Eat Up These Tips for Organizing Your Pantry

In terms of fears, does the thought of organizing your pantry rank right up there with public speaking and clowns? Getting your pantry in order doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are some helpful tips to get you started on a picture-perfect and well-organized space for your food supplies. And snack on something while you’re working. That always helps.

Empty it out

Begin by removing everything from your pantry and setting it all on your kitchen table. As you place items on the table, group them into categories such as staples, breakfast items, etc. Having an empty pantry gives you a clean slate to start anew. It’s like clearing your mind.

Clean the shelves

Wipe off the shelves with a household cleaner and rag to remove dust, food crumbs and any mystery gunk you might find. Allow the shelves to dry, and your pantry is ready to restock.

Divide it into zones

As you place items back on the shelves, arrange them in the general categories you established when you first laid them all out on your kitchen table. This step might sound obvious, but it’s easy to get into the habit of haphazardly sticking packages wherever you find room and not being able to find them when you need them.

Getting your pantry in order doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Check expiration dates

Put on your glasses and check the expiration dates of all of your food items. Either discard expired items or eat them immediately. Keep in mind that expired dates on packages such as cans and vacuum-sealed jars do not necessarily mean the food is no longer safe to eat. (But if you haven’t eaten them in all these years, you’re probably not going to now.)

Configure the space

Pantries come in all sizes, so utilize organizing tools such as tiered racks and Lazy Susans to divide the space. If your pantry is deep, the space in back might never be used, and if it is, items will get lost. So reserve the rear space for storage of non-food items such as small appliances.

Clear up things

Transfer dry goods such as rice and pasta to clear glass containers so you can easily see how much you have of them in inventory. Storing the food in clear glass will keep them visible, helping you with meal planning and grocery shopping.

Bin there, done that

Store similar items in bins so you can find things easily. Bins also help reduce spillage on items such as flour and sugar. Just be sure to select bins that are low profile or clear so you can see what’s in them. You can even use old baking dishes — they’re low and shallow enough for most shelves.

Keep perishables visible

Place perishables such as bread and onions in a visible location so you’re reminded to use them before they spoil. Having them at eye level really helps.

Use your doors

Add hooks on the inside of your pantry doors to hold additional items. Just be sure that you can still close the doors afterward.

Keep heavy items on the bottom

Maybe it’s because we’re in Southern California, but I’m always cognizant of earthquakes when stocking my pantry. With temblors in mind, store heavier jars and liquid items on lower shelves so if they fall, they will be less likely to break or make a mess.

Assess it weekly

After your pantry is organized, it’s easier to keep it that way. Go through your pantry every week to determine what needs restocking and what needs to be eaten soon. Move around items as you see fit. Make your pantry work for you.

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

Easy Ways to Make Your Garden More Private

Personal gardens can serve as incredibly soothing sanctuaries where one can unwind and enjoy the fresh air. However, if you live in a more populated area, charging your inner batteries might be interrupted by noisy neighbors and the prying eyes of passers-by. It’s not just the awkwardness of feeling someone might be watching you as you sunbathe, but also about obtaining peace and quiet. Don’t stress out just yet: there are numerous effective ways to make your garden more private.

Install a Portable Partition or a Privacy Screen


Portable partitions or privacy screens can help you bring the most out of your backyard space and contribute to the ambient, both aesthetically and in means of space functionality. There are a few things you need to consider before choosing the best solution for your gardens, such as available budget, the amount of space, the sunlight, and the specific purpose of different parts of space. There are many successful DIY projects you can explore or try to copy. From wallet-friendly bamboo screens and wattle turned into a natural fence to the creative use of the materials you don’t need anymore – the possibilities seem endless. Consider unusual materials such as plexiglass, which blocks the curious views but allows the penetration of light.

Turn To Nature for a Perfect Solution


If you’re looking for a greener way to protect your privacy, planting privacy trees is a perfect choice. Not only is it soothing to relax your eyes on beautiful trees and plants, but the green shield keeps you safe from the unpleasant winds and reduces your house heating costs, while at the same time isolating the street sounds and the chatter coming from the houses next door. According to the Tree Center, the best choices include thuja green giant, Leyland cypress, Italian cypress, and emerald green thuja. Modern breeding techniques ensure fast growth: some species can grow a stunning 10 feet per year until they reach their full height. Surprisingly enough, privacy trees are more affordable than most types of fences.

Build a Solid Stone Wall


If you have money on your hands and are looking for a more permanent privacy solution for your property, consider building a stone wall. Stone doesn’t have to feel cold and or hostile. As a matter of fact, there are various types of stone available on the market today that can give a vintage and rustic feel or on the contrary – smooth and elegant. You can use anything from concrete blocks and stone-veneer panels to fieldstone. Whatever your choice may be, it can potentially transform your outdoor space. Depending on the size and style of your garden, you can even start a bigger landscape project and make small oases or seating areas within the garden from the same stone material so they match the wall.

Try Lattice for Semi-privacy


If you don’t feel like cutting your backyard off from the rest of the world (be it due to feeling a bit too claustrophobic or simply because you’re striving for a more open concept), the lattice is the perfect compromise. Grow small vines (black-eyed Susan, morning glory and cardinal vine look lovely), or climbing roses to integrate the panels into space better. Generally, lattice panels are not hard to find, they will surely fit into your budget so you can arrange your funds easily to pick lovely plants and enrich the space. If you’re not a big fan of plants, you can leave the wooden panels uncovered or play with texture and color, depending on the look you’re aiming for.

Especially today, in the fast-paced world we live in, we need to spend more time outdoors, in touch with both ourselves and nature. The garden definitely makes a perfect scenery for that: take these tips in mind and you’ll realize privacy is not such a hard-to-reach luxury.

Cyan Designs Murano glass chandelier,

Decorating with Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year

A couple of months ago, I shared Color of the Year picks from paint companies such as Benjamin Moore, Behr and Sherwin-Williams. But the color announcement that really juices up the creative community is the one from the Pantone Color Institute. And this week, it declared that the 2018 Color of the Year will be Ultra Violet.

In a press statement, Pantone’s executive director, Leatrice Eiseman, describes the color in philosophical terms: “We are living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination. It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to Ultra Violet, a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.”

Pretty heady stuff, especially as she adds, “From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come.”

As expected, the choice pleased some and annoyed others. Purple is polarizing. As much as I love color, I don’t use a lot of purple around the house. I don’t mind the color — it’s just very bold and can easily overpower a room. I do have a purple blender in my kitchen; I didn’t realize I was so on trend.

So how can you incorporate Ultra Violet in your own decorating? Here are some tips, along with some fun décor items that will give your home a nice pop of purple.

Ground it in neutrals

T-Fal nonstick cookware set,

Ultra Violet looks fantastic with white, black or gray. This shade of purple can teeter between dramatic and juvenile, and these neutrals push the color to the regal side.

Punctuate with purple

Cobi desk chair,

A little goes a long way with Ultra Violet. Too much of it, and people will think you’re Prince (or Miss Piggy). Use it as an accent color in pillows, throws, frames or area rugs. Avoid an entire room painted in this hue. Instead, use it on an accent wall or alcove for a touch of drama.

Mix with other colors

The boldness of Ultra Violet can be softened when it’s presented with other hues in the same color family. Think mauve, blue or lavender. Pastels such as pink and mint also can make this deep purple more compatible to your decorating scheme.

Spray paint with it

Kitchenaid Artisan stand mixer,

If you have an old décor piece that you’re tired of, say an accent table or framed mirror, spray paint it with some high-gloss purple paint. High-gloss spray paint can turn the most boring item into a glamorous showpiece. And when it’s purple — clutch my pearls!

Try it in a small room

Laural Home decorative pillow,

Bold colors like Ultra Violet work well in small spaces like powder rooms. You get to experience the drama, but you’re not overwhelmed by a lot of square footage devoted to purple. It could turn out to be your favorite room in the house.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow.” You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Easy Ways to Increase Your Home Comfort

You’re certainly familiar with this feeling: you’re at work, it’s a quarter to 5 and you simply can’t wait to get home and loosen up. In the fast-paced era, we live in, having a cozy home is an essential ingredient of keeping a sane mind. However, we all know we cannot relax in every environment. If you’re looking to create a more comfortable ambient within your home, here’s a few things you can take in mind.

Upgrade Your Windows

Windows provide our homes with natural light and isolation, so that the air quality is optimal, as well as the temperature. In addition to comfort, proper windows contribute to the wholesome energy efficiency of the household. While it might seem like an expensive venture, upgrading your windows does not have to cripple your budget. You can turn to weather stripping or caulking to reduce air leakage. Glazing is a cost-efficient technique that reduces noise levels, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of your home. If you don’t know how to fight the dullness of a room that creates an unpleasant, heavy feeling – putting a large window will surely transform it.

Opt for Comfortable and Warm Floors

Picking the right type of floor can mean a lot to the overall feel your interior gives away. From color to type of wood and even print designs – flooring industry has come a long way. Hardwood is a long-lasting flooring solution that’s a frequent choice, specifically because of its luxurious appearance. However, it’s not that comfortable as it doesn’t provide that barefoot soothing feel. Fluffy, soft rugs can be of help here, especially in personal rooms where you tend to rest or be creative. If you’re looking for the ultimate coziness, think about installing floor heating. The heat rises from the floor to the higher levels, creating a lovely, comfy atmosphere you can relax in.

Make the Bed Warmer With Pillows and Blankets

Your bed is probably the center of your relaxation zone, so you should try to make it as warm and soft as possible. Goose feather pillows and cushions are very comfortable and made of cotton, which will certainly soothe your skin. Other cozy options include memory duck feather and foam pillows, as well as those filled with cluster puff fiber. Warm blankets are a must for a heaven-like feeling of being tucked in. Choose different designs to make the room merrier. For the super comfort and a good night’s sleep, ensure your mattress provides the optimal support to your back such as Tuft & Needle mattress that also has a cooling system, so you never toss and turn ever again. A good mattress can mean a difference between a well rest and the constant feeling of discomfort due to fatigue.

Make Your Home Greener With Plants

In addition to cheering up your place and making it warmer, plants are also healthy to have around, especially because of the air quality. Aloe plant is known as one of the best air purifiers and it can also signal if the indoor air is too polluted by showing brown spots. Rubber trees are also beautiful and they manage to survive even with little sunlight, which makes them low-maintenance. Snake plants release oxygen during the night, so you may want to put one in the corner of your bedroom to get more of that nice, fresh air. Philodendron, spider plants, and dracaena are some of other common home plants. Having a private little jungle of your own will make your personal space healthier and cozier.

Our personal spaces serve us as sanctuaries that help us destress and disconnect from the world. A little effort and your home will become an irreplaceable fortress of coziness.

What to Know Before Buying your First Home

Buying a home for the first time is exciting. This big step in life needs thorough preparation. At one given point there are usually many homes in the market. It calls upon you to discuss with your realtor what space and neighborhood you desire to live in, and for what price. Before committing to buy a home, envisage how your life might pan out in the next five years.

Size and location


Between location and size, what is of prime importance to you? You can either choose to buy a small house in your favorite part of the city, or a big house further from the city but at an affordable cost. If you plan on growing your family shortly, then the big home in a suburb might serve you right.



A home is a long-term investment. You don’t want to buy and sell it in less than five years; it is financially unwise. So before buying that new home think again where your career is going to take you. In case you don’t get to live in your home for five years, consider renting out instead of trying to sell it shortly after purchasing.

Do a thorough inspection


A home inspection before purchase helps to unearth the beautiful and the ugly details. You can get the seller to repair the defects you spot during the inspection, but if they don’t do this, you better keep looking to find the right home. You just don’t want to buy a house then undergo extra costs of fixing broken fixtures.

Beat down the price after inspection


Every home has some flaws. You can use what you found during your review to get the further price reduction on the property. This way you can save money to do remodeling and add décor that suits your tastes.



Specific amenities in your community may cause the value of your home to appreciate with time. It is a good investment to buy a house near a school for instance. On the other hand, if your new home is in a district surrounded by expensive mansions, you will cough out more money in property taxes.



How much can you afford to pay every month for your new home? This largely depends on the amount of your income, your assets, savings, and debts. The rule of thumb is this; don’t spend more than 36 percent of your monthly income on a mortgage. Banks might decline you for a mortgage if you have bad credit reports. Credit repair measures like paying your bills on time, maintaining low balances and paying over the bottom line should get you out of the red zone before buying your first home.

Sometimes people use consolidation loans to get another loan. You borrow against your home so that you can use the money to settle other smaller debts so that you just have one loan to service- the house. This is a risky undertaking that might tie your home in an unending debt cycle.

To make the right decision about home buying and get the best deal, first time home buyers need to seek guidance from realtors and mortgage advisors continually.

The author’s childhood home before its recent demolition. Photo courtesy of Rabbi John Rosove

When a childhood home is demolished

Eighty-three years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, my childhood home in West Los Angeles was built.

It was a charming California ranch-style home of no more than 2,100 square feet. According to neighborhood code, every home was set back 100 feet from the street.

When I was growing up, 15 mature trees populated the grounds. In the backyard, there were willow, palm, avocado, guava, kumquat, peach, plum, laurel and lemon. In the front yard grew magnolia, jacaranda, paper birch, oak, pine and maple.

Alas, all are gone now except the maple.

As a kid, I loved climbing the tall oak or magnolia whenever I needed to be alone. I also loved to climb onto our tile roof, trying to be careful not to break the tiles, which I did from time to time.

My parents bought the home in 1949, just before I was born. My brother, Michael, left for college in 1966, and after I left in 1968, my mother sold the property. The family that bought it lived there for the next 49 years until this past year.

Not long ago, it was demolished.

I loved that house. My first memories are from the age of 2. I played baseball with my dad and brother in the backyard. Michael and I dug holes lined with tin cans in the front yard so we could putt golf balls. In the back was a built-in, red-brick distressed barbecue. In the service yard behind the garage we inherited an incinerator from the 1940s and used it until the L.A. City Council banned them in 1957.

My dad played the violin and painted in the sunny lanai, a room he named for his pleasant experiences serving in the Hawaiian Islands during World War II as a physician and officer in the U.S. Navy. Our parents entertained with scotch and martinis before sit-down dinners. They drank their coffee black and hot.

My dad bought Michael and me our first bicycles. Mine was a red, 24-inch Schwinn I called “Betsy.” His was black. We rode the neighborhood with gusto. I walked to the bus stop or the mile through back streets to school from the age of 6 without my parents expressing, to my knowledge, any worry.

Our house doors were never locked. Milk was delivered in bottles and placed in a small niche near the back door. The Good Humor ice cream truck drove our streets in the afternoon. I played outside until dark and came home filthy. I knew my neighborhood like the back of my hand and knew most of the neighbors. Dogs roamed the streets unleashed.

As a little boy, I remember following my dad (whom I called “Daddy” and still do) like a puppy in the backyard, picking up the clippings he pruned. I still remember the smell of wet, cut grass and eucalyptus from the adjacent property. We fed California jays (now called scrub jays) and had names for all of them according to their markings. We collected butterflies.

In 1953, my parents bought our first television set, a 24-inch, black-and-white console. They put it in my dad’s study with his bookshelves, medical journals, desk and two red leather chairs and ottoman, on which my brother and I watched cartoons on weekend mornings, Westerns in the afternoons, “I Love Lucy” when we were sick, the Friday night fights with my dad, “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday nights.

In 1956, I remember the interview with Adlai Stevenson when the camera caught a glimpse of a hole in the bottom of his shoe. I also recall seeing Fidel Castro on “Face the Nation” in 1959 just after the Cuban revolution; John F. Kennedy delivering his 1961 inaugural address; his Cuban missile crisis speech in 1962; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963; the entire weekend after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, including the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald; Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and footage of the fighting during the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Arab neighbors that promised to “push the Jews into the sea.”

I emerged into political and historical consciousness in that house.

On Aug. 10, 1959, my world changed irrevocably. Michael (a year older than me) and I saw our father for the last time that evening as he stood in the doorway of our small bedroom to say goodnight. He hadn’t been feeling well and while we slept, an ambulance came to the house and took him at 2 a.m. to the hospital where he died 23 hours later from his second heart attack. He was only 53 years old.

My brother and I call that house “321,” a reference to its address. It has been our link to our childhoods and father throughout our lives. I visited it from time to time and even knocked on the door 25 years ago and asked to walk through. The owners remembered my family and were gracious. Although it had been owned by others, Michael and I still felt that it belonged to us. I fantasized that maybe either of us would be able and want to buy it this past year when it was put up for sale.

One doesn’t say Kaddish over a house, but its demolition is a death for both of us. As the High Holy Days approach and I ponder the past year that includes the end of my childhood home, I’m left now only with, as Jim Croce poignantly said, “photographs and memories.”

RABBI JOHN ROSOVE is senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Photo by Sara Budisantoso

How to puppy-proof your home

Welcoming a new dog into the family can mean a lot of joy, unconditional love and adorable Instagram posts. But a big part of taking care of your fur baby is keeping the little one safe from harm. You may not realize it, but your home can hold many hidden dangers, so it’s a good idea to be prepared. These 13 precautions apply whether your dog is a mischievous pup or a full-grown adult.

And no matter what happens, just accept that there will be accidents, broken items and pet hair everywhere. When you look into your dog’s loving eyes, you’ll know it’s all worth it.

1. Dogs like to chew on things they’re not supposed to, so place tempting objects on higher shelves and cupboards. My dogs love to eat paper — mail, books, facial tissue, you name it — and I have to survey the entire home before leaving to make sure there is no paper within reach.

2. Install childproof latches on lower cabinets to prevent dogs from poking their noses into them.

3. Chewing on furniture can occur when dogs are bored or anxious. Training can go a long way in preventing this behavior, but in the meantime, you can apply some bitter spray to the furniture. These deterrent sprays are available at pet stores, or you can make your own version by searching for recipes online.

4. Use blankets and throws on sofas and chairs. They’re easier to clean than the furniture.

5. Do some research on your houseplants to see if they are toxic. You’ll be surprised at some of the plants that are poisonous for dogs — for example, ivy, aloe vera, philodendron and asparagus fern.

6. Keep toxic food out of reach. Dogs can’t eat chocolate, onions, grapes, coffee, avocados and many other common foods you have in the kitchen.

7. Childproof lids on medications are no match for a dog’s teeth. Keep all your medicine out of reach because Fido may think pills are treats.

8. If your dog likes to drink out of the toilet, keep the seat cover down at all times and avoid using automatic toilet bowl cleansers. Open toilets also are a drowning hazard for puppies. A safe bet is to keep the bathroom doors closed at all times.

9. Change open trash cans to “step on” canisters with lids to keep dogs from doing scavenger hunts through your garbage.

10. Watch out for electrical cords. If dogs chew on them, they can be electrocuted. Wrap them with cord covers and tuck them out of sight.

11. Dogs love your dirty laundry because it smells like you, but if they swallow your socks or other clothing, it can lead to serious digestive tract problems. Now you have another reason to put away your clothes. And invest in tall hampers with lids instead of using open laundry baskets that sit on the floor.

12. Drapery cords that extend to the floor can cause strangulation. Knot up excess cord so your dog doesn’t accidentally get caught in it.

13. Many dogs scratch at the door when they want to go out. Mine scratch the door when I come home and they can’t contain their excitement. To prevent scratch marks on the door, install a plastic or metal kick plate to the bottom. 

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 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”>

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 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 (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”>

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

Buckle the belts so that the two loops are equal in circumference. When you pull the belts taut, the loops should still be equal in length. Making sure the belts are the same size will keep your shelf level.

2. Screw the belts to the wall

Insert a screw and washer through one of the holes in each belt, and drive the screws into the wall. One screw in each belt is sufficient. They should be spaced far enough apart to allow your shelf to extend approximately 2 inches past each belt. For example, if your shelf is 24 inches long, the belts should hang about 20 inches apart. Be sure the screws are level so the shelf will hang straight. And try to keep the belt buckle facing forward so you can easily adjust the height of the shelf if you desire. (If you plan to place heavy objects on the shelf, you will first need to install wall anchors to support the screws.)

3. Hang the shelf

Slide the shelf between the two belts and your extra storage is ready. You don’t need to screw the shelf to the belts, as the weight of the objects will keep it steady. I bought a plain-wood shelf at Ikea and hammered upholstery nails to the edges for an optional decorative touch. You can also find freestanding shelves of different colors and finishes at home improvement stores. Or you can get creative by using rectangular serving trays, long wooden boxes or even a skateboard.

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

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

For the best results, choose two to four colors for your roses. Dedicate one glass for each color. Fill each glass with water and then add several drops of food coloring. Stir the colored water with a plastic spoon, and keep adding more drops of coloring until the water becomes opaque.

2. Cut the rose stems

Use scissors to cut the rose stems, making the stems all about 10 inches long so the dye will not have far to go to reach the petals. Then, using a hobby knife, slice the stem vertically into segments — so you’ll have one segment for each color (four segments for four colors, and so on). You’ll find this easier if you purchase flowers with thick stems. Your incisions should only cut halfway up the lower part of the stem.

3. Place the stem sections in dye

Place one of your stem sections into each of the glasses of food coloring. Be careful when positioning the stems to fit in the glasses that they don’t snap. You can dye several roses at the same time by tying the upper part of the stems together with a twist tie. The twist tie also keeps the roses upright so they won’t tip over.

4. Be patient

Allow the roses to sit in the dye solution for 24 to 48 hours. Check back occasionally to see the transformation. When your roses are brightly colored, remove them from the glasses of food coloring and display in a vase. Hint: An opaque vase will hide the incisions on the stems.

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

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


Anything with Mason jars


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

If you don’t have an old saucepan collecting dust in your cupboard, look for one in a thrift shop. The saucepan will become the main housing for the bird feeder, which will hold the bowl of birdseed. I used a 1-quart pan.

2. Glue the lid knob to the saucepan

Hold the saucepan so it can hang from its handle. This is the direction the bird feeder will hang. Turn the lid upside down so its underside is facing up, then place it inside the saucepan. Using permanent glue, attach the knob to the inside of the saucepan where the two parts make contact.

3. Tie wooden spoons to the handle

It is helpful for the birds to be able to perch on pieces of wood that extend out from the birdfeeder. In keeping with the cooking theme of the saucepan, two wooden spoons do the trick. First, tie the spoons together at their necks, then tie both together to the handle of the saucepan. The length of the spoons’ handles will rest on the sides of the pan.

4. Hang the bird feeder

Using the metal loop at the end of the saucepan’s handle, hang the birdfeeder from a tree branch. Some saucepans have holes instead of a loop, which work just as well. Either way, thread some twine through the loop or the hole, and then tie the twine to the branch.

5. Place bowl of birdseed in feeder

Rather than pouring birdseed into the upside down lid, fill a small bowl with birdseed and place the bowl onto the lid. This makes it easier to clean and refill the feeder. When purchasing birdseed, be sure to select the variety that caters to the birds in your region. Different types of birds eat different types of seed. If you’re not sure, look for all-purpose wild birdseed that includes an assortment.

6. Glue a burlap flower on the handle (optional)

As a finishing touch, I attached a burlap flower I found at the crafts store to the handle. Besides being ornamental, birds can use pieces of the burlap, which frays easily into individual threads, to build a nest.

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 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. 


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.


  • 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. 


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.


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

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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