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    Can't afford an interior designer? No problem. There are plenty of places that offer free interior design advice. Here's where you can go for priceless decorating help.

    Most fashionistas will tell you that having a personal wardrobe shopper is no longer a service reserved for the wealthy; it's virtually free until you actually buy something. The same goes for free interior design services that retailers like Pottery Barn and Robb & Stucky to furniture manufacturers like Basset and Thomasville offer customers. Well, free, up to a point -- then there is often some unspoken expectation to make a purchase.

    Still, free interior design services can be an invaluable and inexpensive way to get the attention of a personal interior designer.

    free-interior-designer pottery barn storeWould you trust your home to the free interior design services of a retailer like Pottery Barn? It may be worth a try even if you don't end up purchasing a whole ensemble. Photo: Flickr, Jeremy Baker

    That's how Susan Bartley, a Southern Californian homeowner, felt after using Calico Corners' free in-home design services. "We had a budget -- we are not millionaires who can hire someone to start from scratch," says Bartley of her decision to use a retail design service. "We work hard for our money, so we took the conservative route to update our home."

    Though she frequented Calico Corners over the years just to daydream about new colors and fabrics, she knew in the back of her mind that they had a free design service. One day Bartley walked in with the intention of making some changes in her living room draperies. She met a consultant almost immediately who began to coordinate fabrics for her. "At first I was a little leery of the process," says Bartley. "But we connected, and she was patient." Patient enough to work with the Bartleys over time to redecorate most of their house, from living room to master bedroom.

    free-interior-designer family room afterA family room is redecorated, thanks to the magic of Ethan Allen's free design service. Photos: Ethan Allen

    Interior design consultants at the retail level are hardly new, but the service is gaining popularity because of its value in this economy. Ethan Allen has had its free design consultations for too many years to count, but the company still works on making consumers aware of the service. "It's surprising that people don't always know what our free design services provide," says Christine Alba, northeast regional design manager for Ethan Allen. Ethan Allen's consultants help clients choose everything from furniture to custom window treatments, bedding, upholstery fabrics, area rugs and accentsl.

    There are the rare occasions when a client will use the free design services without actually buying anything, says Alba, but often it's because the store doesn't have exactly what they need at the time. "A client may not make a decision right away after a consultation, but the relationship is important, and often they will refer us to a friend or come back another time to move forward with the process," she adds.

    But you can't always expect a licensed interior designer when you receive free retail design services. Most often you'll see the term "certified design consultants" as the loosely-used term describing retail associates who offer complimentary help.

    Nevertheless, I was interested in Pottery Barn's free design services. The store is aggressively marketing the service, so I decided to try it out. I called two stores in Connecticut, and each was very friendly and explained the service with patience, although the website has clear information, too. I made an informal appointment with one store to go over some ideas for a tough-to-decorate living room/foyer. An associate said to bring in a camera with digital photos of my problem space and we'd go from there.

    It took two visits, but I finally connected with Michele, the lead designer in the Pottery Barn in Westport, Connecticut. Though I feared they'd turn me away when I drove up to the store in my minivan, I was pleased to find how gracious Michele was. I showed her digital images of my problem -- a foyerless living room that I've been trying to make more welcoming. In a heartbeat, she gave me a list of ideas, none of which entailed buying anything, just placing furniture differently -- an arrangement I hadn't thought of myself. I did what Michele told me to do, and the living room area looks perfect--top notch advice for free!

    Pottery Barn has a special training program for design consultants, and unlike some stores, most consultants here have a background in design. They will come to your home, but only after they've spoken to you over the phone and deem the visit necessary to the redecoration. Often, pictures will work just fine. "I like to limit the first in-home appointment to an hour," she says. "Many times clients simply bring in floorplans, measurements and photos, and we never go to the home." Pottery Barn also offers free design classes.

    Where else can you go for free interior decorating advice? Here are 11 places to consider, and how exactly they're willing to help.

    free-interior-designer room after Calico Corners offers more than just fabric -- it custom upholsters its own line of furniture. Here, a room created from the free in-home consultation service. Photos: Calico Corners

    1. Pottery Barn
    What they offer: Extensive and comprehensive complimentary interior design services that the company is aggressively marketing both online and in-store.
    Biggest perk:
    In addition to design services, locations offer frequent free decorating and entertaining classes on various topics taught by design consultants.
    Good to know: Make a solid appointment with a consultant in the store's design studio. Don't go unannounced to a store looking for a consultant, especially on a weekend when it tends to get busy. You probably won't get much help.

    2. Ethan Allen
    What they offer: A full-service design consult from soup to nuts -- from furniture to drapery and rugs. If walking into a store is overwhelming, use the interactive online tool that offers a virtual room planner to give you a start.
    Biggest perk:
    They won't twist your arm into a purchase if you use the service. In addition, they're flexible in how they'll help. They might help you choose one piece or work with you in the redesign of your whole house.
    Good to know:
    Parts of the service are not for the time-crunched or the tech-phobic client. The consult may take time, and there is some cutting edge on-screen technology involved with the process.

    3. Calico Corners
    What they offer: Calico Corners, known for the extensive line of quality upholstery fabrics, also manufacturer quality furniture. A certified design consultant will come to your home for more involved projects.
    Biggest perk:
    If fabric is your thing, you've come to the right place. Overall, the stores seem to be customer-friendly and without attitude. Ask for fabric swatches.
    Good to know:
    Upholstery fabrics can be costly.

    4. Mrs. Howard Personal Shopper (online)
    What she offers: This retailer's blog is an elegant and user-friendly site with design ideas, and yes, it's also a store. It's almost like having an email conversation with your own interior designer.
    Biggest perk:
    The blog has a comprehensive list of decorator-approved paint chips and ideas. If you are as lost about paint colors as I am, you will appreciate and bookmark this site.
    Good to know:
    Mrs. Howard stores are not in all areas of the country.

    free-interior-designer choosing paintOne of the scariest things to do is choosing a paint color for a whole room off of a tiny chip. Why not see how it looks online with one of the free interactive paint tools that lets you "paint" a whole room? Photo: Flickr, Niznoz

    5. Sherwin-Williams (online)
    What they offer: Though a few paint companies have interactive online tools to help you choose the perfect paint color, some sites are easier to navigate than others. I spent one hour on another leading site and still haven't figured out how to use it correctly. But I found Sherwin-Williams' site a snap. The Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer tool is easy to handle, and it's actually fun to use.
    Biggest perk: You don't have to go through digital gymnastics or log in to get instant results. All you have to do is have an image ready that you'd like to upload, then start playing around with color.
    Good to know: Colors on screen are not precise -- go get a paint chip once you narrow your online choices.

    6. Mannington (online)
    What they offer: The Virtual Decorator tool is easy to navigate, but you have to log on to create a quick profile. The tool allows you to work with flooring products and wall colors to see how everything coordinates. You can play around with everything from wood flooring to laminate to tile. It's well worth checking out.
    Biggest perk: An easy to use tool with lots of choices to play with.
    Good to know: As with paints, the color and texture tend to differ from screen to reality. It's difficult to design a kitchen or bath because the wall only allows for paint colors, not for tile. There's a trick (designate all walls as floors if you're doing a kitchen or bath), but the perspective gets lost and tile on the walls looks weird. I also did not see any way to use carpeting in this tool.

    7. Home staging services
    What they offer: Home stagers often have a background in interior decorating. They are trained to prop -- or decorate -- a house to sell fast. Stagers often work with realtors and builders, and you'll see their work in model homes. Find a room stager in your area using a specialized directory.
    Biggest perk: If you plan to sell your home in the near future, the service can be invaluable. Find a realtor who works with a stager or find an independent stager who can come to your home for a consult. Then decide if you want to put some of her ideas into action. If you want the stager to do everything for you, then you'll have to pay up.
    Good to know: Staged homes are often not set up for real-life living. They are decorated to appeal to a home buyer's senses.

    8. HGTV's Rate My Space (online)
    What the show offers: Create a profile and sign in to upload photos, then wait for others to rate your space and offer feedback. If your space is worthy, the show's producers may call you to help give your space a makeover.
    Biggest perk: This popular and well-known site has loyal viewers who like to rate and offer friendly advice on new entries. You can upload a shot of a poorly decorated room and not worry about being heckled. It's also a great source of inspiration because you're bound to find a decorating dilemma similar to your own -- the spaces are real rooms from real homes.
    Good to know: You run the risk of zero views, no advice or "lite" advice from non-professionals.

    9. Kirstin Drohan Interior Design (online)
    What she offers:
    Kristin Drohan, an interior designer, recently started Free Advice Fridays on her blog. Send in your photos of a project, and she'll post help on her blog.
    Biggest perk:
    You can live anywhere and Kristin will take your decorating dilemma on. In most instances, she will provide a rendering solution that will be posted on the blog to help you with your project, too.
    Good to know:
    You may have to wait a while for Kristin to review your dilemma because she's busy with a thriving studio. But it can be worth the wait.

    10. IKEA
    What they offer
    : Tucked away in their catalog on page 368 is a blurb about free "home furnishing advice." IKEA has a staff of interior design consultants that offer professional advice and personal service. It's an informal program, and it's one of many at IKEA; they'll also help you with measuring, installation and assembly. The home furnishings advice service helps with floor plans, furniture selection and will take walk-in appointments, according to IKEA spokesperson Janice Simonsen.
    Biggest perk: Customer service at IKEA is friendly and helpful, even on weekends when they are busiest. The associates are willing to help, even if they aren't considered the store's interior design consultant.
    Good to know: They do not offer the service in every IKEA location, and you need to call your local store to find out if they offer it -- not an easy feat.

    11. Ava Living (online)
    What they offer: A new way of getting free and inexpensive design help online with a tier of professional services. The "free" level offers a design critique of your room (via a photo of the room) by up to three designers of your choice.
    Biggest perk: You get to choose which designer or designers you would like to use by reviewing their portfolios.
    Good to know: You may get "lite" advice unless you pay up a level. Still, it's probably a good place to start as far as the basics.

    If you've used another free interior design service, or have experience with any of the ones on our list, let us know in comments below!

    If you don't want to learn how to think like an interior designer, this article tells you how.


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    Slip into something a little more comfortable -- like your favorite jeans -- at the 25Hours Hotel Frankfort by Levi's.

    Since we all pretty much "live" in our favorite jeans, one hotel decided to take the idea literally: With the 25Hours Hotel Frankfort by Levi's, Levi's has created a hotel inspired by the look and feel of the jeans that have been around since the company's founding in 1873 in San Francisco. The hotel, which opened in 2008, is near the new German headquarters for Levi Strauss in Frankfurt, Germany.

    25Hours Hotel Levi's FrankfurtThe exterior of this unusual hotel inspired by a pair of Levi's jeans. Photo: 25Hours Hotel

    In designing the 76 rooms, sculptor Michael Dreher and artist Delphine Buhro tried to answer the question: How did blue jeans impact our lives in the last century? Because just like music, fashion, art and film weren't the same in each decade, neither were blue jeans. In the 1930s, people wore trim, preppy jeans, while in the 1970s, "bells" hung around the ankles.

    After researching popular culture of the last several decades, Dreher and Buhro assigned each room to fit into a particular decade and decorated it accordingly. It turned into the ultimate challenge for a designer, since the only thing linking the rooms was the color blue. The only commonality in each of these rooms is the color blue. (There's also a pair of Levi's hanging in each room.)

    The result is one really cool hotel. You will never look at a pair of Levi's jeans the same again.

    25Hours Hotel Levi's FrankfurtPhoto: 25Hours Hotel

    A Room Inspired by the 1980s:
    If you were cool in the eighties, it's probably because you sported a preppy look (remember how polo shirt collars had to be flipped up?). Your jeans were probably ironed, extremely tight and stiff to the touch. You might have even tucked in a crisp, white shirt and draped a cable sweater over your shoulders. Prep is reinterpreted in this room with a clean-lined bed, furniture painted true blue and a geometric-pattered carpet. The animal print lampshade is a flash of punk in an otherwise preppy space. The "boom box" -- the 80's iPod or Discman -- is featured in the artwork.

    25Hours Hotel Levi's Frankfurt Photo: 25Hours Hotel

    A Room Inspired by the 1970s:

    An orange starfish design in the rug may be a modern take on orange shag carpeting, but it still screams 1970s. The designers also chose the ornate gold mirror, crocheted pillows and metal bedside lamps are also decorative reminders of the decade. The color, which you can easily imagine on a polyester disco shirt, was no doubt inspired by denim.

    If you were putting on a pair of jeans during the time period, you were probably wearing jeans that were loose around the ankles and tight around the wasitline. You probably wore a turtleneck. Or a suede vest. Or a top exposing your midriff. As this room shows, there were no rules i the 70s.

    25Hours Hotel Levi's Frankfurt
    Photo: 25Hours Hotel

    A Room Inspired by the 1960s:
    During the 1960s, boundaries were also pushed in terms of social norms and behaviors, and this included the world of design. Check out the white orb-shaped lamp on the desk and the psychedelic carpeting. Funky! The blue walls are a deep denim blue, seen in swimsuit designs and home decor alike from this era. And those chairs? Definitely an example of how radical you could be as a designer during the sixties, which Levi's designers totally picked up on at the time by offering embroidered jeans. (When is that trend going to come back? Huh?)

    25Hours Hotel Levi's FrankfurtPhoto: 25Hours Hotel

    A Room Inspired by the 1950s:
    A jukebox couldn't be more reminiscent of the fifties, a time when sock hops were a regular part of the social calendar. The white chair at the desk looks like molded-plywood, a material that furniture designers like Charles and Ray Eames and Herman Miller began using in the late '40s.

    The darker blue chosen for this room's walls is sultry, like a smoky cocktail lounge, but the lighter color screams 50s housewife, since the light blue was a popular choice for everything from dresses to appliances. You might say that jeans were the star of the 1950s. Once people saw James Dean sporting them in "Rebel Without a Cause," they became a symbol of rebellion and everyone had to have them.

    25Hours Hotel Levi's Frankfurt
    Photo: 25Hours Hotel

    A Room Inspired by the 1940s:
    The 1940s is often thought of as a classic time in American history -- it was the decade of "Casablanca" and Rita Hayworth, the end of the second World War when baseball was king. And this monochromatic palette of black and white captures the times perfectly.

    It was a glamorous time. People wore black and white gowns and tuxedos to balls and parties. Old Hollywood style decor was popular. Photos were taken in black and white, and movies were released in the two colors. Notice: there's no blue in this room -- an ode to the lack of denim during the time period.

    For more Design Drools, don't miss:

    One Night in Paris at the Seven Hotel
    Say Aloha to the Waikiki Edition
    The Real Jersey Shore


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  • 12/08/10--20:01: The Case Against Cleaning
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    One writer hates cleaning so much that she's given up cleaning altogether. Here's why everyone deserves a housekeeper.

    I was walking through the hall of my apartment yesterday, carrying my 9-month-old baby Harper on my hip, when I noticed a tumbleweed of dog hair blow by my foot. I was about to lean down and brush it up with my fingers until I realized that tomorrow my housekeeper comes. I watched it tumble under the radiator, and instead of picking it up, I kissed Harper's button nose: "Let's go to the park."

    Harper crawling on his play mat, while mama keeps up with the dishes in the kitchen -- and that's about all she does. Photo: Brooke Lea Foster

    Here's my dirty -- and I mean dirty -- little secret: I hate cleaning. I hate cleaning so much that I typically let my apartment creep into borderline filth before I'll breakdown and pick up a broom or a mop or a dust rag. And yet if you came to my apartment, you'd find a very neat and tidy space where the dishes are always cleaned, Harper's toys always tucked into a toy box and towels neatly stacked in the linen closet. I make the bed every morning right after I wake up, and there are never clothes strewn around the bedroom floor. I'm obsessively neat. I just don't clean much.

    If you were to look closely -- and I really hope that you don't -- you'd find some pretty unsavory sights: sheets that haven't been changed in 3 or 4 weeks, dust on the bookshelves, crumbs in the silverware drawer, a shower liner with a slick film of something gross in the bath, dust bunnies gathering under furniture, several pairs of kicked off socks at the bottom of my blankets in bed, small pieces of dog kibble that my mutt, Sadie, dropped out of his mouth near his dog bowl.

    And I typically choose to ignore all of it until my sweet housekeeper, Roselle, arrives every other Tuesday. She cleans our one bedroom apartment for 4 hours, and I'm home the entire time, since Harper needs to take his morning nap while she's there. And it's humiliating; I cower in shame while she cleans.

    Haven't you ever heard people say that they "clean for the cleaning lady"? Well, there's a reason. A cleaning lady knows all of your slovenly secrets, and as I've let on -- mine aren't pretty (but I bet they're fairly common). I'm actually so embarrassed to watch her clean up after us that I try to use Harper as a distraction. As she pulls the silverware out of the drawer and wipes out the holder, I'll hold him up and say: "Isn't he getting so big?" She'll nod and smile. When she scrubs the tub, I typically take Harper for a walk. I can't look her in the face after she comes out. I can imagine she wants to say: You could at least rinse it out a few times in the week that I'm gone.

    Mop the floors? Nah, let's take Harper to the swings instead. Photo: Brooke Lea Foster

    And here's the bad news: We just bought a house. When we leave our modest apartment in the city for a modest four square colonial in the suburbs, there are going to be so many more rooms to clean. Two bathrooms. Stairs. A dining room and foyer. As my husband and I poured over our new budget the other night, it became clear: A housekeeper may no longer be in the cards.

    "Well then we can't buy the house," I told him.

    This is the part where readers snicker, roll their eyes, call me a princess and stop reading. I know, it sounds absurd. But here's the reality: My husband hates cleaning. I hate cleaning. Our dog, Sadie, can't clean. And while Harper loves when I clean sweet potatoes off of his face -- trying desperately to eat the wet napkin as I wipe his chin -- he can't exactly dust the floors as he crawls (although that's kind of a genius idea). Plus, I work at home. When I'm not trying to entertain my baby, feed him or smarten him up with books, I'm on the computer writing or editing.

    And don't I deserve something in return for all of my hard work? I'm not interested in fancy jewelry. I don't buy expensive clothes. And I don't even own a car. I'd rather invest my money somewhere I'll get a big return, and for me that means a housekeeper.

    I told my husband all of this. I said that I'd take on more work (meaning extra freelance writing jobs) just to pay for a maid. "We should at least try to do it ourselves," he said.

    Been there, done that. When we lived in a house in Washington, DC, we set aside every Saturday morning to cleaning. We made a handy list of all of the chores -- scrub tub and toilet, dust bookshelves, wipe down cabinets -- and divvied them up. We did it once and patted ourselves on the back.

    And we never cleaned again. A month later, we hired Lena who charged us $100 to clean our whole house. I'd come home to the fresh lemony scent of Murphy's Oil Soap and gleaming hardwood floors and think: Best money I'll ever spend.

    Some women try to do it all -- work themselves to the bone at the office and at home, find time for their husband, run the kids to activities and maybe find 15 minutes to soak in a bath. Or they're forced to.

    I've got options: If I work a little harder each week, I can afford to pay for the cleaning lady myself. And that means freedom. Plus, I can save elsewhere. Harper and I can certainly miss a lunch with our mommy and baby friends once a week if we have to. I can pass on that Banana Republic sweater.

    Harper doesn't mind when his mother takes him outside to avoid making eye contact with the cleaning lady. Photo: Brooke Lea Foster

    Instead, I'll buy myself the greatest gift of all: time -- with myself, with Harper, with my husband. I'd rather live with less-than-pressed sheets and clumps of dog hair on the floor than take time away from the people and things that I love most to scrub a toilet. And while I do have to sweep everyday to make sure that Harper doesn't scoop anything -- like dog kibble -- into his mouth, I'm able to spend the rest of the day chasing him around the apartment on my hands and knees making him laugh.

    Call me a spoiled brat, a prima donna, a lazy housewife. But I'm just spending my money wisely. For $80 every other week, I buy myself a piece of heaven: A clean house that I don't have to lift a finger for.


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    Some countertops look better than they function. Here's what you need to know before deciding on your next countertop material.

    When choosing a kitchen countertop material homeowners often consider looks first and durability second. The sad truth is that some kitchen counter materials that are beautiful to look at are actually not very wise choices in terms of durability. ShelterPop investigates which materials don't hold up over time.

    kitchen-countertopsBe wary of tile counters -- they may not endure the wear and tear of regular cooking. Photo: Alamy

    Ceramic Tiles
    "Though tiles are heatproof and pretty to look at, I found their uneven surface a liability -- no matter how careful a cook you are," says Susan Westmoreland, Food Director of Good Housekeeping. "The grout gets stained with everything from berries to beets." In addition to gross grout, ceramic tiles themselves can easily chip, scratch or crack.

    White Marble
    "White marbles like Carrara, Calacatta and Statuary marble are gorgeous and very popular, but the truth is, [white marble] is not ideal for everyone," says Rebekah Zaveloff of the kitchen design firm KitchenLab. White marbles are soft and porous, so they're susceptible to staining, etching and chipping, quickly resulting in an aged look -- even when they've been well-sealed.

    kitchen-countertopsStones like white marble will stain and show age -- no matter how well you seal them. Photo: Getty Images


    "I avoid limestone at all costs in kitchens," warns Zaveloff. This natural stone is even worse than white marble, as the natural look of limestone makes it even harder to hide flaws and stains. Of all the stone options on the market, limestone is least suited to countertop use.


    While laminate often seems like the most affordable option for countertops, it can end up being a costly choice when it needs to be replaced after just a few years. The list of laminate's "cons" sited in Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook alone are enough to make you want to steer clear: "not stain- or scratch-proof; can be impossible to repair if damaged by burn marks and deep scratches; seams show; potentially costly end finishing and end choices."

    "If you choose laminate, be sure there are no seams near the sink," cautions Westmoreland. "If possible get a style that wraps at the outer edge and does not have a hard seamed edge -- the seams are the Achilles' heel of laminates."


    "Some concrete counters have been known to stain," says Zaveloff. "Make sure your expectations are in check and make sure you ask the fabricator about what to expect." In addition to these drawbacks, concrete can be tough on your dishes and glassware. Plus, this relative newcomer to kitchen design trends may not stand the style endurance test.

    The bottom line: Talk to your contractor or kitchen designer about durability of all the materials you plan to use in your kitchen. The extra research will eradicate many future headaches.

    Don't miss these stories on ShelterPop
    - Kitchen Trends to Avoid
    - A Timeless Kitchen Makeover (and it uses white marble countertops!)


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    Maybe you only have as much square footage as you'd like. Maybe you only have half as much. But that doesn't mean you can't fake it with some magic tricks...

    If you've been feeling down lately about the size of your home, take heart. Follow these failsafe designer tricks and we guarantee you'll stop crying about your spatial shortfalls and start making the most of what you have.

    small room ideasKeep walkways free and clear, match window treatments to wall color and group accessories together to create the illusion of more space. Photo: Jillian Harris

    Small Room Idea #1: Mind Your Accessories
    Take stock of the small pieces you love and group those prized possessions in clusters, rather than scattering them all over the room. Do you have a collection of vintage trophies? Give it more visual impact -- and give your space some breathing room -- by arranging awards together on one side of (not across) a fireplace mantel or end table. And remember: While it's okay to show your mementos, just don't put them all out. "Too many knickknacks read as clutter. They just tighten up small spaces even more," says Jillian Harris, interior designer and host of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Try adding and subtracting pieces from your current layout. If an item's absence bestows an airiness you've been missing, pack it away and live without it for awhile.

    Small Room Idea #2: Utilize Color and Patterns
    While most space-challenged folks instinctively play it safe with neutrals and solids, designers agree that a blast of blue here and a shock of chevron print there will keep eyes moving around the room. "Stripes and patterns of varying sizes command attention, give a small room depth and erase its constrictive outline," says interior designer, Christopher Coleman. But experiment with scale before reupholstering the couch: Harris suggests starting with, say, a herringbone wingback side chair and going from there. Pair it with an oversize houndstooth ottoman, then drape it with a delicate plaid throw. And if you decide you want a jewel-toned bedroom, try choosing window treatments in a similar color to your wall paint. It prevents sight lines from splitting up unattractively.

    Small Room Idea #3: Arrange and Choose Furniture Wisely
    You know by now that you get get extra legroom via multipurpose pieces with hidden storage. But it's not just what you have, It's where you place it. Blocking walkways is by far the biggest floor plan no-no. A close second? Cutting off the precious view into and out of your home. Aim for an unbroken, natural flow by moving furniture away from windows and doors and closer to walls; the room will look larger when more of the floor is visible. Coleman dislikes blocky, right-angled furniture and favors curvier, more organic pieces: "They make small rooms seem cavernous because their lines go on forever. Plus, they're far more versatile than plain old squares and rectangles." Another Coleman trick? Choose armless slipper chairs and sofas -- the abrupt horizontal lines of the arms can interrupt the room's flow and add needless weight. Another great space saver? Nesting coffee tables, especially in acrylic or glass ones are even better -- anything that allows light to filter through it will also give the illusion of more space.

    Small Room Idea #4: Use Lighting to your Advantage
    Lighting small spaces can be tricky. It's not just about the types of fixtures you use, but the kind of light they give off, too. Choose a bulb that's too warm and an already-cramped space can feel even more claustrophobic. One that's too blue can have your living room feeling like the set of "Grey's Anatomy." Harris suggests testing out bulbs in a small entry first, as it's often a place that sees little light. "After trying eight bulbs myself, I like GE's Daylight CFL bulb the best," she says. "It's the closest thing to natural light and doesn't make the space feel too cold." Likewise, keep the same intensity in the fixtures throughout the room so there's a sense of evenness. Otherwise, you'll only call attention to darker or lighter corners and recesses, further calling out the room's flaws and Lilliputian dimensions. Try to invest in multiple lamps of the same style: Coleman often uses four floor lamps of equal height (a little taller than couch height) in small rooms so that the eye moves around it.

    What are your magic tricks for dealing with a small space?


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    Our writer discovers that she's not the only one who dreams of a return to simple living.

    A few weeks ago, I tore an article from a farming magazine about making a braided rug.

    I was imagining weaving together colorful strips of fabric and declaring, "I made it!" when I stopped to wonder when I had become a woman who read farming magazines and wanted to make braided rugs. I decided it must have happened around the same time I decided to grow pots of veggies on the patio and darn torn wool socks instead of shopping for new ones.

    simple livingCourtesy Everett Collection

    While some women covet the lives of Oprah or Madeline Albright or Snooki, I am curled up in front of Little House on the Prairie reruns and dreaming of living like Laura Ingalls. As it turns out, I'm not alone.

    The idea of pioneer living has taken hold. While covered wagons and floral bonnets don't appear to be making a comeback, modern pioneers are embracing aspects of Little House on the Prairie living, growing their own food, raising livestock, making clothing and shopping local.

    Emily Achenbaum Harris who writes a blog called Little House, Southern Prairie, claims that a combination of the economic crisis, environmental awareness and the desire to be a stay-at-home mom led her to embrace traditional values like veggie gardening and secondhand shopping. Her mantra is the WWII motto, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

    "It feels like a trend to our generation because it's different from how we grew up," she explains. "Our parents and grandparents were living like this and it wasn't special back then."

    It's the "back then" that Achenbaum Harris refers to that draws me in.

    simple livingThe writer with her jarred fruits. Photo: Jodi Helmer

    I was raised in cities with public transportation, corner stores and crowds. It's not an uptown condominium I crave but a secluded acreage in the mountains. I dream of living in a farmhouse just like the one where my great-grandmother was raised. I want to trade the corporate ladder for a grain elevator and tackle chores like feeding chickens, mucking out stalls and catching trout in the creek just like Laura Ingalls. I spend hours reading The Pioneer Woman, Cold Antler Farm and other blogs written by women who have embraced back-to-the-land living, dreaming of my own personal Walnut Grove.

    For now, I live in an urban townhouse with a postage-sized patio so the chickens, horses and trout-laden creeks outside the back door will have to wait. I still manage to live a little like Laura Ingalls, even as rush hour traffic roars past the front door.

    I have started growing vegetables and shopping at farmers markets, making meals from scratch, collecting rainwater, bartering for goods and services, wearing hand-me-downs and spending evening in heated games of Battleship or Scrabble instead of sitting in front of the TV. While it's not a true pioneer existence -- I'm not about to give up indoor plumbing, central heat or WiFi just to be like Half Pint -- it does represent a shift in how I'm living.

    The decision to adopt some old-fashioned habits came from a desire to spend less (spending 99 cents for a tomato plant that will produce fruit for months is much more cost-effective than paying $3 per pound -- or more -- for supermarket tomatoes) and, in the case of food, to know the origins of the products I was eating.

    "We grow our own veggies partly because, of course, it's economical," explains Megan Crotty, who grows everything from beans and tomatillos to pumpkins and zucchini on a 2.5-acre homestead in North Carolina. "Personally, I love to watch things grow [and] it's definitely a learning experience. We try to grow something new every year. It's amazing to look out there and see things growing and think, 'Hey, I did that.'"

    Just like the Ingalls, Crotty and her fiancé, Todd Dulaney, share their crops with neighbors and coworkers, often trading fresh produce for venison, eggs and manure.

    There is more to pioneer living than fresh air and a little dirt under the fingernails. In an effort to be more Laura Ingalls-like, I've discovered that a return to simpler times is a lot of hard work.

    Last summer, a neighbor invited me to pick all of the peaches I could handle from her trees. I filled two baskets with plans to bake and preserve peaches just as I imagined Laura and her ma did in Walnut Grove. I peeled and sliced peaches all weekend, placed each jar in a pot of boiling water and set the jars aside until their seals popped. It felt like a sweet-smelling sweatshop: peel, slice, boil, repeat. After hours of work and hundreds of peaches, I had preserved just seven jars.

    Exhausted and covered in peach juice, I knew it would have been easier to cut coupons for canned Del Monte produce but there was a strong sense of satisfaction that came from seeing the literal fruits of my labor stacked on the pantry shelves -- and that is the crux of the desire to live like Laura Ingalls. It might require more work but it offers more payoff, too.

    While it sounds cliché, I have to admit that the peaches tasted sweeter when I recalled how much effort went into preserving them. The same can be said for the homemade bread that took six tries to master and the single small tomato I plucked from a withering vine. I've learned that the more effort something takes, the more I appreciate the result.

    I'm well aware that growing vegetables, raising chickens and darning socks might be a fad. Like legwarmers, fruit roll-ups and friendship bracelets, the trend might fade into the background.

    "I think that we're a stuff-loving society," Achenbaum Harris says. "As soon as the economy bounces back, people might keep their vegetable gardens but they'll probably go back to buying 10 pairs of shoes."

    Even if I eventually trade the dream of a 100-acre farmstead for the desire to live in an urban high rise, there will still be preserved peaches in the pantry and a braided rug in the living room where I can kick off a new pair of shoes.

    Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference.

    Do you have a personal story to tell? Tell us about it in the comments, and don't miss these great stories:

    -When Mom Steps Down as Holiday Host
    -My Eco-Guilt
    - Fixing Grandma's Mixer Changed My Life


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    2010 was all about turquoise but next year, things will get a lot rosier. Pantone welcomes Honeysuckle into the Color of the Year hall of fame.

    We recently shared Pantone's cheerful picks for the 10 hottest colors for 2011, and now, a winner has been crowned: The girly, glowing Honeysuckle. You've seen the color in nature, of course, on the Lonicera hispidula honeysuckle (other types of the bloom are white or pale yellow), but it's also the color of sweet, but not cloying, lipgloss or the brightest spot in a rare pink sunset. And get ready to start seeing it everywhere, from high end boutiques to your local big box store. The color of the year has historically influenced product development, from wall paint to nail paint.


    So why are we so excited about this color? (Aside from its beauty benefits -- late socialite Nan Kempner was a huge proponent of pink bathrooms, claiming that white walls are too "brutal for the face.") But the color stands for more than bright throw pillows and curtain trim. It has an uplifting quality that Pantone's Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman says will elevate our spirits in times of stress. "Honeysuckle is a captivating stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going -- perfect to ward off the blues."

    If you're out to get some honeysuckle in your home -- and fast! -- check out some of our favorite product picks. You'll see that we love mixing it with orange, industrial style and yes, leaving it on its own. And remember: Come 2011, everyone will be calling it by its rightful name. But for now you'll just recognize certain shades of pink.

    Clockwise from top left: World Market, Barneys, Anthropologie, Target, Urban Outfitters.

    Clockwise from top left

    Orange/Pink Mosaic Coasters, Set of 4, $13, World Market

    Tapestry Double Old Fashioned Glass by New Acadia, $22, Barneys

    Smoldering Hues Shower Curtain, $118, Anthropologie

    Baroque Frame, $20, Target

    Pier Side Table, $98, Urban Outfitters


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  • 12/10/10--17:05: On the Hunt: Throws
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    Get cozy with ShelterPop's top ten picks for throws.

    Now that the temperatures have officially dropped into the freezing range, we've gone bonkers for blankets. Whether it's tossed over the edge of a sofa or draped over a guest bed we love to accessorize with a gorgeous throw. Here are ten of our favorite throws for the season. From funky to sophisticated, there's a style for everyone:

    throw blanketPhotos: L.L. Bean (left), Terrain (right)

    Pretty Plaids
    Bean's Washable Wool Throw, $49.50, L.L. Bean
    Leave it to Bean to create quality at such a great price; this classic tartan throw comes in three colorways.

    Avoca Mohair Throw, $148, Terrain
    Hand-woven in an Irish mill that dates back to the 18th century, we're dying to snuggle up with this pastel plaid.

    throw blanketPhotos: Orvis (left), Pottery Barn (right)

    Cozy Knits

    Cable Knot Throw,
    $149, Orvis
    While Orvis is best known for its fishing gear, this throw is like your favorite sweater: An oversized cable knit that's soft and comforting.

    Bobble-Knit Throw, $50*, Pottery Barn
    A combo of bobble and cable knitted rows gives this blanket cozy charm. Offered in neutral cream and beige, it's sure to match your decor. (*Hurry: This chunky knits is currently on sale!)

    throw blanketPhotos: IKEA (left), West Elm (right)

    Simple and Sophisticated

    IKEA PS Vadmal Throw, $30, IKEA
    Handwoven in natural and gray wool, this blanket looks like a pricey heirloom for only $30.

    Contrast Border Throw, $49, West Elm
    A subtle color palette and contrast border give all three of these lightweight throws understated interest.

    throw blanketPhotos: Jonathan Adler (left), DwellStudio (right)

    Graphic Punch

    Zig Zag Throw (navy), $295, Jonathan Adler
    At nearly $300, this is a pricey purchase, but once you feel the softness of the 100% baby alpaca, you'll want to splurge.

    Cubist Peacock Throw, $190, DwellStudio
    With its crisscross design, DwellStudio's cubist throw reminds us a little bit of the coveted Crux blanket by Pia Wallén, which costs almost $800!

    throw blanketPhotos: Urban Outfitters (left), Garnet Hill (right)

    Quirky Covers

    Flag Knit Throw, $68, Urban Outfitters
    An American flag cast in sky blue, mustard and dusty rose is a quirky, but patriotic, touch for the home.

    Vinalhaven Wool Throw,
    $198, Garnet Hill
    Grandma will wish she could take credit for this hand-crocheted lambswool throw and its boho-chic style.

    Make your home cozy this winter:
    - Ice Hotels Tells Us How to Warm Up


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  • 12/10/10--17:05: Getting Light Just Right
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    Decorating isn't just about decor, it's about smart lighting choices. Here's how to set the mood and maximize natural light in your home.

    Lamps, chandeliers, pendants and sconces are all "home accessories" or "accents," but these items aren't purely decorative. Lighting plays a crucial role in how a space looks, feels and functions. While few of us have rooms with oversized windows and a steady stream of natural light (as shown in photo below), we all do have rooms with different light "personalities." And you can maximize a room's natural light by making smart lighting choices.

    lighting homePhoto: Encore / Alamy

    Artificial lighting plays three roles in design: ambient light, task light and decorative lighting. The fourth -- and sometimes most important -- element is natural light.

    I spoke with Michael Ferzoco of Boston-based design firm Eleven Interiors to get a better understanding of the role that lighting plays in our homes. When Ferzoco begins working on a new room, he studies the light. He looks at the room's elements in natural light and revisits them again in artificial light in the evening, only then does he get a sense of what kind of lighting a room needs.

    To help you tackle the lighting needs of your room, Ferzoco gave us a step-by-step approach to improving the look and feel of your dim space.

    1. Devise a lighting strategy
    Whether designing a blank canvas or working with an existing space, Ferzoco says it's important to think about how you use the space you're attempting to light. Are you working in the room? Reading there? Watching TV or entertaining? Where in the room do you plan to sit?

    Start with adding the basics. Most living areas will require a table lamp and maybe a floor lamp, and most dining rooms need a pendant or chandelier; bedrooms may need an overhead light. However, beyond the basics, we all use spaces differently so most rooms will need to be customized according to how you use them. If you perform specific tasks in a room, like paying bills or reading, you should consider adding task lighting (thus the name!). Task lighting is bright, focused light that helps improve concentration. Task lighting can come in the form of a floor-length reading lamp behind your comfortable chair, a proper desk lamp or under-cabinet lights in the kitchen.

    Almost every dining space has a pendant or chandelier above the dining room table, but Ferzoco says more light is needed because, chances are, you're probably only using your dining room at night. He suggests adding a spotlight to highlight a piece of art or add sconces to project light directly out, up and down. Ferzoco also encourages the use of candlelight on the table when entertaining because it adds to the ambiance of the space. Not only will it set the mood for your dinner party, but you don't want anyone to be unsure about what they're eating!

    In a living room, where you might entertain and show off some of your artwork, you may consider adding some spotlights or track lights directed at your collectibles to highlight them. The addition of a mirror is a great way to reflect the light around the space, making a room feel lighter. Ferzoco says any time you can place a mirror directly across from windows to reflect the natural light around the room. Also, he suggests adding an oversized mirror above a fireplace, leaning slightly forward to reflect the room.

    2. Design around natural light
    Next, he always checks to see what direction the natural light is coming from. "This helps you determine how long you're going to have light during the course of the day," he says. Most people are away during the day and are more concerned with artificial light," he says. However, knowing if light comes in directly all day or only in the afternoon will help you figure out answers to a number of design questions.

    First, you will know how the furniture needs to be laid out, since there's no need to position lamps in places where natural light is plentiful. It can also impact your fabric choices. Too much light can cause furniture, rugs and drapes to fade, so you'll want to avoid arranging a room in a way that puts those pieces in the line of fire. For rooms that get a lot of light, dark heavy drapery may be a better option.

    Ferzoco recently had clients whose room was facing south and their windows were covered with slatted blinds. However, these blinds were breaking up the natural light and causing shadow patterns. He suggested changing out the blinds for a different window treatment, since it would maximize the natural light while still offering privacy. And it worked!

    What kind of natural light does your room have?
    - East-facing rooms get light all morning. If your bedroom faces east, you'll wake up with the sun unless you invest in some heavy window treatments.

    - South-facing spaces get lots of sun all day long as the sun rises and sets. If you work from home, these rooms are a great choice for office space so that you don't need to rely on lamps while working.

    - West-facing rooms have more light in the afternoon as the sun sets, but it is a golden sunset light. Be sure that your back isn't to a west window when working or watching TV or there will be quite a bit of glare on your screen

    - North-facing spaces often do not get any direct light. Ferzoco explains that north-facing light is great for artists studios because there is no direct sunlight.

    3. Create mood and drama with lighting
    Ferzoco says that "the brighter the light, the more serious the mood." Very bright lighting can be extremely important in certain spaces, such as work spaces or task-oriented spaces like kitchens. He suggests using bright halogen lighting and a dimmer switch so that the mood in your living space can change as needed.

    Incandescent lighting, a more yellow light, sets a more relaxed mood. When you begin to dim lights, Ferzoco explains, it has an immediate effect on mood. The mind calms and becomes less focused. With children, using a dimmer can indicate that it's getting close to bedtime.

    Bottom line: A simple way to change the mood of your room is to change light bulbs and lampshades. The type of lampshade you choose has a considerable effect on mood. Choose something darker for a more relaxed mood or a bright white shade to make it feel a little more serious. Ferzoco always suggests that you opt for a dimmer or a three-way lamp so that you have the option to "turn up the volume" when needed.

    To create drama with lighting, try adding sconces above a fireplace or a spotlight on a piece of artwork. Overhead lighting like chandeliers should be on a dimmer to create a romantic mood when low lit.

    Rooms with dark walls can be particularly challenging to light. One of the biggest drawbacks of painting a room chocolate, gray or even black is that they feel extremely dark, particularly at night. To make the room brighter, Ferzoco says to give the room a bright focal point, like artwork, a light headboard or a light wood armoire. He also suggests using pops of color and shades of white with heavy lighting from chandeliers to focus lighting. To get even more creative with light and reflection, change the finish on your paint from a matte to either a satin or a semi-gloss.

    Let's take a look at how Ferzoco designed a space around lighting. Here is the same room at different times of the day:

    Use the slider tool to see the room at 10am with and without the shades drawn:

    You need the Flash Player to view this. Click here to install.

    Use the slider tool to see the room at 2pm with and without the shades drawn

    You need the Flash Player to view this. Click here to install.

    Use the slider tool to see the room at 8pm with artificial lights at 2 dimmer levels

    You need the Flash Player to view this. Click here to install.

    Ferzoco explains that the window treatments were chosen for flexibility. Since the space is large and open with floor-to-ceiling windows, these Hunter Douglas automatic blinds are easily operated by remote control with pre-set levels for different times of the day. This allows the homeowner to maximize and control the natural light and also allow for privacy.

    The artificial light comes in the form of a 1940s pendant chosen not only because it is an easily-dimmable halogen light but also because of its design harmony with the mid-century Saarinen table and chairs. "I also prefer fixtures where I don't see the light bulb -- that can be harsh in certain settings," he says.

    As far as overall design considerations, Ferzoco placed the furniture in the center of the vintage ad poster and central to the room to allow for maximum circulation. Says Ferzoco: "We actually had to relocate the existing junction box for the dining room pendant because it was much closer to the windows."

    Ready to light up your life?
    - Non-traditional holiday lighting
    - Small kitchen lighting solutions
    - Make a $1,200 chandelier for $120


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    Maybe you haven't bought your Christmas gifts yet... Or maybe you're still working on your own wish list! Either way, ShelterPop's 2010 gift guide has something for you.

    Last minute shoppers get a bad reputation. It's not that they're lazy or thoughtless -- we like to think they're just thinking too hard about what to gift the people they love. So if you're one of those last minute shoppers (we won't tell) just browse our gift guide by theme: We bet everyone on your list will fall into at least one category, whether they have a sweet tooth, a travel bug or a way with words. Or maybe you've got some design-philes on your list that could use some good geometric patterns in their life? We've got you covered.,feedConfig,localizationConfig,entry&id=961490&pid=961489&uts=1291763851


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    Hancock Park is an idyllic neighborhood with turn of the century estates, a lively village and plenty of charm. It's also one of the most star-studded areas of Los Angeles.

    Long before Beverly Hills was 'Beverly Hills', there was Hancock Park, one of the oldest, most affluent, architecturally well-preserved and star-studded neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Just 5 miles west of downtown, the neighborhood bloomed in the 1920s when prominent Angelenos with notable names like Doheny, Chandler and Ahmanson hired accomplished architects such as Wallace Neff and Paul Williams to design large and elegant mansions on the oversized, mostly flat lots.

    celebrity homesPhotos: Getty Images Map: Wikipedia Commons.

    The commercial hub of Hancock Park is tree-lined Larchmont Village, a Main Street USA style strip of upscale boutiques, hardware stores, a bookstore or two, and oodles of restaurants that spill out onto outdoor dining areas that line the sidewalks. It's not unusual in Larchmont Village to see Hollywood power players going about their daily business with little fanfare and, more often than not, no pesky paparazzi.

    Big name residents of Hancock Park have included Muhammad Ali and legendary actor John Barrymore Sr., Drew Barrymore's grandfather. But the neighborhood and its eclectic mix of Mediterranean, Tudor and Colonial Revival style homes fell into real estate disfavor in the 1970s and 80s when rich and famous folks gravitated towards some of Tinseltown's glitzier zip codes.

    celebrity homesLarchmont Village, Los Angeles. Photo:

    Since the turn of the last century, the tidy and dignified neighborhood, which wraps around the Wilshire Country Club, has been on an upswing with home prices that now rival those in Beverly Hills. While there are homes in Hancock Park priced under a million bucks, most of the neighborhood's mansions sell for between two and eight million dollars.

    Today, a person can't swing a cat without hitting a famous person in Hancock Park, and a list of the owners of the well-preserved mansions in the 'hood reads like a who's who of Hollywood. Although Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld") lived in Hancock Park long before them, Spanish film star Antonio Banderas and his bubble-lipped actress wife Melanie Griffith are often credited with being some of the early celebrity pioneers of the Hancock Park real estate revival. In 1999, the comely couple paid $4.2 million for a 15,000-square-foot beast of a house built in 1929 with 13 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. The following year the couple scooped up the house next door, which they proceeded to knock down to make way for a soccer pitch sized lawn.

    Soon to follow Banderas and Griffith were David Schwimmer from "Friends" who shelled out $5.5 million in June of 2001 for an 11,300-square-foot Mediterranean-style mansion in Hancock Park with 8 bedrooms, 15-foot ceilings in the living room, media room, separate guest house, swimming pool and tennis court.

    celebrity homesHancock Park, Los Angeles. Photo:

    "Will & Grace" alum Sean Hayes bought a 1930 Tudor style pile in Hancock Park in late 2001 for $1.65 million. He put the fully renovated 5,800-square-foot residence on the market in early 2008 with a hefty asking price of $8.95 million, but, alas, the house didn't sell. Although a Hancock Park source whispered to ShelterPop that Hayes no longer lives in the house, property records none-the-less show he still owns the 4 bedroom and 5 bathroom mansion.

    Über-successful sit-com actress Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Middle") and her actor-director-producer husband David Hunt have been in Hancock Park since the fall of 2001 when they forked over $4.85 million for their double-lot corner spread surrounded by a thick and dramatic bougainvillea hedge. The Heaton/Hunt house, a spectacular 8,400-square-foot Mediterranean mansion, was built in 1923 with 5 bedrooms and 7 baths. The couple meticulously restored, renovated and decorated the residence, which was photographed for Architectural Digest in late 2009.

    celebrity homesPhoto: John Shearer, Wireimage

    Other famous residents of Hancock Park include Kathy Bates whose house backs up to the Wilshire Country Club golf course, "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" writer and producer Shonda Rimes who recently dropped $5.6 million to purchase a 6 bedroom and 9 bathroom mansion from quirky musician Beck, and celebrity gossip queen Janet Charlton who lives in a mid-century modern house filled to the rafters with mid-century modern furniture that she unsuccessfully tried to sell in 2007.

    Even more stars who call Hancock Park home are Partricia Arquette and Thomas Jane, "Reno 911" actor Tom Lennon who bought actress Maura Tierney's house for $2.195 million in mid-2009, and French fashion designer Christian Audigier, the man responsible for foisting the Ed Hardy label onto the world and whose house is on the market for $8.299 million.

    While many celebrities can be capricious in their real estate choices, buying and selling houses like regular people buy groceries, it seems that the recent revival of Hancock Park as a neighborhood popular with Tinseltown types is here to stay for a long time.

    For more on celebrity homes, don't miss:

    - Ryan Phillipe Selling His Home
    - Gwyneth Paltrow Loves This Furniture Designer
    - Is Oprah Moving?


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    Take our quick-and-easy quiz to find out if your clutter is taking over your home.

    It's easy to spot clutter at a friend's home. But at your own? That's trickier. Because you know you need that extra throw pillow or stack of magazines. And you know you'll get to that overflowing hamper and that crowded mantle.

    But try to look at your home in an objective way and take our quiz. Who knows? It might make you proud (or it might launch you right into an organizing spree).


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    At The Sink Factory, you can find a pink vintage bathtub, reproduction sinks and more!

    The Source
    The Sink Factory

    The Goods

    A dream resource for anyone renovating an older home, The Sink Factory stocks antique and reproduction sinks, basins, faucets, tubs and parts to repair existing ones. The Sink Factory is based in Berkeley, California, where they have a showroom you can visit, but the company ships all over the U.S. and even to Asia and Europe.

    vintage bathroomLooking for a vintage pink bathtub? The Sink Factory might be able to help. Photo: The Sink Factory

    The Secret

    The Sink Factory is more than just a depot of vintage and reproduction sinks. They also repair and replace fixtures, and they can create shower systems to work with old funk tubs that need shower enclosures. Plus, this isn't just a website: They want to talk to you and help you find the fixtures you need and encourage customers to contact them with questions.

    Things to Know

    The Sink Factory is devoted to the Chicago Faucets(R) line of fixtures - expect to find these quality fixtures when shopping with The Sink Factory. Buyer beware: Items in the "salvage" section of the site are sold "as-is."

    Want to know more of our Secret Sources?
    Read on:
    - Secret Source: Fog Linen Work
    - Secret Source: MUJI
    - Secret Source: Jayson Home & Garden


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  • 12/14/10--05:51: Decorating a Kid's Room
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    Yes, you can decorate a kid's room that's fun and whimsical while still being sophisticated enough for when they grow up.


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    Photo: Polina Osherov Photography

    Step off, green divas! Sara Snow tells us how to ease into eco-friendly living.

    When life gets crazy, the last thing you want to do is change up your routine. Which is exactly why so many people resist incorporating green practices into their daily life -- when you've got your busy schedule down to a science, why rock the boat?

    But, like most things in life, there are different levels of living green: mint green, kelly green, forest green -- you get the gist! So, green amateurs, fear not! According to Sara Snow, natural and green living expert, TV host and author, easing into the green lifestyle is totally achievable.

    "We try to do our best, but I understand -- life can get insane," says Snow. "First thing first, don't beat yourself up over what you can't do. Instead, focus on the little, easy things that you can do."

    So what habit can you easily make routine in your life? Here are Snow's five tips for easing into the green lifestyle:

    Photo: jupiterimages / Getty Images

    1. Make healthier food choices.
    "Food is an appropriate place to start because it's something we all need, and it's something we all make decisions about multiple times a day," says Snow. "You won't hear me telling you to go out and buy 100% organic food, because that's just not feasible for most people. Focus on the foods that you and your family eat the most of and try to go healthier with those few things."

    Need some examples? Choose cage free or organic eggs, which indicate that the chickens that laid the eggs were living in conditions similar to their natural environment and weren't fed genetically modified feed and corn. Or opt for honey over regular sugar; not only is it healthier than sugar, but it also fights off allergens and bacteria, heals wounds and fights off night cough.

    2. Simplify your body products.
    "Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it can absorb as much as 60% of body product contents directly into your blood stream. So going for body care products that contain less synthetic ingredients (aka junk) is very important for adults, but it's especially important for kids and babies," says Snow.

    Since children's skin is so much thinner and their bodies are smaller, they have a harder time processing synthetic ingredients. Her personal favorite: Johnson's Natural Baby Care Line, which is mild enough for new skin, and is derived from 98% plant, mineral and fruit ingredients.

    3. Switch out your cleaning products.
    Cleaning products come with a whole slew of chemicals, and who wants that in their home? Not to mention, store-bought products can be a huge waste of money.

    "If you have to buy a new cleaning product for every area of your home, you'll wind up spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars that you could be saving," says Snow. "Instead, focus on natural cleaning products and five kitchen staples that you can use to clean your entire house: baking soda, vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and a basic liquid soap."

    Sara's favorite house-cleaning concoction: Fill a spray bottle with 50% vinegar and 50% water and use it to clean the most basic surfaces in your home, from your countertops to your kids' toys. Here's a great story about homemade cleaning solutions.

    4. Use less single-use items.
    Americans generate trash at an unbelievable rate of 4.6 pounds per day per person -- almost twice as much per person as most other major countries! According to Snow, this is an embarrassing statistic that we could easily remedy.

    "By simply using less single-use plastic baggies, paper towels and napkins, we could make a huge difference in our individual trash production," she says. "Instead, opt for cloth towels and napkins, and try to remember to use those reusable bags. I keep mine in my car door so I always see them before heading into the grocery store." I always forget my bags. Oops!

    5. Turn everything off.
    "This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but taking the time to turn the water off when you're not using it can make a big difference over time," says Snow.

    Also, turn the computer off when you're not at it, turn the lights off when you leave the room -- even turn your cell phone completely off at night. "In a world where we're addicted to our smart phones, I know it sounds like a lot to ask you to completely power down your cell phone, but it's less wasteful if you plug in and charge your phone only when it really needs it," says Snow. Also, if you're not using it, unplug your charger -- it uses energy even when it's not connected to your phone.

    Eventually these green habits will become second nature, says Snow. "Just start with a few simple changes, and before you know it those things will become habit."

    And then, if you're feeling daring, you can add a few more things to your routine. Or you can give yourself a break, pat yourself on the back, and celebrate the fact that you're doing your little part in creating a better environment for the future.

    Happy greening!

    Learn more about Going Green with these great stories.


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    Who says chandeliers belong in the ballroom?

    Once a symbol of wealth, the chandelier has become a decidedly more democratic decorative element in recent years. While chandeliers are expected in grand entryways, formal dining rooms, ballrooms and the like, they also pop up in more unlikely places (we partially blame Rachel Ashwell's love of chandeliers for the resurgence of the rising popularity in chandelier-style lighting). Here are a few unexpected places to find chandeliers, and advice for how to recreate the look in your home:

    A red chandelier on a roof deck? Why not? Photo: Courtesy of Filipacchi Publishing

    In her book Money-Wise Makeovers: Modest Remodels and Affordable Room Redos That Add Value and Improve the Quality of Your Life, Jean Nayar highlights a chandelier on a roof deck of an Atlanta loft building. This eclectic lighting installation is the work of Brian Patrick Flynn (of HGTV's "Decorating Cents" and TBS's "Movie and a Makeover"). To recreate this look on your own, be sure to consult an electrician about an outdoor appropriate fixture and wiring.

    A chandelier in the boudoir is certainly a romantic choice. Photos: Anthropologie

    The ever-stylish Anthropologie seems to think that the best place for a chandelier is hanging over a bed. Anthro features gorgeously styled photographs of two of their chandelier-style lights (left: Bird & Branch Decoupage Chandelier and right: High-Minded Chandelier) hanging in bedrooms in lieu of a traditional bedside table light or reading light. If you're going to try this bold look, consider having your electrician install a dimmer switch within easy reach of your bed.

    In this small bathroom, the soft glow of the chandelier gives the space a sense of luxury. Photo: PARK

    The bathroom might be the last place you'd expect to fins a chandelier, but a luxurious light fixture is just the thing to bring some sparkle to a utilitarian room, as architects Krista Ninivaggi and William Prince (both of PARK) have done in their bathing chamber above. When using a chandelier in the bath, it's important to pay attention to scale: Unless you have a huge, hotel-like suite, it's probably best to err on the small side with your overhead fixtures.

    These chandeliered kitchens are from the book "Romantic Style" by Selina Lake and Sara Norrman ($30). Photo: Debi Treloar/Ryland Peters & Small

    When chandeliers were first in vogue, the kitchen was relegated to an unseen part of the home. Now that the kitchen has become the center of the home, if not the centerpiece, why not treat it to an eye-catching lumiere? These two kitchens from the book "Romantic Style" demonstrate that a chandelier could easily be used to decorate either a very modern or a country-chic kitchen space.

    An antique chandelier and chairs paired with a modern-looking crib makes for an interesting contrast of styles. Photo: Annie Schlechter/ "Room for Children"/Rizzoli

    Even the youngest members of the home can appreciate a beautiful light source. A chandelier hung in a child's room or a nursery is a surprising and whimsical touch that also lends some sophistication to a juvenile space.

    Get more lighting ideas:
    - Holiday lighting solutions
    - Lighting for a small kitchen


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    Next Monday, 12/20 from 11am through 4pm, ShelterPop editors are taking over the Ballard Designs Facebook page. We'll be talking about our favorite holiday decorating ideas, asking about your holiday wish lists and doing our best to solve all your entertaining dilemmas.

    We'll also be encouraging you to head back to this post, where you can enter to win one of Ballard Designs' four great products -- the Ballard Tote Bag, Silver Candlesticks, Cork Candelabra or a Boxwood Topiary. And the best part? You can get in in time for Christmas Eve.

    To enter, you most "Like" both ShelterPop and Ballard Designs on Facebook and share a holiday entertaining dilemma or tip in the comments. And be sure to check in on Monday 12/20 on Ballard Designs' Facebook page to join the conversation!

    * To enter, leave a confirmed comment below telling us a holiday entertaining dilemma or tip (and which of the four prizes you want to win).
    * The comment must be left before 4pm EST on Monday, December 20, 2010.
    * You may enter only once.
    * Two winners will be selected in a random drawing.
    * Each winner will receive one of four prizes: The Ballard Tote Bag ($25 value), Silver Candlesticks ($15 value), Cork Candelabra ($15 value) or a Boxwood Topiary ($35 value).
    * Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
    * Click here for complete Official Rules. Winners will be notified by email, so be sure to provide a valid email address!


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    What's better looking than Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd? The interiors in "How Do You Know."

    Check out this great story from our friends at CasaSugar!

    Opening Dec. 17, "How Do You Know" stars Reese Witherspoon as Lisa, a softball player whose athletic abilities have defined her entire life - until she's cut from her team. Struggling to redefine herself, she starts a fling with Matty (Owen Wilson), a major league baseball pitcher known for playing the field. Lisa's also involved with George (Paul Rudd), an honest businessman who may be heading to jail to protect his crooked financier of a father, Charles (Jack Nicholson).

    how-do-you-knowDavid James via CasaSugar

    How Do You Know may involve some complicated relationships, but the interiors are another story altogether. Beautifully designed and decorated, they do a lovely job of reflecting each character's personality. Curious about the interiors? You're in luck, because Sony Pictures recently shared photos from the three male characters' apartments. Let's take a tour of photos from Matty's, Charles's, and George's homes.

    David James via CasaSugar

    Orange pendants and a lantern arc floor lamp add pops of color to this open living space. The bulbous, striped chair is something of an anomaly in the overall decorating scheme - a reflection of Owen Wilson's character's quirks.

    how-do-you-knowDavid James via CasaSugar

    In contrast, George's apartment embraces neutrals and a more traditional decorating scheme.

    how-do-you-knowDavid James via CasaSugar

    Plush rugs add softness to this bedroom, while a restrained chandelier introduces an element of elegance.

    how-do-you-knowDavid James via CasaSugar

    His bachelor pad is beautifully appointed, with just the right amount of clutter. The spindled wooden chair on the right adds a nice shot of personality to the space.

    But that's only a glimpse at the sets -- check out the rest of the piece on CasaSugar for the full scoop!

    And check out these other great stories:

    7 Ways to Beat Cabin Fever
    Roundup: Cool, Contemporary, Circular Coffee Tables


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    After splitting with girlfriend Alicja Bachleda in October, Colin Farrell buys her a $1.2 million home.

    Colin Farrell knows that nothing cushions a break-up with a major celebrity like a grand parting gift. And we think the $1.2 million, 2,736-square-foot Tudor-style house that he just bought for his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his one-year-old child, Henry Tadeusz) does the trick.

    colin-farrell-alicja-bachleda-houseWhy's Alicja Bachleda smiling? Maybe she knows what's coming. Photo: Bryan Bedder, Getty Images

    And now: A peek at the house that Colin Farrell built -- err, bought, is located at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. Now come on inside. For now we've got pictures of the living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom, but check back later for the entryway nook, dining room, patio and family room. Plus, the other two bathrooms and bedrooms!

    colin-farrell-alicja-bachleda-houseThink Colin Farrell toured this living room before he bought it?

    These tall ceilings, tall windows and handmade hardwood floors are calling out to us. We hope she moves in before the holidays so she can enjoy that fireplace on Christmas Eve.

    colin-farrell-alicja-bachleda-houseColin Farrell sure knows how to pick a kitchen.

    Between the white tile, dark wood cabinetry and terra cotta floors, the kitchen has a classic feel. The giant driftwood-framed mirror adds pizazz -- but who wants to look at themselves while they eat? Wonder if Bachleda will get rid of that once she moves in!

    colin-farrell-alicja-bachleda-houseWe hope Farrell appreciated the brick fireplace in the master bedroom. Cozy!

    A big comfy bed + huge windows + that fireplace = The cure for waking up on Monday mornings.

    colin-farrell-alicja-bachleda-houseColin Farrell sure knows how to pick a kitchen.

    Cool blues and a charming pedestal sink make for a simple but lovely bathroom. We wouldn't change anything in here.

    We'll be updating with more photos soon. For now, let us know what you think of the house so far!

    Want to see more celeb homes? Check out:
    Nicole Richie to Marry at Daddy Lionel Richie's Palatial Estate
    How Do You Know: Step Inside the Set
    Where the Celebrities Call Home: Hancock Park


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    If washing the dishes and folding the laundry is a one-person-job in your house, here's how to get your spouse to start on the household chores.

    There's nothing that can take the fire out of a new (or old) relationship quicker than fighting over who's going to clean what, who hasn't cleaned what or who didn't clean what to the other person's standards. To keep the peace in your relationships at home, we consulted a few experts -- as well as a few of our most clever gal pals -- to help solve your biggest family cleaning problems.

    household-chores-kids-spousesPhoto: Getty Images

    And don't fear, we offer help for all types of communicators. Passive aggressive types are offered a sneaky way of getting their partner to change, while proactive types will appreciate more direct advice.

    Household Chore #1: Your spouse won't do the laundry.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Start wearing granny panties.
    Proactive Solution: Stop doing it.

    If you really want to send your partner the message that your family produces more dirty laundry than you can handle on your own, just start wearing the oldest, holiest underwear you have. If you'd rather not do that to yourself, Paul Hahn, a marriage and family therapist in Lawrence, Kansas, suggests a much more direct approach: throw in the dirty towel and simply stop doing your partner's laundry.

    "My mother used to say 'I'm not your maid,' in the middle of cleaning my room. I always had to choke back the words, 'You look like my maid,'" Hahn says. If you don't want to play the role of your partner's (or your child's) launder, you just have to stop -- a completely fair action if you've already had a conversation about it. "That might mean they don't have a clean shirt for that important meeting at work, but that would be their consequence for not pulling their load," says Hahn. "At the very least, that should get them to the negotiation table."

    Household Chore #2: You fight over who does dishes.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Do them, but not well.
    Proactive Solution: Divide and conquer.

    Being a terrible dishwasher is quite possibly the easiest, sleaziest way to get out of regular dish-washing duty. Though my boyfriend and I have reached some common ground when it comes to sudsing up our dishes, we still have our issues. When I complain that he takes dirty dishes out of the sink instead of simply washing them, he counters with: "Well, you don't like the way I do dishes." He's right, and he knows I'd rather do them myself than redo them.

    Erin Bradley, author of Every Rose Has Its Thorn: The Rock 'n' Roll Field Guide to Guys, suggests a more balanced approach. "My fiance does the dishes. We're talking 100% of the time. However, I do make it easier on him by handling the grossest part of the process in advance: rinsing, sorting, and stacking. I do this after every meal, snack, you name it. That way, the dishes can pile up all week. When there's no disgusting food residue on them, they're no longer a daunting prospect."

    If he's still not sold on the dishes idea, maybe you could get him to take them on in exchange for you cleaning the kitty litter and the toilet, or two chores he hates just as much. "Figure out what you like/don't like and divide along those lines," Bradley says. "Does that mean that you have to love doing the kitty litter? No, but chances are you hate taking out the trash even more. You sacrifice one for the privilege of not having to do the other."

    Household Chore #3: Your partner leaves the bathroom sink/vanity a mess.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Be grosser than he is.
    Proactive Solution: Get over it (or get some toys).

    The truth is, your boyfriend probably doesn't even notice when he makes a mess of beard stubble and toothpaste on the bathroom sink or counter. But I'm willing to bet he'd notice your mess of bang trimmings, boxes of tampons (unused), pile of cotton balls and cotton swabs (used) and tubes of Monistat (er, half used) -- if you're willing to let it all hang out for a week or so.

    According to Bradley, a better way to deal with it is to just get over it and and wipe down the bathroom sink when you need to. "Just accept that there will be toothpaste bits and shaving stubble. Why? Because people live there, silly. It's not a showroom," she says. "Trying to eradicate evidence of human occupation on a daily basis is boring and a waste of good time you could be watching a DVR. Give it a once-a-week scrub-down and get on with it."

    If you really can't get over it, invest in this microphone-shaped sponge that might give him a reason other than cleaning to pick it up. Put on some classic rock, lock him in the bathroom and let him know that in between Guns 'n Roses numbers, he could take a few minutes to wipe down the sink.

    Household Chore #4: Your partner won't take out the trash.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Play a damsel in distress.
    Proactive Solution: Stop acting like your parents (seriously!).

    household-chores-kids-spousesPhoto: Getty Images

    When I was 15 and worked at Burger King, I claimed that I wasn't strong enough to throw the industrial-sized trash bags over the edge of the dumpsters at the end of the night. But the truth was I just didn't want to get Burger King juice all over myself in the process. When my boyfriend moved into my apartment last May, I took a similar approach, selling the title of "trash taker outer" as a job best suited for a strong, sexy man. Though he knows better, I think he likes to feel needed (especially when I'm the one toting the tool box around the house) and dutifully takes out the trash every Sunday.

    But the trash issue almost ruined Hahn's relationship, because when his wife was growing up, her mother would take the full trash bag out of the can, tie it up and set it on the floor. As soon as that was done, her father would pop right up and take it outside. "My wife told me a couple of years ago that she worried we weren't going to make it because when she put the trash on the floor I didn't do anything. That sounded like crazy talk to me, but that was her normal."

    Hahn says that in some families, there may be unspoken expectations regarding gender roles, no matter how liberal and modern people might fancy themselves today. "It really does a couple good to have nice, long talks about their families of origin. We do carry a lot of the old generation into our wiring when we get married."

    Household Chore #5: Your partner won't put things away.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Hold the items hostage.
    Proactive Solution: Get rid of decorative "containers."

    Does your partner have a hard time putting things away? If so, you might try hiding them so he'll think twice before leaving his favorite lighter on the coffee table, or his favorite coffee mug in the bathroom. My boyfriend's mom recently told me the story of how she used to collect and then auction of her kids' belongings if they left them around the house -- especially shoes they left by the door. "I'd gather them up in a big trash bag and hide them, and after they asked me if I'd seen them enough times, I'd bring everything out and auction it off... for chores or money," she says. (While the shoe-hostage situation didn't necessarily make a lasting impression on her son, I'm starting to think he's due for round 2.)

    Nancy Heller, a professional organizer and owner of Goodbye Clutter in Manhattan, New York, suggests living more defensively. "My husband is a pack rat and I can't stand it," she says. "When I leave a bowl or a dish or a tray or anything around, he feels it's his job to fill it up and so he does. All of a sudden it's filled with his lighter collection -- he doesn't even smoke! -- change, loose keys, broken buttons. So I've just eliminated those magnets for him."

    In addition to eliminating second homes for wayward items, Heller suggests designating a place (one that closes, like a drawer) for your partner's unwanted crap.

    Household Chore #6 through 6,000: Everything else.
    Passive Aggressive Solution: Threaten to throw money at it.
    Proactive Solution: Throw money at it.

    If none of these solutions work, you can always threaten to spend you and your partner's hard-earned money so someone else can do the household chores.

    "If you hate cleaning and are never going to regularly do it, we need to figure out how it's going to get done, because living in filth is not an option for me," my friend Christine wrote in an email to her boyfriend Andy. "Do you want to pay someone else to do it? Do you want to pay me to do your chores? Do you want to divide the work in a new way? Please help me figure out how to address these things. They aren't going to go away unless I go away."

    That threat came about a year ago. And she says now everything is fine. "Andy had some sort of epiphany or something and now he truly enjoys a clean house and he actually cleans more than I do," Christine says. "So, I think the hard part was to get him to really want a clean home -- to make that a priority."

    Though Andy eventually came around to the idea of cleaning (and cleanliness), many couples will find that hiring someone else to do the chores is a great way to make sure everything gets done around the house. Whether or not to pay a person or service to clean your house really comes down to your own personal values, says Hahn. "The only reason I clean my own house is because I can't afford to pay someone else to do it. Some people may consider paying someone else to do it a poor use of money, but I look at it as cleaning my own house is a poor use of my time. If I had the money to pay someone, that's what I'd do."

    For tips on tackling your own cleaning problems, check out Your Biggest Cleaning Problems: Solved!


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