Gray skies don’t have to mean a drab indoor life.
As winter plods along, you may wish you could just hibernate until spring — and that may be more true than ever this year. But there is, indeed, joy to be found in the quieter months of the year.
While the trend may have come and gone in the U.S., the art of hygge, that feeling of being ultra-cozy and content, is just part of everyday life in Denmark.
The thing is, the Danes know how to thrive in winter. You might already know they’re the happiest people on earth, but did you know a lot of them attribute their unseasonably sunny outlook to their home- and self-care habits?
When it’s cold and rainy out, and you’ve been stuck inside for — who knows how long? — binging the next series on your “recommended” list might feel like the most appealing option. But if you’d like mix things up, here are a few ideas to channel the Danes and make an intentionally delightful day out of drab weather.
1. Set the mood
Candles are a key ingredient to a supremely comfortable atmosphere. Not only do they provide beautiful, soft lighting, they also add warmth and scent to your space.
Tip: Choose seasonal scents to inspire celebration, or choose a summery scent, such as coconut and floral, to help combat the seasonal blues.
2. Bake something
Comfort food is central to the cozy experience. But it doesn’t just begin when you eat the cake (or cookies or pie) — it begins when you imagine the creation.
Leaf through your favorite cookbooks or browse some eye-candy baking sites, choose your ingredients carefully, and mix them with care, taking your time to enjoy the task at hand. It’s just a bonus that your baking will flood your space with delicious smells — and taste good too.
Tip: Reach out to a friend or family member whose recipes deserve appreciation, and ask if they could show you how to work out their spectacular skills. You can set up a video call if you’re not able to meet in person.
3. Add texture
Plush throws, sheepskins and cushions make for a much more inviting space. Cover your surfaces in as many luxurious fabrics and pillows as you can find and snuggle down.
Tip: Feel free to go faux, or if cost prohibits, find inexpensive alternatives.
4. Get out the board games
Pull your partner or kids away from their screens and gather around the table for some old-fashioned fun. Whether you go for the competitive strategy variety or laugh-out-loud social games, there are options for everyone. For the minimalists among us, even a deck of cards can offer plenty of entertainment.
Tip: Looking for remote gaming options? There are many online group gaming apps, and many people have come up with creative ways to play the classics via Zoom as well. Start up a game and maintain your connections year-round!
5. Perfect your hot drink game
Hot cocoa, hot toddies, apple cider, mulled wine — pick your poison. Whatever it is, find your own special recipe that is so delicious you can’t wait to show it off. Host a virtual happy hour and share it with family and friends.
Tip: Why, yes, you can put whiskey in those drinks. But it’s usually a good idea to perfect a mocktail version, too, for those who don’t imbibe.
6. Embrace sweater weather
If you don’t already have a favorite sweater, it’s time to find one. It should be something that makes you feel at home when you slip it on. Cashmere, wool, mohair — anything will do. Whatever you choose, pair it with thick socks!
Tip: Find some beginner books or tutorials and try your hand at knitting, crocheting or weaving, and make your own sweater over the course of the winter. Find an online knitting circle for tips and encouragement.
7. Curate your cold-outside playlist
Make yourself a mix of music that inspires you to do all those things that make you feel absolutely endeared to your space. Put it on shuffle, relax, repeat.
Tip: Instrumentals are classics for a reason — they can work as background for just about anything. When in doubt, most music services have premade playlists, some of which you can filter by mood.
8. Do seasonal activities
Making caramel apples? Check. Working on (or giving up on) your New Year’s resolutions? Check. Canning, puddle jumping, snowball throwing, signs-of-spring spotting? Check!
Tip: Whatever your favorite seasonal activities might be, create a plan to make them happen — put it on your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, or find an “accountability partner” (a friend or family member who will give you the nudge you need), and feel the magic of even the most blah weather wash over you.
Originally published October 2018.… Read More
To ensure your jack-o’-lantern is primed for Halloween, follow these tips.
While Halloween may look a little different this year, there’s no reason you can’t still have an amazing outdoor display. If you’re not interested in shelling out big bucks for a 12 foot animatronic skeleton, or if your style is more autumn chic than gothic gore, you have plenty of options when it comes to the traditional jack-o’-lantern. Before you cut into your sacrificial squash, check out these top tips for making a carv-tastic display.
There are no rules for what size or shape makes for a great jack-o’-lantern. Any pumpkin can rise to ghoulish greatness. Do look for a pumpkin that isn’t bruised and has no mold around the stem. Who wants to cut into a rotted pumpkin? Also, look for a pumpkin with a flat bottom that will sit firmly without rocking.
Every job is made easier by the right tools. A kitchen knife is not the best — or safest — thing to use for pumpkin carving. You can get a set of pumpkin carving tools at many hardware or drug stores around Halloween, but you can also use items already in your possession — power drills, awls, wood gouges or even cookie cutters. Don’t forget a big spoon to scoop out the guts!
Rather than giving your jack-o’-lantern a cap by cutting it at the top, draw a circle on the bottom of your pumpkin and cut your opening there, making sure to angle your blade toward the center to create a ledge for support of the finished cut area. Clean out the guts (save the seeds and roast them for your post-carving snack!) and scrape the insides of your pumpkin until they are about an inch thick in the areas you plan to carve. If you’re using a pattern, tape it on and transfer it by tracing with a poking tool. Then you’re ready to carve! If you’re using a pumpkin saw, it’s easiest to keep the pumpkin on your lap, holding the saw like a pencil and using a steady up-and-down motion. Saw at a 90-degree angle with gentle pressure.
To extend the life of your jack-o’-lantern, spritz it with water and keep it in the refrigerator while it’s not on display. Spread some petroleum jelly on the cut edges to keep them from drying out. If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, submerge it in cold water for a couple of hours. It should come back to life. Just make sure to dry it well on the inside to avoid mold. You can also ward off mold and insects by spraying or soaking the pumpkin with a water-and-bleach solution.
If you are using a candle, cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin toward the back to act as a chimney for smoke and heat. A candle will be more secure if you drill a hole for it. You can also use battery-operated LEDs, Christmas lights or even a nightlight to illuminate your pumpkin. If you carve a design in the back of your jack-o’-lantern, you’ll produce a shadowy effect on the wall behind it, making it extra spooky!
However you choose to carve your jack o’ lantern, use your creativity and have fun.
Beyond the jack-o’-lantern
For more simple and spooky outdoor decor ideas, check out these fun Halloween hacks.
Originally published October 2014.… Read More
A thoughtful approach to garage storage makes the most of this valuable space and keeps every necessity at your fingertips.
If your house is bursting at the seams, or simply short on storage options, the solution may be as close as your garage. To make the best use of this space, however, you first need to corral its current chaos.
This is, fortunately, a relatively simple task if you incorporate a few good storage ideas. With careful planning and a little effort, you can transform your garage from a messy catchall to an efficient, well-organized household annex.
Divide and conquer
First things first: Get rid of anything you no longer use. After you’ve winnowed down the contents of your garage, sort everything into groups. Keep garden tools with garden tools, and sports equipment with sports equipment. Items used together ought to be stored together.
Where possible, place like items into clear plastic containers with lids. It’s fine to use opaque bins, just be sure to label each one. Stackable containers are especially handy. They keep your belongings clean, protect against insects and rodents, increase the amount of usable floor space, and cut down on visual clutter.
What goes where?
The efficient use of space partly depends on positioning stored items in a thoughtful, strategic way. Are there certain items you’re likely to need on a regular basis, such as cleaning supplies? If so, store them near the door so you can access them quickly and easily. Stash rarely used or seasonal items, like sleds and skis, in harder-to-reach spots.
Off the wall
The key to garage storage and organization is getting things off the floor. Capitalizing on wall space enables you to fit the most into your garage, while keeping it all visible and easy to access. The type of wall storage you choose depends on your storage needs, project budget and personal preferences. Many homeowners opt for one or a combination of the following storage standbys:
Pegboard. A favorite for generations, pegboard is inexpensive and easy to install. Because it can be outfitted with an array of compatible hooks, clamps, bins and shelves, pegboard can be used to store and organize just about anything, as long as the item to be stored isn’t especially heavy.
Open shelving. Whether a wall-mounted track system or a set of stand-alone units, open shelves are affordable, versatile and user-friendly, and they keep everything in plain sight. Plus, depending on their construction, 12- or 16-inch-deep shelves are typically capable of holding heavier items.
Closed cabinetry. If you plan to park your car in the garage, cabinets with doors may be the most desirable option, because closed storage means not having to come face-to-face with paint cans and garbage bags every time you leave or arrive home. Cabinets are available in countless materials and styles, but generally speaking, they are more expensive than other solutions. And because they are unable to accommodate very large items, cabinets are most effective when used in conjunction with another storage system.
Panelized systems. Here, entire walls are covered with specially designed panels that hold any number of companion add-ons, such as hooks and shelves. Unlike pegboard, panelized systems can handle heavier items. But that strength and utility comes at a cost, especially since some proprietary products must be installed by licensed professionals.
For certain infrequently used belongings, the ceiling provides ideal, out-of-the-way storage space. Ladders and seasonal gear can be kept here, hung by clips or straps fastened to the ceiling joists. Or you can take advantage of hoist pulley systems, which cleverly operate like the cords on window blinds. Bear in mind, however, that ceiling storage must be oriented so that it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the garage door.
As you’re organizing your garage, it’s important to keep safety in mind. It’s unsafe to store gasoline and propane in the garage; a single spark could lead to tragedy.
Likewise, if you have children or pets, you should store hazardous materials like fertilizer and pesticides far out of reach. Locked cabinets are a good solution for these toxic materials, and they’re also a smart place to store power tools and sharp implements.
Originally published January 2015.… Read More
Create a beautiful outdoor cooking space for relaxing and entertaining all summer long.
As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, no one wants to spend time inside sweating over a hot stove. With an outdoor kitchen, you can make the most of the beautiful warm nights by spending them with your friends and family.
Whether you have thousands to spend or a just few hundred to splurge, create your own outdoor kitchen and enjoy all it has to offer.
Upgrade your grill
A rusty, dusty grill doesn’t inspire lingering outdoor evenings. Upgrade your outdoor grill and take care of it all year round for a stand-out outdoor kitchen. A standard grill will cost you $150 to $300, and top-of-the-line outdoor ranges may be upwards of $1,500.
Before buying the biggest and best grill, consider how you will use one. Will you be feeding the whole soccer team? Or perhaps grilling some steaks for a romantic dinner for two? Look for a grill with features you will actually use and not just the latest trends.
Enhance your seating
If your basics are up to date, then you’ll want to upgrade your patio furniture and seating options too. If you plan on dining outside often, invest in an actual dining table and appropriate chairs. Eating a gourmet dinner off your lap downgrades an otherwise luxurious experience.
If you’re looking for more versatile pieces, sleek contemporary options coordinate nicely with most outdoor kitchen setups. Expect to spend a good chunk of change on quality furniture, but remember: With the proper care and maintenance, it can last as long as high-end interior pieces. Make sure you have a plan for the off-season, whether that’s moving outdoor furniture to indoor storage or securely covering it to protect it from the elements.
Add the extras
Want a prep sink? Wine fridge? Ice machine? Built-in smoker? You got it. The sky’s the limit when it comes to custom additions — or rather, your budget is the limit. Think carefully about your space before making a wish list.
Perhaps a full chef’s kitchen won’t quite fit in your backyard, but a beautiful wine fridge and some extra counter space are just what you need to take your outdoor kitchen to the next level.
Some features require installing or extending utilities (think: water or electricity), so don’t forget about portable additions such as a bar cart — which adds class without hassle.
Make it comfortable
Think about how you will provide amenities to make being outdoors comfortable, such as shade, heat (if using your space year-round), and perhaps even a few extras like a TV or audio equipment.
Tucking the seating close to the house may help you take advantage of a porch or awning. Otherwise, structures such as a light-strung pergola add shade during the day, light at night and atmosphere all the time.
If you have the room, the addition of a fireplace allows for a longer entertaining season. Outdoor kitchens don’t have to be just for summer, after all.
If you like to have some indoor comforts while enjoying your beautiful outside oasis, television and music can be connected outside — although it can be expensive. Bluetooth or portable speakers, a projector and a large sheet, or even an old-fashioned radio are more budget-sensitive options for those looking to add a little fun to their outdoor space.
Apply your own style
Create an outdoor kitchen that suits your style and taste. If you’re working with an existing space, be sure to embrace the style and play up the features, such as dark wood, stone and classic columns.
If you’re starting from scratch, take a look at your indoor design and see what features you like. Then consider incorporating those color schemes, design styles or even furniture shapes into your outdoor kitchen.
While you can’t go wrong designing your outdoor space, consider designs and colors that are versatile so you’re not limited if you want to mix things up in the future.
Make it yours
Your outdoor kitchen should be a comfortable, relaxing space for entertaining or unwinding after a long day of work. Make yours an escape that works for you.
When planning your outdoor kitchen, think about adding one or two small luxuries that will make you excited to enjoy your space. These can be as small as pretty tea lights scattered around or as large as a wood-burning pizza oven.
Originally published June 2016.… Read More
Starting to daydream about dining under the stars? Make that dream a beautiful patio reality.
For many homeowners, the patio borders on magical: a place to relax, entertain, cook out and take a break from the day-to-day. It’s surrounded by vibrant hues, and a meal prepared in an outdoor kitchen somehow tastes better than anything that comes from its indoor counterpart.
Creating that perfect outdoor space for you and your family all starts with the literal foundation of this alfresco living room: the patio materials. Your selection can have a huge effect on the appearance, durability and functionality of your favorite home addition.
Before you commit to a type of patio, first envision the finished space. You probably have a good idea of the location and approximate size, so go grab a chair, take it outside, and position it in the intended spot. Then sit, and picture each material in your mind’s eye.
Your patio should not only complement your home and landscape, it should also enhance your lifestyle. If you have a large space to work with, consider incorporating a combination of paving materials; some of the best patio designs include two or more. Using multiple materials lets you integrate inlaid borders that can visually separate an area for lounging from the outdoor kitchen.
When you’ve dreamed up your ideal design, consider which materials would best bring it to life, in terms of both aesthetics and practical issues, such as maintenance requirements and cost.
Poured concrete is the patio material of choice for many homeowners because it’s structurally sound, inexpensive, and can even be stamped or dyed to mimic higher-end paving materials. It’s best suited for moderate to warm climates where frost heave is not a concern.
Planning tip: A standard concrete patio is four inches thick, but if you intend to construct something very heavy, such as a built-in fireplace, ask the contractor to reinforce that particular area before you pour.
Available in a variety of colors, bricks create a warm and attractive patio. This classic patio style typically costs more than one constructed from concrete, not just for the materials themselves, but also for labor — a significant consideration when every brick must be set by hand, leveled and grouted.
Should you decide to invest, you can design the space with any number of patterns, from a traditional running bond to something with added textural appeal like a boxed basket-weave or herringbone.
Planning tip: For patios, solid 1- or 2-inch-thick paving bricks are the best choice, either dry-laid or mortared in place. Be wary about extending your brick patio into deep shade, or else you’ll need to watch out for a slick surface after every rainfall.
Often manufactured from cement, cinder or stone, pavers top the DIY patio wish list for their low price and super simple installation — they’ll have you out there grilling in record time.
If you’re planning to lay your own patio, you’ll need a suitable substrate consisting of at least three inches of sand, and a permanent border, such as a poured concrete curb, to keep the pavers from shifting.
Planning tip: Pavers may be dry-laid by butting them tightly, or installed with uniform mortar joints. If the patio lies over utility lines, know that dry-laid pavers will be simpler to remove and replace if (or when) you need to access the utilities below.
The highly desirable look of stone comes with a steeper price tag — particularly if your pick isn’t locally sourced — but you can’t beat it for natural appeal. Flat, irregularly shaped stones offer a calm and meandering effect, while uniform-cut slabs of granite, travertine, slate, or bluestone can produce a formal patio that’s fitting for any backyard.
Planning tip: Natural stone is extremely durable for any patio, but if you happen to be planning one poolside, opt for a nonslip variety, such as coral stone.
Available in ceramic, glass, porcelain, terra cotta and natural stone, tile creates beautiful mosaic patio designs that are refreshingly cool underfoot in hot climates. Because tile is thin, it requires the installation of a concrete slab.
Planning tip: Even if you plan to lay the tile yourself, it’s a good idea to have a professional pour an even slab. Also note that not all tile is suitable for patio construction. To withstand weather, all your materials — tile, thinset, grout and sealer — must be labeled for exterior use.
Crushed stone, pea gravel and sand
If you’re not a fan of rock-solid patios, crushed stone, pea gravel or sand could be more your style. Both crushed stone and gravel offer a variety of colors and textures at low prices, and even sandy Zen gardens can double as patio areas.
You will, however, need to install a solid perimeter to keep the loose material from spreading outside its intended border.
Planning tip: It can be difficult to remove snow and fallen leaves when the seasons change, so consider your climate and environment carefully. To maintain a manicured look, count on refreshing the surface every few years.
Originally published April 2016.… Read More