Surviving the First Holiday Gathering At Your New House

You’ve survived the big move and settled into this new place you call home. You held an intimate housewarming party, and have happily hosted a few guests in the weeks since you moved in.

But the holidays are a different animal.

Between the cooking, the cleaning, and the careful juggling of your wonderful family’s whims, hosting a holiday party can be a challenge – especially when it’s your first time hosting at a brand new house.

But while it may be unfamiliar territory to you, you’re not alone. Here are some tips from hardened holiday hosts to help you survive the first big gathering at your new house.

Plan Meals in Advance

Food preparation is one of the biggest sources of holiday hosting stress. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to  avoid. Just do some good, old-fashioned meal prep!

Decide what you’re cooking at least a week before the main event (now is a good time to find out if any of your guests have allergies). If you want to try a new recipe, it’s best to give it a test-run beforehand – you never know if a dish needs to cook for just a few minutes more or a few minutes less.

Since it’s your first time hosting, you should keep the meal relatively streamlined, with a simple starter, a few sides, and a classic entree you already know how to make. Your guests will likely be thrilled to contribute their favourite home-made desserts.

Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to do your grocery shopping for the big day, because the grocery stores will be picked over by then. Buy everything a few days beforehand.

Help Your Guests Stay Mess-Free

No one likes to leave crumbs on the coffee table. Most people do their best to keep tidy and clean when they’re visiting someone else’s home. But at the same time, if your guests are anything like me, they won’t want to bother you with questions like, “Where are the coasters?”, or, “Which one’s the garbage and which is the recycling?”

To minimize clean-up and make life easier for your guests, do what you can to address these things in advance.

If you’re putting out a bowl of munchies, throw a pile of napkins next to it. If your garbage isn’t straightforward or easy to find, make a sign. Put out coasters before people arrive. And make sure to stock the bathroom with extra toilet paper!

Leave Time for Last-Minute Changes

Maybe you forgot to pick up whipped cream. Perhaps you realized you’d neglected to clean that little nook behind the fridge. Or, in a worst case scenario, you suddenly recalled that one of your relatives is deathly allergic to the principal ingredient in your pecan pie.

Point is, when you’re planning a big holiday gathering, there are always little things that come up the night before (or the morning of) the action. It’s important to give yourself some time allowance to take care of those unexpected tasks.

In other words, plan to get everything done at least a few hours before everyone arrives. Those few extra hours could become precious!

Decorating Tips for Those Awkward Spaces in Your Home

Decorating awkward spaces

We all have one.

The space under the stairs, the unexpected enclave, the once-stylish corner fireplace that looms over your living room. We don’t love these spaces, but there’s not much we can do to change them without some serious renovation.

So what are you to do? Leaving these awkward spaces bare only makes them more conspicuous, but decorating them can be tricky.

If the space isn’t cutting it, it’s time to try something different. Give your quirky spaces some love with these home design tips.

1. Start Fresh

When you’ve seen a space through the same lens for a long time, even the most creative designers can have a hard time thinking outside the box. This is true for awkward nooks and crannies as well. After a while, it can be hard to imagine the space as anything but awkward.

To start, take out any existing furniture in the space. Leave it be for a few days; then, return with fresh eyes. You might notice something you didn’t before.

If you’re still stuck, try bringing in a friend! A different perspective can help spark new ideas.

2. Go Green

In addition to being healthy and adorable, houseplants are one of the most versatile tools in the home designer’s kit. Plants can bring new life to just about any space, no matter how small or slanted.  Pick out a few of your favourites and try them in your problem space; you might find they make that dark corner or unwanted enclave a bit more inviting.

3. Add Storage

The good thing about having space in your home you don’t know what to do with? You have space! Take advantage of it by adding storage solutions that reduce clutter in other areas of your home. Odd spaces, like tiny entryways and areas under staircases, are a great candidate for custom cabinetry.

4. Cozy It Up

It’s awfully small…but some would call it ‘cozy.’ This is a go-to solution for many of the weird little areas you just aren’t sure what to do with. Take advantage of the low ceiling and cramped quarters by turning it into a cozy, relaxing place to escape. Find a daybed or a chaise that fits right into the nook, add plants and cushions, and enjoy your brand-new reading/texting nook.

 

5. Make It Stand Out

If you can’t find a way to make an enclave fit in with the rest of the room, it could be that the space isn’t meant to fit in. Awkward spaces can look spot-on with an accent wall, an antique table, and a collection of unique items you don’t have another place for in the home.

 

5 Home Tips for Decorating with Rugs

Hardwood flooring is not without its shortcomings. For one, hardwood floors can get cold, especially when you’re stepping out of bed on a frosty December morning. The uniformity that makes hardwood great for open-concept floor plans can also make it tough to define different parts of a space. And sometimes, you’d just like a softer touch on your toes.

That’s the beauty of decorating with rugs. Easily swap-able and endlessly varied, rugs are a simple way to add interest and comfort to an otherwise flat area.

Here are some quick tips for decorating your home with a new rug:

1. Be Bold

It’s temping to play it safe when it comes to rugs, in no small part because they tend to be a pricey. But where’s the fun in that? Rugs are an opportunity to introduce striking colours and patterns without overwhelming the space. Pick a colour that complements the furniture and wall colour, and be creative with the shape and design.

2. Be Choosy With Materials

Beyond design sensibilities, it’s important to consider how the material of a rug will play in your home. Soft, plushy materials aren’t well-suited to high traffic areas like entryways, but jute would hold up well. Fur rugs are a no-no where they’re liable to be exposed to spills or other messes. On the other hand, a rough sisal rug isn’t preferable in a cozy space like a bedroom.

3. Size Matters

When it comes to rugs, in most cases, bigger is better. To create a comfortable space, the rug should easily cover all the main pieces of the space. Make sure the front legs of chairs and couches are on the rug, or it will make the space feel cramped.

If you can’t afford a large enough rug to cover the area, consider placing two smaller rugs instead of cramming everything onto too small a piece.

4. Combine Pieces

With an open floor plan, you’ll often need more than one rug to break the space into different ‘zones’. Decorating with multiple rugs in the same room can be tricky, but it’s definitely doable. Choose rugs with complementary styles, and when it doubt, stick with one colour palette.

5. Be Careful When Buying Secondhand

Rugs are expensive, so you can save a lot of money buying secondhand. However, it’s important to look beyond the surface when buying a secondhand rug. Don’t just inspect the top – flip it over and check the back for stains and water spots. Give it a sniff (some smells, like cigarette smoke, will never come out.) You should also consider having the rug treated for bedbugs to avoid bringing these nasty creatures into your home.

Save Energy in the Kitchen Without Buying New Appliances

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Typically, I cook three meals a day, only occasionally eating out at bars and restaurants. This saves tons of money, but it also means cooking is a big part of my electricity bill.

If you want to save energy in the kitchen, the most significant step you can take is investing in high-end appliances certified by Energy Star. Unfortunately, that’s an investment not everyone can afford to make. These are some free and simple ways to cut your electricity consumption in the kitchen without buying brand-new appliances.

Refrigerator

Is your refrigerator running? Then you’d better make sure it’s running efficiently! Since they’re on 24/7, fridges use a lot of electricity. There’s no use switching it off for a few hours a day, since it usually takes more energy to start back up than it does to idle (also, it’s pretty precarious in terms of food safety). Instead, try these tips:

  • Set the fridge temperature to between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius and the freezer to -18. Your food isn’t any safer at cooler temperatures, and this will cut the electricity it takes to keep it cool.
  • Don’t put your fridge right up against the wall. You need to leave space around the back to let air circulate. Pressing it too close to the wall will lead to a clogged vent and fan.
  • Turn off the fridge and clean the vent and fan at least two to three times a year. The less dust and debris, the better your fridge will run.
  • Keep the fridge and freezer well-stocked. Things stay colder when they’re close to other cold items. If you don’t keep much food in there, consider adding bags of ice in between food items to help them stay at the right temperature.
  • Don’t put hot food in the fridge. Let it cool a bit before it goes in so it doesn’t warm up the air inside.
  • Defrost your freezer periodically and leave about 5cm of space around the walls to allow for air circulation.

Stove/Oven

Electric ovens can be energy hogs. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce their impact on your energy bill:

  • Cook with a smaller appliance when you can. Microwaves, slow cookers, and convection ovens all use less electricity than a standard oven.
  • Clean the oven at least once a month. This will help it heat up faster and run more efficiently.
  • When cooking on the stove top, select a pan that matches the size of a burner. If you use a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner, you’ll waste over 40% of the heat.
  • Do your cooking prep (washing and cutting vegetables, seasoning meat, etc.) before you turn on the oven.
  • Cook larger portions, or even multiple meals, at once. Store the leftovers for later. It takes less energy to cook a lot of food and reheat the leftovers than it does to cook multiple meals at different times.

Dishwasher

True or false: washing dishes by hand uses less water than running the dishwasher. Turns out it’s false! Most modern, energy-efficient washers can get the job done with less water than most people can by hand. Of course, they do use electricity, but you can reduce that amount:

  • Only wash when the dishwasher is full. Washing large amounts of dishes and cutlery doesn’t use any more water than a small load, and it uses less electricity than multiple uses.
  • Instead of running the dry cycle, remove the dishes once the wash cycle is over and let them air-dry in a drying rack.

 

5 Inexpensive Ways to Update an Old Couch – No Sewing Required

The couch is the centerpiece of the living room. Even if you don’t spent much time lounging around, the couch still has a big impact on the overall look and feel of the space.

Unfortunately, couches are expensive. Buying a new couch isn’t always an option, and most people don’t have the skills to re-upholster one themselves. Fortunately, the internet has answers! Give your old couch a fresh look with one of these no-sew DIY projects

1. Fabric Paint

Normally, paint and upholstery aren’t a good mix. But there are kinds of paint specially designed to adhere to fabric, and painting an old couch can completely transform its look.

You have three main choices for paint: fabric paint, chalk paint, or latex paint mixed with a fabric textile medium. Most of the above are available at large craft stores. It’s best to choose a matte paint (unless you want a shiny, faux-leather look).

Simply spray the sofa with a bit of water, let it soak in, and start painting! Paint with the grain of the fabric. You’ll likely need at least two coats of paint.

As long as you use the right kind of paint, the fabric shouldn’t become hard and crunchy. However, it may not be as soft as it was before. People often compare it to outdoor canvas or soft leather.

2. No-Sew Slipcover

Slipcovers have been around for a while, but they’re still a great solution if you just can’t stand the colour of your old couch. You can buy slipcovers at a home design store, but they can run up to a few hundred dollars. Instead, you can turn a large sheet of fabric, like a drop cloth, into a slipcover with little effort.

This tutorial uses an ordinary painter’s drop cloth to create a clean and refreshing appearance.

3. Nail head Trim

Leather and fabric couches often use decorative nail heads to help hold the upholstery in place. You can replicate this elegant look by adding nails to an old couch.

You have the choice of doing this the old-fashioned way, with a hammer and nails, or purchasing strips of decorative trim at a craft store.

4. New Legs

Couch skirts have (thankfully) gone out of style. Now, we like to show some leg. So why do most couches come with boring, rounded wooden legs? Swap them out for something more interesting, like a squared, tapered, or metal leg, to spice things up. Here’s a quick tutorial on replacing legs on a couch.

5. Accessoize

The simplest way to give an old couch new life is to add throw pillows or blankets. A splash of colour can change the whole look of a couch in seconds. Choose a constrasting colour that works well as an accent in the room.

You can mix and match different shapes and patterns so long as the accessories incorporate the accent colour.

5 Steps to a Rabbit-Proof Home

Rabbits are fragile animals. These steps will help make your home safer for them.

What makes a house into a home? For me, it’s not so much about the rooms or décor or the neighbourhood — it’s who you share it all with. And pets are as much a part of that equation as people.

I love just about all animals, from dogs and cats to fish and reptiles. But there’s a special place in my heart for rabbits. They’re funny and affectionate like dogs, self-sufficient like cats, and quieter than both. Plus, there’s nothing like waking up to a bunny nuzzling your chin.

So I do everything I can to make my space as safe as possible for my rabbit. Here are the basic steps in making your home rabbit-proof.

1. Protect Wires and Cords

Rabbits have a natural urge to chew things. Sometimes, they exercise this instinct on objects you’d rather keep unchewed, like books, furniture, and rugs. Just about anything you leave on the floor could become a bunny’s chew toy (in fact, I think that’s one of the benefits of having a rabbit: it forces you to keep your floors tidy!)

One of their favourite targets seems to be power cords. No one’s sure why — some theorize that cords look like tasty roots to a rabbit, but that sounds far-fetched to me. Regardless, you don’t want your rabbit destroying your expensive electronics and potentially hurting themselves by chewing through a live wire.

Since most power outlets are located near the floor, you can’t always keep cords out of the rabbit’s reach. You can block the outlets with furniture, but that’s not always feasible, since it also blocks your access to them. A better solution is to wrap your cords in plastic cord protectors, which you can find at most electronic supply stores.

2. Block Access to Stairs

Stairs pose a serious danger to rabbits. Some rabbits can navigate up and down the stairs without issue, but it’s hardly worth the risk. Rabbits are fragile animals, and they can easily injure their back or legs if they fall even a short distance.

If your rabbit has access to a room with stairs, you should block access with a plastic or wooden baby gate. This is an inconvenience, so it may be better to keep the rabbit out of that room altogether.

3. Add Rugs to Slippery Floors

Rabbits have a difficult time walking on hardwood, vinyl, and tile floors. Some will avoid these surfaces completely. Others will tread carefully, but they’re still at risk of slipping and falling, creating the potential for injury.

If you want your rabbit to spend time in a room that has slippery floors, add an area rug for traction. Conversely, you can remove the rug if you want to keep the rabbit out of the room

4. Put House Plants Out of Reach

Rabbits love munching on greens, and they’re liable to take a bite out of any plants left within reach. However, many house plants are poisonous to rabbits. Rather than take the chance, it’s best to keep all your house plants on high shelves or the rabbit can’t get to.

5. Keep Dogs and Cats Away

Yes, it’s possible for rabbits to live in harmony with dogs and cats. There are plenty of adorable videos on Youtube showing bunnies playing with big, friendly dogs and napping next to sleepy cats.

But this is by no means the norm. Rabbits are prey animals; cats and dogs are predators. Dogs have an instinct to chase, and cats play rougher than what is safe for rabbits.

This is a bit of a controversial subject in the world of rabbit owners. Some insist that it’s possible to ‘bond’ cats and dogs to rabbits the same way you could bond them to their own species. Others believe it’s never worth the risk, as a dog (and to a lesser extent a cat) could seriously injure or kill a rabbit in seconds.

If you have your heart set on keeping your pets together, always follow the steps in House Rabbit Society’s guides to bonding rabbits to dogs or cats. In the meantime, you must keep them separate, especially while the rabbit is still adjusting to its new surroundings.

How to Make a Small Kitchen Feel Bigger

You can use light and colour to give your small kitchen the illusion of space.

It’s said that the kitchen is the ‘heart’ of every home. I think of it more as our home base. We go there to eat, cook, and prepare food, obviously. But we also gather in the kitchen to read, work, talk family business, and drop off ‘found’ items (if you find something out of place somewhere in the house, it usually ends up in the kitchen).

Point is, everyone agrees the kitchen is an important, multi-functional space. So why are some of them so small?

I’ve toured houses where the kitchen is most generously described as a ‘nook’. It’s especially bad in some century homes, built back when people preferred lots of tiny rooms instead of a few big ones. If that’s the heart of your home, you’d better take it easy, or the whole place might collapse.

Having lived in an apartment or two, I know what it’s like to deal with small kitchens. Here are some tips to help make it work.

Use Colour and Light

You can’t always make your kitchen bigger, but you can create the illusion of space through careful use of light and colour.

Natural light always makes a space feel larger. If you have a window in your kitchen, don’t cover it with blinds or curtains; embrace that light and let it shine. Use generous amounts of task lighting and ambient light to make up for it at night.

Colour is another important factor in the feel of your kitchen. While dark colours don’t always make a space feel small, it’s tricky to get the balance right when it comes to petite rooms, so it’s best to choose lighter shades for your walls and cabinets. Streamline your colour palette to a few basic colours and use it consistently throughout the kitchen for a unified design.

Decorate Lightly

It’s easy to make a small kitchen feel cluttered. When it comes to decorating, use a light touch, paring down your collection to a few favourite items. Be sure to leave some free space on the walls for balance.

Switch to Small Appliances

Appliances inevitably occupy quite a bit of real estate in your kitchen. However, unless you’re cooking for lots of people every night, you don’t really need full-sized appliances. There are lots of alternatives out there for people living in dorms and other small spaces. Singles, couples, and small families can make due with a miniature fridge, dishwasher, and oven.

To maximize the use of what little room you have, you should put away any appliances you don’t use every day. Designate a specific cabinet as your “appliance garage” and use it to store blenders, rice cookers, and other specialty items.

Get Smart with Storage

Getting organized is the best thing you can do for a small kitchen. The Internet is full of clever, do-it-yourself solutions for kitchen storage, from extra shelves to hanging pans. If you aren’t the hands-on kind of person, try using a wire shelving unit – it’s not much to look at when it’s empty, but plenty of designers have used them as part of a beautiful kitchen.

 

Tips for Closing Your Cottage for the Winter

Make sure your cottage is ready for those long winter months so you can enjoy it next spring.

With the summer winding down, it’s almost time to say good-bye to the cottage until next spring. Sad though the parting may be, you can’t just up and leave your place for the winter. Taking care of these tasks now will make your next cottage opening go smoother.

Shut Down the Water System

With the winter comes freezing temperatures. If you don’t properly shut down the plumbing system, you run the risk of water freezing in the pipes, causing them to burst.

First, shut off the main water supply and drain the pipes completely. You should also cut water to your water heater and drain it as well. Then, turn on a faucet to make sure the job is done.

There will always be traces of water left in the pipes, so it’s worth wrapping them in insulation to reduce the chance of freezing. You can buy premade insulation tubes at the hardware store which require no cutting or gluing to install. Put these on any pipes that run through a ‘cold zone’ in your cottage, like an uninsulated crawlspace or garage.

Remove Any Leftover Food

You don’t want to leave anything tasty in your cottage over the winter, as even canned goods can attract wildlife. Give your fridge and cupboards a good clean, leaving the doors open to air them out.

Turn Off / Set Your Heating System for Winter

Should you shut down your cottage’s heating system during the winter? That’s up to you. It can be very expensive to keep it running all winter long, especially up north. But keeping the heat on at a low temperature (around 10 degrees) will help minimize the potential for damage from ice and snow, such as pipes bursting, frost build-up, and roof damage. Ultimately, you should decide whether this precaution is worth the added energy costs.

Close the Gaps

When the temperature drops, your local wildlife will be looking for a warm place to stay. Make sure your cottage isn’t it! Seal up any holes in the foundation that could invite critters in. If you have a fireplace, but sure to close the chimney cap or cover. You can also leave mothballs around the perimeter of your cottage to discourage mice and other critters from entering.

Unplug Major Appliances

Some people shut off power to their cottage at the fuse box, but Mike Holmes advises against this, since that’ll shut down the sump pump and leave your basement susceptible to flooding. Instead, unplug your major appliances individually or turn the power off to these appliances at the electrical panel.

Check the Roof

The roof is one of the most important areas of your cottage to check before winter, since it’ll have to stand up to the weight of the snow and ice. You want to make sure it’s secure to prevent it from buckling or caving in. Inspect for damaged shingles, and trim any over-hanging or dead tree branches that could snap off and fall onto the roof.

You should also take time to clean the gutters. Leaving them full of debris all winter means they’ll block water from draining, which can accumulate in an “ice dam” that packs more snow onto the roof. Wait until all the leaves have fallen and give them one final clean before you leave.

Keeping Your Houseplants Healthy During the Summer

House plants need extra care to survive the steamy summer months.

There’s a lot plants love about the summer. Longer days mean more hours of sunlight for photosynthesis, and many houseplants of the tropical variety thrive in warm, humid air. But some indoor plants need extra care to stay strong and healthy during the summer. Follow these tips to help keep your indoor garden looking great when the temperature rises.

Control Pests

Keep an eye out for signs of bugs infesting your houseplants. Pests can strike at any time of year, but indoor plants tend to be more susceptible in the summertime. If they’re already struggling in the harsh weather, a pest problem could spell doom for your poor plants. Be sure to separate any infested plants from the others and take steps to it.

Water Consistently

Since the days are longer, plants need more water to keep growing during the summer. You should water at least once a day to keep the soil from drying out. It helps to water early in the morning to allow time to absorb the water before it evaporates. However, you don’t want to water at night, as leaving it plant wet for too long makes it more susceptible to pests and fungal disease.

Add Mulch

Most people don’t think to use mulch indoors, but it can be a benefit to your houseplants’ health. Adding a small layer of mulch to the top of the soil will help keep it cool and reduce water evaporation.

Keep Plants and Air Conditioning Separate

Your plants may not appreciate that cool breeze and dehumidified air as much as you do. Most houseplants are from tropical climates, so they prefer warm, humid conditions and a stable temperature.

If you only have air conditioning in certain rooms of your house, keep your plants out of those rooms during the summer. You can also keep small plants under glass or in a terrarium to protect them from the effects of air conditioning.

To Fertilize, or Not?

There are two arguments to be made about adding more fertilizer to your plants in the summer. On one hand, plants absorb more sun from June to August, so it’s important they get enough nutrients to stay healthy. Adding an organic fertilizer can help your houseplants bloom and flourish from the added sunlight. However, fertilizer is only effective if the plant has enough water to support the chemicals.

Adding more fertilizer could give your plants that extra boost they need to keep going, but only if you can provide enough water. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to your old fertilizing routine and maintain a consistent watering schedule.

Do You Really Need To Replace Your Old Windows?

New windows can boost curb appeal and energy efficiency, but your money is often better spent on repairs.

Windows are a big deal when it comes to home renovation. They’re considered a high-value upgrade, improving both the curb appeal and energy efficiency of your home. Plus, a new set of windows can also help give you peace and quiet, and even cut the time you spend cleaning.

But windows aren’t cheap. According to Consumer Reports, a full replacement can run you anywhere from $8000 to $24,000, depending on the size of your home and the quality of your new windows. And though they might boost energy efficiency, it can take decades for those cost savings to catch up with the amount you spent on the renovation.

In many cases, fixing your windows is a far better investment than replacing them. But how do you know when to repair and when to replace? It depends on the extent of the damage.

Drafts

When the seal around a window wears down, it causes you to lose heat during the winter and let warm air in during the summer. That bumps up your heating and cooling costs.

If drafts are your only issue, you can usually fix the problem without much trouble. Fill in cracks in the caulking using a caulk gun, sealing the gaps between the window molding and exterior of your house, and around the window trim inside. You can also replace worn-out weatherstripping on the exterior.

Moisture

Drafty windows don’t do much damage, but moisture is another story. Moisture can cause the paint around the window to peel, crate streaks on the walls, and rot the wooden window frame over time.

If you can get to the problem before it damages the frame, you may not have to replace the window. But if the wood is rotting or saturated with moisture, you may need to have it re-installed and re-sealed. Try pushing the end of a flat-blade screwdriver into the frame – if you can push it in easily, there’s water damage.