Where Dreams Take Flight!

My Blog / Home Improvement

Back to My Blog →

  • A Roundup of Magical Autumn PlantsWRITTEN BY CATRIONA TUDOR ERLER

    Summer is waning and the garden is beginning to fade, but that doesnt mean it cant still pack a lot of punch. The go-to perennials for autumn color include chrysanthemums (some are more hardy than others) and asters. With a range of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees, you can make magic in your late-season garden. Consider adding some of the following plants to your garden this fall.

    Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

    The odd common name comes from the former practice of using the dried leaves for snuff. The snuff was used to induce sneezing to rid the body of evil spirits (but the plant can be toxic, so dont try this today). The late-summer and early-fall blooms range in color from yellow to burnt orange and rust. Check out named varieties such as Mardi Gras, Sahins Early Flowerer, and Canary with heights varying from 25 tall.

    Aster Raydons Favorite(Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustatusRaydons Favorite)

    While most asters sport masses of dime-sized flowers, Raydons Favorite gives you two-and-a-half times the value with quarter-sized purple-blue blossoms that cover the plant. This workhorse perennial is compact in form, growing 1824 tall, and performs with enthusiasm in even the worst soils and weather. All these qualities earned Raydons Favorite the 2016 Garden Plant of the Year award from the Garden Club of America.


    This old-fashioned perennial has vivid violet-blue, hooded flowers that appear in mid-autumn. An erect plant that stands 4 feet tall, its dark green leaves are palmate and deeply lobed, making a dramatic statement even when not in flower. All parts of the plant are toxic, hence the Greek name, Aconitum, which means unconquerable poison. Another common name is wolfsbane because it was used to poison wolves.

    Bugbane (Actaea simplex Hillside Black Beauty, formerly Cimicifuga simplex)

    The common name points to the fact that this striking plant will keep bugs at bay due to its odoriferous insect repellant properties. Visually most effective when planted in clusters, the ferny, purple- to bronze-tinted foliage grows 2 tall, making a striking statement all summer long. Prepare to be dazzled in September and October when the 46 tall, fluffy, white flower spires shoot up from the plants, contrasting beautifully against the dark foliage. You and the butterflies will enjoy the display. The plants, which are hardy from USDA zones 48, prefer partial to full shade. In the Pacific Northwest, consider growing the native bugbane,Actaea elata.

    Blueberry (Vaccinum spp.)

    Enjoy three seasons of delight with blueberries. In spring, dainty, bell-shaped flowers hang from the branches. Later in summer, you can savor the delicious, nutrient-rich fruit (an extra bonus is if you grow them without pesticides or other poisons). In fall, the leaves turn orange, yellow, or wine red. Choose northern or southern types, depending on where you live (check with your local nursery for advice). All northern varieties have brilliant fall color; for the best color for southern varieties, opt for the V. corymbosum ONeal and Jubilee hybrids. Blueberries have a wide climate range from USDA zones 510.

    Late-summer and early-fall blooms range in color from yellow to burnt orange and rust.

    Sneezeweed(Helenium autumnale)

    Photography provided by iStockphoto.com/Anna Yu.

    Best Native Trees & Shrubs for Autumn Foliage

    1Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), USDA zones 410, orange-red color, mature height 5070, spread 25

    2Red Maple (Acer rubrum), USDA zones 39, red autumn foliage, mature height 4060, spread 40

    3Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) USDA zones 39, fall display of various shades of yellow, orange, bright red, and purple, often on the same branch, mature height 3050, spread 30

    4Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) USDA zones 59 fall foliage yellow, red or even purple, mature height 2530, spread 20

    5Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) USDA zones 49, deep orange, scarlet, purple, and yellow in fall, mature height 3060, spread 2540

    6Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), USDA zones 38, yellow leaves in early autumn, spidery flowers in late autumn, early winter, mature height 1530, spread 1520

    7Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora Autumn Brilliance), USDA zones 49, brilliant red to orange-red fall foliage, mature height and spread 1525

    8Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), USDA zones 49, white apple blossom-like flowers in spring; red fruits in late summer and autumn; and brilliant orange-red fall foliage, mature height 10, spread 6

    9Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), USDA zones 59, star-shaped leaves turn red, orange, and burgundy in fall, mature height 6080, spread 4060

    10Fothergilla (Fothergilla major), USDA zones 58 fragrant, white, bottlebrush-like spring flowers, warm gold and orange foliage in fall, mature height and spread 6

    The Nancy Hughes Group




    Cal BRE# 00859916

    As featured in Home By Design Magazine

    Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. All measurements are approximate. Copyright 2016 By Design Publishing. All rights reserved.

  • See how designers and homeowners cleverly incorporate container gardens into their home designsMany of us, especially those who live in apartments and condos, know what its like to feel limited by our square footage and lack of outdoor space. But that doesnt mean plants cant be part of our lives. In fact, in a small space they can even be more of a focus. These container gardens featured previously on Houzz utilize creativity and style where soil and space are lacking.Margot Hartford Photography1. Think creatively about vessels. Author and garden designer Baylor Chapmans apartment in a converted box factory in San Francisco showcases her passion for plants and nature, as well as her collection of unusual furniture and decor.On her apartments balcony, both of these passions are combined in a vertical garden made with repurposed wood window shutters. Succulents, which can sometimes grow in the crevices between rocks, sit comfortably in a little bed of soil between each louver. See more of this nature-filled San Francisco apartmentstephane chamard2. Set the stage. When architect and interior designer Stephane Chamard moved into a loft in a converted candy factory in Toronto with his husband, he decided it needed an update. After painting every surface white, the couple filled the loft space out, including adding an abundance of potted plants. The ragged jumble of plants against the stark white backdrop shows a tension, and was also designed by Chamard to represent a winter garden. The plants frame the sitting area and provide a backdrop for the electric-blue vintage Djinn chairs by Olivier Mourgue. See more of this modern Toronto loftTONIC Design3. Surround a tub. In a converted wool factory in Brisbane, Australia, the designers of this luxe master bathroom used translucent glass and a row of tropical foliage to create distinct zones for the tub and the rest of the bathroom. Both features also create privacy in the open space.The plants provide textural contrast in the minimalist room filled with sleek, modern materials, while their linear planting still fits the bathrooms style. See more of this industrial apartment in BrisbaneKirkwood McCarthy4. Plant an adjacent exterior wall. What was once a run-down workshop in East London is nowarchitect Fiona Kirkwoods three-story home. As part of the renovation, she sunk the first level to below street level, butshe wanted to make sure this new basement still had a pleasing view and received plenty of natural light.A tiered indoor-outdoor entry courtyard got some greenery with a vertical garden. Kirkwood planted the wall using Woolly Pocket living wall planters and filled them with flowers, herbs and evergreens from the New Covent Garden flower market. The wall, which receives direct sunlight, softens the patio, enhances the view from the sunken living area and provides the kitchen with fresh herbs. See more of this renovated London home | How to Add a Living WallLisa Atkinson Photographer5. Line a basic entry. Justine Savage has packed every square inch of her apartment inMornington Peninsula, Australia, with personality-filled decor and furniture. A floral designer, Savage also included a lot of hanging and potted plants to give the apartment life and color. Instead of starting inside the house, Savage used her front entry as a launchpad for her homes decor. What could have been a set of bare concrete steps leading to the front door features cheery containers filled with dahlias and succulents. Not only does this arrangement soften the concrete, but it also gives visitors a taste of her personality early on. See more of this sunny, flower-filled apartment in AustraliaMartin Hulala6. Add living wallpaper. In contrast to the electronic devices below, this swath of golden pothos adds a solid plane of living foliage. I used living plants because it has positive impact on my health and psyche, architect and homeowner Rudolf Lesk says. Moreover, it creates a natural opposite to the modern materials and all the technology. Occasional watering keeps the plants happy in their hydroponic inserts (pots filled with clay granules). At night, theyre bathed in a spectrum of LED lights. See more of this minimalist Slovakian apartmentBonnie McCarthy7. Bring the view in close. Living at the beach means the water is just a short walk away, but it also usually means your neighbors are even closer. Kris Crenwelge and John Bellemy, who live in Redondo Beach, California, decided to solve the issue of nearby neighbors in a way that also brings a bit of the coastal view inside. Window boxes filled with mounding grasses screen the windows while still providing the homeowners with an attractive view.See more of this updated home in Los Angeles | See how to build a modern window boxMichelle JarniSave8. Shrink the concrete patio. Matt Walters and Liz Hamer didnt have an open yard around their Melbourne, Australia, rental house, but they did have a cracked concrete patio.What started as a few potted-plant gifts from Hamers mother has evolved into a lush container garden oasis. The plants in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures soften the edges of the patio, increase its perceived size and create a dynamic patio landscape. See more of this eclectic house and garden in MelbourneCharmean Neithart Interiors, LLC.9. Add a rooftop Zen garden.High above a bustling commercial area in Los Angeles, on the top floor of an industrial building, a Japanese penthouse offers a retreat from the busy world below. A built-in raised bed filled with gravel and a specimen pine tree provides the wraparound deck as well as the adjacent living area with a focal point and a bit of green.See more of this Pasadena penthouse
  • FromRealtyTimes

    Written by Jaymi Naciri for RealtyTimes on Sunday, 26 June 2016

    Has the tide finally turned on granite? In the last few years, granite has continued to be a popular choice for kitchen counters, but has lost ground to quartz, which is now the go-to for homebuyers and renovators, not to mention design shows and flippers. If you're getting ready to redo your kitchen or are building a new home, here are all the reasons to swaddle your counters in quartz.

    1. Endless options

    Whether you're looking for something super sleek or want to replicate the look of natural stone without the maintenance, you can find it in quartz.

    "One of the main reasons quartz has exploded in popularity is due to appearance," said HGTV. "Quartz has the look of stone while also allowing homeowners to customize the design. While granite offers many options in terms of appearance, you may have to search for the right piece that matches your color scheme. With quartz, the selection process is much easier."

    2. May be better for larger surfaces

    The prevailing trend in kitchens today is an open kitchen with a large island. But large slabs of granite to cover an entire surface in one piece are hard to come by, sometimes even nonexistent depending on the size, and are expensive if they are found. More likely, more than one granite slab will need to be used for a large island or expansive countertops. Because quartz is engineered, it can be created in larger slabs. And if more than one slab is needed, seaming them together looks, well, seamless because there is no need to carefully color match natural pieces together as you would do with granite.

    3. Easy maintenance

    Granite needs to be resealed one a year, which is no big deal for most people. But the daily care required of granite can push them toward toward a solid surface like quartz. "With quartz, cleaning the counter is easy. The quartz washes off with soap and water and looks as good as new. You don't have to use special bacteria-preventing soaps,"said Leeza Surfaces.

    4. No staining

    A main consideration for many people when choosing countertops is warding off stains. Juice, wine, or other food and drinks can permanently stain granite. According to HGTV, "Some oils and acids can stain" as well.

    5. Scratches and burns

    Granite can also scratch and burn, ruining the look. Quartz is scratch resistant and able to handle hot pots without burning or discoloring, although it's not recommended you put anything super hot directly down on either surface.

    6. Cost

    Granite can be less expensive than quartz depending on the grade of the stone, but, when it comes to exotic granite, "Quartz is less expensive," said Leeza Surfaces.

    7. Eco-friendliness

    "The only way granite ends up in your kitchen is if it's quarried and that uses a lot of energy. If you opt for a high-end slab from Italy, for example, there will be considerable transportation involved. Try using indigenous stone when possible or visit salvage shops for pieces that can be cut to fit your needs," said HGTV. "Since quartz is engineered, it can be more environmentally-friendly than granite if you use regionally manufactured stone and local fabricators. This cuts down on the distance the material needs to be transported."

    If that's not enough to convince you, maybe these quartz kitchens will do the trick.

    MSI Stonekitchen countertops




  • They're more affordable than you think, and the benefits make them a bright idea.HOME IMPROVEMENT / STORY / BY for Zillow

    The decision to add solar panels to your home can seem daunting. The unknowns and assumptions of costs and installation tend to leave homeowners uneasy about going solar.

    However, just as home automation once seemed overwhelming, adding solar panels to your home is becoming more of the norm. U.S. solar power grew 30 percent in 2014 from 2013 with the Solar Energy Industries Association expecting continued growth through 2016.

    California already generates more than five percentof its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, becoming the first state to do so.

    The reasons to invest in solar panels are abundant. In addition to increasing your homes value and saving money on your electric bill, solar panels also help homeowners decrease their carbon footprint. Within 20 years, a residential solar power system can offset literally tons of carbon dioxide.

    Addressing the myths

    If youre still skeptical, know that quite a few myths about going solar exist. Here are the most common myths about solar panels.

    I could never afford solar panels. The average cost to cover ahomes roof with solar panels is $29,000, according toTech Insider. Ten years ago it was $43,000. That makes the cost of a solar roof lower than the average price of a new car in the U.S. This doesnt even account for renewable energy tax credits you may receive; you can claim a 30-percent rebate for installing solar panels to your home. There are even solar panel leasing program options if you dont feel ready for such a purchase. This solar panel installation cost calculator will give you the estimated cost of the benefits of using solar power in your home, as well as your expected daily savings.My solar panels wont work if the weather is bad. False. Germany is the solar energy capital of the world, and often faces long, dismal winters. Solar panels run off of UV light, so a cloudy sky wont turn off your power.Solar panels will require too much maintenance. Solar panels do not require much maintenance at all, actually. While rain will often do the trick, the general recommendation is to clean your panels by hosing them off annually. Most of your maintenance work involves simply making sure there is no debris on your roof that may cover any part of your panels.Can your home handleit?

    If youre ready to start thinking more seriously about going solar, your first step is to see if your home can handle solar panels. Surprisingly, approximately only 25 percent of roofs are suitable for solar panels.

    Research the following questions as you consider solar panels:

    What are the measurements of my roof?What are the electrical and building codes in my area?Does my neighborhood have any rules regarding solar panels?Does my state have laws regarding solar access rights in place?

    Youll also want to find a contractor who is certified to work with photovoltaic (PV) systems. A professional can help you determine if your home is a good fit for solar panels. Before you commit to any service, though, find out how long your contractor has been in business, how many installations their team has completed, and what kind of insurance they have. Making sure the contractor is North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certified is another must. And its completely acceptable to ask for a portfolio or a list of recent projects and references.

    An alternative to panels

    No worries if your home isnt yet ideal for installing solar panels. Alternatives like solar shingles are also worth considering. Solar shingles are a cheaper option, and look much like tar and sand shingles, blending in with your roof more than solar panels.

    Like solar panels, they work by capturing sunlight and transforming it into usable energy. Theyre usually only one foot wide, and can be stapled directly to roofing cloth, just like normal shingles.

    If you think your home may be a good candidate for solar panels or shingles, give it a shot. With little to lose and so much to gain and a new solar panel going up every 150 seconds in the U.S. 2016 may be your year to go solar.


  • Photo courtesy of Zillow Digs.Cosmetic Improvements for Crush-Worthy Curb Appeal

    Itll be love at first sight when buyers get a glimpse of your homes updated exterior (and you may just fall for it all over again, too).

    Paint the front door

    The front door is a direct representation of your homes interior style. It gives you the opportunity to show off your flair for design without breaking your budget.

    The color you choose to paint your front door can also make or break your homes overall exterior appearance. Go bold with yellow, turquoise, or even bright redto make a statement and show off your creative personal style.

    Photo Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

    If youre looking to add sophistication to your exterior palette, opt for a clean white, gray, or black for a chic appearance.

    Swap out the porch furniture

    Now that spring is in full swing, its time to dust off the furniture on your front porch or patio or maybe update your look entirely. This years patio furniture trends feature modern chair and table silhouettes, a citrus color palette, and plenty of greenery.

    If youre deciding on a modern scheme for your porch or patio furniture, look to chairs and ottomans outfitted in contemporary materials like vinyl. This look is perfect for a home that is either transitional or contemporary style because the blocky yet streamlined furniture reflects the houses unique exterior.

    Photo Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

    Citrus color palettes provide a punch to exteriors that need an extra oomph. Use lime green and bright orange to accent your homes patio via hurricanes, cushions, and throw blankets. Add greenery throughout the space using pots, trellises, garden boxes, and hanging planters.

    Read More

  • Curb Appeal: What It Really Is, and Why It Matters

    A great-looking yard and exterior help attract potential buyers, but todays sellers need to take it a step further.

    Lets face it, first impressions matter. We care about how we dress for a job interview, and we spent extra time in front of the mirror before that first date. When it comes to selling a home, first impressions matter, too.

    The term curb appeal derives from real estate sales and home design. For years, buyers have formed their first impressions of homes while standing in the street or sitting inside the car, just beyond the curb. Before the advent of text messaging and smartphones, a buyer would get a phone call or fax from their agent about a new listing. The initial drive-by would determine whether or not they would go for an actual showing.

    To get that buyer in the door, the seller spent hours, even days, seeding new grass and planting flowers, painting their front door, mulching, weeding and cleaning up the yard. If the home didnt appeal from the curb, buyers moved on to the next house. Curb appeal was always the single most important piece of the home sale puzzle.

    Read More


    Written by Realty Times Staff on Thursday, 10 March 2016 9:48 am

    The lawn and landscape outside your home can be your own personalized creation, and it does not have to be expensive. It is through the effort of creating what you want within your limitations both financial and physical that you come to love the space you craft. By learning frugal methods to care for your lawn and landscape, you can have the lawn you want within the budget you can afford.

    By installing native plants, mulching appropriately and minimizing the size of your actual lawn, you can save a lot of money on maintenance and watering. Your local Master Gardener group, or the local city government, will likely have information on xeriscaping for your area. Lush green lawns are certainly beautiful and pleasant to play on, but they are also resource intensive. Unless you are one of the lucky few that live in an area with heavy rainfall, you will spend large amounts of money keeping a large lawn alive.According to Bankrate.com, a 4,000 square foot lawn takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water a week to stay green, or about $400 a year in water costs.

    Cost Effective Lawn Care Tools

    Once you have minimized your lawn space, you can determine exactly what tools you need to care for your landscape. If the lawn is small enough, a push reel mower may be enough. Push mowers can be hard to use if you have physical limitations, though. Electric push mowers are also another excellent option. Older models used to require an extension cord, but newer models are often cord-free, according to Natures Finest Seed. Other accessories, like leaf blowers, can also ease your cleanup and make for a nicer looking landscape. Electric models are not terribly expensive,and can offer a quick solution to sidewalk clutter.

    Compost Organic Waste

    Composting is a wonderful way to recycle your food scraps into valuable fertilizer or top soil. Small bags of compost can be expensive and it seems silly to pay so much when you can just make your own. Pre-made compost containers are always an option, but you do not have to spend a lot of money if you have a little out-of-the-way space to make a pile. Chicken wire and wood scraps are enough to cordon off a small area for dumping your organic waste, including lawn clippings, food scraps, leaves and anything else the naturally decays. Remember to turn the pile every month or so, and eventually you will have your own fertilizer.

    Read More


    Written by fiberondecking.com on Thursday, 25 February 2016 12:01 pm

    Spending on discretionary home improvements (including kitchen and bath remodels and deck additions) rose by almost $6 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to a 2015 report compiled by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. "Improving America's Housing -- Emerging Trends in the Remodeling Market" noted that while residential and non-residential construction numbers are still sluggish, there is increased interest and activity in the home improvement industry. Among the reasons:

    The housing downturn led many homeowners to fix up properties rather than trade up.

    Federal and state stimulus programs spurred investments in energy efficiency upgrades.

    Growing demand for rental units motivated owners to improve their properties.

    US housing stock (roughly 130 million homes) continues to depreciate normally.

    The amount of money individuals are spending per project is increasing as well, a trend not seen since before the housing crash.

    Easy-to-maintain exterior products are top priority

    The findings are good news for our economy and a rallying cry for the remodeling enthusiasts among us. Of course, although we love remodeling our homes, most of us would agree we are not so fond of home maintenance -- particularly the expensive, time-consuming variety. In fact, when the American Institute of Architects (AIA) surveyed homebuyer preferences in 2013, low-maintenance exterior products were voted the most popular characteristic of home design.

    A recent article on houselogic.com highlighted several remodeling projects that will add value and enjoyment to your living space without piling on the maintenance chores. Here's a sampling:

    Fiber-cement siding

    An ingenious mix of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers, fiber-cement siding is long-lasting, resistant to fluctuating temperatures, and insect-, rot-, and fire-proof. Newer versions feature baked-on paint finishes that are guaranteed for 15 years, minimizing time and money needed for maintenance. Fiber-cement siding also delivers an impressive ROI, according to houselogic.com, making it worthy of consideration if you're in the market for new siding.

    Learn Moreat RealtyTimes.com

  • From HouseLogic

    DIY gone wrong is your worst nightmare. Sleep better with these tips to master DIY know-how.

    With a solid DIY skill set, tackling a project like installing a kitchen backsplash is no problem. But when a project requires speciality skills like major electrical work you might be better off hanging up your tool belt and calling a pro. Image:Urban Charm at Home

    That electrical issue? Or fixing a leaky roof? Even though you (and your BFF, YouTube) have pulled off many DIY projects, you know there are projects youve no business trying on your own. But what about those projects that fall somewhere in between I got this and Im calling the pros? How can you know if a project is really DIYable for you?

    For Lucas Hall, finding that answer has been trial and error. As a DIY landlord for more than two years and founder of Landlordology, an online resource for landlords, hes gutted three homes and renovated countless others. Im just handy enough to be dangerous, Hall says. Hes suffered more than his fair share of DIY disasters, and with each, hes learned a valuable lesson about his own limits, as well as how he can do better next time.

    Think 10 Steps AheadWhen Hall updated a tiny kitchen in one of his rentals, he installed a brand-new, expensive fridge and then built a peninsula countertop extension.We thought it was the greatest idea, he says. But adding the peninsula narrowed the space in front of the refrigerator, making it impossible to remove without lifting it entirely up and over the extension. (Ever tried to lift a fridge?)Read more: HouseLogic