Creating a Cozy Fireplace Scene

By Kerrie Kelly, ASID

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The modern fireplace is more than just a place that provides warmth in the winter—it’s a natural focal point for any room. Whether it’s in the bedroom, dining room or living room, a fireplace is prime real estate for introducing more style and comfort to your home. From simple additions like accessories and bold artwork, to more complex alterations like new facing, there’s a way to create a cozy fireplace scene within every budget. Grab some cocoa and a snuggly blanket—let’s take a look at a few favorite ways you can create a cozy fireplace scene.

Fix Up the Facing

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A new facing can completely change the look and feel of a space. It is a more complex option, but a new facing can go a long way. This is also a fantastic option for those wishing to truly overhaul the style of a room or the entire home—swap that outdated granite for a classic marble, or get the contemporary feel you’ve always wanted by introducing some funky tile. As a focal point, it can instantly elevate a room to its new potential. Cheaper alternatives are also an option for those looking for noticeable alterations without the major price tag. Simply painting brick a crisp neutral can add airiness to a dreary room, so don’t underestimate the magic of a can of paint for creating your new vision.

Update the Mantle

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Similar to facing, changing up the fireplace mantle can help create a cohesive, updated look. Play around with materials and styles to make your fireplace your own. A simple, floating beam adds just the right amount of warmth for a rustic vibe, while a sleek and minimal mantle is perfect for a contemporary room. Add detailing to a bathroom or lush transitional living room with an intricate mantle—you’ll be sure to turn heads with your show-stopping focal point. For an easy yet significant change, consider painting your mantle a different color. An updated neutral is a wonderful go-to for a clean look, while an unexpected color adds depth and pizazz that is stunning all year round.

Play Around with Accessories

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Adding just a few accessories can make all the difference when it comes to elevating the fireplace area into a cozy yet functional scene. Fireplace screens not only keep your surrounding area clean and safe, they’re an easy way to add another interesting pattern and/or material to the room. Firewood racks filled with logs add instant warmth and charm, and they aren’t just for rustic interiors—mid-century admirers will love a modern rack filled with decorative birch logs, while a more transitional interior is a great candidate for a simple yet elegant rack. Top off your cozy space with an antique fireplace tool set and you’re ready for winter entertaining around the fire.  

Add Some Dashing Decor

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Take your cozy fireplace scene to a whole new level with some dynamic decor. The jewelry of the space, fireplace decor is all about adding a bow on the finished project and making your statement. Plush floor cushions or snuggly flokati rugs are fantastic for winter huddles by the fire. A welcoming fireplace scene wouldn’t be complete without fun decor on the mantle or hearth—from apothecary jars to glittering vases to branches or fresh flowers, decor options are endless with a wide range of color palettes and styles. Top off your fireplace scene with a bold art piece or a favorite mirror above the mantel and you’ve got yourself a warm and welcoming area.

What are your favorite elements of your cozy fireplace?

** Home design specialist Kerrie Kelly shares her decor tips online for The Home Depot. Kerrie’s interior design firm Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, regularly advises clients on decor solutions for all parts of their homes. For various fireplace options, visit the Home Depot website.

Top 2017 Home Improvement Projects and How to Afford Them

By: Elizabeth Trach

When you own your own home, it seems like there’s always a list of projects to complete to keep it both beautiful and functional. Sometimes a broken air conditioner or garage door will force your hand and you’ll have to make a repair, but usually the decisions about which projects to tackle are all yours. Choose wisely, and you’ll reap the benefits when you sell your home for top dollar in the future.

So how’s a cost-conscious homeowner supposed to know which home improvement projects will bring the great return on investment for 2017? Each year, Remodeling magazine conducts a study about the cost of the most popular home improvement projects, and they calculate how much of the costs homeowners make back when they sell those properties. The 2016 results are the best way to plan your 2017 home improvement spending to get the most for your money.

Top 5 Home Projects for 2017

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It’s not surprising that some of the best investments you can make in your home are ones that add to its efficiency and curb appeal. Making your home more energy-efficient by adding insulation and blocking drafts will lower your heating and cooling costs so much that these projects almost pay for themselves. Additionally, making your house look great from the street will attract future buyers. Each of Remodeling’s top five projects will bring back some of the money you invest:

  • Adding Insulation: This is the only home improvement project that consistently pays for itself — and then some. You can’t see the results, but you’ll feel them every time you turn on the heat or open your electricity bill.
  • Adding Stone Veneer: Sprucing up your home’s exterior with luxury materials really pays off. If stone veneer would be out of place with your home’s architectural style, replacing the siding also provides an excellent return on investment.
  • Replacing Garage Doors: Upgrading garage doors provides an instant facelift and can boost your quality of life when you don’t have to worry about them getting stuck in inclement weather anymore.
  • Replacing Exterior Doors: Replacing exterior doors with steel or fiberglass models is a one-two punch that lets you improve the look of your entryway while stopping drafts in their tracks.
  • Remodeling the Kitchen: A minor kitchen remodel that includes cabinet refacing, efficient appliances, new fixtures and a clean color scheme will really pay off. You’ll enjoy cooking much more in a room you love, and future buyers will appreciate your good taste in this all-important room.

How to Cover the Costs of Your Remodeling Projects

Once you’ve chosen which home improvement project you’re ready to invest in this year, you’ll need to plan how to finance it. Depending on the total cost and your credit score, one of these popular payment methods should work for these mid-range projects:

  • Cash Savings: If a quick kitchen update is under $1,000, or if your state provides rebates for energy efficient projects, as some do according to Energy.gov, paying in cash can be easier than you think. Avoiding interest charges will save you money in the long run, so it’s a good option if you can afford it.
  • Credit Cards: Financing your home improvement project with a new credit card is a good way to take advantage of an interest-free period and/or bonus points. If you’ve received a pre-approved credit card offer recently, you could get a good deal if you do your research before signing up.
  • HELOC: A Home Equity Line of Credit typically offers low interest rates and a long payback period for homeowners, but you need to have paid off a certain percentage of your mortgage to qualify. If you’ve lived in your home for several years, it’s worth talking to a mortgage specialist to see if you should apply.
  • Mortgage Refinance: If you’re currently paying a high interest rate on your mortgage, you might be able to refinance your loan at a lower rate and cash out some home improvement money without raising your monthly payment. Talk to a specialist to weigh your options.

**Elizabeth Trach is a professional writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. In addition to scrupulously saving her pennies, she also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in extreme gardening at Port Potager.

Eight Ways to Troubleshoot Your Garage Door Opener

Machines don’t always cooperate. Having a garage door stick in its place can prevent you from driving out of your garage or present huge security problems. If you’re home alone when this happens, you may need to fix it quickly and by yourself. If you’re not the type of person that normally tinkers with hardware, check out our list of easy checks that may fix your garage door!

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  1. Power and Batteries

Before tinkering with the tools in the garage, check your power source first.

Make sure the operator is plugged in properly and that the socket has electricity. You may want to try unplugging the operator and plugging it back again.

Also check the batteries of your remote control and wireless keypad. A simple change of batteries may be the only thing you need.

  1. Reset Your Remote Control

Another reason for the malfunction may simply be that the remote control is not working. Sometimes when you change batteries or reprogram the operator, you may need to reset the remote control again.

Resetting the remote control is not as difficult as it may sound; read your user manual and follow its short step by step guide.

  1. Garage Door Sensors

If the remote control is not the problem, check the garage’s sensors located at the bottom of the door.

Make sure the sensors on both sides are level with each other. Tighten the screw of the sensors or use a cable tie to permanently fix them on the door frame. Easily missable items like garbage bags, a mop, or your leg may interrupt the laser signal and cause a malfunction. So, before doing anything else, check the area near your garage door. Make sure to clean the lens of the sensors as well, since dust and snow may cause problems.

  1. Operator

The operator is the machine that moves the door of the garage. The machine may stop working due to motherboard malfunctions, busted wires, defective buttons, or overheating.

If the operator is frequently used and you suspect overheating, allow it to cool down for 30 minutes before using it again.

Tip: if the door only opens 6-8 inches, it’s probably an RPM sensor problem. If the operator lights blink 6 times, it may indicate circuit failure. Fixing these problems may be a little complicated but you’ll certainly impress your significant other or the mechanic if you can pinpoint which part of the operator is faulty.

  1. Repair Your Devices

Programming may be an intimidating word for some people but, setting up the operator and synchronizing it with your remote, wall button, keypad, and even your car’s HomeLink system is usually easier than you would expect. Read your owner’s manual for a step by step guide, watch video tutorials, or search the internet for easy-to-read troubleshooting instructions.

  1. Locked Wall Button

Another often overlooked part in the whole system is the wall button. Sometimes you check every little thing but nothing seems to work until you realize that the wall button is actually set to lock feature. If you don’t see an easy way to unlock the door right there on the keypad, consult your owner’s manual!

  1. Door Track and Inner Trolley

Sometimes garage doors get stuck because the door track or inner trolley is loose, bent, or broken. You may be able to tighten the railings and other parts by yourself. Just make sure to read the manual and turn the whole system off before touching anything. If you need a new track or trolley, call for a professional to install it properly.

  1. Grease the Door

If your garage door is stuck because it needs lubrication, then get your hands dirty! Grease the parts of the garage door that move, like hinges and bearings. Choose a dry lubricant so it will not attract dirt that may cause problems in the future.

Now that you know some of these tips and tricks, you can solve some of the most common garage door problems out there!

**Written by Kristy Jones of A Click Away Remotes – Garage Door Opener Store in California, USA.

If Your Kids Could Have Their Way, Where Would They Move

Young professionals without kids have the freedom to move based on personal preference, financial reasons, and job opportunities. Often, high-paying jobs and seemingly endless amenities for entertainment, dining, and sightseeing draw people to bustling, costly cities on the coast. Parents, however, operate under a different must-have list where high priority is given to finding family-friendly neighborhoods with ample outdoor space.

To define the best areas for kids, Zillow analyzed 100 of the nation’s largest cities, grading them on commute times, child population, and kid-friendly amenities like theme parks and playgrounds. Consider the following four cities that made the top 10 kid-friendly cities list.

Fort Worth

Out of the top 10 cities for kids, Fort Worth holds the highest percentage of youngsters at 16.1% of the total population. In addition, 13.8% of homes listed for sale in Fort Worth include kid-friendly terms such as “playroom” and “custom treehouse,” which helps relocating parents narrow their scope. Fort Worth holds four parks and 0.02 theme parks per 10,000 residents, while the median yard size is a comfortable 5,742 square feet. M/I Homes’ Creekwood community in Saginaw, located just north of the city, is representative of Fort Worth family living. Creekwood holds recreational fields, lake access, and green space. Various amenities, including a duck pond, fishing pond, biking trails, playgrounds, and swimming pools, are fundamental for families with children. Plus, close access to I-35W minimizes driving time to and from work for employed parents.

 San Antonio

At no. 4 on the best kid-friendly cities list, San Antonio kids make up 14.6% of the city’s population. House hunters with kids might have an easier time finding the perfect place given 14.3% of listings depict kid-friendly amenities. What San Antonio lacks in accessible public parks – two per 10,000 people – it makes up in yard size at a median 6,211 square feet. San Antonio also holds one of the higher theme park proportions of the top 10 cities at 0.04 per 10,000 residents. If you’re searching for family-friendly homes near San Antonio, consider the Waterford Park community. Waterford Park includes a community pool, playscape, open space and cabana for both adults and children to enjoy. This Alamo Ranch new construction community is located within the highly-rated Northside Independent School District, which feeds into several distinguished elementary, middle, and high school public facilities.

 Charlotte

Charlotte is the sixth best city for child rearing, based on its large kid population (14.3%) and numerous tot-approved listings (8%). With four parks and 0.03 theme parks per 10,000 people, Charlotte doesn’t lack profuse amusement. Still, Charlotte’s distinct attribute is the city’s sizable backyards at a median 10,549 square feet. Avery Park, a new home site in Cornelius, is a prime example of kid-friendly living near Charlotte. Avery Park offers easy access to Lake Norman, parks, playgrounds, a community garden, and dog park. Residents benefit from a convenient location, just 20 minutes north of Uptown Charlotte, facilitating faster commute times throughout the work week.

 Dallas

Dallas comes in no. 10 of the best cities for kids with 15.7% kids and 7.6% of homes listed with kid-friendly terms. Dallas offers three public parks and 0.02 theme parks per 10,000 residents. The median yard size of 7,133 square feet designed to satisfy any energetic toddler proves everything truly is bigger in Texas. Castle Point is a prime community for single-family house hunters. Located in Garland, northeast of downtown Dallas, Castle Point is a few miles away from George Bush Turnpike and minutes from major highways. In addition, Castle Point is within walking distance of Springfield Park and the Rowlett Creek Preserve, while the greater Garland area holds thousands of acres of green space and nature trails.

While kids are destined to enjoy green space and neighborhood amenities, parents are wise to weigh job opportunities, local schools and real estate prices alongside family must-haves. Luckily, many of these major cities fit everybody’s best interest – regardless of age.

**Jennifer Riner writes about rentals, home improvement and design for Zillow Blog.

Happy Homeowners: The Randolph Family

This new “Happy Homeowners Interview” features Gary and Cheryl Randolph, who recently built their new home in Charlotte.  Read below to hear about Randolphs’ homebuilding journey with M/I Homes!

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M/I Homes: Is this your first M/I home? What convinced you to choose M/I Homes over another builder?

Cheryl and Gary: Yes, this is our first M/I home. We had our realtor take us around to see existing homes, but there was nothing that met our price/feature preferences. We soon noticed that some builders stuck houses wherever they saw a spot of land and had no thought of an overall community design. One place actually had someone’s front door opening out to the side of their neighbor’s home.

Once we started looking at new builds, we saw many different neighborhoods. Driving along Poplar Tent Road, we saw three developments in a row and we checked out each one. It was sort a Goldilocks experience. The first place we looked at was nice, but you were given a very limited floor plan selection, and there was no ranch style. The second place we looked at was M/I Homes. We fell in love with the neighborhood and the quality of the homes, but we did not think we could afford a home in this area. So, we went to the third development. Styles were limited, but not as much as the first neighborhood we saw. Prices seemed doable and we were willing to settle for a house that was not exactly what we wanted – no ranch style available there either though.

A couple of months later, we visited Charlotte again (we’re from Buffalo, NY). We had eliminated most of the developments we had visited earlier and had pretty much settled on the development on Poplar Tent. We actually picked out a home and the options we wanted, and were almost finalizing the buy on the last day of our visit.

We had three hours before we needed to be at the airport to return to Buffalo. What the hey, let’s just stop and talk to Wendy (M/I Homes) one more time before we fly home. We gave Wendy our budget and told her that we loved the Cambridge model but we don’t need the second floor. Wendy worked with us to see which (of the many) options we really wanted. Two and a half hours later, we were $9,000 over our budget. The thing is, we loved what we had drawn up much more than we disliked the $9,000 overage. The difference between what we would settle for and what we loved was huge. At this point it was a no-brainer. Wendy became our best friend.randolph-family1-1

M/I: Are you happy with how your home turned out?

C/G: Oh yeah, very happy. To save money, we decided to go with the standard lighting fixtures, no garage door openers or ceiling fans, so we were pretty busy picking those things out online and installing them. We did save a lot of money, and the electricians’ prewire work did make the installs very straight-forward. Our home is everything we had hoped for.

M/I: What is the name of your floorplan, and what features of your home do you especially love?

C/G: Our floorplan is the Cambridge without the second floor. Our favorite room is the bedroom. That bay window extension is beautiful.

M/I: Overall, how was your experience with M/I Homes?  Did you get to pick out your homesite and the floorplan you wanted to build, or had the home already been started?

C/G: We have worked with at least three other builders on previous homes. This has been our best experience in home building. And yes, we picked out everything. Having lots of choices is both a blessing and a curse, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

M/I: Do you have any fun memories from the buying / building process?

C/G: Well, working with Wendy was fun. But our day at the Design Center was the most challenging. We picked out exterior colors, brick, fireplace stone, cabinets, countertops, toilets, kitchen upgrades, and so much more. We loved that Kelly was an expert at her job. She knew the colors of each neighbor’s home and guided us in picking out colors that would look great alongside them. Kelly was very skilled at helping us think about various aspects of each feature as we made our choices. Helping us think is much more beneficial than stating an opinion. She knew that.

Soon after the design center visit, we met John, the person supervising the construction of our new home. John made us feel comfortable when construction began but he was still an unknown to us at that point. As time went on, we realized that John really did mean it when he said that he builds each home as though he will own it. He kept things moving, kept us informed, and would not accept poor quality work. I guess that’s not really a fun memory, but it makes us really happy now.

M/I: What do you like about your neighborhood / community?

C/G: We like that it was clearly planned. We also love that it has curbs. That may sound silly, but our previous neighborhood had no curbs and there were always tire tracks on the lawns, unless the snow plows had completely destroyed the lawns. Then there were tire tracks in the mud.

M/I: Anything you would recommend to someone looking for a new home?

C/G: That depends on where the person is in their life. A young couple wants a starter home. We are at the opposite end of that. We wanted our last home. We wanted to get exactly what we wanted, so we would say now “don’t settle for something.”

M/I: What is your favorite space in your new home?  Do you have any pictures of that space you would like to share?

C/G: We could not pick just one because we are so happy with the layout. It has a large, well-planned kitchen space, the master bedroom with the extension looking out on the woods is so romantic and cozy, and the family room with stone fireplace is also our favorite!

M/I: What was something that surprised you the most with building / moving into a new home?

C/G: Wendy, John, and Kelly really listened to us, and really understood what would make us happy. They over-delivered and made this a home even better than our dreams. The upgrades, the wooded lot, the attention to our timeline, our budget needs – everything came together in our dream home.

M/I: Any suggestions you would give to someone building a new home with M/I Homes?

C/G: Take advantage of the opportunity to look at online pictures of other homes going up in the neighborhood! You can see how your neighbors put together different options to help you determine what you like and don’t like before heading to the Design Center. I know of no other builder who provides this view of their homes as they are being built. It was invaluable, especially because we were building our home in North Carolina while still living in New York.

** Recently retired, Gary and Cheryl Randolph moved from Buffalo, NY to Charlotte, NC in order to be near their grandkids and enjoy a moderate climate. Their retirement is an active one as they both love to bike and run. Cheryl has run a marathon and Gary completed a full Ironman (Lake Placid) at the age of 60.

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