Author Archives: Marie Proeller Hueston

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5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Kitchen Renovation

Before beginning the project, ask yourself some basic questions in order to make sure you end up with the kitchen of your dreams.


Can it be that updating your kitchen changes life for the better? For Sabine Schoenberg, there’s no doubt about it. “Kitchens are nurturing spaces for the body and soul,” says Schoenberg, founder of and author of Kitchen Magic: Secrets to Successful Kitchens. “Even small improvements in your kitchen can have a profound impact on your quality of life.”

Before any work can begin, however, Schoenberg advises that you ask yourself a series of questions. The exercise can help you pinpoint and (just as important) articulate the goals of your project. “Don’t rush through this fun discovery phase,” she says. “Enjoy the opportunity to think through what’s important to you and your family to create your perfect kitchen.”



Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Inspiration


In your most fond memories of the kitchen where you grew up, which features of the room usually stand out? It might be the paint color on the walls, the material of the countertop, a particular type of table, or the presence of a sunny window. Should fresh inspiration fail, let those recollections guide your choices.



Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Banquette


What’s the main reason you’re remodeling the kitchen? Don’t lose sight of your primary motivation, be it more light, more storage, or a more efficient workflow. Taking the time now to develop a firm grasp of your priorities will help you make some tough decisions at later stages of the process.



Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Style


When you envision your dream kitchen, what are its design characteristics? Is it ultramodern or quaintly country? Does stainless steel or natural wood appear on the finishes? Browse shelter magazines and websites, identifying the commonalities that exist between those images you find most appealing.



Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - One Thing


What is the one feature you wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself for not including in your kitchen renovation? Whether it’s a splurge item—a commercial oven, for instance—or simply cookbook storage space, adjust the budget of your project so that once completed, your new kitchen perfectly fits your ongoing lifestyle.



Kitchen Remodeling Design Tips - Future


Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the finished space. Do you feel happy because the sun is streaming in, organized because there is a place for everything (and everything is in its place), or social because you can entertain guests while cooking? Be sure to discuss your vision with your architect or contractor.

5 Common Painting Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them

If you want your DIY interior paint job to look polished and professional, steer clear of these common pitfalls.

Painting Mistakes to Avoid


In his role as the “Paint Doctor” for Purdy—longtime makers of handcrafted paint brushes and roller covers—Bruce Schneider fields queries from intrepid do-it-yourselfers on a regular basis. Who better to ask about the most common problems that homeowners encounter in their interior painting projects?

Mistake #1
Choosing Inferior Applicators
Solution: “To get the job done right, you need good quality tools,” Schneider says. “It always boggles my mind that people are willing to spend $40 or $50 on a gallon of premium paint but decide to go cheap on the applicators. Later, when they see a hair on the wall or lumps of roller lint under the paint, they’ll realize the mistake. Investing in good brushes or rollers up front is worth the extra expense.”

Related: 10 Unexpected Spots for an Accent Color

Mistake #2
Improper Preparation
Solution: “It may seem obvious, but you always want to do repair work first so that your walls are smooth, clean, dry, and free of loose debris before you begin painting,” Schneider advises.

Painting Mistakes to Avoid - Roller


Mistake #3
Overextending Each Dip of the Brush or Roller
Solution: DIYers often continue applying a dip of paint until the brush or roller becomes dry. The problem? “When you overextend each dip, the paint can dry in the brush bristles, and the fabric on rollers can mat down,” he cautions. “Be sure to always maintain a smooth line of paint. Once the paint appears to break up, it’s time to re-dip.”

Mistake #4
Breathing the Wrong Way
Solution: The way you breathe when painting—especially when cutting in near edges—can affect the steadiness of your hand. “When you need to be precise, hold your breath or breathe out,” Schneider suggests. “Your body moves more when you’re breathing in.”

Mistake #5
Letting Touch-up Paint Dry Out
Solution: To extend the life of your leftover paint, try these tricks. “For water-based paint, place a piece of clear plastic wrap directly on the surface of the paint, then reseal the container,” Schneider offers. “For oil-based paint, add about a half-inch of water on the surface before resealing.”

Visit Bruce Schneider’s “Ask the Paint Doctor” feature and get more information on Purdy products at

5 Pro Tips to Help You Find the Perfect Fixer-Upper

On the hunt for that elusive diamond in the rough? Real estate wizard Randy Florke shares his top tips on buying a fixer-upper.

As founder and president of The Rural Connection, a real estate company based in Upstate New York, Randy Florke has purchased and restored more than 40 old farmhouses, creating gracious and comfortable homes from these diamonds in the rough. When scouting a property, which qualities catch his eye, and what are the red flags that make him walk away? Read on for pro tips on buying a fixer-upper.


1. Location, Location, Location

Buying a Fixer-Upper - Location


“If a house has an amazing location, there’s almost nothing in the way of renovation hurdles that get in my way,” Florke says. “My dream location is all about privacy. I love a house that’s set back from the road. If it’s also got a great view or a water feature, such as a pond or creek—those are both bonus features.”


2. Budget for Renovation Costs

Buying a Fixer Upper - Budget


“When I first tour a house, I’m thinking about what I’d like to change and what needs to be done,” says Florke. “By the time I walk back out the door, I already have a preliminary idea of what the renovation costs might be.” These costs, Florke continues, have to be factored into your overall budget. If you’re unsure about the costs yourself, ask someone you trust to come along and offer you an honest estimate. “It’s essential that you know what you’re getting into.”


3. Focus on Roofing and Foundations

Buying a Fixer-Upper - Roofing


Issues with roofs and foundations often scare off potential buyers, according to Florke, but if you adore the house, ask a contractor to take a closer look. “I’ve bought many houses with both of these issues,” he says. “Provided the cost to fix them properly is within your budget, it could be a great opportunity.”


4. Know Where to Draw the Line

Buying a Fixer-Upper - Wood Rot


Repairable roof and foundation problems aside, Florke would pass on an old home with termites or significant rotting. “If a roof has been left in disrepair for too long, a house will rot from the inside out. That’s not worth an investment.” But don’t rush to dismiss the land on which the tear-down is sitting. “It you’re in love with the location and your budget allows, you can raze the old house and rebuild a new one in a similar style.”


5. Stay Positive

Buying a Fixer-Upper - Stay Positive


If you’ve found an old home you feel is perfect for you but have reason to believe the renovation costs will not realistically fit into your budget, “walk away,” Florke advises. “There will always be another house to fall in love with.”

7 Ways to Make Your Dorm Room a Home Away from Home

For busy college students, ideal dorm room ideas deliver the most functional or decorative impact with the least investment of time.

Dorm Room Ideas


In her book, Speed Decorating, interior decorator Jill Vegas offers tips and tricks for anyone interested in putting together a beautiful space—quickly. Low fuss is always a plus, but for college students in particular, the concept of fast-pace design holds special appeal. While undergraduates want to live in fun and functional surroundings, their favorite dorm room ideas are usually those requiring the least time to implement.

Related: 10 Honor Roll-Worthy Dorm Room Storage Solutions

“The beginning of the academic year is the perfect time to create an ideal living environment,” says Vegas. “College is about following your dreams, so why not live in a dream room?” Read on for expert advice aimed at helping you transform the blank canvas of your dorm room into a personalized home away from home, custom-tailored to your daily needs and sense of style.


1. Pare Down to Essentials

Dorm Room Ideas - Pare Down


According to Vegas, “The best way to make a space inviting is to include only items that you love.” Instead of packing up every miscellaneous knick knack from your bedroom back home, Vegas recommends that you “carefully edit your essentials, so you don’t clutter your dorm room with stuff.”


2. Begin with the Bed

Dorm Room Ideas - Bedding


The focal point in most dorm rooms, the bed is the best place to direct your initial burst of decorating zeal. ”Ideally, the bed should be able to pull double duty as a place not only to sleep, but also to read, study, and lounge,” says Vegas. “In addition to bedding, choose three to seven accent pillows to finish the look.”


3. Color Coordinate Your Desk

Dorm Room Ideas - Organized Desk


“Start with a fabulous desk lamp,” Vegas suggests. “You’ll want something stylish and very functional for late-night reading.” After that, move on to the accessories. “Pick one accent color and purchase your desk items in that color. If you prefer a neutral palette, stick with natural tones like ivory or white.”


4. Personalize Your Walls


Create an accent wall with framed photographs of family and friends. “Collect an assortment of inexpensive frames from thrift stores and yard sales, then unify the look by spray painting them all in your favorite color. A gallery wall like this is a great way to add color to the room while making it feel more like you.”


5. Don’t Ignore the Floor

Dorm Room Ideas - Flokati


A small accent can make a large impact on your level of comfort. “You’ll definitely want a cozy rug by your bed,” Vegas says. “I like a plush sheepskin or a similar style that feels like you’re stepping on a cloud. It can also function as a throw if you’d like to put it over your desk chair for an extra layer of comfort.”


6. Keep It Neat


Liberate your dorm room from attention-stealing disorder by placing your possessions out of sight and into trunks or storage boxes. “Make sure everything has a place,” Vegas urges. “I prefer clear boxes that allow you to see what you have.” Save floor space by situating storage containers under the bed or in the closet.


7. Involve Your Roommate


“Share your design ideas with your roomie and listen to his or her ideas, too,” Vegas concludes. “It’s a great way to learn how to collaborate and to create a space that is a celebration of your new adventure at school.”


For more on Speed Decorating, including online decorating classes, visit Jill Vegas.

5 Smart Ways to Fill the House with Your Favorite Color

With tips from Benjamin Moore color expert Sharon Grech, you can create a design palette for your whole house that begins with your single favorite hue.

Everyone has a favorite color, but not everyone understands how to use that most loved hue to full advantage at home. Benjamin Moore color expert Sharon Grech offers hints aimed at helping you build a household palette around apple green, sunflower yellow, or firehouse red—whatever your favorite color might be—to create a sense of flow that continues seamlessly from one room to the next.



Interior Paint Color Scheme - Harmony


“Although it’s simpler to just paint one color throughout the house,” Grech says, “changing the color or the value of the color from room to room is a very effective way to define spaces. Choose more than one shade of your favorite color or move close-by on the spectrum, but be sure to limit your palette to no more than five distinct colors. And remember: White is a color when decorating!”



Interior Paint Color Schemes - Starting Point


Which room should get the purest form of your favorite color? For Grech, the answer is whichever room already features that hue in a decorative accessory, be it a work of art or a fabric pattern. However, if your home is a blank canvas that is crying out for some color, “choose the room you spend quality time in.” Grech continues, “For many of us, it’s the kitchen or living room.”



Interior Paint Color Schemes - Open Plans


If you have an open floor plan and feel the color would be too overwhelming if applied everywhere, use it for an accent wall only. You can then balance its effect with a neutral coordinate for the rest of the space, Grech advises. “The coordinating color can be a lighter value of the accent wall or a neutral that will work with almost any hue, like Benjamin Moore’s Jute or Muslin,” she says.



Interior Paint Color Schemes - Accessories


“Be sure to repeat touches of your favorite color in adjacent rooms by way of soft furnishings and accessories like throw pillows, picture frames, and china patterns,” Grech says. “This will help to ensure harmony from space to space.”



Interior Paint Color Schemes - Hallways


“Hallways can be a natural respite from the more colorful rooms, but you also want to continue the sense of flow throughout the house,” Grech advises. “Use these thoroughfares to display colorful framed images or accessories that reference back to the home’s color palette, even if the wall color here is more neutral than the rest of the house.”

6 Pro Tips for Successful Container Gardening

Kerry Michaels,'s container gardening expert, shares her top tips for success. Follow her advice and you may soon find that your containers—and your enthusiasm—flourish exuberantly.

Container Gardening


When she’s not sharing her knowledge of container gardening as a guide on or photographing New England gardens for a forthcoming book from Timber Press, you’re likely to find Kerry Michaels tending to the nearly 100 potted plants that surround her home in coastal Maine. “No matter how hectic life can be,” she muses, “I get such enormous pleasure from these pots!” Here, Michaels offers six tips to boost your own container gardening know-how.

1. Water Properly
“It still surprises me how much water a good-sized container needs to get to the roots of a plant,” says Michaels. Don’t just wet the top of the soil, she advises. Rather, continue until you see water dripping out from the holes at the bottom of the pot.

2. Supplement Nutrients
“There are no nutrients in most potting soils, and even those that have some will need to be supplemented throughout the growing season,” Michaels says. If your potting soil doesn’t have any (check the bag), then augment it with slow-release fertilizer every couple of weeks. Be sure to follow the directions closely, whether you choose to use diluted liquid fertilizer or granular fertilizer.

3. Pay Attention to Pot Size
Pots that are too small can be a problem for container gardeners, Michaels reports. “Small pots mean less soil, and less soil means that there isn’t much margin for error when watering, because the pots dry out so fast,” she says.

Related: How To: Decorate Garden Pots

Container Gardening - Drainage Holes


4. Add Some Holes
If your pot is skimpy on drainage, don’t be afraid to make a few extra holes in the bottom. You can either use a drill with a special bit for ceramic pots (because these pots can crack, always wear safety goggles and make sure the pot and bit do not overheat), a regular bit for plastic pots, or an awl or nail and hammer for metal pots. “Sometimes my pots look like Swiss cheese, because I put so many holes in them,” Michaels says. “The more drainage the better.”

5. Skip the Gravel
“It’s a myth that stones or shells at the bottom of a container help keep your plants from getting waterlogged,” Michaels reveals. To keep soil from escaping the bottom of your pot, place window screening, a coffee filter, or a paper towel over the holes of your container before adding soil.

6.  Elevate Pots
“When containers are set flat on nonporous surfaces, drainage can be affected,” says Michaels. “And on a deck, the constant moisture can damage the wood. Air circulation below pots is beneficial to both the plants and your deck.” She suggests using commercially made pot feet, like Potrisers or Pot Pads, or depending on the weight of your containers, you might consider teacups, shot glasses, or small terra-cotta pots to elevate them.

Storage Starved? 6 Tips and Tricks Anyone Can Use

Author Janet Lee reveals six small space storage solutions as valuable to apartment renters as they are to homeowners.

Small Space Storage Solutions

Photo: Aimee Herring

Over the past 20 years, author, blogger, and television producer Janet Lee has lived in a dozen small apartments, none of them larger than 750 square feet. Small wonder that she’s earned a wealth of knowledge about making the most out of less-than-spacious spaces.

Through her blog, Living in a Nutshell, and her book, Living in a Nutshell: Posh and Portable Decorating Ideas for Small Spaces, Lee offers advice on maximizing the real estate you’ve got, however limited it may be. Her small space storage solutions reveal your home’s hidden storage potential.

Small Space Storage Solutions - Living in a Nutshell


1. Outer Edges of Bookcases
Increase the storage capacity of a bookcase, armoire, or any wall-mounted cabinet by simply attaching racks, hooks, or shelving to the outer sides of the unit. Lee points out, “The trick is to keep the color or materials of the add-on shelving consistent with the style of the bookcase itself.”

2. Over the Fridge
The storage-starved among us typically leverage the space above the refrigerator. Lee suggests organizing items you keep here into coordinating boxes. Or if the appliance occupies an unusually tight space, install a curtain that extends down only low enough to conceal the loose collection of items the top of your fridge holds.

3. A Folding Screen’s Flipside
Capitalize on the fact that guests so rarely see the back of your folding screen: Add over-the-door shoe bags or hang a laundry bag from a small hook. Of course, the room divider must be sturdy enough to support the weight of whatever you choose to hide behind the panel; wood-framed designs are ideal.

Related: 11 Sneaky Storage Ideas

Small Space Storage Solution - Rubber Boating Straps

Photo: Aimee Herring

4. Underneath Sofas and Living Room Chairs
We all know what a godsend a storage bin under the bed can be. So why stop there? Lee asks. Stow baskets and bins beneath furniture beyond the bedroom. A good place to start is the living room sofa. For easy access (and to prevent floor damage), enhance your bins with caster wheels. Lee advises, ”Choose sliders you can attach with screws or nuts for a secure fit.”

5.  Hallway Walls
Transform tiny hallways and foyers into stylish catchalls with this inexpensive trick: Stretched across a wall or frame, rubber boating straps can support mail, keys, small toys and shoes—any possession you want to keep within arm’s reach, ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice.

6. Closet Doorknobs
Here’s another great small space storage solution: “When you are trying to maximize your closet’s full storage potential, don’t forget the doorknobs,” says Lee. Hang coordinating tote bags printed with decorative designs to keep stockings, scarves, and socks neatly contained and instantly accessible.

A Green Dream Townhouse

Proving that green design is as beautiful and practical as it is good for the earth, architect Paul Gleicher transforms a New York City townhouse into an eco-friendly family home.

Green Dream House

Paul Gleicher and Lisa Sharkey sit in the living room of their eco-friendly townhouse.

Back in 2005, when Paul Gleicher and his wife Lisa Sharkey began to gut-renovate their 1885 Manhattan townhouse, the concept of green building was still foreign to many manufacturers.

“We were hard-pressed to locate accurate information and inspirational products,” recalls Gleicher, a LEED-accredited architect and the founder of Gleicher Design Group. “At one trade show, when we asked about green products, we were actually shown green-colored wallpaper and tiles.”

Slideshow: House Tour: New York City Townhouse Goes Green

The couple spent untold hours scouring the internet for earth-friendly building materials. Among their finds were household names, such as Sherwin-Williams and its Harmony line of no-VOC paints, as well as many small firms located close by.

For example, Icestone, a Brooklyn-based company specializing in recycled glass and concrete, supplied the kitchen and bathroom countertops, the living room fireplace surround, and the rooftop patio pavers.

Gleicher Sharkey Townhouse - Living Roof

Recycled-glass pavers appear on the "living roof" of the townhouse.

Gleicher and Sharkey filled their home with healthy, sustainable accents: upholstery made from recycled fabric, furniture made from recycled wood, and organic mattresses free of formaldehyde. Indeed, innovations continue from the high-efficiency boiler and water heater in the basement to the glass conservatory and green roof on the top floor.

“One of the great things we discovered was that choosing green does not add significant cost to a renovation,” Gleicher says. “And over time, the five or ten percent more you might spend up front will save you money, because the products last longer and use less energy.”

With the renovation complete, Gleicher and Sharkey now enjoy a home that’s as kind to the planet as it is pleasing to the eye. ”Today eco-friendly products and materials are at the forefront of the design world,” Gleicher points out. “People see their value in terms of the earth, our health, and even the market value of a home. But there is still a lingering sense that ‘green’ design is somehow earthy or crunchy, and we wanted to show that wasn’t the case at all.”

The Gleicher/Sharkey townhouse—and 16 other stylishly sustainable residences—can be found in Dreaming Green: Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire (Clarkson Potter; 2008). “The book is the culmination of all out work,” Gleicher reports. “And the resource guide is one we would have loved to have had when we started out.”

How Do You Shower? 7 Revealing Facts About America’s Bathing Habits

Whether you use your shower to wake up in the morning or wind down at night, the way you take a shower may be more revealing than you know.

Bathing Habits


As the Senior Research & Development Manager for Delta Faucet, Paul Patton conducts frequent surveys and studies to better understand the needs of his customers. Through this research, Patton has observed an intriguing phenomenon: Although people interact with kitchen and lavatory sinks in much the same way, the way we shower differs from person to person.

“There is an emotional side to showers that just isn’t there with sinks,” Patton confirms. “A shower is a uniquely personal experience, whether you use the time to wake up in the morning, to wind down in the evening, or simply to get away from it all.” Here, seven telling facts reveal how Americans feel about their showers.

Better Than a Cup of Joe
18% of all respondents, male and female, report that their morning shower is more important to them than that first cup of coffee.

Me Time
About 40% of women surveyed agree with the statement, “My shower is my time for focusing just on me,” compared with only 28% of men.

Spa for Less
Households in lower income brackets are more likely to view the shower as a place to ease stress and escape the worries of the world. For many, a hot shower is an affordable alternative to a pricey massage.

What Women Want
When asked about their dream shower, 40% of men would include more room for a significant other; 45% of women would choose ambient music and lighting.

What Else Is On?
Much like they channel surf with the remote control, men are more likely than women to change the spray pattern and adjust the flow of water in the shower.

If Mom’s in the Shower, Don’t Knock
10% of women say if something interrupts their shower routine, their whole day is out of whack.

Waste Not, But Have It All
Despite droughts and water restrictions, Americans love their daily showers—something that continually drives Delta Faucet to improve water efficiency in their products. “The question we’re always asking ourselves is, How do we deliver a great shower experience and save water at the same time?” says Patton.

Is a Kitchen Banquette Right for You?

Kitchen Banquettes


Banquettes have a nostalgic charm about them, whether you sat at one in your grandmother’s kitchen or you shared a diner booth with friends in college. But is this distinctive seating right for your home?

For insight, we reached out to kitchen and bath designer Susan Klimala, CKD – CBD and owner of The Kitchen Studio in Glen Ellyn, IL. “Banquettes allow for a cozy, intimate dining experience with a casual feel, but they’re not for everyone,” says Susan, who has designed numerous banquettes, including one in her own kitchen. She cites several good reasons to consider a kitchen banquette.

Efficient Use of Space
“From a design standpoint, banquettes offer a very efficient use of space. You are eliminating the need for some of the clearances you would require with a table and chairs. This makes seating possible in areas where a table and chairs would just be too tight.”

Perfect for Casual Dining
“Banquettes are ideal as a casual dining spot for a small group. They are better for breakfast and after-school snacks than they are for formal dinners.”

Kitchen Banquettes - Booth


You Can Repurpose Out-of-the-Way Places
“Alcoves, bay windows, and corners are all good spots for a banquette. Another option—if you are planning to build or remodel—is to think about repurposing the space that might have been planned for a walk-in pantry. I did this in my own kitchen and was able to design a large island, plus plenty of storage, while still having enough room for an eat-in kitchen.”

There are, however, situations where banquette seating may not be the perfect solution, among them:

Not for Big Families
“I would not recommend banquette seating for a very large family. If someone needs to get out for another serving, a glass of water, or what have you, then everyone has to scoot over to let them out.”

Finding the Right Table Is Challenging
“It can be tricky to find an attractive table to service a banquette. The table has to be a pedestal of some sort. It cannot have legs at the four corners, because you would bang your legs every time you got in or out. Most times a banquette necessitates some type of custom table.”

Related: Trending Now: Banquette Seating

They Can Be Hard to Clean
“Banquettes can get a little grungy, especially the parts tucked away in the back, so ideally you want a movable table that you can pull in and out when you need to clean or change the tablecloth. We did a banquette where the table was on casters for this exact purpose.”

Kitchen Banquettes - Dining Area

MB Wilson Interior Design / Photo: Beth Singer

Construction Details
If you are thinking about putting a banquette in your kitchen, heed Susan’s advice: Ideally, you need a minimum of 27 inches of space for each person to sit comfortably. The depth of the benches should be at least 24 inches, because you will want to leave space for an angled back or upholstered seating. The table should overlap each bench by three inches or so.

If you are designing a banquette in front of windows, be sure that the windows are a good 24 inches off the floor to allow for a seat height of 15 inches (not counting the height of the cushions).

When it comes to upholstery, opt for something washable. Fabric-upholstered cushions are never a great idea, especially with children. Choose an upholstered banquette in leather or pleather, just like the seating you would find in a restaurant. Such material can be easily wiped clean, and you won’t have to deal with the cushions falling off the benches. Your local upholsterer should be able to help you pull this together.

For more on kitchen design, consider:

Kitchen Design Trends for 2013
12 Outstanding Kitchen Island Options
Planning Guide: Kitchen Remodeling