TIME advice

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Dining Room More Enjoyable

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Dining room furniture 101

Do you have a dining room or dining area that you just, well, don’t use? There could be some specific reasons why you’re not using your own space. If you want to, you could make sure your area has one (or more) of these five elements in it — you might find yourself dining in and enjoying the space more.


A small nook or space isn’t necessary to enjoy a good meal, but if you want a space that will beckon you for all meals and keep you staying there, you want to aim for a level of intimacy in your dining area. Great news if you live in a small space and the area you’re carving out for dining is already snug. But if you live in a loft or an open floor plan you just want to include elements that will tie the dining area to itself and enclose it slightly: a rug to define the area, a light fixture that adds warm light low near the action, a plant or two to help enclose the space.

Visual stimulation

Though one might argue that the food and the people should be the main show of a dining room, you (and your guests) probably aren’t going to want to hang out too long in a room with blank walls and a boring feel. And you might not ever make your way over to using your dining or breakfast area if there’s just nothing there to look at, smell, feel or experience. It doesn’t have to be a room so full of elements you can’t fit in there, but be sure your dining area has its own look and feel, and isn’t just a design after thought.

Comfortable seating

This is just dining room furniture buying 101: Make sure you can sit in your seating for long periods of time, or else you might always choose your living room couch for dinner time instead of your dining room.

Good lighting

Natural lighting is certainly preferable in many rooms, but might not be possible given your floor plan. In that case you want to supplement your dining area’s light level with good, warm lighting illuminating faces and food. You can do overhead hanging pendants if you’ve got the inclination, but sconces and floor lamps and candles in various combinations can do the trick, as well.

Location in place you’ll actually use

This is perhaps the hardest — but most influential — element to pin down of all. If you want to have a dining area that you use and enjoy, you want to work with your natural inclinations. If you prefer tucking away to your breakfast bar or nook to finish dinner rather than a formal dining room, put your design efforts there for more memorable meals. If you actually enjoy and prefer the feel of your sofa as you dine, consider creating a living area that can pull double-duty as a dining area. The point is to enhance the space you have and that you want to use, not try and force yourself into a change that just doesn’t fit your lifestyle.

This article originally appeared on Apartment Therapy

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MONEY real estate

Four Moves That Will Make Your House a Great Place to Retire

Q: I want to remain in my current home when I retire. What can I do to make sure it is a place where I can age well?

A: If your home is where your heart is, then you have lots of company: Three-quarters of people 45 and up surveyed by AARP say they’ll remain in their current residences as long as they can.

Adapting your home to accommodate your needs as you age takes work, however. So the earlier you start, the better. Do it now, while you have the income and energy to tackle the project, advises Amy Levner, manager of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative. Here’s your plan of action:

Start with the easy fixes. Many of the upgrades that make it easier to stay in your home as you get older—such as raising electrical outlets to make them more accessible, installing better outdoor lighting, and trading in turning doorknobs for lever handles—aren’t expensive. “And these small changes can make a big difference,” says Levner. Check out AARP’s room-by-room guide at aarp.org/livable-communities for more suggestions of what to fix.

Assess the bigger jobs. To make your house livable for the long, long run, consider investing in some more extensive renovations. These include things like bringing the master suite and laundry room to the first floor to avoid stairs, adding a step-in shower, and covering entranceways to prevent falls. Such jobs can be costly (see chart below), so get a bid from a contractor—then determine if it’s worth that price to you to stay or whether you’ll just move later if need be. The good news is that changes you make for aging in place can also make the home more appealing to future buyers, says Linda Broadbent, a real estate agent in Charlottesville, Va.

Notes: Prices for grab bars, door handles, and lights are per unit. Sources: AARP, National Association of Home Builders, AgeInPlace.org, Remodeling magazine

Budget for outsourcing. No getting around the upkeep a house requires. Sure, when you’re retired, you’ll have more time to mow the lawn and paint the fence. But don’t forget that you may be away from home for periods traveling or visiting the grandkids. And later on, you probably don’t want the physical drudgery of home maintenance. Research the fees to hire out some of the tougher tasks such as snow removal and yard work, and build those costs into your retirement income needs.

Deepen community connections. Your close-by social network is just as important as the house itself. “Living in a place where people know you and can help you or provide social interaction will give you a better quality of life,” says Emily Saltz, CEO of geriatriccare-management service provider Life Care Advocates. Use these pre-retirement years to strengthen local ties—explore volunteer opportunities, check out classes, and get to know your neighbors.

Maintaining a social circle is especially important if your kids live far away or have demanding jobs. Good friends will shuttle you to doctors’ appointments and hold the ladder while you change the fire-detector battery, as well as help you up your tennis game.


TIME United Kingdom

This London Homeowner Came Up With a Genius Way of Taking Revenge on Her Neighbors

And the neighbors are seeing red. Lots of it

One disgruntled Londoner has come up with a diabolical way of taking revenge on neighbors who opposed redevelopment works on her multimillion-dollar townhouse. She’s turned it into a garish local eyesore by painting it red and white.

The candy-striped three-story house can be found on a quiet street in Kensington, one of London’s wealthiest districts, reports the Guardian.

The owner gave her house the makeover after neighbors objected to plans to demolish the building and replace it with a five-story home, including a two-story basement.

Neighbors are appalled with the paint job, calling it “hideous” and “an eyesore.”

“I don’t think it belongs here. It kind of glows in the evening. It’s fluorescent. And the half-finished stripe is driving me mad,” 19-year-old Saskia Moyle, who lives across the road from the house, told the Guardian.

Maybe they’ll let her demolish it after all.

[The Guardian]

MONEY Ask the Expert

Home Improvements That Add the Most Value

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I’m hoping to sell my house in the spring, and I’m told the place could use some freshening before I put it on the market. I don’t have the budget to fix everything, so which are the best projects to invest in if I want to get some of that money back when I sell?

A: The good news is that after years of sluggish performance, in many places the housing market has started picking up steam again. But that doesn’t mean you can expect every home improvement project to increase your home value when it comes time to sell. Remodeling magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value report shows that, on average, home improvements paid back 62% of their costs at resale in 2014. That’s up from a low of 58% in 2011, but still well below the 87% paybacks of 2005.

Each year, the magazine surveys contractors about the costs for a host of common projects and asks Realtors to estimate how much each of those projects adds to a house. You can’t exactly take the results to the bank, because there are a host of other factors that will affect your payback, from how badly your house needs the work to how common such updates are in your neighborhood. Still, the numbers are handy to keep in mind if you’re investing in a project and also think you may sell within a few years.

Here’s how the 2014 return on investment looked for some major remodeling projects across the country. As you can see, curb appeal goes a long way, ditto cosmetic upgrades of kitchens and baths. For a regional breakdown to see how much these projects would add in your area, check out the full report.


Project Cost ROI
Siding Replacement (upscale fiber cement) $14,014 84.3%
Deck Addition (midrange wood) $10,048 80.5%
Minor kitchen remodel (midrange) $19,226 79.3%
Window Replacement (midrange vinyl) $11,198 72.9%
Finish basement (midrange) $65,442 72.8%
Window Replacement (upscale wood) $17,422 71.9%
Bathroom Remodel (midrange) $16,724 70%
Major Kitchen Remodel (midrange) $56,768 67.8%
Add a two-car garage (midrange) $52,382 64.8%
Family Room Addition (midrange) $84,201 64.1%
Bathroom Remodel (upscale) $54,115 59.8%
Major Kitchen Remodel (upscale) $113,097 59%
Master suite addition (upscale) $236,363 53.7%

Source: 2015 Cost vs. Value Report

TIME animals

This Man Turned His Home Into a Purr-fect Playground for Cats

He calls it the House of Nekko, meaning cat in Japanese

A builder from Goleta, Calif., has spent the past two decades converting his house into a kitty playground.

Peter Cohen spent tens of thousands of dollars building an elaborate home filled with colorful catwalks, hideouts, ramps and tunnels for his 15 rescue cats, the Huffington Post reports.

“I never intended to have so many,” he told the website Catster in an interview last year. “It is way too expensive and a tad too much work.”

Despite the expense, Cohen and his roommate are happy that they’ve built a safe and fun, and also very bright, feline haven.

“They give us unconditional love, and building the catwalks is one way of expressing my gratitude for that,” he said.

[Huffington Post]

MONEY home improvement

What Are Some Easy Fixes That Can Boost My Home’s Value?

HGTV's Scott McGillivray shares his tips for simple renovations that will make your home more attractive to a buyer.

MONEY home improvement

What Your Contractor Really Means When He Says…

Speaking with contractor
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Understanding these common contractor phrases can minimize hassle and save you big bucks.

Home improvement contractors talk a good game—sometimes without saying what they actually mean. So until someone invents an app for translating contractor-ese into plain English, here’s a handy cheat sheet of the hidden meaning behind several common contractor words and phrases that every homeowner should understand. (If you have other examples to share, please send them to realestate@moneymail.com.)

When He Says: “I” or “We”
He Really Means: My crew. I don’t actually do the work myself. I spend my time bidding future jobs, organizing them, and sailing my boat.
What You Should Say: “Who will be doing the work, you or someone who works for you?” Unless he says it’ll be him, ask if he will be there at the start of every day to direct the crew, especially if it’s a complex improvement project like a full-house renovation or addition that involves numerous tradesmen. If he says yes, hold him to that promise. If he says no, hire someone else.

When He Says: “If I were you, I’d skip the permit and save some money.”
He Really Means: It’s a heck of a lot easier for me if you don’t get a permit, because I can disregard building codes, skip a lot of paperwork and inspection appointments, and dollars to donuts, nobody will ever even confirm whether I have a contractor’s license. So, I’m going to play up the permit fees and red tape, both of which are actually minimal.
What You Should Say: “Thanks, but I’d rather pay now than pay later.” Getting the proper permits assures that you won’t have problems when you try to sell the house later on, a situation that can arise if you do certain improvement projects without getting a certificate of occupancy, the town’s final approval on a project that has been fully permitted and inspected.

When He Says: “No problem. We can do that instead.”
He Really Means: I am happy to adjust the project as we go, but I will definitely be charging you for any change you make to the original plans I priced out for you. I’m not mentioning that now because I don’t want to discourage you from making this or other changes, because repricing the job is a hassle I’d rather put off until later, and because in the unlikely case I underestimated some other part of your job, I can make up that cost in the price of the changes if I wait to give them to you at the end.
What You Should Say: “Great, but before we make that change, could you jot down a quick description of the new work and what it’s going to cost me?” If the contractor doesn’t want to execute a formal change order, a simple handwritten notation on the back of the contract will do the trick. Then you can both initial it, and there will be no confusion about what the contractor is doing or what you’re paying.

When He Says: “Hi, I just did a driveway [or insert other job here] in the neighborhood and have a load of leftover asphalt on my truck I need to get rid of, so I will give you a sweet deal to do your driveway today.”
He Really Means: Hi, I’m an unreliable and unprofessional contractor you’ve never met before—or I might even be an out-and-out scam artist—and I’m trying to entice you into making a bad decision with the promise of a big discount. I know that you’d never normally hire a contractor without getting recommendations and doing your due diligence, but I’m hoping to catch you off guard with my surprise approach, winning smile, and promise of huge savings. When you discover my work is shoddy, you’ll also realize you have no idea who I am or where to find me.
What You Should Say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”


$539 Created This Reading Nook

A budget renovation transformed this odd space into a cozy retreat.

In a blank space, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Just ask Vel Baricuatro-Criste and her husband, Gerson Criste. After having a contractor add a windowed egress dormer in an over-the-garage room for their teenage son, they were left with an odd, unfinished nook. Vel saw it as an opportunity to create a quiet reading alcove as part of an overall update of the bedroom.

What They Did
She painted both spaces white with an accent rail of bold navy stripes to create a cohesive look. To keep things cozy underfoot, Gerson installed striped carpet tiles over the nook’s plywood subfloor. Then he built a storage bench from prepainted cabinets, using stock lumber to fill in gaps at the back and sides and painting the exposed sides white so that they blend in. Vel made a seat for the bench by stapling fabric-topped foam to sheet pine that her husband had cut to size. Gerson installed floating shelves to display some of their son’s books; the rest tuck neatly away in the storage bench. Sconces flank the window seat, and a flush-mount fixture hangs overhead, providing plenty of light for nighttime reading. Now the nook is her 13-year-old’s favorite place to unwind. “He has a whole room to hang out in, but whenever he has friends over, they’re always in that space,” says Vel. “They love it!”

The Project Tally
• Painted the room white with navy stripes $109

• Finished the floor with carpet tiles found at a big-box store $98

• Created a bench from laundry cabinets and stock lumber $110


For the full tally, see the original story at This Old House.

MONEY home improvement

Tackle These Projects Before Selling Your Home (And After Buying)

Home improvement projects that pay off for buyers and sellers, according to Porch.com.

That outdated powder room you never bothered to fix up? Well, that’s not going to fly with potential buyers. So it makes sense that general contractors were the most popular project home sellers took on before listing their home, according to a new report from home improvement firm Porch.

What if you just moved in? You were far more likely to hire a painter.

Whether they’re buying or selling, many homeowners turn to home improvement projects to boost property value or enhance curb appeal. Porch’s analysis of more than half a million projects by region show that many popular projects go hand-in-hand with practical considerations such as repairs and home inspections.

For sellers: The most popular home improvement hires are general contractors and handymen, followed by electricians, plumbers, and roofing professionals. The reason is simple: to avoid any issues during home inspections.

Top Projects Sellers“Have a professional remodeler walk around the house with you inside and out,” Paul Sullivan, chair of National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers, recommended. It will “make the process much smoother.”

The work appears to pay off. Contractors provide, on average, 68% return on investment, according to Porch.

One surprise, Porch said: Not many sellers said they were hiring painters. A fresh coat of paint returns close to 100% of the money spent in boosted value, its report said. Sullivan cited one home in a Boston suburb which sold for $60,000 over the asking price within four days, which was “absolutely” due to improved presentation.

Sellers often wonder if they should make the investment in improvements solely to sell, says Tom O’Grady, of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. They might be comfortable accepting a lower selling price rather than risk not getting their money back in the form of a higher sale price.Top Projects Buyers

Painting is one of the first things buyers tackle after moving in. That brings an average return on investment of 152%, Porch says. Other top projects included installation of new appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators, roof repair, and home inspections.

Larger endeavors like renovating kitchens and bathrooms are common, Sullivan added, but both he and O’Grady advised against making drastic, costly changes immediately after moving in.

Instead, O’Grady said, small enhancements like crown molding, new tiles, and better light fixtures can dramatically change a room, making it more comfortable for new owners until it’s financially feasible to do a complete renovation.

“Live in the house for a month or two and get a feel for the place,” Sullivan said. “When you’ve lived in a house for 10 years, you know its shortcomings. But when it’s a new house, you only think you know.”

TIME Television

The House Shows Boom: How the Real Estate Market Is Reflected on TV

American Dream Builders - Season 1
Vivian Zink / NBC Nate Berkus, center, on 'American Dream Builders'

Nate Berkus says that we watch housing shows because we want to live better — and it looks like he's onto something

Nate Berkus knows a lot about houses. The celebrity designer, who got his start with Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement and now makes news with his personal life, has spent years renovating and redecorating homes for TV-viewers’ pleasure. The latest evidence of his know-how is his role as host of the NBC home-improvement competition American Dream Builders, which has its first season finale on May 25.

But Berkus’ knowledge isn’t just limited to the houses themselves. During a recent conversation about the appeal of home-improvement shows, he told TIME that he has a theory about why they’re so popular. “No matter who we are, no matter how much money we have or don’t have, no matter where we are in the world, everybody wants to live better,” he said. “When we watch shows that inspire us to make changes in our own homes, when we see how other people live, I think that’s a really powerful message.”

Berkus added that he saw home design on TV for the first time with TLC’s Trading Spaces, which debuted in 2000, a one-time behemoth in the genre and the show that helped make decorating cool by supplementing the staider fare that has held court on public television for years (This Old House, Hometime). In the years since, he’s come to believe that viewers are looking for “inspiration” and really do want to change their lives, that even if viewers are not exactly going to replicate the projects at home they’re still interested in fixing their real-life living spaces.

But how much do such shows really correspond with what viewers are likely to be doing with their homes?

It turns out, Berkus may be onto something. If you compare the number of home shows on air during a given calendar year to real-world housing statistics, including housing starts, sales of existing homes and foreclosure filings, the numbers seem to follow a pattern. (Especially if you ignore shows on networks like HGTV and DIY, where they have to fill up their schedules pretty exclusively with home-improvement shows; on a network like TLC, the presence of home shows is more of a choice.) Here’s what we found:

Shortly after Trading Spaces took off, there was a burst in house-related shows, peaking around 2005 with a television schedule that included Trading Spaces, While You Were Out, Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls, Monster House, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, This Old House, Moving Up, Hometime, Flip That House, Flip This House, Sell This House and Property Ladder. Shortly after, the number of such shows declined. It’s worth noting that 2005 was right around when January housing starts and existing-home sales were way up.

On the other hand, 2010, when nearly as many housing shows were on air, was right after both housing starts and home sales hit a low and foreclosure filings hit a high. As the housing market has begun to recover from that bubble, the number of home-related shows has also increased, though not to the extent that was seen before the bubble.

Housing shows today aren’t the same as they once were. When Trading Spaces started, the genre was about redecorating and making the most of the space you lived in; the past decade has seen the growth of shows that are about improving houses in order to sell them rather than live in them.

It’s impossible to say whether there’s any causal relationship between the housing market and housing shows — some factors, like the celebrity of a person like Berkus, have little to do with stuff like mortgage data — but some of the relationships seem pretty obvious. For example, foreclosed homes are a big draw for house flippers who intend to buy cheap, fix up and sell for more; accordingly, the huge jump in foreclosure filings around 2006–2008 matches the jump in flipping shows around 2007, when more fodder for those shows was available. (Another possible explanation: more people having a harder time selling their homes means more people interested in watching homes be sold successfully on screen).

And again, while there’s no way to prove a causal link, the correlation may indicate good news for homes on- and off-screen. Though 2014’s crop of home shows so far remains below pre-bubble levels, those looking for hopeful signs may be able to find them on TV — and not only with Nate Berkus.

Though Berkus has made his fame in the renovation and redesign business, Jeff Lewis, who is behind a slew of Bravo shows, launched his first series, Flipping Out, right in the middle of the housing crisis, as foreclosure numbers climbed. A more recent edition to his oeuvre, however, deviates from the formula: during Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis, which debuted as sales and construction climbed, the houses are renovated rather than flipped. His clients live in them, invest money in them, and plan to keep living there after. And that’s apparently what audiences want to see: the show’s second-season finale, which aired in September, drew its highest ratings yet.

On desktop, roll over this graphic to get a closer look; on mobile, click to zoom.

Heather Jones for TIME

Methodology: We looked at housing shows on network television, PBS, A&E, Bravo, TLC and Discovery; all show data is according to IMDb’s records, by calendar year rather than television season, in order to better mesh with non-television data. This does mean that one season of a fall-spring show will fall in two calendar years; one season of a summer show falls in one year. It also means that the 2014 show count, which looks low, is actually only half complete. Housing starts information is for the month of January in each year, per ForecastChart.com. Existing home sales information is for the month of January in each year, per Mortgage News Daily. Foreclosure filings information, not represented on the chart above but discussed in the text, is for the entire year, per RealtyTrac. RealtyTrac data for aggregate yearly foreclosure filings prior to 2005 was not available.

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