Author Archives: LuAnn Brandsen

Bathroom Essentials: Tubs, Showers, and Sinks

Consider lifestyle when shopping for tubs, showers and sinks.

Bathroom Fixtures

Kohler Blove Cast-Iron Bath in White and Loure Deck-Mount. Photo: Kohler

Lifestyle is an important consideration when selecting tubs and showers. For instance, while people often fall in love with the looks and the idea of a sculptural soaker tub or air tub, both units require lots of water as well as ample time to truly enjoy. Likewise, while a cultured marble tub (a limestone and polyester resin material coated with a gel) mimics the look of marble without the high expense or the worries of cracking and etching, this material would be ill-suited to a family bath where kids would quickly damage the surface.

Cast iron and acrylic are popular and reasonable material choices for most bathrooms. Cast iron is highly durable, retains heat well, and is built to last, but it is more expensive than most other materials and requires sturdy floor support due to its heavy weight. Acrylic (also called fiberglass) has a high-gloss finish that is similar to cast iron, but is more affordable and lightweight enough to be molded into various shapes and designs. It won’t retain heat like cast iron, and it will scratch easier, though repairs are generally inexpensive.

Showers, like tubs, come in varied shapes and sizes. You can opt for inexpensive shower units that are installed with a tub, or indulge in a large shower for two with spa-like rainheads, chromatherapy, and beautiful floor-to-ceiling tile.

Bathroom cabinets and sinks are also hardworking components that need to be chosen for their function as much as their style. Otherwise, you might just find yourself steaming as you attempt to balance toiletries on the edge of a pedestal sink. Expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars on cabinets, realizing that you usually get what you pay for. Here are some things to consider when choosing cabinetry and sinks for different types of bathrooms:

A family bath will have multiple users and incur a steady amount of wear and tear. Consider a double sink vanity that will increase efficiency if you have room. Think twice about vessel sinks in a family bath, as you’ll likely spend a lot of time wiping up after the kids. Choose durable countertops like laminate, solid surface, or engineered stone and quality cabinets with ample storage. Conventional cabinetry that is floor mounted with a toe kick is a good choice for family bathrooms. Just avoid cabinets made from processed wood products as they do not stand up well to moisture.

For a master bath, you have more options, but will still want quality cabinetry and ample storage. Furniture-style vanities are an attractive choice, as are vessel sinks. If you opt for a pedestal sink or two, consider building stylish floor-to-ceiling storage towers nearby.

For a powder room, you have the most varied material choices because moisture is not an issue, and you’ll need less storage space, too. Pedestal sinks, vanities made from antique dressers, and small vanities with marble tops are all options here.

For more on bathroom remodeling, consider:
How to: Create a Spa Bath at Home
Planning Guide: Bathroom Remodeling
Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options

Quick Tip: Budget-Smart Bathroom Remodeling

Five tips from the pros to help keep your bathroom remodeling budget in check.

Photo: Delta

As with any home improvement project, it’s smart to approach bathroom remodeling with special attention to budget—particularly since the national average for a bath redo is around $16,634, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2010-2011 Cost vs. Value Report. But a new bath will not only provide greater comfort, appeal and usefulness for you and your family, it will also offer a good return on investment. A mid-range bath remodel can see a 70% return on investment—even higher in certain regions of the country.

You can do a lot to control expenditures as you plan. Here are five “budget-smart” tips from the pros to help you plan your best bathroom remodel:

Go with classic style.  Choose fixtures and materials that are classic, in timeless colors and made from high-quality, natural materials. Ornate decorative tiles, vessel sinks and bright, bold colors may appeal to your taste, but not a prospective buyer. Wall color can be changed easily enough, but avoid permanent fixtures and materials that are too exotic or extravagant. The investment will be more recoverable if you stick with the classics.

Consider stock options.  Take advantage of stock cabinetry and vanities that come in standard sizes, which lowers the price.  Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have a full array of bathroom cabinetry. Look for well-built, solid wood cabinets to make certain they will hold up to bathroom moisture conditions and daily use and abuse.

Use tile selectively. ”Tile is really the thing that makes a statement in a bath,” says Julie Williams, CKD, CKB, owner of Julie Williams Design in Novato, California, but it can also add considerable cost. “Consider finding an affordable field tile and combining it with more extravagant accent tiles,” she adds.

Evaluate space and needs. Check out adjacent closets or hallways to see whether you can annex some extra square footage. Or rethink how you use current fixtures. “In master baths, lots of people are foregoing a tub in lieu of a bigger shower and more space,” says Anissa Swanzy, co-owner of SKD Studios in Lusby, Maryland. “They realize it takes a lot of water to fill a tub, and they don’t have time to soak anyway.”

Put your money where it counts. Most professionals agree that you want to put your money into permanent things, like good solid cabinets that meet storage needs and any plumbing behind the walls. “No one wants to break through a beautiful tile wall to fix the plumbing,” says Nanae Nakahara, CKD, CKB, owner of Elegance Redesigned in the San Francisco Bay Area.

When planning your remodeling project, take advantage of online tools.  For a ballpark figure of what a bath renovation costs in your area, check out the bath estimating tool on Improvenet. For space planning, consider Kohler’s virtual bathroom planning tool as an alternative to playing around with sketches on paper.

For more on bathroom remodeling, consider:
Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options
Bathroom Essentials: Tubs, Showers and Sinks
Planning Guide: Bathroom Remodeling

Planning Guide: Bathroom Remodeling

Bathroom remodeling ideas you might consider, including approaches to design, storage, materials, and fixtures.

Bathroom Remodeling Ideas

Kohler Tresham Collection. Photo: Kohler

Bathrooms continue to top homeowners’ lists of popular rooms to remodel—and for good reason. As more Americans are carefully investing in their homes rather than selling, they realize the value of a bath redo extends beyond enjoying new decor. Per Remodeling magazine’s 2010-2011 Cost vs. Value Report, midrange bath remodels get a 70% return on investment—even higher in certain regions or neighborhoods. That means if you spend the national average of $16,634 to remodel, you will not only enjoy a new bath, but you’ll also recoup $11,643 or more when you sell. (And having an updated bath just might give you a seller’s edge in a slow market.)

As with any home improvement project, it’s smart to spend with care. Begin the process by deciding how much you’d be comfortable investing in a bath, then do some research and familiarize yourself with the basics. This guide will provide useful information about design considerations, storage solutions, and tips for choosing materials and fixtures.

Most baths are modest in size (50-70 square feet), but that doesn’t stop homeowners from dreaming big. To get a realistic perspective on what’s possible, look through design books, magazines, and websites for ideas. Visit home shows and designer showrooms where you can open drawers, feel jet sprays, and really ‘kick the tires.’

“I always ask what it is about a client’s existing bath that they don’t like,” says Nanae Nakahara, CKD, CKB, owner of Elegance Redesigned in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Are the cabinets too small or do they not like the colors? Some people think that if they just put in everything new, they’ll be happy. But you need to carefully consider the space and budget to get the very best out of it.”

Here are some key points to get you started:

How will the bath be used? It may sound obvious, but first take note of who will be using the bathroom and how, says Nakahara. Are you redoing a family bath that receives lots of wear and tear? Or are you going for a spa-like master bath to soak your cares away? Determining the needs of the inhabitants will give you key direction on materials, storage, and space needs.

Set a budget. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), a non-profit trade association, bathrooms can be one of the priciest rooms to remodel on a cost-per-square foot basis, partly due to the fact that there are numerous water, electrical and plumbing issues. Still, there are options to suit almost any budget. “To share a few examples: a master suite with all the amenities and luxurious materials in a major metro area could reach $100,000,” states the NKBA Bathroom Planning Guide (available as a free download at “However, a lovely yet modest makeover in a smaller town might be achieved for less than $10,000.” For planning purposes, the NKBA recommends allotting 20% of your budget for installation, 16% for cabinetry and hardware, and 15% for fixtures. For a ballpark figure of what a bath renovation costs in your area, check out this estimating tool at Improvenet.

Make a plan. “One of the first things we tell clients is to look at the entire space rather than how it’s being used right now,” says Anissa Swanzy, co-owner of SKD Studios in Lusby, Maryland. “Lots of times people can’t imagine it any other way or they can’t see the full potential for themselves. If you’re doing a cosmetic update, then it’s expensive to move the toilet, but if you’re doing a major remodel, then moving the toilet is a small price to pay to have an efficient floor plan in the end.” Check out adjacent closets or hallways to see whether you can annex some extra square footage. Or rethink how you use current fixtures. “In master baths, lots of people are foregoing a tub in lieu of a bigger shower and more space,” says Swanzy. “They realize it takes a lot of water to fill a tub, and they don’t have time to soak anyway.”

Whatever choices you finally make, leave room to breathe. The NKBA suggests at least 30 inches of space in front of any fixture. Play around with sketches on paper or try out Kohler’s virtual bathroom planner.

Find storage solutions. “When you’re looking at cabinetry, try to get as much storage as you can,” Swanzy advises. “We’re doing big tall armoire cabinets between two sinks and floor-to-ceiling pantry-style cabinets.” The right depth of storage is important, too. “Most people provide too deep of storage, but then things just get piled up in front of each other,” says Julie Williams, CKD, CKB, owner of Julie Williams Design in Novato, California. “I tend to go 15 inches deep but 30 inches wide. That way you can see everything at a glance.” Williams also tries to create a separate toilet room whenever possible, adding floor-to-ceiling storage on one wall of that room for things that aren’t used everyday. That leaves the vanity storage less crowded.

Review safety matters. In the interest of health and safety, baths need proper ventilation, good lighting, and non-slip flooring to prevent falls.

For more on bathroom remodeling, consider:
Bathroom Essentials: Tubs, Showers and Sinks
How to: Create a Spa Bath at Home
Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options

Architectural Salvage 101

Architectural salvage is a timeless way to bring quality and character into your home.

Architectural Salvage

There are always unexpected treasures to discover when shopping at salvage stores like Olde Good Things in New York City and Los Angeles. Photo: LABworks360

Architects, designers, and homeowners are increasingly on the hunt for salvage materials whose superior grade and character have passed the test of time. “I think a lot of people are tired of thinking something is quality, putting good money down for it, and then a few years later it is not holding up,” says Don Short, owner of West End Architectural Salvage in Des Moines. Noreene Parker, owner of Pinch from the Past architectural salvage stores in Greensboro and Savannah, Georgia, agrees. “You can no longer get the materials at any price that are the quality of antique materials—they simply do not exist.”

In addition to enduring quality, people choose salvage because it affords something unique in a sea of new-product sameness. Offerings range from 10¢ nails to $200 lighting fixtures to $17,500 19th-century gargoyles. “As far as what sells, there is an ebb and flow,” says Matt White, owner of Recycling the Past in Barnegat, New Jersey. “When we started about 15 years ago, the hottest thing was to make a lot of furniture from recycled materials, and then that slowed down, but now it has shot back up again. Doors and mantles are always popular, and industrial stuff has been hot for the past 4-5 years.”

Refinery: Great Places to Buy Architectural Salvage

“I love that you can’t pigeon hole the customers,” says Elizabeth Scalice, founder of Architectural Salvage of San Diego. On any given day, shoppers might include an architect looking for antique French doors, a designer trying to find a retro pink sink to compliment a vintage ‘60s bath, or grandparents reminiscing about the past. Urban dwellers snatch up things like art glass or large mirrors framed with repurposed ceiling tin to use as decoration, while loft and condo owners value burnished flooring for its touch of warmth and nostalgia.  Owners of older homes buy period building materials and fixtures for restoration projects; owners of new homes are simply looking to add distinction. “The drive to add character to newer homes is huge for salvage,” says Short. “For instance, you can buy a beautiful old door for around $600 that would have to be custom-made today and would cost $5000 new.” You may need to reframe the door to make it fit, but your efforts will be rewarded with something that makes your house stand out for decades to come.

If quality and affordability aren’t enough reason to join the treasure hunt, factor in the sense of buying a bit of history and nostalgia along with the idea that repurposing is a very smart way to go green.

Types of Salvage
Flea markets, estate auctions, garage sales, architectural salvage companies, and wood recyclers offer various opportunities to find one-of-a-kind building materials for your next project. Here are just a few of the product categories:

Reclaimed Wood: Whether dismantled from weathered barns and old houses or dredged from river bottoms, salvaged wood is not inexpensive. In fact, this is the one category where the labor-intense cost of collecting and processing old, rare, and even extinct wood drives the price to double or triple that of new woods. (New oak flooring costs about $5-$7 a square foot; antique oak is priced $10-$16.) Still, many are willing to pay the difference to bring the rich colors, tighter grains, and warm patina home. In addition to flooring, reclaimed wood includes beams, wainscoting, stair parts, cabinets, porch posts, moldings, and corbels.

Windows, Doors, and Mantles: Doors are possibly the most popular salvage item, partly because they are affordable and partly because they make a high-impact statement. Windows are seldom purchased for functional use unless for historic buildings. A few find a second chance with gardeners building small greenhouses. Stained glass windows are most often hung as works of art, while regular windows are often repurposed as mirror or picture frames. Mantles range from lustrous marble to intricately carved cherry. Some buyers simply attach them to the wall to serve as a headboard or shelf.

Kitchen and Bath: The two most remodeled rooms of the house keep salvagers in a steady supply of both antique and vintage tile, faucets, appliances, sinks, toilets, tubs, and lighting.

Garden, Deck, and Patio: Unique items are abundant for your outdoor rooms, including statues, urns, fencing, gates, terra-cotta pieces, benches, and fountains. Don’t forget that a lot of these items will look great inside the house, too.

Furniture: From a copper parlor chair to a midcentury black vinyl sofa to a new table made from salvaged wood, furnishings remain a growing category.

Lighting: In addition to period chandeliers, pendants, lanterns, and sconces, there are many vintage, one-of-a-kind fixtures made from salvaged materials.

Decorative metal: Tin finials, copper weathervanes, wrought iron gates, and bronze gratings are just a few of the metal items available. The increasingly popular industrial look, which includes lots of metal and aged glass, has brought things like metal factory carts and copper pendant lighting to the foreground, as well.

Architectural Salvage - Sinks

Photo: LABWorks360

Tips for Buying Salvage
When shopping for salvage materials, stay open to both potential and possibilities.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you go sleuthing for salvage:

1. Be proactive. If you’re building or remodeling, don’t wait until the last minute. Go find the salvage materials you love and then let the contractor craft to fit. It’s much harder if the contractor first cuts a hole and you then need to find something you love that will fit.

2. An item may not look great yet, but much can be restored. “There are a few people that I can take into my warehouse, and I’ll pull out something with a hundred years of pigeon doo doo and they’ll say ‘That’s it!’” says Noreene Parker of Pinch of the Past. “You might find a deal on a chandelier for fifty dollars, but you’ll need to understand it might cost another two or three hundred dollars to get it restored with new wiring and sockets to bring it up-to-date. But everyone that walks into the house will think it’s to-die-for and you’ll have something really special.”

3. Measuring is critical to ensure that a piece will fit and function as you need it to. “Mantles are gorgeous, but they often won’t fit around new fireboxes, which are more long and narrow,” says Don Short of West End Architectural Salvage. “You’ll also want to measure that any piece you’re buying will fit through your doors and into the space you have in mind.”

4. Get the most bang for your buck by beginning with focal-point purchases like an antique front door or a dazzling entryway chandelier.

5. Make sure you are working with people who appreciate salvage. “Don’t even bother if you don’t have a supportive contractor,” says Elizabeth Scalice, owner of Architectural Salvage of San Diego. “Find those who understand the joy of repurposing to create something special. A lot of people trust when their contractor says something isn’t possible. Make sure you’re hearing the truth.”

Related: 10 Reasons to Love Architectural Salvage

6. Beware of reproductions, especially with items like marble mantles, stained glass, and iron work. If a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

7. Look around for interesting porch, deck, patio, and garden finds. “Tap stone pottery and garden antiques to see whether they sound solid and do not have cracks,” says Matt White of Recycling the Past. “In cold weather, water inside cracks can freeze and cause damage.”

8. “Retro tubs can be a steal,” says Short. “I sell cast-iron claw foot tubs for $200-$500, whereas a new cast-iron tub is about $2500.” Even with the cost of refinishing the tub, you’re still dollars ahead. Installation requires common plumbing techniques, and any old faucets will need to have washers carefully repacked. “Old faucets can be used, but they generally require special maintenance because they have more joints that develop leaks,” Short adds. “If period authenticity is not critical, you might consider well-made reproduction faucets instead.”

9. Antique doors are beautiful for exterior or interior usage. Check that they have no rot on the bottom and that there is no warping. Heavier, more solid wood doors will function better than lightweight doors, such as pine.

10. Many salvage pieces are ready for a different second life. Antique doors can become room dividers; porch posts can be cut down to make lamp bases. “I remember the first time I saw Bob Vila on TV, he was walking around a salvage yard and was really on the forefront of getting people to think about salvage,” White says. “One of the items in that salvage yard was a red English phone booth that I thought was pretty cool.” So cool, in fact, that White went to England years later to buy one that he is planning to turn into an outdoor shower.

Shopping for salvage? Check out our regional directory of Great Places to Buy Architectural Salvage around the country and 10 Reasons to Love Architectural Salvage slide show

Porch Style

Whether you’re building or remodeling this highly coveted spot, you’ll gain valuable living space and serious curb appeal.

Front Porch Designs


Americans love their porches, and for good reason. This neutral sliver of space between household tasks and yard work practically demands that you stop and relax, sip lemonade, catch up on conversation, breathe some fresh air and take in the view. For many, porches represent an idyll—promoting family time, neighborliness, outdoor living and street-side appeal. No wonder porches are a desirable architectural feature quickly gaining in popularity. Just be sure to make yours at least eight feet deep and choose a style that suits the architectural integrity of your home. For inspiration, here’s a look at four iconic American porch styles:

Front Porch Designs - Farmhouse

It doesn’t get much more inviting than the old-fashioned farmhouse porch, with its expansive wrap-around layout and unpretentious style. Initially created to help cool the home’s interior and provide a comfortable respite at day’s end, these covered porches are practical, comfortable, and simple in their trim and design.

Country-style porches generally open to the yard, and many are so low that you can safely step off the side to the ground. Raised designs typically feature wood railings and decorative lattice underneath. Screen porches are a nice farmhouse option, and these can sometimes be fashioned using salvaged screen doors. Or opt for a semi-screened look by adding trellises and railing planters between porch posts. Finish out the space with stained or painted wood floors and ceilings personalized with paint or pressed tin. Choose furnishings for comfort and personal style. Wicker is a traditional favorite, but wood, cast iron, and repurposed found objects also work well. Finally, don’t forget the nostalgic finishing touches—a porch swing and a slamming screen door.

For more on the history and architectural details of the farmhouse porch, click here.

Front Porch Designs - Colonial

America’s Colonial period brought a melting pot of home design ideas, which in turn produced Dutch Colonial, French Colonial, and other styles. Generally speaking, homes of this era were two stories and symmetrical. As settlers moved onward, however, the style was modified to suit the environment. For instance, in the steamy South, generously sized porches with bold, classical columns were added across the entire front of the house to help people beat the heat. The result? A coveted retreat for Southerners and the birth of one of America’s most beloved porch styles.

Colonial porches keep to the architecture’s overall principles of symmetry, formality, and elegant restraint. Columns accomplish much of the visual design work, from massive two-story pillars to simpler paired columns stretching across the home’s facade. If used, wood or aluminum railings typically showcase tasteful Chippendale-style fretwork or herringbone patterns. A central door with fanlight and sidelights add balance.

As for palette, crisp white, gray blues, and tans depict classic Colonial colors, as do ceilings that are brushed in haint blue. Furnishings should be gracious and plentiful, including rocking chairs, settees, planters and even lighting. Chandeliers sparkle on grand porches; period-appropriate lanterns and sconces enhance more modest and Early American houses. To ensure a pleasant breeze, you might also consider adding one or more ceiling fans overhead.

For more on the history and architectural details of the Colonial-style porch, click here.

Front Porch Designs - Queen Anne

Echoing Victorian-era tastes, Queen Anne architecture reflects a penchant for personal expressiveness and over-the-top decoration. Forget any notion that “less is more.” The ornate wraparound porches and recessed second-story retreats adorning the asymmetrical fronts of Queen Anne homes were designed to impress. Propitiously, advancements in woodworking machinery in the late 1800s made previously expensive ornate porch pieces suddenly affordable, meaning homeowners could now pile it on with eclectic abandon.

Among the fanciful options: delicately turned posts with beveled corners and attached fretwork, railings with flat-sawn balusters, elaborate spindle work, finials, spandrels, corner brackets and friezes. (Victorian millwork is still readily available, but if you want to avoid the painting upkeep of these intricate patterns, consider porch pieces made of high-density urethane instead.) Other embellishments include walls covered with fish-scale shingles or patterned masonry and doors and windows of etched or stained glass, enhanced with generous decorative trim. Bold paint palettes further the busy look.

Fortunately, all the fuss on a Queen Anne porch is put to good use, as the space is considered an important outdoor room for entertaining. Look for wrought iron and wicker pieces to seat guests with old-fashioned charm. Containers and colorful plantings add a nice finishing touch, too.

For more on the history and architectural details of the Queen Anne-style porch, click here.

Front Porch Designs - Bungalow

A notable departure from the mass-produced elements and design excess of the Queen Anne style, Bungalow architecture grew out of California’s Arts and Crafts movement. These affordable cottages with low-pitched roofs feature expansive front porches that open to the yard and garden, expanding the home’s modest living space while also encouraging a strong connection with nature and the neighborhood.

In general, Bungalow craftspersons utilize natural and handcrafted materials. The prominent oversize porch columns or pillars, for instance, are usually crafted from brick, wood, or stone (such as local river rock). Also common are battered, or tapered, posts atop a raised brick, stone, or wood pier. Concrete-capped brick knee walls or low, simple railings link the columns.

Decorated as though an extension of the adjacent living room, Bungalow porches can be fairly rustic with earthtone palettes, twig or Mission-style furniture, and artisan lighting. Floors are typically wood, plain concrete, or concrete overlaid with ceramic tile, bluestone, fieldstone or brick.

For more on the history and architectural details of the Bungalow porch, click here.

Kitchen Cabinets 101

Whether you select solid wood or laminate, the cabinets you choose will be an important factor in the look and function of your kitchen remodel.

Kitchen Cabinets

Wellborn Cabinets in Bristol Maple, Natural and Milan Oak Espresso. Photo: Wellborn Cabinet

New kitchen cabinets will likely be your biggest expenditure and will also determine the tone and functionality of your renovated space.

A professional can help you sort through the many different types. You’ll want to compare wood and laminate finishes and shop for smart storage and organization solutions, such as pull-out spice racks, hideaway bins, and pop-up shelves that mimic a jack-in-the-box to let you access or hide counter appliances.

Related: Kitchen Cabinet Door Styles: What’s Yours?

Kitchen Cabinets

As a whole, cabinetry trends lean toward simplicity and an uncluttered look. Bulky, ornate cabinets are being replaced by streamlined options. Slimming features include integrated handles, sliding doors, open low cabinets, floating islands, sleek materials, and simple Shaker or frameless styles.

To save money, buy stock cabinets in standard sizes or consider a trip to nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity ReStore (nationwide) or Green Demolitions (Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) to purchase donated or salvaged cabinetry from demolition projects at a fraction of their original cost.

For super savings, update your existing cabinetry with a fresh coat of paint and new hardware. If you have recessed panel doors, consider covering the center with bead board or replacing it with reeded, textured, or etched glass. Or go a step further to replace one or more wall-hung cabinets with open shelving to create a light, airy feel.

For more on kitchen cabinets and remodeling, consider:

Cabinet Design Styles: What’s Yours?
Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Cabinets
Countertops 101

Fresh Ideas for Kitchen Flooring

Whether you prefer ceramic tile, natural stone, or hardwoods, there's no lack of stylish options for today's kitchen flooring.

Kitchen Flooring

Photo: Armstrong

While design, color, and surface appeal are important considerations, you’ll also want kitchen flooring that can live up to your lifestyle and provide the comfort and durability you need. Here are some favorites, with their pros and cons:

Related: Kitchen Flooring: 8 Popular Choices

Natural Stone. Durable and easy to clean, stone offers a timeless appearance suited to most any kitchen decor. Choose larger pieces to create a more seamless look with fewer grout lines. Cons? There’s no denying the look is impressive, but you’ll likely need a strong subfloor and some big bucks to get the job done. Tile and stone can also be cold and uncomfortable if you stand in place for long. (One solution is to place a cushioned mat where you most frequently stand to reduce feet and leg fatigue. )

Armstrong Hardwood Kitchen Flooring Hickory Mountain Smoke Rev2 Cork. This often-overlooked natural material comes in various colors and patterns and is sustainable, warm, and slightly cushioned. Seal it to prevent water damage and clean the same as you would a hardwood floor.

Linoleum. Easy-to-clean linoleum is available in sheets or tiles in a broad range of colors. Many consumers confuse linoleum with vinyl, but vinyl is a synthetic material with a pattern imprinted on the surface, while linoleum is all-natural with color throughout.

Vinyl. This budget-friendly material (about $10-$13 per square yard) keeps upping its image as new technology helps it more closely imitate the look of stone, wood, tile, and leather. Vinyl is available in 6- or 12-foot wide sheets or as 12- to 18-inch tiles that are ideal for DIYers. Easy to clean, vinyl is also soft underfoot.

Ceramic Tile. Choices abound for this category, and most selections are highly durable and fairly inexpensive. Select large pieces if you want a more seamless look with fewer grout lines. The downside? Ceramic can be cold and uncomfortable if you’re standing for long periods of time.

Hardwood. Improvements in products and sealers make wood a viable flooring material in kitchens. That’s good news for people with open floor plans, who wish to use the same material in adjoining living areas. Additionally, wood adds a sense of timelessness and warmth that suits any style, from urban loft to cozy cottage to traditional home.

For more on flooring, consider: 

Prefinished vs. Unfinished Wood Flooring

10 Reasons to Love Bamboo Floors 

Bamboo Flooring 101


Bob Vila’s Top 12 Painting Tips

If you want to paint like a pro, heed these little-known painting tips.

Painting Tips


1. One trick to determine whether you have the right primer is to put a coat on and let it dry, then take a razor blade and very lightly mark an X in the paint. Put duct tape over the X and then pull back. If the paint sticks, you’ve made a good choice.

2. Add the top coat within 24 hours after the primer dries. That’s when the surface is stickiest.

3. Remove painter’s tape 2-3 hours after you’ve completed your final coat. If you leave tape on for too long, it can remove some fresh paint with it.

4. Always assume the job will require two coats; primer counts as one. A single coat won’t give the full sheen or be as washable.

5. Keep in mind that a flat finish won’t cover a high-gloss finish unless you sand the wall lightly or use a de-glosser first. Likewise, latex paint shouldn’t cover oil-base paint unless the surface has been primed correctly.  

6. Resist the temptation to go over an area that is drying as you’ll only create brush marks.

7. Don’t skimp on paint. A gallon should cover 350-400 square feet.

8. Be prepared to use an extra coat of paint to even out the effects of a dark-colored paint.

9. Tint your primer to the color of your top coat for better coverage.

10. Don’t oversaturate. If paint drips from a roller, you have too much. Likewise, only dip the first third of your brush’s bristles into paint and tap the brush lightly side-to-side inside the can to remove excess paint.

11. Avoid cleaning latex brushes in a sink that drains into a septic tank. The latex residue can cause issues.

12. Put brushes in a plastic zippered bag when you take a break so they won’t dry out. You can even freeze them for longer storage.

Bob Vila’s 8 Tips for Hanging Holiday Lights

A few simple guidelines and precautions to bear in mind when hanging holiday lights.

How to Hang Christmas Lights

Photo: Flickr

Embellishing your yard with holiday lights is a cheery idea if you follow a few simple guidelines and precautions:

Create a master plan. Look at your house from the street or take a photograph to make an overall plan. First, consider adding lights along eaves, pillars, posts, windows, and doors to highlight architectural features. Next, look at bushes, trees, window boxes, planters, and paths. Finally, check out lighting for paths, as well as stand-alone figures.

Find balance. “Everyone gravitates toward the roofline and they forget to balance it with something below,” says Mike Marlow, of Holiday Bright Lights, a national chain that provides professional holiday lighting for homes and business. “It’s like interior design. You might have something on your room’s walls, but you need something on the shelves and the end tables too.”

Consider the backyard. Why should the front yard have all the fun? “We’re seeing people decorate behind the house,” Mike adds. “It makes sense because they see the backyard more than the front.”

Measure. Try to get a realistic measurement of how many lights you’ll use. One way to determine lighting for trees is to multiply the height times the width, then double that figure to get its square footage.

Assess. Check that lights and cords are in good repair and are rated for outdoor use. Read manufacturer recommendations to determine the number of lights you can safely string together. Never connect different types of lights on the same circuit or outlet.

Power up. Outdoor lights should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault-interrupters (GFCIs). To avoid running cords everywhere, try power stakes—portable devices that bring power where you need it.

Choose plastic. Trade hammer and nails for plastic clips that safely secure lighting to walls.

Stay safe. Work with a partner or hang a bucket with an S hook to the ladder to hold supplies. When possible, use an extension pole to keep your feet on the ground. Finally, don’t decorate trees that touch power lines.  In short, avoid the technique employed by Chevy Chase in this classic clip from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Great Places to Buy Architectural Salvage

If you're looking for vintage and salvaged finds, check out these great sources.

Photo: Pinch of the Past

Here are just a few listings of the antique fairs, flea markets, reclaimed lumber businesses, nonprofits, and architectural salvage stores where you can scout for treasure:

Habitat for Humanity ReStore: (
Habitat for Humanity’s resale outlets are all a bit different, but most offer a good selection of reusable building materials at bargain prices.

Olde Good Things: New York, Pennsylvania, and California; 888-233-9678; (
The possibilities are close to endless in the Manhattan and Los Angeles locations, and there is a huge warehouse in Scranton, PA. Among the finds: gorgeous stained glass, industrial items, antique flooring, and decorative metal.

Recycling the Past: New Jersey;  609-660-9790; (
Wide-ranging selection of salvage materials, from retro sinks of pink, sky blue, and yellow (still in their boxes) to rare 19th-century gargoyles.

Brimfield Antique Show: (
Stretching along a mile of Route 20 in Brimfield, Massachusetts, this show has more than 6000 dealers and is held three times a year.

Green Demolitions: Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania;  (
This nonprofit is based on a demolition donation program. Buy everything from a fireplace mantle to a solid copper roof to an entire kitchen of cabinets and appliances.

Pinch of the Past: Georgia; 912-232-5563; (
You’ll find lots of great ironwork, mantles, doors, and stained glass in both the Savannah and Greensboro locations.

Marburger Farm Antique Show: Texas (
Architectural remnants are easy to find at this annual show featuring more than 300 dealers in Round Top, Texas.

Allison’s Adam & Eve Architectural Salvage: Florida; 561-655-1022; (
Claiming to be the largest architectural salvage company in the Southeast, this West Palm Beach location seems to have everything, including an impressive collection of old windows and garden decor.

Salvage One: Chicago; 312-733-0098; (
Visit the 60,000 square-foot warehouse for a mix of building materials, fixtures, and garden urns and fountains. Exceptional selection of midcentury modern furnishings. 

Elmwood Reclaimed Timber: Missouri; 800-705-0705; (
Select from broad range of superior quality beams, flooring, paneling, stair parts, and other building supplies that have been dismantled from old barns and buildings.

Gavin Historical Bricks: Iowa; 319-354-5251; (
Supplier of antique reclaimed brick and stone, including antique cobblestones, building brick, and flooring brick. Services include brick restoration and matching.

West End Architectural Salvage: Iowa; 515-243-0499 (
Walk through four floors of antique hardware and building materials, mantels, stained glass, and vintage lights in this Des Moines treasure trove.

City Salvage: Minnesota; 612-627-9107; (
This business deals exclusively in American antiques with millwork, mantles, stained glass, hardware, and plumbing fixtures.

Architectural Salvage of San Diego: California; 619-696-1313 (
Owner Elizabeth Scalice’s passion for sustainable practices has built up this business with a plethora of doors, mantles, hardware, windows, kitchen and bath fixtures, and much more.

Alameda Point Antiques Faire: California; (
Enjoy more than 800 booths of antique and vintage goods at this sprawling show in the San Francisco Bay Area. First Sunday of the month.

Vintage Plumbing Bathroom Antiques: California; 818-772-1721 ( This Los Angeles company has an impressive collection of top-quality and unusual finds, including serpentine cast iron pedestal sinks, rare Roman tubs, needle bath ribcage showers, and antique ornate shower doors, and extra-wide farmhouse kitchen sinks.

Architectural Artifacts: Colorado; 303-296-0925 (
This 26-year-old Rocky Mountain company offers quality salvage, including flooring, doors, sinks, and religious artifacts.

Want to find out more about architectural salvage?  Click here.  See also, 10 Reasons to Love Architectural Salvage slide show.