How to Plan an Outdoor Movie Night

In the height of summer, your backyard or porch is headquarters for family time and date night alike. Combine both, and cue up a movie on your DIY movie screen for a staycation highlight.

A bedsheet or table cloth affixed to a fence or wall plays projection screen, and your at-home projector makes movie magic.

Setting up a snack station with seasoned popcorn and traditional concession stand candies will win over guests of all ages.

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Creating a homemade touch is a nice way to personalize the experience. Gather a few common household materials – canvas dropcloth, painters’ tape, fabric-safe paint and a roller – and you can craft a custom blanket that feels expensive but only costs a few dollars. The stripes lend a nautical look that let this throw pull double duty as a beach blanket or picnic spread.

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Whether you choose action, comedy or thriller, your backyard movie night is sure to be a hit.

Want more tips from Douglas? Watch more home entertaining and design videos. 

Related:

  • Set Up Your Patio for the Best Summer Ever
  • 9 Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas for Families
  • Throw an Outdoor Dinner Party With a Beachy Vibe

Originally published September 2016.

How to Create Your Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen

As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, no one wants to spend time inside sweating over a hot stove. With an outdoor kitchen, you can make the most of the beautiful warm nights by spending them with your friends and family.

Whether you have thousands to spend or a just few hundred to splurge, create your own outdoor kitchen and enjoy all it has to offer.

Upgrade your grill

A rusty, dusty grill doesn’t inspire lingering outdoor evenings. Upgrade your outdoor grill and take care of it all year round for a stand-out outdoor kitchen. A standard grill will cost you $150 to $300, and top-of-the-line outdoor ranges may be upwards of $1,500.

Before buying the biggest and best grill, consider how you will use one. Will you be feeding the whole soccer team? Or perhaps grilling some steaks for a romantic dinner for two? Look for a grill with features you will actually use and not just the latest trends.

Enhance your seating

If your basics are up to date, then you’ll want to upgrade your patio furniture and seating options too. If you plan on dining outside often, invest in an actual dining table and appropriate chairs. Eating a gourmet dinner off your lap downgrades an otherwise luxurious experience.

If you’re looking for more versatile pieces, sleek contemporary options coordinate nicely with most outdoor kitchen setups. Expect to spend a good chunk of change on quality furniture, but remember: With the proper care and maintenance, it can last as long as high-end interior pieces. Make sure you have a plan for the off-season, whether that’s moving outdoor furniture to indoor storage or securely covering it to protect it from the elements.

Add the extras

Want a prep sink? Wine fridge? Ice machine? Built-in smoker? You got it. The sky’s the limit when it comes to custom additions – or rather, your budget is the limit. Think carefully about your space before making a wish list.

Perhaps a full chef’s kitchen won’t quite fit in your backyard, but a beautiful wine fridge and some extra counter space are just what you need to take your outdoor kitchen to the next level.

Some features require installing or extending utilities (think: water or electricity), so don’t forget about portable additions such as a bar cart – which adds class without hassle.

Make it comfortable

Think about how you will provide amenities to make being outdoors comfortable, such as shade, heat (if using your space year-round), and perhaps even a few extras like a TV or audio equipment.

Tucking the seating close to the house may help you take advantage of a porch or awning. Otherwise, structures such as a light-strung pergola add shade during the day, light at night and atmosphere all the time.

If you have the room, the addition of a fireplace allows for a longer entertaining season. Outdoor kitchens don’t have to be just for summer, after all.

If you like to have some indoor comforts while enjoying your beautiful outside oasis, television and music can be connected outside – although it can be expensive. Bluetooth or portable speakers, a projector and a large sheet, or even an old-fashioned radio are more budget-sensitive options for those looking to add a little fun to their outdoor space.

Apply your own style

Create an outdoor kitchen that suits your style and taste. If you’re working with an existing space, be sure to embrace the style and play up the features, such as dark wood, stone and classic columns.

If you’re starting from scratch, take a look at your indoor design and see what features you like. Then consider incorporating those color schemes, design styles or even furniture shapes into your outdoor kitchen.

While you can’t go wrong designing your outdoor space, consider designs and colors that are versatile so you’re not limited if you want to mix things up in the future.

Make it yours

Your outdoor kitchen should be a comfortable, relaxing space for entertaining or unwinding after a long day of work. Make yours an escape that works for you.

When planning your outdoor kitchen, think about adding one or two small luxuries that will make you excited to enjoy your space. These can be as small as pretty tea lights scattered around or as large as a wood-burning pizza oven.

Related:

  • 13 Simple Steps to Prep Your Home for the Best Summer Ever
  • Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Landscaping
  • 9 Summer-Ready Pools to Daydream About

Originally published June 2016.

How to Plan the Perfect Patio

For many homeowners, the patio borders on magical: a place to relax, entertain, cook out and take a break from the day-to-day. It’s surrounded by vibrant hues, and a meal prepared in an outdoor kitchen somehow tastes better than anything that comes from its indoor counterpart.

Creating that perfect outdoor space for you and your family all starts with the literal foundation of this alfresco living room: the patio materials. Your selection can have a huge effect on the appearance, durability and functionality of your favorite home addition.

Getting started

Before you commit to a type of patio, first envision the finished space. You probably have a good idea of the location and approximate size, so go grab a chair, take it outside, and position it in the intended spot. Then sit, and picture each material in your mind’s eye.

Your patio should not only complement your home and landscape, it should also enhance your lifestyle. If you have a large space to work with, consider incorporating a combination of paving materials; some of the best patio designs include two or more. Using multiple materials lets you integrate inlaid borders that can visually separate an area for lounging from the outdoor kitchen.

When you’ve dreamed up your ideal design, consider which materials would best bring it to life, in terms of both aesthetics and practical issues, such as maintenance requirements and cost.

Concrete

Poured concrete is the patio material of choice for many homeowners because it’s structurally sound, inexpensive, and can even be stamped or dyed to mimic higher-end paving materials. It’s best suited for moderate to warm climates where frost heave is not a concern.

Planning tip: A standard concrete patio is four inches thick, but if you intend to construct something very heavy, such as a built-in fireplace, ask the contractor to reinforce that particular area before you pour.

Bricks

Available in a variety of colors, bricks create a warm and attractive patio. This classic patio style typically costs more than one constructed from concrete, not just for the materials themselves, but also for labor – a significant consideration when every brick must be set by hand, leveled and grouted.

Should you decide to invest, you can design the space with any number of patterns, from a traditional running bond to something with added textural appeal like a boxed basket-weave or herringbone.

Planning tip: For patios, solid 1- or 2-inch-thick paving bricks are the best choice, either dry-laid or mortared in place. Be wary about extending your brick patio into deep shade, or else you’ll need to watch out for a slick surface after every rainfall.

Pavers

Often manufactured from cement, cinder or stone, pavers top the DIY patio wish list for their low price and super simple installation – they’ll have you out there grilling in record time.

If you’re planning to lay your own patio, you’ll need a suitable substrate consisting of at least three inches of sand, and a permanent border, such as a poured concrete curb, to keep the pavers from shifting.

Planning tip: Pavers may be dry-laid by butting them tightly, or installed with uniform mortar joints. If the patio lies over utility lines, know that dry-laid pavers will be simpler to remove and replace if (or when) you need to access the utilities below.

Stone

The highly desirable look of stone comes with a steeper price tag – particularly if your pick isn’t locally sourced – but you can’t beat it for natural appeal. Flat, irregularly shaped stones offer a calm and meandering effect, while uniform-cut slabs of granite, travertine, slate, or bluestone can produce a formal patio that’s fitting for any backyard.

Planning tip: Natural stone is extremely durable for any patio, but if you happen to be planning one poolside, opt for a nonslip variety, such as coral stone.

Tile

Available in ceramic, glass, porcelain, terra cotta and natural stone, tile creates beautiful mosaic patio designs that are refreshingly cool underfoot in hot climates. Because tile is thin, it requires the installation of a concrete slab.

Planning tip: Even if you plan to lay the tile yourself, it’s a good idea to have a professional pour an even slab. Also note that not all tile is suitable for patio construction. To withstand weather, all your materials – tile, thinset, grout and sealer – must be labeled for exterior use.

Crushed stone, pea gravel and sand

If you’re not a fan of rock-solid patios, crushed stone, pea gravel or sand could be more your style. Both crushed stone and gravel offer a variety of colors and textures at low prices, and even sandy Zen gardens can double as patio areas.

You will, however, need to install a solid perimeter to keep the loose material from spreading outside its intended border.

Planning tip: It can be difficult to remove snow and fallen leaves when the seasons change, so consider your climate and environment carefully. To maintain a manicured look, count on refreshing the surface every few years.

Related:

  • Landscaping Cheat Sheet: 4 Smart Timesavers for Your Yard and Garden
  • How to Grow a Spectacular Container Garden
  • Deck Out Your Patio for Summer

Originally published April 2016.

Do It Together: 5 Home Projects for You and Your Household Helpers

While the kids are out of school, the adults are doing everything they can to keep their little ones safe and healthy at home – and find creative ways to alleviate the boredom and frustration they may be feeling after weeks away from their school friends or grandparents.

With just a few materials you can order online (or pick up curbside at the home improvement store) and some tools you likely have lying around the house, you can keep those little hands busy while giving your house some TLC.

Here are five DIY projects to improve your home and give your kids a productive outlet for their energy.

Build raised garden beds

It seems like everyone is jumping on the gardening bandwagon and creating “victory” COVID-19 gardens. A garden not only gives you the benefit of fresh herbs, vegetables or flowers, it’s also a natural outdoor classroom for your kids – helping them learn measurements, basic botany facts and giving them a boost to their mental and physical well-being

Raised garden beds help plants thrive because they’re easier to maintain, and they are a fairly easy project for children to assist with. To make a 4×4 raised garden bed, all you need are the following:

  • Eight untreated 2x4s that are 4 feet long
  • Four untreated 12-inch 4×4 corner posts
  • A box of 4-inch wood screws
  • A drill 

To construct the rectangular box, attach two 2x4s to each corner post (stacking them vertically). Have your older child hold the boards securely in place as you drill. When you’re finished building your structure, kids of all ages can assist you with picking out a sunny spot in the backyard for your raised garden bed and help you pour in the soil and plant your veggies or flowers.

Give your mailbox a makeover

Brighten up your humdrum mailbox and give your heroic postal worker something to smile about when they deliver your mail. This project is best suited for those kids who can comfortably wear a face mask and use a spray paint can responsibly. To give your mailbox a facelift, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Protective masks* 
  • Painters tape
  • Aluminum primer
  • Metal paint spray paint in a vibrant color

Tag team sanding off rust and old paint on your mailbox while wearing protective masks. Then, have your child assist you with placing painters tape over any address numbers or the mail flag to protect them from being painted. Spray primer and allow it to dry before applying the metal spray paint. To customize your mailbox and make it stand out, use stencils to create flowers, letters, or let your mini Van Gogh freehand different designs. 

* If you don’t already have masks on hand, consider waiting on this project until masks and other personal protective equipment are more readily available. Or, if you’re purchasing a new mailbox, you can do this project entirely freehand, no mask required.

Construct a birdhouse

Though birds aren’t required to shelter in place, it’s nice for them to have a safe spot to land in your backyard – and exciting for the whole family to watch as they come and go. You can either construct a birdhouse using a pre-cut birdhouse kit (available to order online at most home improvement stores) or you can make the cuts yourself on a 2×6 or even a spare fence post. Have older kids help you nail or wood glue it together and have little ones personalize it with paint to give the birds in your backyard a truly unique home to call their own. 

Or, if you want to give your neighborhood squirrels a place to kick back, you can repurpose almost any kind of wood to make an adorable miniature picnic table.

Stencil paint your tile floor

Want to give your tile floor a new look but don’t want to invest the money, time or intensive labor it takes to rip up and lay down a new one? While this project requires patience and attention to detail, your children can pitch in and help out to make it go a little faster. Here’s what you’ll need for this tile stenciling project:

  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Painters tape
  • Primer
  • Semi- or high-gloss latex paint in both a base color and a design color
  • A chosen stencil (create your own or look up one that you like online)
  • Foam roller

Begin your project with a deep cleaning of your bathroom floors (and cue the complaints from your kids). Once your floors are squeaky clean, tag team a floor sanding with your kids to help the tiles take paint. Then, tape the perimeter of the room, underneath your vanity cabinet and around your toilet. 

Apply primer to the floors and let them dry. Then, paint your base color. Once these coats have dried, you’re now ready for your stenciling. Have your kid help you tape the stencil in place and then paint your design color onto the floor. If your older kids have a steady hand, using two stencils will speed the process along and reveal a beautifully designed floor even quicker. This example can help you visualize a finished product.

Restyle your bathroom drawer pulls

You’d be surprised at how much of a design impact changing the drawer pulls on a bathroom vanity can have. This inexpensive DIY project is quick to complete and perfect for little hands who can help you hold the hardware while you handle the screwdriver. 

All you need for this project are new drawer pulls or knobs (have your child assist you with the measurements to see what size you need) and a screwdriver. Remove the old drawer pulls and have your kid at the ready to put all of the old pieces in a single pile and hand you the screws and the new drawer pulls as you need them. 

Feeling more ambitious? Change out the hardware on your kitchen cabinets for an easy upgrade. Or do this project on a small scale and swap out the handles or knobs on an old dresser to give it a new style.

Related:

  • 9 Easy-to-Ambitious DIY Projects to Improve Your Home
  • How to Grow a Spectacular Container Garden
  • Personalize Your Space With a DIY Gallery Wall

9 Easy-to-Ambitious DIY Projects to Improve Your Home

Like many homeowners, you may have eyed a home improvement project in the past only to come up short on time or inspiration.

Don’t feel bad. Nearly half (43%) of all homeowners say their biggest challenge around home improvement decisions is finding DIY time, which also may explain why the same percentage of people say they have unfinished home improvement projects – typically two.

Since many of us are spending much or all of our time at home, now might be a good time to channel some of that cabin fever into a project that could add value to your home or infuse it with new energy. 

Here’s a sampling of projects you can tackle alone – or with a pint-sized assistant in need of a play date.  

Beginner projects

New faucets

Attention to detail is key for this project – you don’t want to flood your kitchen because you forgot to turn off the water valve – but no previous plumbing skills are required, and a shiny new faucet can generate a lot of day-to-day pleasure for a little effort. These instructions walk you through the steps to install a kitchen faucet (and the process is just the same for a bathroom sink). 

Light fixtures and switches

Few things can change the atmosphere of a room as quickly as lighting. Swapping out an old fixture for a new one – or an on-off switch for a dimmer – can provide a mood for any occasion.  Here’s an easy guide to change a light fixture. Switches use the same types of wires, so if you can swap a fixture, you can handle a switch.   

Fire pit

This is a great one to tackle with kids. Celebrate the finished product with a s’mores party. Plus, the sales price premium on homes with fire pits is 2.8%, according to a Zillow analysis of thousands of home listings and sales prices.* Build you own backyard fire pit in 7 easy steps.

Smart tech upgrade

There are countless smart home products you can choose from, and some require little more than changing a light bulb or plugging in a device. A few to consider:

Smart doorbell/camera: Installing one is similar to changing out a light switch. The process involves removing your old doorbell and connecting the device to your Wi-Fi.

Smart locks: Do you have a family member who is always losing their house key? Replacing a traditional door lock with a keyless entry you access using a touch pad or smartphone app is an easy solution. 

Smart home hub: Amazon, Google, Apple, Nest, Samsung and others offer smart home hubs, which allow you to interact with compatible devices through a central system. The hub itself is typically “plug and play” and easy to set up. But you may need to do some initial troubleshooting to get all of your devices connected.  

Smart lights: This project is as simple as buying and installing light bulbs. However, the upgrade requires coordination with a smart home system because each one has its own requirements and controls. If you already have a home system, be sure the lights you choose are compatible. If you’re thinking of buying a new system, keep in mind that it needs to work harmoniously with the products you already have.

Intermediate projects

Cabinet refresh

Updating your kitchen doesn’t have to involve major renovations. You can create a whole new look by changing out the door and drawer pulls, painting your cabinets or removing cabinet doors to create an open-shelving effect. Or, if you have too much wall space and too few cabinets, you can easily install open shelving from scratch. An added bonus: Homes with open shelving sell for 4.2% more than expected. For cabinet tips and other ideas, here are seven ways to upgrade your kitchen without remodeling.

Barn door

Switching out a traditional swinging door or a closet slider for a barn door that glides on a rail can give your room a striking look, as well as open up space and change the furniture arranging possibilities. And your effort might pay off in other ways: Barn doors are associated with a 5% price premium. You’ll need a few tools, another pair of hands, and these step-by-step instructions which cover all the details of how to build and install your own sliding barn door. 

Advanced projects

Board & batten

You may not be familiar with the term, but you’ve probably seen this classic design feature in a number of homes. Precision is required for this one, and that means you need the right tools, namely a measuring tape, a level and a miter saw. Also patience. But if you can imagine a 3D element atop your drywall, you’re ready to go, and this guide will walk you through each step of the process. 

Garden shed

If you have the know-how to build a garden shed, you can find any number of plans and tutorials online to suit your taste. And if you’re not quite up for that challenge, you can still improve the one you’ve got or buy a garden-variety one and make it your own. Start by imagining whether you need it for storage or extra work or living space, and go from there. Homes with a “she shed” are associated with a 3.6% price premium. Here’s some inspiration to create your own custom garden workspace. 

Heated floors

This is the kind of project you can tackle if you missed out on your real vocation and ended up in a desk job. Labor-intensive and requiring the confidence of an accomplished tradesperson (and some math skills), your success in warming your dwelling from the bottom up will make you a hero or heroine in your own home. This project is ideal if you already planned to replace the flooring in a room and have the opportunity to add a heating element in the process. Learn about the different types of radiant flooring and tips for DIY success. Homes with this feature sell for 4.9% more than expected.

 Whatever you decide to do, measure twice and have fun!

*Home sale data is based on a Zillow analysis of listing language and the sales performance of thousands of homes nationwide in 2018 and 2019. Adding these design features to a home does not guarantee or definitively cause the ultimate sale price to increase as much as observed.

Related:

  • Before You DIY: 12 Safety Precautions and Best Practices
  • Home Improvement Projects: DIY or Hire a Pro?
  • 5 Ways to Refresh Your Space

7 Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors at Home

In this current moment when many of us are staying home, one of the best remedies to help alleviate some of the stress is to head outside and get some fresh air – preferably at least six feet or more away from your neighbor. If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space, whether you have a sprawling backyard or a smidgen of a patio, make the most of it with these seven ideas for improving your outdoor area.

Curate an outdoor lounge space

Had to cancel a beach vacation you planned for spring break or summer? Set up an outdoor lounge space on your patio or in the yard to give your outdoor space a tropical feel. You can either scour the internet for lounge chairs, chaise lounges, hammocks and outdoor sectionals, or create your own, like a one-of-a-kind outdoor lounge bed. All you need to complete this project is a platform bed frame, a futon mattress and outdoor fabric to cover it. (If you’re not handy with the sewing machine, this would be a simple task for a local upholsterer to tackle.) Plop some outdoor pillows on top for added comfort and style. 

To complete your lounge, add in some side tables, a few candles and maybe a glass of wine to create that all-inclusive atmosphere.

DIY outdoor movie theater

The movie theaters may be off limits for now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t re-create the experience in your own private outdoor space. Though you’ve likely seen elaborate backyard movie theater setups, it doesn’t have to be complicated: All you need is a white sheet that can be tautly mounted on a flat surface (a shed or siding on your apartment patio will do just fine), a projector and your phone to play movies, TV shows or whatever else you’re binging these days. 

Don’t have access to a projector? It’s surprisingly simple to make one out of a shoe box, some cardboard and a magnifying glass. Round up your favorite patio chairs or arrange your outdoor cushions, make some popcorn and enjoy your movie with the background noise of the crickets chirping.

Create an outdoor bar

It may be a long while before you can go back to your favorite dive bar or swanky cocktail lounge, so why not create your own for your outdoor space? You can, of course, buy a bar online, or you can repurpose an old table or desk – or even get crafty with some cinder blocks, concrete glue and a few 1 x 6 boards to create your very own. Gather your Bluetooth speaker, your favorite cocktail ingredients and a few glasses to get the ambiance of your favorite bar right at home.

Beautify a barn or shed

A barn or a shed is a utilitarian structure, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an eyesore. Spruce it up by painting it a bold color, attaching some shutters, adding some flower boxes, installing a stone path or even stringing up some lights to zhuzh up that forgotten space in the backyard. 

DIY fire pit

Just because many of the state parks or campsites are closed doesn’t mean you have to miss out on everyone’s favorite camping activity: the campfire. You can easily create a DIY fire pit for your backyard in seven steps, which only requires a few supplies you can pick up curbside at your local home improvement store. Not a big DIYer? You can always buy a prefab fire bowl that’s just as effective at creating that warm, cozy campfire glow.

Make an al fresco dining destination

We’re all getting a little tired of eating in our kitchens (or, maybe in front of our televisions) night after night. Mix it up a little by making an al fresco dining destination in your backyard or patio. In addition to an outdoor dining table and chairs, lay down an outdoor rug and string up a strand of lights or craft yourself an outdoor chandelier to transform your evening meals. 

Create a meditation zone

Missing your yoga studio? You can still do a restorative practice and a shavasana at home – and make it even better by creating a meditation zone in your backyard. Plant a garden with calming scents like lavender or jasmine, create a stepping stone path to your meditation spot or even build yourself a standing tent or cabana with curtains that blow in the warm, calming breeze. 

 

Looking for a New Place? Use This Time to Create Your Wishlist

Now that many of us have spent several weeks living inside, we’ve become quite familiar with our homes – in some cases, maybe too familiar. If you were planning to move before COVID-19, and still plan to do so when the timing is right, you might want to take this time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not in your current home. For instance, those stairs you’ve climbed 10 times a day may have kept you moving while you’ve stayed home, but maybe you’d like stair-free living in your next home. Or perhaps the yard you thought you could do without has now become a must-have.

We’ve come up with a list of questions to help you pinpoint what you like and don’t like about your current home so you can find more comfort and pleasure in your next one.

What’s working for you – and what’s not?

  • On a scale of 1-10, how do you like your current home?
  • What’s your home’s best quality? 
  • And its worst quality?
  • Do you like the style of your home? If not, is there an architectural style or era you prefer?
  • What’s your favorite room, and what makes spending time there pleasurable?

Space and flow: How do you feel when you’re at home?

  • Do you have enough space or too much? Where could you use more/less space?
  • How would you describe the layout – an open floor plan or more compartmentalized? Does it suit your lifestyle?
  • Do you have enough or too many bedrooms? Bathrooms?
  • Do you like the number of levels (single or multistory)? 
  • Are you happy with the windows (enough natural light, well-placed, too sunny)? 
  • Do you like the fixtures and finishes?
  • Is there a specialized room you’ve never had but have always wanted (such as a home office, workout room, sewing room, laundry room or mudroom)? 

What’s outside – and how does it affect your experience of home?

  • If you have an outdoor space, do you enjoy spending time there?
  • If you don’t have one, do you feel like you’re missing out?  
  • Do you enjoy taking care of a yard… or feel burdened by it (be honest!)? 
  • Does your home have curb appeal? If not, what needs to be improved?
  • Do you have adequate parking? Is a garage or carport a must-have?
  • How much time and effort does the exterior require for upkeep (painting, staining, etc.)?

Your neighborhood: Community connections can make life all the sweeter

  • Are you happy with your neighborhood? Think about all its characteristics, including walkability, parks, nearby activities, density, noise level and neighbor involvement.
  • Do you have to travel far for basics such as groceries or a doctor’s appointment?
  • Are you happy with your commute?
  • Are there enough activities going on around you – or too many?

5 Ways to Make Your Home Office Work (Even if It’s Your Kitchen)

With social distancing mandates in effect across much of the country, many people working in industries deemed “non-essential” are doing their work from home. And while the constant stream of COVID-19 news, in addition to caretaking or homeschooling responsibilities, can make it hard to stay focused on work, modifying your space can help. An organized and visually appealing work area can help you feel more productive – and more relaxed. 

Here are five tips for elevating your home workspace.  

Commit to your space

For those of us who don’t have a home office – which is a lot of people – work-from-home routines can easily get derailed. Designating an area for work, even if that place is the bill-paying area in your kitchen, is a way to stay in your routine and get yourself in the work mindset. Whatever spot you choose, just make sure it feels like a dedicated and functional work area. That means adequate lighting, a comfortable chair – the right height for typing without strain – a seamless tech setup that allows you to take and make video calls without having to fiddle with plugs or wires, and an overall lack of clutter on your desk and the surrounding area.

Declutter

This seems obvious, but let’s level with ourselves. When do we really get around to cleaning our desks? Well, now’s the time. Toss anything that needs to be thrown out, pair like items with like, contain those stray pens in one nice decorative cup, and make sure you have all your workday essentials close at hand and non-essential items moved elsewhere. 

Curate an inspiration board

Now that you’ve set the stage, it’s time to look ahead. And that wall you’re looking at beyond your laptop should inspire you. This is as good a time as ever to put together an inspiration board and fill it with what makes you happy, from images of your favorite people and pets, to pics of your goals (like that fabulous vacation you are going to take once we’ve all gotten through this tough time!). And yes, you can put your to-dos and important reminders up there too – but keep the focus on the positive and uplifting, and keep it right in your line of sight.

Do a background check

If video calls are part of your new day-to-day, think about what your colleagues are seeing behind you – like that pile of laundry or those mostly empty wine glasses. Keep things clean and uncluttered. And if you have the space, show off your style. Some good background options might be your favorite art piece, interesting souvenirs or a not-overly-stuffed bookcase. Lastly, remember lighting: Your space should be adequately lit, or it’ll look like you’re dialing in from a submarine.

Set the mood

Never got your dream office? This is your moment. We bet scented candles aren’t allowed in your regular workspace, but you get to make the rules at home. Aromatherapy diffusers are another option if you’re worried about curious kids or pets. And now your playlist can softly waft overhead rather than through earphones. Similarly, set out some healthy snacks to avoid refrigerator trips, and nosh away. It’s OK for your home office to feel like your home, and especially now, it’s important to take time to indulge yourself with some creature comforts that feed your soul and make you feel calm and inspired.

Related:

  • Setting Up a Home Office That Works for You
  • Creating a Home(work) Station That Gets Top Marks
  • Before & After: Cluttered Office Goes Chic

Selling? Increase Your Home’s “Screen Appeal”

If you were counting on crowded open houses (or any open houses, for that matter) to sell your home, you’ve probably been rethinking your strategy. Nearly the entire country is following public health orders to stay at home through April or May, traditionally the prime selling season. As a result, online for-sale listings have taken on more importance than ever, and it all starts with increasing your home’s screen appeal.  

Stage your space

The first step in staging your home is aggressive decluttering. Put away all the kids’ and pets’ toys, store or recycle loose magazines and box up your picture frames and mementos for now. You don’t want to erase all the personality from your home, but you do want it to feel neutral so potential buyers can imagine themselves living there. Plus, the less random stuff on display, the more spacious your rooms will look. 

Next, consider the layout. You may love how your rooms are arranged, but your furniture placement might not maximize space on screen. Take some test photos to see if the current layout photographs well. If you’re planning on creating a recorded or live video tour, do a video chat walkthrough with a friend and see if you have a clear path between furniture pieces. You definitely want to avoid tripping over an ottoman while doing a live tour.

Finally, clean and dust every surface in sight, and replace all the lightbulbs so that rooms are as bright as they can be – even the most beautiful spaces won’t read well on camera if they’re too dark.

Consider virtual staging

If your current home is empty, you have a few options: 

  • You can leave it empty. (But staged homes tend to sell faster.) 
  • You can purchase furniture, if you’re able to have it safely delivered to your home. You just need a few key pieces to show the scale of a room – a couch, coffee table and rug establish a living room’s size, for instance. You can always resell or donate the pieces to charity later if you don’t want to keep them. 
  • You could try virtual staging, which digitally adds furnishings to your space. It’s come a long way and can make a home look very attractive. There are many online services as well as DIY apps to choose from. 

Your home looks great now share it

There are a few ways of showcasing your home online to generate more interest, even when having an agent or professional photographer doing the legwork is not an option or involves creative solutions.

For still photographs, see our comprehensive photography guide for home sellers

For guidance on creating recorded or live video walkthroughs, check out these tips

And finally, consider trying out the free Zillow 3D Home® app, an easy way to create a virtual tour on an iPhone and post it to Zillow, Trulia your social accounts and beyond.

Related:

  • Tips for Staging an Empty House
  • DIY Home Staging: How to Stage a Living Room
  • 5 Myths (and 5 Truths) About Selling Your Home

Does Your Home Make You Happy?

With the majority of Americans following stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus, our homes are now working overtime to fulfill the roles of offices, classrooms, gyms and community centers – and it’s easy to feel dispirited after occupying the same space day in, day out. But all hope is not lost: There are simple and inexpensive ways to transform your home into a fresh and inspiring environment. 

Give your home some TLC with these seven tips from interior decorators, feng shui experts and design enthusiasts. 

Break it up

If you’re working at home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by conflicting responsibilities. To help stay on track, designate different areas for specific activities. “It’s important to ‘compartmentalize’ your living space,” says Harry Heissmann, an interior designer based in Brooklyn, NY. Now working remotely from his apartment with his partner and their pup, Heissmann has assigned specific areas for fitness, work and leisure: “We dug out a yoga mat from under the bed and dedicated an area to working out. The desk in the living room was cleaned and organized and serves as a ‘command station’ for going online and making phone calls. The bedroom doubles as another workspace and is perfect for napping or watching movies in bed.” If you live in a studio, you can simulate separate “rooms” by splitting up the space with curtains, bookshelves or other furniture. 

Experiment with color

Painting the walls is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to immediately invigorate any home. For a classic look that will hold up against almost any decor, opt for cool neutrals; if you prefer something more dramatic, consider adding a pop of color to a feature wall. Reiko Gomez, a feng shui expert and interior designer in the Hamptons, NY, recommends greens and blues: “They are most associated with health, calm and well being.” If you’re not ready to commit to paint, Gomez suggests using accessories like throw pillows, an area rug, curtains or artwork to bring color into your space. 

Streamline and declutter

With millions of us now living and working alongside family members, significant others and roommates, our homes may suddenly seem more cramped than ever before. According to Gomez, there’s no better way to create spatial harmony than decluttering: “It works a powerful magic in that it gets your entire space up to speed with you.” She recommends starting small with a contained space like a bathroom, which “will give you a quick feeling of accomplishment and encourage you to do the next space.” The benefits of a tidy space extend beyond aesthetics – research has found that clearing clutter can lower stress levels

Do a digital detox

The digital detox movement is not new, but it’s worth revisiting in this climate of constant COVID-19 news and social media chatter. Though it’s important to stay informed about the health crisis, it’s easy to slip from a healthy level of engagement to compulsive checking. To reduce screen dependence, set up manageable boundaries based on time or place. For example, designate dinnertime as phone-free, or remove mobile tech devices from your bedroom for a daily reset.  

Invigorate with scents

Scent is a powerful vehicle for uplifting your mood. According to Mindy Yang, the owner of Perfumarie, a fragrance lab in SoHo, NY, “Every room should have a different scent track to score your moment.” Yang uses woody scents like cedar, palo santo, oud, copal and frankincense to feel grounded; rosemary for invigoration; and incense to focus and meditate. There are many ways to suffuse a room with scent – candles, oil diffusers, air mists and fresh flowers, to name a few. For a more subtle effect, crack open a window to balance out your chosen fragrance with fresh air. 

Greenify and purify

While you’re staying put, there’s no better time to bring the outside world in. Summer Rayne Oakes, host of Plant One On Me, says, “If there’s one thing that makes a space feel livable, it’s some elements of green.” Not only do plants bring light and color, they also add oxygen to your home – something that many of us could use more of as we hunker down indoors. Consider the level of care you want to give: “Some folks may find something less fussy to be easier to deal with, whereas others may want a more ‘high-maintenance’ plant that requires attention every day.” Whichever plant you choose, she says that the ritual of maintaining it can be deeply healing. To find a plant shop near you that’s delivering during coronavirus closures, you can visit Oakes’s database, Plant One Forward

Lighten up

Natural light is the top office perk, according to a study of workplace benefits published in the Harvard Business Review. If your home is now your office, you have more control than ever over the light conditions of your workday. To maximize your exposure to natural light, position your desk near a window and keep drapes and shades open during the daytime. If you don’t have much natural light coming in, Heissmann recommends affixing aluminum mini-blinds to your windows: “You can direct or cut out light (and inquisitive neighbors across the street) as needed, and when the sun hits them just right, you can use them to throw light into the room without getting blinded.” He also recommends adding reflective surfaces – like a mirror, lacquered table, or chrome lamp – to enhance the light in dark rooms.