With the warmer climes we have been experiencing, the spring real estate market won't be far off. Local housing prices being what they are, it can be challenging for first-time home buyers, and/or for buyers who don't have a large amount of money to use as a down-payment - to compete in this seller's market. Since you may be competing with other cash buyers, or buyers with more cash to put down -- now is a great time to connect with an experienced buyer's agent to help you navigate the process - including making introductions to experienced mortgage brokers and loan officers. The following article published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 2/21/20, discusses the subtleties to seeking an FHA loan - which might be a great option for certain buyers.
Can’t find an affordable FHA-approved home? You have options
By KATE WOOD
Americans took out nearly $150 billion in loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration to buy homes in 2018. Nearly 83% of those FHA borrowers were first-time home buyers, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It’s unsurprising that FHA loans are especially popular with first-time home buyers, due to more lenient credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. But with scores of buyers searching for affordable entry-level housing, finding a place to call home can be a struggle.
In pricier markets, even the FHA’s 3.5% down payment option might bust your budget. Houses that have a low asking price but “need TLC” may not pass an FHA appraisal. And in highly competitive markets, it can be difficult to make an offer that gives you an edge on other home buyers.
What’s an FHA buyer to do? Here are three options.
Priced out? Look at FHA-approved condos
If an FHA-approved single-family house would push your budget past its breaking point, consider making your starter home a condo.
As of October 2019, borrowers can get FHA loans for individual condo units without having to worry about whether the entire complex is FHA approved. John Graff, CEO of Los Angeles-based Ashby & Graff Real Estate, said via email that this change should increase the inventory of FHA-approved condos, offering a broader selection of affordable homes.
For example, in Denver, the 2020 FHA loan limit — the maximum loan amount the FHA will guarantee — is $575,000 for a single-family property across most of the metro area. Looking at 2019 data from the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, that’s enough to cover the steep average sale price of $515,149 for a single-family home. But buyers there could save substantially by looking at condos, which have an average sale price of $366,937.
You’ll want to budget for condo homeowner association fees as well as property taxes. But generally, opening up your search to include condos should bring you lower-priced options.
Found a fixer-upper? Get an FHA 203(k) loan
In markets with older housing stock, passing an FHA appraisal could be a bigger obstacle than cost. Listing photos that make a low-priced house look like a charming fixer-upper can conceal major issues, Corning, New York, real estate agent Jennifer M. Baker noted in an email.
An appraiser’s key objective is ensuring the property is a sound investment for your lender. But an FHA appraisal isn’t just about value. To be eligible for an FHA loan, the home must also meet the FHA’s minimum property requirements by being “safe, sound and secure.”
If you see potential in a house that won’t pass an FHA appraisal, an FHA 203(k) loan could help you afford the needed work. It has similar requirements to a regular FHA home loan, but the costs of renovating the property are rolled into the total mortgage amount, which is based on the “as is” appraisal and an estimate of the home’s value once the renovation is complete. Using a 203(k) might mean living in a rental a little bit longer — costs you can include in your new home loan — or in a construction zone. Either way, you’re turning a house into your home.
Facing stiff competition? Be flexible
There are affordable homes out there, but with many buyers competing for them, it’s a seller’s market.
“When a home goes on the market up to about $250,000, we’ll see an actual race to get to that home,” says Michelle Sloan, broker and owner of Re/Max Time near Cincinnati. “We’ve seen up to 10 offers within 24 hours of a property being listed.”
Though you can use strategies to make your offer more attractive — like being flexible on the closing date — you may also be able to find more options by changing your home search criteria.
A short commute may be a high priority, Sloan says, but allowing for a little added drive time could get you more potential properties. If you’re wedded to a particular location — for the schools, maybe — try to whittle down your wish list. Maybe three bedrooms will work instead of four.
An experienced buyer’s agent can help you weigh possible trade-offs, supply insight into your local market and encourage you throughout the process.
You may not get the first home you submit an offer for — or even the fifth — but “keep looking,” Sloan recommends. “There is a home out there for everyone!”
This time of year, we tend to spend more time inside of our homes than out. It's harder to avoid noticing the clutter that inevitably builds up when we are looking at it day in and day out. For many people, figuring out how to lessen the clutter (and maintain systems of organization) is an overwhelming concept. Luckily, there are a number of talented people in the Northampton area who specialize in helping people let go of unnecessary clutter, and create organizational household systems. A recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette addresses the issue, and suggests local help. Read on!
Photo Courtesy Jill Bromberg
Clearing out the clutter: Valley home organizers help clients find some peace of mind
It seems to be a universal problem: Americans have too much stuff.
Take just a quick cruise around the web, and you can find references to article that cite some alarming and depressing statistics, such as that the average U.S. home contains 300,000 separate items; that about 10 percent of Americans rent offsite storage units, despite the typical house size tripling in the last 50-plus years; that the average American family spends over $1,700 a year on clothes.
Don’t believe what you read on the internet? Well, consider what Kira Coopersmith, a professional organizer in Greenfield, says about the issue. She has worked with hundreds of clients in the last several years to declutter their homes and apartments or helped them downsize for a move.
“A lot of us are drowning in stuff,” says Coopersmith. “People can’t deal with it, and it causes a lot of stress ... We’re a consumer society, and, in some cases, our things start taking over our lives.”
As Coopersmith sees it, many people may want to simplify their lives and get rid of a lot of excess possessions — clothes, toys, kitchenware, books, computer equipment, memorabilia and keepsakes — but lack the time and energy to do it.
“In so many families, both parents are working, and they can make the bed, maybe vacuum the house once a week, and that’s about it,” she says. “They’re overwhelmed.”
That’s one of the reasons Coopersmith — who previously lived in Belchertown and has also worked in the hotel business and in health insurance service and sales — likes her job. She enjoys helping people declutter their homes and find a little peace of mind.
“This job really is about helping people make those decisions that will make their lives a little easier,” she says.
Coopersmith and another professional organizer, Jill Bromberg of Montague, say they’ve worked with a variety of clients over the years. Some are older people or couples who are looking to move to a smaller place, but others come from many walks of life and have different problems they’re trying to solve.
“That’s one of the things that’s most interesting about the job,” says Bromberg, who used to work with people with special needs and started her organizing business in 2012. “I think what we [organizers] can give is an objective perspective. I can guide people to making decisions on what they want to keep and what they can let go of. And I get a lot of satisfaction on making their lives a little more manageable.”
‘One in, one out’
One big headache for a lot of people, Bromberg says, is clothing.
“It has become so easy to shop online, and then you have these cheap fashion trends that are constantly changing, so things tend to pile up and just get added to the closet,” says Bromberg, whose business is called Serenity Home Organizing and Move Management. “It’s easy to find yourself with too much.”
That’s especially true this time of year, Bromberg notes, with clothing a popular gift idea for many people. She recommends that people practice a “one in, one out” rule: If you get, say, a new sweater for Christmas or Hanukkah (or on some other occasion), think about giving an older one away to charity, or to a friend or work colleague.
One could take the same approach for books. If you’re adding to your collection, take a bunch of older titles that you haven’t read in a long time (or maybe ever) and take them to a used book store for sale, or donate them to a book drop or “Free Little Library” in your neighborhood.
“I always tell people to take pictures of some of these things they’re giving away, so they have a reference if they maybe want to find that book or item again,” says Bromberg.
For professional organizers like Bromberg and Coopersmith, each decluttering or organizing job begins with an initial meeting with clients to assess their needs, get to know them a bit, and figure out a plan for action. Sometimes a job can take place over a long period. Coopersmith, for instance, says she has been working off and on for several months with a couple who have run a farm and business in Conway for many years and now have begun to downsize their affairs.
On the other hand, Alex Milne — an independent scientist and researcher in Northampton who works with a variety of clients in bioacoustics, physical acoustics, wireless spectrum management and other technical fields — got in touch with Coopersmith to help organize his equipment. They met just twice, he says, but Coopersmith not only helped him get better organized: She showed considerable sensitivity and understanding in grasping the basics of what he did and what equipment he needed to keep, he adds.
“I really found Kira to be an exceptionally compassionate human being,” says Milne. “I felt like I was becoming trapped with all these work items that were kind of overwhelming my home life … she learned about [the equipment], which she hadn’t seen before, and made good recommendations about handling it.”
Coopersmith helped Milne organize his equipment by application: storing tools together that would be used for similar operations. For instance, Milne later stored together in one drawer all the items he needs to measure, form, cut or shape small thin metals into structures or components (with some exceptions).
“She brought a level of sophistication to this that was really impressive,” said Milne. “This wasn’t something I’d been able to do on my own, but now I feel I’m in a better position for managing my stuff in the future.”
For her part, Coopersmith says a big part of her job is to figure out which items her clients are emotionally attached to — a family heirloom, say — and which they might be persuaded to part with. “It’s not up to me to tell people what they should or shouldn’t keep, though I’ll clearly make recommendations,” she says. “If someone is super-attached to something — clothing or something they inherited from a parent — we’ll talk that through.”
Other tricks of the trade
Another bugaboo for many people is paper. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t have a basic filing system,” says Coopersmith, who works primarily with residential clients but has also helped small businesses improve their filing systems and overall paper management.
“It is so easy to get buried by paper,” she says. “That’s something a fair number of people need help with — keeping and filing the important stuff in an organized way and learning to get rid of the junk quickly.”
Wendy Sibbison of Greenfield, a retired lawyer, wanted a space in her home where she could write a book. She had a room in mind on her top floor, but, unfortunately, that spot “had become a dumping ground for years for paper and old files and who knows what else,” she says. “I just couldn’t deal with cleaning it out myself.”
Sibbison previously had paid her adult daughter, who lives in Philadelphia, to help her declutter her home about four years ago and felt she couldn’t ask her for help again. So through the internet, she found Coopersmith’s business, called “Sensible Sort,” and hired her to tackle the mess in the third-floor room.
“It was perfect,” says Sibbison. “I never felt rushed or upset [in getting rid of things], I had fun chatting with her, and, in the end, she took away 12 boxes of paper and other stuff.”
That’s another service organizers such as Coopersmith and Bromberg provide: physically transporting excess material to a recycling center, a charity or some other destination of a client’s choice. Bromberg says she’ll always do that for elderly clients or those with physical limitations, but it’s also helpful for others.
“It can be easy to put things in the back of your car and then somehow not get around to actually getting rid of something,” says Bromberg. “Clutter is often postponed decision-making, so if I can help people take that final step, I’ll do it.”
And though this year’s big gift-giving season may already be past, Bromberg notes that in giving gifts in general, a future plan to reduce clutter — or at least keep it in check — is to rely less on physical items. Give someone a gift certificate to a restaurant or a concert, she suggests, or arrange for airline tickets for a vacation.
“We can all use less stuff and less clutter in our lives,” she adds. “It’s just another way to simplify things and make life less stressful.”
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You're driving through Conway, MA and you notice a charming cottage farmhouse with a chartreuse front door and cozy front porch, tucked next to the South River. A plaque near the front door reads "Oldest Home on Main Street", built in 1830. You may feel compelled to honk the bike horn-cum-doorbell announcing your arrival. You will be intrigued by the exterior charm and whimsy - what does the inside look like? Welcome to this incredibly adorable home in Conway. The oldest home, yes, but also fantastically maintained and updated. The current owner has painstakingly cared for this piece of history...Pella windows, kitchen & bath remodeled, Quadra-Fire wood stove (and forced air heat too), metal roof and a new 300 foot well are just some of the updates that have been integrated into this home, while keeping the wide plank wood floors on the main floor and chestnut beams in the second floor family room. A fantastic wood deck overlooks the 1/4 acre lot. This is perfect spot to enjoy the bounty of the gardens, pollinator friendly flower beds and relax to the sounds of the South River. Welcome to 53 Main Street in Conway, Massachusetts. Offered at $275,000. Contact Scott Rebmann or Lisa Darragh for a private showing of this unique and wonderful home
I've always thought it interesting that even once I had graduated from college, I was still attuned to the school calendar, combined with the seasons, in informing my perspective on the day to day. For those of us with school-aged children -- having the house back to ourselves when the kids are off certainly has it's benefits. For those of us who don't, even the change of season leads us to start focusing more on the interior vs. exterior of our homes, I would venture to say. Homeowners (and residents alike) in Northampton who prefer to use clean, green, non-toxic products in our homes are in good company! To that end, I was recently perusing my daily Apartment Therapy email and came upon this article about cleaning your washer with vinegar. Let's not focus on the fact that I am at a point in my life where this information is EXCITING to me! Instead, let me say that I followed the steps below and my Energy Star, front-loading workhorse of a washing machine was gleaming and odor free after doing so. The moral of the story is, keep a large container of white vinegar, and some clean household rags on each floor of your home to keep things clean and sparkly!
You Should Pour Vinegar into Your Washing Machine—Here’s Why
by DANA MCMAHAN
(Image Credit: Brittany Purlee)
Is there anything you can’t handle with vinegar? Really, I wonder why I bother buying so many assorted cleaners when vinegar is basically the magic sauce that does everything. (Have you tried the trick with setting a saucer full of vinegar out to get rid of stink in a room? It totally works!) Here’s another fun thing is does: It cleans your washing machine.
Yes, your washing machine needs cleaning. Out of sight, out of mind, maybe, and it’s getting cleaned every time you use it, right? Well, no. Just like your sink and shower need cleaning, so too does the hard-working washing machine.
And it turns out you don’t need any fancy, special “washing machine cleaner” (seriously, that’s up there with an avocado slicer as a uni-tasker). My Maytag wants me to use a branded products so badly it slaps the brand name of the recommended cleaner right on the dial! The cleaner is two bucks a pop (not a box, each!). No thanks. According to the internet, all you need is good ol’ vinegar.
But just because you read something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true, so I checked with an expert. And Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, gave me the lowdown.
“It might seem counter-intuitive to have to clean a machine that does the cleaning, but over time soap scum and detergent buildup can start causing problems,” he says. “Your washing machine—and your clothing—will benefit from a periodic cleaning.”
So why should vinegar be your go-to? Well for starters, we all probably have a jug of it in the kitchen anyway. And “instead of using a bunch of harsh chemicals to force your washing machine into cleanliness, vinegar is recommended as a more natural and inexpensive way to clean your appliances,” Shimek said.
Here’s his step-by-step guide to cleaning your washer with vinegar.
First, spray vinegar around the rubber gasket and use a rag or toothbrush to remove soap scum, mildew, and detergent buildup. Make sure to scrub all the nooks and crannies, and take out and soak any removable parts such as soap and fabric softener dispensers.
Next, start an empty wash cycle using the largest load size and hottest water. Add two cups of white vinegar and let the cycle run. (If you have a front load washer, pour the vinegar into the detergent dispenser.) For an extra-clean washing machine, repeat the cycle with a half-cup of baking soda. You’ll also need to hand-wash the top portion of the agitator and basin above the water line.
Finally, spray the front or top with vinegar and wipe it down.
Confession: I only did the second step, and my very heavily used washing machine (you do a LOT of laundry when you run a full time Airbnb) looked brand new and shiny inside when the wash cycle finished, so I didn’t do the rest. But when I’m in a real cleaning fever kind of mood, I’ll come back to it. Shimek said this is something you should do every six months to keep things clean and running smoothly, which is totally manageable.
As someone who is both a realtor (in and out of homes on a regular basis) and is working on a large home improvement project for the second time in 5 years, I can attest to the following list from apartmenttherapy.com as to where are the best places to find inexpensive and attractive home decor. I would add the following local to Northamptonsuggestions as well: The ReCenter Swap Shop off of Glendale Road in Florence, and EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield, MA (more for the DIY set!). Target and Ikea should not be overlooked either!
The Best Places to Find Cheap Home Decor, According to Interior Designers
Let's get one thing straight: You don't need a huge budget to have a great eye for design.
Sure, it would be nice to have the latest (and priciest) pieces from Paris or Milan; however, there's something satisfying about searching high and low for a great deal. Plus, how cool is it when all your friends are fawning over an ottoman or throw blanket when you know you got it for next to nothing.
Of course, we're not the only ones who love some cheap thrills. Turns out, interior designers love their share of reasonably priced furniture and accessories. So, the next time you're looking for a great design deal, check out these expert-approved stores. Happy shopping!
"Best places for me to find cheap home decor? Let me omit the word 'cheap,' and rephrase, the best place to find reasonably priced home decor. The Batts Chesterfield Sofa available at Wayfair, is luxurious and rich looking. You don't have to spend a fortune on home decor to make it look like you did!" —Vanessa Deleon, interior designer
"The best bang for your buck in home decor is going to be the Brimfield Antique Markets. There you will find unique one-of-a-kind pieces that you can bargain on and at least you will come home with a little piece of history and not something that everyone has." —Sasha Bikoff, interior designer
"When looking for high quality and affordable pricing for home decor, especially mirrors, my go to is Lamps Plus. They have mirrors for every style, from modern to traditional, and the variety has really improved several of my clients' projects." —Erica Islas, interior designer
"I love the brand Unison and they have some great, affordable finds! They have a number of small side tables under $100, the Tower Black Side Table is one of my favorites for its minimalist and sleek look." —Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and director of style at Modsy
Any realtor can tell you, whenever a spiffy, well-built and/or well-sited single-floor home ("ranch") comes on the market in the Pioneer Valley - there is a mad dash of buyers eager to look at it, and, potentially, make an offer to buy it. There is a growing awareness in our part of the country, at least, about the benefits of aging in place. Some homeowners may choose to renovate their spaces to allow them to do so. We also see buyers who choose downsize from larger homes, transitioning into a smaller or single-floor homes.
One concern for aging homeowners is how to remain independent, when certain activities or household responsibilities become more challenging with age. We've recently learned about a wonderful new volunteer organization in the Northampton Area. Northampton Neighborsisa nonprofit organization that provides volunteer services and programs to empower seniors to live independent, engaged lives at home. So, whether you are in personally need of their services, you know someone who is, or you wish to volunteer or donate to this important cause - check out the hotlink above to learn more.
During the summer, Northampton area residents are often banned from watering their lawns between 9 am and 5 pm due to drought conditions. The recent/current rains were much needed. I'm happy not to be spending countless hours watering my lawn in the sweltering heat. But it is also noticeably still humid and hot, despite the rains we have been experiencing. One can't help but think of climate change with the strange weather patterns happening around us.
It pays to think ahead when it comes to climate change and your landscaping choices. This recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette discusses some choices an Amherst landscape design firm has made when designing an eco-friendly garden for the Amherst Historical Society. The points made in the following article could easily be applied to homeowners as well.
Amherst designer suggests cooling gardens to prepare for climate changes
By ANDY CASTILLO
Thursday, July 19, 2018
It’s sweltering under the bright sun beating down on the lawn of the Amherst Historical Society’s Strong House on Amity Street, but take a walk down a narrow stone path into a shaded garden area in the back and the temperature noticeably drops by a few degrees.
Over the next 30 years, New England’s climate will become hotter, making the shaded areas in the Strong House’s 1800s garden an important design element, says Andrew Kilduff, ecological designer and co-founder of TK.designlab in Amherst. His firm was hired by the Historical Society to create a conceptual eco-friendly design for the garden that takes into account projected changes to New England’s climate.
"In many respects, shrubs that grow between five, 10, and 15-feet-tall create a different environment," he said, while looking over the shady area from the front lawn one recent afternoon.
The garden features plants like globe thistles, trilliums, peach-leaved bellflowers, dictamnus plants and garden phlox, according to Denise Gagnon, a member of the Amherst Garden Club, which takes care of the public garden. Another member, Meredith Michaels said the flowers were selected based on what would have grown natively in the region when the garden was created 150 years ago.
Keeping in mind what would have been available in the 18th century, and in addition to perennials already there, she said, “We add a few annuals in spaces that have become denuded of whatever was supposed to be there.”
And now, as the Historical Society plans to renovate the garden in coming years, members are looking to TK.designlab’s project for advice on how to proceed, says Marianne Curling, the society’s consulting coordinator. She noted the designs were presented at the Historical Society’s annual garden tour earlier this month.
The area is a cut-through for commuters passing from Amity Street into the center of town, and connects to the garden at the nearby Jones Library. And, so, because the garden is such a visible spot, Kilduff and his firm say many different plant species should be included with adequate irrigation to showcase practical ways home gardeners, too, can prepare for climate change.
"As landscape designers, we thought what might be an interesting way to re-conceptualize the garden, and to play around with some ideas as to best honor the history here, and create a space that's reflective of the changing conditions, not only in the town, but in the region and the world as a whole," Kilduff said.
Hot, dry, stormy
Kilduff, who has a master’s degree in ecological design and planning from the Conway School of Landscape Design, notes the difference in temperature between the sunny spots and the garden’s shady areas is as much as 10 to 15 degrees, which will be particularly significant when the climate heats up.
He points out a stone patio connected to the house where rain barrels and catch basins can be placed. The collected rainwater could be redirected to irrigate the flower beds to reduce the amount of water and physical labor needed during prolonged dry spells, he says.
When the climate is warmer, the growing season will be longer, Kilduff says, and there will be more intense storms. Because of those changes, plant species that thrive in the area now might not be able to survive anymore, and others will become more suited to the climate.
As an example of one species that’s being affected as temperatures warm, Kilduff noted research by Smith College Biologist Jesse Bellemare that shows a steady migration of umbrella magnolia trees into New England.
And, he said, "The vegetables here will be more proliferous. You'll be able to start seeds earlier. Farmers will be able to, hypothetically, instead of reaping one or two mows a year for hay, do three, four, or perhaps even more."
While the design is intended to show what a garden in the year 2050 might look like, he noted that some elements his firm proposed already appear in contemporary gardens, such as the rain barrels and long depressions, called swales. In the Strong House Garden design, he says, a swale could be dug at the back of the property to drain rainwater from the flower beds in the event of a heavy storm.
Existing plants, such as the thistle globes and trilliums, would be bolstered by the other species that could survive in hotter conditions, with ferns like Ostrich or Cinnamon ferns planted near the house, flora that thrives in wet conditions such as Red Columbine, Blue Flag Iris and switchgrass in the swale, and hardy flowers that can withstand intense heat like umbrella magnolia in areas exposed to the sun. Kilduff said that because the designs are so preliminary, his firm hasn’t yet fully researched the exact kinds of flora that would be best adapted to future climate changes.
Another proposal included in the design is space for community gardens, and a suggestion to shade areas of the garden currently exposed to direct sunlight.
"Plant a tree, because it pulls up water out of the ground, it shades, and reduces the heat stress of you and your pets and the plants around you," Kilduff said, noting that, if a tree is planted now, it will become mature by the time changes have taken place.
In planning for the future, he recommends that gardeners study their plots and think about ways to efficiently maintain them in a hotter environment.
"If you're watering often, it's possible that you could have a small rain barrel, and that alone may offset those one or two trips," he said. Connecting a hose to the barrel to create a drip irrigation system would make the watering job easier.
In addition to shade trees and shrubs, add a few ground-covers in the garden, Kilduff says. “They're attractive, and have a functional purpose. They reduce the soil loss, allow other plants to be able to suck up water more easily, and you'll find yourself weeding less."
Change is coming, he said, and gardens will either suffer or thrive depending on how area gardeners prepare and adapt.
“Land is something that we interact with virtually at every waking movement of our lives,” he said. “Even when we're in our homes and offices, we're subject to the conditions present outside the envelope of the building. "
A summer heat wave in 2050 could last for weeks, he says, and shade trees outside of a house, go a long way in providing some comfort for those inside.
"If you find yourself boiling the moment you walk in the door, perhaps add shade trees or some shrubs along the side of the house," he said. The time to plan for coming changes is now, he says. “It's worth further investigation.”
Andy Castillo can be reached at email@example.com.
Summer is in full swing! The lush beauty and color of peonies, and the intoxicating smell of lilacs are starting to feel like a distant memory. Asparagus season in ("Hadley Grass") is behind us, and we are deep into summer squash, onions, lettuce, garlic scapes, watermelon and berries! When I look around my garden, I notice the second round of colorful summer flowers making their presence known: coneflower, coreopsis, daisies, hydrangea, black eyed susan, day lillies, etc. Since our summer is so short compared to the colder months, here in the Northampton area, I thought this piece from Gardenista.com about gardening in July might come in handy.
In the garden, July is a month with a split personality: We look back wistfully (at the successes of spring) and forward with trepidation (can this garden be saved, to withstand the August heat that’s ahead).
Here are a few quick garden fixes that will pay off next month (and in September).
Clean Up the Strawberry Patch
After you’ve picked the last strawberry from your plants, it’s time to cut back brown or drooping leaves. Weed between plants and mulch with an inch or two of compost. Now it the time to thin or transplant strawberries; carefully dig up runners as well as roots to move a clump to a new spot.
I never met a tomato plant that didn’t perform better with a little coddling. Pinch back suckers to help them focus their fruiting efforts. Make sure tomatoes get enough water (from a drip irrigation system or a hose, every day). See more tips at Tomatoes: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
Cut Back Spent Flowers
Many flowering spikes—from penstemons to foxgloves to gladiolas—have finished flowering by now. Or have they? When you cut back spent blossoms, check to see if any lateral spikes are growing from the spikes. If so, leave them in place to encourage more blooms.
Many of our favorite flowers are annuals that cheerfully take on the job of adding color to the garden just as summer perennials start to flag in August’s heat. With bright blooms and attention-grabbing flowers, these fast growers can make you love your garden in late summer. (And many annuals will live on by resowing themselves, with seeds carried on a breeze to pop up in a new spot next year.
Wisteria, if unchecked, will behave like a thug, says our friend Tim Callis, a garden designer on Cape Cod. He recommends shearing several times a year. In summer, cut back long shoots and stems to no more than six leaves.
Water if Needed
Gardens like an inch of rain a week. Is yours getting enough? Use a Rainwater Calculator to figure it out, and if your plants need more irrigate accordingly.
I was recently visiting with a friend who lives in a fairly typical for Northampton MA, late 1800's farmhouse. She is a master collector of curiosities, used-yet-hip furniture, artwork, tchotchkes, etc. She manages to pack a lot of stuff into her small home - and make it look artful, cozy and inviting. In addition, everything is functional! An antique sink (not attached to a drain) decorates the mud/laundry room, and also serves as place to stack clean laundry for her children to collect and put away. Each room has a it's own color palette, giving it a separate feel to the adjoining room. Handmade plywood painted bookcases are arranged according to color family, creating an attractive backdrop to a beloved collection of Snoopy paraphernalia, etc. I immediately thought of her while reading the following article from Apartment Therapy, which is chock full of great ideas about how to create a beautiful and functional space in a small or challenging living room. It's interesting to think about the many ways we have to recreate our spaces as we live in them. Enjoy!
30 Absolutely Brilliant Ideas & Solutions for Your Small Living Room
by Cara Gibbs
Jan 17, 2018
Tour: A NYC Couple's Minimalist Retreat from Hectic City Life
(Image credit: Mackenzie Schieck)
Those pesky small living rooms always have us stumbling and second guessing what we should do to make the most of the floor plan. If you've ever struggled with how to arrange your furniture, how to fit in more seating, how to get in more light and beyond, here are 30 rooms—from genius teeny spaces full of inspiration to larger living rooms with plenty of ideas to borrow—showcasing the best ways to expand your square footage without any demolition.
Get your reflection on
Mirrors are one of the best ways to make your tiny space feel open and airy. This space from West Elm shows off the dramatic impact multiple mirrors can play, plus they reflect any and all light available in the room.
In a tiny space, you might be afraid of overwhelming things with too-large furniture, but oftentimes, if you go full throttle with a large sectional that hugs the walls, you'll get a room that #1 seats a ton of people and #2 feels super welcoming and cozy. Take notes from this home we toured in the UK that fits a family of four.
(Image credit: One Kings Lane)
Go for the wow factor
Sometimes the best way to visually increase the square footage in a space is to keep the eye constantly in motion (so you don't notice how small it is). Take a cue from entertaining expert Lulu Powers in her LA bungalow seen on One Kings Lane: pattern on pattern, bold color next to bold color—cozy perfection!
(Image credit: Design*Sponge)
Keep things linear
Try implementing varying geometric and linear prints, as seen on Design*Sponge. This gives a small space a sense of structure while also providing the illusion of additional length and width.
(Image credit: Livet Hemma)
Lose the legs
If you're looking to add storage/display surfaces to your living room, consider going leg-free and attaching units directly to the wall (like this Besta unit from IKEA in a room via Livet Hemma). Floating large pieces like this tricks the eye into thinking less space has been taken up because the floor area is still free (plus, you can use that newly found space for even more storage should you feel the need).
(Image credit: Alvhem)
Make the best of strange angles
A feature wall is a great way to properly weigh and focus a room with awkward angles, like in this room from Alvhem, that uses a bold floral wallpaper to pull the attention to the seating area.
(Image credit: Domino)
Invite tiny keepsakes & treasures into your space
In this charming living room via Domino, your attention is occupied and delighted by all the personal accents and accessories that draw you into each area of the little space.
(Image credit: Minette Hand)
A wall of books
To turn a small, sort of sad living space into your favorite room, consider taking an empty wall and turning it into a top-to-bottom mini library. It'll provide plenty of storage opportunities, but also makes such a statement and gives a luxe built-in effect. For an even more stylish push, pick a rich color, like the hunter green of this room, and add molding to polish off the custom look.
(Image credit: Josh Gruetzmacher for Style Me Pretty Living )
The power of the tuck
The main goal of any small living space is always to use every area as efficiently as possible. So that area under the coffee table (considering yours doesn't have shelving) can often feel a bit wasted, unless you mimic this clever space from Style Me Pretty Living that tucks additional poufs under for more usage.
(Image credit: House Beautiful)
Keep your space alive
It's no secret that plants add so much value to any room in the home, but you can really get creative with them in your living area. In a tour of her home via House Beautiful, Justina Blakeney shows off just that in her compact living room, and is smart about hanging greenery as to not take up any precious floor space.
(Image credit: The Apartment St. Kilda via Instagram)
Keep things monochromatic
In this space by The Apartment St Kilda via Instagram, the crisp white walls serve as the perfect canvas for the oversize jet black lighting fixture and delightfully worn-in furnishings and accents—you hardly notice the room's tiny footprint amidst the cohesive palette.
(Image credit: Suzy Hoodless)
Floor to ceiling draperies
Draperies are the quickest way to add instant height to any space. The trick is to hang them from right around where your wall meets your ceiling and let them slightly puddle on the ground, as seen in this Notting Hill townhouse via Suzy Hoodless.
(Image credit: SFGirlbyBay)
Behold the power of threes
Grouping items into threes like in this space on SFGirlbyBay is a great way to make a living room feel a bit bigger by adding more pieces to a space without taking up more real estate. (Not to mention you can move smaller furnishings like these around as needed.)
(Image credit: House Beautiful)
Keep it simple, sweetie! When you don't have a ton of room to play with but you want to inject some color, it's best to keep it simple if you're a newbie. Start with a foundation of neutrals and add in one feature color and one metallic and run with it, like this space via House Beautiful which invites varying textures and finishes to add depth while remaining light and airy on the eyes.
(Image credit: Homepolish)
Fit it all in
Packing your teeny space with lots of purpose is another way to trick yourself into thinking things are bigger than they appear. In this apartment on Homepolish, the living room seamlessly connects to an office area, feeling cohesive and interesting.
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)
Layer your lighting
This living room feels big and spacious due in large part to tall ceilings and big windows, but also of note is the layered lighting. Keeping light at multiple levels (via floor lamps, chandeliers, and task lights) creates a moody yet well-lit room.
An Industrial-Modern Apartment in Brooklyn
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)
Don't overlook underused spots
If you have some windows in your tiny living room, put those window sills to work holding books, plants and other decorative objects.
(Image credit: VT Wonen)
Opt for floating shelves
When floor space is at a premium but you've got tons of books and whatsits to store, you'll want to consider floating shelves. Keep them the same color as your wall for an even sleeker look (and don't be afraid to get creative with sizes, like these scattered smaller shelves in a room from VT Wonen).
(Image credit: Sherrie and Oliver )
With a rug that is. A large rug like this one in the West Village apartment of Lee Lenox makes a tiny space feel much bigger than it actually is.
(Image credit: Architectural Digest)
Go bold (but neutral!)
Designers Cloth & Kind opted for an impressive statement wall when it came to this petite space featured on Architectural Digest, and the mix of patterns is fresh and lively, while a subtle, neutral palette keeps things from feeling overdone. This is a genius way to inject serious personality into a small space.
(Image credit: Marie Claire Maison)
Spotted on Marie Claire Maison, this non-traditional "sofa" is perched atop vintage storage bins—chic and smart!
(Image credit: IKEA via Domino)
Forego traditional pieces
We're so conditioned by the living room formula sofa + coffee table, but what if you focused on doing what works for you and how you live instead? In this space from IKEA via Domino, a quarter of slipper chairs sit where a sofa might be (how modular!) while a coffee table is absent in place of a rolling cart off to the side and cushy floor rugs.
(Image credit: Domino)
Design on a tilt
The best way to shake up a space is to give it a fresh furniture layout. If you're bored of your little living room, consider angling a few key pieces to keep things interesting like this room on Domino (via Airbnb).
(Image credit: Sigmar)
Get creative with storage
Okay, so this one is reserved for homeowners who can invest in custom solutions, but how enviable is this media center designed by London-based firm Sigmar?
(Image credit: New Darlings)
Blankets are a must for a cozy living room experience but when you're short on space to store said blankets, you don't have many options. Sure, you can stash them in a basket, but that takes but valuable floor space. A better option? The leading ladder (as seen here in the home of shelter bloggers New Darlings).
(Image credit: Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo)
Skip the coffee table in place of an ottoman or pouf
This space from Cup of Jo is by no means a small living room, but let's pretend for a second that it is to learn a thing or two from it. See those two poufs on the other side of the coffee table? Those could easily swap in for the actual coffee table itself in a tighter space, which gives the room's user flexibility in surfaces. Opting for ottomans or poufs over larger furnishings is a smart way to still have a spot to place a drink or remote, but be able to move things easily around as you please (and even maybe create more seating).
Heart & Soul in a Jewelry Designer's Providence Condo
(Image credit: Anna Spaller)
Acrylic or glass furniture has long been a designer trick for small spaces. They serve a purpose (i.e., holding drinks, etc.) while basically disappearing into the space. The result is a room with all the function you need, but without all the visual clutter.
(Image credit: One Kings Lane)
Similar to the above trick, choosing accent furniture with delicate frames is another way to keep down the visual noise. This tiny seating living room (the home of content strategist Cole Wilson via One Kings Lane) feels full sized thanks to the delicate gold base and glass top coffee table, thin framed accent chairs and floor lamp.
(Image credit: Better Homes & Gardens)
While some might tell you that all-white rooms are the key to stretching a small space, we're here to tell you that no matter what paint you go with, the effect of color is a lot more nuanced than that. A trick that always works, though, no matter what's on your wall? Matching your drapes (bonus points if they're a sheer material) to your wall. Here, from Better Homes & Gardens, off-white walls seem to go on forever as the visual line is not interrupted by different colored curtains. If you flip this and decide to go dark and moody, stick to draperies in equally dramatic tones for a super cohesive, polished look perfect for a small living room.
(Image credit: Domino)
Trompe l'oeil, FTW
Featured in Domino, the home of denim darling Nicole Najafi (founder of Industry Standard) showcases many talents, but the biggest takeaway here was her tip on a trick every small space needs to follow: "My apartment is full of eye tricks to make it look larger than it actually is. The shades, for example, are mounted a few feet above the windows to make them look taller. There's actually just wall behind them."
Yes, it's that time of year again when your friendly neighborhood realtors remind you to make sure your home is properly winterized. Although we haven't yet seen snow in the Northampton area, history suggests we can count on it's arrival at some point in the not-too-distant future. It makes sense to have your ducks in a row before the first big snow storm and low temperatures descend upon us. To that end, I include the following article from the Realtor Association of the Pioneer Valley website. It provides a thorough laundry list of how to prepare your home for winter.
Avoid Costly Repairs With These Winter Maintenance Must-Dos
Failure to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months can have dire consequences on your wallet, as well as pose a safety hazard for others. Even those in warmer climates will want to be careful this time of year: Everyone can benefit from an annual maintenance tune-up, and even in the South a winter frost can come as a nasty surprise.
Fortunately, there are some relatively easy preventative measures you can implement in the fall months to help ensure a smooth winter. The list below provides a few of the low-cost measures you can take now that will save you from the hassles of repairs and from the cost of winter issues.
Winterize pipes and outdoor spigots. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, any water that is exposed to the lower temperatures will freeze. When water freezes, it expands; water left in a hose has nowhere to expand to. The copper piping that feeds the water to the hose will eventually split because of this expansion.
The easy fix here is to remove all the hoses and make sure that there is no water left in them. Also, for more protection, you can place a foam box over the spigot.
Additionally, if you live in a place where the temperatures drop dramatically or stay cold for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the pipes inside the home are protected. This is very important if your home has a crawl space underneath the house with exposed pipes. Simple and inexpensive foam pipe covers can accomplish this.
Clean roof gutters. If your home has gutters you need to make sure that you inspect how they are attached to the roof and that they are clear of debris. You want to make sure no dams or clogs are created. The best time to check is after all the fall leaves have dropped and then again during the spring thaw. Cleaning the drains will help ensure that the drains do not get ripped off from the roof and that water will not back up, which can cause a leaky roof.
Remove foliage and potential tree hazards. Trees and foliage provide great shade for your home in the summer and help keep the heat at bay. However, you want to make sure that you do not have branches and other foliage over your roof or potentially covering electric lines, cable, gas or any other cables you may have running to your home. It is easiest to trim back or remove any potential problems in the fall. Snow on branches can weigh them down and potentially cause utility problems or even roof damage.
Inspect your furnace. Winter typically requires the use of a heater. Schedule an inspection of your furnace to make sure it is venting properly and will not be obstructed by winter weather. Check and/or replace your carbon monoxide alarms, which is a low-cost fix that may just save your life.
Dryer exhaust. Much like your furnace, inspect your dryer vent. Make sure no lint is backing up the exhaust and that winter weather will not cause any issues. A backed-up exhaust can lead to house fires.
These few safety precautions will help ensure that the winter months pass safely and that your home is protected. Take a few minutes and make your home as safe as possible for you and your family.