Enjoy a Front Porch Summer

13346117_1424426197583547_7084865783051521308_o

Last summer my husband built us the front porch of our dreams, something I’ve longed for forever.

The front porch evokes a romantic ideal of summer for me, of life before social media, or central air. I’m reminded of the traditional farmhouse porches of Forrest Gump, or the Walton Family, up on Walton’s Mountain (Good Night, Johnboy). The front porch was the place where gossip was exchanged, secrets shared and wisdom imparted.

The allure of the front porch is endless to me. Rocking chairs, a porch swing, brightly colored Adirondack chairs, all of them say “Stop and sit awhile.” A porch can create a sense of community. Just building the porch, I met new neighbors I hadn’t talked to in over a decade in our home. Or, sometimes it’s just a friendly wave, a smile and a nod from the runner jogging by, ear buds in place, but that connection is still made.  My dogs have made countless new friends, as dog walkers stop to let the pooches get acquainted.

If you’re an early riser, the porch is perfect spot for quiet and solitude when the sun comes up on a warm summer morning.  It’s also the ideal time to enjoy a little nature, the smell of fresh cut grass, your beautiful blooms, or the sounds of the birds hiding in the trees.

I have a fountain inside my screen-porch, and the sound of the running water attracts hummingbirds. So I put a hummingbird feeder right out front, where I could watch them hovering, hear the furious buzzing of their wings as they feed. I’ve become familiar with the different chirps and songs of the feeder regulars, the dee-dee-dee of the chickadees, the “pretty, pretty, pretty bird” of Mr. Cardinal, the sweet meows of a gold finch, or the plaintive coo of the mourning dove.

13323305_1424426537583513_8057884246284569945_oNot only does a porch offer an inviting welcome to guests and passers-by, but it also adds curb appeal to a home’s façade. It’s a glimpse of your personality, with a dash of summer flair – cascading ferns, colorful throw cushions, a vintage watering can, bright red Wellies waiting at the door.

I devour book after book on the front porch. Sometimes I’ll coincidentally find an incredible book where the porch itself feels like a character. Such was the case with The Truth According to Us, the second novel from the co-author of the insanely popular book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Set during the summer of 1938, The Truth According to Us evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters, bringing to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring  visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

13315544_1424952990864201_4287056218943498926_n

If you’re looking for a couple of other great books to read on your porch swing, I suggest Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which is being made into a film by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. Two other fantastic reads are At the Water’s Edge, from Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, or The Nest, a recently released novel about the extremely dysfunctional Plumb family, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

Half of our porch, which extends across the front of our house, is screened in. We have a ceiling fan to create a light breeze when the sultry August air is thick and oppressive. The screened room protects us from being devoured by man-eating Minnesota mosquitoes. It also allows us to enjoy the quiet night sounds, the crickets and frogs, sometimes an owl, or the last little voices of the neighbor kids riding home at dusk.

The chance to play a game of cards with friends, without air-conditioning, television, or mobile devices, is a welcome break from modern life.

 

100500315.jpg.rendition.largest

Photo from Southern Living magazine

But my FAVORITE thing about a front porch is decorating it for the 4th of July. I’m a devout sentimentalist when it comes to a farmhouse front porch festooned in red, white and blue bunting, garlands, flags in all the flower pots, and the John Philip Souza march playing in the background. Hooray for the red, white and blue!

If you’re looking for some ideas on creating the porch of your dreams, here are a couple more sources for inspiration. HGTV  Country Living  I hope you’ll take some time to disconnect and enjoy some good old summertime, wherever your “happy place” might be.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson is currently in her happy place.

How-To: DIY Home Renovation Project

 

couple-decorating-interior (2)

“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.

Cathy's house.jpg

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!

shades-products-roman-400

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.

Five Simple Fall Home Decor Suggestions

Is your home ready for a warm and welcoming fall update? Here are some of my favorite ideas that are fun and festive.

Header Image

Growing up in sunny South Florida, I never got to experience the changing of the seasons. For the majority of the year, it was sticky, humid heat, with a few short weeks of low-40s temperatures which necessitated nothing more than a light coat. How I longed for what fall is for the rest of the country: vibrant golden leaves, a brisk chill in the air, roaring fireplaces and chili on the stove! Instead, I settled for decorating my house for fall with my mom. If I couldn’t experience the real thing, I could at least feel like I was.

Starting when I was around 7 years old, every September we would break out our boxes of wreaths, garlands, and centerpieces. Though we couldn’t collect fallen leaves or pretty twigs from the ground outside to incorporate, we did use our standby plastic and fabric imitations, which did the trick. We even have a miniature decorative autumnal-themed village we set up on our living room table, complete with a ceramic general store, thatch-roofed cottage and little red-topped trees!

Even if you’re not the kind of person to go all out, here are some simple ideas that are easy enough to do but have a big, welcoming impact for any visitors your home might have this autumn.

With no further delay, here are our top five ways to decorate your home for fall:

Statement Centerpieces

photo from countryliving.com

photo from countryliving.com

Let’s start with the basics. Nothing says “warm and cozy” like soft candlelight. Your options for candles are nearly endless, but there are some classic styles—candlesticks, pillar candles, tealight and votive candles—we think work particularly well for building a fall vibe.

A fancy candelabra, complete with candlesticks in shades of burnt orange, pale yellow, and soft cream, makes for an elegant talking point at a dinner party, while a glass pedestal with various-size pillar candles on it also does the trick.

Personally, I’m a fan of placing a mix of these kinds of candles in the center of the table, somewhat willy-nilly, and then arranging mini pumpkins and tealight candles around them. The overall effect is just the right amount of sophisticated and fun.

Door Wreaths

Another simple choice is a decorative, fabulous fall wreath. Whether store-bought or homemade, crafted with burlap or boughs, a wreath on the front door is an excellent way to welcome friends and family to your home.

Here’s a great tutorial for 7 DIY fall wreaths. Their suggestions are so creative; one is made from coffee filters, of all things.

photo from wayfair.com

photo from wayfair.com

However, if you’re like me and don’t have the patience for crafting your own, there are great options out there, like the one pictured above.

Glamorous Garlands

Garland RM house of boys

No, not like Judy! Come fall, I like a good garland decorating my sideboard in my dining room. However, if I had a fireplace that would definitely be my go-to garland placement. Garlands strung around a door frame look beautiful, too.

Threaded in between picture frames and votive candles, garlands with gorgeous fall leaves, pine cones and vibrant red berries go a long way in adding fall flair to any setting.

One of the great things about garlands is that you can choose one based on your individual style and home décor, thanks to the wide variety available. From loud, full garlands with bright orange leaves and glitter strands throughout to woven burlap garlands with delicate muslin flowers, there’s really something for everyone out there.

Pumpkins and Gourds, Of Course!

If you have kids, you know there’s nothing they like more than a messy craft when they’re stuck inside on a rainy afternoon! And, really, who doesn’t like playing with glitter once in awhile?

With the corn and tomato crops of summer fading out, we have the autumn harvest of pumpkins and gourds to look forward to…and decorate with! These yummy plants can and should be used for more than just spiced lattes and latticed pies.

photo from thefrugalhomemaker.com

photo from thefrugalhomemaker.com

Since they’re so plentiful in fall, you can get them very cheap, making them an easy solution for arts and crafts. All you need for a fun-filled afternoon is some colorful paint, kid-safe glue, glitter and sequins. And don’t forget the googly eyes!

No kids in the house? No problem. Just arrange the pumpkins in your hearth and on your front porch with an assortment of differently shaped and colored gourds, corn stalks, hay bales or baskets of mums around them to add visual interest.

front door decoration

Decorative Display Cases

Yet another thrifty solution to fall decorations is glass display cases filled with fall-themed trinkets.

Pick out any old glass vase, and then show off things in it like baubles and beads, acorns you’ve found, and fallen leaves. You can even use a small tree branch from outside (just make sure there aren’t any critters on it).

photo from thebudgetdecorator.com

photo from thebudgetdecorator.com

We like this decoration because it’s something you can truly customize. Think outside the box (or vase) and create your own displays with goodies like ripe apples, potpourri with dried pumpkin, or even just cinnamon sticks!

What are some of your favorite fall decoration tips?

photo from tidbitsandtwine.com

photo from tidbitsandtwine.com

Katie U, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys hiking, traveling and cheese, but not necessarily in that order. In her off time you can catch her at a brewery, happily playing a board game or begrudgingly watching sports.

DIY or Pay Someone to Do It For You?

drapes_1

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.
Thumbtack_-_Accomplish_your_personal_projects_-_2015-04-14_16.03.39

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.

110a46832bb3764a2e87ad55fc3d1651

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

Ta Dah! Welcome Our New Baby…

10480163_1087358014623702_3200225794387421877_n

Meet My New Puppy Eloise!

Okay, so I did get a new puppy. Weezy is a Cairn Terrier, and almost 5 months old now. She looks very sweet, and has a keen fashion sense, (especially color-coordinating her stylish ensembles with her accessories, aka toys,) but don’t let the face fool you. Little Hannah Lecter will bite your nose off, if given the chance, which is why she started obedience training on Saturday.

But that wasn’t the new baby I was referring to. Last week we launched the new Smart Perks website with a bright, bold design, fun new features, and, of course, what Smart Perks is all about, great money-saving offers on merchandise and services.

Smart_Perks_screenShot

I don’t know if you’ve ever launched a website before, but months of planning goes into it. And not just the fun stuff, like making color choices, developing logos, artwork, and fun features; such as games, weather-bugs, and weekly merchandise deals.

There are also wire-frames to be created (don’t ask,) and seemingly endless discussions of navigation to make the site user-friendly and intuitive, so that ultimately site visitors can get to the deals that much faster.

The whole Smart Perks team got together and brainstormed content ideas, like the featured tips from experts, on everything from electronics to home improvement, decorating and organization, whatever we thought our Smart Perks audience could use to make their lives easier, using less of their precious resources – time and money, and help them work smarter, not harder, so they can simply relax and enjoy the good life!

After that came the coding, coding, and more coding from our brilliant tech team. And testing. Weeks of testing on every browser and mobile device we could get our hands on.

Finally the day came last week with much fanfare and a mostly pain-free labor, as we launched our new baby out into the world.

Pinterest_-_2015-03-10_11.24.30We’re proud of the new SmartPerks website, our Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest boards,  and this blog. Our team consists of creative, passionate people with a wide variety of interests, hobbies, and talents, and we want to share them with you. We want you to look forward to more posts like the ones you’ve seen so far, including what we hope will be helpful information, tutorials, and inspiration. Maybe even some tips on training your new puppy – Miss Weezy has provided lots of hands-on experience.

So I hope you’ll stop by the new SmartPerks website, say “Welcome to the World, Baby,” and take a look at what we have to offer. There are over 35 new offers in the Spring Smart Perks mailer. If you’ve never received a Smart Perks mailing, visit the new site and sign up. There’s also a great offer for a free $25 gift card, when you receive your first free Smart Perks mailing. Smartperks.com – see you there!

-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.