How-To: DIY Home Renovation Project

 

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“Your home should tell the story of who you are and be a collection of what you love.”
Nate Berkus

When my husband and I moved into our big two-story farm house in 1993, we knew it would take a lot of time, effort and money to update it. Besides having the wiring and plumbing redone to bring it up to code, the interior of the house needed a serious makeover. It was obvious the previous owners didn’t have any decorating sense whatsoever.

terrible interior

Though it wasn’t quite this bad, it was still pretty bad.

The walls in the dining room and living room were painted light green (the color of pond scum), the windows were hidden under heavy full-length drapes (the kind you’d find in a funeral home or the Munster’s house) and the floors were covered with filthy shag carpeting (I’m sure it harbored all kinds of nasty microscopic critters). The downstairs bathroom looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s flop house – big gold sunflowers against an olive green background, a grungy mustard-colored linoleum floor and a bathtub they probably hauled out of a junk yard. The bathroom upstairs had a long closet decorated with goofy duck stickers instead of a bathtub or shower. I kid you not. It was ridiculous!

Our realtor referred to this 1917 fixer-upper as the “Bates Motel”, but beneath all the unsightly trappings we could see that this place had a lot of character and loads of potential.

Bates_Motel

Not exactly welcoming…

For starters, beautifully carved woodwork, plate rails and beveled mirrors in the spacious dining room, bay windows in the dining room, living room and master bedroom, and underneath that hideous shag carpeting we discovered a magnificent oak floor with mahogany inlay. We were also impressed with the size of the kitchen – 17 ft. x 17 ft. with high 10 ft. ceilings – and the charming built-in cabinet, not to mention the transoms above the bedroom doors (something you’d usually find in grand hotels, not private homes.) Suffice it to say this house was a diamond in the rough.

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This is the detailing I’m talking about. Beautiful, huh?

After buying the house for a song, we decided we could save a lot of money if we tackled minor renovations ourselves. It’s taken quite a few years (and muscle) to do some of the improvements and, as with most old houses, there’s still plenty to do. But, anyone who has seen the before and after pictures will agree this place looks ten times better than it did when we first moved in.

If you’re thinking of remodeling your home, I have some ideas for easy and affordable upgrades you can do yourself.

guy painting

Look at that technique!

Red Walls

An example of a burgundy dining room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give walls a fresh coat of paint. Probably the easiest and least expensive way to change the look of any room is to repaint it. Think beyond the usual shades of beige and go with colors that reflect the mood or purpose of the room or your personal decorating style. For example, try bright yellow or tangerine in the kitchen, rich burgundy or hunter green in the dining room, and fresh lilac or jade green in the bathroom.

  • Need help selecting the right colors? Check out the interior paint guide at bhg.com
  • Learn how to paint like a pro with help from diynetwork.com

Restore or replace your flooring. If you’re lucky enough to have hardwood floors underneath your worn carpet (like we did) and they’re in relatively good condition, you may just need to spruce them up with a floor sander/polisher from a rental place or buy this handy Floor Scrubber/Polisher. You can always get an area rug if you want to add some color and warmth.

hand painting oil color on wood floor  use for home decorated ,house renovation and housing construction theme

It looks harder than it is, we promise!

On the other hand, if your floors are in bad shape, you’ll want to hide them under new carpeting or flooring. Look for special deals from Empire Today, one of the featured offers in Smart Perks.

Refinish cabinets, shelves and furniture. Instead of investing in new kitchen cabinets, consider refinishing your existing ones with paint or stain. Why not dress them up with different knobs or handles too?

Go to hgtv.com for a simple tutorial on refinishing kitchen cabinets.

Cabinet redo

Photo Courtesy of Pinterest User One Good Thing…

Replace faucets and sinks. Make an outdated bathroom look like new instantly by replacing your faucets and sink with more modern designs. You don’t even need a plumber to do it!

 

Re-tile the floor or backsplash. Tiling is relatively easy. All you need is a little know-how and the right supplies, like tiles (standard subway-style tiles are the most common and the easiest to install), a v-notched trowel, tile mastic (adhesive), a tile cutter, and grout. You can find most of these things at home improvement stores. Go to diynetwork.com for step-by-step instructions on tiling floors, backsplashes, showers and more.

Update window treatments. Get rid of those heavy drapes or dated curtains and put up some sleek new blinds, Roman shades or sheers. Or, you could create your own custom curtains, drapes, shades & more out of materials you already have on hand. Check out the amazing (and easy) DIY Window Treatment ideas from hgtv.com!

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Just one of many options from one of our partners, 3 Day Blinds. Check out Smart Perks for a coupon!

You’ll also find some cool ideas in Melanie’s March 2nd blog post!

For supplies and products, look no further than Smart Perks! You’ll find some great offers from Build.com, Lowe’s, 3 Day Blinds, and more in our Home & Garden section.

Final Note: Before you invest in an older home, have it inspected by a professional to make sure it’s structurally sound. It’s easy to correct cosmetic flaws, but if the foundation is fragile you’ll have a nightmare on your hands. If you don’t believe me, rent the Tom Hanks’ movie The Money Pit!

Good luck and remember, it’s worth all of the effort once you see the fruits of your labor! Have any of you renovated your home yourself and have pics to send? Include them in the comment section!

Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, may not be handy with a hammer, but she does know how to create an awesome honey-do list.

Time to Update Your TV? Get More for Less!

FRED BARNEY TV

Image from The Flintstones. A Hanna-Barbera Production. 1960-1966.

Well, it finally happened. Your prehistoric television went the way of the dinosaurs and you don’t want to wait until the genetic engineers of Jurassic World can bring it back to life. Besides, you have to see the latest episode of Big Brother on CBS this summer, right? (Oh please, I hope not!)

If you’ve been putting off buying a new television because you don’t know your HDs from your LEDs and you’re unwilling to put retirement off in order to keep up with the Jones’ 196″ curved home theater with surround sound, then this is the post for you.

Believe me, I was in the electronics buying field for a major big box retailer for over a decade, and replacing your old technology TV with new HD LED/LCD TV does not have to be a budget buster.

The two most important things to consider are your budget and screen size.

My philosophy: go BIG or go home!

That seems to be the motto in the television industry these days. If you decide to go big, you will never regret it. You’ll want to buy the largest screen to fit the spot that the TV will be located. Room size is less of a consideration today given that a flat screen TV can accommodate the smallest space with an easy-to-install wall or corner mount, so don’t worry about it jutting out.

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A 55″ Vizio E-Series is available right now at Best Buy for $599

Right now a 50-55 inch television can easily be found for $400-$600, either in-store or online with free shipping, from popular name brands you can trust. Based on my years of experience working with these brands, I would recommend Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Vizio or Toshiba.

If you’re looking for a smaller TV for your bedroom or home office, or in my case garage/mancave where I catch football on Sundays, I recommend a 32″ with a corner or ceiling mount. A heavy-duty tilting wall mount from Mount It runs about $35 on Amazon.

When it comes to all those capitalized letters and numbers that are thrown around with TVs today, it all boils down to this: you want 1080p, HD format. If you have 1080 lines of screen resolution it will provide you with a good, high-quality picture for movies, sports-viewing, or binge-watching entire seasons of Walking Dead. You do not need an expensive 4K Ultra HD, 3D or curved screen TV to have a great viewing experience. Better models of these 60″ and higher televisions are running about $1,500 right now, and I expect the prices will come down in a few years.

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You can find a fantastic LG Electronics Sound Bar for theater-quality sound for $125 on Amazon right now.

Save the money you’d spend on those enhanced feature televisions and use it to buy an inexpensive sound bar, which will range in price from $50 to $99. The home theater experience is worth it.

Look for a TV that has several HDMI inputs, so  you can connect devices to your TV, such as cable boxes, DVD  players, gaming consoles and video cameras.

You can ignore features such as refresh rate, contrast ratio and color gamut unless you are a pixel sniffer. They really don’t matter on a quality, reasonably-priced television.

Even if you’re replacing a first generation LCD TV, you’re going to be amazed at the picture quality you’ll see with an affordable 55″ television. So online or at the local mall, don’t be intimidated, the deals are out there.

– Blogger Karl Q enjoys skiing at Alta, golfing at Whistling Straits, soaking up the sun in Kauai, and a good $2 chicken sandwich from Wendy’s.

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Keep your new screen pristine with a 6-pack of screen-cleaning wipes, on clearance now for just $3.99 at The Great Deal Company.

DIY or Pay Someone to Do It For You?

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I have a guilty secret. I must come clean. Several posts back, I blogged about my little-used sewing machine, and the piles of fabric I’d purchased, with every intention of sewing some fabulous curtains just like the ones I saw on Pinterest.

Well, the sad truth is, upon seeing similar print curtain panels at Target that I liked, at $24 a piece, my slacker tendencies kicked in. I decided to take the path of least resistance and bought my curtains instead.

Yes, I admit it. I did not DIM (Do-It-Myself.)

However, before I tattoo Pinterest Wannabe to my forehead, I have decided that sometimes it’s okay not to be able to do everything.
As much as we’d like to believe that, given the time, we could tile a kitchen backsplash that would make Michelangelo weep, some things are just better left to the professionals.

Luckily the advent of a thriving online marketplace has made it easier than ever to hire talented, ethical, reliable and professional service, craft and trades people.

Sometimes we want to attempt to tackle projects and repairs ourselves, whether our motivation is saving money or exercising our DIY-muscles.

But, it’s also perfectly okay to say, “I don’t have the time or the patience right now to do this on my own.” And that’s when you can dive into the ever-expanding and incredibly customer-friendly world of online home service providers for everything from sewing projects and repair work to painting, landscaping – there’s a professional for just about any task you need done. You can even hire a grazing goat service. Seriously! See Amazon Home Services under Other Services.

So, who are the key players?

Well, of course there’s the venerable, subscription-based Angie’s List with its convenient mobile app, Snapfix, that lets you snap a quick pic of whatever needs doing, such as having a retaining wall built or blinds installed, and you’ll receive multiple bids back for your project.
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But, there are also many newcomers on the home services scene that do all the legwork of finding a professional for you for free, from TaskRabbit, pro.com and ThumbTack (who received a $100 million dollar vote of confidence from Google in August 2014) to the just-launched Amazon Home Services.

Dashboard_-_Thumbtack_-_2015-04-14_12.37.37Thumbtack has been around since 2008 and is the company I have used myself, most recently to find a pet sitter in my area within my budget that could meet my specific needs, caring for three dogs in my home, a 6-month old puppy and another with a LOT of issues.

When working with one of these companies, you’ll provide a summary of the service you need, whether it’s a fence installation or pet-sitting. Then they will analyze the request and provide you with bids on the project. Some companies like pro.com will charge a flat hourly rate. You don’t pay for the service of Thumbtack or Amazon Home  Services. Their Pros pay to bid on your job, or pay the company a percentage of the total job cost. That’s how Thumbtack and others make their money.

TheifWorking with Home Service Providers (HSPs) can eliminate the “meeting in a dark alley,” fear you get when dealing with Craig’s List, or a stranger off a supermarket bulletin board. All of the companies I’ve mentioned conduct thorough background checks on their pros, including scouring court records, sex offender registries, national and local court filings and criminal databases, and bankruptcies, judgments and liens. All customer reviews are verified to ensure they were written by actual human beings who received the services.

Amazon Home Services (AHS) has a clear advantage over its competition, solely based on the outstanding reputation of its parent company. If you buy a flat-screen television on Amazon, there’s now a button right there online to hire an installer to mount it for you with AHS, sparing you the hassle of having to find a contractor on your own. It’s the proverbial one-stop-shop.Amazon_Home_Services_Amazon.com_-_2015-04-14_15.58.59

Then, is there anything worse than taking time off work to meet a repair person and be stood up without so much as a phone call? The likelihood of that happening to a provider listed with Amazon is slim to none, as anyone who has experienced Amazon’s amazing customer service can attest.

Amazon.com_Happiness_Guarantee_-_2015-04-14_16.10.03Amazon’s services are covered by an A-to-Z guarantee and a price match. Plus, their providers must meet ongoing performance targets, including responsiveness, quality and ratings. I personally love Amazon. I am a proud Prime Member and I’m anxious to try their services. But I have to be honest, in my service area the search results were pretty slim pickings right now.  The majority of categories had no providers available within my zip code. However, they just launched, and integrated with TaskRabbit in March, so I’ll check back in a couple of months when I’m sure the service offerings in my area will be more robust.

The other drawback worth mentioning, from my experience is that for emergency repairs, say your hot water heater goes out on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, you’re probably not going to want to wait around for estimates. That’s when you may want to turn to Mr. Google for assistance.

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My Secret Garden by Marjorie Wallace

And there  you have it. I freely admit it. While I would love to devote my every waking hour to recreating an amazing stone garden path that looked like it came straight from a storybook myself, I have a garden that needs tending, books that need reading, and dogs that need a rigorous round of tug-of-war or two. So maybe when it comes to that romantic garden path, I might just swing over to the online marketplace and see how much  local landscapers would charge. What have I got to lose?

– MB, Smart Perks blogger, crafter, gardener, reader, cupcake lover, social media junkie, shopping enthusiast & dog mom

The DIY “Vintage” Trend: What You Need to Know and How You Can Take Part

mock up, laptop, working space

Many of today’s trendiest bars, homes, apartments, fashions and decor are no longer sporting the beige tones of the ‘90s, the computer-rigid lines of the ‘80s, nor the shag carpet of the ‘70s (as much as we miss all of these). The most coveted items today are refurbished, architecturally-unique throwbacks with foundations in the minimalistic movement in the early 20th century. Think of it as a remix of all of the above, but with less.

Minimalism is “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.” Thanks to the invention of websites such as Pinterest, a lot of people these days are taking old objects ­– desks, chairs, lamps, plywood, that sort of thing – and refurbishing them. The restyled piece is then placed within the context of exposed brick walls and dark wooden floors, giving it that modern vintage look.

For instance, one of my friends made an incredible standing desk out of an old door he purchased from an architecture reclamation store. All he had to do was put some homemade sawhorses on for legs and now it’s a piece that everyone asks about. The whole thing was super simple, doesn’t take up that much space and looks very cool. The sawhorses were just $20 (assembled with cheap 2x4s and sawhorse brackets) and the door was $10. $30 is pretty cheap for a cool place to work!Detail of a board with old paint on it.

Maybe you’re wondering “Who would want to display some old junk?” Why is this refurbished approach so attractive, even among people who can afford many other options?

Well, I have a theory about it: do you remember when your grandma gave you that (ugly) ring she got from her grandma when she was your age? Or maybe you still have that stability-lacking bookshelf your dad made back when you were a kid? The main reason that you might hold onto these objects isn’t because of any visual aesthetic appeal, but there’s an inherent value in the story an object carries – one that occasionally surpasses the beauty of the product itself. When people ask, “Why are you using this broken motorcycle as a coffee table anyway?” You have a great story to tell in return.

The same goes for today’s living room “masterpieces,” although the story can be a bit more self-indulgent, “Well, my (boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, whoever) and I went out to the (thrift shop, architectural reclamation store, grandma’s house, etc.) and found this (lamp, wooden door, ship mast, 1940s refrigerator, civil war musket, other random thing). Then we (put a hat on it, made it into a chalkboard, had our friends sign it, slapped an old map onto it, etc.).”

Watch as guests “ooh” and “ahh” at your creation. And aren’t you so crafty! I have heard similar stories countless times. Although the pieces aren’t always rooted in something sentimental like a family heirloom, they add extra value as a conversation piece and is in tangent with the current minimal trend.Sofa with lamp

I might be an amateur myself, but this is my favorite kind of design. Therefore, what follows is one amateur’s advice to another:

  • Look for organic materials such as stained wood, earthy bricks, water pipes, or antiques made out of such materials.
  • Find a lot of inspiration over at Pinterest: try searching “vintage”, “minimalist”, “rustic”, “DIY” or any other similar terms.
  • The older (or weirder) the better, so if you ever end up working with wood, make sure to treat it with the right stain. Also, if you’re looking for a really beat-up look, get a knife and crowbar out and have some fun doing some damage to it (but be sure you do this before staining it). This is a pretty decent guide on how to give wood that rustic look.
  • Finally, have fun and learn. One of the best parts of this DIY movement is that you get to express yourself artistically without worrying about perfection. Functionality is usually pretty nice though, so go for that in tandem with the look.

One man’s trash is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure. Keep that in mind and be open to the possibilities as well as the limitations of your space. And if your house is already fully furnished, you should think about passing along some of your heirlooms to a friend or consignment store that would be excited to have them. Even if you thought they might have been tacky back then, it’s probably stylish right now. Plus, it gives somebody a great story.

-Jack

As devilishly handsome as he is clever, Jack is the excellent copyeditor for the Smart Perks team. A passionate music-listener, writer, and all-around great guy, Jack is going to help keep you in the know on fun trends and interesting ideas. 

 

Seed Starting for Newbies – Greetings from Zone 4!

united beauty of vegetables

Greetings from Zone 4? No, that is not the title of a science fiction novel.

Zone 4 is the plant hardiness zone for Smart Perks headquarters in Minnesnowdah. But regardless of where you live in the U.S., with spring right around the corner, it’s a good time to start thinking about seed-starting for your vegetable garden.

I’ve started seeds indoors for over a decade now. It’s a great way to save money by avoiding nursery prices, and I typically have more than enough plants leftover after mine are in the ground, to share with friends and family.

Have you seen the price of a grocery store tomato lately? You shouldn’t have to make a choice between a child’s college education and a tomato! Besides the savings, starting seeds indoors will bring a little summertime to your home during a cool, damp March.

To get started, you need to decide which veggies you want to plant, depending on your personal tastes and growing space. If you live in apartment, a lot of plants can be grown in a couple big pots on a deck or outside your front door.

I usually like to start cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans indoors. Herbs, especially chives and basil, are easy and fun to grow, because they smell DELICIOUS as soon as they sprout. You can dry them and use them throughout the year. Fresh herbs are the best, and you really can taste the difference in your recipes!   mozzarella di bufala con pomodoro e basilico

Then head to your local hardware, discount store or nursery and pick out your seeds. Check the back of your seed packets for the zone hardiness of the plant, and how much time you’ll need to allow if you’re starting indoors, as well as time until harvest. The typical amount of time for indoor growing is 6-8 weeks. Here in Zone 4 we shouldn’t put our plants in the ground until after May 15th, when the danger of a killing frost is USUALLY passed.

I usually start my seeds around St. Patrick’s Day or during the NCAA Final Four. I remember in previous years, sitting on my kitchen floor, with seed starter soil everywhere, listening to a tournament game, while trying to get wet soil out of my grout. That was before I wised up and started using peat pellets.

While some hardier veggies like lettuce and radishes can be sown directly in the ground in early spring, others have to wait until the ground warms up. Tomatoes, for instance, thrive in heat. If the temps are too cold, or the weather too cloudy, their growth can be stunted. Tomatoes are an excellent plant to start indoors.

Then you’ll need a tray that will allow adequate drainage and a clear, vented cover. I recommend investing in a multi-square version like the Jiffy Starter Kit if you’re a newbie. jiffy-greenhouseIt has everything you’ll need, except the seeds, light and water, and will cost approximately $10 or less. Plus the tray can be used again next year.

You can buy the growing medium loose, or in a little mesh-covered peat pellet. Trust me…the peat pellet is the way to go to avoid a mess! You soak them in hot water for about 5 minutes and voilá…they expand to just the right size. It’s pretty cool to watch. Kids will love this, too.

There’s even a little hole in the top of the mesh to place your seeds in. So all you have to worry about is checking the back of your package for seed-planting depth, and how many seeds to plant in each pellet. It can take anywhere from 4 to 14 days for seedlings to emerge.seedling

The three most important words of wisdom I can give you, after years of making every mistake imaginable, are to separate, ventilate, and rotate!

  1. Separate. You’ll typically plant multiple seeds in a peat pod, because all the seeds may not sprout. However, sometimes they will and you’ll need to separate or thin out the young sprouts. If you don’t, once they start to leaf, they’ll crowd each other out, competing for space and nutrients. Your plants won’t thrive, and when it comes time to plant, you’ll have a bunch of tangled, thin, and gangly plants.
  2. Rotate. Placement of your seeds is key. You need a warm, sunny place that gets the most light over the course of the day. Seeds need warmth to germinate. So a window near a heat vent is optimal.  You can buy a small grow light and warming mat on which to place your seed tray for around $30-$40. Although I never have. Remember these investments sound like a lot, but once you have the right equipment, you’ll have it forever. When the seeds have sprouted, you’ll need to rotate the tray at least once a day or more, so that neither side has to lean toward the sun. Optimally you want light coming from directly above, so that your young seedlings will grow straight up and have strong healthy stems. Believe me, I’ve had many years, where I’ve ended up with spindly, sideways tomato plants, that have eventually borne fruit, but it certainly wasn’t easy to put a tomato cage on a horizontal plant.
  3. Ventilate. As I mentioned, seeds to stay covered and warm in the first several weeks, hot and moist like a greenhouse with minimal ventilation. But once they have sprouted, you’ll want to keep the soil moist, but not drowning, and ventilate or you’ll have moldy soil. Once the plants are touching the lid, you can remove the lid completely.

You’ll want to watch the bottom of your mesh peat pods for exposed roots, transplanting them to larger pots filled with regular potting soil until it’s time to put them in the ground. Potting up tomato seedlings © Arena Photo UKAlways refer to the back of your seed packs for more specifics, like when to pinch the first leaves from the stems.

And when you’re ready to put your seeds in the ground, remember, the plants need to be gradually acclimated to the direct sun outdoors, and other elements. So you can take them out for a couple of hours each day. This is called hardening off your plants, and you can read more about the process online.

Starting seeds indoors has been one of the best experiences I’ve had as a novice gardener, and I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, without reading stacks of books, or spending a fortune. The results have been great savings, and the greatest rewards…FRESH VEGGIES and the satisfaction of knowing I grew them myself. Have your own tips or experiences with seed starting? Please share in the comments!

Young plant in a pot ready for planting

-MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

It’s Time for a Fresh New Perspective

Bouquet colorful tulips at home

February is here.  It’s the time of year when Winter starts to feel a little stale. The doldrums have set in, and if you’ve got the slightest case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, it’s a real thing,) it can begin to feel like Spring will never come.

You need a little pick-me-up. Or maybe a big pick-me-up.

First things first, flowers and a cupcake!

It’s indoor “watch em grow” bulb garden season. The grocery stores and nurseries are full of them. Tulips, daffodils, the delicious smell of grape hyacinth…instant mood-booster!

chocolate cupcakeNext, a visit to your local bakery or cupcakery. A cupcake is a little party you throw for yourself. Just thinking about a bakery case filled with red velvet cakes, cream cheese frosting, rich chocolate ganache, heavenly buttercream, coconut, and sprinkles in bright, happy colors can give you a rush of endorphins.

Thirdly, visit the paint aisle at the local home-improvement store. Did you know there are literally hundreds of shades of white? Not only will a fresh coat of paint, in even one room of your home, brighten your surroundings, it will give you a positive sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

You can do it!

Want to double your “feel good?” Choose a bold paint color! Like sunshiny yellow for your guest bedroom, or tranquil seafoam green or blue for your bathroom walls. Be daring. Shop your circulars for sales on paint, and do it yourself, and you can afford to start over if you don’t like the color.

Something else to look forward to – the new Smart Perks mailing is coming soon. It features dozens of great discount offers, including some amazing savings on blinds for that freshly painted room!

Smart_Perks_HOME_-_Welcome_-_2015-02-03_13.57.04And to coincide with the new Spring Smart Perks mailing, the Smart Perks web site has a fresh new look that’s bright, cheerful, and most importantly full of great savings and expert advice on saving you time and money. Look for more tips on paint selections, and interior painting for beginners. Until then, here’s a peek at the new Smart Perks site. Enjoy!

– MB

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life are her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.