Home and Garden Guide: Tips for Improving Your Spaces This Spring
Spring is an ideal time to refresh your residence. Whether you’re looking to add some interest to your ceiling or choose custom fabrics to make your rooms stand out, we’ve got some exciting ideas to get started. For all you gardening gurus, we share top tips on making your cut flowers last as well as caring for those fragrant and flavorful herbs. Now’s the time to make your abode a space you truly adore.
Made to Order
How to Make Custom Fabrics Work for Your Home
As much as we can all appreciate scoring a great sale item or that “too hard to resist” trend of the moment à la the big-box store down the road, there comes a time when high-quality, custom features have their place in each home.
Perhaps you’ve moved into a house in which you’re ready to put your own unique spin. Maybe you spotted that one-of-a-kind, love-at-first-sight pattern and just have to find a way to work it into your décor. Or, perhaps you’ve endured enough bargains that had to be discarded far too soon and are now willing to pay the ticket price for items of quality because they’re built to last.
For all these reasons, choosing to include some custom fabric in your home can be a wise investment. First, there are plenty of ways to use it, from a duvet cover to window treatments and from a reupholstered chair to throw pillows.
Many local design shops offer customized items that could accommodate any style or color scheme. Clients can select from various fabrics, trims and designs such as French pleats or Roman shades for window treatments. It’s OK to mix and match patterns; just remember that too much of the same thing never looks good.
If you’re not accustomed to buying custom, there can be a slight sticker shock. So, is it worth it?
In general, custom fabrics look and fit better, yielding a high-end finish. An investment in custom drapery would be a great choice for a visible window or a room that has more prominence in the home.
To ensure you’re buying something you’ll love for the long run is to opt for a timeless color scheme and pattern. Some can run $30–$50 per yard. Even if it’s a print you adore now, ask yourself if it’s something you would get tired of before committing.
If you have kids or pets, you may opt for a washable velvet or a performance fabric that’s thicker. If you like the look of linen, consider a performance-based fabric that has the look but will last longer. These kinds of fabrics are costly, but the quality can be worth the investment.
If you’re considering reupholstering chairs with a delicate fabric, focus on a side chair so it isn’t worn out too quickly.
For throw pillows, an easy and personalized option is a monogrammed pillow cover. Or, you can mix patterns and colors for whatever your favorite look might be. The trend is to keep large items neutral and make your “pops” the items that are relatively inexpensive. Taking this approach means less of a cost investment when you’re ready to switch the look, whether out of preference or to create some variety throughout the seasons of the year.
A Guide to Growing Your Favorite Flavorful Plants
Herbs have been part of our kitchens and medicine cabinets since medieval times, when herbal wisdom was abundant in every community and home. Today the appreciation for herbs is rising again.
Herbs are wonderful additions to a landscape—rubbing your hand across rosemary or lavender as you walk by gives a momentary lift to your spirits. Adding herbs to a meal stimulates your digestive system and your appetite preparing you to eat. Herbs also provide a nutritional boost with the vitamins they contain.
Best of all—growing them requires very little effort.
Choosing the Right Spot
The first order of business is deciding where to plant your herbs. They need about five hours of sunlight a day to be their best. If they don’t get enough sun, they get long stalks and few leaves. This makes for an unattractive, unproductive plant.
Also, don’t plant your herbs in a windy environment. Planting near a brick or stone wall can provide both protection and a warm environment for your kitchen herbs. A spot between your driveway and sidewalk could be used for a wonderful raised kitchen garden. Alternatively, you could lay stone paths through the area and let herbs grow over them.
Helping Your Herbs Thrive
The next step to having a successful herb garden is making sure you’re using the right soil. If you don’t know what type of soil you have, you can do a simple test in a Mason jar with a twist-on lid. Fill the jar halfway with soil and add water until the jar is full. Shake the jar well. If the water is distributed through the soil or leaves about a third of the water undistributed, it is acceptable. (You can see photos of the Mason Jar Soil Test online.) If needed, you can amend your soil with compost and/or sand to improve the texture.
Basil, chervil, coriander, dill, lovage and sage prefer rich, balanced soils. Sandier soils are preferred by lavender, thyme, tarragon and rosemary. Cultivation information can be found on seed packages, plant tags or from the nursery pros where you are purchasing. It is assumed that most herbs thrive in hot sun with well-draining soil. But some, like lemon balm, parsley and chamomile, need conditions to be a little bit cooler so they don’t wilt in the afternoon sun. The more you know about your plants’ growing conditions and habits, the more successful you’ll be.
Some herbs, such as mint and oregano, spread and get messy over time. You can contain them by planting these herbs in a grid pattern with pavers. Separating them like this also gives you a way to walk through for harvesting.
Herbs like to dry out between watering—none of them want to have wet feet constantly. To be sure it’s time to water again you can stick your index finger in the soil about an inch deep. If it’s dry, water. If it’s damp, wait.
Growing in Pots
One idea for those with limited space is to grow herbs in pots. This will allow you to give your herbs exactly what they need.
When choosing a pot, it is best if it drains into a saucer and is at least 6 inches in diameter. If you want to grow parsley or basil your pot should be around 20 inches deep because they have long taproots. If your pots don’t have drainage holes, add a layer of stones or clay shards at least 2 inches deep in the bottom of the pot before planting. If you are buying your herbs from a nursery, make sure you buy, or have on hand, a pot that is twice as big as the pot you purchased them in. Re-pot your herbs quickly in the appropriate soil and give their roots plenty of room. It is better to have your pot too large rather than too small.
You can always combine herbs that require the same conditions in larger pots to simplify. Window boxes are also great choices for growing herbs. Watch for dry soil—potted plants need more water than those planted in the ground.
Herbs in the Off Season
Thyme, rosemary and lavender plants all do fairly well overwintering outside. If it’s mild, you may sometimes find mint and oregano still growing near warm spots. What a treat to have fresh mint in hot tea on a cold day!
Other herbs such as parsley and basil will hang on by a thread until spring after moved inside for the winter. Herbs should be ignored when brought in—give them only the minimum amount of water. For the best chance of survival, move these herbs out to your covered porch when temperatures are mild.
To overwinter your larger pots of herbs, pull them up close to your house and cover with mulch or wrap.
Harvesting and Storing Your Herbs
You can enjoy your herbs even after the growing season by planning ahead. Begin storing your herbs at their peak. And don’t rush. If done incorrectly, your herbs will quickly spoil. Here are a few harvesting tips:
- Their flavor is best when harvested on a dry day after the dew has evaporated and before the sun is hot. Also, keep your herbs from producing flowers, which ruins the taste, by pinching them back.
- Most herbs can be dried by hanging small bunches in a dry room out of the sun. Once they are brittle, you can run your fingers down the stem and store the leaves in a jar with a tight lid.
- Basil, dill and fennel can be frozen on the stalk when they are picked young, small and in perfect shape. Wash them and let them dry. Lay them on a towel on a cookie sheet, flash freeze and store in a freezer container. Fresh dill can be stored in a fridge for two weeks or more in a little water.
- Flowers like borage and calendula can be clipped off the plant leaving no stem and dried on a cookie cooling rack until they feel like tissue paper to the touch. These are also best stored in jars.
- Place your herb jars out of direct sunlight to prolong freshness. Your herbs will store well for a year.
Don’t be afraid of trying different herbs that can take you on a culinary journey! When you have grown your herbs yourself, you know they are fresh, pesticide-free and have optimal flavor.
Here are Some Favorite Performers to Try in Your Kitchen
Lovage is a striking, perennial herb that tastes like celery. It can grow up to 6 feet tall!
Rosemary is beautiful and hardy when planted in a warm spot. It’s a very aromatic herb and it makes a great addition to poultry. It’s a food source for bees when flowering. You can start new plants easily from cuttings or layering branches.
Basils can add endless flavors to foods and vinegars because there are so many varieties to grow.
Dill is beautiful, easy and like most herbs also draws beneficial insects. Keep the blooms “pinched back” to get the most production. To pinch back, gently pinch off the top inch of stem where you see a flower beginning to form. This prevents the dill from making seed and instead encourages branching.
Parsley adds a nice touch to salads. It will keep in a vase of water by your sink as you use it.
The Ceiling’s the Limit
Make a Statement from Above with These Trending “Fifth Wall” Ideas
It’s been known as “the fifth wall”—and when you think of a ceiling that way, endless possibilities arise. Check out these out-of-the-box ceiling trends to make a statement from above.
Adding architectural elements can really make that “fifth wall” shine. These elements include coffered ceilings or recessed panels that can be trimmed in a variety of materials to create a grid-like pattern. According to ThisOldHouse.com, one popular style is “bold beams” set in a square or rectangular grid, which then adds “dimension and character to a plain room.”
The depth and size of coffers can affect price and work outlay, and though box beams (hollow wood beams) are larger and more involved to install, they have a more dramatic effect as well. “To me [box beams] just announce quality, stating ‘this builder took the time and expense to add beautiful detailing,'” Janell Beals writes for Houzz.com. “The millwork adds timeless character and is seen most often in traditionally styled homes, but [it] does occasionally show up in unexpected places with success.”
Once placed, you can paint the beams and coffers the same color, or, for a more dramatic statement, or especially high ceilings, paint the inside, recessed portions of the grid a darker, more striking hue. One of those “unexpected places” that Beals notes may be using the element in a home with a rustic or farmhouse style.
Another trending element is beadboard in coffered ceilings. Benefits to this look is that it’s less work-intensive, adds timeless character and is less expensive. For a small bedroom, you would need 4-by-8 foot sheets of beadboard (these run around $20), which are then trimmed with 1-by-4 inch pieces of wood to create the grid pattern. After installation, painting it white gives it more of a cottage flair. It can help the room feel bigger, it doesn’t take up ceiling space and it adds great visual interest.
Paint and wallpaper are great, cost-effective ways to customize your ceiling, and if you’ve never considered a darker ceiling before, perhaps now’s the time. Two shades darker than your walls will make a cohesive but impactful statement.
There’s a myth that dark ceilings automatically make a room feel smaller or closed in. If you extend the wall color onto the ceiling, you don’t create a visual break. This approach can actually have an expansive effect. Note that a room with natural light can handle a darker color—even black or navy—which could work to make the space feel cozy but not closed in.
Using the trim color in a flat finish for the ceiling will connect your home’s color palette whereas traditional ceiling paint can sometimes feel cold and detached.
Wallpaper is also an option with more removable and highly artistic choices constantly hitting the market from a wide variety of vendors. Price points range widely as does the quality and ease of placement. For a playroom or a kid’s bedroom, a colorful or bold pattern works well to draw attention up and create a fun atmosphere. In a bedroom or larger communal space, a subtle pattern or even textured paper can work quite well to add dimension and character to the room.
In choosing the best place to make your statement, bedrooms are an obvious starting place. These are the rooms where we most often lay and stare at the ceilings, making bedrooms especially fun to embrace a ceiling change.
Powder baths are a great option as well, especially for a darker ceiling or the beadboard coffers. Beadboard ceilings can also work all throughout the main living areas of a home, especially if it has an open layout. In a rustic or farmhouse vibe, cedar beams work nicely but should be left unstained and unpainted.
Whatever you choose, remember the words of designer Albert Hadley: “Ceilings must always be considered. They are the most neglected surface in a room.”
Making the Cut
Before Bringing Those Blooms Inside, Learn the Dos and Don’ts of Caring for Your Bouquet
Surrounding ourselves with flowers can improve our physical and mental health. Flowers stimulate our dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels—the happy chemicals in our brain. They also remind us to slow down and enjoy them before they are gone. Because as we all know, cut flowers don’t last forever. While that’s part of their charm, there are a few things you should do (and not do) to make them last as long as possible.
Do give your flowers a “spa treatment” before arranging. This is commonly called “conditioning.” Consider a Chrysalis floral conditioner during this step. Fill a bucket a third of the way with water, making sure each stem reaches the water. Put the bucket with flowers in a cool, dark room and allow them to rest for several hours. This will lengthen vase life by approximately four days. Follow the directions on your flower food exactly.
Don’t use a dirty container. You should never reuse a vase without washing it first. A good rule is to add a few drops of bleach mixed in water to your vases after each use, let them soak before you wash and then put them away. If your glass vase gets “cloudy” over time, you can clean it with vinegar, a dishwasher rinse aid or a toilet bowl cleaner.
Do pay attention to the water temperature. The water in your vase should be tepid—something you would like to have your feet in! And a caution here to those using a water softener: the added salts in your water will sometimes kill the flowers. If your flowers always die quickly, this may be why.
Don’t obsess over floral “foods.” Using these for cut flowers is fine but not necessary. There are all kinds of tricks people use—a penny in the vase, a shot of gin or vodka, an aspirin or floral food packs. The best food for your plants is simply keeping the water clean.
Do remove all the leaves that will be below the water line in your vase. Not only do they look ugly, they rot, smell and make your vase water look unpleasant.
Don’t use dull clippers when cutting your stems. Stems that look “stringy” when cut show it’s time to sharpen your clippers. After this step move them into your prepared water quickly so the stems don’t close.
Do have some fun arranging your flowers. There is no right or wrong—place your flowers in the vase in a way that pleases you!
Don’t spray or mist your arranged flowers. This can cause fungal issues.
Do be prepared to troubleshoot problems. If you notice a flower either not opening or wilting, remove it from your vase. Re-cut the stem and place it in hot water from your tap. Leave it in the hot water until the water temperature has cooled. Also, place flowers out of the direct sun and/or away from heat ducts.
Don’t forget to do some maintenance. Every two to three days, re-cut your stems and change the water so your flowers stay hydrated.