Birds do it… .

I spend an enormous amount of time pondering, researching, and implementing methods to make the buildings that we occupy beautiful and beneficial. It’s been my passion and the work of my adult life. Everyone wants to live and work in beautiful spaces, though to many it feels like an enormous challenge that’s not worth the effort. So I’m always thrilled when I find research that proves the power of nature, even if it’s not for humans, but our feathered friends. It is worth it and even small things make a difference.

Recently I came across an article describing how birds build their nests out of beneficial materials. These specifically selected natural materials boost growth and survival rates while they ward off pests and diseases. Starlings use aromatic plants, such as yarrow, whose substances build up the chicks’ immune systems while lowering their bacteria. Eagles use insect repelling plants, such as pine boughs, to build their nests, which lessen parasites and increase the number of eagles that fledge.

A starling gathering nesting materials. Photo © hedera.baltica / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

A starling gathering nesting materials. Photo © hedera.baltica / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

Now back to us humans! It certainly correlates that if we build our own nests homes out of beneficial natural materials, wouldn’t we be healthier? And as one of the lucky creatures able to feel joy, wouldn’t we be happier as well? To that goal, I give you my top 3 beauties with benefits that will clean your air, reduce toxins, balance humidity, and they’re pretty.

1…It is worth repeating! Start with plants, just one, then one in every room! Most of us aren’t planning to build a new home from scratch or undertake major remodeling. But all of us can afford a living, breathing, green plant. The psychological benefits of them directly connecting us to nature are undisputed. And all this is done while they filter the air. In fact, NASA did a study to determine which plants do the best job of removing indoor air pollutants in confined spaces, like say, a space station. Here’s a photographic summary of the plants NASA studied. There is a plant for every person on the planet, regardless of gardening ability or time. Click to choose yours from my top 5 easy to grow plants.

Blatant self promotion of my partner business, Global Gardens!

Blatant self promotion of my partner business, Global Gardens!

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2…It’s summer here in Michigan though that shouldn’t keep us away from wool. The structure of wool fibers is remarkable. Because of its insulating kinky fibers that trap air, wool feels cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That crazy quirky fiber also moderates moisture and balances the humidity of a space. It cleans the air by absorbing contaminants and binding them, forever, within its structure so you’ll never know they were there. And, yes, there’s more, it’s easy to clean because its scaly structure doesn’t allow soil and grime to penetrate!

Canopy wool rug by Angela Adams...swoon!

Canopy wool rug by Angela Adams…swoon!

white space3…Clay paint naturally cleans the air. It balances the overload of equipment (you know tablets, phones, TVs, laptops) through negative ions, just like those that are abundant in nature.  Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., states that “negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy. They may also protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation.”  Oh, and the static resistance of clay paint reduces the build-up of dust and allergens. Hmmmm, less house cleaning?

An artist’s studio enveloped in rich clay paint and designed by me!

white spaceWhen you’re making choices for your own nest, follow our feathered friends and go with nature. After all, birds do it…      For more beauties with benefits, follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

Happy Earth Day!

In honor of your tireless efforts to protect and nurture our shared home, today I’ll take you outside through my photos. Some of these are my favorites and others are most favored by you readers and followers. These represent the reasons that I do what I do. Thanks for joining me.

alluvial fan in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alluvial fan at Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Michigan woodland chandeliers

Nature’s chandeliers in my Michigan woodland

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Alaska summer

Summer in Denali National Park

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pileated woodpecker pair

Pileated woodpeckers in my Michigan woodland.

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ImaginEco newborn fawn

Fresh fawn on the steps outside my Michigan woodland home.

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ImaginEco May apple blossom

May apples in my Michigan woodland.

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cardinal and deer

And one of your most favored photos, woodland pals on a spring day.

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Happy Earth Day to each of you. Keep up the good work. Now reward yourself and get outside! Be sure to follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

The Real Cost of Home Improvement

Last week a gentleman called me to inquire about my design services for a home remodeling project he was planning. After discussing his needs and how I could help him make the project a reality, I asked if he could share his budget. I can tell you that it was terribly unrealistic, and unfortunately, this is often the case. Before you get in over your head or find out you can’t achieve all of your goals, let’s get down to business to find ways to help you establish realistic budgets for your home improvement projects.

The wealth of information available on design is a double-edged sword. Frankly, the projects you see on TV are often the stuff of fiction, low-cost and faster than humanly possible. I’d love to be able to source their materials at those costs and build out a project in three days, but that’s just not the real world. Online design magazines and bloggers create exquisite transformations with the click of a mouse. Yes, you can buy new pillows and lamps and feel the effect of these changes immediately. Yet the truth of these design matters is that the most successful and satisfying renovation projects require enormous amounts of planning, thousands of decisions, and a team of professionals whose experience will guide you through the known and even the unknowns that always pop up in renovations.

ImaginEco family kitchen dining remodel (1)-crop

Just a few of the 1000s of decisions that are made on a project!

START BY HIRING A PROFESSIONAL    A licensed architect, accredited interior designer, or licensed builder can assist you with cost ranges for your project scope, be it an addition or remodeling your kitchen or bath. Invest in a consultation with one of these professionals to see if you’re on the right path for your budget and expectations. If you decide to move forward, keep the design pro on board to save you time, money, and headaches. Design pros provide expertise in solutions and materials that usually exceed your expectations. And they present options of which you may not have been aware. Instead of spending weeks wondering if that wall is load-bearing or selecting a faucet or door knobs or grout, yes, all those fun things, your design pro will present a few options to which you can say, yes, yes, and thank you very much!

ESTABLISH AND STICK TO YOUR BUDGET    You must have a budget…period.  It’s the same as buying a car. You wouldn’t go to the car dealer without knowing what you want to spend and what you can afford. When my clients don’t have a budget, I present potential project budget numbers (for example, kitchen remodels average around $20,000 but the sky’s the limit) until I reach the number where they become uncomfortable. I call this their fall-on-the-floor number which allows us to discuss and pinpoint a realistic number that will build the project and to which they’re comfortable making a commitment to spend and proceed.

Throughout the design and build-out, you must stick to this number, the most difficult part of any project. In renovations, typically at least 10% of the project budget is set aside for unknown conditions that will be found and must be handled. So if your project budget is $50,000, at least $5,000 will be set aside for these unexpected conditions.

Wanting the best of every thing is a common trait. Select the best products that fit your current budget and provide the aesthetics, maintenance, and durability that suit your family. I want a Viking stove too and maybe some day I’ll have one! Also, avoid scope creep. It’s not a scary person but it’s just as frightening. Remodeling your bath may not mean you have the funds to remodel the kitchen too. Upgrading every item by $100 can add up very quickly.  Another benefit of working with a design pro is that they will assist you in this, including anticipating areas of work that may be outside of the project scope but will require work. For example, an open kitchen remodel will likely require fresh paint and perhaps flooring throughout the open area, not just in the kitchen.

Also consider the costs you’ll incur indirectly. For example, will you be able to stay in your home during the construction? Or will you have to pay for a short-term rental or hotel? If you’re remodeling the kitchen you may need to plan to dine out frequently.

ADDITIONAL COST INFO RESOURCES    Your location is an influential factor in material and labor costs. Costs in Michigan are not the same as in Alaska due to local labor rates and material availability. Here in Michigan, our contractors who rode out the 2008 financial crisis are busier than they’ve been in years, so planning your project early is key as well. If you’re doing the work or creating a budget yourself, enlist your local shops for flooring, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, and window cost quotes.  There are thousands of online and print remodeling budget resources for you to peruse as you plan your project. Here are a few to get you started.

National Association of Home Builders has resources and will connect you to your local chapter.

Remodeling.net provides the average cost for 30 popular remodeling projects across the US and specifically by your broad geographic region.

HomeAdvisor.com provides average costs for remodeling projects across the US and specifically by your city.

RSMeans.com is in-depth dependable cost data that is locally relevant, accurate and up-to-date, typically used by pros only but is available online.

I’d love to hear your design project stories and your questions are always welcome. What are your home design projects for 2016? Be sure to follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

Design Predictions for a New Year 2016

The New Year is here and while many like to look back, I look forward to the possibilities that lie ahead. It’s truly the best time to be alive, despite all the turmoil outside our doors and around every corner. There has never been more opportunity to achieve health, wealth, and happiness. Empowering our lives at home is the first step to become inherently happy and spread that basic need-fulfillment to others in our neighborhood and beyond. After all, we all share the basic desire for a comforting roof over our heads, food on our table, family and friends with whom to share, and health.

You know I don’t follow trends and I always say design for yourself…if you love it, then it must be right. On that note at the end of this post, I won’t be able to resist saying “buh bye” to a few things of which I’ve seen enough, or too much!

SIMPLIFY   More and more of us are evaluating our possessions and dreaming of downsizing, as is apparent in the popularity of tiny homes.  Yet mainstream culture continues to say that more stuff is the key to happiness. But we all know that new things bring a temporary satisfaction that’s often quickly replaced by guilt and emptiness.  While a home filled with only the items that you truly love is enlightening.

living room Victor Fretyan

Luxurious in light, volume, texture, and style, this minimally furnished room has it all.

This is not a fad! Clearing clutter and enlarging your room-to-live in the process is never going out of style and works for everyone, yes, everyone. There are a billion methods and books and guides to assist you. I suggest you implement tools that allow you to do this effectively and without panic. Taking on too much at one time will likely end in less than satisfying results and self-degradation. I personally try to stay on top of these things regularly and have found that a thorough room-by-room cleanse is the way to start. I’ll admit I have areas in my home that I’m still working to keep clear….junk drawer and receipts. Otherwise, I follow the take care of it immediately rule. This has become a very popular book for maintaining an organized home. I’ve used its methods on my junk drawer and it’s working!

NATURAL CONNECTION We’re all aware of the remarkable effects that proximity to nature has on our overall physical and spiritual well-being. Humans have an innate desire to be in contact with the outside world. After all, we’ve only recently, around 12,000 BCE, built structures for housing, compared to our million+ years of history as the humans we are now.  Erich Fromm, a German psychologist, coined the term “biophilia” to describe our urge to affiliate with other forms of life.

As we spend more and more time indoors, bringing nature inside is more important, and easier, than ever to fill that basic human need for intimacy with the outside world! Key elements that are the foundation for exquisite, empowered spaces are fresh air, light, texture, organic materials, color, and movement. These elements and others are easy to enlist to bring you the comforting benefits of nature. Find out how here.

ImaginEco air light texture

Ah, Mom Nature is ever inspiring…a few of my own photos representing air, light, texture, organic materials, color, and movement.

Adding natural touches is easy and affordable. Plants add color and clean the air and there’s a plant for every level of gardening ability. In the kitchen replace plastic utensils and containers with wood, stainless, and glass. Natural fragrances are right in your pantry waiting to be simmered in water on your stove. Cinnamon, orange, and clove are a magic combination. Natural materials for your floors, walls, counters, etc. provide an unsurpassed level of luxury and comfort through their appearance, their feel, and the added bonus of durability, low-maintenance, and even being anti-bacterial and air-cleaning. Check out my Beauties with Benefits to learn more.

Clay paint paired with wood and sparkly mica are natural beauties.

GET MOVING    An important and often overlooked element in our modern streamlined homes is movement. Imagine you’re outside and seated by a still pond. Even there you may feel a slight breeze, hear the clatter as squirrels race up a tree, witness a branch dipping under the weight of a tiny bird, and wish for a cloud to reveal the sun. For us to feel true comfort on a deep cellular and biological level, beyond that of just feeling warm and fed and happy with our wall color choice, our homes need movement in the play of light and shadow and contrast of scale and texture.

A sterile sleek neutral environment lacking in these natural attributes can actually cause anxiety. These spaces feel awkward, cold, and uninviting as they’re lacking anything naturally relatable. By adding layers of lighting, indirect, direct, and ambient, we begin to mimic nature’s depth, light, and shadow in our interiors. Wild spaces are composed of towering trees, billowing grasses, and delicate wildflowers. Combine large, small, and mid-size furnishings, always functional and beloved, to shape instinctively balanced and grounded spaces where we want to relax or entertain or care for our families. Texture is another necessary element for a home that inspires. Imagine you’re surrounded by only shiny hard surfaces. No matter the color it feels cold and awkward. Now add rich texture in warm wood floors, velvety cork walls, and thick cable knit fabrics. That cold room just became inviting and comforting!

Natural cork wallcovering with a splash of copper provides velvety texture, warmth, and subtle drama.

COLOR    This is the year to leave behind your color fears. Nature’s colors range from chilly whites to blazing hot reds. And even in the Arctic, there’s an amazing range of color. It is unnatural for us to be surrounded by a lifeless color scheme. And remember those bland all-white spaces actually make us tense. Start with pops of color as dramatic changes can be daunting. Color changes the entire mood of a space and we’re not often ready for the powerful effects color can bring.  Allow yourself plenty of time to truly acclimate to the positive effect of color change. Inspiration and how to get started are here.

Nature’s color palettes never disappoint!

The exterior of our homes deserves color love too. When I’m out and about, I’m always shocked to see endless beige and grey neighborhoods. Especially where I live in west Michigan, where right now we could certainly use some color outside. Yet in places where it’s generally warm and sunny, there’s no shortage of color on the outside of buildings. If exterior work is on your list, consider adding color, if only just a splash on your front door.

BUH BYE!    Let me repeat, if you love it, it’s perfect.  Trends don’t matter as long as you’re happy, in fact, avoid trends at all costs. Your home should reflect your personality, not be just like your neighbors home. And last but certainly not least, a few things that I won’t miss if I don’t see them again. All beige homes with black roofs. Front doors that are hidden by ancient shrubbery. Chevron…Window valances…best left to grand estates with 20 foot high ceilings and ornate detailing. Accent walls…demand all the attention in a room and usually create an imbalance.

In this New Year, I wish for you nature outside your window and shelter that inspires. What are you home design goals for 2016? Be sure to follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

Not to be missed fall home tips!

Ah, fall is officially here in Michigan and right on cue there’s a chill in the air. While the sun is still shining, let’s get ready for the upcoming cold. Check these off of your home care list and stay warm and dry this winter.

First call your HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) contractor to check and tune up your furnace, heat pump, or boiler for the heating season ahead. It’s a minimal cost that will prevent you from being caught in the cold with your furnace down. You can find a contractor to perform this work here. You’ll save time, money, and headaches by having the equipment tested for optimal performance and the prevention of carbon monoxide leaks.

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Make the most of the heating in your home by insuring your ceiling fan is turning the proper way. When the heat is on, your ceiling fan blades should rotate clockwise. This keeps the warm air circulating and not resting near the ceiling. Change the blade direction by flipping the switch located on the fan housing, where the blades rest.  

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It’s time to check the seal around your windows and doors. Sealing gaps can save you 10-15% on your energy bills. That’s money in your pocket and a warmer, cozier home!  On your home’s exterior, use silicone caulk to fill in gaps between window and door frames and siding.  Add weather stripping around doors to eliminate gaps. Old windows that can’t be replaced?  Check the glazing compound that holds the glass in place and seals the window and replace as necessary.  On the inside of your home, use rope caulk to eliminate gaps between window sashes and frames. Add foam gaskets around exterior wall outlet plates. Heck, even those silly door snakes can keep out cold drafts.

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Save time, money, and headaches by preventing ice dams on your home this year by taking these 5 steps.  Find detailed information here.

1. Seal     2. Insulate    3. Ventilate    4. Aerate   5. Pressurize

ice dams

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Save up to 20% on your heating and cooling costs by installing a programmable thermostat. The Nest makes your life easy in so many ways. It learns how you live and the temperatures you like. You can set it with your phone when you’re away and it even monitors extreme temps or furnace trouble and alerts you via phone.

nest t stat

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Check your roof for loose or missing shingles. Repair and replace as necessary.

Check your siding for peeling paint. Scrape, prime, and repaint to maintain the protective paint film.

Inspect your fireplace chimney, flue, and firebox.

After the leaves have fallen, clean your gutters. Inspect the joints and tighten loose brackets.

Remove window air conditioners and store. Clean and cover ground units.

Share this with your friends, check these items off of your list, then get outside and enjoy the fall colors. Be sure to follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

Warm up your Home without Breaking the Bank

It’s bitter cold here in Michigan now and I’m using all my tricks to stay warm in my home and home office. Of course, I want to save time, money, and the planet as much as you do. And I’m not going to take on any projects that require I work outside.  Try my tips that work every time and keep you inside!  Many of them cost nothing and the initial cost of others can be quickly repaid in energy savings and personal comfort.  Let’s start with no-cost and work up!

Switch your ceiling fan blades to rotate clockwise. This pushes warm air down to where you can enjoy it. Keep the fan on low so that it’s moving the warm air down without creating a nor’easter!

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Close the door on rooms that you rarely use. I do this in my own home. I close the guest room register nearly all of the way and keep the door shut. Our mechanical room door is left open just enough for the cat to access her litter box. Reduce your overall heating load by decreasing the area that requires heat, and maybe bump the temp up just a notch!

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Carlos Delgado ArchitectKeep heat vents and radiators clear. Allow the heat to flow freely by moving furniture and draperies away from the heat source. For forced air floor registers, purchase inexpensive air deflectors from your local hardware store. They redirect heated air that’s headed for the ceiling in to the room.  Install radiator deflectors to reflect heat in to your spaces and away from walls.

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Install outlet insulators on the switches and power outlets of exterior walls. These pre-cut foam gaskets are available at all home improvement centers. And they’re super inexpensive. They have made a big difference in my home, though they don’t seal the devices completely. Add the baby-proof outlet covers to fill unused outlets.

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Add weather stripping at leaky doors and windows. Weather stripping is an inexpensive way to greatly reduce air infiltration. It cannot compete with a well insulated building envelope with highly efficient windows, though the reality is that budget and weather may prohibit perfecting every building. Easy, affordable, and effective solutions increase your comfort, save money, and energy. In other words, every little bit helps! Check out this helpful guide on the best weather stripping types and where to use them.white space

Hoya bellaOur personal comfort is based on temperature and humidity, and many other factors that we’ll discuss in other posts!  In the winter, when the heat is on, moisture levels are reduced to a point of discomfort. Even when you have a humidifier on your furnace, as I do, and it can’t seem to keep up.  Adding plants to every room naturally increases our comfort by significantly increasing the relative humidity in rooms. Plus, plants are lush and lovely, they clean the air, and reduce dust!  Click here for my list of easy to grow plants.

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Pebbles rug by Piodao Group

Take the chill off bare floors by adding rugs, and wool rugs are fabulous for so many reasons. Because of the naturally insulating qualities of the fibers, wool feels toasty warm in the winter. It feels cool in the summer, if you can think that far ahead!  Wool fibers also clean the air and reduce allergens. On top of that they’re naturally stain resistant.

Tell me your secrets for staying warm in your home.  Share with your friends to keep them cozy, then follow my blog and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise

Holiday Magic That You Won’t Find In A Store

A cookie decorating party at my home…

Once again, we’re in the delightful yet overwhelming season of giving. The pressure of finding that perfect gift is enormous and can easily drain the joy out of the holiday moments that pass by so quickly. The results are stress, exhaustion, and frankly a drain on our planet and wallets that leaves us feeling empty and disappointed.  Also, there’s guilt in not truly appreciating the well-meaning gifts of stuff that now line our shelves or require our time to brave the stores to return. And more often than not, it’s stuff we never needed or desired.

Supporting local artisans and craftspeople whose lives are improved by purchasing their products is an important aspect of holiday giving.  And gift lists and wish lists ensure that if you must buy a product, it’s something your friend or family member really wants to add to their life. Random impulse purchases based on spending a certain amount of cash or the irresistible last minute deal will always fall short of creating holiday magic.

This year let’s indulge in memorable experiences, instead of stuff that gets shoved to the back of the closet, then secretly given as a birthday gift to a sure-to-find-out friend, or donated to charity. And these experiences typically lighten the load of producing, distributing, and transporting stuff we likely don’t want or need.  So skip the mall and give these stress-reducing, easy to implement ideas a try. They’ve worked for me and generally support local businesses, keeping dollars in your community. Time spent with friends and family is the best gift you can ever give!

  • take a friend to lunch, take your mom to a movie, take your sis to a play
  • give gift certificates or tickets to a movie, restaurant, massage, manicure or pedicure, facial, golf lesson, cooking class, yoga, museum, garden center…
  • spend an afternoon with friends making soup or cookies and sharing the goodies
  • call friends on your card list instead of sending a card in the mail
  • donate to a charity that’s close to your friend’s heart, in your friend’s name.

Yesterday, my mom, sister, niece, and great niece spent an afternoon at my house. We shared lunch and then hung the final personal ornaments on my Christmas tree. Of course, while listening to traditional Christmas carols.  With four generations together, it’s a day I hope they’ll all remember as fondly as I will.  Frankly, these priceless memories won’t be found in a store!

I’d love to hear your holiday traditions and creative gifts.  I wish you holiday joy every day.

Imagine the possibilities,

Denise