Author Archives: Debbie Sklar

Debbie Sklar

About Debbie Sklar

Debbie L. Sklar is a seasoned journalist who grew up in Michigan but now resides in Southern California. She writes articles for numerous publications around the country ranging from homes and lifestyles to celebrity interviews. Debbie also spends a good portion of her time trying to figure out how renovate her home without spending a fortune all while keeping her Shih Tzu, Gabby, from getting caught up in the mess.

Top Tips for Adding a Garden Fountain

garden fountain

I don’t meditate and I don’t go for weekly massages to unwind. Years ago, I discovered something much more cost-effective to help me relax: fountains. Even as a condo dweller I enjoy a small two-tier rock fountain that I picked up a few years ago at a home improvement store. There is something soothing, almost magical, about the gentle trickle of water as it pushes out the noise of the world.

If you are considering adding a fountain to your backyard, patio, deck or balcony, consider the following:

Read the rest of this entry »


Viva La Outdoor Fireplace

Installing an Outdoor Fireplace

Photo: fireplacesolution.com

It’s January and, while some of the country is buried in snow, people in more moderate climates are still enjoying the great outdoors (like we are in Southern California). The warm and sunny days still turn into chilly nights, however, making amenities like an outdoor fireplace both desirable and popular.

In fact, a good majority of homes here have some form of outdoor fireplace, from fire pits and Chimineas—Mexican-inspired, freestanding fireplaces made in clay, ceramic, and metal—to more extravagant masonry installations.

Installing an Outdoor Fireplace - Patio

Photo: shutterstock.com

Last summer, my parents decided to jump on the outdoor fireplace bandwagon and had one built. It was my mother who actually designed the “Montana-Dunes” stucco fireplace (pictured above), complete with handpicked “wild horse” stone bricks that she purchased by the pallet from a nearby supplier. It has a tall chimney, stone mantle, and to support logs for burning, it features a grouping of desert-colored fire rocks instead of a standard grate. A large metal Gecko graces the front.

My dad did his part, too, adding outdoor lights around the rim of the mantle. When dusk falls, it’s truly stunning. The soft glow of the fire rocks is reminiscent of sitting in front of a beach fire. The fireplace is definitely the focal point of a backyard that also includes a custom-bricked patio, outdoor kitchen, and swimming pool.

An outdoor fireplace, like the one my folks built, can be pricey (they paid around $5,000); the more extravagant, the more expensive. But anyone interested in adding an outdoor fire feature in their backyard today can do so easily and affordably. Both Chiminea-style fireplaces and fire pits can be found in a variety of styles and designs from $100 on up. The one shown, right, is from Northern Tools + Equipment and is on sale for $79.99.

Regardless of whether you install a masonry outdoor fireplace or a standalone unit, be sure to check with your city and county to find out ordinances, codes, permits, and licenses that may apply. Also be sure to check with your homeowner’s insurance company to see if building one would necessitate changes to your policy.

For more on fireplaces and outdoor living, consider:

Create an Outdoor Dream Kitchen
Planning Guide: Wood Decks
Gas Fireplaces: A Showcase of Design and Innovation


New Knobs Give Cabinets a Lift

Cabinet Knobs and Pulls

Photo: fivetechsoftware.com

One of the easiest ways to update your kitchen or bath cabinets—and add pizzaz—is to swap out the old hardware for new. You will have no problem finding an abundance of designs at retailers, from Home Depot to Restoration Hardware, which fit your style and budget. But, before you fall in love with a new pull, knob or handle, consider the following tips for selecting hardware:

Related: Cabinet Hardware: 10 Styles to Invigorate Your Kitchen

If the plan is to replace existing pull handles with new ones, be sure to measure the distance between holes to make sure the swap requires nothing more than a screwdriver. Better yet, take the old hardware with you when you shop.

Always consider the finish on the hinges when choosing new cabinet knobs and pulls. Decorative pendant pulls in an oil-bronzed finish will not look as “decorative” if paired with chrome hinges.

If you decide to paint unfinished knobs, don’t be afraid to experiment with colors and finishes. For a bright, cheery kitchen or bath, consider a pop of color. For a more subdued look, match the cabinets. Be sure to choose an enamel paint finish for high-traffic wear and tear.

Be sure to take into account fashion and function when shopping for cabinet knobs and pulls and handles. Consider the shape, size, and scale and how the design works for you. The hardware should fit easily in your hands, and the grip should be comfortable.

For more kitchen and bath remodeling, consider:

Planning Your Dream Kitchen
How to Create a Spa Bath at Home
Quick Tip: Budget Smart Bathroom Remodeling


Pegboard: Still a Classic Storage Solution for Today

Pegboard Storage

Photo: Flickr

As a kid growing up, I remember visiting my grandparents’ house and heading straight for granddad’s garage. It was immaculate, had all kinds of fun stuff, and everything was ALWAYS in its place. He didn’t have closets where he could hide everything from A to Z, but he did have Pegboard from floor to ceiling. It was a dull brownish shade and definitely not pretty, but it did serve the purpose of keeping all of his Sears tools organized, visible and always at the ready.

Related: Pegboard Storage: A Classic for All-Time

Although Pegboard—popularized in the 1950s—has taken a back seat to more recent storage/organizing innovations, it is still a clever, simple, and inexpensive way to keep everything from tools to crafts to kitchen cookware and utensils in place.

For some back history: Pegboard—a brand name—is essentially a composition hardboard with an overall grid pattern of pre-drilled holes. The practice of placing a hook in the board, hanging a tool, and tracing an outline with a Magic Marker made it a big hit for homeowners in the 1950s. Of course, America’s love affair with the automobile during the same period may have helped fuel the board’s popularity, according to Kenneth Allender, a Home Depot How-To Community Expert.  ”The American garage needed organization and Pegboard was the answer,” he says.

Lowes Pegboard Organizer Kit

Lowe's 43-piece Pegboard Organizer Kit

Today’s Pegboard is not just for the garage anymore. It now comes in pre-finished colors, in thicknesses of 1/4″ and 1/8″, with a variety of reconfigurable hooks, and even mounting rails for support and framing options. You can even find plastic and metal variations. Best of all, it’s inexpensive.  A standard piece of  4′ x 8′ Pegboard retails for about $40 and you can pick up a 43-piece set of hanging hardware for under $12 at Lowe’s.

I started thinking of all the ways that Pegboard would help me organize my life. My dog’s leash, which I am forever misplacing, would have a permanent place. I could install some shelves to hold old books and magazines.  And, it would definitely help me keep my tools and other items organized in my garage and basement. The more I think about it, I realize that the possibilities are endless. Granddad would be proud!

To see how Pegboard is being used for storage solutions today, check out Pegboard Storage: A Classic for All-Time

For more on storage and organization, consider:

Quick Tip: Garage Storage Solutions
Organize your Home
Easy Laundry Room Storage Solutions


Top Tips for Choosing a Rain Shower Head

I hate my shower! Well, actually, it’s my shower head that I don’t like. Granted, it’s better than the standard fixture that most bathrooms come with, and it does offer a few water pressure options, but really, does anybody ever use more than one setting?

Choosing a Rain Shower Head - Bath Remodel

Photo: DSklar

So I’ve been in the market to buy one of those oversized rain shower heads, but finding the right one can be time-consuming. I liken it to trying to search for a new lipstick shade at a Sephora cosmetics store. Ladies reading this will know very well what I mean.

Related: 10 Dream-Worthy Showers to Give You Bathroom Envy 

Rain shower heads can wash your entire body with a “rainfall effect” from above, as opposed to the more vertical water stream of older models (like the one I currently have). If you’ve ever been to a day spa for a treatment and were escorted to a shower afterward, that’s what a rain shower head looks and feels like. Simply glorious!

I’ve decided that I want something sophisticated and stylish but still within my price point, under $150. I’d like an oil-rubbed bronze unit similar to the one that my mom recently installed in her downstairs powder room. Yes, she still insists on referring to it as “the powder room,” something I’ve never understood since I’ve never seen any powder in there.

Anyway, Mom’s rain shower head was part of the complete bathroom remodel she did a few months back, which included tiling the bathroom walls with earth-toned tumbled Travertine and granite inside the shower. Adding the Travertine has given the bathroom a warm, Tuscan vibe. She also installed a wall-mounted, oil-rubbed bronze rain shower head. It’s the size of a dinner plate, designed by Grohe, and yes, it came with a hefty price tag. However, there are some similar choices that are more appropriate for my wallet.

For example, FaucetDepot.com, Moen, Delta and Price Pfister, all offer wall-mounted oil-rubbed bronze or brushed copper finished rain shower heads for around $130 and under, and they can be found at home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot.

How to Choose a Rain Shower Head - Tuscan Bronze

Photo: faucetdepot.com

By installing a new rain shower head, I can update my bathroom quickly and rather inexpensively. I not only get a new look (goodbye dangling handheld), but I don’t have to look up at that ugly silver shower head in my face—literally.

Further Considerations
Other simple ways to add some zip to an older bathroom’s appearance without spending a fortune may include installing a new towel rack, updating faucets, swapping out light fixtures, or adding a fresh coat of paint.

As soon as I have some free time, that old silver shower head and Waterpik handheld are going to be history. And no, I won’t save the handheld to hook up to my kitchen faucet to wash my dog. She thinks it’s ugly, too.

For more on bathroom remodeling, consider:

How To: Install a Shower Head
How To: Create a Spa Bath at Home
Quick Tip: Budget-Smart Bathroom Remodeling


Beat Those Laundry Room Blues

Laundry Room IdeasIn between my rebellious college days and learning the difference between a Phillips- and flat-head screwdriver, I became my mother.

I’m a “Felix,” not an “Oscar.” I find myself spending more time cleaning than enjoying the great outdoors. But while I do consider myself a neat freak, there are some chores that get under my skin more so than others.

Related: Easy Laundry Room Storage Solutions

I don’t like doing laundry or dusting. I’ve learned the hard way that jeans and white sheets don’t go into the washing machine together. I don’t enjoy having to separate clothes for different cycles or waiting for a load to dry before folding the wash into neat little piles to be sorted later.

All of this came to a head recently while I was hunting for the missing mate to an athletic sock. I wondered how I could possibly re-imagine my laundry room so it wasn’t so, well, laundry room-like. Let’s face it, if you have to do laundry, why not make the best of it? Why can’t the laundry room have a few more bells and whistles than the standard washer-and-dryer duo?

Laundry Room Ideas - Brick

My personal vision would be to make the room fit my lifestyle. To become a place where I would want to spend time in rather than run away from.  I would definitely want to maximize the space with better storage and organization. (Maybe include those metal file lockers I found at a local flea market.) I would paint the walls in a bright shade of yellow, change cabinet hardware, and add some artwork. I would even dust the cobwebs off my stationary bike and move it into the space so I could spin while waiting for the drier to finish.

I’m convinced that even small changes could make my least favorite room one of my favorites.

Laundry Room Ideas - Pool Table

Other ways to update any laundry room:

Add a Sink. If you have space for a sink with running water, you might want to consider installing one. Call a plumber or do it yourself. A sink can be used for a number of household chores besides laundry, including washing floors, the dog, emptying items and more.

Install an Ironing Board. Besides the standard washer, dryer and sink, consider adding a pull-out ironing board. Many ironing boards can be installed inside cabinets, then folded up to save on space.

Install Easy-to-Care for Flooring. Vinyl or tile works well because either can be mopped up quickly after spills and easily cleaned.

For more on laundry room organization, check out our Easy Laundry Room Storage Solutions slideshow.