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post off: what’s your take on backyard firepits?


Last Sunday our neighbors hollered over the fences and invited us to come sit around their fire pit in the backyard. It was a chilly but gorgeous, evening with glowing skies. The kids romped around, occasionally swinging by for warming laptop pit-stops, while us grownups nursed a few beers and savored the last few hours of the weekend. Later back home, I loved the smoky smell that clung to my clothes, and I suddenly realized, fires aren’t just for winter anymore!

Before we rush out to HomeDepot to pick up one of our own, or invest in something as stunning as the Daze ($689 from Haskell), above, I’d love to get your take on backyard fire pits.

So tell me, fire pit owners: Are they safe? Where’s the best place to put them — on the grass? On a patio? And most importantly, what’s the secret to making perfect, gooey s’mores? ;-)

blik’s new surface skins: decals for furniture — yay or nay?


As I type this I am looking at a plain, pine desk surface. It’s about as exciting as a bowl of cereal without milk. After seeing what can be done with Blik’s news Surface Skins, I’m beginning to imagine a bright future for my dull office. A new line of durable, cleanable, self-adhesive art work, it is re-imagining “contact paper” of our past: This is is meant for the outside of the drawers. Blik has launched Surface Skins with 12 designs to choose from, but there will be more coming soon. I personally, would love to see one that looked like this (spotted in artist JR’s studio on Artsy.net. My favorites from the current line are Broadway (not sure why Broadway means beetles?) and Homage (it has a little Damien Hirst vibe to it). From watching the video they look simple to install, but what I want know is how does it hold up to a hot mug of coffee?


What you think? Decals for furniture: Yay or nay?

my first raised vegetable garden: filling it up

After Craigslist scouring, I ended up with nearly enough cement blocks to build two raised garden beds (I had to buy about seven new to fill the gaps, which added up to around $8). The next step was to calculate how much soil I would need to fill each, starting by using this really nifty soil volume calculator at Gardener’s Supply Company, which told me that I would need 75 cubic feet (or 2.765 cubic yards) of soil to fill one bed. Gardener’s Supply lists a “recipe” for raised bed fill as follows:

  • 60 percent topsoil (I would need 45 cubic feet for each of my beds)
  • 30 percent compost (22.5 cubic feet)
  • 10 percent soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite (7.5 cubic feet)

That kind of volume meant that bagged materials were out of the question. If I went the Home Depot route, buying Earthgro ($2.47/cubic foot),  Ecoscraps compost ($5.97/cubic foot) and  Grower’s Gold Outdoor Growing Mix ($10/1.5 cubic feet), I’d end up paying nearly $300 to fill each bed!

There’s got to be a cheaper way.

And there is! If you have access to clippings, cardboard, and kind neighbors, check out this simple recipe at Eco Films Australia:

  • Top layer: straw
  • Layer 2: compost
  • Layer 3: newspaper and cardboard
  • Layer 4: grass clippings
  • Layer 5: rough mulch
  • Bottom layer: branches

The gardener in question swears by this mix for growing great plants. But while I do have great neighbors, what I don’t have is patience. So I ended up contacting a local green landscaper for a bulk delivery of their growing mix: topsoil mixed with compost. I paid about $248 to get five yards delivered, and this was more than enough to fill each bed and have a big pile left over for another section of the yard that needed some love. And then came the plants — in my next garden post.

Image via Eco Films Australia.

re-energized by design: the kitchen challenge

This is a sponsored post.

The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.

The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!

I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.

The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!

The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.

What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!

re-energized by design: the laundry room challenge

This is a sponsored post.

Even though our team is no longer in the running, it’s still fun to keep up with what’s going on in the Re-Energized By Design competition. This week, the remaining three teams made over their laundry rooms.

In addition to $500 and energy efficient lighting from GE, the homeowners each received an brand new set of Frigidaire Affinity laundry equipment. These are not your average high-efficiency washers & dryers — this is serious technology in action here. The Affinity dryer will dry a full load in less than 30 minutes, and the washer features allergen reduction and sanitizing features along with having the highest energy star rating. And aesthetically they please, too (though I have to wonder why no one picked the red option).

Love what those scrappy Sayers did in their space with that upcycled laundry drum light fixture. Their creative approach is always surprising, and will be tough to beat in the final round. In the end, the Mendes family’s pastel laundry room didn’t make the cut — that leaves the Sayers and the Reillys to duke it out in the kitchen challenge! who do you think will win?!