Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Creating a Mudroom--Guest Post

How to Create a Mudroom Even If Your House Doesn’t Have a Designated Space
Kaitlin Krull

If you have a family, you know that children are known for traipsing grass, mud, and all sorts of other substances through the house. While we can promise you that this behavior won’t change anytime soon, we at Home Improvement Leads have a solution. A mudroom is an essential part of any family home and can be easily created even if you don’t have a designated room or space. Here are a few of our top tips for faking a mudroom in whatever way you can.

Adapt your entryway
Your home’s entryway is probably the most logical place for a makeshift mudroom, since it sees the majority of traffic and is the first port of call for messy kids after they arrive home. If you’re particularly DIY savvy, you can create a mudroom out of a tall cabinet with built-in storage for bags, coats, and shoes. Renters or homeowners with less technical skill can achieve the same organized result with a storage bench and wall mounted hooks or a coat rack. Just make sure you equip your entryway with a large mat and plenty of storage baskets to catch dirt and collect your kids’ belongings.

Utilize your porch
Enclosed and secure porches are another go-to for outerwear storage, so if your house is blessed with this bonus space, make the most of the area and adapt it to your mudroom needs. A shallow storage bench or dresser with drawers for shoes or bags works in even the tightest of spaces and will safely contain any mess to the very front of the home. If you choose this option, just make sure to keep your storage as hidden as possible and don’t forget decor since this is the first space any guests will see. 

Make space in your laundry room
Most bespoke mudrooms are actually multifunctional and usually share space with a utility or laundry room. If your utility room is big enough, section off a corner of the room for seating, shoe storage, and space for bags and coats. This option is particularly useful if your home has an accessible back entrance and if your children participate in equipment-heavy sports, since you can easily close the door and pretend the mess doesn’t exist. 

Outdoor-proof your kitchen
While spending time in the backyard is great for kids, it can wreak havoc on kitchens. If your family uses the kitchen as a thoroughfare to the backyard on a regular basis, you might want to invest in a durable indoor/outdoor floor mat and some storage bins to place beside the back door. Larger kitchens will benefit from wall mounted hooks and a wooden bench with storage baskets underneath to corral any wandering shoes or hats.

Use the garage
Homes with connected garages practically scream out for a garage/mudroom combination. Everyone knows that a garage isn’t designed to be the cleanest room in your house, so embrace the dirt and set up your mudroom station here to save yourself both space and stress inside the house. The only thing we insist here is that you must keep your garage well organized and tidy, otherwise you will invariably lose something sooner or later. 

Repurpose a hallway closet
If your entryway is too narrow or short for even a storage bench or dresser, consider converting your hallway closet into an organized mudroom-style space. All the standard storage options apply here (bench, hidden shoe storage) with the added bonus of three walls to hang all your coats and outerwear. If you want this space to be even more accessible, consider removing your closet doors and you will instantly have an entryway nook that wasn’t there before.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A New Home For An Infill Lot

We just wrapped up plans for a new house on a narrow infill lot on a street of charming old bungalows. It was important to the clients that the house feel as if it belonged there. The hope of everyone involved is that once the house is built, passersby will be hard pressed to know if it is new or just a recent renovation.

Simple detailing, appropriate to the neighborhood, highlights the front elevation.
The main living areas and kitchen are one large space that opens to an inviting screened porch.
Upstairs, three bedrooms and a loft (complete with a hidden nook under the eaves) round out the plan.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On the Market: Torquilstone

One of the houses that made a big impression on me as a child has hit the market.  "Torquilstone", in Charleston, West Virginia, was originally built as the home of William Goshorn MacCorkle, the son of a former governor. The 10,000 square foot house was built in 1926 and designed by William Martens, who also designed the West Virginia Governor's Mansion.

It remained a private home until 1961, when it was acquired by the Sunrise Foundation and used as an art museum. (The Foundation also operated the Sunrise Children's Museum across the street in a mansion that had been home to Governor MacCorkle). The museum was in operation until 2003, when Torquilstone was sold and converted back into a single family home. I always wondered what the imposing stone building I knew as a museum looked like as a house, and thanks to the listing, I know!

The rear of the house is a study in symmetry.  
The beautifully detailed front porch greets guests.
View of the house coming up the drive.
Side view of the house, showing off the formal gardens and the beautifully detailed conservatory.
The foyer is highlighted by a wide, sunlit staircase that curves gently at the end.
Another view of the foyer.
The family room is large enough for two seating areas and a casual dining table.
More formal meals might be taken in the green striped dining room.
A third option for taking meals is this breakfast room with a fantastic corner fireplace and a fun mix of patterns.
The kitchen is stunning with a coffered ceiling, furniture quality cabinetry, and marble counters.

A stone fireplace, paneled ceiling, and walls of windows mark the conservatory.

One of the porches offers space for al fresco dining and a seating area.

The master bedroom features another corner fireplace and a sitting nook with fanlight window.
It's a safe bet that the original plans didn't call for a master bathroom this huge and well appointed.
This guest room features a wall of built-ins. I wonder if those provide the closet space for this room?
A cheerful secondary bathroom.
One of the secondary bedrooms is clearly being enjoyed by a lucky little boy currently.

Pretty in pink, this little girl's bedroom is located at the top of the stairs.

A third kid's bedroom features two twin beds with beautiful scalloped canopies.
It looks like the house was restored beautifully and turned into a very comfortable  home. And it could be yours for $2 million dollars!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Take on The Food Delivery Services

About a year ago, we found ourselves in a common rut: we were tired of everything we knew how to cook at home, worn thin on the local takeout options, and not sure how to shake things up. That's when I started seeing ads on Facebook for different food delivery services, and armed with a coupon, decided to give one of them a try. Now, over a year later, we have tried three of them: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh,  and Home Chef. They have changed how we eat, made me a better cook, and made the formerly dreadful task of making dinner something I actually look forward to.
Thai Chicken Meatballs

I've been asked which of the three I like best, and that's not an easy question to answer...so let me break it down with some pros and cons for each:

Blue Apron

This was the first service we tried, and I would imagine it is probably the most well known, because I constantly see ads for it on TV and the web. For $9.95 per meal, it's a great value, and priced right along with the others. For just under $60 a week, we got three delicious, fine-restaurant quality meals. Even if we ultimately decided that a certain dish wasn't something we would care to try again, we could appreciate the complexity of flavor, layering of texture, and real artistry of the Blue Apron meals. The biggest downside for me was the prep time. It was not at all unusual for it take two hours to make a Blue Apron meal. The ingredients come garden fresh and in their natural state, so if a recipe calls for three different vegetables and four fresh herbs, there is going to be a lot of prep time getting everything ready.  What ultimately swayed us from continuing with Blue Apron was that the menus became a little TOO artistic. My better half is not an adventurous eater, and there were just too many weeks where the unpronounceable meals were picked at and pushed around the plate before going in the trash. Each week, there are several meal options, and you have some flexibility in picking which meals you will receive, but don't have carte blanche to pick any three you want. (Picking meal "a" might mean that meal "d" can't be ordered in combination.) If you have the time to spend and like trying new and unusual dishes, then Blue Apron is for you...their meals are artistry!
Chicken Sate

Hello Fresh 

Hello Fresh was the second service we subscribed to.  The recipes were unusual enough to satisfy my adventurous palette,  but familiar enough to (mostly) please my picky eater. Prep time was generally less than Blue Apron meals, so we could make them on weeknights after work and still eat before the eleven o clock news came on. Hello Fresh was the most expensive of the three we have tried, at $69 a week for three meals for two. Like Blue Apron, there are several meal choices each week--usually at least one beef, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetarian option. Fairly new is a partnership with Chef Jamie Oliver, who designs one recipe per week. Hello Fresh is perfect for cooks who don't want to spend all night in the kitchen, but still want to try new things.
Cod with pickled grapes

Home Chef

Home Chef is the subscription service we are currently using. It's priced identically to Blue Apron at $9.95 per meal. The flexibility and options with Home Chef are better than either of the other two. Each week, there are ten dinners to choose from, and you can put together any combination you want. There is also a breakfast option each week, a dessert option, and specialty menus for special occasions. (For example, there was a Valentine's menu of Filet Mignon that included chocolate mousse) The menus are not as adventurous as their competitors, but that's actually a plus in our house. I would describe their meals as "new takes on old favorites." Some of our favorites have been simple "beef and potatoes" dishes, but finished off with simple but flavorful sauces or complexly flavored compound butters. The time to prepare their meals is generally less...from start to finish in 30 minutes is the norm.

Butternut Squash Pizza

Overall, each of these services are a good value. I've tried to recreate meals from their recipes on several occasions, and have always spent at least as much as what it took to order them, largely because the small quantities of some ingredients aren't available. (If you just need a pinch of fresh dill, for example, good luck finding that at the grocery.) My biggest grumble with any of them is the packaging. They come in a cardboard box with an inner "cooler" type liner that is filled with ice packs. It's a lot of waste. I've read on social media that each of them are looking at ways to reduce that. (On the upside, the packaging does protect delicate ingredients, and keeps the food cold even when the FedEx man leaves it on our sunny front porch for half a day.) Customer service with each company is great...problems are rare. I've had the occasional missing ingredient, and one time a damaged box meant our food was ruined, but in each case, customer service took care of the problem quickly.

So which would I recommend? If I only had to pick one, for us, it would be Home Chef.