Homeowners who want to express their own unique style can blend a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, says Erinn Valencich, L.A.-based designer and blogger for HGTV’s Design Happens. Whether it’s neutral colors with a bold chair or a formal fireplace with art deco accessories, homeowners can create a space that is both comfortable and dynamic.

“Attractive eclecticism can help make your home space a truly accurate reflection of your individuality,” says Valencich. “Combining shapes, styles and colors makes a very original statement.”

Set a good foundation
Eclectic style can include a variety of periods and styles and is connected through the use of color, texture, shape and finish. With such a bevy of decor options, an eclectic room can easily turn chaotic. That’s why Valencich recommends starting with a good foundation, the floors.

“I like to design a room from the ground up,” she says. “A new floor is a great place to start for a fresh look and feel; floors not only ground the room, but they provide the design foundation.”

“A good strategy when designing an eclectic room is to start with a neutral colored floor to help tie all the elements together,” says Valencich. “Grey toned floors are the latest design trend and they open up the possibilities for a wide range of decorating styles and color palettes.”  

A neutral color floor isn’t “blah” or unattractive, adds Valencich. A floor like Quick-Step’s new Reclaime flooring in Heathered Oak serves as a pleasing canvas to create your eclectic room design, while also adding an attractive level of style and artistry to a room. This floor gives the same visuals and charm of a hardwood floor constructed from reclaimed, vintage wood which adds depth and personality to the room.

Another advantage to a neutral color floor is that as your room decor changes through the years, your floor will transition nicely.

“The great thing about spaces decorated in an eclectic style is they can easily be changed depending on mood, inspiration and budget,” she says. “That’s why it’s important to have flooring that is versatile enough to adapt to your changing style.

Design principles
An eclectic room doesn’t have to be a hodgepodge or random assortment of items. “Have a planned and deliberate design,” says Valencich. “Eclectic rooms benefit from the same principles of design seen with other styles.”

* Balance. “Edit your collection to create harmony and focal points,” she says. “Practice moderation with your pieces.”

* Harmony and unity. “Group objects that work well together,” she adds. “For example, use different chairs around your dining table, but paint them the same color to unify the look.”

* Scale and proportion. “A mix of small, medium and large pieces helps balance out a room and keeps it from looking cluttered,” she says.

Valencich says to keep the design principles in mind while mixing unexpected pieces to create a gorgeous effect.

* Create a tidy grid of art to balance out weathered pieces and graphic patterns.
* Use nature to help create your eclectic look. Airy flower arrangements atop a dark, antique table give a balance of dark and light colors.
* Play with textures in your room. From an old frame with the paint peeling to nubby rugs to silky pillows, textures keep the room interesting and inviting.
* Let your personality shine through with what you love. Do you have a collection of seashells or other trinkets? Use those pieces in an everyday nook.

“As you create your own eclectic look, remember to be adventurous and a little daring,” says Valencich. “The most unexpected pairings can make the most refreshing looks.”

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 As the season changes, many of us will get the itch to tackle any number of home improvement projects before winter. For some, a complete remodel is in the works. For others, just a few quick fixes are needed to make the home a more enjoyable space during the long winter months or in preparation for holiday entertaining.

With the kitchen at the heart of the home, it’s an obvious place to take time for a few updates this season. Here are a few ideas to help give your kitchen a fresh look without spoiling the budget.

Overhaul cabinetry without breaking the bank

Although replacing kitchen cabinetry can be a very costly home improvement project, it usually makes the biggest impact. With unlimited options to choose from and varying price points, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. Even if your budget is small, don’t give up on the idea of updating your kitchen cabinetry because there are plenty of affordable solutions. For example, QualityCabinets offers its Woodstar series, a line of affordable and stylish cabinets including its newest door styles – Kittery and Brookport – that are on-trend and available in popular finishes ranging from a classic and airy natural stain to dark and rich tones.

Add some personality and shine

Hardware and faucets are touched every day, and wear and tear are inevitable. Just switching out these pieces can make a dramatic difference by adding a fresh shine, some personality and even greater functionality to the space. If your cabinetry hardware seems a bit dated, opt for one of many modern options for an instant, low-cost update. Replace the kitchen faucet with a sleek, better-functioning style to elevate the kitchen design, but also introduce a newer water-saving solution.

Don’t underestimate the power of paint

With color trends constantly changing, and the focus on color in the home becoming more prominent, a fresh coat of paint can change the look and feel of a space almost instantly. With the changing season, opt for colors that add warmth and comfort or choose a bright color to combat the gray of winter. Paint can also help cover up unsightly wall marks and stains and provide the backdrop for new decor and furnishings for a whole new look. To ensure your new look has staying power, make sure to purchase a quality paint specially formulated for the kitchen.

Lighten up in the kitchen

Kitchen lighting is easy to overlook. If there are outdated lighting fixtures in your kitchen, or simply not enough light, consider adding new whimsical pendant lights or splurge on a stunning chandelier to create a focal point. Simply adding lighting under the wall cabinets and dimmer switches can introduce a new ambiance to the space. A visit to your local home center or lighting showroom will give you plenty of ideas.

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Bigger isn’t always better in the real estate world, and what’s more, it’s not always possible. With more home owners downsizing from McMansions to smaller, more manageable houses, and a growing number of people opting to rent rather than buy, many families are looking for new ways to decorate, design and work with smaller spaces.

 
Kitchens sell homes, but this most-used room in the house hasn’t escaped the “less is more” trend, either. Interior designers, decorators and home product makers are responding to the growing demand for practical, beautiful options that make sense in smaller kitchens.

 
If you’re looking to make a big impact in a small kitchen, here are a few ideas to get you started:

 
Work the walls – You may love your cozy kitchen, but that doesn’t mean you want to make it look or feel any smaller than it already is. Lighter wall colors can help a little kitchen feel more open and airy. One winning decorating technique for small kitchens is to paint the majority of the wall space in a light neutral tone, like a pale cream or taupe and then add a pop of brighter or darker color to one accent wall or area. You can edge up the excitement of this technique by using a mural for kitchens on the accent wall, rather than just a different paint color.  Have an oddly shaped niche in your kitchen? You can turn that problematic space into a design statement with custom, repositionable wallpaper  that can be custom-sized and custom-colored to fit your specifications. This unique product can be adhered and re-adhered hundreds of times so you can take it with you to your next house if you choose.

 

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Smart-size your appliances – Sure that 30-cubic-foot stainless steel refrigerator is beautiful in the showroom, but how much will you love it when you can’t fully open the door in your small kitchen? Refrigerators come in several sizes, so you should be able to find one that will fit your space. The same is true for stoves, microwaves and dishwashers. Choosing appliances that make size-sense for the space you have not only improves the livability of your petite kitchen, it can improve your efficiency as well. 

 
Get creative with storage – One of the biggest challenges of a small kitchen is finding space for everything from pots and pans to flatware, dishes and foodstuffs. Small spaces call for storage creativity. Whether you hang some pots and pans overhead, replace traditional cabinet shelves with pullout drawers or use special racks to store plates vertically, you can find plenty of creative small-kitchen storage solutions.

 
Liven things up with light – Often, a small kitchen will have just one window – or no window at all. Yet light is an important way to make a tight space feel more expansive and inviting. Task lighting is essential for work areas in small spaces. Pendant lights can create ambiance and provide practical illumination without sacrificing any wall space. And if you crave natural light for your windowless kitchen, consider installing a skylight. Tubular skylights can bring sunlight into your ground-floor kitchen even if there’s a second floor above it.

 
Small kitchens are here to stay, whether as part of the trend toward smaller, more efficient homes or the reality of rental unit life. With some decorating creativity and practical design tactics, you can ensure your small kitchen yields large benefits – both in terms of enjoyment and resale value.
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Whether playing online games, sending and responding to emails, visiting social networks or checking bank accounts, the average American spends 13 hours per week online, according to a survey taken by Forrester. While the ever-evolving conveniences of online shopping and digital communication often make life a little easier, sharing valuable information over the Internet comes with a considerable amount of risk. Consumers should not only be aware of the dangers of being online, but should also take preventative measures to avoid becoming a victim of online scams or fraud.

Protecting valuable information online is just as important as securing a home, car or personal possessions, says Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. It is essential that people educate themselves and take the proper precautions to safeguard their information online, ensuring important account data and passwords are protected within the digital space.

1. Firewalls are your friend: Be sure to activate your computer’s firewalls as they are great tools to provide you with a line of defense against hackers and Internet crime. They watch all the communication occurring between your computer, a network (say at the office) and the Internet and can prevent strangers from accessing your information.

2. Surf and shop safely: While online shopping is a great, convenient tool, consumers should be careful when surfing or shopping on a site they’ve never visited before. Good indicators that a site is secure include checkout pages with lock symbols or sites with the prefix “https,” indicating that a page is encrypted or scrambled.

3. Download security software: There is a wide variety of security software available that automatically updates itself and can protect your personal computers from viruses, spyware and other online threats that are constantly in play. Sign on and scan your computer for viruses and other malware once a week to ensure your information stays safe.

4. Create strong passwords: Short, easy-to-remember passwords, are typically not complex enough to prevent being hacked. When creating passwords for online bank accounts and other sites, use passwords with at least 10 characters that are a combination of letters, numbers and most importantly, symbols. It’s also a good idea to change your password on a monthly basis to keep it secure.

5. Be cautious – always: Internet fraud and online crime are a constant threat to all Americans who interact online or store anything digitally. Be cautious and avoid posting any personal information online, do not open email messages from strange addresses and never give your browser permission to remember your passwords.

6. Shut it down: We all know that with many advances in technology, one can be connected at all times. However, being online 24/7 comes with risks. Attackers and/or viruses are more likely to target your computer if you are always connected. Therefore, it’s good to shut down once in a while and take yourself offline.

7. Back it up: Whether it happens by accident, a natural disaster or because of an equipment malfunction, computers and networks crash and can leave your information exposed or just lost altogether. Consider backing up all of your most important information at least twice a month and rest easy knowing it is stored safely in more than one place.

8. Use parental controls: Children use the Internet as frequently, if not more, than adults. Many Internet browsers offer the option to set parental controls. Check out your options to restrict the websites viewed on your computer and protect the settings you select with a password your kids won’t be able to figure out. This way, you’re keeping your information, and more importantly, your children safe from various online dangers.

9. Lock up your valuable info: Every time you step away from your computer, you should know all of your most important information is secure. Consider utilizing a secure, online storage application or website, such as the free Master Lock Vault, to house all of your passwords, account numbers and essential information and documents under one easily accessible, yet completely secure location. Storing this information online is safer than keeping hard copies or a non-protected file on your computer. Services like the Vault can act as an encrypted digital safe deposit box and give users peace of mind that their vital information is locked up tight.

10. Two is better than one: User authentication, also known as two-tier or device authentication, should always be enabled if offered by sites that collect your secure or private data at registration. With this enabled, you may receive an email or text message with a verification code to complete your account set-up. While this may seem inconvenient at the time of sign-up, the extra protection is well worth this extra step.

For more advice on online safety and security, visit www.masterlock.com or www.masterlockvault.com.

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(BPT) – When it comes to home improvement, homeowners aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty; 64 percent who plan to make improvements this year say they will do it themselves, according to an American Express Consumer Spending and Saving Report. But not all home decorating or renovating projects are suitable for the average DIYer. So how do you know when to DIY or when to call in a professional?

You can quickly assess if a DIY project is achievable. Consider if you need special knowledge or expertise beyond what you could acquire with online research or a class at your local home improvement store. Does the job require specialized tools that would be very expensive to buy or that aren’t available through your local rental center? Lastly, consider the amount of time and money you have to devote to the project.

Whether painting or building, the good news is every job can be considered a DIY project. Here are three popular home projects with suggestions for when to DIY and when to call in a pro:

Adding new window treatments

Custom window treatments that offer multiple colors, styles and light-filtering options can transform any room. Cellular shades are a great option for DIYers who want a professional-looking result without the hassle and expense of hiring a professional. Simple Fit Custom Cellular Window Shades install in seconds and require no special tools – no drill, screws or brackets – or expertise to securely install your shade. Simple Fit shades give you a polished look quickly and easily with the push of a button that activates a patented compression-mount system. View a video on installation and learn more at www.simplefitcustomshades.com.

Go pro: Installing wooden blinds or shutters typically requires tools and precise abilities. If screw drivers, level surfaces and detailed instructions are not your thing, call for help. When assessing the windows, you may notice that some windows are in need of repair. Before installing, consult with a professional to ensure the window is in proper condition.

Installing wooden flooring

With a variety of flooring on the market to choose from, quality laminate can provide you with the look of wood at a fraction of the cost, labor and hassle of the real thing. Typically, laminate offers many options and is easy to do yourself. It’s easier to “float” laminate – meaning no messy, hard-to-manage adhesive is required. Some options are as simple as cutting to size and clicking into place.

Go pro: Installing genuine hardwood requires an extensive list of materials and tools. If you are not confident with this type of installation, consult a professional. A pro can take the guess work out of the installation and eliminate costly mistakes. Refinishing existing hardwood floors is also a job better left to pros unless you have extensive experience operating a sander. This home renovation is labor intensive and errors could result in ruined planks.

Sprucing up the kitchen

Many simple kitchen enhancements are an easy job for even novice DIYers. Painting walls or cabinets and adding new hardware can impart a whole new look to a kitchen for relatively little time and money.

Go pro: Installing granite countertops are among the most desirable kitchen upgrades, but unlike other countertop installations, granite is rife with peril. Incorrectly measuring the amount of granite you’ll need will result in a countertop that doesn’t fit – a costly disaster. Professionals ensure proper installation to avoid breakage, cabinet or water damage and other problems. Granite countertops are an investment, and it pays to hire a professional to ensure that investment pays off in the best possible way.

When it comes to DIY projects, it’s important to take on tasks that will yield great results and little to no frustration. Fortunately, it’s easy to find plenty of decorating and home improvement projects that are simple, cost effective and high impact.

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So how do you ensure you not only land the home of your dreams, but get the best possible price from the seller and the best possible mortgage deal from your lender? By becoming the buyer every homeowner wants to sell to a financially stable, credit-worthy, pre-approved purchaser.

“Just as lenders consider many factors beyond your credit score, when deciding whether to finance your home loan, sellers consider more than just the offering price when evaluating potential buyers,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. “Buyers who can move quickly and decisively, who walk through the door with their financing lined up and their credit in good shape, are best positioned to stand above the competition this year.”

Steps toward being a better buyer

You can be a better buyer – one that will appear attractive to both lenders and sellers – with some simple steps.

First, understand your credit score and the role it plays in the home buying process. While a good credit score can ease the borrowing process for home buyers, it’s not the only factor lenders will use to gauge whether to approve you for a loan, Burns says.

“A credit score predicts the likelihood of whether a borrower might default in the first 24 months of a loan,” he notes. “But lenders will also consider how much of a down payment you bring to the table as a percentage of the purchase price, your income and your debt-to-income ratio when considering a mortgage application.”

Remember that lenders will pull your score from all three major credit bureaus, so it pays to check your credit report and score with all three. Reviewing your report and score allows you to catch and correct errors, and have a better idea of how potential lenders might view your credit worthiness, and rest assured that obtaining this information does not impact your credit score.

Understanding your credit score is a more complex process than you might expect. You can test your knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America.

When you have a handle on your credit, consider other factors that can make you a better buyer, including how much you have to put down on a house.

The days of no-money down mortgages are virtually over, industry experts say. Today, even FHA borrowers will likely need to make a down payment. How much you need will depend on many factors, including the loan program you apply for and the price of the house you’re buying. Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to save 20 percent of the purchase cost for a down payment.

Keep in mind, the more you put down, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment, and the better your chances of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. If you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score.

“Lenders and sellers are all looking for buyers who are ‘the complete package,’” Burns says. “While you should take care of your credit score, you shouldn’t obsess over it. Instead, look at it as an important part of the overall package of assets that can make you the kind of buyer everyone wants to work with.”

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It may not feel like winter yet, but cold weather is around the corner. Take advantage of the good weather now by following these tips to prepare the outside and inside of your home to survive the winter months ahead.

Outside tips

  •  After a summer of caring for your lawn, you might be looking for a break, but make sure you don’t stop mowing too soon. Lawns should be mowed well into the fall, even after growing stops. Grass should be at least 3 inches high and clippings should be raked up and bagged on the last mowing of the season to prevent roots being smothered over the winter.
  •  If you planted perennials, check with your local garden center about what type of protection particular plants require depending on where you live. Gardeners in Minnesota will face much different winter weather than someone in Virginia. Protecting with extra mulch or soil will help in some places, while others may require covering the plants with burlap, canvas or any other porous fabric. If you have trees that come near a power line, the branches should be trimmed back in the event of ice storms or heavy snowfalls that can cause trees to fall.
  • Some companies manufacture composite decking, railing, and fence products that require less maintenance than traditional treated wood. While no product is maintenance free, low maintenance decking means less work for you to prepare your deck for the winter. Whether your deck is treated wood or composite wood, keeping a clean, dry deck surface is the key to longer deck life and enjoyment. Just as you would rake the leaves from the lawn, sweep the leaves, needles and branches from the deck and remove all smaller debris from between deck boards as proper drainage is important to avoiding moisture build up. You can also use a deck cleaner and power washer to eliminate build-up. If you have a treated-wood deck, make sure you seal or stain the deck to keep water from getting in.

    If you live in a cold weather climate where ice and snow are a factor, use calcium chloride or rock salt to melt the ice and snow on your deck. When shoveling snow off of the deck, run the shovel lengthwise on the deck boards. Shoveling cross-wise can scratch or cut into the planks.

  • Storing deck furniture depends on what type of furniture you have. Wood furniture needs to be treated and covered with a protective, waterproof cover. Folding deck chairs can be easily stored in basements, garages or sheds, while covers are available for most size tables.
  • If you’ve got a snow blower, make sure it’s tuned up and ready to go; if you have a lawnmower, make sure you run it down or drain all the fuel out of it. Fuel in a mower or snow blower should be fresh when you start the season.
  • If you have cracks in your driveway or sidewalks, make sure they are repaired before the snow starts. The thawing and refreezing of snow can cause significant damage when it gets into cracks.

Indoor tips
  • The more cold air you keep out, the less heat you’ll have to use to warm your house. If you have drafty windows, consider wrapping them with plastic to help save energy and keep the cold air out of your house. Another way to keep the heat in is to caulk around windows and door frames where air may leak into the house, and add weather stripping or replace weather stripping that may have worn down.
  • If you have a fireplace, make sure it is capped to keep birds and rodents out. Firewood should also be stored away from your house as it can become a home for mice.
  • Heating accounts for 34 percent of utility usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so checking your ducts to make sure they are sealed is a great way to save money by increasing the efficiency of your furnace. Other ways to make sure you are heating your home efficiently is by making sure your furnace is tuned up and installing a programmable thermostat that can be set to regulate your home’s temperature without you having to remember to do it yourself.

Following these tips can help you save money in the short and long term as you get ready to welcome the winter to your outdoor and indoor spaces.
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Final Walk-Through: What to Expect at your Final Walk-Through before Closing
It’s smart to perform a final walk-through before closing. It’s your last chance to make sure the home you’re about to buy is in the condition you’re expecting. Here’s some great tips that you may not have thought of in preparing for your final walk-through.

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Staging your Home: Advice for Sellers

Ten inexpensive real estate staging tips to help create a ‘mood’ or ‘emotion’ to entice and connect with potential home buyers.

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Financing: Advice for Homebuyers

This YouTube channel, provided courtesy of Chase, offers the ins and outs of mortgages, how the loan process works and how to select a lender. Worthy of viewing regardless of whom you select as your lender.

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