Creating environments to meet your needs and suit your lifestyle.

A Green Glossary

Date TK, 20xx

Source: Pioneer Press

The response to my last column on “Small Ways to Live Green” was terrific.  Obviously, people are very interested in knowing more about how they can live more sustainably, even if by small measures.  Many “green” building terms are being used in the press these days so I thought it might be helpful to list a number of commonly used terms, useful Excerpts from Good Green Homes (Gibbs Smith, 2003), to further increase awareness and promote discussion of green homes.

Certified Wood:  Wood that is certified to have been grown and harvested using environmentally responsible forestry practices.  Home Depot sells certified lumber for construction.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL):  A fluorescent lightbulb designed to replace regular incandescent bulbs.  It is three to four times more energy-efficient and lasts eight to ten times longer than an incandescent bulb.  According to the EPA, if each U.S. household replaced one regular bulb with a CFL, consumers would collectively save more than $600 million a year.  The energy saved would be enough to light seven million homes, and the greenhouse-gas reductions from power plants would be equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.

Cotton Insulation:  Insulation made from recycled cotton-textile trimmings.  It typically is treated with nontoxic fire retardant and sold as batting that fits between framing studs.  I’ve seen shredded and bailed blue jeans for this purpose.  Wool is another great natural fiber insulation.

Deconstruction:  The practice of disassembling rather than demolishing a building so that its components can be reused.  This is something to keep in mind in an area where tear downs are  common.

Double-Glazed Windows:  Windows with two panes of glass separated by air space.  Compared to single-glazed windows, double-glazed windows significantly reduce heat and sound transmission.  Some also contain a gas such as argon or krypton in the air gap to provide additional insulation.

Energy Star:  A program sponsored jointly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy that promotes energy-efficient products, homes, and technology.  These products and new homes are often 10 to 30 percent more efficient than their conventional counterparts.

Engineered Wood:  Building products—including beams, framing studs, and floor and roof joists—that are made from wood fibers bound together with adhesives.

Formaldehyde:  A colorless, pungent gas used in many glues, adhesives, coatings and preservatives.  Products and materials containing formaldehyde can release this chemical into the air.  According to the EPA, exposure to formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions, respiratory problems, or cancer in humans.

Green Building:  A phrase referring to building practices that use energy, water, and other resources wisely.

High Performance:  A designation for buildings or building components designed to be more energy- or resource-efficient, healthy, and comfortable than conventional buildings or building components.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design):  A rating system that provides a list of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

Low-E (Low-Emissivity) Window:  A window with a special coating that allows daylight to enter a building but reduces the flow of heat.

Offgas:  Vapors that are released from a material through the process of evaporation or chemical decomposition.  Many building products, furnishings, floor and wall coverings, and other products brought into the home can offgas formaldehyde or other potentially troublesome chemicals.

Passive Solar Design:  An approach to building that allows structures to collect and store the sun’s heat, then release that heat into interior spaces and help warm the home naturally.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride):   A family of plastics, derived from vinyl chloride, with a wide range of forms and uses.  PVC is used extensively in building products, consumer goods, and industrial applications.  There has been considerable debate about the environmental impact of PVC manufacturing and the disposal of products made from PVC.

Reclaimed Material:  A material that’s put to a new, beneficial use after it is no longer needed for its original use.

Renewable Energy:  Energy generated from replenished resources such as wind, sunlight, and agricultural products.

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio):  Indicates an air conditioner’s energy efficiency.  The higher the SEER, the more efficient the air conditioner.

Sustainability:  Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (as defined by the World Commission on the Environment and Development).

VOC (Volatile Organic Compound):  A class of organic chemicals found in common building and home-furnishing products.  VOCs readily release vapors at room temperature, and exposure can cause nausea, eye irritation, and headaches.  The most commonly realized example of this is VOCs emitted from paint.

A Team Approach to Design and Building

September, 2008

Source: Pioneer Press

If you are about to undertake one of the most expensive projects of you life, namely renovating or building a new home, of course you would do all you could to ensure it’s success.  Success in a project of this sort can be defined in many ways; aesthetically, functionally, technologically and financially, for starters.  Then here is some sound advice, consider employing a team of professionals to work together on your project from the very beginning.  When contractors, architects, interior designers, engineers, landscape designers and others collaborate on a building project from its inception, the result is typically far more successful than a similar project tackled with a piecemeal approach.

The increasing complexity of building–including knowledge of technology and energy efficiency, building systems, codes and materials—requires a team of interdisciplinary professionals who are specialists in their fields.  An integrated design team views building design comprehensively, as a single entity from both an interior design and architectural perspective.

The architect is only the most obvious professional in construction planning.  Imagine how useful it would be to have an engineer and contractor on board quite early in the planning stage to assist in discussions about structure and support, which will save both valuable time and money.   Another important fact to keep in mind about contractors is that when they are asked to build something in a way that they are either uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, it’s typically reflected in the result.  If the new method or material is discussed well in advance, and the contractor is a part of the planning process, his approach is likely to be more positive and therefore, successful.

Landscape design undoubtedly enhances architectural design and the ability to see the possibilities and plan ahead for them, only increases the opportunity for enhancement.

Homeowners and others often don’t appreciate or understand how both an architect and a designer can work together at the planning stage without duplicating effort and expense.  Carol Jones, of Kasian Architecture, Interior Design and Planning, states that “the line between architecture and interior design, as it applies to the design of an integrated building, is becoming increasingly blurred. Jones’ firm asked their architects and designers about the benefits of collaboration.

The firm’s interior designers responded that advantages of collaboration with architects include more complete programming, increased sensitivity to the end-users and human factors, and enhanced functionality of buildings.  (The program is the list of requirements as determined by the homeowner, that the building must meet.)  The architects felt that the designers in the firm bring a different process and approach to the project which encourages a holistic outcome.  When they work closely with designers they gain an increased knowledge of building materials and applications and an increased awareness of interior design capability and areas of competence.  Each learns from the other but the focus is on the quality of the solution rather than the respective training of the participants.

Most helpful for homeowners who may consider employing a team to work on a building project, is the suggestions made by these two groups for the most effective process of collaboration.  Ideally, the integrated team will meet together to allow free exchange of ideas and group problem-solving.  The interior designer will play a central role at the beginning of the project, leading the programming process and interior space planning.  Clarity on roles and expectations is essential and a team session at the beginning is a good way to achieve this important goal.

Perhaps the most effective collaborative project I’ve worked on required, during the construction phase, weekly meetings with the core team members—the homeowners, the contractor and his project manager, the architect and myself as the designer.    Depending on the phase of construction, others would join the meeting to discuss their expertise in heating, or lighting for instance.  Sometimes these meetings would be brief but the discipline for all of us meant that nothing fell through the cracks, every detail was attended to.  As a result, the project was a terrific success.

As professionals, we know collaboration is useful and encourages us to challenge and inspire each other.  In the words of Carol Jones, “an integrated approach to architecture and interior design creates spaces that enhance how we work and live—balancing the structure, the systems, and the grace of the building.”

Buy Right or Buy Twice

July, 2007

Source: Pioneer Press

Buy Right or Buy Twice

Avoid being part of the “throw away nation” mentality when it comes to home furnishings.  Learn how to make good choices based on long term value when buying home furnishings and accessories.  Here are some helpful guidelines.

Bed Linens and Towels

In this category, density matters.  When shopping for bed linens, look for the highest thread count you can find.  Dense fibers make a world of difference in softness, comfort and durability.  Decide whether you like the satin feel or the crisp cotton or linen feel.  Look for thread counts over 400.  You’ll definitely notice the difference.

When selecting towels, feel them for softness not just color saturation.  Some good quality towels have a tight, more velvet feel while others are soft due to the high density of and quality of the cotton.  The department stores have a tremendous range of colors and quality.  If you’re thinking of replacing or stocking up due to a recent move, look for a “white sale” as it will be worth the wait in savings if you go for the good stuff.

The same rule of thumb applies to kitchen towels and dining room linens; the better the fabric, the more durable and typically, good looking the item will be.  If you use tea towels and dish towels on a regular basis, and you spend a good deal of time cooking, investing in good quality kitchen linens is a nice luxury.  When they finally do give out with stains and wear, transfer them to the nicest rags you’ve ever had.

Hardwood Furniture

When purchasing occasional table, cocktail tables and casegood pieces, consider where in the house these items will live beforehand.  For instance, for children’s and teen’s rooms, bookcases, desks and night tables local retails stores such as Room & Board, Crate & Barrel, etc. may be the way to go.   For pieces in the main living spaces of the house, look for bookcases with solid wood backs, tables with solid, reinforced joinery and wood veneers and finishes that will hold up to years of use.  An investment of this sort will allow a refinishing or two, when necessary, and be with you for years to come.


In this category there are two issues to keep I mind.  First, the frame of any furniture piece should be a hardwood frame, kiln-dried, and 8-way hand tied, not just glued and screwed.  I have seen first-hand what happens when springs are stapled into the frame without screws.  It’s not pretty, but it is fixable.

The second critical element of an upholstery piece is, of course, the fabric.  When you order any piece of upholstered furniture, you also select a fabric for it.  Making sure that the fabric is all that you want, like durable, soft, color specific, resist soils, made from natural fibers, or whatever your criteria are, is part of your job.  Do not be surprised if good quality fabric is expensive because it is.  You can expect to pay $75, on the low end, to $200 per yard for fabric that will wear well for decades.  This is not the place to cheap out.

After you’ve selected a fabric that you love, and one that meets your specific requirements, have it treated in order to protect it from water, oil, sun and soil.  One such service is “Fabric life Services,” at 1-800-266-7023.  It’s good insurance to protect your investment.

Outdoor Furniture

It certainly is the season to see what’s available in every shape and size and this is where, too, if you’re not careful, you can fall into the throw-away mentality.  If you are looking for aluminum frame outdoor furniture, buy the best you can afford.  It will last for a very long time.  The catalogs that arrive on your doorstep multiple times a week make outdoor furniture look fun, festive and even romantic.  Obviously, people can’t “buy up” every year or two, so choose wisely.   Thought the furniture may look whimsical, the prices surely are not.  Avoid chairs that spin, tip and bounce.  Select a style as simple and straight forward as your style will allow; these designs are more likely to hold up over time.

The teak furniture market is different.  The designs don’t vary as much but look closely at how the pieces are constructed.  Be aware that teak furniture requires maintenance.  Without care in our climate in particular, it will not stay the dark, rich color for long.

Outdoor cushions and pillows with terrific fabric choices are all the rage, available everywhere and a long time in coming to the retail market I might add.  This is a place to change things up from time to time.  These fabrics are long-wearing and while not inexpensive, still changing them after a number of years will liven up the colors for a reasonable amount.  It is easy to select fabric and recover existing cushions and pillows or donate yours and start over.  It’s a way to get a fresh look and still be satisfied with the furniture pieces you’ve selected.

Heirloom or Other, How to Decide

Not every piece needs to be of heirloom quality.  Which will be and which will not, is for you to decide based on your lifestyle and what spaces you enjoy using most in your home.  For instance, if you enjoy having dinner parties, investing in good quality dining chairs that are comfortable, well constructed and well built would make sense.  Ask yourself these questions and it’s likely that the answers will be a good guide to how and where to make it makes sense to put your money.

Have it Your Way; Design Custom Cabinetry That Meets Your Specific Needs

November, 2006

Source: Pioneer Press

Have it Your Way; Design Custom Cabinetry That Meets Your Specific Needs

The ultimate method for meeting the storage needs of anyone is to design to those specific needs.  The process follows a typical pattern.  Homeowner is driven crazy by inability to store any number of items in aesthetically pleasing way in kitchen, family room, living room, bedroom or even the garage.

Find An Expert

This person reaches the end of their rope and decides a small amount of research is better than other alternatives leading to self destruction.  Homeowner creates short list of people or companies, who are known to be very good at solving whatever storage problem they are experiencing.  An interview with the people on this list is the way to start.  Find out about their experience, estimated prices, approximate schedule, and how they would go about designing a piece to meet the stated needs.  Get references and check them.

Do Your Homework

Once the homeowner becomes a client, there is homework to be done.  The client must think carefully about what they want to accomplish; exactly what must be stored, what must be displayed, and what things must be accommodated.  The more specific the list is the more helpful it will be. There is a direct correlation between how thoroughly this homework is done and how successful the end result.

Design Work

The designer will come back with some design options for the client’s review and feedback.  Once the design is set, final drawings will be made for pricing purposes. Hand-in-hand with the pricing or bidding process, the materials will need to be determined.  Is this piece being made of solid wood, wood veneers, wood and stone in combination?  Perhaps metal will be mixed in.  Samples should be provided for the initial selection and current samples, or strike-offs in the case of wood stains, should be provided and approved before the piece is begun.

Design Value and Market Value

When a large construction project is bid out, often the first things nixed are the custom built-in pieces.  They can be relatively expensive, it’s true, but more than any other single item, they can enhance the aesthetics of a space exponentially, and this relates directly to an increase in market value.  Built-in pieces that are well designed, suite the space and the architecture, more than make up for their out-of-pocket costs.

Alternatives to Totally Custom

What are the options if you are not up for the totally custom price tag?  Good sources and some noodling on your own can go a long way.  For instance, if you want to solve particular storage problems in your garage, call White Rabbit—they specialize in garage organization.  Then, look through “Hold Everything” and see if you can accomplish most of what you need that way.  Compare the prices and the solutions and see what makes the most sense.

Enhance Your Coziest Room For the Indoor Season

October, 2006

Source: Pioneer Press

Enhance Your Coziest Room For the Indoor Season 

We all know which room it is; that room in the house where everyone goes to read, put their feet up, sip a cup of tea or watch the weekend sports event of choice.  Typically, the coziest room in the house is a room at the end of the house; one that does not lead to another room beyond or, in other words, a destination location.  People like to gather in these spaces.  As the weather turns cooler and drives us indoors, why not enhance your coziest room in the house.

The most important elements in a room where people will hang out include comfortable seating and since here we’re creating essentially a wish list, I’ll say that a full length sofa is ideal.  There is always a time when someone longs to stretch out and fall asleep.  It is possible that this can occur in a comfortable chair with an ottoman but it isn’t quite the same.  If, however, the full length sofa won’t work, the chair and ottoman combination are the best alternative.  The next essential is an ample ottoman or coffee table where feet can rest.  A glass top coffee table isn’t the best solution for a room like this. The slightly distressed look is a good one for this kind of space or at least a finish that is not highly polished and will show daily wear.

Good lighting is another important element.  While colored lamp shades are attractive, especially in the daylight, the darker shades really cut down the light you get out of the lamp.  Consider floor lamps, wall sconces or other types of lighting if table lamps don’t appeal to you or the space.  End tables or other occasional tables for drinks are key elements.  Also, window treatments to control the sunlight if there are many windows and a television in this space will enhance the enjoyment of this space.

Again, since this is a wish list, the item that will pull all these other elements together, anchor the room and make it feel warm and inviting is a well-chosen rug.  It need not be an heirloom quality Persian Rug but a good quality, well-made, soft rug large enough to anchor the furniture will make a world of difference.  Aside from the specialty rug stores, Thomas Price has a knowledgeable staff in the rug department who can help you chose a rug that’s right for your room and your budget.  In addition, the home furnishings stores such as Restoration Hardware, have some good quality rugs as well.

Essential accessories would include at least one, possibly two, soft chenille throws in a warm, richly hued color for the inevitable nap.  Obviously, the color is irrelevant when it comes to comfort but if this item is something you would be buying, the eye is drawn to warm, rich colors in a very satisfying way this time of year.   I’ve just seen these in Pottery Barn’s fall catalog or  I’m sure many places carry these now.  Coasters for cups and glasses are important to have on hand as is the oversized coffee mug–it makes for fewer trips into the kitchen.  A sturdy, handsome tray in a style that compliments your décor would be great to have and get lots of use.  There were several styles advertised recently at Crate & Barrel.   If traditional is more your style, go online to where there are a number of lovely trays.

So, as the light of summer fades and the days grow shorter and colder, make your coziest room in the house a little warmer and even more inviting by adding one of these essential elements.  Get a good book, brew some tea and head to your destination location room.  Chances are you won’t be alone for long!.


Wood Products You Can Feel Good About

March, 2006

Source: Pioneer Press

Wood Products You Can Feel Good About

Tropical hardwoods are beautiful and durable, but in a day and age where the environment is increasingly on our minds, is it possible to use these woods without contributing to deforestation, species extinction, and illegal logging.  By use, here’s a look at the wood species typically used, their problems and the alternatives.

Decks, Flooring, Benches and Railings

Much of the wood typically used for such purposes is Ipe wood primarily from Brazil, some from Bolivia.  Harvesting Ipe wood contributes to deforestation of old-growth forest in the areas where it grows.  An alternative wood is red cedar from managed forests for outdoor use, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified maple from managed forests.

Fine Furniture, Patio Furniture and Cabinetry

Mahogany is among the most beautiful woods in the world for furniture.  It makes gorgeous molding and floors as well.  Some species of mahogany are endangered and in the Amazon, it is harvested by “wholesale stripping of…rainforests” according to one source.  Countries like Peru, that are struggling economically, continue to export illegal mahogany.   Mahogany comes from the Caribbean and Africa, as well as Central and South America.  We can ill afford to see the Amazon rainforest stripped for several reasons, but not the least of which is the forests’ ability to counterbalance ozone depletion.  One wood to substitute here is FSC certified fir from managed forests.  Another substitute is certified cherry from managed forests.

Wood Moldings, Wooden Blinds, Parquet Floors, Wood Handles

This tropical wood, Ramin, is from Indonesia, Malaysia and Borneo.  The harvesting of this wood contributes to deforestation and endangerment of wildlife, particularly orangutans.  Though “logging in Indonesia is banned, illegal trade is rampant,” according to Debra Bokur of Natural Home Magazine.  FSC certified oak from managed forests is a good, durable and handsome alternative.

Indoor and Outdoor Furniture, Boat Building, Flooring, Picture Fames and Salad Bowls

Teak has a smooth, warm presence, perfect for contemporary and simple forms.  Teak is from Thailand, India, Burma Indonesia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.  Buying teak from Burma is just bad news, whether from a plantation or not.  The good news is you can buy certified plantation teak and replanting is underway in Ecuador and Costa Rica.  Certified cherry from managed forests is a great alternative as is bamboo, with its’ similar smooth even grained qualities.


It is possible to find reclaimed and salvaged tropical hardwoods.   For instance check out  For wood sources that are FSC-Certified go to  You can also find information on rustic and reclaimed wood as well as bamboo at EcoTimber.  For more information about sustainable design products and materials go to the website of Interiors & Sources design magazine at

Construction Project Checklist

February, 2006

Source: Pioneer Press

Construction Project Checklist

One day spring will indeed arrive and when it does, thousands of residential construction projects will be under way in our area.  Once the construction team is assembled; the contractor, architect and designer, arm yourself with a checklist that will help keep your project running smoothly.


  • Discuss “extras” thoroughly since your contractor has investigated existing conditions for a fee.
  • Go over pay-out requests carefully and understand what’s in and what isn’t yet.
  • Keep your designer and architect on payroll.  Not only will the end result likely be noticeably better but problems that arise during construction will get resolved efficiently and effectively.
  • Look for any signs that your contractor has money problems.
  • Pay promptly.


  • Be aware of how precious the contractor’s time is and be efficient in weekly meeting.
  • Make sure the contractor knows how precious your time is as well.  Keep meetings on track and to the point as often the entire team of professionals will be in attendance and time is important to everyone involved.
  • Review the construction schedule at each meeting.
  • Post the schedule on the job site.


  • Treat the contractor and the people who work with him well.
  • Learn the names of people on the job site, call them by name, and acknowledge their work.
  • Bring friends who are considering work of their own.


  • Use the weekly meeting to control your job.
  • Either have your architect and designer available by phone or at meetings as necessary.  Again, this is important in resolving issues efficiently and effectively.
  • Insist all change orders are written and priced ahead of the work commencing.
  • Scrutinize the updated time schedule for problems the contractor may have over looked.  You can be a check for each other.
  • Use the architect and designer for objective criticism during construction just as you used the contractor for objective criticism during design.
  • Ask the contractor to make mock-ups of walls and counters using cardboard to assist in visualizing the finished architectural relationships if need be.
  • Walk through the job site with the contractor, architect and designer after the framing is complete to check that the walls are in the best location, and again after the plumbing rough and electrical roughing is done to make sure switches, ceiling and wall sconces, etc. are in the correct locations.  Each professional will have an interest in different details so it’s important to include all of them.  If anything should be changed, this is the time to do it.
  • Use daily phone calls to keep people on the job.  Keep a log of calls and items discussed.
  • Keep a log of extras and payments.


  • Ask the contractor to demonstrate the quality of his work and to explain what to look for the following week.
  • Ask how the same work would be performed by someone with less experience or attention to detail.  Notice how this differs.
  • Ask the architect to reevaluate the plan as the work progresses.
  • Make and maintain a quality checklist on the job so all trades know what standard they are being judged by.

Fabric Confessions

January, 2005

Source: Pioneer Press

Fabric Confessions 

Give New Life to Old Upholstery with Well Chosen Fabrics

It is not too early to think spring—the ultimate season of renewal.  Breathe new life into an existing piece of furniture, pillows or window coverings by simply recovering then with a fantastic new fabric.

As with so many home interior products these days, the sources for great fabrics are growing.  In Chicago, Off the Bolt at 1333 N. Kingsbury, has exquisite fabrics if you happen to be in the market for what they have at the time.  There is usually plenty of stock in silks, taffetas and chenilles, among others.  These fabrics are fairly priced for the quality.

Moving north from downtown, Weavers at 6700 N. Lincoln Avenue in Lincolnwood is worth a look.  They have interesting trims, glass beads, fringes and tassels to help you think creatively about jazzing up pillows or upholstery edges.  It’s interesting to see how different a window valance can look with a trim added to it.

If you are up for a pleasant cultural as well as creative adventure, go to Regal Traders Inc. at 2616 W. Devon Avenue and ISP (Indian Sari Palace) at 2534 W. Devon Avenue.  Their silk fabrics, with backing added, would make stunning window treatments or pillows.  Just north of this area, Vogue Fabrics on Main Street in Evanston has a large inventory of basic home interior fabrics at very good prices.  A good thing to remember when you are in a large space filled with products, is to stay focused on what you are looking for otherwise it’s easy to be overwhelmed and distracted.

In Wilmette and Deerfield, Calico Corners is a solid, reliable source for nice quality fabrics.  It has the added benefit of a workroom, should you need the service.  They make custom window coverings and upholstering.  A relatively new source is DOI (Design of the Interior) with locations in Oak Park, Winnetka and The Glenn.  Theses shops have large quantities of fabrics, all types, and a variety of price points.  Additionally, there are dozens of smaller drapery and upholstery shops.  Keep in mind that small specialty shops can live up to their boutique reputation with boutique prices.  It is best if you can get a referral from a friend or neighbor who has used a shop instead of walking in  blind.

Before you start out on this adventure, it is best to have an idea of what you’re looking for and what your budget for the project is.  Like anything else, a little research can go a long way in saving you time and money.  Whether it’s a furniture piece you’re thinking of recovering or an accent pillow you want made, take the time to look through magazines and photos of any kind for a fabric that catches your eye.  Often the magazines will give the source of the fabric.  Having this information in-hand will save you time and money.  If you don’t have the time to take on this task yourself, with an idea of what you want and photos of what you like, a design professional can assist you quite easily.  The Merchandise Mart is the premier place for certain fabrics.

Guest Room Readiness

November, 2004

Source: Pioneer Press

Guest Room Readiness

Holiday Guests – Be Ready

 Many people will be hosting out of town guests during the upcoming holiday season.  If that includes you, make a list now of the things you would to have for your guests.  This list should include necessary bedding as well as toiletries to have on hand.


A review of guest bedding will force you to consider whether you need to send blankets and comforters out to be cleaned.  If done now, there is plenty of time to get them out and back without a panic.  Look at the condition of the pillow covers and mattress pads for your guest bed(s).  Wash any of these and add a brightener like an Oxi-Clean, to freshen them up.  Consider the guest bed sheets, their condition and quality.  High quality sheets with a high thread count along with a nicely weighted blanket are at least as important to a comfortable bed and good night’s sleep as a great mattress.   Often there are pre-holiday white sales so if you need to buy or upgrade any bedding items, this is a good time.  Your guests will appreciate it.


This is where an actual list is critical.  Sit down and make a list of items you would like to have available to you when you are a guest in someone else’s home.   Make the list before you go into the guest bath and see what’s left over.  Think about the best, most essential items to have on hand in your guest bath.  The list might include a plush guest robe, slippers and thick bath sheet sized towels.  Hair products including shampoo and conditioner, and body products of shower gel and possibly others are also a must.  Many hair and body care products are packaged together which can be very nice and helpful.

Other toiletries you might want to include are a razor, shaving cream, body and hand lotion, hand soap, shower cap, hair dryer, hair brush/comb, extra toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, nail clippers and nail file.  Be sure there is facial tissue (commonly known as Kleenex), extra bathroom tissue and cotton balls are a bonus.  Finally, no bathroom is complete without a waste basket, however small.


Additional touches for your guest would be an alarm clock and an extra blanket.  Chances are you will know the kind of special touches your particular holiday guests would appreciate.  Think about some small welcomed treat for your guest to discover on the night stand.  It’s often surprising what a big impact a small gesture can make.

Backpacks and School Supplies—Keeping the Clutter at Bay

September, 2004

Source: Pioneer Press

It’s back to school and all that it implies with increased papers, writing implements and increased mail.  So where does it all go and how can you stay organized?  Here are some helpful steps to take to keep the countertop and tabletop clutter to a minimum.

Clear Out the Paper

As the next season appears on the horizon, the new installment of mail order catalogs is already out.  Go through your old catalogs and magazines and recycle the old ones.  Even if they don’t impact your countertop clutter, you’ll feel the benefit of just having less clutter generally.  Recycle outdated phone books, community guides and school phone lists as soon as the new ones arrive.

Go through old mail, old homework sheets and work books that may be hanging around from last spring.  Keep only what is reasonably likely to be used.  If you don’t already have one, get a file box for each child to store their more important papers from each grade.  Again, try to be selective in what you keep.

For school supplies, throw out old broken crayons, dry markers, dried up paint and the like.  Many of us seem to store markers, pens and pencils long after their useful lives.  Even if you keep these items in a drawer, get small containers or dividers to separate them and keep them organized.

Organize Incoming Mail

Incoming mail creates clutter every day for most people.  Consider whether your system of collecting the mail, sorting it and storing it works for everyone in the family.  Is it best kept in the kitchen, desk area or some other location?  If you are relying on a countertop surface, consider an organizer unit designed specifically for this purpose.  Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Target and The Container Store all have well designed pieces for countertop application.

Where countertop storage isn’t an option, baskets or bins that stack on simple wire racks or shelves might do the trick.  The bulk of the storage is kept vertically but it does take up some floor space.  The benefit of this method is that there is ample storage space for homework assignments, work books, etc. in this type of system.  I would suggest this as an option for homework and ongoing projects even if you don’t need it for mail.  This kind of system can be found at the above-mentioned sources and at Pier 1 Imports and Cost Plus.  If you need further storage suggestions and quickly, see “Storage and Display” catalog put out by Pottery Barn.

Recycling Ease

Junk mail these days generally goes directly into the recycling bin so having the bin nearby is a must.  The large plastic bin itself doesn’t fit in with people’s design schemes, so some in-between step is usually required.  If you don’t happen to have a cabinet dedicated to garbage and recycling, some other system is required.  A brown paper grocery bag under the sink works well enough for some but if not for you, try a tall basket such as a hamper basket with a lid.  These can be quite tall and narrow and handsome enough to sit out in plain view.  No one would guess it holds your recycling.

Backpack Storage

If you’re fortunate enough to have a mudroom, hopefully its’ careful design included a place for backpacks.  If not, here are some alternatives.  In most coat closets there is enough space to install two hooks on both side walls; one above the other a sufficient distance apart.  These hooks must be sturdy and anchored into the drywall or a stud, if possible.  Don’t expect to hang a fully loaded backpack on these hooks, however.  There won’t be a huge amount of space here but it should be just enough for the width of a backpack.

While we’re on the topic of closet space, this is as good a time as any to clean out the children’s coat closet.  First, pull out last year’s coats, shoes and boots.  If they’re too small now, set them aside for donation.  Next, look to see that all the space is as efficiently used as possible.  Is there a top shelf with items that haven’t been used in more that a year?  If, so move them to longer term storage.  Consider whether anything in the closet is best stored elsewhere and if so, move it.  Opening up even a small amount of space is helpful.

Where kids use a back door that enters from an attached garage, retrofitting backpack storage is easier.  A bracket with several hooks that has an overall length of more than 16 inches can be mounted in studs just inside the garage.  If ample space is available in this area, consider narrow lockers for each member of the family.  They can house much more that just the backpacks.