Home & Garden

Could Your Castle Use Some Upgrades?

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Your house might be calling for a much-need update, and the options can be seemingly endless. Our local businesses offer many modern, high-quality ideas that can help you to feel right at home.

Luxurious Living Room with Sunset View

Many things change with time, but in the U.S., this truth remains steady: Your home is your castle. You may do with it as you wish. Options for improving its beauty, function and comfort are as limitless as your imagination and budget.

We’re fortunate to have top-quality locally owned businesses in our region that can educate us about those options. Local professionals offer an invaluable reservoir of ideas, experience and expertise.

The Well-Appointed Home

Gustafson’s Furniture and Mattress is a local furniture store that opened in 1928 on Seventh Street. The family-owned business now has locations at 808 W. Riverside Blvd. and 6651 E. State St., Rockford. The late Martin Gustafson got his start selling washing machines door-to-door. Today, his son Dale Gustafson runs the enterprise with wife Trina and sons David and Christopher. Together the two stores offer more than 200,000 square feet of showroom space filled with furniture and mattresses, representing a wide spectrum of price points.

Mitchell Johnson, manager of the East State Street location, has been educating people about furniture and mattresses for decades. Over those years, he’s closely observed the evolving preferences of customers.

“Both across the U.S. and here in our region, people are looking for higher-quality items,” he says. “They’re tired of Ikea-type furniture that falls apart.”

Gustafson’s recently expanded high-end lines like Bassett, Flexsteel and Daniel’s Amish.

Customers in our region prefer a transitional furniture style, which is someplace between traditional and modern. Distressed wood finishes dominate, consistent with an overall trend toward easy-care surfaces throughout the home.

Gray remains a popular neutral color in both wood and upholstery.

“We sell a lot of leather but we also sell a lot of fabric sofas,” Johnson says. “There’s a trend toward more texture, with tweeds and corduroys and weaves. Today’s upholstery options are really wonderful – very durable but beautiful and comfortable.” Those who order custom sofas from Gustafson’s have 900 fabrics from which to choose.

“Reclining furniture is very big, in every age group, across all demographics,” adds Johnson.

When buying furniture, the most important consideration is not how it looks, but what lies beneath.

“Ask good questions,” Johnson suggests. “Is the frame made from strong laminated wood or just plywood? Is there a reasonably good spring system that will distribute weight? Is the padding made of high-density foam or cheap fluff? Is the leather exterior real leather?

“You should do business with people who are in it for the long haul, not fly-by-night chain stores with high staff turnover,” he adds. “The better stores want your repeat business. They have a real stake in making you happy and will deal with you more honestly.”

Kitchens: The Heart of the Home

Few would argue that the kitchen is the nerve center of the home. It’s important to make it a functional and comfortable place to spend time. For more than 30 years, Diane Feuillerat has been designing luxury kitchens, baths, libraries, offices, laundry rooms and entertainment areas. Her large number of repeat and referral customers speaks volumes about the quality of work offered at Kitchens by Diane, 6346 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Ill. She especially delights in problem solving.

“Sometimes people live with a traffic flow issue or some other problem that easily can be resolved if they just ask for help,” says Feuillerat. “Once they do, they often tell me they wish they would have made the change years ago because their home is now so much easier to live in.”

Form and function are equally important to Feuillerat, who keeps up with national trends. Right now, homeowners prefer a clean, straightforward look in their kitchens.

“We’re seeing simplified kitchens with fewer visual details, less to dust and clean,” says Feuillerat. “Gray cabinets are very popular and many people are replacing golden oak with darker wood tones. White-painted kitchens remain classic, and most of the floors we put in are wood.”

Feuillerat can design and install a whole new footprint for a kitchen remodel, but smaller tweaks often make a big difference, too.

“I’m replacing a lot of kitchen peninsulas with islands, when space allows, which often has the effect of making two spaces feel more like one big room,” she says. Another popular update is to replace built-in kitchen desks with storage space or a beverage center that makes entertaining easier.

Quartz and natural stone counters remain popular in kitchens and baths. Feuillerat finds herself removing many bulky whirlpool tubs from bathrooms, replacing them with walk-in showers that help aging homeowners remain in their homes longer.

“We’re also designing a lot of custom wall entertainment centers that accommodate today’s large flat-screen TVs,” she says. It’s all about learning exactly what a family needs, designing a good plan and executing it well, right down to the smallest detail.”

The High-Function Home: Appliances

Whether you’re outfitting a new kitchen or updating an older one, appliances play a starring role. A wide selection means you can keep things as simple or technically advanced as you wish. The bells and whistles offered by high-end manufacturers like Viking, Wolf, Sub-Zero, GE Monogram and Bosch are mind-boggling; all of those brands are sold at Guler Appliance, 227 Seventh St., Rockford, now in its third generation of family ownership.

“If you want a refrigerator with a built-in Keurig coffeemaker and hot water dispenser, or if you want Bluetooth-enabled appliances that communicate with one another, we can sell them to you,” says Darwyn Guler, whose ancestors couldn’t have imagined such things when the store opened in 1928. “Sometimes, though, people return to what’s tried and true. For example, a lot of people are going back to top-load washing machines. They’ve owned both kinds and feel the top-load is just as easy to use. We don’t steer people into buying more appliance features than they really need or want. Most people just want something that’s easy to use and reliable.”

A stroll through the Guler showroom reveals the continuing popularity of six-burner commercial ranges with griddles; convection ovens and drawer microwave ovens; and refrigerators with various built-in dispensers and beverage blast chillers. Small refrigerators that store beer at a constant 34-degree temperature are a practical and fun addition to the beverage centers popping up in modern homes.

“Probably the thing people are most excited about right now is the new slate-colored black steel finish on appliances,” Guler says. “It’s metallic but fingerprint-proof and much easier to clean than stainless steel. And it coordinates well with everything.”

It’s important to buy appliances from locally owned stores that stand behind products and employ factory-trained service people. A big-box store is more likely to push a costly extended warranty and leave you on your own when trouble strikes.

“We’ll take the time to answer questions from customers about how to use their new appliances,” says Guler. “And we also do all of our own servicing if there’s a problem. That makes a big difference to people when something goes wrong.”

The Organized Home

When Joe Weller began installing closet systems more than 30 years ago, options were pretty limited.

“When I started in this business in 1985, most everything was shelf and pole construction, and closet design wasn’t talked about much. That has changed,” says the owner of Shelving & Bath Unlimited, 4337 S. Perryville Road, Cherry Valley, Ill.

Today, almost 80 percent of Weller’s customers opt for custom laminate closet systems that look like finished wood cabinets. Along with more than 50 melamine colors and textures, there are also options for granite surfaces, glass shelves, motion-activated LED lighting – even inside the drawers, if you like – built-in mirrors, jewelry trays, removable laundry bags, a fold-out ironing board, adjustable cubbies made for shoes, boots and handbags, and much more.

“Many people are using fewer or no dressers in their bedrooms and are choosing instead to maximize their closet space,” Weller explains.

While some people go so far as to convert spare bedrooms into luxurious walk-in closets, others double or triple the efficiency of their reach-in closets by having them professionally designed. Either way, it’s the design expertise offered by Shelving Unlimited that makes it possible to meet organization goals.

“It’s all about good design,” says Weller. “You can have the largest Taj Mahal-type closet in the world, but if it’s not functioning well it can become one more mess to deal with. Good organization saves you time and prevents frustration.”

Weller also designs storage solutions for the pantry, garage, laundry room, home office and basement. “When the housing market crashed in 2008, we found that people wanted to stay in their homes but fix them up,” says Weller. “Good organizational design plays a big role in making a home more functional and enjoyable.”

Along with adjustable-shelf laminate storage, Shelving Unlimited offers wire shelving systems by Rubbermaid, the No. 1 brand in the industry.

When a customer calls Shelving Unlimited, Weller typically makes a home visit to measure spaces and observe the placement of air vents, light switches and fixtures, electrical outlets and the direction that doors swing. He also takes customers through a series of questions about how the space will be used.

Next, Weller custom designs a plan and presents options, then installs the new storage system down to the smallest detail. Customers can browse the showroom to see examples of options, if they so choose.

“Today’s customers are very well-educated about what they want because they follow things like Pinterest, Houzz.com and Home & Garden TV,” says Weller. “What we offer is the design expertise to make the most of their spaces and bring their vision to life.”

Today’s Flooring: Both Functional and Lovely

Flooring, too, is trending toward softer, easier-to-live-with materials, says Kevin Rose, president of Carpetland USA Colortile, 326 N. Alpine Road, Rockford. Carpetland is the longest continually running flooring store in Rockford and has a second location in Sycamore, at 1719 Dekalb Ave.

“The most innovative new thing in the flooring world is luxury vinyl, which comes in planks (LVP) or in tiles (LVT),” explains Rose. “People are thrilled with how good it looks and how well it wears.”

Not to be confused with the plastic-looking vinyl floors of yesterday, luxury vinyl imitates natural wood and stone products with uncanny accuracy. The image on the surface of the vinyl is topped with a durable finish that resists stains, scratches and dents. Vinyl products are softer and warmer underfoot than real stone or tile and far easier to install, although Rose still recommends professional installation.

Unlike laminate flooring, which can disintegrate in moisture, or solid wood floors, which can warp in the Midwest’s fluctuating humidity, “Luxury vinyl is 100 percent waterproof, which means it can be used in basements, bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens and anyplace moisture could be a problem,” says Rose.

Much wider planks and much larger tile sizes are more common today.

Hard-surface flooring continues to gain ground over carpet. Luxury vinyl is taking market share away from laminate flooring, but solid wood and engineered wood floors are still wildly popular.

We’re covering fewer square feet of our homes in carpet these days, but it’s still highly valued in certain rooms for its warmth, softness and beauty, especially in four-season climates like ours.

“Carpet was probably 65 percent of our business 10 years ago and now it’s 50 percent,” says Rose. “We’re still laying a lot of carpet.”

Rose says the durability of carpet varies greatly and “you really do get what you pay for” when it comes to choosing a carpet of good fiber with adequate face weight, density and twist.

The Efficient Home: Fireplaces

When it comes to making your home more efficient, few things make a bigger difference than the way your fireplace is outfitted, says Brad Vander Heyden, owner of Advanced Chimney Systems, 3486 Lonergan Dr., Rockford. Advanced Chimney Systems is now in its 32nd year of business. Along with selling and servicing fireplaces, it sells freestanding stoves and other alternative heating methods, glass fireplace doors and accessories, smokers and grills. It also conducts in-home service and chimney repairs.

“Because of the amount of furnace-heated air a regular fireplace can suck out of a home – some 300 to 400 cubic feet per minute – many people are installing direct-vent inserts that separate air into two parts,” explains Vander Heyden. “The first pulls fresh air into the insert for combustion [rather than taking it from your room]; the other acts like an exhaust system, sending carbon dioxide outside. Because glass separates the system from the room, warm air from your rooms can’t be sucked out of the chimney. Likewise, the exhaust fumes and moisture released from burning gas won’t stay in your house.”

With natural gas costing just a fraction of what it did a few years ago, it’s not surprising that Vander Heyden sees many customers converting their wood-burning fireplaces to gas or upgrading their existing gas fireplaces.

“Natural gas is extremely affordable by historical standards,” he says. “The most popular items we sell right now are higher-efficiency gas logs and fireplace inserts.”

While most homeowners want to have and use a fireplace, they also want it to be convenient to use, says Vander Heyden. This only adds to the popularity of gas fireplaces.

“It’s pretty nice to turn a fireplace on and off by remote control, with no cleanup hassles.”

No matter what area of your castle needs some improvement, the staff members at locally owned businesses are ready to help

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