchen with new hardware for $112,” says Feuillerat. “It can make a big difference in the feel of the space.”

Another project that costs a little more but makes a big statement is having your backsplash tiled. Options in decorative tiles have never been greater, from classic glossy subway tiles to matte finishes and narrow horizontal glass styles.

“We’re seeing a lot of homeowners who choose more subdued styles mixed with glass accent tiles,” says Feuillerat.

6. Make it Work: Update Appliances

Is it time for you to move beyond the triangle of stove-refrigerator-sink? Maybe some tweaking of your appliance situation is in order.

Do you hanker for a warming drawer to keep prepared food in top form? A wine cooler to protect valuable vintages from light, humidity, vibration and heat? What about a microwave drawer? Or a convection steam oven that combines airflow, heat and moisture to cook better-tasting food using less fat?

Perhaps you have an old appliance that uses far more than its share of energy, or no longer functions properly, like a freezer that won’t make ice, or an oven that won’t cook at true temperature.

Not only are today’s appliances more energy efficient, but they’re smarter, too. For example, new Sub-Zero built-in smart refrigerators make ice at night during less expensive, non-peak hours; ramp up ice production and cooling when set to a party mode; and alert you if a door is ajar or service is required.

Likewise, a Wolf E Series oven tells you when your roast has reached its optimal cooking temperature, whether or not you’re at home; tells your home’s thermostat to heat the house less when the oven is on; and alerts you to any energy notices for your area that could interfere with the power supply.

Both Wolf and Sub-Zero brands are sold locally by Guler Appliance Co., 227 7th St., Rockford, as are appliances by Thermador, Dacor, Viking, Fisher & Paykel, Speed Queen, Bosch, Hotpoint, Monogram and GE Appliances.

Tip: Purchase appliances from a reputable, locally owned appliance store that will stand behind service when it’s needed.

7. Ahhh … Storage Zen

During January and February, homeowners often focus on getting organized indoors. We sort, donate, and stack items neatly back into our closets. But as the year progresses, many of us don’t seem to manage the ongoing maintenance of our well-meaning “everything in its place” philosophy. What would help is to actually have a place for everything. That’s where a well-planned shelving and storage system can really earn its keep, whether in a closet, dressing room, pantry, basement, attic, laundry room or any corner of your home used to store unruly items.

If you’re handy, consider putting in a wire closet storage system. It’s less expensive than wood, collects less dust, allows for greater visibility of items and is relatively easy to install. Basic wire systems begin at about $200 uninstalled.

If you prefer the richer appearance of a wood storage system, there are plenty available on the market, both in do-it-yourself and custom-installed designs. Most come with adjustable shelves and options such as accessory towers, baskets, fluted glass doors and more. Basic wood systems begin at about $450 uninstalled.

Before going to the expense and work of installing a storage system, be sure to do your homework. What will the space be used for, and what configuration do you really need? Many websites and books are available to help, such as the classic Closets: Designing and Organizing the Personalized Closet, by Patricia Cohen.

8. Plants: Add Some Life

It’s amazing how much difference the addition of a few green plants can make in a room. Along with ambiance, they contribute better air quality. Whether blooming or non-blooming, sub-tropical, tropical, temperate or succulent, there are plenty of houseplant varieties that average homeowners can grow successfully.

“We florists like our customers to be satisfied, so we don’t typically sell the very finicky varieties,” says Becky Baeverstad, owner of Enders Flowers, 1631 N. Alpine Road, Rockford. If you’re new at tending houseplants, Baeverstad recommends philodendron and pathos as hearty green souls that are difficult to kill. “They seem to thrive on low light and erratic watering,” she says. She’s also fond of the ficus, or fig tree, which has shiny green leaves against an attractive grey trunk, and can grow quite large indoors.

Other widely available and dependable houseplants include the peace lily, rubber tree, Aralia ming, China doll, Rheo, spiderplant, Chinese evergreen, lemon cypress, mother-in-law’s tongue, Norfolk Island pine, schefflara, baby tears, hen and chicks, sedum, Mexican heather and myrtle. Succulent plants, like cactus, sedum, aloe vera and jade plant, need ample sunlight, but are otherwise easy to grow.

All plants benefit from some fertilizer, light, regular watering and good drainage. Be sure to read plant tags and follow directions. “Don’t overwater, or the roots will rot and it won’t be able to absorb the water,” cautions Baeverstad.

There are advantages to purchasing plants from local greenhouses and florists. The plants tend to be better acclimated to our conditions and off to a healthier start in life, and those who nurtured them are never more than a phone call away.

9. Accessorize!

A fun way to perk up your home and explore your own preferences is to change out accessories. While it may not be wise to stray far from your comfort zone on big-ticket items, it’s affordable to play with accessory colors and styles.

“Don’t be afraid to go with the unexpected,” advises Trina Gustafson, co-owner with husband Dale of Gustafson’s Furniture and Mattress, 808 W. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. “Choose a look that’s different than you’ve had before. Have fun. Ordinary isn’t fun. Accessories can pull your room together and make it shine.” She offers the following tips:

Area Rugs: “When you have a pattern in your sofa or throw pillows, it can be tricky to find the right area rug, but when you do, it can make your room exciting.”

Wall Art: “Changing wall décor can make your room come alive. Don’t be afraid to make it personal. For example, did you recently return from Paris, or have you always longed to go there? Keep the feeling alive by putting a little bit of Paris on your walls.”

Screens: “These are great accent pieces and can really bring rich warmth to a dark corner.”

Mirrors: “They can make a room appear larger and they multiply light. For extra drama, choose a large, free-standing mirror.”

Lighting: “There are a lot of boring lamps in the world. You don’t have to own them. Pick something fun, like an animal print, to change the character of your room.”

Tabletops: “A pretty platter, a bowl of decorative balls or a large floral arrangement will bring life to your room. Don’t be afraid to go big. Make a fashion statement. It’s very easy and affordable to change out tabletop décor every season, to keep things interesting.”

10. Bathrooms: Add the Spa Touch

Although the bathroom is often the smallest room in the house, its potential for upgrades is enormous. “Fresh paint, a new countertop, faucet and fixtures can do wonders,” says Sue Bryant, co-owner, with husband Al, of River Valley Kitchens & Baths, 5261 Swanson Road, Roscoe, Ill. “We’re also seeing people install heated tiled floors and heated towel racks, as well as base-height vanities, customized tiled mirrors and updated lighting.”

Some homeowners are making their showers larger and their bathtubs smaller. “Rather than having a small shower that’s used twice a day, and a giant tub that’s used twice a year, many people are replacing the tub with a walk-in, custom tiled shower unit with body sprays, hand shower and a rain shower head,” says Sue. “Some add a smaller, more comfortable and water-sensible Kohler Bubble Massage bathtub.”

Upgrades that conserve water save money over the long haul. Kohler, Moen and Delta all offer such products. “Kohler says that if four family members each take 5-minute showers, converting to the Kohler 1.75gpm showerhead equals a 35 percent water savings over older, less efficient 2.75 gpm showerheads,” says Sue. “That saves 7,700 gallons a year. So, newer, more efficient fixtures and plumbing not only look good but save water and money.”

Changing out a decorative sink is another fun way to show your personality and style. “Bathrooms love bling,” says Sue. “Glass tiles added in the shower, floor, around the tub and the backsplash. Beautiful granite or quartz countertops with glass sinks, copper sinks, stone sinks or an under-mount rectangle sink.  No more giant mirror, but a more decorative, custom mirror.  We love bling in the bathroom. What a great way to start and end your day!”

11. Warm Things Up

Few things contribute to the ambiance of a room like a roaring fire. Today, even if you don’t have a traditional fireplace with chimney, you can enjoy the warmth and beauty of a fire by installing a ventless gas fireplace unit or a fireplace powered by electricity. If you do have a traditional fireplace, you can make it more convenient, either by converting it from wood-burning to gas-burning or by installing a ventless gas system that doesn’t require gas line installation.

If you already have a gas fireplace but the start-up process is cumbersome, consider installing a switch or remote control starter. And, you may want to consider adding a ventless or electric unit to other rooms of the house, especially if they’re chilly rooms that could use added heat.

“Sometimes, a middle-aged or older couple comes into the store and tells me they stopped using their fireplace years ago, because it was just too much trouble to bring wood into the house and keep the fireplace clean and safe,” says Chris Solfisburg, owner of The Fireworks, 4437 E. State St., Rockford. “But they kind of miss those fires, and they’re looking for an alternative. These days, we have good options for them.”

Clean-burning, vent-free gas log systems can be placed inside surrounds or mantels of any style. They give off an impressive amount of heat, have real flames, and require no special ductwork, gas plumbing or masonry work. Although the heat is clean-burning, they’re not approved for use in bedrooms.

Another option is an electric fireplace, which can be installed in a mantle or wall and may be adjusted to give off heat or not. It can be added to any room, and the “flames” are remarkably attractive.

“These have improved tremendously in appearance,” says Solfisburg. “They used to look really hokey, but now they’re very attractive. This unit is just 8 inches deep, so it’s easy to figure out how to incorporate it into a room. People often do this when they’re remodeling a basement, for example. And if you move, you can take it with you.”

12. The YOU Factor

When you look around your home, what do you see? Hopefully, the answer is, “Myself.” While perfect rooms look great in a magazine spread, each person’s home should reflect his or her personality, not just the latest trends. Do you have a collection that represents your interests? If family is your life, are photographs of those you love displayed in a tasteful (read: not cluttered) way? Do you have a beloved object that can occupy a focal point in your room? It doesn’t have to “match” your décor so long as it matches your personality.

“People want their homes to reflect their lives, not to look like everyone else’s homes,” says Gary Lindberg, who owns Finials, 4626 E. State St., Rockford, with wife Karin. Along with a wide selection of all things Scandinavian, Finials offers thousands of lamps, shades and, of course, finials. The Lindbergs also custom wire lamps made from personal objects that have meaning to their owners. “Maybe you have a piece of driftwood that you discovered on a memorable vacation and you want it made into a lamp,” Gary says. “We do that.”

If you’re a big fan of the outdoors, take your cue from Mother Nature. If you’re a world traveler – or would like to be – fill your spaces with internationally-themed objects and textiles. Perhaps you’re inspired by big-city sophistication, Midwest farmhouses, Japanese art or the Edwardian décor of “Downton Abbey.” Does your home reflect it? If you’re a bookworm, why not set aside a small room or corner as a dedicated reading nook, complete with comfy chair or chaise, good lighting, side table and cozy throw?

In short, it may be time to ratchet up the YOU factor in your own personal world.

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