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    If your mattress is old, lumpy or keeping you from a good night's sleep, it's probably time to get a new one. But don't buy a mattress without running through these five questions.

    You may not think 10 years is a long lifespan for mattresses, but think of it this way: You spend an average of one-fourth to one-third of your life resting on that thing. That's a lot of horizontal hours logged! A good queen-size mattress can easily cost $1,000, which is no small purchase, but over the span of 10 years, that's just 27 cents a day.

    buy-a-mattressWill you have this much fun if you buy a mattress? Maybe. Photo: Frank Herholdt, Getty Images


    If you've been thinking about buying a mattress, you already know the catch: You can't really test-drive a mattress without bringing it home. Add in the confusing names (Crown Jewel Ultra Plush versus Plush Pillowtop?) and the hustling salesman you're supposed to haggle with and you've got quite an intimidating process. Don't worry, we talked to the experts. Here are five key things to keep in mind when you're ready to buy a mattress.


    Don't Buy a Mattress Without Asking: Do I Need a New Mattress?

    Dr. Robert Hayden, a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, suggests using a yard stick to see if your bed is sagging. If your mattress isn't old, try flipping it. Mattresses should be flipped every three months. If it sags on both sides, it's time for a new mattress.

    Some factors that can help prevent wear and tear during a mattress' 10-year life are stronger coils and extra padding around the edges, where we tend to sit.

    Don't Buy a Mattress Without Asking: What's It Made Of?

    Most mattresses fall into two categories -- innerspring and foam. According to the International Sleep Products Association, innerspring mattresses make up 90 percent of mattresses sold in 2009. They're also cheaper, with an average sales price of $210, verses $540 for non-innerspring. Don't be concerned with the coil count though, it's actually the coil style and gauge that make the most impact on strength and support, so be sure to check in with the salesperson about it.

    If you get hot during the night, stay away from polyester: You'll want a mattress made of natural fibers, like wool, silk, etc. (You'll see these in most beds in the over-$1,000 range). If you move around a lot in your sleep, you might want to splurge on foam, since it absorbs the movement and your partner's less likely to feel the bed shake.

    Don't Buy a Mattress Without Asking: What's the Best Bed For Me?

    According to Dr. Hayden, a good mattress keeps your spine as straight as it is when you're standing. So if a mattress is too firm it won't allow for your hips and shoulders. Too soft? You may fall into an unnatural sag.

    "Mattresses are like gloves, they really have to fit you," he says. Hayden is an advocate of memory foam mattresses. In fact, he likes them so much he had one installed in his office so his patients can try it out.

    Dr. William Kohler, a sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says there's no one model that can guarantee a good night's sleep since comfort level is very individual. Although he does point out that, "the price does not guarantee a quality sleep."

    Don't Buy a Mattress Without Asking: How Does it Compare to Similar Models?

    One tricky thing mattress manufacturers do is change the name and fabric of identical models for each retail outlet. So price shopping becomes impossible because it's hard to know if you're comparing apples to apples. It doesn't help that there's no industry standard for firm, extra firm and other characteristics. So you really have to lay down on the samples in the store to get the best comparrison. Take your time -- experts suggest 10 minutes to give yourself a chance to really know if you'll like sleeping on it.

    Don't Buy a Mattress Without Asking: What's Your Return Policy?

    Ten minutes might still not be enough to know how you'll feel in the middle of the night. Most mattresses come with a 30-day warranty which will protect against any problems from normal use in the first month. Beware of the salesman up-sell to an extended warranty, which can be difficult to cash in because any stains or rips on the mattress can render them void. If you do plan to buy extended coverage be sure to buy a good mattress cover.

    Looking for more ways to improve your bed? Check out our guide to the best pillow for your sleep style or the best beds for sex!

    And check out this video from our partner on how to save money on mattresses!

     

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    Shane Reilly of Decorati gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the studios of our favorite designers. Ready for some major design envy via Skype? Come on in...




    Robert Couturier designs the homes for the international elite. Learn what life is like for this busy designer as he develops beautiful apartments, townhouses, villas, and estates around the world. Robert lays it out there in simple terms what it means to work with these types of clients. He shares with us a nearly-completed ultra-modern New York apartment and a well-terraced Berlin apartment he is just beginning.

    What are your favorite colors to decorate with? Weigh in on our Facebook page!



    Shane Reilly, the Founder and CEO of Decorati.com is sharing the wealth of information imparted to her by the country's top manufacturers, artisans, and designers in her new video series Shane's Studio. Check out the website or check back on ShelterPop for more of Shane's great interviews!

     

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    The team behind the Matchbook Magazine shares a peek of their second issue and weighs in on some of our favorite patterns. Take a look!

    There's no thrill like checking your mailbox to find the latest issue of your favorite magazine but there's one thing that comes close in the digital world: Logging on to find that one of the new online magazines has released another issue. This Monday, Matchbook Magazine is putting out issue number two and kindly gave us a peek inside. Check out these photos of designer Robert Biggs's Sausalito studio.


    We're crazy for all this paper play -- and yes, now kind of inspired to spend the weekend inside with some crafting supplies and these photos.

    Surely Katie Armour and Jane Lilly Warren, the Matchbook founders, would whole-heartedly support the pursuit. The first issue was filled with design-savvy icons: Lela Rose, Jemma Kidd, Anna Bond and more. We can't wait to see who else is featured in issue two alongside Biggs.

    matchbook magazineJane Lilly Warren and Katie Armour, founders of Matchbook Magazine


    For some extra fun, we asked Armour and Warren to weigh in on some of the patterns we love seeing in Matchbook. Which ones are your favorite?

    IKAT
    Armour: I love that ikat can instantly add a bit of worldliness to an otherwise stale interior. It whispers a hint of far off places. Madeline Weinrib's polka dot ikat pillows are a classic.
    Warren: I love a darker ikat print for throw pillows and smaller accents, whereas a lighter monotone print is perfect for a sun dress, and can be used more liberally.

    HONEYCOMB
    Armour: I immediate think of Bunny Williams' gorgeous Beeline Home collection. A classic, wholesome pattern best used for small details.
    Warren: This is a pattern that I especially enjoy for home accessories, from lacquer trays to candles. It also lends itself nicely to stationery design.

    POLKA DOTS
    Armour: I never met a polka dot I didn't like. It's a young, fun pattern and makes me smile. Kate Spade always does them justice.
    Warren: Lighthearted, whimsical and classic -- polka dots are the fun sister to the stripe.

    CHEVRON
    Armour: Reminds me of one of my favorite fabrics, Rubie Green's East Village. It's a great pattern and my old neighborhood.
    Warren: The heavy weight lines of a chevron print create a bold, masculine pattern that at once provides the perfect balance of stability and movement.

    ZEBRA
    Armour: I would love a taxidermy zebra rug, though I fear it would scare my pugs.
    Warren: The only zebra I've ever owned was a pair of ballet flats that I loved dearly -- it's important to use zebra sparingly, as it packs quite a punch.

    STRIPES
    Armour: I could wear horizontal sailor stripes every day and be perfectly content. They make up half my wardrobe. I also love bold vertical stripes on walls.
    Warren: Timeless! Breton shirts, candy canes, seersucker -- there are infinite ways to show your stripes and you'll never have to worry about them going out of style.

    PLAID
    Armour: I will never tire of plaid. I love it on shirts, on throws, on my curtains... Herve Pierre's New York apartment is gingham heaven and is endlessly inspiring to me.
    Warren: From summery ginghams to winter flannels, plaid is a casual staple for everyone's wardrobe.

    To get your matchbook fix before Monday, check out the site and tumblr!

    Can't get enough online magazines? Check out our other sneak peeks:
    Domino Magazine Back Online

    High Gloss Magazine: Sneak Peek
    Rue Magazine: Our Exclusive First Look!

     

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    With spring gardening just around the corner, here's what you need to do to get your green space ready for planting.

    Winter is slowly loosening its grip on us and on our green spaces. Hurry it along with a little spring planning. Here's how to get your garden ready for spring.

    spring gardeningRoot pruning perennial herbs in early spring. Photo: Marie Viljoen



    The big sweep
    If you are like me, then the chances are good that your yard, terrace or balcony has been fending for itself through the winter. The result will be a lot of messy dead leaves, twigs, branches broken by snow or ice, cracked clay pots, dead annuals frozen in place from last year and a general appearance of horticultural bed head.

    In order to get into the mood for spring before it has actually arrived and to prepare your garden for the real thing when it does, the first thing to do is head out there and collect all the debris. Then, if you have the space for it, add what you have collected to your compost pile for 2011. Read my previous post about compost to get a better idea of just how useful your own garden and kitchen pickings can be when put back to work in later months.

    spring gardeningEarly spring is ideal for pruning roses. Photo: Marie Viljoen


    Pruning the roses
    Now is the time. The roses may look like frozen sticks but already they are thinking about putting out little red buds. Use a good pair of sharp pruners. I like Felcos. First remove any dead twigs or branches. Then cut any branches that are intertwined or crossing, as improved air circulation in the summer months wards off mildew. Shrub roses respond very well to hard pruning and the rule of thumb is to cut them back by at least half, snipping at a slant to just above an emerging bud that faces outward (to avoid in-growing branches).

    If you have 'climbing' roses (they are really rambling), do not prune them now. In my early gardening days I made this mistake and lost my entire flower crop for that year. Rambling roses mostly bloom on what is called old wood, meaning the canes that the rose produced the previous year. The time to prune ramblers is right after they have bloomed. You can train ramblers now, tying them into place - the more horizontal they grow, the more flowers you will enjoy.

    Root pruning
    If you have plants growing in containers, some of them, especially shrubs and small trees, may need root pruning every second year or so to prevent them from becoming pot- or root-bound. This is best done when the plant is dormant, so late fall and late winter are the best times for this chore. Remove the plant from the pot and look at the roots. If they are girdling the root ball at the edges of the pot, then it is time to snip. If the roots are very fine and there seems to be more soil than roots at the edge, no pruning is necessary.

    With sharp pruners or a small trowel scratch the outside roots loose from the mass. Now cut them away. You can be quite brutal, removing an inch or two from the outside. Re-pot with new compost or soil, and give the plant a good drink.

    Perennials and herbs may just need to have the soil around their rootballs loosened by hand, with the outer roots pulled away, before being repotted.

    spring gardeningDrumstick alliums can be ordered now for spring planting. Photo: Marie Viljoen


    Order summer bulbs
    While many conscientious gardeners order their summer bulbs in the fall, many bulbs can be planted successfully in early spring for summer bloom. So you still have time to break out the catalogs and let your imagination loose. Tall purple allium, scented lilies, late season Abyssinian gladioli...these can be planted after the last frost date in your USDA zone. Some of them are edible: consider planting a crop of garlic for late summer harvest.

    Cutting back grasses and perennials
    Many grasses look their best after winter snowfall, when they stand like ivory sculptures in the whited-out garden. In order for new growth to emerge neatly in spring, they should be cut right back now. Any perennials that were left uncut at the end of last year should be cut back now, too. Add these trimmings to the nascent compost pile.

    Here's a video from Garden Girl about spring garden prep. Enjoy!

     

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    Say no to a cold bed. Here, we test five sets of flannel sheets and pick our faves. Get ready for the big warm up.

    In the midst of a brutal winter (hello snopocalpyse!), there is nothing better than crawling into a warm, cozy bed. But if you're sleeping on regular old cotton sheets -- that absorb the cold air all day -- the moment your skin hits the sheets can be a shockingly unpleasant one. No fear. There IS a way to avoid this problem, other than wrapping yourself in fleece pjs and seventeen layers of thick socks.


    cold bed
    Clockwise from top left: Sealy; JCPenney; Lands End; LL Bean; Target

    The solution is...drumroll please...flannel sheets!

    ShelterPop editors had the opportunity to test sleep five different sets, some gorgeously plushy, and some, well, not so much. We've taken the guesswork out of choosing the best brands for your buck, and rated the sheets on a scale from 1 to 5 (5 being the best overall quality). In our ratings, we considered the following: softness, fit, warmth, how well we slept and durability after washing.

    Sealy Best Fit Flannel Sheets, $59.99 for a full set
    These sheets had very, very good, and very, very bad qualities. They fit the best out of all five sets -- no unecessary fabric, and that meant no extra folds or lumps to deal with. On the other hand, these sheets pilled immediately and seemed to get worse after washing. Phrases like, "ball up", "shedding" and worst of all "coated my pajamas" were common. In lieu of that, the sheets were generally soft and comfortable, but "nothing special." One tester said, "They didn't even feel like flannel, really. They were more like regular sheets. But isn't that a good thing?" We all slept "fine," but for the money, these sheets were just okay.

    Overall Quality: 3


    JC Penney Home Flannel Sheets, $24.99 for full set
    We normally heart JC Penney, so we were surprised at how much we disliked these sheets. Phrases like, "These were seriously the worst sheets I've ever used in my whole life," and "So pill-y, my entire room -- egg crate, carpet, pillows -- is still covered" dominated the comments. Testers found them "scratchy" and difficult to sleep in. After washing, the already thin sheets "seemed to thin out even more." Another said the texture was "similar to a tissue." Eek. The price is right, so they'd be good to have around in a real pinch. But besides that, we'd say pass.

    Overall Quality: 1


    L.L. Bean's Ultrasoft Flannel Sheets, $65.85 for full sheets (sold separately, includes flat sheet, fitted sheet and two standard pillowcases)
    These sheets earned rave reviews for their "totally luxurious," "very warm, but not TOO warm," "soft and pillowy" feel. One tester said that they were "the absolute best sheets I'd ever slept on in my life", and found herself dreading having to take them off to test the next set. Even after washing, the sheets retained their cushy-ness and their resemblence to "thin blankets." The one negative? Pills. Everywhere. But, that was "forgivable because they were so good." One lone tester was not a fan, due to said pills and "average" comfort. But overall, we likey.

    Overall Quality: 4.5


    Lands' End 5 oz. No-Iron Portuguese Flannel Sheets, $69.50 for full set
    "Thick and cozy" but almost "too warm," some testers would only save these sheets for the coldest nights. Others felt that the "buttery, luxurious texture" was "absolute perfection." The fit was like most of the other sheets we tested -- too big, especially the pillowcases -- but nothing a little tucking under the mattress couldn't fix. One tester found the sheets very soft and cushy initially, but they "didn't hold up that well after washing." "After a week of sleeping on them, they started to lose their soft, flannelly feel." But another loved them so much that after many weeks of having them, she "has not used anything else."

    Overal Quality: 4


    Target Flannel Sheet Set, $20 for full set
    As an experienced Target sheet owner, I expected these sheets to live up to the "I can't believe how great they are for the price" expectation. Happily, I was not disappointed. They felt less like flannel to me and more like "warmer-than-normal-sheets," but that was ok. One tester put them on her bed one night without telling her husband. When he got into bed, he said, "Wow. What sheets are these? These are NICE." She agreed and found them super warm, like "enveloping your whole bed in a slipper sock" and thought they were made of the kind of flannel "that you'd want to brush against your face in the middle of the night." Nice indeed. Like all of the other sheets we tested, they did get "less soft after washing," but overall they were "very warm" and a wonderful value. Editor's Note: While these sheets are no longer available, we still included them to prove that a low price tag doesn't translate to low quality.

    Overall Quality: 4.5

    What are your favorite type of sheets? Do you switch them out with the season? Let us know on Facebook!

    For more ideas on making your bedroom cozier, don't miss:
    Great Headboard Ideas
    A Grown Up Bedroom Makeover
    Off to Buy a Matress: 5 Questions to Ask

    Here's a video about decorating a cozy guest room.

     

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    Converse & Marimekko sent a pair of their new sneakers to ShelterPop -- and all of us AOL-ers couldn't get enough.




    You don't usually read about shoes on ShelterPop, but we're making an exception for the amazing Converse ♥ Marimekko collaboration. The companies were kind enough to send a pair of sneaks to us and as soon as we took them out of the box, we had a small crowd. Check out all of us AOL-ers enjoying our own Cinderella moment with these babies. And if you're jealous too, check out the full collection of sneakers.



    Looking for more collaboration news?
    Sneak Peek: Crate & Barrel Gets Marimekko Flair

    Shabby Chic and Michaels: Collaboration Alert

     

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    We tell you what plants will bring your garden color early in the spring. And why not keep them healthy and weed free?

    Early spring can bring in lots of color if you bring in early-blooming tree shrubs like Forsythia Cornelian Cherry. In a cold climate? We're not leaving you out. You'll also see which plants do best in New England and similar regions.



    With all these colors in full bloom, why let weeds invade your spring garden space? Don't let them creep up on your hard work. Keep weeds away with easy, do-it-yourself tips. Learn how:




    Lucky enough to have any rose bushes in your garden? Make them bloom more than once a season with the helpful tips in this clip. (Hint: A banana is a healthy breakfast for you and your garden!)



    For more great garden-care tips, check out Spring Gardening!

     

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    Three simple, creative window treatments to liven up your view.

    Redoing the dining room? Remodeling the kitchen? An easy way to update any room is by changing the window treatments. Get some ideas in the videos below. We know you'll find one that fits your style.

    A pillow case becomes a slipcover? And spray paint transforms a chandelier? Yup! It's that easy. Watch to find out how these quick solutions -- plus new window treatments -- transform this room:


    Layer curtains to create dimension, like in this video below. Try incorporating different materials -- like fabric and acrylic -- to get a dynamic effect. Get all the details:


    This next video tackles several kitchen settings. For rooms with exquisite views, the best solution is a shade. Want a fresh look? Try a valence. And for a formal feel, use curtains. Check out all your options:


    For more tips on window care, check out Clean Windows.

     

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    Next time you throw a dinner party, wow your guests with this unique DIY table runner.

    Check out this great story about photo decor from our friends at CasaSugar!



    photo decorPhoto: CasaSugar



    Perusing Pinterest the other day, I came across this vintage tablescape from Oh So Beautiful Paper that had an unusual, whimsical table runner made from old black and white photos. I love how the photos cascade onto the floor! Not only is this a practical and creative way to incorporate vintage pics, but it's also easy to re-create and can be adapted for different themes.

    Flea markets, garage sales and antique shops always have boxes of old postcards, photos and other paper goods, so gathering the supplies is affordable and relatively simple. I'd take a narrow strip of butcher paper and start affixing the photos from the center out. Use double-sided tape and be sure to completely cover the paper so that it looks like the photos are just scattered on the tabletop.

    Depending on how dramatic you want to go (and how many pics you have), you may want to keep it on the table vs. piling the photos on the ground. For a bon voyage soiree you could use postcards from tropical locales, for a bridal shower old wedding pics, or for a game night it could even be crafted from playing cards (a little Alice in Wonderland, don't you think?).

    What do you think of this look? Do you reuse beautiful old photos in creative ways? Weigh in on our Facebook page!


    Learn more about kitchen ideas in this video.


    Don't miss these great stories from ShelterPop:
    Cheap Chic Ideas From Jane Fonda's Home
    Cheap Chic Ideas From Gwyneth Paltrow's Bedroom

     

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    Watercolor isn't just for an artist's canvas -- the painterly theme has popped up on everything from pillows to placemats. And we're loving this 2011 design trend.

    Watercolor is one of the oldest painting mediums known, dating back to paleolithic Europe, although it really made a name for itself during the Middle Ages and European Renaissance. And while flowery works on canvas are the standard association, it seems that watercolor has ditched its botanical roots in favor of the modern graphics for the home that we rounded up here.

    AphroChic Watercolor PlacementPhoto: AphroChic

    AphroChic designer Jeanine Hays is channeling her inner Monet and her affection for the borough of Brooklyn this year to create several modern toile pieces, including a collection of "Brooklyn Life" placemats. The watercolor designs pay homage to neighborhoods like Fort Green, Clinton Hill, Park Slope and Boerum Hill (above), and are made from 100% natural Belgian linen and cotton.

    DVF Sun Stripe Watercolor Bedding and ChargerPhoto: Diane von Furstenberg

    For her debut collection of home fashions, designer Diane von Furstenberg incorporated this colorful Sun Stripe pattern (bedding and charger shown here), with brush strokes that look like they've been painted by hand.

    West Elm Luli Watercolor PillowPhoto: West Elm

    West Elm uses watercolor generously this season. We spotted it on the Luli Watercolor pillow, above, their new Water Splash pillow and several other spring wares.

    For more on home trends, don't miss:
    Trend Spotting: 2011's Hot Color Combos
    Trend Spotting: Nailhead Trim
    Trend Spotting: Rope Decor

    Here's a video about the latest home trends.

     

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    Ready your spring cleaning checklist -- it's time to clean house. First tip: Start with the task you're dreading most.

    Spring may not be in the air quite yet, but there's little doubt that the air around your home is ready for a solid spring cleaning right now.

    But don't fret. If you break it down into some manageable tasks, says organization wizard Laura Wittmann, founder of OrgJunkie.com and author of the book Clutter Rehab, spring cleaning can be a rewarding way to spend a weekend afternoon.

    spring-cleaningPhoto: Alamy


    "I always suggest that the best places to concentrate on first are the ones that annoy you the most," she says. "These little (or big) annoyances can cause as much mental clutter as they do physical."

    Take a look around your home, she advises, and pay attention to the inner dialogue that happens when you find yourself frustrated with specific areas. Then create a detailed list of what needs to be done. For example, rather than simply saying "clean home office," break it into manageable steps that are each doable in short spurts of time, Wittman says. "You'll be amazed at what you can get done with small bursts of attention."

    Then, Wittmann says, "Eat the frog." Essentially another way of saying "bite the bullet," Wittman thinks the best place to get started is the "to do" item on your list that you're dreading the most.

    "You can go about your day feeling a huge sense of relief and satisfaction knowing you've accomplished a chore you've been putting off," she says. "It's very freeing!"

    Another get-inspired tip? Some really energizing music helps to get you motivated as well, she adds. So throw on your favorite playlist and get to work.

    spring cleaningPhoto: Getty

    Now let's tackle some of the biggest messes:


    Spring Cleaning Challenge #1:
    Cupboards that run the risk of item-avalanche when opened.

    Allot 15 minutes per cupboard; 30 minutes for a pantry.

    The Solution:
    Unless you're stocking up for the end of days, there's no real need to have 500 cans of kidney beans. More likely than not, the lack of organization in your pantry or kitchen cupboards causes you to "forget" what items you have on hand and double up when grocery shopping. The same goes for that burgeoning Tupperware collection that topples over every time you open the cupboard. Time for a fix.

    Start with the biggest problem cupboard. Pull all items onto a nearby counter and organize by category (either foods or utility/purpose). In the pantry, if you have more than your required monthly or weekly allotment (do you really have plans to cook something this week with those lima beans?), place extras into a pile to donate to your local food bank. If it's a Tupperware dilemma, organize by storage sizes. Do you have multiples of the same size that go unused? If they're in good condition, donate to your local thrift store.


    Spring Cleaning Challenge #2:
    Growing piles, disorganized papers and unpaid bills.

    Allot 30 minutes to an hour for cleanup, no more.

    The Solution:
    Piles. They start with the best of intentions, but oh how quickly they go from "strategic placement" to "where in the world did I put that?" dilemmas. Nip it in the bud.

    Where do you most commonly drop your mail? Purchase a mail organizer to place directly in that area; either get a counter top option or one to attach to your wall or side of cabinetry.

    Immediately upon walking in the door, get into the habit of sorting the mail: catalogs/magazines to read, personal mail and bills (and, of course, have a recycle bin nearby for the immediate toss-aways). Label each slot -- chances are, as long as you see an envelope in the "bills" or "important papers" sections, you'll never be late on a payment or miss an appointment again.

    For extra organization, add a small calendar with attached marker nearby; when a bill or appointment reminder comes in the mail, mark the appointment or due date on the calendar in red, then file the notification away in its designated slot. It takes a few extra seconds, but it ensures the days of buried bills and forgotten appointments are long gone.

    Have a pile that needs tackling now? Lay it all out on your dining table and sort according to the categories on your new organizer. Be sure to have a recycling bin nearby for the inevitable junk mail.


    Photo: Alamy



    Spring Cleaning Challenge #3:
    Drawers that don't close properly due to overstuffing.

    Allot 20 minutes to clean a drawer.

    The Solution:
    Chances are good that you have a junk drawer (or two) that could use some attention. Commonly junk drawers become what they are because we need a quick place to cram the miscellaneous, leading to a space chocked full of random items that are rarely accessed.

    So dump the junk -- lay it all out on your dining table and sort everything into small piles. Immediately toss anything you "forgot was in there" and that you don't need. Use an old ice-cube tray to sort and store small items like paper clips, rubber bands, tacks, etc. - whatever doesn't fit can be thrown out. Who needs 500 paperclips anyway? File away any important papers in a home office accordion file, and group other items together either with a paperclip or rubber band, or place them into a labeled envelope ("stamps and address labels") for easy reference.


    Spring Cleaning Challenge #4:
    Overburdened and under-organized linen closet.

    Allot one hour; two if it's been awhile since you last tackled this dreaded task.

    The Solution:
    We all do it. You buy a new sheet set and cram the old ones into the linen closet. The old sets pile on top of the older and oldest until suddenly you have a collection of linens resembling a decade's highlight reel.

    Empty it out. Throw every item from the closet into a laundry basket and dump it out onto your bed (you'll likely need to make a few trips). First, sort by item: flat and fitted sheets, pillow cases, towels. Then sort by needs and bed size: kids' room, guest room, master. Using a permanent felt marker, write a single-letter notation on each tag for easy reference. For instance, write T/F/Q/K for quick size reference (saves you the hassle of unfolding and folding) or write family member initials.

    Finally, go through each individual pile: Any items that have stains or holes should immediately get tossed. A bit too worn but still in good condition? Unless you'd be willing to put it to use now, toss it into a "donate" pile - chances are even your seasonal items will be replaced with new ones when the next season rolls around. To stay organized, place each stack into its own individual storage box or basket, labeled for quick reference. That way, when you go to change bedding next round, you can just pull out that specific basket and leave the rest of the closet in tact.


    Inspired for more spring cleaning?
    Try these green spring cleaning tips.
    Or bring some Feng Shui into your spring cleaning routine.

    Here's a video about Feng Shui cleaning tips.


     

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    From locks to lights, we help you ensure that your home will be protected.

    Whether you're going on an extended vacation or just going to work for the day, the comfort of knowing your home is safe is priceless. Watch to get secure advice -- no pun pun intended -- in these clips.

    Moving in to a new home? Here's what you need to know, from door locks to scoping out the neighborhood..




    Take time to check your windows and doors, and put timers on lights or TVs so it looks like you're home. With measures in place, you ensure a safer home and a carefree time away. Also, a home security tip that involves...social networking sites? Check out the clip below.


    Looking for more home security tips? AOL Real Estate has all the info on homeowner's insurance, home security over the holidays and apartment security. Plus, check out this list of security tips to keep your home secure when you're out of town.

     

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    Designer Ruthie Sommers breaks all the rules in her bright and feminine California home.

    Get ready for some color therapy: Ruthie Sommers, the designer, watercolorist and former Domino magazine contributor, opened the doors of her playful colorful house for House Beautiful's March "Pink" issue and we've got a peek. Sommers declares that "matching is for amateurs" and shows how bold choices can really make a room pop. Take a look:


    colorful-house-ruthie-sommersRuthis Sommer's dining room and kitchen. Photos: Victoria Pearson for House Beautiful.


    Sommers says the green carpet helped make her dining room's gold walls "less serious." She hired a decorative painter to create a canopy to match the "alien" chandelier by legendary designer Tony Duquette, making both decorative touches come together to look like a tree. Brilliant, right?

    You can see that the art and accessories do the talking in her simple white kitchen. The vintage stools are covered in a practical laminated linen -- a decidedly dressed-down match for the formal marble island. And have you ever seen an unexpected color combo pack more punch that the Tiffany blue tray and bright yellow flowers?

    colorful-house-ruthie-sommersSommers' stunning bedroom. Photo: Victoria Pearson for House Beautiful

    The bedroom pairs a mostly pastel palette with small-scale patterns like the faux-ocelot throw and antique suzani bedspread. Note that Sommers isn't skimping on patterns anywhere -- even the burber rug has a subtle one.


    colorful-house-ruthie-sommersThe entry hall and another peek in the bedroom. Photo: Victoria Pearson for House Beautiful


    We're crazy about the mix in her entry hall: Girlie pink curtains and low-key, beachy grass cloth walls. She believes in breaking curtains ever-so-slightly on the floor, about a half-inch -- the way men's pants break over their shoes. What a perfect, easy way to think about it.

    On the other side of the bedroom, a mid-century chest challenges the antique French headboard. And kelly-green and royal blue accents break the pastel calm.

    Visit House Beautiful online to see more ideas from Sommers' home. And while you're there, don't miss their online scavenger hunt this week. In honor of pink, the color of the year, they're giving away lots of great prizes like a DucDuc vanity, a pink KitchenAid mixer, and even a pink fridge.

     

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    Help Me! I want to learn how to organize a closet, but I just can't find the time to do it. What are some easy ways to get my cluttered closets back on track?

    Home Rescue: Let's whip those shelves into shape with advice from Ginny Snook Scott, the Chief Organization Officer for California Closets.

    The first step in any closet revamping, Scott says, is to turn on your favorite playlist -- typically the one you take with you to the gym or on those long runs. "Cleaning and organizing always seems more fun if you're energized by your favorite tunes," she says.

    how to organize a closetPhoto: California Closets



    Next, have a game plan. What area of the closet is the most cluttered? Typically, the lower you get in the closet, the more clutter you'll find crammed into dark crevices. So Scott recommends starting at the top of your closet and working your way down -- once you get going, you'll find inspiration to keep pushing forward.

    Simply clear everything out at once from each section so you're working with an empty closet. When you're putting items back in their rightful place, don't just shove them back haphazardly. Get organized from the get-go by sorting clothing or linens by type and color. "This makes it easier to coordinate outfits and stay organized," Scott says.

    If you can, Scott advises, store everything at eye level. By keeping shoes and other accessories off the floor you'll reduce clutter in what can quickly become a black hole in your closet. And, of course, if you don't already have a closet-organizing system to help store seasonal items, handbags and other essentials, adding one will transform your closet.

    Finally, Scott advises, keep your clothing receipts organized as well; get a sturdy envelope or folder to push-pin or Velcro to a handy area of your closet. "This will save you should you need to return a defective piece," she says. "It will also help you track your spending, which will in turn help you from further overcrowding."

    For more great organizing ideas, don't miss:
    Are You an Organizing Extremist?
    Home Office Org: 7 Tips
    Spring Spruce Up: Organizing Jewelry

     

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    We're not envious of these celebrities for their fame or beauty -- we've got our eyes on their stunning kitchens.

    It's not fair, when you think about it, that celebrities should get the best kitchens. Aren't they the ones with chefs, maids, assistants and invitations to Ibiza every night? And aren't we the ones with friends and family to feed, dishes to wash and no islands to visit other than the one in the middle of the kitchen?

    But we're not just drooling over these photos. Instead, we're picking out the easiest-to-copy elements to make your own kitchen into a celebrity kitchen (or something like it).

    Starting off -- can you guess which one of these six starlets comes home to this amazing kitchen corner?

    Kitchen courtesy of Veranda; Clockwise from top left: AP, AP, AP, Getty, Getty, Getty.


    The lucky lady: Jennifer Lopez. The singer/actress and her husband Marc Anthony's New York home was featured in Veranda magazine earlier this year. This is just the corner of it -- the full kitchen has countertops so glossy, we bet Lopez can see her reflection in them.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Trade white cabinets for a subtle hue: Lopez's designer, Michelle Workman, chose a grey-blue. It's an easy project to DIY and will add a hint of glamour to your current kitchen. Even if you've had white cabinets your whole life, an understated hint of color won't be a huge shock -- more like a happy surprise every time you walk into the kitchen.



    Courtesy of ELLE.


    When Sheryl Crow showed off her Manhattan loft -- and simple chic kitchen -- in ELLE last summer, she left us daydreaming about her eclectic, gorgeous space. See that stove in the corner? She's dragged it to every home she's had since her first apartment in St. Louis.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Treat your kitchen like you treat your living room: A place to display and enjoy decorative items. So often while looking for places to hang artwork or bring out cherished antiques, we disregard the kitchen. But why? A simple globe or framed photo can add loads of character to the room.


    Teles Properties


    That blue tile and giant butcher block island belong to Katey Sagal -- or at least they used to; the actress sold the home in January 2011. And boy are we jealous of the buyer: We're crazy about just about everything, from the exposed beams to the pops of orange and blue punctuating the space.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Mix and match your tile. Rather than overloading your kitchen with the same pattern -- or sticking with white throughout -- Katey's kitchen makes use of four different blue and white tiles. By alternating the solid blue tiles on the edges with the more intricate designs, you're giving the kitchen an extra texture -- and yourself an excuse to experiment more while tile shopping!

    Courtesy of ELLE DECOR.


    Meg Ryan
    's Martha's Vineyard house was featured in ELLE DECOR last summer and while every room was -- as you'd expect from Ryan and ELLE DECOR -- pretty perfect, it was her kitchen that captivated us.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Take advantage of natural light. We know, you can't necessarily tear down your kitchen and rebuild it with wraparound windows like Ryan's, but we can advise that you copy her no-nonsense rule for kitchen windows: Lose the curtains! Let all the light you get shine through and light up your cooking space (it may make your island look as glossy as this one does!)


    Coldwell Banker Previews-Beverly Hills North.

    Another celebrity with major kitchen windows? (Sensing a trend here?) Kim Kardashian. The French doors lead to a dining terrace where she can enjoy all the treats made in her fancy cook space. And to keep her comfortable while dining indoors on chilly nights? A fireplace.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Don't go trend-crazy; choose what you like and leave the rest simple. Who knew Kim Kardashian could be a model in restraint? For the most part, this kitchen is simple and elegant, but the two doses of flair -- the modern spindle legs and bold pendants -- give the space personality.

    Courtesy of ELLE DECOR.


    The lovely Ellen Pompeo and her husband Chris Ivery live in this Hollywood Hills home. And yes, they get to stare at that enchanting piece of art every time they use their kitchen. Not fair.

    Steal This Celebrity Kitchen Idea: Get creative with your china display: Yes, traditionally you'll see beautiful dishes in glass-doored cabinets at eye level, but why not give your guests a slight surprise? By arranging it neatly in low, open shelves, you not only save space up top to spotlight more daring design choices (like artwork) but it has a more casual down-to-earth feel. The only people we wouldn't recommend this to? Parents of toddlers.

    What do you think -- which of these ideas would you take into your own kitchen? Weigh in on Facebook!

    And check out this video on how to organize the kitchen for healthy eating!



     

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  • 03/09/11--03:55: 2011 Kitchen Trends
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    Granite countertops continue to reign supreme, but there are some exciting new kitchen trends coming to a cookspace near you.


    Every year the members of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) get together to discuss up and coming trends in the marketplace -- More than 100 designers who worked on a kitchen or bathroom during the last three months of 2010 participate in a survey and reveal the hottest styles for 2011. Here, Stephanie Pritchard, a kitchen and bath designer at Middleburg Design Company in Middleburg, Virginia, weighs in on the biggest kitchen trends of 2011. And don't miss our report on NKBA's 2011 Bathroom Trends.

    2011 kitchen trendsPhoto: NKBA


    2011 Kitchen Trend #1: Dark Finishes
    According to the NKBA, dark finishes overtook medium, natural, glazed and white-painted finishes to become the most specified type of finish toward the end of 2010. "The slow switch to incorporating espresso or ebony stains into kitchen cabinets is definitely on the rise," Pritchard says. The trend, which she says is a reflection of the movement from traditional styles to transitional styles (not quite contemporary, but not traditional), also translates to countertops. "Granite classics like honed Absolute Black, Impala Black and some of the new quartz countertops and leather finishes are gaining momentum," she says. "Incorporating black into your kitchen gives the space a bit of an edge."

    2011 kitchen trendsPhoto: NKBA



    2011 Kitchen Trend #2: LED Lighting
    While the use of halogen lighting is down from 46 to 40 percent over the past year, LED (light-emitting diode) lighting has increased from 47 to 54 percent. "There will be a complete phase out of incandescent lighting within the next 8 to 10 years," Pritchard predicts. "Hopefully they will come up with a better looking energy efficient bulb for the consumer and designers to use that does not look like a corkscrew!"

    2011 kitchen trendsPhoto: NKBA



    2011 Kitchen Trend #3: Smart Trash Location
    Some 89 percent of kitchens designed by NKBA members in the final quarter of 2010 included a trash or recycling pull-out. Trash compactors have also become more common. Entering 2010, they were used by 11 percent of designers, but a year later that figure had climbed to 18 percent. "I'm now incorporating recycling bins and multiple built-in trash bins in one kitchen," Pritchard says. "I can't remember the last time that I didn't use a built-in trash unit of some kind in the kitchen."


    To see the full story, click here.

    For more kitchen makeover ideas, don't miss:
    Kitchen Remodel Ideas for Every Budget
    Makeover Inspiration: Color in the Kitchen
    My Birthday Wish: A Kitchen Makeover

     

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    A teenager's room doesn't have to be covered in posters and overflowing hampers -- here's how to make it one of the most stylish rooms in the house.

    Any parent (and yes, teen) knows that teenager's rooms need to be versatile enough for studying, hanging out and getting ready for school in the morning -- quickly. While your teen might have a hard time deciding on a decorating theme (and keeping the place clean), these ideas help out. Get storage tips, organizing ideas and fun ways to decorate walls.

    Decorative bins are a great option because they are roomy and can store just about anything. When not in use, they collapse to take up barely any space. The lamp featured in this video is another great option. It can be personalized to fit any teenager's style. See these items and more in this video:


    Maximize the chances of your teen staying neat -- really! -- with these organizing tips. Hint: add a hamper and hope for the best!


    We love the super creative idea in this video. Add abstract stripes to any wall using tape! Your teen can even do this on his or her own and will love the instant blast of design. It's a big change with less effort than painting the whole room. Learn how easy here:


    Looking for something for younger kids? We've gotBest Wallpaper Patterns for Kids Rooms,Kid-Friendly Coffee Tables and everything you need for decorating kids' rooms.

     

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  • 03/09/11--03:55: Man Cave in the City
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    After initial skepticism, our writer came to love -- and need -- her husband's man cave. Even if it is a bit unconventional. And yes, outside their home...

    What happens when the last single guy in your group and the host of your decade-long poker tradition gets hitched? If you're my husband and 16 of his friends, you fork over some cash and rent yourselves a shared man cave.

    The author's husband's shared "man cave" in all its tray table-and-leather glory. Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Cohen.


    The space, which they've dubbed "The Clubhouse," is a studio apartment they rent in a small walk up building just a few blocks from our house in Manhattan. Yes, that's right: They all chip in to rent a man cave!

    And what happens in The Clubhouse? Well, they play poker, they watch sports, they eat disgusting amounts of junk food, they chug growlers, smoke cigarettes. They probably have farting contests for all I know.

    Honestly, I couldn't care less what my husband does there -- because I need that man cave as much as he does.

    nicole cohen apartment man caveBy contrast, the author's apartment. Can you believe anyone leaves this place to hang out in a man cave? Photo: Emily Anderson for Rue Magazine.


    When we first got married I hated Monday night poker with the fire of a thousand suns. My new husband came home stinking of cigarettes (yuck!), and worse, I missed him. But boy, did I wise up fast. Within six months I realized that Monday night poker -- and his male-bonding time in general -- was key to the success of our marriage. Not only did it make him so happy, but after weekends of 24/7 togetherness, Monday evening was the perfect time for us both to take a break and regroup.

    Now, I think I need poker night more than he does.

    Flatscreen TV? Check. Poker table? Check. Photos: Courtesy of Nicole Cohen.


    A night for me to sit on the couch and watch trashy TV without anyone telling me how "Gossip Girl" is rotting my brain? Yes, please! I also take the opportunity to order in all the yummy vegetarian food my husband hates. Monday nights have become my night off, too: No cooking required, no dinner plans, no compromising on TV shows... it's awesome.

    And all the wives agree. We sometimes use poker night to see sappy romantic comedies or grab dinner, but mostly, we just chill at home. Most of us are either stay-at-home moms or work from home so we often get a chance to get together during the day, but without poker night the only time my husband would see his friends is with me at his side at parties and dinners.

    So when my husband's 10-year-strong poker tradition was in danger of folding, all the husbands and wives were in a tizzy. Considering that we all live in normal-sized Manhattan apartments (a.k.a. small ones!), a creative solution had to be found.

    None of the wives would ever dream of allowing Monday night poker/football anywhere near our apartments. Why? 17 men in one apartment with a sleeping toddler in the next room? Not going to happen.

    Their solution? The clubhouse.

    man caveColorful throw pillows add some flair -- plain white tables get the job done. Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Cohen.


    I don't know who came up with this idea, or how they actually made it happen, but The Clubhouse (a.k.a. man cave) is a centrally located studio apartment that all the guys co-rent by chipping in roughly the cost of a NYC gym membership. This includes once-a-week maid service, cable and Wi-fi. The clubhouse is furnished with discarded bachelor furniture: gigantic leather sectionals, a poker table, and various pieces of cheap furniture. By chance, it has exposed-brick walls. Nice touch, right?

    Although poker night is its biggest draw, some of the guys show up for different sporting events throughout the week, like football on Sunday or random Knicks games. They each have their own number keys, and refer to each other by number.

    At first the wives had really mixed reactions to it, including me. It just felt really strange and wrong. A clubhouse? A separate, rented apartment that has rules including "No Girls Allowed"? Something just felt really off about this. What if the men bring other women there? The fact that they told us, "there's no bed at the clubhouse," actually made me worry more. As if any of us are foolish enough to think you need a bed to have an affair.

    But then I realized: you also don't need a clubhouse either, do you? Not to mention one that's within three blocks of your wife, kids and everyone else you know. Oh yeah, and 17 of your friends have keys!

    man caveThe writer's bedroom and dining room. Much more comfortable than the man cave. Photo: Emily Anderson for Rue Magazine.


    Some people have asked us wives: Why should the men have all the fun, don't the chicks want a clubhouse, too?

    The answer: No, we don't. Since we aren't revolting pigs, we can actually use our own apartments for socializing with other women. I host "Real Housewives" -- watching marathons, book clubs and dinner parties at my apartment all the time. Only now my husband has somewhere to escape to when I have 10 girls in my living room discussing Camille and Kelsey Grammer's divorce.

    Suburban men build man caves in their basements or garages and that's pretty much not an option in Manhattan, but by sharing the costs, our husbands were able to keep their mantime alive.

    How would you feel about your husband taking up a clubhouse outside the home? Would you want one yourself? Weigh in on our Facebook page!

    Nicole Cohen is an artist and writer in New York City. She blogs at Sketch42 and sells her artwork on Etsy.

    Here are some other great man cave stories on ShelterPop:
    Ultimate Man Caves
    Man Cave Makeovers: Forget Those Black Leather Sofas!


    Want to know how to build your own man cave? Check out this video:

     

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    In a struggling economy, kids of all ages (and their children) are living at home with their parents. And the meaning of home just got a little more complicated.

    As Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently announced on their cover: "The Kids are Not Alright."

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people 20 to 24 years old are unemployed compared to those over 25. Add to that the sudden disappearance of many a retirement plan of older kids, and it's easy to see why more and more people are choosing to live with their parents again. Even mid-life grown ups are living at home with their parents -- people with jobs and kids and their own grown up life. In this economy, it just makes sense to pool family resources.

    living at homeKen Wramton, Getty Images


    "It is a challenging and sometimes insurmountable situation for both the adult child and parent(s) alike when one returns 'home,'" says David A Reinstein, a clinical psychologist. "Even the most aware and sensitive parents can stumble into treating their adult child as though they were still just an older child. On the other side, it is often difficult for adult children to accept and live with the reality that they are now living in someone else's home and must abide by the expectations there."

    Sometimes families mesh together perfectly.

    Linda Frey had been married for almost ten years and had a six month old daughter when they sold their home and moved in with her parents while they looked for a house. "The good part was that mom cooked, did the laundry, and took care of my daughter," she says. "It felt like I was on vacation for a bit. We had put all our things in storage and basically moved in with just the clothes on our back."


    Frey's husband and her father both worked nights, so she and her mom were home together at night. "I think my mom liked it because she had company," she says. "My parents were very generous; they gave us room and board for free, but my husband and I were not comfortable with this so we made up for it later by buying them a three season porch for their home."

    When they moved out, in the middle of a hot, humid summer, it was tough because Frey had to resume all the household duties and they didn't have any air conditioning in the new place. "Believe me, at first, when we moved out, I really missed living with my mommy," she says. "We had become close and that was a great experience because when I was a child we were like oil and vinegar."

    Of course, her parents went through a bit of separation anxiety too. "The daily walks and interactions with their grand daughter and us had given them a lot of happiness and all of a sudden we were gone. But we got through it and all is great today."

    Sometimes children move in with their parents at the parent's request. "My dad had had a triple bypass, he was diabetic, and taking care of his wheelchair bound girlfriend," says Bob Balbi. "He was exhausted and physically incapable of handling everything that needed to be done with health care and managing a house. Then his girlfriend ended up in a nursing home and while he was taking care of her, he fell and broke his hip. He asked us to move in with him, and we ended up taking care of him."

    The rough spots were frequent, particularly because of the generation gaps. "We had raised our daughter to speak up for herself, and my father wasn't used to that," says Balbi. "He was strict [with her] and in some ways it was very stressful."

    Balbi's father later passed on from prostate cancer. "It was really tough on all of us because we had chosen to take care of him at home," he says. "The V.N.A. (visiting nurse's association) helped us to better understand cancer and the stages of the disease."

    But in retrospect, Balbi wouldn't have had it any other way. "Although it was a sad experience, it was also a great experience. I was glad to be able to give my dad comfort and peace of mind in his final days. We were lucky, not everyone is."

    "Moving back home with the 'rents' has its good and bad qualities," says Cassandra Gutkowski. She moved out to live with a roommate when she was 21, but it didn't work out. "Then I moved in with another friend, who became my boyfriend, and things were good for a while. I really enjoyed being responsible for myself and having a place that I could call home. But then things fell apart." Instead of trying to look for another roomate, Gutkowski decided that it would be cheaper to move home so that she could save money to buy her own home.

    On the positive side, Gutkowski is closer to work and there is less of a commute. She also benefits from coming home to home-cooked meals a lot of the time and she's enjoying spending time with the cat she had to leave at home when she moved out. "I am also closer to the friends that I grew up with and have re-kindled some of my old friendships," she says.

    Privacy, of course, is an issue. "Even though I am close to my mom and step-dad, the house is a busy one with people coming and going all the time, and the phone never stops ringing," she says. "I also feel like I have to check in with my parents to let them know where I am going and what I am doing."

    And even though she hoped to save money, she finds she's spending more. "It's kind of funny because I thought I would be saving more money than I am, but I end up going out a lot more than I did in the old apartment."

    For more great ShelterPop stories, don't miss:
    Decorating With Blue and White Dishes
    Celebrity Decorator Kevin Haley's Hollywood Hideout

    Need some decorating ideas for a temporary home. Check out this video on wall decals.


     

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