Making a Greenery Wreath for Christmas

Monday, November 26, 2012
If your home is for sale, a holiday wreath is one terrific way to boost your curb appeal. In fact, a wreath on the front door is pretty much a necessity if you want to get buyers curious about what's behind "door number one." 

Make your own evergreen wreath, and you’ll save money, create one that’s unique, and have some fun.

What’s the secret to turning out a beautiful wreath that doesn't look homemade? Actually, there are three secrets.

One: Fullness Matters

A novice makes a skimpy wreath. A professional makes a lush one. A full base of greenery is more important than what decorates it. If you aren’t able to gather or purchase all the greenery, you can buy a plain evergreen wreath as a start.

Two: Embellishments Count

For a professional-looking wreath, choose striking ornaments. Choose ones with color or shine, ones that tell a story or make people smile, ones that might even be…how can I say this…gaudy. They need to be dramatic to stand out. No wallflowers if you want some noticeable curb appeal.

Three: The Focal Point's the Thing

A wreath isn’t finished until it has a singular statement piece. It’s usually the bow, but it can also be a super-sized ornament like a doll or other figurine like a feathery angel or a sparkly snowman. It could be an over-the-top silk flower arrangement, a printed banner, or a vintage toy. Without the focal point, the greenery wreath is nothing special.

When your home is for sale, your wreath can be part of your selling team. Have it emphasize what’s unique to your home. It might capitalize on what’s special about your town or your part of the country. It might reflect the carefully chosen color scheme you’ve decorated your exterior or interior with. It might mimic the style of your home, such as classy traditional, hip mid century modern, charming cottage, or edgy urban.

Your wreath makings can be simple or an assortment. Just make sure there's enough to
pack it tight. If your wreath will be seen from both sides, you'll need enough to make it round.  

Start with the Base

My favorite wreath form is the straw wreath. Besides being the most economical (Have you seen the prices of foam wreaths lately?), it’s easy to work with, versatile, and sturdy – a great start for creating the full look. I wrapped the entire wreath form in florist’s tape because I didn't want any straw showing.

Did you know that as you apply florists tape, you need to stretch it to about twice it length? Stretching activates the wax that makes it sticky. Just stretch as you go, and place where you want it.

Whether you have a collection of various greens or a stash of one variety, get it all together and discard or trim damaged foliage. If you plan to use your wreath indoors, you can prolong its life by soaking the foliage stems in water overnight after cutting them.

Ideally, you’ll have free or low cost sources for the base of the wreath, possibly trimmings from your yard or from a fresh Christmas tree you buy. Along with traditional coniferous greenery like juniper, pine, and false cypress (hemlock and spruce will shed), I like to mix in shrubbery and broadleaved evergreens like boxwood, mountain laurel, pittosporum, nandina, English ivy, holly, magnolia leaves, eucalyptus, or whatever else I can collect.

The first cluster gets wired on. I used 26 gauge wire. Alternate your
 clusters of greenery so that the entire form is covered, including the sides. 
Use medium gauge wire or heavy twine to attach greens to the wreath form. To start, wrap it once around the wreath and secure it. Then, cluster a handful of greens, lay it on the wreath with one hand, and wrap the wire over the stems and around the wreath two to three times with the other hand.

Continue all around the wreath form, staggering the clusters of green so that one cluster hides the stems of the previous cluster. I prefer using wire because it’s easier to keep it tight, and that’s important as you continue around the wreath form. When you’ve come full circle, twist the wire or tie the twine, and make a loop for hanging.

Make a wire or twine loop at the top of your wreath. If you are unsure of where you want
the top,  you can save this step for later, but it's easier to add it earlier than later. 
If the greens look crooked or untidy, you can trim stray greenery with scissors or pruners. A common mistake beginners make is to have a shaggy wreath, but I like a bit of that loose look.

Pick in Your Ornaments

Ornamentation is either wired on, picked in, or glued onto a wreath. When the wreath base is made of wire, you’ll need to wire the ornaments onto it. On a foam or straw base, you’ll either glue on or pick in the ornaments. Picking lets you put ornaments exactly where you want them so they will stay there until you take them off. Glued ornaments aren’t easily removable.

If you’re on a budget, use thrifted, recycled or natural items for ornaments. After-Christmas sales are an ideal time to score on some wreath-making ornaments for next December. If free, natural objects like nuts, shells, seed heads, twigs, and pinecones look too ordinary, give them a hit of silver or gold spray paint.  

Here’s how to make a pick, the way a floral designer showed me, the “load and lock” way.

This is how a pick should be fastened to make it wiggle-free,
with a wire that loops back between the stem and the pick. 

Picks come in different sizes. Lay the pick large enough to accommodate your cluster next to the stems.  Make one turn around the stems with the wire that’s attached to the pick. Then, make a figure eight of the wire between the stems and the pick. Keep the wire tight, and continue to wrap it around the stems and the pick. This figure eight locks the cluster so it stays in place instead of swiveling or going nutsy on you when you add it to the wreath.  

Add the Star of the Show

Craft stores and craft departments are full of items to put that all-important exclamation point on your wreath. If there is one place I’ll splurge a little, it’s on the one statement ornament. But you'd be surprised how some spray glitter or spray snow on a thrift store find can deliver glam results!  
Rather than a bow, I chose an ornament from
my stash to be the centerpiece of this wreath.
The pewter bells on a silk cord are designed
to announce visitors arriving! 

If a multiple-loop bow is your focal point, I have five tips for making it a winner: Use wired ribbon, don’t skimp the number of loops (10 on each side of the center is about right), use florists wire to tie the center, keep it tight in the center, and fluff it up!

If you want a more romantic bow, here is a tutorial from Diane at In My Own Style.

If you want a simple, tied bow that stays straight instead of going all crooked on you, Kristi at Addicted 2 Decorating can show you how.

Some of my tips for wreath making don’t apply to novelty wreaths. If you’re crafting a wreath of felt flowers or buttons or pine cones, you may not need a focal point.

If you’re building on a wire or foam wreath, you might tie ornaments on with lengths of florist wire or chenille ties instead of wooden picks. 

If you’re making a wreath of coffee filters or rags or feathers or driftwood, the wreath itself is the statement and whatever you add to it depends on personal style.

But if you’re turning out a wintry evergreen wreath, my tips will help you make it look polished and complete. 

Whether your Open House is to lure buyers for your home on the market, or to share holiday cookies with your neighbors, or host your annual New Years Day bash, a wreath on the front door welcomes in style whoever knocks on your door. If you make it yourself, you can make it special.

And to help you lure those buyers, download my $4.99 ebook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar, for tips and tricks the pros use to stage homes that sell.

7 Steps to a Gorgeous Fireplace Mantel

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas and fireplace mantels are a tight twosome. With or without the traditional hung stockings, you can make your mantel the nostalgic and charming focal point of the room.

Because nostalgia and charm resonate with home buyers.  

Here’s what I did to dress for the season a  driftwood mantel on a rugged stone fireplace that needs to be the focal point of this family room. 

1.  Start with an Idea

Your idea might be a particular color scheme or a specific topic.

When it comes to colors and style, at holiday time you have an excuse to go glitzy or dramatic.

For example, metallics and saturated colors that you might normally avoid while staging your home, are perfect for holiday décor.

On the other hand, monotone color schemes and minimalistic styling can be smashingly elegant. It’s one way to simplify your life, because putting decorations up at the start of the season takes time, and then taking them down and storing them away takes time again in January. Keep it simple.

For this mantel I decided to concentrate on traditional reds and greens for my color theme. My topic theme was nature, because this house sits on a densely wooded lot. In fact, all the greenery came from the property. 

Some examples of specific topics would be themes like antique toys, Mercury glass, shabby chic angel ornaments, ceramic animals, or the classic nativity crèche. If your home is for sale, you might want to choose a theme that accentuates what's special about the house or the room.   

2.  Go Collecting

This garland has plenty of texture, 
but the colors keep it simple. 
If you are undecided about an idea to tie your mantel decorations together, begin with step two. Shop your home and see what elements you have available.

Use your imagination to repurpose items. An inverted vase can become a pedestal. A necklace can become a swag.  Books can become wrapped gifts.    

Don’t ignore what’s growing in your vicinity (pinecones, greenery, logs, seed pods, bare branches…) as well as what you’ve tucked away in closets and other storage areas like the garage, garden shed or storage building.

Remember that paint will transform almost anything into what your color scheme calls for. That old plastic flower pot can look like granite, and those thrift store vases can look like silver or gold once they are spray painted.

3. Go Shopping

This step isn’t always necessary. You may have all the things you need on hand.

And if you are like many crafters or budget decorators, you’ve already scooped up Christmas decorations at summer garage sales and last year’s post-holiday sales.

Your materials should include some items with different textures, sizes, and materials. For example, don’t make everything transparent or everything solid. Instead, include some of both. Include dull surfaces and glossy surfaces, large forms and smaller shapes, some round objects and some hard edge objects.

4. Set up Your Backdrop

It’s best to begin with a clean slate. So, remove whatever is on the mantel and give yourself room to work in front of the fireplace. Spread out the possible objects you’ve collected.

Large magnolia leaves and sprigs of
variegated holly brought some weight
to one end of the mantel
Next, place one large object as the background for the mantel grouping. You will be surprised what a difference this makes. It gets you off to a great start. 

I hung a round wreath of artificial red berries on the chimney breast to get my arrangement going.

You could use a mirror, an empty frame, a painting like I did for the autumn mantel I blogged about, or something vintage like shutters or a door.   

5. Balance the Weight

I often begin by hanging or draping something the length of the mantel. This is another way of unifying and balancing the grouping that’s to come. 

On the driftwood mantel, I strung the garland that I purchased at Michaels. I fell for it the moment I saw it. I adore the warm colors and woodsy feel to it.

I placed one item – the red berry tree – on one end of the mantel and some oversized greenery at the opposite end. Now I had some balance and I could fill in with smaller items.

6. Repeat the Colors

Plenty of greenery softened the look of the stone and unified my arrangement.
I added a string of glistening red berries to the center of the mantel and some more springs of greenery that included real red berries. I wasn’t about to complicate things with too many colors since I was going for tradition and natural simplicity.

7. Add some details

To tie the brown garland into the green arrangements above it, I wove some evergreen sprigs into the chain. That’s all it took to finish the entire mantel. 

Evergreen sprigs tucked into the swag and more red berries 
were part of the finishing touches. 
In the staged home, too many details will draw attention to the mantel itself, instead of the mantel calling attention to your selling point – the fireplace. Keeping decorations simple saves time, money and stress. When your home is on the market, you need easy and quick ways to add festive touches.   

I write about mantel décor -- as well as what else you need to know about home staging -- in my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. You can download the book now and start learning how to attract buyers to your property.

Staging the Dining Room Table: DIY Napkin Rings

Monday, November 12, 2012
While men typically focus on where the television will go in a home they are shopping for, women tend to picture their family or friends around the dining table as a litmus test for how well they like any particular home.

How is your dining table looking for real estate showings?

With Thanksgiving on the near horizon for Americans, it's the perfect time to give some attention to your dining room. If your home is for sale, you might want to reevaluate how your dining table looks when buyers AND guests come for the holidays ahead.

Tabletops need pizazz 

Wherever you have meals, make that area a place that charms buyers. Make it a spot where they want to celebrate Thanksgiving and other occasions. It needn't be fancy. Most of us don't live that way. The secret is in having just enough details on the table to make it inviting and interesting, without it taking over the entire room visually. I've already blogged here about what place settings should look like in the staged home.

If your dining table is the default spot for craft supplies, bills, or homework projects, there's no better time than pre-holidays for staging the area.

Since complicated table settings would only be a bother -- especially if you use the table for daily dining  -- simple settings are the answer. Placemats, plates, glassware, and napkins might be all you need. And napkin rings give the finishing touch!

I like to DIY napkin rings from common materials like ribbon, cheap bracelets, curtain rings, beads, wire, buttons, or cardboard. Making your own is the frugal way to go, and who isn't on a budget when it's time to sell a home? Here's a gallery of ideas for inspiration.

These rings, were handmade by Ashley at Little Miss Momma. She credits KoJo Designs for teaching her how. I like that even though each one is a little bit different -- which happens when you use upcycled materials like buttons and brooches --  the twine wrap makes them all similar enough.

Who would know that these colorful napkin rings began life as toilet paper rolls? Karin at her Swedish blog, Pysselbolaget, shows you how. These are the handiwork of her 8-year old daughter, and I think they are definitely stage-worthy.

Have some fabric scraps you love too much to discard? Here's another design that began with a cardboard tube, this time the core from a role of Saran. The tutorial at Merriment Design shows you exactly how to.

On the left is a sample of Michelle's work, from Sweet Something Designs. She used dollar store napkin rings and covered them with fabric and a button, for a handsome "buttoned-up" look that I love.

Napkin rings in the staged home shouldn't be so precious that anyone is tempted to walk  off with them.

I would keep the vintage jewelry and anything else with either sentimental or monetary worth hidden away.

You also don't want napkin rings to stand out so much that buyers are distracted from what makes your home valuable -- the size of the rooms, the view, the condition of the floors and walls -- or whatever your home's selling points are.

Over at Fidgety Fingers DIY (cute name!) you can learn how to make napkin rings this striking-looking by weaving strips of magazine pages. What could be more economical?

Selling a coastal home? How about wooden drapery rings as a start for napkin rings that imitate little life preservers? Cathe, at her blog, Just Something I Made, will show you how. Just follow the link!

Another beachy rendition comes from The BB Craft Sisters, featured on Design Sponge, where you'll find the tutorial. Using rope and collected shells, the look is crisp and clean, and ... well...coastal!

The quickest way to add some height and style to a plain napkin is to wrap it in a second napkin. I liked the combination of this gingham napkin with an embroidered linen one. You can go cute and country with this method, or edgey and urban, depending on the fabrics you choose.

I made this napkin ring from bracelet memory wire you can buy in the jewelry-making section of any craft store. It's a sturdy wire that has a natural curve to it. You need to use heavy duty wire cutters (n0t your usual jewelry wire snippers) to cut it, and needle nose pliers to curl one end. Then just string on some beads, and curl the other end.  

Do you recognize the material I used to make this bow napkin ring? It's the latex waffle pad that keeps rugs in place on the floor, and protects dishes on the shelves. It has the appeal of a natural fiber, but the clean lines of something more contemporary. Great texture, but your only color choice is white.

Finally, this unfussy treatment uses wired ribbon to tie up folded napkins for a touch of drama on your table. It's economical and easy. I used sheer ribbon, but any wired ribbon works well, with the exception of glittery ribbon, which I find makes a mess on the table if you're repeatedly removing and replacing your place settings.

Are You Getting Ideas? 

The finishing touches are what will make your home look interesting and polished. So, don't ignore the razzle-dazzle detail that things like napkin rings bring to the table.

Need more tips to get your home market-ready? Just download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar, and you'll be on your way to making your home the one that impresses buyers.

Top photo: Better Homes and Gardens. 

Ten Tips to Improve Your Autumn Curb Appeal

Monday, November 05, 2012

Curb appeal. The way your home looks from the street is the king pin of home staging. It's usually your MLS profile shot and how buyers judge your home when they spy it for the first time.

When summer's over the real estate market might slow down in some parts of the country, but autumn is still a season to have your home looking as attractive from the outside no matter where you live. Here’s how:

Tidy Up the Grounds

If you do nothing else, and before you do anything else, remove summer's debris from around your home. Get rid of what’s accumulated from previous seasons. There might be things like plants past their summer prime, tree limbs left from summer storms, and leaves that have blown into the yard.  

Already, you’ve made a huge difference!

Salvage What You Want

If you’re a gardener, selling a home and moving gets complicated, because you’ll want to take some plants with you to your next home. Fall is a good time to divide those perennials like hostas, ferns, irises, and daylilies, to pot them up or store them in peat moss to make the move with you. You can also collect seeds from plants you love, and dig up tender bulbs and tubers from cannas, gladiolas, lilies, dahlias, caladiums, and elephant ears.

Put Away Signs of Summer

Give your yard an up-to-the-minute look by putting into storage empty flower pots, fountains, summer sports equipment, cushions, hoses, pool toys, and umbrellas. I like to leave out some outdoor furniture so buyers are reminded of outdoor features like a patio, porch, or deck.

If you have a bare spot in the lawn where a kiddie pool was all summer, can you convert it to a fire pit? If your flower boxes are empty, can you fill them with evergreen boughs?   

If you live where winters are severe, you’ll winterize your pool. But if you live where winters are warm, it's a different story. Jordan Walsh of Douglas Elliman Real Estate says, "When it comes to our warm weather properties in Florida, a pool is a big selling point that we try to showcase all year long."

So, leave your pool uncovered if the home you are staging is where winters are warm. It will provide an outdoor focal point that’s a selling feature to most buyers, but only if you are willing to maintain it through the winter.

Most pools are situated behind a house, but sometimes they are still visible from the street. This home in FLorida is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, 
so the pool is part of a different kind of curb appeal, or "canal appeal." 

Prune and Prune Some More

While there’s still some foliage on shrubbery and trees is a good time to prune. You’ll be able to spot any dead or diseased branches, making sensible pruning easier. Don't prune shrubs that flower in early spring, including azaleas and hydrangeas, because you'll remove the flower buds that set over the summer.  

Keep shrubs from crowding walkways. Keep them from blocking views from inside the house. Prune them back hard if they are getting leggy. Prune them so they’re wider at the bottom than at the top, so that sunlight can reach lower branches.

These small, colorful winter crocus 
will bloom through snow-covered ground. 

Plug in Some Bulbs

Autumn’s the time to purchase and plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring.

You can buy bulbs locally at nurseries, garden centers and big-box stores, but I like to get mine from a long-established company like Terra Ceia or Brecks where I know I’ll get my money’s worth in large and healthy bulbs. Look for a mail-order nursery that serves your area of the country so the bulbs you buy will thrive in your yard.

Plan right, and there will be something blooming every month, possibly beginning even as early as February with plants such as snowdrops and narcissi. And squirrels don't like either of these bulbs. You will thank me for this advice, and you are welcome!   

Top Dress Your Beds

Mulch is to your landscape what paint is to your home’s interior – the quickest and cheapest way to make everything else look better!

Whatever you use for mulch -- wood chips or bark, compost, or pine straw -- get out there and refresh it. If your mulch is stone, gravel, or rocks, make sure it’s free of weeds and other junk. I don’t recommend cocoa hulls because they are toxic to pets, and I don’t recommend cypress because harvesting it can deplete cypress swamps.  

A layer of gravel or river rocks works well as a mulch 
when there are enough plantings to keep the yard interesting. 

Plant and Transplant Shrubs

Any plant requires frequent watering when it’s just settling in. That’s why planting shrubs in the fall makes more sense than in springtime, when the warmer weather makes more demands on a plant.

Planting now gives any new small trees or shrubs a chance to establish their root systems before the ground cools during the winter. And you might get better deals on prices in the fall than in the spring.

Test Your Soil

I know it sounds geeky, but a soil test will let you know how to fertilize your lawn and ornamental areas, and what plants will thrive where you live.

Did you know that we homeowners typically over-use chemicals on our yards and gardens? Save money and save the environment by using only what your soil needs. Start by testing your soil.

Most US states offer this service for a small fee, as a function of your local county extension service.

Aerate Your Lawn

One thing the serious turf aficionados talk about is aeration. What it amounts to is putting lots of holes in the lawn -- holes that are not easily visible but allow the lawn to perk better. Aerating a lawn lets water, fertilizers, and air to move into the soil to encourage healthier grass. The opposite of an aerated lawn is a compacted lawn and we all know how that looks – bare! If you have compacted areas due to foot traffic, create a path of stepping stones to protect the lawn.

If your lawn is a warm-season grass, aeration should be done in the spring. Cool-season grass? Do it now. 

Taking care of business now, in the fall, will pay off in the spring
with an enviable, lush lawn that buyers are bound to notice.

Fertilize the Soil

This one is a little trickier than the others, because when you fertilize depends on where you live, what kind of grass you have, and what else you are growing.

Best bet: check with dependable sources of information for your area, not people with vested interests such as chemical salesmen and lawn services. State universities and colleges, especially agricultural colleges, will give you impartial and current advice, so go to the websites for these institutions in your state.

The Wrap

Now that your front yard is uncluttered and clean (just like your home’s interior) you can bring out a little winter decor. Maybe a solar-heated birdbath would enliven the front yard. If you live where winters aren't severe, you may be able to introduce winter color with annuals like pansies and flowering kale. And for the ultimate touch of front yard glamour, don’t forget to give a nod to the season with a front door winter wreath, maybe one you've made yourself from rags, or pine cones

This autumn grapevine wreath can quickly re-invent itself as a Christmas wreath once I 
replace the orange berry garland with some seasonal picks, greenery, or a big red bow. 

My $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, includes one entire chapter on exterior home staging. If you have a home on the market, you can't afford to be without it. I guarantee it will help you sell your home!

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