Three Ways to Make Life Better at Home

Never underestimate the power of proper lighting, organized shelving and a brand new mattress. Learn how to improve these aspects of your home and create a more enjoyable living space.

In the world of home ownership, some things are easier to deal with than others. Here we present three potential problems that require a little more thought but make a tremendous impact when they’re resolved properly. A good lighting plan and a good storage plan go a long way toward making life in your home more attractive, enjoyable and stress-free. But if you don’t sleep well at night, nothing else seems to matter. If your mattress is worn out but you dread facing the gauntlet of shopping for a new one, we offer some pointers on making the task easier.

Problem: Inadequate and/or uneven lighting inside and outside the home.

Lighting a home well involves more than plugging in a few lamps. A successful outcome requires intentional forethought. There are many more lighting options today than most people realize, says Andy Benson, president of Benson Stone Company, 1100 11th St., Rockford.
Benson employs staff members who know what all the options are in lighting and how to solve problem areas.
“You can consult with our people and come up with an actual lighting plan,” says Benson. “And yet most of our lighting fixtures sell for the same price you would find on the Internet.”
You’ll find thousands of lights in the 4,000 square-foot lighting gallery at Benson Stone, and thousands more can be ordered.
“We carry families of lights, so most can be ordered in a different finish or size,” says Benson. “You can look at one and know there are 10 more like it in different configurations, for example a two-light or a four-light option. And we deal with reputable manufacturers who stand behind their products.”
Thick catalogs of many lighting brands are piled throughout the showroom and staff members can help you pore through them to find what you want. Benson Stone’s complete line of lights is available on its website and searches can be narrowed to particular rooms.
“You can look across at all brands and compare similar fixtures and know it’s an apple-to-apple comparison with a similar quality level compared to big-box stores,” Benson says.
Outdoor lighting and landscape lighting also are available in the lighting gallery, which is convenient for those who are planning landscape upgrades over in Benson’s landscape and stone department.
People who consciously decide to upgrade the lighting in their homes are often amazed at how much better everything looks, says Michael McGinty, manager of the lighting gallery.
“Proper lighting shows off the fabric on your couch, the paint color on your walls and the cabinets in your kitchen,” McGinty says. “That’s why you shouldn’t neglect lighting. Sometimes, people will buy a product and it doesn’t look the same in their home as it did in the store, and that’s because the lighting in the store was different than in their home.”
McGinty believes lighting should be versatile enough to accommodate the moment.
“I use the analogy of a radio to help people understand what they may be missing,” says McGinty. “When you listen to a radio, you’re occasionally adjusting it for volume and stations, depending on what’s happening at that moment. You’d never think of buying a radio with no volume or channel knobs. The same principle holds true in our homes with lighting. Conditions, activities and our moods change all the time and we should be able to adjust the lighting to what’s appropriate at any given moment.”
He provides an example.
“If you’re sitting out on your deck sipping a drink, you don’t need bright lights. Less light means fewer bugs. The same is true for your front porch. You’re not trying to land jets on a runway – and your neighbors would probably appreciate softer lighting there. But if guests are trying to walk down the front steps toward their cars, you want the ability to turn up that light temporarily. If it were up to me, everyone would have dimmer switches in every part of the home, inside and out.”
Whereas big box stores “provide basic light cheaply,” Benson Stone Company provides a world of options at all price points, says McGinty.
“The lighting centers in chain stores carry a very small percentage of what’s available. We carry stuff that many people don’t know exists. I’ve gone into homes and completely changed the look and function of lighting just by changing out wattages, redirecting track lights and introducing better layers of light.”
The gallery displays chandeliers, pendant lights, wall sconces, floor and table lamps, outdoor fixtures, landscape lighting and much more. The selection includes everything from entry-level lighting to high-end products.
Advances in lighting technology mean more options at lower energy costs.
“Because of LED, we can do things we could never do before,” says McGinty. “This technology is getting better and better.”
Benson’s goal is to provide a range of lighting products and styles at various price points.
“The big-box store displays seem large, but in reality they display a rather limited selection,” Benson says. “Unlike box stores, we carry a range of quality products. It’s probably an hour’s drive before you would get close to a store that has what we have.”
“I like the lighting industry because it’s jewelry for the home,” McGinty says. “We show less than 1 percent of what you can actually get. You can pick out the exact size and finish you want for a chandelier, floor lamp or other product to match perfectly in your foyer, bathroom, kitchen and other rooms. It would be impossible to display one of everything that’s in our warehouse, but I can order what you like from manufacturers and have it delivered in three to five days.”
In terms of style, crystal is making a big comeback.
“It’s not your grandmother’s crystal chandelier anymore – we’re seeing a lot of contemporary pieces that I’ll call ‘lightly dressed.’ It’s not a heavy crystal piece, but it has a little accent of crystal on it.”
That’s not the only trend. The urban-warehouse style, for a more industrial or “Edison” look, is popular now, too.
“Customers have a lot of options here,” Benson says. “I think this showroom helps to emphasize, more than ever before, that we are a one-stop shop. You can discover a full breadth of products here. It’s convenient to be able to find the right lighting to go with your new couch or dining room table from Benson Stone.”

The Problem: No organized way to store items and too much messy clutter.

Having a good storage plan for everything in your home is the best way to resolve stress-inducing clutter. Mom was right when she said “have a place for everything and put it away as soon as you’re done using it.”
Sometimes this means taking a hard look at our possessions and being honest about whether each one merits the space it takes up. Other times this means accommodating our habits with well-designed, easy-to-use storage solutions.
Perhaps nothing gets messy as fast as a cramped and disorganized clothing closet. Joe Weller began installing closet systems more than 30 years ago, before closet design was “a thing.”
The 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’s buyers are very well educated. They bring in their iPad and we can sit down with them and get a very good idea of what they want and need. Primarily they want laminates. Laminate closet systems look like finished wood cabinets. It used to be that we sold 90 percent wire systems but now it’s 90 percent laminate.”
Custom laminate closet systems look like finished wood cabinets. Weller carries more than 50 color and finish options; there are options for granite surfaces, motion-activated LED lighting (even lighting inside drawers if you want it), built-in mirrors, jewelry trays, slide-out removable laundry bags, a fold-out ironing board, mirrors, and adjustable cubbies for shoes, boots and handbags. There’s also a slide-out valet rod for hanging tomorrow’s outfit.
“Many people are using fewer or no dressers in their bedrooms and are choosing instead to maximize their closet space,” Weller explains. “The laminate systems have various profiles. Some look more like furniture than stacked boxes. Some hang on the wall rather than resting on the floor so you can accommodate tall woodwork and also vacuum under them.”
Many people in our region love the vintage character of their older homes but loathe their tiny closets.
“In the era in which many of these homes were built, people just didn’t own so many clothes,” Weller explains. “Smaller closets were fine back then.”
While some people go so far as to convert spare bedrooms into luxurious walk-in closets, sometimes even incorporating laundry equipment, 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 organizational 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 reduces your frustration. Just replacing a single rod with a double rod, in a 3-foot-wide closet, doubles the amount of hanging space.”
It’s not just a matter of buying the materials and installing them yourself, either, he says. A professional closet designer sees possibilities and finds solutions that the average person wouldn’t.
“You can buy materials at box stores, but you’ll pay a premium for the materials and have no professional expertise in the design,” says Weller. He takes the time to ask many questions about how the space will be used.
For example, most women wear fewer dresses than separates, these days, so it often makes sense to convert full-length hanging space to improve its functionality.
“A typical Rockford ranch home has three bedrooms with three reach-in closets,” says Weller. “We often redesign a single-rod, 8-foot closet with a double hang system and add shelves for shoes, sweaters and sweatshirts. You can double and even triple space by designing a closet properly.”
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 storage 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. Weller has carried the Rubbermaid brand for 30 years “because it’s the best.” Wire shelving is often the material of choice for a pantry and there are options. “Tight mesh,” for example, is good at preventing smaller objects from slipping through the spaces between wires.
A reach-in pantry is typically 2 to 3 feet wide and 16 to 22 inches deep. It’s important to install adjustable shelves staggered at different heights to give customers the ability to change their space as needs evolve.
“It’s all about eliminating dead air space so you can make the best use of every inch,” says Weller. “Various heights accommodate various products, from large cereal boxes to soup cans. If you can adjust your shelves, the space just goes so much further.”
Weller recently had a customer who wanted her pantry to accommodate wine bottles and a mini refrigerator.
“We had to get creative and go online to find the right size unit, but we did it. It holds six cold bottles of wine at a time. We also added wine racks for more wine storage.
“Pantries are some of our toughest jobs, especially when they’re in older homes. We sometimes run across some strangely shaped spaces.”
Garages can quickly spiral out of control if storage isn’t carefully considered.
“There are many options for garages, depending on the way they’re used. There are shelving-only systems, boards with hooks, hanging rails where you can add accessories to secure power tools, shovels and rakes, bicycles, most anything. Some people also like to have cabinets with countertops in the garage.”
When a customer calls Shelving Unlimited, Weller typically makes a home visit to measure spaces and observe the placement of air vents, light switches, ceiling fixtures, electrical outlets and the direction that doors swing. He 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 materials and options.
“Today’s customers are very well-educated about what they want because they follow things like Pinterest and Home & Garden TV,” says Weller. “What we offer is the design expertise to make the most of the their spaces and bring their vision to life.”

The Problem: My mattress no longer suits me but I dread the process of selecting a new one.

Few things are as important as consistently getting a good night of sleep, and this requires a good mattress that’s well matched to your particular needs. Too many Americans are sleep-deprived, getting 90 minutes less sleep, on average, than we did in the 1960s and 1970s, says Dale Gustafson, owner of Gustafson’s Furniture & Mattress on East Riverside Boulevard and East State Street in Rockford.
“It’s a fact that one hour less sleep than we need each night lowers our productivity by 20 percent,” says Gustafson. “After 48 years of listening to our guests, customers, friends and business associates, I have distilled it down to this: We spend one-third of our lives, or should, on our mattresses. In eight to 10 years we have spent 29,000 hours on them! Yet the average mattress in use is 17 years old and our backs hurt. Sleep is the best medicine, in my non-professional opinion, to rejuvenate the body naturally.”
There’s never before been a wider selection of mattresses, which can make the buying process pretty confusing. Foam and gel technology are popular, as are combinations of coil, gel and foam.
“The best mattress for you is the one that feels the best to you. You know your body better than anyone else,” says Gustafson. “Spend enough time laying on a mattress to make a good decision even if it takes two hours. In the final analysis, it should be your decision, not the salesperson’s. Additionally, separate the comfort decision from the price decision. Think about what feels best.
“Medically, I have had professionals say that a good mattress supports your lumbar but should have enough padding to contour to your hips and shoulder.”
If you divide the nights of use into the price, “you’ll find the nightly cost to be less than a cup of latte,” says Gustafson.
“Buy the best you can afford and buy for comfort, not durability,” advises Mitchell Johnson, store manager at the 6651 E. State St. location of Gustafson’s Furniture and Mattress. Like Gustafson, Johnson has matched up thousands of customers with thousands of mattresses through the years.
“There’s no such thing as a mattress that will last 20 years, at any price point,” he says. “Think of a mattress as you would a car tire. Buy it, use it, replace it when it has worn out. Eight to 10 years is the best you can expect from any mattress. Sleep is important. You don’t want to toss and turn all night.”
After age 50, you should replace a mattress even more often because your body is changing faster, Johnson says. “Replace it when your body tells you to, not according to the calendar.”
The process of buying a mattress is less confusing when you shop at a store where salespeople really know mattresses and are adept at making good matches with customers.
While mattresses are offered in a wide range of price points, many people find that the mattress that suits them best is not necessarily the most expensive one, says Johnson.
“You determine the price range and comfort level and we’ll help you find the most comfortable mattress for you in that range,” he says. “What was a $2,000 mattress a few years ago may now be a $700 mattress today,” as the latest mattress technology continues to evolve.
At present, the most popular mattress categories are coils-with-foam and all-foam mattresses, the latter having been introduced about 20 years ago by Tempur-pedic.
“There are many kinds of gel mattresses now, too,” says Mitchell.
The average mattress price is $1200, although Serta has models that sell for up to $3,000 for a queen size.
Along with choosing a good mattress, consider the platform beneath it. Adjustable platform beds are trending among all ages.
“Millennials like to sit up in bed and work on laptops etc. and older people have always valued adjustable beds,” Johnson notes. When couples aren’t likely to agree on the position the bed should be adjusted to, there’s a solution.
“Some people do a divided king so each side is adjustable – it’s actually two twin beds pushed together,” Johnson explains. “Each bed has a fitted twin long sheet and one king top sheet is used.”
To make mattress shopping easier, Gustafson’s plans to introduce Dr. Scholl’s sleep preference technology later this year. This is a specially equipped bed that a customer lays on for about 7 minutes. Because of his extensive background in mattress sales, Johnson was asked by Serta company to help design this new tool.
“You lay down on it and provide feedback about your comfort level as the mattress changes in various ways,” Johnson explains. “We’ll be one of only 20 stores nationwide to have this when the whole thing is rolled out. You can rate certain adjustments and, when you’re done, it provides you with one recommended category out of five categories of mattresses.”
While you still have to spend a lot of time testing out various mattresses, “This will help to simplify the mattress shopping experience for a customer,” Johnson says.
“It can be overwhelming to walk in and see so many mattresses – they all look square and white, so what’s the difference among them?
“It’s a helpful tool and will give buyers more confidence in what they choose. It will take a lot of the guessing out of it. It’s state of the art.”