Drool-Worthy Backyard Ideas for Your Summer Inspiration

We're just about one month into summer. The weather is warmer and the sun stays out longer. It's the perfect season to enjoy spending ample time outside. So why not make your backyard a dreamy retreat? Here's some of our favorite ideas to help get you started:

1. Sun Shades

Also referred to as sail shades, these giant pieces of fabric are a great, easy way to create a backyard cover without a lot of time or investment. Swedish retail giant Ikea currently has some for $24.99!

You can even enhance the space with some ambiance lighting for longer nights or a mister to keep you cool on those extra hot August days.

2. Patio Furniture

Summer is the time to invest in new patio furniture. From conversation seating, to dining tables, to bistro-style furniture - the options are varied and the styles are practically endless. You can buy furniture as individual pieces, or buy a whole matching set. (Just make sure you also invest in some furniture covers, or have extra storage, to keep them out of the elements in the Fall and Winter.) You can also wait until the end of the season to get some great clearance deals on patio furniture for next year. 

3. Privacy Walls

If you want to hang out on your front porch, but don't want your neighbors to be able to watch you, it might be worth investing in (or DIY building) a privacy wall. The Garden Glove has lots of great DIYs to keep your outdoor living area secluded, as does The Home Depot Blog. These ideas can be transfered to the backyard as well, to create separate areas within the space, or even to hide eye-sores like your HVAC unit.

4. Stone Paver and Pebble Pathways

We've seen this patio trend popping up all over the place! When laying out your pavers to make that path from one area to another, lay them a little further apart than you would think, and fill the gaps in with small pebbles. There are all sorts of beautiful variations on this theme (like using glow-in-the-dark spray on the pebbles). Just scroll through Pinterest. To get you started, check out these helpful DIY tips from The Home Depot.

5. Fire Pits

Fire pits are a classic way to add furniture and activities to your back yard. They offer a communal area to gather and enjoy those long, gorgeous summer nights with friends and family. Fire pits can be in-ground or above ground, DIY-ed or purchased off the shelf, and come in just about any style you can imagine. Just look at these gorgeous modern fire pits in Relocated Living's roundup. Or you can scroll through Wayfair and look at hundreds of different styles.

6. Outdoor Lighting

Adding lighting to your backyard is a great way to extend its use year-round, but especially in the summer. Christmas Lights, etc. has this great tutorial for planning your patio lights. You can incorporate lights in many different ways, such as these paver lights that fit right in with the rest of your pavers.

7. A Pallet Bar

Pallets are being turned into all kinds of furniture and decor. Turning a few pallets into a bar space is a great way to start an outdoor kitchen in a small space. Plus, stick a mini fridge out there, and you don't have to keep running back inside to refresh your guests drink every half hour. You can build your own with pallets, or buy one that suits your style straight from Wayfair.

8. Giant Games

Besides lounging on your new patio furniture, or roasting marshmallows over your new fire pit, you have to have activities ready so when friends come over for a summer BBQ, they won't forget that you've got the coolest backyard in town. Giant games are growing more and more popular. This is another one that can be DIY-ed or purchased. Little House of Four has a great collection of DIY games, or you can get them already made from places like Home Depot.


What are you doing with your backyard this summer. We want to hear your ideas!


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DIY Storage Closet Organization for Under $150

American financial journalist and author Jean Chatzky said,

Every minute you spend looking through clutter, wondering where you put this or that, being unable to focus because you’re not organized costs you: time you could have spent with family or friends, time you could have been productive around the house, time you could have been making money.

She's absolutely right. A cluttered space is a cluttered mind is a cluttered life.

We've been extremely busy here at the office lately. (Noted especially by the fact that this is my first blog post since December 28th.) When work (or life) gets busy, it's vital to have an organized environment to keep things running smoothly. In an effort to continue to organize the office more efficiently, last week, I tackled the storage closet.

The storage closet in its pre-organization state.

The storage closet in its pre-organization state.

Now, the storage closet wasn't in awful condition. Everything was mostly grouped by item type, and nothing was overflowing out of the closet. But it was in a state where we didn't know what we had and didn't have because office supplies weren't easy to find. For example, a couple months ago, I ordered envelope openers because we thought we didn't have any. Not including the extras that I ordered (because apparently they came in a two-pack and I can't read so I ordered two two-packs), we had two envelope openers already. But I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't gone through the entire left-hand side of the shelf they were on.

The main culprit: the daily-use office supplies.

The main culprit: the daily-use office supplies.

STEP 1: EMPTY THE SPACE

In order to really see what we had in that closet (a 96" tall, 67" wide space), I first pulled out everything from the closet.

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I tried to pile everything in one area, but our poor little conference room got overwhelmed, and multiple piles in multiple spaces started to spawn. Here's a bit of a look at what was in the closet:

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STEP 2: VISIT THE STORAGE GODS

I spent some time on the Container Store website, browsing all the goodies they had to offer. After taking some measurements of the closet space and coming up with a fairly solid plan of how I wanted to go about organizing the closet, I hopped in the car and drove the only Oregon Container Store at Bridgeport Village (where I was helped by the mom of one of my good friends from high school - small world, much?).

(Okay, so this actually happened before anything else, but since we're going in order of taking things out of and putting things back into the closet, so we'll keep it as step two.)

(Okay, so this actually happened before anything else, but since we're going in order of taking things out of and putting things back into the closet, so we'll keep it as step two.)

Yes, I bought a shoe shelf - it was the only long shelf and I wanted something that would cover at least half the shelf space. I know I could have just bought two of the smaller ones that are marketing specifically for the office, but it was the same price for one of these as it was for two of those, and it was one less thing I had to try and wrestle out to my car and back into the office.

Yes, I bought a shoe shelf - it was the only long shelf and I wanted something that would cover at least half the shelf space. I know I could have just bought two of the smaller ones that are marketing specifically for the office, but it was the same price for one of these as it was for two of those, and it was one less thing I had to try and wrestle out to my car and back into the office.

. . . six Mini Stackable Storage Bins, two Silver Mesh CD Bins, and two Small Silver Mesh Stackable Storage Bins. Plus, I already six filing shelves, a three-drawer storage container, and a small assortment of various medium and large plastic storage bins that had been sitting in the closet just begging to be used.

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STEP 3: START GROUPING

After taking off all of the packing and tags from my Container Store goodies and setting them up, I began going through my large piles of stuff that had come out of the closet, sorting it into general categories: electronics & tech, paper goods, office supplies, and marketing.

I then started putting all of the electronics and tech away. Because we don't often get into this closet for the tech stuff, it all got stored in places that were not front-and-center real estate: the bottom corner of the closet, the corner of the shelf right above, and the very top right-hand shelf (which you can't see in any of these pictures because it sits above the exterior trim opening of the closet doors and I have to maneuver my body in complicated ways while standing on a ladder to even reach it to put stuff on it).

The paper goods are what we go into the closet for most - things like folders, labels, actual paper, notebooks, and the like - so they scored the most prime real estate. Before organizing the closet, they had all been thrown together in a few different locations, but they weren't sorted by type or use, so I made sure to put all of the envelopes together, all of the folders together, all of the files together, the colored paper, the labels, etc.

The office supplies are generally small items, so in order to keep them from going everywhere, about half of the storage containers I purchased were for them, plus some of the storage containers I already had. This area was more a matter of keeping things sorted with like-items and putting them away in such a way that they wouldn't explode all over the closet again.

And finally, the marketing items (things like plastic stands for business cards and informational brochures) got put on the highest left-hand shelf, also not visible in these pictures, because we use it so rarely

Et voilà, the finished product:

Sooo much better. Looking at this makes my heart happy.

Sooo much better. Looking at this makes my heart happy.

All in all, including my trip to the Container Store, I spent just under $150 and about 4.5 hours on this project, and it made a significant impact on the space and the office in general. My boss loves it, and we now know exactly where everything is and don't have to waste time searching through the closet to find what we are looking for

What about you - What spaces have you organized recently? How did you go about the process? What were the results?

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9 Ways to Amp Up Your Bathroom

Take your bathroom to the next level with these great ideas:

1. Shower Faucets

Arguably one of the most important features of the bathroom, the shower faucet(s) plays a big role in your day-to-day life, whether you realize it or not. 

As evidenced in the photo above, multiple shower heads, facing multiple directions, is become more and more popular, bringing that luxurious hotel spa feeling home with you. If you're not ready to go full on with your shower heads, a great way to slowly work your way there is switching your shower head out for a rainfall one.

This is the Delta Metal Raincan Shower Head (shown in their signature stainless finish), available at The Home Depot for $304.90. It's considered a low-flow shower head, saving you up to 60% the water usage of a non-low-flow shower head. Just because it's low-flow doesn't mean you should worry about the water pressure - capable of up to 80 psi, you're still getting enough pressure to make sure your shampoo actually rinses out and doesn't take forever to do so.

Delta also offers the HydroRain® 5-Setting Two-in-One Shower Head as well as the H2Okinetic® Pendant Raincan Shower Head, two more rainfall-style shower heads to help you relax and rejuvinate. 

 

2. Multiple Tiles

Tile is a staple in the bathroom, especially in the shower itself. But tile can get boring. So why not change things up a bit by throwing in a second (or even third) kind of tile. Just look at this gorgeous update featured on Decoholic.

There are infinitely more things to love about this bathroom than just the tile, but it is a great example of using multiple kinds of tile in one space and have it really work. Using tiles that are all in the same color palette (black and white) and in geometric styles is what makes these tiles fit so well together.

 

3. Recessed Caddies

Recessed caddies are the perfect way to create in-shower storage space and not actually take away any of your valuable shower space. They are also a great way to incorporate multiple tiles (per suggestion #2).

This one, featured on the Better Homes & Gardens website, is a great example of using multiple kinds of tile and complementary colors to really make the space pop. For more great recessed caddy inspiration, check out our Pinterest board. The best part? They aren't limited to the shower - you can put them anywhere.

 

4. A Clean Toilet

This is the American Standard Clean ActiVate Touchless Flush Right Height Elongated Toilet, a part of the Clean Collection that features easy-to-clean sides, unlike normal toilets that show you outlines of the piping.

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We've talked about some of the benefits of this particular toilet before, but we didn't even cover how great the "Clean" style is. Look at the sides of the toilet - no outlines of pipes, making it infinitely easier to clean! Plus, this model has a motion-activated flush, so you don't have to worry about spreading germs.

 

5. Clever Storage

Smart use of space when it comes to bathroom storage is what keeps your bathroom looking in tip-top shape rather than cluttered and ignored. Consider creative cabinetry your new best friend. 

These pull outs are both excellent ideas, and a quick search of "bathroom storage solutions" on Pinterest yields endless more. Stop neglecting your bathroom's organizational needs and start enjoying your space again.

 

6. Lighting Through Windows

Properly lighting your bathroom is vital for ensuring ease of use at any time of day. No one wants to do their hair and makeup in the dark. One great way to get that extra lighting is with windows, and not just any windows - skylight windows in the shower. 

Placing the windows in the ceiling is a great way to get the light you want while still keeping the privacy important to a bathroom. You can opt for obscured glass for extra privacy without losing any great natural light.

 

7. Heated Flooring

Something I've long thought of as the ultimate in bathroom luxury, heating flooring is more affordable and accessible than ever before. Installing electric radiant heated flooring does require a bit more forethought, as is doesn't work as well with some kinds of flooring as others. It works best with tile flooring, and less great with coverings like hardwood and carpet. Just think about how wonderful it will feel to step out of a hot shower on a cold winter's day onto heated flooring. Mmmmm. Yes, please.

 

8. The Curb-less Shower

Besides being a fantastic idea for anyone who plans to age-in-place, curb-less showers offer a lot of great benefits, not to mention the their design aesthetics.

Curb-less showers are super easy to clean, and they actually make your bathroom space look larger because, by eliminating the curb, the shower becomes less of a fixture placed into the space and more a bonafide part of the space. And surprisingly, curb-less showers keep water from going everywhere more than a standard shower or tub/shower because the floor underneath the curb-less shower gets sloped toward the drain to prevent water spillage and run-off. Plus, they're just so darn visually appealing - just look at all these beautiful designs!

 

9. Statement WallS

I'm a fan of the statement wall no matter the room (of course, you wouldn't want one in every room), so when I saw that statement walls in bathrooms were starting to become popular, I latched on right away!

You can put it in the shower with some gorgeous tile or behind the toilet with some fabulous wallpaper, and the best part is, they look fantastic in bathrooms big and small. Whether you are using wallpaper or tile, or even a dramatic paint color, you can't go wrong with a statement wall. Or, you could really get ahead of the curve and go for a statement floor.

 

The average person will spend over 2 years of their life in the bathroom, so why not make it an enjoyable two years? For more bathroom inspiration, click here.


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Design Ideas to Steal from Tiny Homes

In a world where stuff is the hot commodity, space matters. And how space is used really matters. This is why I love the tiny home trend. Not only are these pint-sized houses absolutely adorable, but they are so smart. Here’s why:

WELL-THOUGHT OUT DESIGN & MULTI-FUNCTIONAL SPACES

Because tiny homes are so small, everything about them has to be carefully thought through and purposefully planned. No space can go wasted. The Tiny House has this great list of 30 questions to ask yourself when planning your tiny home. Walk-throughs of the space before it's a reality are common. Every home should be this well-thought out.

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Stairs become both storage and art pieces:

Nooks and crannies become precious real estate and every bit of coveted real estate is used to its fullest (and space-maximizing) potential. I don't know about you, but I'm all for the minimization of wasted space.

LESS IS MORE

According to Living Big in a Tiny House, the average house size in America has almost doubled since the 1970s, while the average household has gone down in size. We have more space and less people to share it with so detaching from those we live with and love has become easier. But do we really need all that space? Not really, or at least, not all of it.

One of the biggest draws of tiny homes are how they force you to have less stuff because you don't have room for it - and tiny house owners say they don't miss having that stuff. How much of what you own sits in storage boxes waiting to be dusted off and appreciated? Can you even park in your garage? 19th century textile designer William Morris is quoted as saying, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." If only we really lived like this. Elle Decor recently released an article entitled 'Where You Hide Your Clutter Says A Lot About Your Personality.' Most of us aspire to not have clutter to hide. Wouldn't it be great if that were the case?

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
— William Morris

Because tiny homes are just that, tiny, there's only room for what you really need. They also cost less and require less maintenance, making them a great budget saving option. Or, because they are so small, you can go all out and get those higher-end finishes you have been drooling over because you don't need to fill up as much space, saving you money. Another great thing about tiny homes is how you can easily make smaller spaces look and feel bigger than they actually are, which goes back to the idea of well-thought out design. Just look at this kitchen:

Tiny homes also require less power to heat up or cool down because they have less space, cutting your power bills down. Living Big in a Tiny House lists many other ways less is more with a tiny house here.

COHESIVITY

Another perk of less space is how much easier it makes it to have a cohesive look and color scheme running throughout the house. For example, this Minnesotan tiny home that's outside matches the style of it's inside:

Tiny homes ooze cohesivity, something that many larger homes lack. Experts recommend having one color scheme that runs throughout your entire home. Not only does this make your home look significantly more put together, but it also makes it easier to shop for and rearrange furniture and decor throughout the home. Just ask Amy of Modern Chemistry at Home. Here are 105 more tiny homes to look at and admire their use of theme.

HOW YOU LIVE, NOT WHAT YOU HAVE

Perhaps the best part about tiny homes is the emphasis on how you live, rather that where you live and what you have. Because tiny homes are so well planned and offer a significant "less is more" strategy, it means you can finally take your mind off of your home and focus on those who live in it. There's an element of living in such close proximity with (an) other(s) that forces you to learn how to work well together. The fact that there's not a lot of space will push you to go outside more, something that is better for your health and overall well-being. 

 

Whether you plan to downsize to 400 square feet or not, these are principles that can be transferred to any home, no matter the size. For more information, check out these resources: Architecture & Design's 31 Tiny House Hacks to Maximize Your Space; Mother Nature Network's Big Perks of Living Small infographic; and, of course, the ever-loved Pinterest.


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Choosing the Right Countertop Material for Your Lifestyle

There is an abundance of countertop materials to choose from when renovating your kitchen - marble, quartz, quartzite, soapstone, butcher block, concrete, granite, limestone, laminate, recycled glass, stainless steel, terrazzo, ceramic tile, and even paper composite. But which material is right for you and your lifestyle?

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular materials:

MARBLE

Pros: The look (obviously); marble is as classy as it gets; it's mostly heat durable; and it's timeless so you maintenance aside, you won't want to change it.

Cons: Marble is a porous surface so it will absorb liquids and stain and etch, meaning it needs to be resealed every year or two. It gets nicked, cut, and scratched easily. Plus it's the one of the most expensive materials you can pick for your countertops.

If you watch home improvement shows at all, you've probably heard the phrase "carrara marble" thrown around a lot. Carrara marble is a variety of marble that is one of the highest qualities of marble, and it comes in the typical white and blue-gray color people picture when they think of marble. Marble is absolutely beautiful, but it is also extremely expensive. If you are going for a kitchen that is luxurious, timeless, and more show-than-tell, marble might be the right countertop for you.

QUARTZ

Pros: Quartz is the man-made version of marble, so you get the beauty of the real stuff, combined with great engineering that has gotten rid of the flaws, making quartz stain, scratch, head, acid, and impact resistant. It's also a non-porous surface, so you don't ever have to reseal it - you gotta love low maintenance.

Cons: Like the real thing, quartz can get chipped, particularly on the corners and edges, and the repair work requires a professional.

We here at Square Deal Construction Company love quartz. We always include it as an option in our kitchen remodel estimates because we think it's so great! If you like the look of marble, but you have a budget and you actually use your kitchen on a daily basis, quartz is probably the countertop for you. To see what your kitchen would look like with quartz, check out Cambria's online app DragonVision, or if you have iOS, you can use the Cambria AR app.

GRANITE

Pros: Granite comes in a huge variety of color options and variations, and it can be polished (shiny) or honed (matte). Once it's been sealed, granite is non-porous so it's easy to clean. It's also mostly resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.

Cons: Needs to be sealed! Seriously, granite absorbs absolutely everything if it's not professionally and properly sealed, and periodically resealed. Another con is how easy it is for the corners to get chipped.

Because they are anything but man-made, granite countertops are one-of-a-kind. If you don't mind a little more maintenance for your counters, and you are possibly interested in more rare colors, granite just might be what you're looking for. You can see what different granite colors look like in a kitchen with the Keystone Kitchen Visualizer.

CONCRETE

Pros: Because concrete is so sturdy, it's almost completely stain, heat, and water resistant, as long as it's been properly sealed. It's also super easy to customize - everything from the thickness to the edges to the color to the finish can be customized.

Cons: Concrete will patina (darken in color) over time and it does require periodic maintenance such as resealing to keep it in tip top shape.

If you're going for a more unique, very stylized aesthetic in your kitchen, concrete might be just the countertop you need.

RECYCLED GLASS

Curava  Recycled Glass Surfaces from  Keystone Granite

Curava Recycled Glass Surfaces from Keystone Granite

Pros: Recycled glass countertops are super unique and fun. They have large pieces of glass to significantly more finely ground pieces. It's also mostly resistant to cuts, scratches, and heat, although that varies by manufacturer.

Cons: The two biggest cons for recycled glass surfaces is that they can stain and how wide a cost range there is.

If you want a more colorful, eco-friendly kitchen, recycled glass is a good way to go, although you should definitely do more research into which manufacturers are better.

BUTCHER BLOCK

Pros: Butcher block brings some often much-needed warmth and character to a kitchen, and it is a great way to have multi-use surfaces. They are also extremely sanitary when they've been properly sealed. 

Cons: Butcher block needs to be sealed and oiled regularly to stay in good condition. It's not a great material to put around a sink because of how wet the sink area usually is, but it's a good option for a counter space near the oven or as an island top. The wood is also susceptible to scratches and dents, just like a regular cutting board.

If you like a more natural look, and you need multi-functional space, you should consider adding some butcher block to your kitchen.

 

You can find more information on countertop materials at these locations: Studio McGee's rundown of countertop surfaces pros and cons; Consumer Reports "Best Countertops for Busy Kitchens" report; Stock Cabinet Express's comparison of granite versus quartz; the Countertop Preview consumer toolbox Countertop Comparison Chart; Jenna Burger's helpful rundown of materials; Zillow's guide; and Lindsay Stephenson's revisit of quartz countertops.


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