April 2009

How we live now

Feature by
April 2009

How we live now

Feature by
April 2009

How we live now

Feature by
Share this Article:

With the economy on everyone’s mind, do-it-yourself projects are more popular than ever this spring. Even if you don’t know a C-clamp from a screwdriver, this new lineup offers a bevy of home improvement projects—from fixing faucets to whole-house overhauls—sure to inspire your “can do” spirit.

Norma Vally, the vivacious, confident host of Discovery Home Channel’s “Toolbelt Diva,” who demonstrates that femininity and fixing things go together beautifully, has two new books: Norma Vally’s Bathroom Fix-Ups  and Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-Ups. They come with bonus DVDs for live-action instruction, and are aimed at female DIYers, but Vally’s step-by-step approach and clear, explanatory photos will be welcomed by anyone tackling a fix-up for the first time. Both books address scores of projects “that increase in degree of difficulty—simple to moderate to advanced—with the last part stepping outside how-to and into design.” Even if you aren’t ready to take on installing new cabinets or recessed lighting, think of the savings if you could just unclog your own sink or patch your own drywall! Vally prepares you for each project first, asking you to consider various options. She tells you what to have on hand, what to shut off, what obstacles you might encounter and how to bypass them, and what prep work is necessary before you start. Then she walks you through each step of the project, providing complementing photos or illustrations for extra clarity. Pair with a tool belt for a great DIYer gift!

Do it in tile
While Vally’s books show how to install new tile or replace a cracked one, for a fully indulgent treatment of this versatile, durable material, Jen Renzi’s The Art of Tile (Clarkson Potter, $40, 320 pages, ISBN 9780307406910) is a must-have trove of information—and a feast for the eyes—with its catalog of more than 1,500 full-color tile choices. Renzi, a former senior editor at House & Garden and Interior Design, beckons you to “marvel at the breadth of materials at your disposal—from cement and concrete to cork and other eco-friendly options,” and to discover the versatility of a material like metal. On the practical side, Renzi also offers words for the wise, “cautionary tales, and helpful hints for achieving a beautiful installation.” From traditional uses around showers and sinks, to large-scale wall murals, to the concept of designing an entire home around tile, Renzi takes you through all the considerations involved: color, size, pattern, texture, function, and of course, resilience and beauty. She even takes you through the shopping process and codes her catalog so you can find the manufacturer or supplier of each tile shown.

Think small
Libby Langdon, from HGTV’s hit show “Small Space, Big Style,” has a book that’s perfect for apartment dwellers or owners of small homes. Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions offers her suggestions for, in the words of her subtitle, “making any room look elegant and feel spacious on any budget” and includes more than 300 color photos, floor layouts, before and after shots, and Langdon’s design “tricks of the trade.” After an overview chapter on “The Nitty-Gritty of Design,” Langdon devotes a chapter to solving space dilemmas in each room of a house (there’s even one on hallways) where she shows how limited size doesn’t have to mean limited effect.

Forget “matchy-matchy,” Langdon says, and instead “use contrast in your space.” A furnished room will appear larger than an empty one, so “keep this in mind when you’re moving into a new space or looking to rent/buy a space,” she advises. And also contrary to what you might think, Langdon explains how a large piece of artwork can make a small room feel bigger. “If your artwork is light, paint the wall dark,” and vice versa, she suggests. The contrast will make the art “pop off the wall” for a striking, eye-catching effect. As this book proves: little things do mean a lot!

In keeping with the growing trend toward smaller, more manageable homes (and payments), Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live by small-house expert Sarah Susanka, shows dozens of ways to re-imagine space without changing or enlarging a home’s footprint. In fact, a “build better, not bigger” advocate, Susanka considers even a small addition a last-resort option; every possible idea is considered before even a bump-out is suggested. While economy is important, Susanka also gives high regard to the environment, function and beauty that add to a home’s sustainability and desirability. “Something that is beautiful tends to be well cared for by all its owners over time,” and will simply be “more appealing to all future residents,” she writes. With 350 full-color photos, 40 drawings and tempting sub-headings like “double-duty dining,” “where to put the TV?” and “study at the top of the stairs,” this book will quickly have you sketching out the rooms in your own home to test your creativity and flair for maximizing the space you have.

Take it outside
No matter what size home you have, you can stretch your living area by taking advantage of its outdoor space. Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide by Bridget Biscotti Bradley is a lavish book with 400 sumptuous, inviting photos of outdoor and semi-outdoor backyard and landscaping ideas for relaxed living. Fire pits, courtyards, pools, ponds, patios and more—there’s a wide array of options for moving the fun outdoors—Bradley even offers advice for creating a regulation bocce court. She also demonstrates the importance of light and heat to a space and touches on other backyard topics such as pets, outdoor furniture, sheds and arbors and trellises. This book comes with a 3D Interactive Landscape Design DVD so you can create your own backyard and patio designs, then view them in 3D photographic realism from any angle. Whether you are dreaming of an outdoor spa, a play area for the kids, a quiet garden for contemplation or an intimate dining and entertaining spot, flipping through these pages will encourage you to spring into action on your project so you can start enjoying it this summer. Family and friends you invite over for a swim or a meal will certainly be glad you did!

That Mrs. Meyer really cleans up
Once you’ve rejuvenated your living space into a picture-perfect comfort zone, the challenge becomes keeping it that way. Enter Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home: No Nonsense Advice that Will Inspire You to Clean Like the Dickens, full of practical, expert advice on how to keep your lived-in home looking lovely. Millions are already familiar with Mrs. Meyer from the line of Earth-gentle cleaning products developed by her daughter, and this book embodies that naturalistic philosophy. The mother of nine (now-grown) children, Thelma Meyer has distilled more than 50 years of old-fashioned know-how into one highly relevant green guide to eco-friendly house-and-its-environs-keeping. She promotes good-for-you cleaning solutions (baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar) and explains how to get sparkling results without harsh chemicals. 
Always thrifty, Meyer offers “Waste Not, Want Not” sidebars with money-saving ideas, such as making “Muskoe” (must-go) out of leftovers, installing an inexpensive low-flow shower head, and when it’s time to clean the fish tank, using the outgoing water on your plants—“it’s great for fertilizing.” For jobs large and small, from getting gum out of the carpet to gunk out of the gutters, Meyer divulges her dynamo tactics for tackling tasks inside and out. Her easy-to-understand instructions on everything from canning tomatoes to cleaning a computer keyboard promote a lifestyle characterized by efficiency, self-sufficiency and economy. The family anecdotes she shares along the way lend a tender touch, a reminder that all this effort has a purpose higher than passing some white-glove test; it’s to make our dwellings habitable and hospitable, our homes into havens: organized, pleasant places to live, love, learn and grow.

Linda Stankard is a Realtor in Rockland County, New York.

Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-Ups
By Norma Vally

ISBN 9780470251560

Norma Vally’s Bathroom Fix-Ups
By Norma Vally

ISBN 9780470251577

Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions
By Libby Langdon
Knack Books

ISBN 9781599214245

Not So Big Remodeling
By Sarah Susanka

ISBN 9781561588275

Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide
By Bridget Biscotti Bradley

ISBN 9780376013484

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home
By Thelma Meyer
Wellness Central

ISBN 9780446544597

Review By

Get the Books

Get a custom reading list from BookPage!

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Recent Features