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Archives for October 20, 2015

Do it Yourself: 5 Affordable Home Improvement Projects

Source: iStock

Home improvement shows often make it look easy to pull off amazing home renovations in just a few weeks; it’s easy to think that any of us could potentially turn our own home from a disaster to a dream home. The truth is that without the right training, some home improvement jobs should be saved for the professionals. Unless you have the necessary skills, trying to do an entire renovation yourself could lead to a big mess, and potentially, a dangerous situation if you mess up wires.

On the other hand, there are many home improvement projects that can be done on your own if you are willing to take the time to learn how, and then to complete them. Some projects can make your home or lawn look much better, and even bring in potential buyers if you are trying to sell. Here are five affordable home improvement projects to try.


1. Landscaping

A well landscaped yard can make a home look immediately more appealing. While some buyers are certainly looking for a low-maintenance yard, you can still do simple projects to make your backyard look nicer, and to improve your curb appeal in the front. If you simply want to improve your home for your own enjoyment, then a nice looking lawn or patio can really help you enjoy your outside time. Pinterest has a plethora of affordable landscaping ideas; you can spend less than $100 to do a simple garden, or you can spend much more to create a backyard haven from busy life. You can find simple directions for most projects on YouTube. If you’re not ready to go all out, you can just take an afternoon to cut back shrubs and really weed your backyard.

2. Paint rooms

According to Lowes, new paint can be a great way to give your home a lift. Neutral colors are great if you are hoping to sell soon, and light colors make living areas look roomier, while darker colors make an area feel cozy. Many people hire painters because they don’t believe that they can do a good job by themselves, or they don’t have the time. If you do have the time, this can be an affordable home improvement project that will really make your home look nicer. Valspar paint has step-by-step directions for painting a room if you want expert advice: tips include choosing a color palette, picking a finish, planning, clearing the room, and protecting the floors and woodwork.

Also, consider refinishing cabinets or other furniture if you want a new look without spending a lot of money.

3. Remodel your bathroom

“Remodel” is one of those words that causes most people to see money signs, but it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. While you probably want to get help from experts for a large remodel (unless you have experience in the area), there are easy and affordable ways to remodel without spending a lot of money.

Consider your bathroom — you could get all new cabinets, a new vanity, new mirror, new tile, a new toilet, and a new bathtub, and you could spend thousands of dollars. Or, you could strategically replace certain parts of your bathroom to get a new look for less money. Fox News recommends choosing a neutral paint color, installing new faucets and light fixtures, framing the bathroom mirror with trim, and choosing your linens and shower curtain wisely because people entering your bathroom will surely notice them.

4. Light it up

Lighting is really important in a home. If you’re hoping to sell your home, you won’t impress buyers with a space that is too dark. A home that is brightened entirely by glaring lights probably won’t win many fans either. If you just want your home to be welcoming for your guests (and yourself), then the lighting that you choose will certainly affect the feelings that people experience when they come to your home. According to L’Essenziale Home Designs, lighting affects the style of your home, and although many fixtures are expensive, it is possible to find fixtures that are affordable and fit your decor. It’s necessary to think about the cost of running the lights in addition to the fixtures alone. You can choose to replace a few fixtures, or you can simply update all of your bulbs to LED lights; you can save money and improve your style.

5. Stage and decorate

Light fixtures are important when it comes to appealing to your guests (or buyers), and so is staging or decorating. Whether you want to strategically stage your home to get people to buy it, or you simply want to have a clear style, decorations are important. According to HGTV, getting rid of clutter is very important when trying to sell a home; it’s also important to stage your furniture in groupings to attract buyers. These same tips can be true for just improving your home for yourself.

Be careful in your decoration choices. Obviously, you will want to choose different pieces if you want your apartment to feel like a bachelor pad versus a home for small children. Every decoration you choose will send a message to your visitors.

There are so many ways to improve your home without spending a lot of money. Sometimes home renovations can be overwhelming, but simply improving your lighting, or properly decorating a room, can make a big statement without costing too much.

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Plans for Town Hall Green weigh history vs. utility issues

The landscaping plan for Town Hall Green and the surrounding 20-acre municipal campus isn’t quite a “plan” yet, according to Michael Jehle, director of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

It’s actually three different plans that Jehle said may form the basis of a final plan that incorporates the best ideas from each. The museum manages the green, as well as the historic buildings on the site, including the Sun Tavern, Burr Homestead, Old Academy and Victorian Cottage. The green is also home to the seat of town government in three buildings — Old Town Hall, Sullivan-Independence Hall and a former residence on Penfield Road that houses the Social Services Department.

Jehle and landscape architect Thomas Elmore have been hosting meetings with residents and town employees to get their feedback on the plans. On hand at last week’s meeting with several veterans, perhaps spurred by rumors that the Honor Roll — the monument with the names of local military veterans fronting on the Old Post Road — could be moved.

That, Jehle assured the veterans, will not happen and the Honor Roll, he said, is not even part of the discussion. “Some people have said they think our veterans deserve better,” Jehle said, referring to suggestions that the monument needs some sprucing up. “But that’s not part of this,” he said.

Two of the plans being reviewed eliminate the driveway between Old Town Hall and Independence Hall, instead providing pedestrian access and restoring a historic pond that was once the site of colonial-era witch trials. New driveways could be established — one off the Old Post Road between St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Burr Homestead, and the other off Penfield Road.

Additional parking would be created in the new Old Post Road driveway and behind Independence Hall.

“The purpose is to generate conversation,” Elmore said. “Nothing is cast in stone. Some of the asphalt in front of Old Town Hall would be eliminated and Town Clerk Betsy Browne expressed concern about the loss of parking spaces at the building, which houses not only her office, but offices for the tax collector and assessor as well.

“There’s no parking already and over 30 full-time employees in that building,” Browne said. There are currently 46 parking spaces at Old Town Hall. “So, that leaves only a handful of spots for the public,” she said.

While the area is historically significant, Building Department employee Carolyn Daruka said it is important to remember that it is also where the town’s government offices are located.

“It’s an extraordinary campus to work on, we’re extremely lucky,” Daruka said. “I have a great concern that it’s being looked at as a historical site with some government, or even government and history on equal footing.”

Jehle agreed that a balance must be struck between the two interests. “What makes this site great is that it’s a formal center of government,” he said. “We’re not trying to revert it back.”

“This is the seat of government,” said Tom Quinn, who serves on the Riverfield Buiding Committee. “People are coming here to do business.” Quinn said his health will not allow him to walk from Old Town Hall to Independence Hall if the driveway were eliminated.

A Penfield Road resident reminded Jehle that when the Social Services Department was moved into a house on that street, officials promised there would be no entrance or exit to the building from Penfield.

And while some thought an elevated boardwalk through the swamp next to the soccer field sounded like a good idea, the fact that one end of that boardwalk was on the grounds of Sherman Elementary School gave them pause.

Jehle said planners hope to have one, cohesive plan, that looks at the campus in a holistic manner, ready to present to the Board of Selectmen in December.

But, he said, even then it doesn’t mean the plan will be a done deal. Not only will funding need to be secured, Jehle said, but the Historic District Commission and Town Plan and Zoning Commission both will have to approve the plan.

The project, if done, will likely take place incrementally and not all at once, he said.

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This town’s extraordinary response to a little boy’s fatal prognosis

Mont Tremblant ski village in the evening at Christmas (iStock)

In one small Canadian village, Christmas has come early.

When the sun sets Monday night in St. George, a quaint hamlet in Ontario, its Main Street will light up with Christmas decorations. Every storefront will be aglow. The trees will be strung with colorful bulbs. The sidewalks will be full of reindeer and Santas and snowmen.

It’s all for one seven-year-old boy who isn’t expected to live to December 25. So his community came together and moved up the calendar.

Evan Leversage is terminally ill with brain cancer he’s battled almost his entire life. He’s been through chemotherapy and radiation. He’s lost vision in one eye. His family learned recently that his condition was worsening and there was nothing more the doctors could do.

So his cousin, Shelly Wellwood, began circulating a small poster around town asking if people would consider putting their holiday decorations up early so Evan could experience one last real Christmas. When Brandy King, owner of Le Petit Fleur, saw the request she scanned a copy and put it on Facebook.

That’s when the offers to help started pouring in from businesses and families in town, and beyond.

[After a  bicyclist shot the war dog who served alongside him in Iraq, this veteran learned how much people care]

On Facebook, the owners of Strodes BBQ and Deli asked if they could donate a Christmas dinner. A landscaping company and a local greenhouse offered to decorate the planters in town. A woman wrote that she’s part of a community concert band and would like to play Christmas carols. A dozen different people volunteered to play Santa. A local photographer offered to capture it all. People from as far as Florida planned to decorate their homes early, too, and send pictures for Evan. Some asked if they could send Evan gifts. He began receiving Christmas cards from strangers.

And Saturday, the town has planned a Christmas parade to march through Evan’s neighborhood. There are already 25 floats committed, that, according to Wellwood’s Facebook page for the event, includes, “dancers, cadets, firetruck, Lions club float, lots of horses, a DeLorean, a Shelby mustang, a cement truck, a dump truck, Touch the Truck float, some family and local business floats and Santa and his reindeer will be making an appearance.”

It’s no surprise for a town that is actually nicknamed “The Friendly Village.”

King became the de facto organizer for decorating Main Street. On Sunday night she had about 5o people come to help set up. Evan will have a Christmas dinner with his family on Monday and then come downtown to see the lights, which will be turned on nightly through next weekend.

“I was shocked with how quickly people got on board with Evan’s situation,” King told The Washington Post on Monday. “I’ve been overwhelmed with how loving and generous our community is.”

Wellwood, who was already at the family dinner when we reached her, also started a GoFundMe page to solicit donations for Evan’s mom, Nikki Wellwood.

“Nikki is in survival mode and is working hard to make the most of the present and immediate future with Evan and his brothers,” she wrote. “It’s hard for her to think about the future.”

Except when that future is the present. Right now, while Evan is still healthy enough to enjoy it, they’re going to have a Merry Christmas.

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Fairfield landscape architect maximizes outside space



Now 15 months old, Matteson Landscape Architecture in Fairfield is not yet at the capacity its principal Jessica Matteson would like to see.

She has had 12 clients in the last year, one of them commercial, and she would be comfortable with several more in the next year. She has no firm number in mind, but said, “I know I haven’t hit max yet.”

Matteson has 20 years of landscape architecture experience in study and in practice, including a pair of degrees from Cornell University and professional stints for others in Connecticut and in Georgia.

Hers is a world of physics, horticulture, aesthetics and soil science. Her jobs do their work quietly — screening, filtering, slowing runoff to promote absorption — and as such are perhaps back-burner thoughts in the minds of many. But Matteson noted landscaping accounts for 10 to 20 percent of a project’s total cost and is circumscribed by legislation.

Her work is designed to purpose, far more so these days than in the past.

“My focus was always environment and design,” she said. “Then I had a major shift after having two kids. Now my focus is lifestyle, about how little time we have. And when we do have time we really want to maximize it.”

The equation for private homes involves aesthetics, function and “creating a space where it’s easier to have fun.”

For the commercial client, she asks, “What will happen there? Once I know that, I can design the space around it.”

She summed it up as “lifestyle support” that operates under the banner of being “meaningful in my life and in the lives of my clients.” For example, a recent commercial project — a church in New Canaan — incorporated eight benches for quiet contemplations among cherry trees and boxwoods and other plantings. The driveway dropoff and disabled parking areas were part of the project.

Matteson said building projects across the spectrum, from home driveway projects to office parks, are highly legislated in the name of stormwater management. Her tasks include mastering the subject, which has only grown more complex in Fairfield County with post-Superstorm Sandy flood maps.

Matteson has so far employed five different contractors for projects.

She spoke recently of the wintertime warmth that broadleaf evergreens like hollies provide versus the colder, more northerly look of spruces.

“Psychologically they just feel warmer, especially if there are a couple of layers,” she said. She came to admire broadleaf evergreens while working in Georgia, where they are used prominently. Personal journeys through famous gardens of Asia and Europe also inflect her work, she said.

On a recent morning, Matteson walked a Shore Road, Old Greenwich, property she is landscaping. Two trenches of a combined 250 feet flank the property. They are drained by perforated pipe wrapped in gravel. When the 70 mature holly trees that will soon fill the trenches have had their fill of water, the excess will flow to an 800-square-foot, 3-foot-deep rainwater containment system beneath the backyard.

The containment system also handles the rain-spout water, slowing its progress to the nearby L. I. Sound.

“With town of Greenwich stormwater regulations, you must contain and treat all your stormwater on the property,” Matteson said. She held thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart to indicate the thickness of the stormwater regulations. “The idea is to increase the infiltration of stormwater into the soil and decrease the pollution in the Sound.”

Compacted soil on site will be “scarified” — Matteson used the word without pause — and infused with 25 percent compost. Matteson scarified several inches with a stick to demonstrate. She studied soil science at Cornell, among other technical topics, earning bachelor of science and master of landscape architecture degrees. She expected good results from the decompaction process. Its density notwithstanding, the regional soil is low in phosphorous, which can stunt growth, she said.

Matteson’s work, in the end, will appear nearly invisible, as if rows of mature hollies and spruces fell in line beside fieldstone walls. Conduits that will move water toward filtration in paths as true as the hydraulics of a big machine will soon be buried.

The Shore Road property system is but one option for managing stormwater runoff. Matteson said some choose what she called “rain gardens,” which are well-drained basins. She said the Shore Road system was more attractive, but acknowledged it also was more expensive.

She uses trees that are selected in the field and then balled in burlap; only when the root balls are measured will their holes be dug.

Matteson said others do what she does. “You can use an engineer, but I think you get more attractive solutions if you use a landscape architect,” she said.

Bill Fallon is editor of the Fairfield County Business Journal. For more of his work and that of the journal, visit .

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7 single-family homes planned in Hope Gardens

A Nashville-area family plans early next year to start building seven single-family homes in the Hope Gardens neighborhood.

On Tuesday developer Alan Huffman will present plans for the first home at 910.5 Jackson St. to the Metro Development and Housing Agency’s design review committee. The other six are planned for individual lots a block and a half away on Warren Street.

“I believe that will be the largest number of single-family homes built at one time in that neighborhood in the last 20 years,” Huffman said.

Huffman and his wife, Village Real Estate Services Realtor Shawn Huffman, lived in Hope Gardens for a decade before moving two years ago to Brentwood to get their school-age children into Williamson County schools.

Root Architecture is designing the three-story, 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, 3½-bathroom home planned at 910.5 Jackson, which will also include a rooftop deck with a fire pit and views of downtown.

Alan Huffman estimates that if put up for sale the home could fetch $550,000 to $600,000, but he said the couple plans to rent it out.

“Once our kids, currently 5 and 8, go to college, we’ll be moving back to (910.5 Jackson St.),” he said.

The couple is still considering whether to rent or sell the six homes planned on Warren Street.

Dee Bynum Designs is the architect for those homes, which will each be between 1,800 and 2,500 square feet and have three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms. Huffman expects a sale price of around $450,000 based on another purchase near the homes on Warren Street.

Elsewhere in Nashville, the Huffman family just completed work on six townhomes at 3302 and 3306 Trevor St. and 3305 Felicia St. in Sylvan Summit off Charlotte Avenue. Root Architecture designed those townhomes, which were built by Providence Builders.

Greek restaurant’s new downtown home 

In other business Tuesday, the developer behind plans for the 16-unit 1712 Apartments on Jefferson St. will return to MDHA’s design review committee  On June 1, the committee gave conditional approval to the concept planned by William “Winky” Coleman, who had to return to get final approval related to materials, windows, landscaping and site plan.

Also, the owner of the building at 244 Fifth Ave N. plans to seek approval for signage for Santorini Greek Restaurant. The restaurant has moved into the former home of Young’s Market convenience store from 210 Fourth Ave. N., which is part of the site for a boutique hotel redevelopment project.

 Reach Getahn Ward at 615-726-5968 and on Twitter @getahn.

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Newport Mansions Landscaping Accredited by International Group

Monday, October 19, 2015

The 88 acres of land, including 1,800 trees, that is cared for by The Preservation Society of Newport County has been recognized and accredited as an official arboretum by the Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation of The Morton Arboretum in Chicago.

 “This milestone puts us in excellent company. Other recent accreditations have gone to The University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Arlington National Cemetery, and Longwood Gardens, as well as the Newport Tree Society for the Newport Arboretum. Joining that illustrious company is an honor and a testament to the hard work of our staff, and of our partners like Bartlett Tree Experts,” said Trudy Coxe, Preservation Society CEO Executive Director.

Accreditation of the Newport Mansions Arboretum recognizes that the Preservation Society meets several important criteria.

    •    an existing collections policy that outlines the care and maintenance of every tree;
    •    a professional staff in place to oversee operations;
    •    ongoing educational programming related to trees and landscape.

“Bartlett Tree Experts created a digital inventory of each of the 1,800 trees of 120 different species on our properties.  Each has been identified, GPS-mapped and evaluated, and has its own individual maintenance plan,” said Preservation Society Curator of Historic Landscapes Gardens Jim Donahue.

The goal of accreditation is to promote interaction and improved professional practices among arboretum operators.

The Preservation Society of Newport County

The Preservation Society of Newport County is a non-profit organization that is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture.

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Malcolm Campbell’s gardening tips: why won’t your Sturt’s desert pea grow here …

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Pippa Greenwood’s tips for growing your own vegetables in winter

For this season’s winter vegetables most of her advice is about preventing pests and diseases from eating everything in sight.

Hungry birds, in particular pigeons, can be deterred with “bird-and-butterfly net”, says Pippa, “or a pop-up crop cover or giant EasyTunnel or similar.”

Once established the plants will not be as appealing, she adds, so the covers can come off.

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Tips for your garden when the weather turns cold

Just like you change out your closet for the different weather, Country Boys’ owner Allen Walcher suggests doing the same for your garden and potted plants.

Walcher has owned his store and nursery in Greenville for 30 years.

He said there are a few tips on how to handle your plants when the weather turns cold.

First of all, don’t worry about your summer annuals. They will die no matter what precautions you take.

“What you need to do this time of year is not re-fertilize anything. Please do not. That’ll cause excessive growth and cause winter kill,” Walcher said.

He said potted annuals need to be brought inside after they’ve had insecticide put on them.

“Just make sure that it has enough light. We’ve got to have some light. If you put them in a dark corner, you might as well let those annuals freeze,” Walcher said.

As far as perennials go, leave them outside. They need a chilling period.

“Your main time for watering is October through first of December. After that, if the pot is outdoors the plant will generally take care of itself with the winter rainfall.”

The good news, according to Walcher, is that your garden and porch can still remain vivacious even when the weather is bleak. He said this is the time to plant pansies and violets as well as hardy plants like cabbage.

“You can have as much color in the winter as you had in the spring or summer, as long as you plant properly,” Walcher said.

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Hollander Design to give presentation at Greenwich’s garden education center



Turns out, there’s a philosophy behind having a beautifully landscaped backyard.

The Ecology of Site, Human Ecology and the Ecology of Architecture are the three ecologies described by Edmund Hollander and Mayanne Connelly as key to a successful landscaping project.

Hollander and Connelly will be presenting for community members from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Oct. 21 at the Greenwich’s Garden Education Center.

Hollander and Connelly are partners in Hollander Design and authors of the new book The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design.

Their presentations will be followed by lunch and book signings. Tickets cost $35 for center members and $45 for non-members. To make a reservation, visit or visit 203 869 9242.; @SilviaElenaFF

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