East Bay Spring Home & Garden

Local pros offer inspiration and tips for making large and small changes inside and out

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There’s an old proverb that says “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.” Most of the time, this holds true for the northeast; however, there was that April Fool’s Day blizzard back in 1997 that still keeps many of us from stowing away those wool blankets until Memorial Day. Despite fickle forecasts, once the potted hyacinths and daffodils start popping up at the market, who can resist daydreaming about warmer days ahead? As sunlight streams into our living spaces beyond 4pm, the urge to continue our hibernation is replaced with motivation to refresh. Whether you make your home in a studio apartment or large farmhouse, to-do lists begin to form. 

Outdoor Design

Tips on hiring a landscape designer or a landscape architect from an award-winning professional

If we’ve all learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s the invaluable role outdoor spaces play in our lives. Whether for relaxation, socializing, or simply as a balm for our collective mental health, spending time out of doors has never felt more important. Now, as the days lengthen and the temperatures warm, many people emerging from the confines of their homes are setting their sights on outdoor projects.

Whether confronted with a blank slate following a new construction or an overgrown yard, some property owners may feel intimidated by the prospect of undertaking an outdoor renovation on their own. Others simply don’t know where to begin. It’s at these times that contacting a landscape professional might be the best course of action. If you have a very definite idea as to the scope of your project and what you intend to accomplish, you may simply be able to hire a contractor, be it a stonemason, landscape contractor, or irrigation company. However, most builders will expect you to have a clear plan in hand and won’t help much with design.

 For assistance with outdoor design, it’s best to engage the services of either a landscape designer or a landscape architect. Although basically interchangeable, designers often excel at residential work and plant selection. A landscape architect, however, might be a better choice for projects that require extensive engineering or permitting.

 Once you’ve decided on the type of professional that best suits your needs, you may want to interview a few different design firms. To get the most out of your first meeting, it’s useful to provide potential candidates with as much information about your project as possible. To that end I have created a list of four questions that may help you organize your thoughts.

What are the issues you would like to address on your property?

These may include creating privacy, assigning a play area for children, designating a space for dining or lounging, the layout of gardens or foundation plantings, installing a swimming pool, etc. Be sure to include everything on your wish list and arrange the items in order of importance. 

What is your budget for the entire project?

This question is key as your budget will affect what you can accomplish and may eventually help you to streamline your wish list. Having little idea as to what different projects cost, some people may feel daunted by this question. Much like purchasing a new home or car, however, it helps to give serious thought to the total amount of money one feels comfortable spending. To that end, it may also be useful to consider the resale value of your home or the price of other houses in your neighborhood. Bear in mind that nothing sells a house faster than “curb appeal” and these days homes with beautiful grounds and swimming pools are in demand. In fact, since the onset of the pandemic, pools have become such a hot ticket item that many installers are booked months, if not years, in advance.

 What is your maintenance level?

This question relates primarily to plant selection since hardscaping (walls and patios) usually doesn’t require much care. As a rule, trees and shrubs require less attention than perennials or annuals. Of course, there are exceptions; tea roses, for example, top the list of high-maintenance shrubs. So, if you plan to manage the property yourself, do you like to garden? How much time can you commit to working in your yard? If you intend to hire a maintenance service, what is their skill set? Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find knowledgeable workers that can do more than mow the lawn or trim bushes into balls. Also, it’s vital to remember that new plantings are often expensive and must be watered almost daily during the heat of the summer. Failure to do so for at least a few years may result in loss. It might come as a surprise that, despite the need for weekly mowing and consistent watering, the lawn is probably the lowest maintenance and least expensive planting option available today.

What are your aesthetic leanings regarding landscape design?

Do you have a particular landscape style in mind; formal or informal, modernistic, English Country? Images gleaned from websites, books, or magazines that reflect your taste can both solidify your desires and convey your aesthetic preferences to a design professional. When it comes to your front yard, it may also prove worthwhile to consider the architectural style of your home. For instance, I probably wouldn’t install a Japanese garden in front of a Tudor house. In your backyard, however, I encourage you to let your imagination run wild. – Andrew Grossman

Declutter Now

A professional organizer shares tips and tricks for the kitchen

“If this is your first venture into organizing, instead of taking apart your entire kitchen pantry (which can be very overwhelming), start small,” advises Stephanie Pasley of NEAT Method Providence, a luxury organization service for homes and businesses. Pasley suggests emptying your “junk” or utility drawer and then “editing” – “determine what you no longer need or use that can be disposed of or put away elsewhere, and what you need to keep and put back.” Then, group those “keep” items together into categories (for example, writing utensils, tools, electronics, etc.) and corral them into smaller containers to place back into the drawer.

Set Up Zones

“Creating ‘zones’ throughout your home or business is a great way to get and stay organized and force others using the space to as well.” Pasley offers the example of a “zone” in the kitchen as the lunch prep zone, which could be one or a couple of drawers devoted to reusable bags, foils, or wraps, and to-go containers. “We suggest decanting everything into containers and even labeling (see Tip 3) to ensure anyone making lunches can find everything they need!”

 Label, Label, Label

“At NEAT Method, we love labels,” says Pasley, laughing. She suggests using labeled woven baskets to contain your least-used items to store on the top shelf in the pantry. “With a clearly labeled basket, you will always be able to tell exactly what’s inside without having to take out your step stool and pull the basket down.”

 Revolve Around the Dishwasher

This is the most efficient way to set up your kitchen, explains Pasley. Keep your glassware, dish, and utensil cabinets and drawers in close proximity to the dishwasher to make unloading a breeze. Other most-used items should be given “prime real estate” in the kitchen after that, and least-used items should be placed in harder-to-access spaces that can be reached with a sleek step stool.

 The Not-So-Lazy Susan

The rotating circular tray is one of Pasley’s personal favorites “because of its versatility.” A small wooden one, she says, can corral all of your oils and condiments in a cabinet next to the stove for a quick grab while cooking. On the other hand, a large plastic one can live under the sink to store all of your cleaners, and an acrylic divided Lazy Susan can be used to store kids’ snacks in the pantry.  Learn more at NeatMethod.com, @providenceneat

Renovation Reality

The importance of hiring a pro for a full-scale kitchen remodel

Who among us hasn’t had their head turned by a shiny new kitchen? Large spaces with gleaming floors, marble surfaces, apron sinks, and warming drawers. As the hardworking heart of any home, much time is spent in the room no matter its size. With anticipated tax refunds, more people than ever are considering a refresh to the household hub. On a shoestring budget, this can be as simple as a weekend of repainting cabinets and switching out hardware, or on the other end of the spectrum, a major undertaking and investment, requiring much planning and professional help. 

Jennifer Voll, owner and operating manager at Cypress Design Co. in East Providence, tells us that hiring professionals is a must. “There are so many elements that go into a kitchen remodel that if you leave anything to chance it could end up costing you far more and extending the time of the project.” As an example, Voll cites, “You can spend $50K on cabinetry, but if you hire an unlicensed handyman who installs them incorrectly , then you really have done yourself an enormous disservice.” She advises that the first step is knowing exactly what you can spend. “General rule of thumb for a kitchen renovation is spending approximately 12-15 percent of the value of the home.” 

Timing is everything in a kitchen re-do. Voll says knowing your contractor’s time frame as well as the lead time of materials is key. “Having everything coordinated well in advance allows for a quicker install. Also, be aware that due to COVID, many manufacturers were forced to shut down or limit production, so long lead times are being experienced throughout the entire industry. 

“People spend so much of their time in the kitchen, that it’s essential to utilize every square inch to fit the needs of the people who call the space home. People want the kitchen to be a gathering space,” says Voll. As far as trends, she notes that the open concept plan has not really gone anywhere in the last few years. “Customers are comfortable knocking down walls and losing a formal dining room to incorporate a roomy island to sit around while cooking, eating, doing homework, and enjoying a glass of wine.”

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