Author Archives: Jennifer Noonan

About Jennifer Noonan

Jennifer Noonan is a writer (and home improvement lover!) living in Delaware. Check her out on Google +!

The New Homeowner’s Survival Guide

If you've recently taken the home-buying plunge, our survival guide is a must-read that will help you avoid common pitfalls, budget your time and money, and glide smoothly into the joys of owning your own home.

New Homeowner Tips

Photo: shutterstock.com

So you’ve bought your first house—congratulations! You’ve searched for and found a place that you love. You’ve secured a mortgage and successfully dealt with real estate brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, and insurance agents. You’ve learned about closing costs and the volumes of paperwork that must be signed, in triplicate, with a notary public as witness. No doubt, this has been an exciting time for you, and a very busy one. Believe it or not, there’s still more to do! So to help you through it all, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

We hope you’ll take away two essential things from this guide: an awareness of what you can expect in the first year of living in your new home, and some sound advice on being prepared for the most important aspects of being a new homeowner.

MORTGAGE AND INSURANCE LOGISTICS

Homeowner’s Insurance
If you have a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance was probably required for the loan. But it’s smart to reassess your insurance needs within the first six months of owning your home. You may discover you have too much (or too little) coverage. Once the dust has settled, take a critical look at your policy and solicit a second round of quotes from insurers.

Escrow
Most mortgage companies require your taxes and homeowner’s insurance to be escrowed, which means that the mortgage company totals those expenses, then charges you one-twelfth of the sum each month. (Some mortgage companies allow you to opt out of escrow, for a fee.) If you don’t have escrow, remember to budget for your tax and insurance expenses! If you do have escrow, take pains to make sure that the mortgage company is making all payments on your behalf in a timely manner; after all, it’s your house and your credit that are on the line. Also, double-check the accuracy of the estimate made by your lender’s escrow department. If there’s a shortfall, you can expect a bill for the difference at the end of the year. And if that estimate was way off, the bill you receive could be a real whopper.

SET UP YOUR UTILITIES
You’ll need to get all utilities into your name, so make a list and work through it. Call the electric, phone, and gas companies. Contact the county for your sewer and water, if it supplies both. Does the town pick up garbage/recycling, or do you need to contract for that yourself? If you want Internet and broader TV service than an antenna will get you, research your options and start calling for the best bargain. With all the digital entertainment options available, you may decide to cut the cord on cable.

Triple-Check Your Billing Address
Make extra sure each service provider has your contact information recorded correctly—down to the last digit of your zip code. If you don’t receive bills due to some administrative error, you may come home to find your water turned off.

Get on Utility Provider Budget Plans
With so many new variables, the first year in a new house is usually challenging financially. Get on budget plans where you can. Many utility providers will estimate your use for the year, and then break your bills into 12 equal payments. This reduces fluctuations in your charges throughout the year, which can be helpful. Money can feel extra tight after the big move.

New Homeowner Tips - Bills

Photo: shutterstock.com

PREPPING THE HOUSE… OR NOT
Some work is more easily done before you get all your stuff in the house. If timing and budget allow, consider doing painting or floor refinishing before your move-in date. Do you need help with cleaning? If you want professional help with anything, bundle that into your move-in budget.

Don’t fret if there’s no money left for these things right away. Sometimes it’s better to live in a house awhile before deciding on paint colors, carpeting, or a new kitchen backsplash. A home is a work in progress, and it takes time to get the feel for a new place. Doing too much at once can be overwhelming and can kill the joy of the experience. Feel free to take a slow approach and live in your house as is for six months to a year or more. Who knows—you might just grow to love that vintage 1950s tile in the bathroom and use it as the inspiration for your interior design.

New Homeowner Tips - Moving

Photo: shutterstock.com

MOVING IN!

Change the Locks
You can throw out the keys got at the closing—right after you change the locks! You have no idea who has copies of those keys, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, before you do anything else, call a locksmith or do it yourself—just do it.

Set Up the Move
Will you hire someone or do it yourself? If you’re hiring movers, get as many references as you can and at least three quotes. Make sure anyone you consider has insurance. If you’re doing it yourself, reserve your truck. Get one that’s slightly bigger—and reserve it for slightly longer—than you think you’ll need. That’s one place you can reduce stress.

Related:  Moving 101—10 Ways to Make the Best of Any Move

Pack
If you’re packing your own boxes, pack them room by room, and label them very clearly, so they can be taken immediately to the right place after being unloaded. Make some quick signs for each room that correspond to the box labels. If you organize your move effectively, with any luck, you’ll be able to park in the garage by the end of the week.

Unpack
Set manageable goals for yourself. You probably have several wonderful years, if not decades, to enjoy your new home, so you don’t need to finish unpacking in one day. Decide how many boxes you’ll unpack each day—one or two is completely acceptable—and stick to that number. If you’ve unpacked them and still have energy, turn your focus to another task, like hanging window treatments or shopping for drawer organizers.

GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOUR SYSTEMS

Service Checks
Plan to have a service check on your HVAC, hot water heater, fireplace, and/or chimney, and any major appliances that require it. Check any filters, and replace if necessary. In short, evaluate all of your home systems.

Labeling
Go through all the breakers in your electrical box and label them. Label the incoming and outgoing pipes, as well as the shut-off valves, for your water and sewer service. Taking a little bit of time now will make it much easier to diagnose and fix any problems that may arise in the future.

New Homeowner Tips - Gardening

Photo: shutterstock.com

GET THE LAY OF THE LAND

Equipment
If you have a lawn, you’ll need to purchase some lawn-care equipment or hire a landscaping service. Start researching lawn mowers and learn how to use a string trimmer. If you don’t have them already, acquire a rake, shovel, and some pruning tools, at the very least. If you decide to fertilize your lawn, you’ll want to purchase a spreader or hire someone for the job. Your new neighbors should have good references.

Related: Ultimate Lawn Care Guide—12 Steps to a Prize-Winning Yard

Utility Location
Before you start any new landscaping, call a utility location service to come mark where all your services are in the yard. You do NOT want to break a water main or cut off your electricity while you’re planting a tree or installing a fence. It’s worth making yourself a map to keep on file for reference in the future.

Yes, moving into your first home is a lot of work. But you’ll reap so many rewards—you’re building equity, lightening your tax load, and establishing roots in a community. With any luck, some of those new neighbors will become lifelong friends. Congrats, again, on your new home!


5 Things to Do with… Bricks

Expanses of sturdy, beautiful brick enhance walkways, decks, and houses. But even if you have just a few bricks on hand, there's plenty you can do.

For thousands of years, people have made bricks and used them to build structures of all kinds. Even today, with so many materials at our disposal, we continue to prize brick, not only for its strength and durability, but also for its undeniable aesthetic charm. Newly fired bricks sell quickly, which is one reason that the market for reclaimed brick has gotten bigger, especially in recent years. With a large enough supply of bricks, you can build a walkway, fire pit, or patio. But you don’t need dozens and dozens; there are plenty of uses for bricks in single-digit quantities. Scroll down to see five of our favorites from around the Web.

 

1. CREATE BOOKENDS

Uses for Bricks - Bookends

Photo: theeffortlesschic.com

One of the many DIY uses for bricks is to make bookends for your fireplace mantel or home office. Spray-paint the bricks in a single color or in a combination of your favorite complementary hues. To render your creation unique, why not add an ornament (like the children’s toys used here) by means of hot glue?

 

2. FASHION A PLANTER

Uses for Bricks - Planter

Photo: prsarahevans.com

What do you get when you bore an inch-deep hole into an ordinary brick? An extraordinary planter, perfect for a small succulent. (If greenery doesn’t excite you, that same hole can become a sturdy, offbeat holder for tea lights.) At your next outdoor party, make this mini planter (or maxi tea-light holder) your table centerpiece, or place it on a deck rail as a conversation-starting accent.

 

3. BUILD A BOOKSHELF

Uses for Bricks - Bookcase

Photo: flickr.com

Of all the many uses for bricks, this one ranks as a classic, even among non-DIYers: Combine a stack of bricks with a few wooden boards, and your near-instant result is an almost infinitely adjustable bookcase. Paint the bricks and boards to match, or use several colors that work together, or leave them unfinished for a rustic look.

 

4. DIY A DOORSTOP

Uses for Bricks - Doorstop

Photo: eichler-blog.com

It worked for your grandmother, so it should work for you too, right? Grab some leftover fabric (or even some old clothing) and take 10 minutes to loosely stitch a cozy around that brick you’ve been using as a doorstop. A less traditional but equally appealing idea is to paint the brick doorstop a standout color like metallic gold.

 

5. MAKE GARDEN MARKERS

Uses for Bricks - Garden Marker

Photo: homengardeningtips.com

Stencils and paint are all you need to transform bricks into garden markers. Of course, if you’re feeling artsy, you can always skip the stencils and label the bricks freehand using paint markers. To let guests admire your handiwork as they arrive for dinner, spotlight each brick with easy-to-install solar landscape lighting.


Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to Make Your Own Rug

In just a weekend, you can make one of these creative, one-of-a-kind floor coverings to add warmth and style to your decor.

When laid over floors or mounted on walls, area rugs imbue living spaces with warmth, style, and comfort. If you’re struggling to find a rug that perfectly suits the challenging color scheme you’ve chosen—or if your budget leaves little room for such nonessential decorative accents—don’t be discouraged! The fact is, you have virtually limitless options, bounded only by the margins of your creative thinking. In just a weekend, you can weave, paint, recycle, or knit your way to a DIY rug, be it solid-colored or geometrically patterned, compact or generously sized. Scroll down to see five favorite DIY rug projects to inspire yours!

 

1. PAINT A PATTERN

DIY Rug - Painted

Photo: brassyapple.com

Use paint to transform a plain-Jane piece into something noteworthy: a custom-designed DIY rug. Simply apply painter’s tape to mark off the borders, then coat on your chosen colors with a paint roller. Although you can achieve elaborate designs, easy-to-do stripes make a striking, hard-to-forget visual impression.

 

2. CUT A RUG

DIY Rug - Cut Out

Photo: jessicahische.is

For this DIY rug, you start with a set of bound-together carpet tiles (use either a single color or a robust mix of your favorites). Then, working with a precision-cutting utility knife, proceed to slice away portions of the carpeting until you are left with a design that tickles your fancy. Angular or curvilinear? It’s all up to you.

 

3. ARRANGE A PATCHWORK 

DIY Rug - Seamed Samples

Photo: peppermags.blogspot.com

Here’s an ingenious DIY rug idea that you can realize for $20 or less. You know those carpet samples available at retail stores, either for free or a few bucks apiece? Bring home about a dozen, then use hot glue and carpet-seaming tape to bind them together. Guests are destined to be wowed by your DIY rug’s creation story!

 

4. CONVERT A CLOTH

DIY Rug - Tablecloth

Photo: dreambookdesign.com

You won’t believe how quickly a tablecloth converts into a DIY rug! The process involves only two steps: Apply polyurethane to the top and then use spray adhesive to attach a rug pad on the bottom. That’s how effortlessly you can make a bold decor statement with a modest investment of time and money.

 

5. LIGHT UP A ROOM

DIY Rug - Lit

Photo: imudesign.org

Dust off your sewing skills to create a luminous DIY rug that will make any room glow from the ground up. Here, LED rope lights are patiently crocheted into a circle of thick yarn. For your efforts, you will be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind floor covering that your envious visitors will wish they could buy from a store.


Top Tips for Taking Down the Christmas Tree

It's always fun to put up the holiday tree, but taking it down? Not so much. Make this yearly task less of a chore with our timely tips for taking down the Christmas tree.

Taking Down the Christmas Tree - Needles

Photo: shutterstock.com

Everyone loves the Christmas tree—so long as it’s standing proudly upright and is already fully decorated. Sure, some people enjoy artfully stringing lights on the evergreen boughs and relish the opportunity to rediscover cherished ornaments that have languished in storage for so many months. But nobody likes taking down the Christmas tree. Fortunately, with a few simple tips, you can complete this dreaded annual task more efficiently and without major hassles.

Prepping the area
Start the process of taking down the Christmas tree by laying an old sheet (or a workshop drop cloth) at the evergreen’s base. If you’ve done this before, you know that needles are likely to fall as you work, so this step will save you some cleanup later on. Do you have a lot of fragile ornaments? Consider putting down some towels to keep them safe in case they fall while you’re removing decorations.

Taking down the ornaments
• Remove the ornaments at the bottom of the tree first. That way, you limit the likelihood that you’ll unintentionally knock any down with your body.

• To protect ornaments while they’re in storage, take the time to wrap them in tissue paper or used gift wrap.

• Liquor boxes with dividers are the perfect no-cost repository for off-season storage of ornaments.

• For small ornaments and other diminutive holiday accents, recycled egg cartons work well as storage containers.

• Once you have removed them from the tree, wrap string lights around cardboard paper towel rolls to keep them organized and untangled until next year.

Taking Down the Christmas Tree - Curbside

Photo: shutterstock.com

Disposing of the tree
• Use a turkey baster to draw out any water that remains in the Christmas tree stand.

• Remove the tree skirt; if it’s covered with needles, shake them onto the sheet you’ve laid down.

• Spread the sheet to its full dimensions, laying the tree down horizontally over it. Take off the stand.

• Gather the sheet around the tree like a sling, then use it to carry the tree outside.

Next year, make disposal easier with a Christmas tree bag. Before putting up the tree, place the bag under the stand. After the holiday is over, just pull the bag up and over the tree and tie it off with twine. Then you carry the tree outside and remove it from the bag. Most stray needles will be caught in the bag.

In addition to leaving your tree curbside, most communities around the country have a Christmas tree recycling program in place where discarded Christmas trees are chipped into mulch for gardens (including yours) or shredded for use on paths and hiking trails.  In areas where soil erosion is an issue, discarded Christmas trees can be effective sand and soil barriers and help aid sedimentation management.  You can even put the tree in the backyard to become a bird feeder and sanctuary or, if you have a fish pond, submerge it where it can serve as an excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.

Where to begin?  The National Christmas Tree Association–together with Earth911.org, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based conservation group–offer a zip code locator to help you find a suitable treecycling solution near you. Check it out and start the New Year off right–and green!

Cleaning up
Pine needles are stubborn. They get stuck in carpeting, and some remain even after you vacuum. Here’s a trick: Sprinkle baking soda onto the area prior to vacuuming to help the needles slide out of the carpet fibers. Because pine needles are not good for a vacuum, use a broom and dustpan whenever possible.

Try to make taking down the Christmas tree a fun tradition. Put on a movie marathon while you work, or plan to celebrate completing the task with a special hot cocoa recipe or a delicious snack. You’ll have to wait another 11 months until next Christmas, so enjoy every last second of the season this year!

 

 


5 Things to Do with… Gift Wrap

Don't look at all the wrapping paper littering your living room as a wasteful annoyance—view it as an opportunity! Put those discarded sheets and remnants to good use in one of these smart DIY projects.

It’s always alarming to see how much gift wrap gets wasted during the holidays. Boldly patterned, brightly colored paper suddenly becomes garbage when only moments before it was festive and beautiful. The silver lining is that for those hardy souls who love to reuse wrapping paper, Boxing Day cleanup is like Christmas all over again. No, you don’t have to wait another 364 days to do something with your leftovers. Here are five DIY wrapping paper projects you can start on today!

 

1. DECORATE A COOKIE CANISTER

Photo: gracie-senseandsimplicity.blogspot.com

Picture the plethora of empty cans that, even as you read this, sit idly in your recycling bin. Now imagine covering one (or a dozen) of those containers with gift wrap in your favorite design. This DIY wrapping paper project enables you to create the perfect package for cookies—or any item that fits, home-baked or otherwise!

 

2. PRODUCE A PLACEMAT

Photo: blog.paper-source.com

For creative hosts, here’s a DIY gift wrapping project that can save you time and money, and even promote conversation among guests. If your go-to placemats are in the wash, or if you don’t have any in a design to suit your table setting, consider using gift wrap—it works on its own but, if you prefer, can be laminated at the office store.

 

3. MAKE A DRAWER LINER

Photo: apartmenttherapy.com

An easy way to dress up your dresser is to line its drawers with leftover wrapping paper. Simply cut the paper to size, then use double-sided tape or a glue stick to secure the paper in place. If you like this DIY wrapping paper project, then apply the same method to the shelves in your home office or even to kitchen cabinets.

 

4. CUSHION A PACKAGE

Photo: instructables.com

Make the most of that ugly gift wrap your uncle uses year in and year out! In the days after Christmas, run those leftovers through the paper shredder, and presto—you’ve got enough material to safely pack all your ornaments once they come off the tree. Best of all, unlike newspaper, wrapping paper doesn’t dirty your fingers.

 

5. CREATE A GIFT BOW

Photo: flickr.com

As any experienced gift-giver knows, it’s easy to curl a ribbon for a decorative flourish on a wrapped package. A lot of folks, however, aren’t aware that you can do the same thing with wrapping paper. It doesn’t take a large piece, so hold onto all of those scraps and slivers, and you may never again have to spend money on a bow.


Shopping for a New Chandelier? Here Are 4 Things to Consider

While style is an important consideration in choosing a new chandelier, don't overlook the finer points of scale, installation requirements, and, most important, how well the fixture will satisfy your lighting needs.

Spiral Chandelier

Maxim Lighting at Bellacor.com

Nothing epitomizes decorative lighting quite like a chandelier. A chandelier is the jewelry of a room, accenting the architecture, furnishings, and decor. With so many fixture choices available and so many possible applications within the home—in dining rooms, dens, and even bedrooms and bathrooms—choosing a chandelier can be overwhelming. But if you adhere to a few design rules and installation tips, you’ll be on your way to dressing your room right—and in the best decorative light.

Style
There are chandeliers available to suit any style and decor. Fixtures that have their lights directed up are more traditional; the most formal of these fixtures showcase bare candelabra bulbs. Adding glass or chandelier shades softens that formality, resulting in a slightly more casual attitude. For a more informal feeling, choose a chandelier on which the lights are directed downward. An additional benefit of this more casual design is that your decorative chandelier can also serve as task lighting—aiding cooking or homework duties. In general, metal finishes are more formal than painted ones.

Related: Which Lighting Where? 9 Pro Tips for Improved Illumination

Functionality
If your chandelier is serving a primarily decorative purpose, it can really be the focal point of the room, highlighting the beauty of your furnishings and decor. If, however, you require task lighting, find a fixture that also has a downlight, to illuminate the surface beneath it.   For either application, don’t miss out on the flexibility that you’ll get by installing a dimmer switch. Dialing the lights down can create a warm glow, similar to candlelight—perfect for evening entertaining.

Uptown-Lodge-Chandelier

Sea Gull Lighting at Bellacor.com

Size
Choosing the proper size chandelier is important.  A fixture that is too large will overwhelm a room, while one that is too small will disappear and lose its impact. Josie Jaspers, of the lighting and home furnishings online retailer Bellacor, advises: “Choose a chandelier that is 6 inches narrower on either side than the smallest width of the table.  If your table is 48″ x 72″, then the recommended width of the fixture is approximately 36 inches (6 + 6 minus 48).”

Installation
Jaspers also has tips for determining the correct hanging height. For a dining room, “the chandelier should hang approximately 30 inches above the tabletop in an 8-foot ceiling. For each additional foot of ceiling height, add one inch. In a 10-foot ceiling, the chandelier should hang approximately 32 inches above the table.” You should keep in mind that in rooms with lower ceilings (less than 9 feet), a chandelier may make the ceiling feel low. If you must hang a chandelier in a room with a low ceiling, be sure to hang it high enough so that it doesn’t become a hazard. If possible, mount it over a table to avoid bumped heads and to keep it from impeding foot traffic. If you’re putting a chandelier in a bathroom (Sure!—why not?!), the rule of thumb is to keep it 6 feet away from the shower or tub.  Moisture is the enemy of electrical wiring, so purchase a model that is rated for “wet” or “shower location” use.

With so many options available, you’re bound to find a fixture that suits both your practical needs and decor. With the right fixture, you can just dim the lights and turn up the style—a chandelier brings it all together.

 

This article is sponsored by Bellacor.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Make a Fresh Holiday Garland

The beauty and aroma of a fresh garland gracefully draped over a fence, banister, or deck railing are true hallmarks of the season. In a few simple steps, you can create your own festive garland to enjoy all through the holidays.

How to Make Garland - Complete

Photo: JNoonan

This year, as you dress up your house for the holidays, consider decking the halls with twinkling lights, festive ribbons—and, of course, boughs of holly, pine, cedar, or fir. The beauty and fragrance of a fresh garland cannot be matched by the store-bought, artificial evergreen facsimiles. If you have access to the right types of trees, the project costs next to nothing, and it’s neither difficult nor overly time-consuming. To make your own garland today, simply follow the steps detailed below.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Assortment of fresh greens
- 1/4″ hemp rope or similar
- Floral wire
- Pruning shears

DIRECTIONS

1. Collect Greens

How to Make Garland - Collect Greens

Photo: JNoonan

Pine, cedar, holly, and fir branches all work equally well for the purpose of making a garland. Either stick with a single type of foliage or mix a few types of greens into a pattern. As an accent, use pinecones or holly leaves—their red berries provide a beautiful contrast to the green boughs. From whatever types of evergreens you have access to, snip branches that are anywhere between 8 and 18 inches in length. Avoid cutting too many pieces from the same small tree, and try to snip branches that are touching the ground, the sides of a building, or the branches of neighboring trees; if you were pruning just for the tree’s benefit, these would be the best candidates for snipping anyway.

2. Get Started

How to Make Fresh Garland - Getting Started

Photo: JNoonan

Counterintuitively, the best place to begin is with a step that seems like it should come last: Tie a loop at the end of your rope, so you can hang your completed garland. Next, use floral wire to attach your first piece of greenery to the rope. Wrap the wire two or three times around the branch until you are confident that it’s securely in place. Be sure to position that first bough in such a way that it hides from view, but does not completely obstruct, the loop that you tied into the rope.

3. Add Greenery

How to Make Fresh Garland - Add Greenery

Photo: JNoonan

Lay a second piece of greenery so that it slightly overlaps the first, hiding the floral wire that binds it to the rope. Then tightly wrap additional wire two or three times around the second piece, just as you did for the first piece in Step 2. Continue adding greenery in this way, piece by piece, until your garland reaches the desired length.

4. Finish Up

How to Make Fresh Garland - Finishing

Photo: JNoonan

Cut the rope so that it’s two or three feet longer than your garland. That extra rope may come in handy as you set about hanging the completed garland. Tie a loop at this end of the rope to match the one you made in Step 1. Once the garland is hung, spot-check it for any bare sections, adding more boughs where necessary. If the garland is too long for the space in which you’re going to display it, simply snip it to length with pruning shears and use the excess elsewhere in your home.

Go fresh with garland, and you’ll never again be tempted by the artificial variety. There’s no better to start to the season. Happy Holidays!


5 Things to Do with… Doorknobs

Sure they help us get inside and out, but doorknobs—particularly salvaged and vintage varieties—can be used for multiple decorative purposes. Here are five doorknob DIY projects to get you inspired.

We interact with them daily and seldom think twice, but do-it-yourselfers have found plenty of reasons for us to focus more on doorknobs (especially the vintage ones often found in flea markets, thrift stores, and architectural salvage yards). With creativity, you can reuse doorknobs in ways that are quite distantly removed from their original purpose. Check out our five favorite doorknob DIY projects, and see these uncomplicated, utilitarian pieces of hardware like never before.

 

1. HOLD PICTURES

Doorknob DIY Projects - Picture Holder

Photo: etsy.com

Create a unique presentation for photographs, invitations, or other printed items of sentimental value. It’s a simple matter of threading metal wire around the base of a doorknob and into a coiled shape at the opposite end. So easy and affordable, you could complete a trio of these doorknob DIY projects within a single morning.

 

2. HANG TOWELS

Doorknob DIY Projects - Hangers

Photo: thebookofjimmy.com

Secure antique doorknobs to the wall in mudrooms or entryways as a handsome means of hanging coats, hats, and bags. (Alternatively, take this doorknob DIY project into the bathroom, using it for towels.) For a modern look, choose a uniform group of doorknobs; for an eclectic effect, opt for a mix of knob styles.

 

3. PAVE PATIOS

Doorknob DIY Projects - Patio

Photo: sfgate.com

Set your patio apart from others by paving with such miscellany as doorknobs and stovetop burners (like designer Matthew Levesque has done here). Once embedded in the ground, the vintage chrome and brass knobs not only look remarkable, but also provide a surprisingly stable surface on which to walk or stand.

 

4. TIE CURTAINS

Doorknob DIY Projects - Curtain Tie

Photo: spoonfulosugar.com

For an offbeat yet sophisticated addition to your window decor, mount an old doorknob where a curtain tieback would normally go. The knob—choose one that accentuates your treatment—works as satisfactorily as a traditional tieback, even while serving as the sort of small, thoughtful detail that makes a house a home.

 

5. CORK BOTTLES

Doorknob DIY Projects - Bottle Cork

Photo: etsy.com

Do you like to give wine as a hostess gift? Next time, complement the cabernet with a doorknob bottle stopper. To make one, simply drill a hole in a replacement cork (available at most kitchen stores). Next, sink in the screw from a doorknob, having first covered it with epoxy. If that screw is too long, you can shorten it with a hacksaw.


How To: Make a Gingerbread House From Scratch

Making a homemade gingerbread house really brings the holidays to life. And with this easy tutorial, you too can try your hand at some festive, luscious, small-scale new construction.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Complete

Photo: JNoonan

The holiday season comes with so many traditions—cooking and baking, house decorating, caroling, and cocoa making—but few are as beloved as the gingerbread house. While some folks opt for the ease and convenience of a kit, I always think it’s worth it to make a gingerbread house the old-fashioned way—that is, from scratch. Follow these steps, and you can achieve results that are good enough to eat, whether it’s your first attempt or something that your family does every year.

Related: 12 Architectural & Appetizing Gingerbread Houses

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Gingerbread cookie dough
- Rolling pin
- Extra flour
- Cookie sheets
- Parchment paper
- Pizza wheel
- Gingerbread house template
- Scissors
- Royal icing
- Pastry bag, coupler, and piping tips
- Cardboard
- Shoebox and canned food (or glass tumblers) for support
- Assorted candy (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. Choose a Template and Make Your Dough
You can easily find gingerbread recipes and gingerbread house templates on the Internet, free of charge. Select your favorite recipe and template, then set to work. Remember that gingerbread dough is very sticky, so it’s easiest to work with when it’s chilled. Keep lots of flour on hand for your rolling pin and work surfaces.

2. Roll, Cut, and Bake Your House Pieces
Larger pieces of dough will be difficult to transfer onto the cookie sheet, so I recommend rolling your dough onto a piece of floured parchment paper. Next, lay your gingerbread house template sections over the dough. Cut around the template with a pizza wheel, removing excess dough as you go. Continue until you have cut one piece of dough to correspond with each part of the house, as dictated by the template. Now transfer the parchment paper, with the cut dough on top, to the cookie sheet. Bake the gingerbread slightly longer than your chosen recipe recommends, as softer pieces are much harder to manipulate than well-done ones.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Baking

Photo: JNoonan

3. Trim Your Pieces
Inevitably, your gingerbread is going to morph a bit during baking. That complicates matters, because your gingerbread house will not stand properly if the pieces do not conform more or less precisely to the dimensions specified by your template. Therefore, immediately after removing the gingerbread from the oven (don’t even waste 10 seconds), lay the appropriate template back over each piece so that you can trim each one to its correct size. Feel free to eat any of the excess—hey, you deserve a snack! Before continuing on to the next stage, allow the gingerbread to sit on wire cooling racks for several hours or overnight.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Cooling

Photo: JNoonan

4. Make Royal Icing
Be sure to choose a recipe for royal icing that includes cream of tartar (it helps to keep the eggs from separating). Once you’ve finished making the icing, put it in a pastry bag fitted with a large piping tip. If there’s any icing left over, you can prevent it from drying out by keeping it in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Icing

Photo: JNoonan

5. Build the Walls
If the walls of your gingerbread house are meant to form a rectangle, I suggest using a shoebox or something similar as scaffolding to lend support while the icing dries. First, dry-fit the gingerbread pieces to test that they align as planned. Next, pipe a thick bead of icing at each right angle. Finally, connect the pieces. Slide your shoebox against the walls, and if further support seems necessary, use canned food or heavy glass tumblers. Let the icing dry for several hours or overnight.

6. Raise the Roof
Remove any items that you were using to support the gingerbread walls, then proceed to add the roof pieces, again using piped icing as a bond. To keep the roof pieces from sliding down, prop them up with as many cans or tumblers as necessary. Allow several hours for the icing to dry, by which point the roof should be firmly attached.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Jig and Roof

Photo: JNoonan

7. Attach the House to a Base
Pipe icing onto the surface you have chosen to use as a base for your gingerbread house. Any stiff piece of cardboard will do the trick. (If you wish to dress it up, options include painting the cardboard, wrapping it in foil, or covering it with doilies). Carefully place the gingerbread onto the icing you’ve piped onto the base.

8. Decorate! 
There are as many ways to decorate a gingerbread house as you can imagine. Those experienced with a pastry bag may wish to use only royal icing to create a simple, gorgeous, economical, and delicious effect. Or use the icing (applied with a smaller piping tip) as “glue” for your favorite candies in your favorite colors.

How to Make a Gingerbread House - Decorating

Photo: JNoonan

It takes time and patience to make a gingerbread house from scratch, and although completing one yields a tremendous sense of accomplishment, you may not have the energy or the spare hours required. Fortunately, there are plenty of shortcuts:

- Use a kit that includes prebaked pieces and everything you need to decorate.

- Buy a gingerbread house mold (you push in your dough, then bake, and your pieces come out perfect every time).

- If you don’t care about the gingerbread house being 100 percent edible, you can use hot glue to connect your walls and roof pieces.

- Rather than making a gingerbread house that stands on its own, go easy on yourself by attaching your pieces to a shoebox or something similar.

- Almost any kid would be happy to make a gingerbread house out of graham crackers—no baking necessary, and the construction stage is more forgiving.

However you choose to make a gingerbread house, concentrate on having fun! That way, you’ll have a new family tradition to anticipate year in and year out.


Weekend Projects: 5 Classic Wood Games You Can Make Yourself

Even if you don't possess the skills of a master carpenter, you can easily create one of these DIY wood games with nothing more than some basic materials, tools, and know-how.

If you love to use tools and you love to play games, then you’re not alone: Scores of handymen and women have used wood to create their own personal versions of timeless amusements. Indeed, playing a DIY wood game that you’ve made yourself may be the only activity that is more fun than actually putting the game together!

 

1. DOMINOES

DIY Wood Games - Dominoes

Photo: aestheticoutburst.blogspot.com

Make a set of oversize dominoes out of commonly available 1 x 3 plywood boards. For each domino, cut a 5 1/2-inch piece away from the board (do this 28 times for a double-six set, 55 times for a double-nine set). Paint a line across the center of each domino, dabbing on the appropriate number of dots. Kids of all ages are sure to enjoy this DIY wood game, whose larger-than-normal pieces are ideal for playing on the floor, or in the driveway, even more than on a tabletop.

 

2. BLOCK PUZZLE

DIY Wood Games - Block Puzzle

Photo: makezine.com

With wooden blocks—whether you buy them at a crafts store or fashion them out of scrap wood—it’s easy to make a DIY wood game especially for a pint-size puzzle-lover. Onto each individual block, paint a small section of a larger figure, one that takes shape only when the blocks are correctly arranged. Another way of accomplishing the same goal is to cut a photograph into equal-size fragments, gluing each piece onto one face of a wooden block so that the complete photo emerges when the blocks are assembled properly.

 

3. GIANT JENGA

DIY Wood Games - Giant Jenga

Photo: amazon.com

Supersize the fun of Jenga: Construct a colossal version of this classic tower-building game, perfect for setup in the backyard. Start out with a trip to the lumberyard, where it should be easy to buy four 2 x 4 x 16 pieces of wood. Cut the pieces at intervals of 10 1/2 inches, and you should end up with 72 blocks total. Sand each one, buffing them all smooth, not only to reduce friction for the sake of gameplay, but also to prevent players young and old from getting any nasty splinters.

 

4. CHECKERS

DIY Wood Games - Checkers

Photo: alwayschasinglife.blogspot.com

Of all the DIY wood games discussed here, checkers may be the most widely enjoyed. If you love it, why not devise your own board, painting squares of alternating colors over a plywood surface? Choose the traditional black-and-white combination or opt for an alternative color scheme, one that involves your two favorite hues. For the pieces, either use a store-bought set or hand-make your own by painting wood circles in colors that match those that you chose for your board.

 

5. MEMORY

DIY Wood Games - Memory

Photo: dawanda.com

Divide 1 x 3 lengths of wood into pieces of equal length to create this adorable memory game, which is much sturdier than the playing card version. Once you’ve cut the pieces, glue on differently patterned wrapping paper or wallpaper, glossing them over with two or three layers of decoupage medium. Voilà! Let the games begin.