Decorating tips for a better night’s sleep


How well are you sleeping? According to a study by the Better Sleep Council, almost half of Americans (48 percent) say they don’t get enough sleep. And while an Ambien or a capful of NyQuil might get you on your way to dreamland, solving your sleep problems could be as simple as making a few decorating adjustments in the bedroom. After all, your bedroom is the last thing you look at before you turn out the lights and the first thing you see in the morning. So changing your sleeping environment can improve your chances of getting the zzz’s you need. 

Choose calming colors

Colors on the cooler spectrum like blue, green and gray can help calm your mind and relieve stress. While most people opt for pale shades of these colors for their bedroom, a big trend in the past few years has been toward darker hues — think navy blue or graphite gray — that, while bolder, are still soothing for the psyche. Avoid warmer tones like red and orange, which are energizing and can keep you up at night.

Don’t ‘let there be light’

Try to block as much light as you can from your bedroom, whether it’s sunlight in the morning or streetlights in the evening. Select blackout curtains, or if you have curtains you already love and don’t want to change, just add a blackout liner, which you can buy separately and then clip on to your regular curtains. An added benefit of blackout curtains is they help insulate your home to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. 

Muffle the sound

Hard surfaces, like hardwood floors and drywall, reflect sound, while soft textiles, like area rugs, curtains, pillows and bedding, absorb it. If your bedroom is large enough to accommodate them, upholstered furniture pieces such as armchairs or settees also muffle noise. In my bedroom, I upholstered the wall behind my bed. It helps reduce noise while adding a beautiful design element to the room.

Eliminate clutter

It’s difficult to feel restful when your bedroom is cluttered. You’ll feel much more at peace when shoes and clothes are picked up, and the tops of nightstands and dressers are clear of papers and ATM receipts. Also, don’t forget to close the closet doors, as you want all those clothes and other contents out of sight. Clear room, clear mind.

Sorry, no TV

Although many people like to watch television before going to bed, catching up on your favorite programs will likely stimulate your brain rather than relax you. And if you’ve ever been in the middle of a Netflix marathon at 2 in the morning saying to yourself, “Just one more episode,” you know you always regret it the next day. So keep your television in the living room or den and reserve your bedroom for sleep. The same goes for laptops, smartphones and tablets: Keep them out of the bedroom, or you may fall into the rabbit hole known as Facebook.

Update your mattress

How old is your mattress? The Better Sleep Council recommends trading in your old mattress for a new one after five to seven years, and an Oklahoma State University study shows that switching to a new mattress significantly improves sleep comfort and quality. You can also extend the life of your mattress by flipping and rotating it. And just because you have, say, a 15-year warranty doesn’t mean you’re supposed to use it for that long. A warranty is meant to protect you from product defects; it does not guarantee the mattress will be comfortable for 15 years.

Reduce allergens

One of the things that keeps many people up at night is an allergy attack. Safeguard against allergies by replacing wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood floors and encasing your mattress, pillows and comforters in dust mite covers. Also, invest in a HEPA air purifier, which can remove up to 99.97 percent of household airborne allergens and pollutants. I can’t sleep without my air purifier, not only because it cleans the air in my bedroom, but because the white noise it produces cancels out other sounds — like my snoring dogs.

Don’t sleep with pets

And speaking of dogs, here’s some common sleep advice that I’m guilty of not following: Ban pets from your bed. Pets can interfere with your sleep by taking up the whole mattress, kicking you while they sleep, making the bed uncomfortably hot, or shedding allergen-filled hairs on your clean sheets. I know I sleep much better when my two dogs are not in bed with me. But according to them, that’s just not going to happen. Well, at least I don’t have a television in my bedroom. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: Tips from a pro on hiring a contractor


We’ve all heard the nightmarish stories about contractors — how they bungle jobs, delay completion by months or, worse, take off with your money without finishing or, sometimes, not even starting the work. Those are the bad apples. Obviously, there are also excellent, reputable contractors out there. So how do you go about picking the best for your needs? 

When we’re in the market for, say, a new television, we often read reviews, ask friends and family members what they recommend and visit stores to compare how the pictures look. We become experts. Yet when it’s time to hire a contractor, many people just write a check and hope for the best. 

For advice on how to go about hiring a contractor, I decided to go to the source — an actual contractor. Ed Wrona, a Los Angeles-based licensed contractor with more than 20 years of experience under his tool belt, urges homeowners to do some research before hiring. Here are his suggestions for questions to ask, and what we should be looking out for in our contractor search.

Ask people you know

While it’s fine to look at Yelp reviews, it’s better to get referrals from people you know. Neighbors who have done home improvements similar to what you need can be excellent resources. If any friends or family members are working right now with a contractor, ask how they like the work and get their contractor’s contact information, even if you don’t need a job done now. One day you may and you’ll have the recommendation handy.

Visit the contractor’s previous work

It seems obvious that you would want to see other work the contractor has done. But Wrona says that most homeowners don’t even ask. “In the 20 years I’ve been in business, I’ve only had one client want to look at a previous job that I did,” he said. Ask your prospective contractor for former clients whom you can contact. Besides looking at the actual work, ask those clients what their working relationship with the contractor was like and how the home improvements have held up. 

Make sure they’re licensed

For any work that costs more than $500, the contractor must be licensed with the Contractors State License Board. Otherwise, you have no recourse if anything is wrong with the work. Look for the license number they give you on the board’s website (” target=”_blank”>cslb.ca.gov

The Contractors State License Board website is a great resource for consumers who are about to hire a contractor, so take advantage of the articles and videos that are available. Being informed makes you a smarter — and better — customer for the contractor.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

What I learned as a designer on a TV home makeover show


Have you ever wanted to have your home redecorated on a television show? Several years ago, I was cast as an on-camera designer for a cable home makeover series. 

It was fun being on the show, and I enjoyed the challenge. In addition to the demands of decorating a room and keeping to a strict budget and a tight timeline — all while smiling for the camera and making sure I didn’t have lettuce from lunch stuck in my teeth — I also had to please the producers and the homeowner. The experience helped me to be better at thinking of solutions on the spot, at making fast purchasing decisions and at holding clients’ hands to assuage their fears. 

The makeover show also taught me some valuable lessons about design that have greatly influenced how I approach decorating.

Color transforms a room

I’ve always loved color. But for makeover shows, a paint job is the most important ingredient of a good “before and after” video montage. Without a pop of color, there is simply not a big enough change. And we’re not talking a nice shade of tan here. The more vibrant the color, the more dramatic the reveal. 

But I also learned from filming the show that people can respond very negatively to color, especially when they’re used to white or off-white walls. On one episode, I painted a room a rich shade of green that I thought felt very “Zen.” However, the homeowner stole a peek at the room before it was ready, and she freaked out over the new color. To help get her “green light,” if you will, to continue with the makeover, I showed her other color swatches from which she could choose. She eventually chose another green hue that, in truth, was really quite similar to the one I had first chosen. The homeowner loved this new green, but I think that one of the reasons she did was that she’d had time to get used to the room not being white anymore. 

Now, when I work with design clients, I warn them that there is a chance they may hate a color when it first goes on the wall, because they aren’t used to it. With that warning, they usually end up loving it.

Clutter ruins the shot

Nothing looks worse on camera than clutter. The first time I was ever on television, my home was featured on HGTV, and the host took me under her wing to show me how things looked through the lens. She pointed to one of my bookshelves on the playback monitor and said, “Look how busy that looks. The camera picks up everything.” I never forgot that. We get used to the clutter in our lives and don’t even notice it anymore. But the camera sees it and accentuates it.

When I started doing television makeovers, I was keen to make sure clutter disappeared. I didn’t accomplish this by putting everything in the driveway while we filmed. That would be cheating. Instead, I purchased bookcases and cabinets so everything would have its place. In fact, all of my on-screen clients were short on storage spaces. They actually piled up things on the floor rather than stashing them away. I have a saying: “If there’s room for junk, there’s room for bookcases.” Organizing clutter and hiding it in cabinets resulted in some spectacular before-and-afters.

The same goes for my “real-life” decorating clients. I find that a trip to Ikea — or a similar furniture store — for a storage shopping spree is often the first step in decluttering and beautifying a home. 

Good design solves a problem

Perhaps for dramatic purposes, there was always a decorating dilemma I had to solve in each of the television makeovers I did. One person wanted her “girly” bedroom to become more adult. One needed a garage converted into a home office. Another person who worked out of his home needed his living room to be a comfortable meeting space for clients. 

But even though these challenges were put into the script to create a more interesting show, they reminded me that good design isn’t about making things pretty, it’s about making things better. Having concrete goals in mind during these home makeovers actually made the task easier, because it narrowed the possibilities. I knew exactly what the problem was, so I was able to create a solution. 

When redecorating a space, we need to think of how it fits into one’s lifestyle. What is working about it, and what isn’t? How can the design help with the space’s intended use?

I recently designed an office space for a therapist who specializes in working with teens. My objective was to create a welcoming space that would be calming for the young clients, but also reassuring for their parents. Everything I chose, from the wall colors to the style of furniture to the accessories, had those intentions in mind. The challenge of making the space suitable for teens resulted in a much better design than if I had been simply designing an attractive, but generic, office.

Personality is everything

When casting for homeowners who needed makeovers, the producers looked for people with big personalities. It made for more interesting television. And you know what? It made for more interesting design. I had one on-screen client who was a poet who exuded warmth and positivity. She was one of those people who made you feel good just by talking with her. So even though my initial assignment was to create an office space for her, I gave the space a dual purpose as a meditation room, decorating the walls with life-affirming lines from her poetry so she would be surrounded by positive insights as she worked. It captured who she was.

I’ve seen a lot of home makeover shows on which they create beautiful rooms, but the spaces end up looking alike in every episode, because they don’t reflect the homeowners’ unique personalities. That’s why I encourage people not to decorate their home so they look like a page from a furniture catalog. I encourage people to create a space that shows off who they are — quirks and all. You are not generic; your home shouldn’t be, either.

You can get it done 

On television, with the magic of editing, we tried to make it look as if it was easy for me to redo someone’s space in a matter of hours — by myself. But the reality was there was an entire team of people behind the scenes doing all of the work, from painting to carpentry to moving furniture. In fact, I didn’t do any of those things. For example, the painter would paint the entire wall, and then they’d film me holding the paintbrush doing the finishing touches. 

The lesson here that I try to impart to do-it-yourself decorators is to give yourself a break. If you can’t finish your home project in a weekend, don’t worry about it. You’ll finish it when you finish it. When I’m decorating in my own home or for a client, I don’t have the resources of a television construction crew doing all of the work for me. You probably don’t, either. So feel good knowing that, considering that you’re doing it on your own, you’re very much a design star. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: Tips for buying furniture online


Would you buy a major piece of furniture, like a sofa, online? Apparently, a lot of people would.

The research firm IBISWorld reports that online furniture sales have grown at an annual rate of 9.6 percent over the last five years. And according to Furniture Today, the online furniture store Wayfair has even seen year-to-year gains of 50 percent. Clearly, furniture shoppers have caught the online shopping bug.

But unlike buying a book from an e-commerce site, online furniture shopping comes with unique challenges for consumers. The price points are higher. Shipping charges can add hundreds of dollars to the bill. And you can’t touch, feel or interact with a piece of furniture through your computer monitor.

Much of my online furniture shopping is for research. It saves me from driving all over town looking to see what different stores carry. For “brick and click” (or “click and mortar”) stores such as  Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel, which have both online and physical presences, I can investigate their offerings on their websites before going into the stores to actually see the pieces. 

There have been plenty of times, though, that I bought furniture items online without seeing them in person. Most e-tailers — Houzz, Hayneedle, Wayfair, Amazon, Ballard Designs, etc. — don’t have brick-and-mortar stores. And even when they do, I’m often just too lazy to get in my car, go there and deal with a salesperson. Just this week I bought a lamp at lampsplus.com so I wouldn’t have to go into the store.

With all the online shopping I’ve done, I’ve learned a lot and made quite a few mistakes. So to help you on your own online shopping expeditions, here’s a handy guide to furnishing your home via the web.

Research the website

If you come across a site that you aren’t familiar with, do some homework on it. Start by reading the “About Us” page. A legitimate company will provide information about when it was founded, where it is located, and contact information such as a phone number or address. I get wary of sites that are nonspecific in the About Us page. And if the page has spelling or grammatical errors, a red flag immediately goes up. There’s a good chance it’s an overseas company, which means little to no customer service, longer delivery times and fewer guarantees of quality. Besides reading the About Us page, I also do an online search of the company name, often with the keywords “scam,” “legitimate” and “review,” to see if there are any complaints about the company.

Read the reviews

Everybody’s a critic, and that’s a good thing when buying furniture online. When you find a piece you like, check out what other buyers think of it. You’ll get an honest assessment of how comfortable the furniture is, how durable the materials are, and if the colors are true to how they look on the computer screen. And if assembly is involved, reviewers will often give advice about putting together the piece. 

Make sure it fits the room

It’s difficult to determine the true scale of furniture from a photograph alone. Find out the dimensions of the piece and use masking tape to map it out in the room where you intend to put it. (This is a good thing to do before you buy any piece, even when you aren’t buying online.) Even smaller items need to be checked for size. For example, a coffee table might look perfect next to your sofa. But take out a ruler to measure if it would be too high or too low. Double-checking measurements now will save you a lot of inconvenience in returns later.

Make sure it fits through the door

Don’t assume everything is going to fit through your front door — or narrow hallways and staircases. If items are disassembled and in separate boxes, that’s usually not a problem. But if a large furniture piece comes fully assembled, take note of the dimensions and then measure your front door and the pathway to its eventual room. I once bought a desk for a client from roomandboard.com (this was before there was a local store), and, to my horror, it would not fit through the door. Ultimately, I had to rent a crane to lift the desk to the second floor and through the French doors. Wow, that was expensive.

Compare prices

You can usually find the same furniture piece on several websites, so it’s a good idea to do some comparison shopping for the best combination of item price and shipping cost. An online search of the name of the piece will bring you to all the websites where it is sold. Sometimes I’ll jump straight to Amazon to check if it’s stocked there, and if free two-day shipping is available. And if the piece does not have a specific brand name to type into a search engine, copy a photo of it onto your desktop and conduct a Google image search of it. You may be able to find the exact piece on other websites, or at least items that look similar.

Order swatches

It’s very difficult to see true colors and finishes on your computer screen. Many furniture e-tailers will happily send you fabric or wood finish swatches so you know exactly what you’re getting. That way, you can look at the samples in the context of actual wall colors and other pieces in the room before making a decision.

Check the return policy

Know what the e-tailer’s return policy is before purchasing. (There is usually a link at the bottom of the home page.) Although they might allow returns, you may have to pay for return shipping. On smaller items, the cost may be negligible, but the return shipping on larger pieces can be prohibitive. For websites that have local brick-and-mortar retail stores, you may be able to return the item to the store. And check to see if you’ll need a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA), whether you’re making a return via a shipping company or directly to the store. 

Consider the type of delivery

Online furniture stores offer various levels of delivery, ranging from curbside drop-off to white-glove in-home service. If you’re purchasing a heavy item, curbside drop-off can be a real inconvenience, as you have to recruit someone to help you lug it inside your home. However, in-home delivery can come with hefty surcharges; still I find it’s worth the money, because they typically provide simple assembly and remove all the packing material for you. Just be prepared for whichever type of delivery service to expect when ordering.

Beware of back orders

When you find a piece marked as “on back order,” it does not necessarily mean that the item is so popular that there is a waiting list to purchase it. That may be the case, but in my experience, it has frequently meant that there are hiccups in manufacturing, and the company is not ready to ship the item. I once ordered some wrought-iron candleholders from ” target=”_blank”> jonathanfongstyle.com.

Easy and affordable eco-friendly decorating ideas


Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green,” and when it comes to our homes, a lot of people agree. There is a perception that for a home to be environmentally friendly, it needs to be remodeled, or built as such from the ground up, with state-of-the-art features such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances and building materials made exclusively from sustainable sources. And for someone in an existing home, all that sounds too expensive. 

But living in a green home doesn’t have to be so out of reach. After all, eco-friendly living is not about having all the latest bells and whistles — it’s about reducing our carbon footprint to make less of a negative impact on the planet. And when you think about being eco-friendly from that point of view, you’ll find there are some easy ways to be good to the environment while decorating your home. You might even save money instead of spending it.

Buy pre-owned

Purchasing new furniture and accessories means considerable energy and materials were expended to create them. But when you choose items that were previously owned and loved by someone else, you’ve saved valuable resources — and rescued something from likely spending eternity in landfill. Beyond the obvious places like estate sales and thrift shops, Southern California has some excellent resources for used goods, including resale emporiums that sell items ranging from used hotel furniture (like Hotel Surplus Outlet) to barely used props and furnishings from movies and television shows (which you can find at Previously On and It’s A Wrap). And browsing is always fun on eBay and Craigslist. I limit eBay purchases to smaller items, like accessories, as the shipping charges for larger pieces are usually high. Also, you want to be able to see major furniture items in person before purchasing, which you can’t do with eBay. And for Craigslist, you are dealing with a stranger, so be safe and bring a friend with you when checking out the item. And remember that you can negotiate a lower price — but do so via email or phone, before you meet.

Renew or upcycle

Another eco-friendly alternative to buying something new is to refresh or repurpose something you already own. Reupholster old furniture. Refinish the wood on chairs and case goods — or paint them for a whole new look. Turn old curtains into pillow shams. Just by keeping what you have, you’re helping the earth.

Donate rather than discard

Of course, there are times you just don’t want to keep a piece of furniture. I’ve told many a design client to get rid of an outdated sofa. But instead of throwing it in the dumpster or putting it out in an alleyway, I always advocate donating. Some places, such as the Salvation Army, are notoriously picky about what they’ll take. But you know who isn’t so choosy and will take anything? Anyone who reads the “free” listings on Craigslist. I’ve given away televisions, area rugs and chairs just by listing them as free on Craigslist — and they’re picked up sometimes within mere minutes. Once I had about 50 table legs from Ikea coffee tables (don’t ask why I had all those extra legs), and I almost threw them in the trash because I didn’t think anyone would want just table legs. But within one hour of posting an ad on Craigslist offering them for free, I had more than a dozen takers. 

Rethink your wish list

If, like most homeowners and renters, you have a list of all the fun and fabulous furniture and accessories you just absolutely must have, take a step back and ask yourself if you really need them all. I’m always in the market for something: I wish I had new window treatments. I could use a new coffee table. That new waffle maker would make my life so wonderful on Sunday mornings. Before buying something new, ask yourself how often you will use it, how long it will last and what you’re going to do with it when you don’t want it anymore. They’re tough questions when you’re ready to pull out that credit card. But just being in that mindset will inform all your purchase decisions and make you more environmentally conscious. 

Buy things that will last

When purchasing something for your home, consider how well made it is and what its projected life span would be. In the long run, something cheap often isn’t good for the environment — or your pocketbook — if you’re just going to have to replace it in a few years. 

Plan a décor swap party

These may become the book clubs of the new millennium. Invite a group of friends and neighbors for a gathering at which each person brings small furniture pieces, accessories, books or any other household goods they no longer want. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as everyone trades items. In the end, each person ends up with new things for their home. And you can donate anything unclaimed to a thrift store.

Just keep it

Here’s a tip that might blow your mind. It might be more eco-friendly to keep something you already own that wasn’t eco-friendly in the first place than to replace it with something that is eco-friendly. For example, you might have some carpeting in your home that doesn’t contain a single sustainable fiber, so is it better for the environment to tear it out and install sustainable bamboo flooring? Not necessarily, if that carpeting is going to end up in landfill. Don’t start replacing everything in your home with eco-friendly alternatives. By doing absolutely nothing, you might just be saving the environment. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Getting ready for unexpected guests — in 20 minutes flat


Let’s talk about that dreaded phone call. It can come any day, at any hour. The one where someone on the other end of the line says the eight scariest words in the English language: “We’re in the neighborhood and want to visit.” (Cue the scream sound effect.)

I don’t know about you, but it happens a lot to me. And when people come to my house, they have Expectations with a capital E. They think that my house will look like a magazine spread, filled with vases of fresh flowers and artfully arranged books. It’s a lot of pressure. Well, I hate to spoil the fantasy, but most of the time I have junk all over the place, just like everyone else. 

However, when it comes to sprucing up the house for unexpected visitors, I do have it down to a science. And with a few simple tricks, you too can be ready for your guests in just 20 minutes. I use the 20-minute guideline because, according to the movie “Clueless,” that’s the least amount of time it takes for anyone to get anywhere in Los Angeles.  

So let’s get started. We don’t have a minute to waste.

Minutes 0:00 to 03:59: Main entryway

Step into the shoes of your visitors and envision what they will see first when they walk into your home. The first rule is you want them to see as little as possible, as if no one lived there. OK, I’m exaggerating, but do err on the side of minimalism at the entrance. Pick up any shoes, coats, keys and dog leashes and hide them in your bedroom. 

Minutes 04:00 to 04:59: Restricted areas

I recommend restricting guests to the living room, kitchen and one bathroom. Close the door to all bedrooms and extra bathrooms. That way, you do not have to clean those areas, and you can use them to hide clutter. Which brings us to…

Minutes 05:00 to 07:59: Clutter bag

I always have stacks of mail, work papers and unread magazines piled up all over the house. You need to get rid of these before the guests come. My trick is to get a large shopping bag — one of those big square bags with a handle like you’d get at a department store — and throw all that stuff into the bag. Then hide that bag in one of your closed-off bedrooms. After your guests leave, you can go through everything in the bag. Sometimes, I’ve actually just left everything in the bag and never even looked at it again. After a while, I realize I don’t need whatever is in that bag, so I throw the whole thing out. 

Minutes 08:00 to 09:59: Garbage

Grab a fresh trash bag (or two if you’re recycling) and walk around your home with a vigilant eye. You’ll find things that need to be thrown out — old newspapers, used cereal boxes, ATM receipts, plastic water bottles, etc. — and now’s the time to get them out of the house. Toss them in the bag. Then go into the bathroom and transfer the contents of that little trash container into the trash bag. Do the same with the kitchen trash. 

Minutes 8:00 to 11:59: Floors

Since we’ve limited the open rooms in the house, you only need to concentrate on the floors in the living area, hallways, dining area and kitchen. A broom and dustpan are too slow. Use a Swiffer instead and run it across all the hardwood, tile and vinyl floors. If you have carpeting, there is no time to vacuum (and the smell of the vacuum cleaner is a telltale sign to your guests that you did an emergency cleaning). Just pick up any visible detritus by hand and leave the carpet as is. 

Minutes 12:00 to 14:59: Table tops

You’ve already gotten rid of clutter and garbage, so cleaning your table surfaces should be quick and easy. Time is of the essence — paper towels, sponges and spray cleaners are not useful, because they take too much time. Disinfectant wipes are faster. Use them on tables, kitchen counters and appliances, and to help remove any stains that might still be on your kitchen floor.

Minutes 15:00 to 16:59: Bathroom

Give the bathroom one last look to make sure the trash container is empty of tissues and cotton balls, that you have fresh hand towels, and the toilet seat and cover are down. If it’s evening, turn off the lights and illuminate the bathroom with a few battery-operated candles. The dim light will make any mess difficult to see.

Minutes 17:00 to 18:59: Follow your nose

How does your home smell? Neutralize odors with a spray like Febreze, or light a scented candle. And my favorite trick: Keep a pack of frozen cookie dough in your refrigerator, and pop some cookies in the oven. Nothing is more welcoming than the aroma of cookies baking. 

Minute 19:00 to 20:00: Relax

Take the final minute for yourself. Sit down, pour yourself a glass of something refreshing and get ready to welcome your visitors. Remember, they are there to spend time with you, not to judge the state of your home. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: ’80s decorating trends due for a comeback


The ’80s have gotten a bad rap. The decade of big hair and shoulder pads may be known for some really bad taste, but there are also some “totally ’80s” decorating motifs that will always have a place in this designer’s heart. Besides introducing us to Prince, Duran Duran and Madonna, the ’80s also gave us a delightful design sensibility that included bright colors, bold shapes and humor. If only I had a time machine (a DeLorean, naturally) to go back and get my hands on some of these decorating treasures.

Memphis style

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Shelf hack: Creating extra storage with old belts


Who couldn’t use more storage space? I know I could. When your closets and cabinets are filled to the max, even one extra shelf can make a big difference with your home organization needs. And this stylish shelf hack made with old belts lets you suspend a shelf anywhere you have some vacant wall space, like above a desk or a doorway. Best of all, the shelf goes up in a matter of minutes without any fancy hardware. Besides finding a creative way to upcycle your belts, you’ll also find space you never knew you had. 

What you’ll need:

  • Two leather belts (same size)
  • Screws 
  • Washers
  • Wall anchors
  • Wood plank or shelf

 

1. Start with the belts

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Flowers to dye for: How to make rainbow roses


Red roses signify love. Yellow roses are a symbol of friendship. And pink roses represent gratitude. But what does it mean when you give multicolored rainbow roses? That you’re overflowing with emotions — and creativity! Roses are very easy to transform into rainbows of color, and the same dye technique works well with other flowers, such as carnations. I like to experiment with different colors for different holidays, as well. 

You’ll love this project, because you get to be a floral artist and mad scientist at the same time. 

What you’ll need:

  • Glasses
  • Water 
  • Food dye in different colors
  • Plastic spoon
  • White or cream-colored roses
  • Scissors
  • Hobby knife (like an X-Acto knife)
  • Twist ties

 

1. Mix the food coloring

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7 decorating trends that have overstayed their welcome


If you’ve ever consulted Pinterest to get decorating ideas, then you know there are always certain design trends that are, in the words of a certain presidential candidate, “yuuuuge.” These trends become ubiquitous on inspiration boards and decorating blogs, and, in no time, show up in the décor department at Target.

But while trends can be fun to follow, some get so overused that they lose their freshness and move into cliché territory. And that’s when they need to be retired.

Don’t get me wrong — I won’t judge you if you have incorporated some of the following into your own home. In fact, I’ve been a fan of many of them. I do want to encourage you, though, to extend your decorating inspiration beyond what you see on Pinterest — and perhaps start your own trends.

And now, let’s say adieu to these overexposed design elements:

Chalkboard paint

Inspirational wall art

Burlap

Anything with Mason jars

Chevron

Repurposed wood pallets

Faux taxidermy

DIY: How to make a bird feeder from an upcycled saucepan


I love having birds in my yard. They make me feel like ours is the fun house to hang out at in the neighborhood, at least among the aviary crowd. Although the birds don’t sit on my fingertips like I’m Snow White, they do sing a cheerful tune — and keep my dogs mesmerized for hours. 

One way I keep the birds happy is with a feeder filled with birdseed. You can buy one, but I prefer this easy do-it-yourself version, which you can make with an old saucepan and lid. A little birdy tells me that all the feathered creatures will be pretty excited about the new eatery in town.

What you’ll need:

  • Small saucepan and lid
  • Industrial-strength glue such as E6000
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • Twine or string
  • Small bowl

 

1. Upcycle an old saucepan and lid

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DIY: How to make guest towel cupcakes


One of my favorite DIY gifts is guest towels, or washcloths, rolled up to look like cupcakes. Given as a set, they make adorable hostess, housewarming and birthday gifts. Pick up a pastry box at a party store or culinary supply store such as Surfas, and you can package your gift in a clever way that, well, takes the cake.

What you’ll need (per cupcake):

  • Guest towel
  • Rubber band
  • Cupcake wrapper
  • Small lollipop

 

1. Roll the towel into a long strip

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The rose gold rush and other hot décor trends


A few weekends ago, I drove to the Anaheim Convention Center for the 2016 Craft and Hobby Association (CHA) Megashow, the largest trade show for the arts and crafts industry in North America. Some people live for Comic-Con; I’m all about CHA. There, I’m a kid in a candy store (or, rather, crafts store — it’s a convention hall full of fun new products). It also helps me see what design trends are in store for the new year.

The hottest, albeit tried-and-true, trends in crafts — scrapbooking, jewelry-making and paper arts — all are here. But the trends on display also apply to the home décor market. In fact, many trends start in home décor — as well as fashion — before spreading to arts and crafts retailers.

So let’s take a peek at the design motifs you’re sure to see in 2016. Which ones will you include in your home?

Rose gold

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From drab to fab: A bedroom makeover for the new year


Change the wall color

The easiest — and least expensive — way to change the mood of a room is to paint it. This bedroom used to be off-white (actually worse — Swiss Coffee). A $25 gallon of light-blue paint washed the room in serenity while adding a much-needed base of color. We tested several blues on the wall before finding the right one. Stores such as Home Depot will sell you small samples of their colors that enable you to try out a few before making a final decision.

Spray paint the furniture

The client had a hand-me-down dresser and side tables with a light-brown finish that had dulled with age. The pieces, however, were still in good condition, and I liked their simple design with their cabriole legs. So instead of getting rid of the tables, I suggested spray painting them glossy black. Glossy spray paint is my go-to trick for transforming old furniture pieces. And you can always add new knobs and pulls to complete the luxe look.

Add a canopy

The room had a four-poster bed, but it needed some drama. The client had draped a fabric swag over it, but it didn’t do enough. I felt the bed needed a full canopy, but they can be expensive. A quick, inexpensive solution was to use curtain panels that could hang across the top and down the back of the bed. Pre-sewn pole pockets in the curtain panels, which are usually used to slide into drapery rods, slide into the horizontal bed poles at the front and back of the top frame for easy installation. Besides adding a dream-like feel, the canopy now filters the harsh overhead light above the bed. 

Raise the window curtains

Most people hang their curtains too low, using the top edge of the window frame as the starting point. Notice how this room looks more expansive once the curtains are raised to ceiling height. It’s a quick fix that can make a huge difference. 

Add pops of warm color

Because the light-blue walls have a gray undertone, I balanced this cooler hue with accents of warm pinks and coral. Colors need a counterpoint to help them stand out even more. Throw pillows, vases, candles and flowers are an easy way to add vibrant color — and a little goes a long way.

Ground the room in grays and creams

The danger in painting a room light blue is it can scream “baby nursery” or “bathroom.” But I kept the room sophisticated by grounding it in gray and cream neutrals. We applied a textured wallpaper border with the look of tin ceiling panels around the base of the walls and painted it a cream color. I used the same wallpaper border to frame a larger mirror (that had been a mirrored closet door), staining the framing dark gray to create a nice contrast with the walls. The new curtain panels are also charcoal gray.

Use mirror reflections

Speaking of mirrors, we added some decorative wall mirrors, and even a mirrored side table, to the room. Mirrors can do much more than enable us to check how we look. They reflect light to make a room brighter and they make a space appear larger. I also love how they act as ever-changing art — the colors and shapes reflected in the mirror change depending on where you stand in the room.

Use what you already have

A big lesson I was reminded of in this bedroom makeover was that you don’t always have to buy a bunch of new furniture. The old furniture had great bones, it just needed some sprucing up. Avoiding large purchases — except, in this case, for the mirrored side table, and even that was on sale — frees up money in your budget for new lamps, bedding and artwork. And saving money is always in style.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

The top 10 new year’s resolutions for your home


When New Year’s Day rolls around, a few things are certain. There will be hangovers. People who are freezing back East will watch the sun-drenched Rose Parade with envy. And New Year’s resolutions will be made. 

But this year, instead of vowing to change ourselves, let’s promise to make some improvements in our homes. Believe me, taking care of things around the house can be a lot more fun than eating more broccoli or going to the gym. 

So what should we resolve to do? According to research from Nielsen, these are America’s top 10 New Year’s resolutions. Let’s take a look at each one and apply it to the home. 

No. 1: Stay fit and healthy

Home variation: Keep up with home maintenance

Sometimes we take our homes for granted and forget to keep them in optimum condition. Our homes need annual checkups, just like we do. For example, getting the roof and plumbing inspected now can save on costly repairs later. But home maintenance doesn’t have to mean big projects. Start small with simple tasks, such as oiling squeaky door hinges or tightening the cabinet pulls in the kitchen. 

No. 2: Lose weight

Home variation: Get rid of clutter

January is the perfect month to clear out your closets and storage spaces. Donate any clothes you haven’t worn in the past year. Ditto for all the tchotchkes you’ve stashed away thinking you’ll use or display them at some point. Give used books and CDs new life by letting someone else enjoy them. Or sell your stuff in a yard sale and make a little extra cash. And the best thing about going on a clutter diet is you still get to eat doughnuts. 

No. 3: Enjoy life to the fullest

Home variation: Make your home more comfortable

This was a resolution of mine last year. My home was stylish, but it wasn’t all that comfortable. Like, seriously, there was no comfy place to sit while watching television. So I bought a cushy sectional, and now I get to be a bona fide couch potato while binge-watching “Orphan Black.” What part of your home could raise its comfort quotient? Perhaps it’s a living room that could use some throw pillows, a bedroom that can benefit from a new set of soft sheets or a kitchen that needs a comfort foam mat in front of the sink. 

No. 4: Spend less, save more

Home variation: Use less energy

Most of us are already conserving water because of the California drought, so it might seem a little miserly to suggest conserving energy as well. But there are painless ways to do it. Concentrate on the biggest energy hogs in the house. I’m talking about your appliances, not your kids. Turn down the thermostat on your heating unit and your water heater. Do only full loads of laundry or dishes. And gradually change your appliances to energy-efficient models. The energy savings can be substantial. This year, I replaced all my home appliances with Energy Star models, and I’ve definitely seen a difference in my energy bill. (No, I did not win on “The Price Is Right.”)

No. 5: Spend more time with family and friends

Home variation: Entertain more

Many people never entertain in their home. The main reason is not that they’re cheap or antisocial, but they are afraid their house isn’t good enough. The furniture is not up to date. The walls have fingerprints all over them. The bathroom could use a remodel. But you know what? Guests do not care. Your home is just fine. Friends and family come over to spend time with you, not judge you. Have a party! People often remark to me that they are nervous to have me over because I am a fancy-shmancy designer. Let me tell you, I’m too busy chowing down on the hummus appetizer to be judgmental. 

No. 6: Get organized

Home variation: Make the most of storage space

We all want to be more organized, but often don’t know where to start. The key is to make the most of the space you already have. After all, your house isn’t going to magically grow storage space. Besides getting rid of clutter, use every inch of space in closets and cabinets. Remember, you can go vertical with the help of stackable containers and multilevel organizers. And get furniture pieces that can do double duty, such as ottomans or beds that have hidden storage areas.

No. 7: Don’t make any resolutions

Home variation: Be mindful all year long

My guess is that the people who refuse to make New Year’s resolutions believe that self-reflection should happen throughout the year, not just at the beginning of it. And sprucing up your home should happen all year as well. Home decorating and maintenance can feel unwieldy, but if we spread projects out across the months, it feels more manageable. 

No. 8: Learn something new

Home variation: Sharpen your do-it-yourself skills 

These days, you can learn how to do anything around the house by doing a Google search or watching a YouTube video. But don’t limit your DIY learning to home repairs. Stretch your creative muscles by learning how to cook, garden or sew. Creativity is what turns a house into a home.

No. 9: Travel more

Home variation: Turn your home into a staycation spot

I once had an interior design colleague who specialized in decorating homes like African safaris — animal prints, zebra rugs, banana trees — you get the idea. But you don’t have to go to such extremes to make your home feel like a high-end resort. It can take as little as pampering yourself with hotel-quality bedding, or making time for a bubble bath surrounded by candles. For the outdoors enthusiast, it can mean getting new patio furniture, along with a volleyball net or croquet set. 

No. 10: Read more

Home variation: Get inspiration from magazines

Shelter magazines are a great source of inspiration. I always recommend that people keep a file folder of magazine clippings that spark their interest so when the time comes to decorate, they can consult the pictures for ideas. It’s similar to having a Pinterest board, but nothing beats having it all in print. You can also take your inspiration folder with you to the store when you shop. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Decorating with Pantone’s 2016 colors of the year


Every December, the arbiters of style at the Pantone Color Institute look into their crystal ball and forecast the hot color trend for the coming year. This year, for the first time, the global color authority has named not just one, but two colors: Rose Quartz and Serenity.  

Pantone’s annual announcement inevitably has its naysayers (people are still upset about last year’s wine-hued Marsala), and initially I, too, was disappointed by this year’s choices. At first glance, Rose Quartz and Serenity seem just a fancy way to say pale pink and powder blue, in other words, “baby nursery.” 

But according to Pantone, these colors were chosen to challenge, not reinforce, gender stereotypes. “In many parts of the world we are experiencing a gender blur as it relates to fashion, which has in turn impacted color trends throughout all other areas of design,” Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone’s executive director, said. “This more unilateral approach to color is coinciding with societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity.” 

So they’re upending the notion that pink is for girls and that blue is for boys, which I like. In fact, prior to World War II, blue was the recommended color for girls and was considered more dainty, while pink — derived from red — was seen as a stronger color and, therefore, more appropriate for boys. 

So how do these two colors work in the home besides getting us all riled up about gender stereotypes? Happily, they look great on furniture and décor. Both pastels are so soft that they fall in the neutral category. And as neutrals, they go with practically anything.

Expect home furnishing companies to jump on the bandwagon and begin offering more products in these cotton candy shades over the next year. In the meantime, here are a few to whet your appetite. The year 2016 is looking like a beautiful one indeed. 

SERENITY

1. Rectangular Tray from Accents by Jay (above)

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Hot tips for keeping your house warm this winter


By the looks of all the people on the streets wearing scarves and down parkas, Southern California is deep in a cold spell, with temperatures sometimes plunging below 65 degrees. Brrrrr! Let’s face it, we’re just not used to the cold here in L.A. And to be fair, temperatures do drop into the 40s at night, and even lower in the Valley. So how can we keep our houses and apartments warm without cranking up the heat? Follow these helpful tips to stay warm and cozy all winter long while saving money on your energy bill.

Let the sunshine in

Natural sunlight is free, so open the drapes and blinds during the day to let in the warmth. It does seem counterintuitive because the tendency is to close up everything during the winter to keep out the cold, but sunlight will warm up things no matter what the temperature is outside. You can also open certain drapes during different parts of the day to follow the sun. For example, I expose my east-facing windows in the morning, and my west-facing ones later in the day. 

Bundle up the windows

Of course, close the drapes at night. Drapery fabric acts as insulation for your windows. And when it gets really cold, consider layering on top of the drapes additional curtain liners, fabric or blankets. I lived in Boston for two years while attending college, and I fought off the cold there by hanging a Miss Piggy comforter in my apartment window. I didn’t care what the neighbors thought. 

Winterize your bedding

On chilly nights, getting into bed can feel like jumping into a cold pool. Change out your crisp, cotton sheets for velvety-soft flannel bedding. (I have a set of flannel sheets on my Amazon wish list — hint, hint.) Make use of the blanket or a faux fur throw at the end of your bed that you’ve been using just for decoration. Or warm up your bed before you get into it with an electric blanket. There are differing opinions about the safety of electric blankets, but it’s fine for taking the chill off of the sheets — you can turn off the blanket as soon as you climb into bed.

Get a humidifier

You know how in the summer people say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”? Humidity makes you feel warmer. Put a humidifier in your room, and the moisture helps retain heat — while helping your sinuses. You can also put a pot of water on the stove at a slow simmer. I add orange peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a touch of vanilla extract in the water, and the scent adds to the warm feeling.

Reverse your ceiling fan 

Most ceiling fans have two settings so that you can change the direction the blades spin. In the summer, the blades should turn counter-clockwise to blow cool air downward. In the winter, set the blades to turn clockwise to take up cool air and push the warmer air that’s near the ceiling down into the room. Put the ceiling fan speed on low so the room doesn’t get too drafty.

Use incandescent light bulbs

I know it’s not very eco-friendly of me to recommend incandescent light bulbs when there’s such a big push right now for fluorescent or LED bulbs. The thing about incandescent bulbs, though, is that they are warm. They’re downright hot, as a matter of fact. So, just for the winter, switch out your bulbs to incandescents, and let their heat radiate in the room. I have a soft spot for incandescent light bulbs. After they stopped making the 100-watt version, I bought a case of them to stock up. That should do me for a few more years.

Cover bare floors

Rugs aren’t just for decoration. They insulate our floors to keep the warmth from escaping. And besides, they feel great against our cold feet. So if you have hardwood or concrete floors, make sure you have area rugs covering them. I got rid of all my carpeting years ago and installed hardwood floors throughout my home. With area rugs, I actually feel even cozier because they are more plush than the carpet I used to have.

Start baking

Wintertime means baking time, and whenever you whip up a batch of cookies or brownies in the oven, you’re heating up your home as well. When you’re finished baking, leave the oven door open so you can make use of the heat that’s still emanating from inside after you turn it off. 

Shower with the door open

If you live alone or live with someone who doesn’t mind, leave the door open when you shower to let the heat and moisture spread outside the bathroom. You can also close the stopper to trap all the hot water in the tub (if you don’t mind standing in water). The tub of hot water acts as a heat source that gradually cools down, at which time you can drain the tub. 

Test for drafts in windows and doors

Hold a candle around doors and windows, and look at the flame to see if it moves because of drafts. Besides installing some good weatherstripping, you can stop drafts with some door and window snakes — those long tubes of fabric with padding inside. They’re available in stores, but you can take a DIY approach and make your own with rolled-up towels or T-shirts. 

Close the doors to unused rooms

If there are rooms that you rarely enter, close the doors to keep your home’s heat contained within the areas you are in. The reverse also holds true: If you’re staying put in one room, close the door and keep all the heat to yourself.

Hold on to something warm

Fosse and Gershwin, the author's personal heaters. Photo by Jonathan Fong

A portable heat source that you can carry around the house is indispensible on cold nights. Sure, it’s fine to have a sweetheart to keep you warm, but sometimes a good, old-fashioned hot-water bottle is even better — especially if it’s got a cashmere wool cover (which I have). I have also used a microwaveable neck wrap, and that feels like a big, warm hug from your favorite nana. And, of course, dogs and cats are snugglers that are bundles of fur-covered warmth. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

DIY: How to make blue and silver faux mercury glass


I love mercury glass. With its characteristic metallic shine and distressed finish, it goes with any style interior. What I don’t like about it is the cost. Even in discount stores, mercury glass items can be expensive. That’s why I like making my own. Using dollar-store glassware and just a few simple supplies from the crafts store, you can create spectacular faux mercury glass in just minutes.

Mercury glass is typically silver or gold, but I’ve made faux mercury glass in all sorts of colors, including orange for Halloween and red for Valentine’s Day. For Chanukah, I’ve gone blue and silver with these vases and candleholders. The mercury glass may be faux, but the stunning results are real.

What you’ll need:

  • Glassware
  • Mod Podge
  • Acrylic paint (in blue and silver)
  • Plastic cup
  • Wooden stir stick
  • Foam brush
  • Sponge
  • Glitter (in blue and silver)

 

1. Mix Mod Podge and paint

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How to make a birch branch menorah


While the lighting of the Chanukah candles has been a tradition for centuries, menorahs themselves are constantly being reinvented. Do an online search for “menorahs” and you’ll find literally hundreds of styles, from traditional to novelty. (One that’s getting a lot of attention this year is the Menorasaurus Rex, which is a menorah shaped like a dinosaur.) This DIY menorah made from a birch branch and copper is both rustic and modern, and its unconventional charm will be sure to brighten your Chanukah celebration.

What you’ll need:

  • Birch branch, around 16 inches long
  • 2 smaller birch branches, 4 inches long
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Pen
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch copper tubing
  • Tubing cutter
  • Multi-surface glue
  • 5/16-inch washers

 

1. Attach feet to the wood branch

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How to make a floral turkey centerpiece for Thanksgiving


For me, decorating the table is the best part of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner celebration. I love arranging the dishes, the sparkling glasses, the starched napkins — and, of course, making the centerpieces. 

Centerpieces are a great way to set the mood, a way to tell your guests right as they walk into your house that they’re in for a festive time. But depending on how you’re planning to serve your Thanksgiving meal, you will have to make the centerpiece work for you. If you’re planning a buffet, then most of the serving platters will be on a separate table, and your centerpiece can stay put on the main table, to continue to delight your guests. But if you’re planning to serve your dishes at the table, you’ll likely need the extra space, in which case you can remove the centerpiece before you bring out the dinner and place it elsewhere, such as on a coffee table or mantel. 

I’ve run the gamut on centerpieces, from simple bud vases to elaborate creations that can take over an entire room. Last Thanksgiving, I spray-painted 600 pingpong balls shiny gold, suspended each one over the dining table with thread, and then lined the table with branches decorated with twinkling lights. This year, I’m making our life a lot easier with this simple floral turkey centerpiece. It’s easy to make, yet so adorable you’ll be gobbling up the compliments.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Floral foam
  • Knife
  • Mums
  • Wheat stalks
  • Bird of paradise flower
  • Real or artificial fall leaves

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How to set-up a guest room for out-of-town visitors


With the holidays just around the corner, some of us are getting ready to welcome out-of-town guests coming in to join the festivities. Having guests stay at your house can be fun, but it can also be stressful for both parties. Whether your guests will sleep in a spare bedroom or on a sofa in your living room, there are many easy ways to make their stay comfortable. You don’t have to follow all of these tips, but adopting even just a few of them will go a long way toward making your guests feel pampered. That way, they’ll be longing to return the favor one day. 

Let them know what to expect

It’s a good idea to manage guests’ expectations in advance, so let them know if they’ll be staying in their own room, taking over the home office or crashing in the living room. This could help them to know how much they should pack. It also gives them a chance to reconsider staying with you if they’d prefer the privacy afforded by hotel over a living-room sofa.

Make the bed comfortable

If your guests will be sleeping on a bed, maximize their comfort by adding a mattress topper. A memory-foam topper, or even a featherbed, can make even an old mattress feel new. Toppers also vastly improve the comfort of a sofa bed and, yes, even sofas. Instead of asking extra guests — or their kids — to sleep on the floor, consider purchasing an air mattress, which is not at all expensive and easy to store for future visits. 

Upgrade the bedding

Think of your guest room more like a boutique hotel and less like a roadside flophouse. Invest in soft, high thread-count cotton sheets and pillowcases. Try to offer two pillows per guest, one firm and one soft, as well as a couple of throw pillows for back support while reading. And iron the pillowcases for a fresh, clean appearance. In addition to a cushy comforter, make sure to have an extra blanket available, and leave it on the bed from the start — guests often feel bad about asking for things, so it’s better to anticipate their needs.

Have storage options

Although most guests expect to primarily live out of a suitcase, it can help them feel more civilized if they get a closet or other space to hang or store clothes. If you don’t have extra closet space, find creative options, like storage ottomans, over-the-door organizers or even clearing a shelf on a small bookcase that can double as a dresser. You can also insert a tension rod or pull-up bar in a doorway where guests can hang clothes — and remember to supply the hangers.

Get rid of clutter

Clear the area where your guests will be staying. Having your personal items around — be they clothes, tax statements or your collection of baseball cards — gives them the impression that they are imposing on your personal space. Let them know they’re welcome by offering a clean, minimally decorated haven.

Pamper them in the bathroom

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of five kids, two parents and two grandparents sharing one bathroom, but one of my first questions when staying at a hotel or a friend’s house is always “What’s the bathroom situation?” Ideally, your guests will have access to their own bathroom, but if they will be sharing yours, make room so they can store their toiletries. Prepare a basket of essentials like a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo, and splurge on a few luxuries like scented soap or lotion. Provide a stack of plush towels, including washcloths. And if you’re sharing a bath, make sure the guest towels are a different color from yours so they’ll know which is which. 

Include the must-haves

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How to season and care for your cast-iron skillet


Earlier this year, in a column about what every home should have, I listed a cast-iron skillet as one of my household essentials. For those unfamiliar with cast-iron cookware, it is known for its black coating that develops over time as oils are polymerized on its surface. 

This process is known as “seasoning,” which gives the cookware its nonstick finish. Honestly, I will sometimes just stare at the pan, running my fingers along the surface, admiring how the seasoning has built up over the years. (A little obsessive, I know, but other cast-iron skillet fans will know what I mean.) 

Besides its wonderful nonstick properties, a cast-iron skillet has other advantages.

Virtually indestructible

Cast as one piece of iron, there are no parts or screws to come undone. You can bang it around and drop it on the ground and it will not dent. It’s no wonder slapstick cartoon characters whack each other over the head with them (don’t try this at home).

Retains heat

Because of its thickness, a cast-iron skillet takes a little longer to heat up. But when it’s hot, it stays hot. So even if you’re adding cold items such as raw meat to the skillet, it remains at your desired cooking temperature. 

Affordable

Unlike some premium cookware that can sell for hundreds of dollars for one pan, a cast-iron skillet can be yours for about $20. Avoid any fancy options that increase the price, such as a wooden handle. If you’re paying more than $40, you’re paying too much.

Versatile

You can cook practically anything in a cast-iron skillet. It sears meats like no other pan, and you may be surprised how well it roasts vegetables. The heat of the pan gives vegetables such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts a nice char that a cookie sheet can’t. It’s also great for baking cornbread and cakes that fall right out of the pan when they’re done. The only thing I don’t cook in the cast iron are dishes with tomato sauce or wine, as the acidity can break down the nonstick surface.

Into the frying pan …

Despite the virtues of cast-iron skillets, a lot of people are reluctant to use them. You may even have one tucked away in a cabinet collecting dust. One of the complaints I hear is that they’re too heavy. Personally, I feel that heft is a good thing in a pan, but if the weight of cast iron is a deal-breaker for you, keep in mind that most cast-iron skillets have an assist handle at the opposite end of the main handle so you can lift the pan with two hands. 

What keeps most people away from cast-iron skillets, though, is the perception that they are too hard to care for. Part of the problem is that there are so many theories on the best way to season cast iron, and just as many recommendations for cleaning it.

The plethora of opinions can be intimidating for the cast-iron novice — whom do you believe? What if you follow the wrong advice? The good news is that practically every method of cast-iron maintenance you hear about works. It’s really a matter of preference. Remember that your cast-iron skillet is a heavy-duty workhorse — you won’t break it.

How to season cast iron

The majority of cast-iron skillets available in stores come pre-seasoned, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to use. The coating that’s been applied by the manufacturer is very thin and barely enough to create a non-stick surface. 

I recommend additional layers of seasoning before you use your pan for the first time. Using a paper towel, rub a thin layer of vegetable-based oil on the inside and outside surface of the pan. Then, wipe the pan again with a clean paper towel. It looks like you’re removing all the oil, but don’t worry, it’s still in there. You just want a very thin layer. 

Then place the skillet in a cold oven upside down with a cookie sheet or foil underneath to catch any drips. Turn on the oven to 450 F, and heat the pan for an hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan sit in there while it cools. Repeat this process at least five times before using the skillet. The first few times you use the pan, food may still stick to it. Rest assured, the more you cook with it, the more nonsticky it will become. 

Types of oil to use

Some people like to use vegetable oil, while others prefer vegetable shortening. One oil that has received a lot of recent press is flaxseed oil, which some cast-iron enthusiasts swear by. I use plain, store-brand vegetable oil, and it’s given my pan a nice black patina. If I get a second skillet, I may try the flaxseed oil to compare.

Ways to clean it

The most important tip for cleaning a cast-iron skillet is to start cleaning the moment you’ve finished cooking. While the pan is still hot, scrape off any food with the flat edge of a metal spatula. Then sit down to eat while the pan cools. After your meal, the pan will still be hot (like I said earlier, cast iron retains heat like crazy) but cool enough to clean. 

One cleaning method is to pour kosher salt into the pan and use a folded paper towel to scrub the salt around the pan. The salt works as a scouring agent to remove burnt bits of food. Then rinse the pan in hot water. This method does work, though I don’t like wasting all that good kosher salt. 

Another method, though controversial, is to use a sponge with soap and water. Some believe soap should never touch the surface of the pan for fear of damaging the built-up seasoning, but based on my own experience, a little soap and water doesn’t damage the pan, especially if you dry it immediately afterward. I just don’t find it necessary to use soap to scrub out the pan.

What I use to clean the pan is a stainless steel scrubber called “The Ringer,” which I found on Amazon. It is an 8-by-6-inch piece of chainmail, like something you would see worn by a character from “Game of Thrones.” It scrubs off all the cooked-on food, leaving it spic and span without harming the nonstick surface. There’s usually an oily residue still on the pan, but that’s OK. 

The Ringer chainmail cast iron cleaner

I wipe the pan dry with a paper towel, place it on the stovetop and turn on the burner. When the pan starts smoking, I turn the heat off. The oily residue then becomes polymerized, adding to the layers of seasoning. I finish by wiping a thin layer of oil onto the pan with a paper towel before storing it.

A note on keeping kosher

If you have a kosher household, you may want to kasher your new skillet before using it, especially if it’s been pre-seasoned. Check with your rabbi for a recommendation on the best way to do so. It would also be a good ideato have separate skillets for different food
categories. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: How to make a throw pillow from an old shirt


I have trouble donating old clothes to charitable thrift shops because I always want to up-cycle the pieces and use them in crafting and decorating projects. All those fun fabrics are just too good to give away. No wonder I have cabinets full of clothing castoffs waiting for a new life. 

One of my favorite things to up-cycle is a shirt. I’ve repurposed them into cloth napkins, wine bottle wraps, lunch bags — and this decorative throw pillow. This pillow is not only stylish, it’s really easy to make because it requires no sewing. 

What you’ll need

  • Old shirt with buttons
  • Scissors
  • Fabric glue
  • Rectangular pillow form

 

Step 1:

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HOME: Eco-friendly disposable tableware for Sukkot


When you’re dining under the stars in your sukkah, the last thing you want to think about is washing dishes. Fortunately, an array of stylish, eco-friendly, disposable plates and cutlery is available to dress up your table while making cleanup a breeze. 

Because Sukkot is a harvest festival, it’s only right that we consider environmentally friendly alternatives for setting the table. How can disposable dinnerware be green? There are three primary ways:

• Biodegradable: The product will break down within a reasonable amount of time in a natural outdoor environment.

• Compostable: The product is not only biodegradable, it also releases valuable nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.

• Sustainable: It is made from resources that are replenished as quickly as they are consumed. 

Now, instead of paper plates, you can find dinnerware made from bamboo, sugarcane, palm leaves and even tapioca starch. 

Wasara (above)

This elegant Japanese line of disposable plates, bowls and cups, with their wavy, minimalist shapes, is more beautiful than most ceramic or glass tableware. Only nontree, renewable resources are used to make them — sugarcane fibers, bamboo and reed pulp. They are also compostable, so they don’t have to end up in the landfill.  (Photo from Verterra.com

VerTerra plates and bowls are made from palm leaves and molded into their shapes with steam, heat and pressure. No trees or branches are cut in the manufacturing process; only leaves that have fallen to the ground are used. The product naturally biodegrades in less than two months after disposal. (Photo from bambuhome.com

A popular line of disposable dinnerware you’ve probably seen at Whole Foods, Bambu Veneerware is made from 100 percent bamboo and certified organic. The Bambu line is extensive, including round and square plates, forks, spoons, knives and even “sporks.” And you can wash them and use them more than once. (” target=”_blank”>worldcentric.org)

Dahlia by EcoProducts

Photo from ecoproductsstore.com

Made from a premium blend of sugarcane and bamboo, which are 100 percent renewable, Dahlia plates and bowls are known for their signature leaf shape. They are compostable and surprisingly sturdy, as the surface is grease- and cut-resistant. (Photo from sustyparty.com

At first glance, Susty Party tableware looks just like any other colorful paper plates you would find at a party-supply store. The difference is that all the products in the line, which include plates, bowls, cups, straws, cutlery and napkins, are made from renewable or sustainably harvested materials. They’re compostable, nontoxic and made in North America. (” target=”_blank”>bambluware.com

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: 10 Common decorating mistakes and how to fix them


Decorating your home is a very personal thing — we all have different tastes. There are some common design mistakes, however, that many of us make. The good news is that even if you’re guilty of one or more of these faux pas, they’re easy to fix.

Pushing all the furniture against the wall

People seem to think that if you push everything to the four walls, there will be more room in the middle. What are they making room for — a dance floor? 

The fix: Move furniture away from the walls, and arrange the pieces together to encourage conversations. If as a result, say, a sofa or chair seems to float in the middle of the room, anchor it with a console or side table.

Poor lighting

Even a well-appointed room can look dreary when there’s not enough light. Just as bad is a room lit by one super-bright overhead lamp that reveals every fine line on our faces. 

The fix: Try to have three sources of light in each room at different heights and diffuse each with shades so that the light is soft and flattering. Also, use dimmer switches so you can vary the mood.

Not planning ahead

Don’t fall into the trap of falling in love with a piece of furniture in the store, but finding that it’s too big for the room when it’s delivered. 

The fix: The next time you consider new furniture, take measurements of your room first, and draw a diagram of your room layout on graph paper, with each square representing a square foot. Use the graph paper to help you plan how different furniture pieces will fit — before you buy them

Being too matchy-matchy

Don’t buy sofas, loveseats and armchairs in matching sets. Ditto for bedroom sets with matching dressers and nightstands. Your home is not a Sears showroom. 

The fix: Incorporate pieces that coordinate with each other, rather than match exactly. Also, feel free to mix up wood finishes in the same room. They don’t all need to be the same shade of brown.

Looking like a catalog

Some rooms are almost too perfect, like they’re straight out of a catalog. The result is a sterile environment that doesn’t reflect your own personality.

The fix: Go ahead and order from catalogs. Just be sure to include furniture pieces and/or accessories that have a backstory and special meaning to you.

An over-reliance on white walls

Unless your home is a sleek, modern work of architecture that looks like a gallery, white walls are boring. Colored walls add warmth and provide a more pleasing backdrop for your furniture and accessories.

The fix: If you’re afraid of colors, go with neutrals. Even a light tan is preferable to white. My secret weapon for color-phobic clients is the Restoration Hardware paint fan deck. Every color is a soothing neutral.

Over-accessorizing

If you’ve ever sat on a sofa or gotten into a bed with too many throw pillows, you know there can be such a thing as too many accessories. The same goes for too many picture frames, candles and other tchotchkes, which make your home look cluttered. 

The fix: Remove half of your accessories and see how the room breathes. Put the extras in storage, and rotate your accessories every few months so it always feels like there’s something new.

Hanging art too high

In almost every home, there is at least one picture that is hung too high. Artwork that is higher than eye level feels disconnected from the rest of the room. 

The fix: Position your framed art so that the center of it, measured vertically, is between 57 and 60 inches from the floor. That’s eye level for the average person who’s not a basketball player.

Hanging curtains too low

The tendency for most people is to hang curtain rods right above the window frame. Doing so makes the windows look shorter and the ceilings lower. 

The fix: Install the curtain rod as high as you can, right below the ceiling level, assuming you have a standard 8-foot ceiling. (Vaulted ceilings are a whole other discussion.) Higher curtains draw the eye up, making the room look more expansive.

Forgetting about the ceiling

Poor ceilings. They are typically an afterthought, or worse, just ignored. Having a white, unadorned ceiling can be jarring, especially when the rest of the room is drenched in color. 

The fix: Consider painting the ceiling a shade lighter than the wall color. This way, it makes visual sense with the surrounding walls and furnishings.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Home: How to make your own French memo board


Maybe because it’s back-to-school season, or because people are in fall organizing mode, but I’ve been getting requests about ideas for bulletin boards. Well, when it comes to bulletin boards, nothing combines style and practicality like a French memo board. Covered in decorative fabric, French memo boards use crisscrossed ribbons to hold photos, invitations and notes — so you don’t have to use pushpins. That’s particularly useful when you don’t want to put holes in your valuable pictures and cards.

Perfect for a dorm room or a home office, they’re surprisingly easy to make with inexpensive materials. I assembled the memo board shown here in less than two hours. 

(And to those holdouts who still won’t part with their utilitarian corkboards: You obviously didn’t get the memo.)

What you’ll need:

  • Foam-core board
  • Hobby knife
  • Scissors
  • Batting
  • Fabric of choice
  • Ribbon
  • Pins
  • Buttons
  • Needle and thread
  • Duct tape
  • Hot glue gun
  • Felt

Step 1

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Home: Five ways to trick out your backpack for school


For me, one of the perks of going back to school every fall was getting to start the year with a brand spanking new backpack. The thing about backpacks, though, is that most are not too exciting to look at. They’re usually plain or utilitarian or they have cartoon characters emblazoned on them.

This year, instead of sending the kids off with another boring backpack, try customizing the bags to reflect their interests. A backpack is a blank canvas (literally, backpacks are made of canvas). And there are so many fun and easy ways to decorate them, as you can see here. All the embellishments can be purchased at crafts stores and party stores. 

THE ROCKER

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Home: Back-to-school floral arrangement with pencils


Throughout my high-school years, I was a straight-A student. My only B was in driver’s ed (and that was a miracle, given my car accident the first day of driver’s training). Letting your teachers know you appreciate them can help your standing, too, and starting the year off with a gift on the first day of school never hurts. 

Here’s an idea that could get you an A+ for creativity. It’s a vase made of pencils covering a cylindrical container, with a tape measure as a ribbon. You can fill it with any flowers you’d like. It’s sure to cheer up any classroom. 

What you’ll need:

  • No. 2 pencils
  • Small glass/vase/can
  • Double-sided tape
  • Rubber band
  • Colored plastic tape measure
  • Fresh or artificial flowers

 

Step 1:

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8 Easy ways to conserve water right now


As you probably know, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory water-use reduction of 25 percent across California back in April because of our state’s historic drought. It has been up to the individual cities and communities to implement the reduction efforts, so you may have received a letter from your local water utility company about how much you are required to conserve. Where I live, we have been told to reduce water usage by 20 percent from 2013 levels. 

Saving 20 percent can seem daunting, but when I think of it in increments, it seems more doable. Every little bit of conservation adds up and makes a difference. Here are some tricks I’ve implemented in my own household that are simple and do not require a lot of effort. I’m eager to get my next water bill to see how much I’ve saved. 

Check for leaks

There could be a leak in your home, and you might not even know it. To check, note the numbers on your water meter, and then don’t use any water for two hours. If the numbers have gone up, you have a leak and it’s time to hire a plumber.

Shower power

A whopping 75 percent of indoor home water usage happens in our bathrooms, and a lot of that is from the shower. According to the American Water Works Association, a typical shower lasts eight minutes. With a standard showerhead that uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, each shower can add up to 20 gallons of water. So if you reduce your daily shower time to five minutes, you will save 225 gallons every month. If everyone in the family does this, imagine how much water you’ll save. 

Stop flushing so often

At the risk of being too graphic, you don’t really need to flush your toilet every time you use it. Some older toilets use up to seven gallons of water per flush. Even the newer ones, which are required to consume no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, make up a substantial part of our water usage. By flushing just one time less each day, we can reduce our monthly water usage by a minimum of 584 gallons a year.

Make your older toilets flush less water

A simple way to reduce water use is to minimize the amount of water that goes into your toilet tank. To do so, fill a plastic half-gallon bottle (such as an orange juice or bleach bottle) halfway with rocks to weigh it down, then fill it with water and tightly close its lid. Place the container inside your toilet tank, and you will save a half gallon each time you flush. Note: sometimes people put a brick in the tank for this same purpose, but bricks can erode and add sediments to your toilet.

Turn off the tap 

This one seems really obvious, but leaving the water on while brushing your teeth is a bad habit many of us can’t seem to break. However, when you remember three to five gallons of water come out of the average faucet every minute, you’ll realize this is another simple opportunity to save water.

Use the dishwasher 

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, using an automatic dishwasher is more efficient than hand washing. New Energy Star dishwashers use three to five gallons of water per wash, compared to up to 27 gallons used by traditional hand washing, counting for those who let the water run the entire time. Even older dishwashers that use up to 15 gallons per wash beat traditional hand washing. Just be sure to run your dishwasher only when it is fully loaded. And scrape your dishes first, instead of rinsing them before putting them in the machine. 

Only wash full loads of laundry

The Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates the average American family washes almost 400 loads of laundry each year. Make the most of each load by making sure the machine is filled, even if the washer has adjustable load settings. And avoid the permanent press cycle, which adds up to five gallons for the extra rinse. If you’re planning to replace an older washing machine, which typically uses 40 to 45 gallons per wash, consider either a front- or top-loading high-efficiency model, which generally uses only 14 to 25 gallons. 

Keep a bucket handy for reuse

Don’t let water go down the drain when it can be used for other purposes, such as watering plants or cleaning. If you have to let the water in your sink or tub run for a few seconds to heat up, collect the cold water in a bucket to use later. You’ll be amazed at how much water you collect — all of which would otherwise just disappear down your drain.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

How I created America’s most hated kitchen


You have not lived until you have been called “tacky and tasteless,” or been labeled as someone who has created “the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” But those are the sort of comments I get every time my Warhol-inspired kitchen appears on a decorating website. 

The first time it happened, I have to admit, I was taken aback. A popular shelter magazine website featured my kitchen and gave it a glowing write-up. I was hoping for some positive feedback, and lo and behold, I was thrilled to see that in a few hours, my article had racked up five pages of comments. Five pages! But then I read them. Uh-oh. Commenters had their pitchforks out for me. They were so offended by my design, they not only attacked the kitchen, they skewered me as a designer. Although one out of every 50 comments was a positive one, saying something like, “I can appreciate the creativity,” the mob became further incensed by any compliment, and voted thumbs down on the comment so it would be downgraded and deleted. I felt like a Kardashian.

I did not create my Warhol kitchen to make people vomit, as some commenters have suggested. I wanted a fun, colorful kitchen that would make me happy. My kitchen used to be all white. It had that clean European look, which was one of the reasons I liked it. But as I added color to the rest of my home, the kitchen remained white — and sterile. And when my condo was filmed for the HGTV show “Kitty Bartholomew: You’re Home,” the kitchen was the one room they did not film because, compared to the rest of the house, it was boring. The host, Kitty Bartholomew, pulled me aside and told me I had to do something about that kitchen. 

Fast forward a few years, and I was at the closing day of the Andy Warhol exhibition at MOCA. I was very inspired by the artwork, and I stopped in the museum store to get some souvenirs. It being the last day, all the Andy Warhol posters were 40 percent off. Standing in the middle of that museum store, inspiration hit me: I decided right then and there that I was going to buy one of every poster and decoupage it to my kitchen cabinets. 

I don’t know why I thought that would be a good idea, as I didn’t know whether the posters would even fit the cabinets, and, more important, I had never decoupaged anything before. For those of you unfamiliar with it, decoupage is the art of applying decorative paper to a surface. You typically see it on smaller objects such as boxes and trays, but never on such a large scale.

So, I did what any intelligent person who wanted to learn how to do something would do — I Googled it. And I found the nation’s leading expert on decoupage, Durwin Rice, author of “New Decoupage.” I emailed him, asking how I should go about putting the posters onto the cabinet doors. I wanted it to look like the artwork was printed on the cabinets, not merely glued on. Would that be possible?

Rice kindly replied, explaining the process for what I wanted to do. I was most skeptical of one of the steps — soaking the poster in water to relax the paper — because I was afraid the water would ruin it. But his directions worked! I’ve illustrated the steps above to show how easy it really is. And I’m happy to report that people who’ve followed the directions on my website have created their own versions of the Warhol kitchen, albeit with posters that reflect their own personal styles. One person, after she got tired of her decoupaged cabinets, even replaced the images with new ones by soaking the cabinets in water, scraping off the paper and starting anew. I’ve also become a decoupage fiend, decorating chairs, tables and even toilets. I haven’t shared those yet on social media — they would break the Internet.

Nowadays, I take negative online comments with a grain of salt. And I actually appreciate the really nasty ones, because at least they mean my work got a reaction. As an artist, I’d rather be hated than ignored. And you can’t ignore that kitchen.

CREATE YOUR OWN WARHOL KITCHEN

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