As we all adjust to a new normal and begin ushering in a new age of post-pandemic design, it’s best to turn to the experts. We wanted to hear directly from inspiring home designers about ways to adjust your space during this time. So we spoke with Kate Watson-Smyth, a renowned home designer and bestselling author who heads Mad About The House, for some essential design insight.
Q: What are some ways you’re staying sane right now while staying at home?
A: Well in many ways things haven’t changed that much for me as I have always been at home writing, so I’m probably reasonably well placed for a lockdown. That said, I wouldn’t normally have two teenage boys and a husband at home all the time either. I have finally stopped watching the news all the time – even for a trained news journalist that became too much – and I make sure I get dressed and put makeup on every day. If I didn’t do that then, for me at least, it would be a short slide to staying in pyjamas and bed till lunchtime or beyond. I wish I could say that regular exercise was keeping me sane but sadly I can’t seem to find the motivation to do any!
Q: How can people arrange or design their homes to accommodate staying in for long periods of time?
A: Firstly, you need to work out what you need from your space and remember that it won’t be like that forever. So, if you need to move the coffee table to make room for a YouTube exercise class, or for the kids to build a giant fort from cardboard boxes then do it. Or if you need to make a proper homeworking spot then do that. If at all possible move the sofa so you can put a table next to the window – you might have more room if the coffee table has already gone!
The next really important thing is that you need to be able to make a distinction between the working day and the relaxing evening. Use some of the time you would normally have spent commuting to put the work stuff away – laptop in a drawer, paperwork in a box that can slide under the table or be tucked away at the end of the sofa. Changing your clothes is an effective way to change the mood and then spend the rest of your “commute” having a cocktail or a cold, iced drink to really switch from work to home. We have made a real ritual of this with a tray of drinks, a bowl of (usually tinned) olives and a crisp or seven. We are definitely all eating too many crisps. If you have small kids then they can watch tv while you have your cocktail hour. That way everyone gets a break from everyone else and you can reconvene for dinner.
In the morning take the work stuff out of that box and arrange it on the table with your favourite mug and even a vase of flowers to make your desk environment feel proper rather than makeshift.
Research has also shown that surrounding yourself with family pictures or souvenirs that bring back happy memories is key to being happy yourself so include some of those objects on your new desk.
If at all possible avoid working from the sofa or the bed or they will become bound up in work vibes and it will be difficult to relax in the evening.
Q: What lasting changes from the pandemic do you think we will see in home design? What do you see for the future of design?
A: I think it’s clear that employers will have to accept that working from home is doable, practical and doesn’t have a negative impact on productivity. It’s also possible that people will run screaming back to the offices and refuse to work from home ever again! Joking aside, I think we will finally see a rise in well-designed, beautiful office furniture that looks as happy at home as it does at work. For example, at the moment office chairs are ergonomic and ugly and the best way to get round that is to reupholster one in the fabric of your choice. We might see more dining tables with cable management built-in and desks that can double up as dressing tables. Multi-functional furniture will be key – our homes are already multi-functional; the furniture needs to catch up.
Multi-functional furniture will be key – our homes are already multi-functional; the furniture needs to catch up.
Q: On your blog, you said your philosophy is, “Your home should tell your story. It should make your heart sing when you open the front door.” What story will our homes tell now?
A: Now at the time of writing I suspect a story of chaos and mess as people adjust to having everyone at home at the same time and in for the whole day rather than coming and going. In the future, perhaps new home design will involve more natural light either via skylights or internal windows. As the homes probably won’t get bigger, our lifestyles will have to adapt to living in multi-functional spaces – perhaps we will finally start buying less and buying better. I wonder if open-plan living will fall out of fashion; it’s fine when you want to keep an eye on small kids, but when you have more people living and working in the same space you yearn for walls to divide areas up and mean that one can work while another listens to music.
Q: Can you tell us more about how people can achieve that visual story?
A: If we are going to be spending more time in our homes then we need to get the décor right and that means working out what we like and what our personal style is. When it comes to colours always ask yourself how certain shades make you feel and decide if that is the right feeling for the room you are looking to decorate. Vintage always adds character to a room and creates a more bespoke and individual look. But you can also paint cheap pieces of furniture to create something that’s uniquely yours. In my new book. Mad About The House, 101 Interior Design Answers (Pavilion £20) I say that before you start any scheme you should ask yourself six questions: who, what, when, where, why and how? Who is doing what where and when? Why do you want to redo this room? How are you going to pay for it? The answers for a couple with a kid will be very different from a couple of twentysomethings or a pair of pensioners. Work these things out before you go near a paint chip and you will already have some idea of what you are trying to achieve.
Q: What are some tips for balancing functionality and beauty? What pieces can you think of that blend the two?
A: In an ideal world, if we look back to William Morris then everything we have should be both beautiful and useful. To quote another truism, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder so everyone’s idea of that will vary. It’s up to you to work out what function you require from your sofa so that you can buy the right one for you. One person may want a large lounging modular piece where they can stretch out on and watch films while another wants something more upright for conversation and cocktails.
But there are a few pieces that are universal – a console table with drawers can double up as a desk and a dressing table – put the laptop in the drawer at night and take the mirror out. A bookshelf works for both books and displaying happy memories in the form of photos or objects. A coffee table is good for family games and resting your drinks on. A stool can be both side table and extra seating. The Saarinen Tulip table is both a beautiful dining table and a great place to work. The Wegner wishbone chair is comfortable enough for dinner and for wrestling with spreadsheets.
Q: Which two adjectives would you use to describe your interior style now? Have those changed from the two adjectives you’d have chosen when you started out?
A: I always used to describe my style as urban glamour, I’m not sure I’ve strayed too far from that although perhaps now it might be a bit more vintage elegance.
About Kate Watson-Smyth: Kate Watson-Smyth founded her multi-award-winning blog madaboutthehouse.com in 2012 and has now written two best-selling books of the same name. She was the first interiors Instagram account in the UK to receive a blue checkmark and has 226K followers. Together with television presenter Sophie Robinson, she hosts the interiors podcast “The Great Indoors” and she is currently working on the next installment of the “Mad About The House” series.
It’s the perfect time to bring the outdoors in with some easy-to-keep-alive plants. We rounded up some of the best indoor plants that have some real moxie, need minimal watering and have flexible lighting preferences.
Most of these plants can be purchased for around $20 to $40 online from retailers like Walmart, Amazon, The Sill, Home Depot, Horti, Plants.com and Bloomscape. And if you have pets, we recommend you double-check whether the plants are safe for their species.
1. Aloe vera
Aloe plants come in many shapes and sizes, making it easy to purchase something curated to your space. It’s a succulent with southwestern vibes and a timeless look. Aloe prefers bright indirect light and needs little water. You’ll want the soil moderately dry between waterings. You can also harvest the sap for home remedies and skincare, but don’t remove more than a third of the plant if you wish to keep it alive.
There are many different varieties of cactus and they’re all pretty resilient. A cactus prefers warm and sunny spaces but is low-maintenance enough to survive in most places. They need so little water that the easiest way to kill them is by overwatering. A cactus is a simple way to spice up your space a bit and is the perfect prickly pet.
3. Cast iron plant
These plants are as indestructible as their namesake. A cast iron plant can grow in a wide range of temperatures and prefers lower light. You can even leave it in a dark corner to add a pop of year-round green. The leaves are thick and deep green and the plant is overall lush. The cast iron plant grows really slowly, so you should buy it at your desired size. This is typically bigger than your average countertop plant and is best suited for a tropical touch to a living room or bedroom.
Hoya plants have a unique bulbousness to their leaves. These succulents are also called wax plants because of their shiny look. They’re fast-growing and its leaves will trail or climb up to four feet long. You can plant them in a hanging basket or train them to grow up a trellis. Hoya plants will occasionally bloom fragrant flowers in small clusters, especially if you keep them in brighter light. They need little water and you’ll want to allow the soil to dry between waterings.
A jade plant can survive weeks to a month without water because it stores the water in the stems and leaves (common for succulents). The jade plant will basically hibernate if it doesn’t get enough water, and then rehydrate and grow once it’s watered again. It has a thick stem and the oval-shaped leaves grow in a bush-like cluster. They prefer bright sunlight and you should allow the soil to completely dry before watering. They can live for a really long time and are often passed through generations.
6. Philodendron heartleaf
As the name suggests, this plant has heart-shaped leaves and long spindly stems. It’s a durable and adaptive plant that can add a romantic touch to your home. It prefers indirect light, or bright shade, and can grow or trail its vine up to eight feet — perfect for draping over a bookshelf or dresser. The philodendron heartleaf is also easy to propagate, so you can gift a starter to friends. This plant is super cute, but kind of dangerous, as it is poisonous to pets and humans if consumed.
7. Rubber plant
The rubber plant, or rubber tree, is a dark green and modern looking plant. It has a shiny look and can complement more industrial and dark color schemes. If you don’t prune the longer stems, it can grow into an actual tree. The rubber plant prefers medium to bright light (but not direct sunlight) and limited watering. If the leaves look droopy, it may need more water. If the leaves turn yellow or brown, the plant is being overwatered.
8. Snake plant
The snake plant succulent has uniquely tall and straight stalks that make for an interesting focal point. They are extremely easy to care for, will certainly survive your two-week vacation and probably prefer you to forget about them. You also won’t have to worry about repotting to accommodate growth and can keep it in lower light. This hardy plant is also known to be an air purifier.
9. Spider plant
Spider plants are fun, bright and have an eye-catching shape. The leaves are a bouncy, long and thinly arching. Once the plant grows pretty big, the ends start sprouting baby spider plants that you can snip off and use to grow a new plant (they resemble tiny spiders, hence the name). You can plant them in pots or in a hanging basket. The spider plant prefers indirect sunlight and cooler temperatures. This plant is also known for its air-purifying abilities.
As stay-at-home mandates are extended through April, many of us are getting a little stir crazy and — let’s face it — bored with our apartments and homes. To help you daydream about other places you could be stuck in, we rounded up some of the most beautiful, peaceful and social-distance friendly Airbnb homes.
This house has an entire lazy river built into the backyard. Lay back in a tube and drift through a maze of palm trees and waterfalls in the Arizona sun. And that’s just the beginning. This home also has a hot tub, basketball court, golf driving net, a putt-putt course, shuffleboard, a fire pit, and a game room — suffice it to say, you’ll never be bored. Bonus perk– the listing mentions on-demand grocery delivery.
Tucked right into a mountain, this house would certainly keep you calm and relaxed while quarantining. The view is tranquil and the interior has a mellow modern design. The house has both a pool and a hot tub. There are tons of windows for natural light and mountain views in every room. We can envision endless self-care and spa days to keep the stress at bay. It even has a recreation room with yoga mats, candles, books and meditation pillows.
This house would surely host the most epic game of hide and seek. Built in the 1860s, the place is full of history and character. It has a large yard with a volleyball net and plenty of shade beneath a variety of tree species. With vine-covered brick, shuttered windows, gothic fireplaces, a reading nook under a staircase, and a small creaky attic in a tower — this home can fulfill all your spooky mansion dreams.
Pure paradise can be found in this lush three-story Florida estate. The secluded yard has a 50-foot pool and is surrounded by tropical greenery. It has terrace seating for sunbathing or some shaded relaxation. The home comes with 10 bicycles for riding around the neighborhood, paddleboards and snorkeling gear for the beach. Get a glimpse of how the other half lives with a giant kitchen, a private beach and an elevator (seriously.)
Yeah, it’s a castle. A 19th-century castellated residence in Ireland set on the banks of the Boro River, to be exact. The interior is a mix of regal and rustic with beautiful wallpapers, long halls and cozy sitting rooms. You could kill hours of time wandering around and going for walks on the large estate and surrounding countryside. You might even spot a herd of cows wander by. With an Airbnb this elegant and charming, who wouldn’t want to stay in?
Thanks to nationwide stay-at-home orders, we’re all suddenly spending a lot of time in the same small spaces. To combat the coronavirus cabin fever, we’ve talked to professional organizers, interior designers and an organizational psychologist about ways to make your home feel more spacious.
Before you begin, think about spaces that have made you feel calmed and how they were arranged. Shalae Price, a professional organizer, gives hotel rooms as an example, “Most hotel rooms are designed to feel much bigger than they actually are. The furniture placement is well thought-out and the decor (in most cases) would be considered minimalist.”
1. Declutter, declutter, declutter
Decluttering is an obvious first step to clearing up your space. Anyone can do it and with few resources. Walk from room to room and put things away, clear up random papers or cardboard boxes, and collect together small things that don’t have a home. If an item isn’t for decor and isn’t used on a regular basis, consider storing it out of sight or donating it if your local donation centers are still in operation.
Craig Anderson, Editor at Appliance Analysts, says you have to earn your free space. “Any good minimalist will tell you that free surface space makes you freer. It’s also the first thing to go when we get lazy and leave clutter around. Having unused surfaces (desks, tables, counters) makes a room feel MUCH larger.”
A good way to get into the habit of regular decluttering, according to Amy Bloomer, a professional organizer with an MA in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, is a bin dedicated to clutter. “I encourage clients to keep a basket at the bottom of their stairs. This becomes the “catch-all” for things that have migrated downstairs and/or out of place. Once a day, make it a habit to put back everything you’ve accumulated in the basket. It won’t take long and it will help to maintain clear, calm spaces before retiring for the night.”
2. Clear the floors and the walls
The more floor space, the bigger the room will feel.
“The floor is not a storage space but we often create piles in corners that grow and expand over time. These piles tend to be delayed decisions, items that have no home so they get set aside on the floor. As these piles encroach on our living space we feel weighed down. Our actual physical living space shrinks. Tackling these piles and freeing up floor space will immediately create lighter, brighter spaces. In our experience, if you haven’t looked at items in these piles for a long time they are often items that can be let go.”
This applies to the floor space between furniture and walls, too. When all your furniture is set against the walls, it really outlines the boundaries of your room and highlights how small that space is. By making sure some of your furniture has a little air between the wall, it creates a better sense of roominess.
3. Store smartly
Get creative with the way you store things and be more critical with what you choose to have out. You can keep it simple by folding blankets into a chest or basket, having a dedicated basket for pet toys, and hanging photos instead of resting them on furniture.
Multi-functional furniture that doubles as storage is a great way to optimize your space. Seats, coffee tables and ottomans with hidden storage can help keep blankets, movies, games or clutter off of furniture and the floors. You can also install floating shelves to elongate the walls and store things away from the floor.
Anderson advocated for putting away the things you don’t use every day, “There are SO many things we own that we use maybe once or twice a year. These should be kept well hidden in a chest, under the bed, or in a DIY-cupboard.”
4. Mirrors are magic
Debra Newell, owner and President of Ambrosia Home, told us that “large mirrors are a must. You want to reflect back into the room and give the illusion that you have more space.”
Mirrors will bounce more light around, give a sense of movement, and visually double the size of your space. You can use floor-length mirrors, mirrored closet doors or hang smaller mirrors on the walls.
5. Be deliberate with your decor
Decorate your space with intention and don’t be afraid of some dead space. A bunch of small things scattered around can feel more like clutter than a few larger statement pieces. Walls, shelves, dressers, countertops and computer desks can all benefit from a critical “do I need this?” scan.
Price advised us to, “Pick one room at a time, then look at your walls and surfaces. Do you really LOVE everything you see? Remove the items that you don’t love, and of course, keep the items that mean something to you or define your style.”
Concentrate that decor in a few spaces, like an accent wall, rather than spreading it out all over. Leaving some surfaces and walls open will visually elongate the room.
6. Keep the furniture low
If you’re in a position to buy new furniture — keep it low. Furniture that is generally lower can help an area feel much bigger simply because it leaves more open space above. This applies to the leg style of furniture too; open or post-style legs will show more space and appear to be floating, compared to large furniture that rests directly on the floor.
Newell advises: “Keep the arms and backs of chairs and sofas low, even legs on a sofa are important. Add ottomans for seating. No floating large furniture in the middle of the room.” She also recommends dining chairs you can push all the way under a table to store when you’re not using them.
7. Utilize lighting
Light is a simple and powerful tool that can completely transform a room. Lighting up dark corners and having multiple sources around the room will create space.
“Spread out your lighting. It may be more cost-efficient to just use one large light in the center of the room – but it’s a sure way to make everything seem smaller. Cultivate an atmosphere using 2 or 3 ambient lamps around your space. By literally spreading out the lighting, you’ll also be metaphorically stretching out the room.”
Now is the perfect time to rearrange your space. Use what you have at home, order online, and minimize trips out. You can also use this time to prepare and plan bigger projects for when stores are open and it’s recommended to go out again.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, most companies are shifting to remote work. As a result, plenty of people are reconfiguing their spaces and scrounging for the tools to effectively work from their homes.
We reached out to our coworkers for some work-from-home inspiration. Some of us are having to make do and get creative with the space we have at home. Others are seasoned remote employees who have mastered an aesthetic.
Abby Dauchess — Home Jungle, Charlotte, NC “My setup is what used to be my painting/art area now turned into my WFH sanctuary. Once I knew we were going to be working from home for a while, I wanted to prioritize a dedicated space I could focus in. It’s very nice sitting by a window because I have a great view throughout the day while being stuck inside during social distancing. I especially love having a large portion of my indoor plant collection near my workspace to look at and care for.”
Ali Dunlap — Parent’s Basement, Raleigh, NC “My father joked about him setting up a workspace for me and when I got home this is what he showed me. Snapped a pic, then got myself back upstairs to set up at a desk.”
Brandi Myers — A Funky Space, Charlotte, NC “This space is my home office that I use for freelance design work so I needed a room that was energizing and also comfortable to spend time in. My love of color and eclectic sense of style challenges me to balance contemporary pieces with antiques. This is by far the funkiest space in my house.”
Brian Miranda — Quarantined Paradise, Puerto Rico “During this time of the year we enjoy not-too-hot, mid-70s weather from time to time, which makes it perfect for the hammock! Since I’m working from a back-breaking dining room chair, I thought it would be cool to use the hammock for a while so I came up with this crazy setup.
Carlos Jimenez — Apartment by a Boat Marina, Puerto Rico “My dad’s favorite hobby is fishing, so the apartment is PACKED with fishing gear. Even though we’re stuck inside most of the day, it’s nice to have a nice view to work with and for running after work.”
Claye Stokes — The Game Room, Waxhaw, NC “Showing off the new content performance dashboards to my best co-worker in my music & gaming room. The table is a pool table but I can put a topper on it which makes it my office/conference table. Coworker’s name is Rusty, he’s a two-year old Australian Shepherd.”
Clint Branch — Designer’s Desk, Charlotte, NC “I think having a lot of plants around my desk helps fuel creativity and brings life to my work space.”
Ken Hocker — Visual Representation of His Mind, Charlotte, NC “If I’m going to be stuck at my desk, I need to be surrounded by visual and auditory stimuli to keep the creative juices flowing. The walls of the office are constantly being added to in the hopes that one day every inch will be covered. Very similar to the interior of McSorley’s in NYC, minus the beer and history.”
Taylor Leamey — Home Art Studio (AKA Guest Bedroom), Charlotte, NC “I angled my desks to take advantage of the natural light instead of facing it. I selfishly hung the things I am most proud of in front of my face, hoping they will sometimes inspire me. (Does it work? No idea. But I like looking at them.)”
Shannon Ullman — Walking Office, Philadelphia, PA “I bought this treadmill about two months ago because I wanted a healthy alternative to sitting all day. I walk super slowly while working and aim for 10k steps a day!”
Show off your work-from-home set up and tag us @freshome with the hashtag #freshWFH.
If you live in one of the many cities advocating for (or mandating) a self-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re suddenly spending a lot more time at home. Whether you’re working from home, homeschooling your kids, or just need to arrange your space for staying in, it’s a good time to organize.
After consulting with some top-tier organizing influencers and the president-elect of the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO), we’ve compiled a list of ways you can organize your home for quarantine.
1. Organize your pantry
As you’re prepping your home for quarantine, going through your pantry and shelf-stable items is a great first step.
“Shoved way back in a corner of your pantry might be food that’s about to expire. What a great time to use up those older items rather than letting them go to waste. Since grocery store shelves are more empty than ever, I would suggest organizing your pantry and fridge/freezer before anything else in your home. It’s important, especially under the current circumstances, to rotate your food, consuming the oldest first – so that nothing goes to waste!”
Start by pulling everything out and marking expiration dates. Take an inventory of your shelf-stable essentials and what you might need more of. If you have an excess of some items, consider reaching out to elderly family and friends or donating what you don’t need. Wipe down your pantry and cupboards before you start putting everything away.
Debbie Sandler, owner of A Life Better Organized, told us to “sort remaining items into like categories. Keep spices together, canned goods, oils and vinegars, baking supplies, cereals and so forth.” Use baskets, jars, bins, crates, lazy Susans and containers to optimize the space.
2. Designated a space for work or school
If your job has shifted to working remotely, or your kids are doing their schoolwork at home, you’ll need to clear some work space. Setting aside a designated space will help keep the line between work and home from blurring, and make it easier to be productive.
According to Price, “You need a clutter-free space in order to focus. Use vertical space to store things whenever possible. Keep only the essential items on your desk. Wall pockets can be hung on the wall to store files and papers. Paper sorters on a desktop keep things separated and vertical, eliminating visual clutter and freeing up space to work.”
3. Create physical space for mental space
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in your home, we recommend decluttering and rearranging your general living spaces. Clearing the space will help it feel less cramped, has several mental health benefits and can make you feel productive.
You may also need more free space for quarantine activities — like movie or game nights and exercising in your home. There are many free online resources for yoga and exercise classes.
Start by putting loose items away and finding more efficient homes for things you don’t use every day. Utilize closets and space under beds. Take a stab at rearranging your furniture to create more open areas.
4. Organize your closet
Turn on “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” and do a deep dive into your closet. Try everything on and consider donating clothes you haven’t worn in a year or more. Neatly fold and organize the things you want to keep by activity, style or color. Box away seasonal items, like big coats and warm scarves, to give your clothes more breathing room.
You can also get creative and repurpose older items. Crop an old sweatshirt, iron a patch onto your faded jeans, or tie-dye a t-shirt. If you want to hang on to old T-shirts that still hold memories, Sandler recommends turning them into a quilt
5. Sort through your entertainment collection
Do an inventory of all your books, movies and games. Find efficient places to store them, discover some old favorites to pass the time and donate the items you don’t enjoy anymore (local youth centers, retirement homes, children’s hospitals).
This might be the time to let go of old CDs and VHS tapes — things that take up space and have limited use. You may find you don’t need a lot of older movies that are available on the streaming services you subscribe to.
6. Pass the time with the past
Parse through your photo collection — both physical and digital. Going through photos is the perfect time-consuming project for social distancing. You’ll get to reminisce and remember good times, while also making it easier for your future-self to create albums or find specific photos.
“Now is a great time to do a clean out of your digital photos. Delete all those utility photos you took, delete bad photos and dwindle down the multiples. If you have time to take it a step further, decide how you want to share your photos. You can create a book or share with family in a cloud account. This can be a great time to share family stories with kids or ask older family members to share their stories.”
You can then take those photos and work on unfinished baby books, albums or scrapbooks.
7. Go for the garage
Garages and sheds are often host to random gear, tools, storage and the remnants of moving. Cleaning and organizing your garage is a physical task, great for some exercise and fresh air.
These spaces tend to collect more dirt, dust and grime than inside spaces. Empty out the garage or shed, then sweep and hose down the area. As you’re filling it again, go through everything and decide what you want to keep, sell, donate or throw away. Sort things by category and plan out where you want to store different item groups.
Utilize shelves and hang things to create vertical space. Consolidate similar items, like the Christmas decorations, into larger bins. Get creative with your containers — old paint cans, gum or mint containers and filing cabinets can all hold smaller trinkets and tools.
8. Clean out the car
A detailed cleaning and organizing of your car is great preparation for the eventual return to work and normal outings. Go a step beyond washing the exterior and sort through all the random nooks, crannies and glove compartments. Sandler says, “Bring with you two bags, one for the garbage and one for items to relocate. Like extra eyeglasses, coins, receipts, old DVDs, empty drink bottles, and expired coupons (except for Bed Bath & Beyond, they still take those). Remove mats and vacuum floors. Dust the dashboard and clean inside windows.”
One task at a time
There’s an opportunity to use your time during quarantine for things you wouldn’t normally have time for in a pre-coronavirus routine. Cleaning, organizing and reflecting on your material possessions will help you feel productive.
Price put it best when she told us,“We’re all going to be aware of the things that we really need. We might find out that some of the clutter we’ve held on to for years…does nothing for us even when we’re living in crisis. That tells us it’s OK to purge and make space for other necessities. On the other hand, we might find out that we need to make space in our homes for items we never thought we needed until now.”
This spring cleaning season, there’s a lot more than just decluttering at stake — a clean home could be your last line of defense against a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. To help separate fact from fiction, we spoke with Dr. Stephen J. Thomas, Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at SUNY Upstate Medical University, for expert advice on what, how, and when to clean.
“SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19 is believed to be able to persist on surfaces such as glass, metal, and cloth,” Dr. Thomas says. “Experiments looking at similar viruses demonstrated persistence for hours to days.” That means it’s possible to contract the virus if a surface in your home has been contaminated. Disinfecting and cleaning everyday surfaces is a great place to start your spring cleaning.
How to kill the coronavirus in your home
Surfaces inside your home would only be compromised if someone with coronavirus has been in the house. But because symptoms can take so long to appear, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Dr. Thomas advised us to clean high-traffic areas: “This would include the bathroom, kitchen and frequent door handles and other surfaces the person would potentially contact. Think of your normal routine in the house and the surfaces you frequently touch and this will give you an idea where you need to disinfect.” If someone in your home does have COVID-19, or at this point any kind of cold, you’ll want to disinfect these surfaces a few times a day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning a surface (reducing the number of germs) and then disinfecting it (killing the remaining germs). The CDC also advises people to use disposable gloves during the process. To kill viruses, it’s best to use products specifically endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use against SARS-CoV-2. There’s a fair chance you already have these in your cupboard, as familiar brands like Lysol and Clorox are on the list. You can also dilute bleach or use alcohol solutions (with 70% alcohol or more). For soft surfaces like carpets or rugs, follow typical instructions for cleaning and wash what you can in warm water.
The 10 most important things to disinfect regularly
Countertops, desks, tables
Handles — cupboards, drawers, appliances
Towels, sheets, clothing
Phones, tablets, keyboards, etc.
Deep clean to pass the time
While the nation is encouraging social distancing, it’s easy to go stir crazy. A great way to feel productive and pass the time is by deep cleaning your home. If you spend part of your day on a bigger cleaning project, you’ll also feel better about the evening hours you spend binge-watching a TV show. Now’s the time to do the tasks you normally wouldn’t bother with, or perhaps only do once a year.
In the kitchen, you can pull everything out of your fridge or freezer and clean the appliance. This is also a great time to do some inventory, check expiration dates, and maybe stock up on things like frozen produce and protein.
You can also do all those little tasks you’ve been putting off. Like hanging a piece of art, changing the lightbulbs, finishing painting a room or completing that Pinterest craft you bought all the supplies for.
Spring is the perfect time to get started on yard work in preparation for summer. This is also a great way to get some fresh air and mild exercise. Plant your seedlings, spray down and clean lawn furniture, prune the shrubs, aerate your lawn, etc.
We’d also recommend doing a deep clean of your bathtub, for some much-needed self-care soaks. And vacuuming under furniture, like your bed and couches, can help with dust or allergies, and be a good chance to rearrange your space for more room while you’re quarantined.
A self-quarantine cleaning checklist
Dust, pretty much everywhere
Deep clean the oven, microwave and sink
Organize your junk drawers
Clean or replace the shower curtain
Polish stainless steel surfaces and wood furniture
Clean air vents
Clean reusable grocery bags
Clean the windows and mirrors
Clean your makeup and brushes
Clean blinds and window hangings
Get at that grout in the bathrooms and kitchen
Turn and vacuum your mattresses
Clean out trash cans
Deep clean the drains in the kitchen and bathrooms
Clean rugs, mats and carpets
Wash and detail cars
Clean the vacuum cleaner and other cleaning tools
If you can help it, complete the tasks you already have the supplies for, since we should all limit trips to the store as much as possible. And justbecause you’re social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t be social: post your cleaning progress photos on social media and tag us at @freshome!
Disability can happen to anyone at any time. Sometimes people have a chronic medical condition from childhood, or one that comes on in middle- or late-age. Others might have a disability due to an accident or illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. That’s 26% of adults (1 in 4) who have some type of disability, including the following:
13.7% with a mobility disability (extreme difficulty walking or climbing stairs)
10.8% with a cognition disability (difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions)
6.8% with an independent living disability (difficulty running errands by themselves)
5.9% with a hearing disability (serious difficulty hearing or deafness)
4.6% with a vision disability (low vision or blindness)
3.6% with a self-care disability (dressing and/or bathing is difficult)
Of the 155 million employed workers in the U.S., the U.S. Census Bureau reports approximately 9 million have a disability, and 58% of those with a disability work full time, year-round.
For people with a disability who find full-time work for traditional employers to be challenging, however, freelancing and working from home can be a great option to consider.
Why freelancing or consulting is a good option for people with disabilities
According to the 2019 Freelancing in America study by Freelancers Union and Upwork, an estimated 57 million Americans freelanced in 2019 — evidence of its increasing popularity, particularly among younger generations. The study also found 46% of participants agree freelancing provides needed flexibility because they are unable to work for a traditional employer due to personal circumstances — with 43% of that group citing health issues (physical disease, disability, mental health, etc.) as the cause.
More and more Americans are becoming long-term career freelancers. And although many people with disabilities are still able to work traditional jobs successfully, freelancing opens up additional options for some.
For example, freelancing often eliminates a commute, which can benefit those with mobility disabilities. Freelancers also have the freedom to structure their business and workday around any physical or mental needs. For example, they can work during their most productive time. If they require extra rest, they can take time during the day to recoup their energy. It also affords the flexibility to juggle work, family and medical appointments more easily.
Freelancers are also able to enjoy the benefits of working in a space that is comfortable and inspiring, without having to worry about typical office distractions, like noise, unsuitable lighting or uncomfortable office furniture — all of which may be factors affecting some workers with disabilities.
When you’re self-employed, you also have control over accepting or declining any project. Having this kind of control over your time, work and client relationships is not only empowering but also has a positive impact on mental and physical health.
With freelancing booming, there are plenty of job options for people with disabilities to choose from, including:
audio content transcriber
customer service representative
data entry professional
social media/digital marketing manager
Freelancing isn’t limited to these more traditional titles, either. If someone has skills and/or advanced knowledge of a topic or in almost any niche field, they can market those skills to companies that need their specialized expertise and offer remote work.
How to create the right environment for productivity
One of the great benefits of freelancing is creating and working in a space-optimized for an individual’s needs. If you’re thinking about modifying your home’s work area, the end result should be a stimulating space designed for trouble-free navigation and ultimate comfort.
Here are some tips to help design an accessible workspace to accommodate freelancing with disability:
Lighting doesn’t just make it easier to do work; it also makes a difference in mood. Allowing in as much natural light as possible can lift moods and even ease anxiety. According to a 2019 Future Workplace study, natural light has a significant impact on workplace wellness.
Use blinds or other window coverings, such as sheer curtains, to help control the amount of light coming in. Keep a chair near a window for reading or working in natural light.
Place lamps and other fixtures in appropriate places to ensure brightness where it’s needed most. Add table lamps, floor lamps and clip-on lights to illuminate the area where work will be done. Be sure not to have the light pointed directly into anyone’s eyes.
For those in a wheelchair, lighting can be placed low. However, if someone has limited vision, avoid low-hanging lights that might get in the way.
Halogen bulbs provide maximum lumens, which is a measurement of brightness. Using 60- to 100-watt lighting is usually comfortable, but you may want to try a few lighting options to see which works best for your specific needs. Light options include halogen, fluorescent or incandescent.
Install light switches so they’re easy to reach from the freelancer’s range of motion. You can also use voice-activated or motion-sensor switches for hands-free lighting.
Being able to navigate a workspace easily can be the difference between loving or dreading work. Having the right amount of space and the right furniture is paramount.
If you are modifying a space to accommodate a wheelchair, you’ll want a desk at the right height and width so the chair can roll under the desk with no impediments. An adjustable desktop is ideal because it allows the surface to be placed exactly where it’s needed. The desk should have shelves and drawers within easy reach. They can be labeled with bright colors and large letters for those with low vision.
Set up the desk and other furniture pieces in a way that allows a wheelchair to turn around without bumping into anything. Leave at least 32 inches between furniture pieces to ensure a wheelchair can pass. Placing bookshelves and tables along the walls will keep the middle of the room open.
Don’t settle for just any furniture. Select pieces that fit the freelancer’s personal style. Desks made for people with disabilities are available, but if they don’t match the existing décor, or simply look too functional for one’s taste, then check out desks with parts that can be adjusted. National Business Furniture offers a variety of adjustable height furniture selections in different colors and styles.
People with mobility challenges may need to raise furniture to be able to sit comfortably and stand up safely. Raising the height can be done by placing furniture coasters under desk, chair or sofa legs, or by extending the legs with small blocks of wood. To lower furniture, like desks, to make them more accessible for someone in a wheelchair, the legs can be shortened or replaced with shorter pieces.
People with low vision or who are blind should consider eliminating coffee tables, end tables and other low pieces that could be trip hazards. Keep furniture in the same place at all times to avoid accidents.
Having an organized work area is essential for sustained productivity and safety. When supplies, files and work tools are within easy reach and are readily identifiable, you can continue working without having to take time to search for an item.
For those with low vision or who are blind, a few tips can save time. For instance, use embossed letter stickers on file folders to designate what they contain. Or, place an embossed letter on a switch plate — “F” for the overhead fan and “L” for the light, for example.
Color coding with bold colors is great for organizing projects by categories. Color code files and file labels, too. You could also write notes in colors and keep colorful markers, pens or stickers on your desk for this purpose. To compensate for low vision, use embossed letter stickers to indicate the colors for each item. Be sure everything is kept in the same place at all times.
To make it easy to access materials, put them in cabinets or storage bins that don’t have doors. If you do use doors, install large handles for easier gripping. Set a rule that any drawer or cabinet door must be closed immediately after use to avoid creating obstacles for those with low vision, and to avoid obstructing the path of a wheelchair.
Also, keep the desk area tidy and safe by using a cord organizer to corral all cables and electrical cords, keeping them off the floor, out of the way and out of sight.
Once the work area has been organized, share the system with family, friends or caregivers. Ask them to be sure everything is in its designated place, including supplies and pieces of furniture.
In addition to design modifications, there are technical factors to consider as well when designing an accessible workspace. For example, depending on the specific needs of each individual, there are dozens of assistive and adaptive technologies available that help people with disabilities to accomplish specific tasks. Check out this list of tools and tips to get started:
The number one tool a freelancer needs is a strong and reliable internet connection. Nothing is worse than working on a project that’s due the next morning and the internet goes out, or you’re conducting a video conference and the lack of speed causes the meeting to buffer. Check out internet reviews to choose the best provider.
Electronics designed for people with low vision include telephones and calculators with large print dials and keypads. Using a large screen with high definition will also help increase visibility. Adding a fully adjustable computer mount allows the screen to be placed at the best height and angle.
Software can offer further assistance for people with low vision. Apple has a built-in feature on every Mac called VoiceOver that includes verbal descriptions of what’s happening on the screen. It also reads all content aloud and magnifies the screen.
Microsoft has created tools and features for Windows 10 and Microsoft Office to make computers more accessible for people who have disabilities around vision, hearing, speech, mobility and learning. For example, Microsoft’s Narrator feature reads the text on the computer screen, including calendar events and notifications. Microsoft’s Magnifier tool allows the entire screen or portions of the screen to be enlarged. Check out Microsoft’s online guide to learn more about all of its accessibility tools and features. Visit the Microsoft accessibility playlist on YouTube for more features and troubleshooting guidance.
NV Access, founded and managed by two business partners who are blind, provides free software in many languages for people with visual limitations. They believe everyone “deserves the right to freely and easily access a computer.”
Other companies also offer speech-to-text or voice-to-text apps that assist with “writing” emails, reports, notes, etc. Dragon Home and IBM Speech to Text are a couple of examples.
For additional options and ideas, the University of Arkansas Disability Resource Center has an extensive list of assistive technology to consider, including many free products.
How to pay for modifications
Several opportunities exist to help with funds and people-power for making modifications to an in-home workspace to accommodate a disability. Here are a few resources to research while putting together a comprehensive plan and budget.
Local, city, county & state grants
Rebuilding Together is an organization where neighbors help neighbors to improve the safety and health of their homes. Local affiliates are scattered across the U.S. and are ready to pitch in and assist.
Joni and Friends is a Christian-based organization providing programs for people around the world who have disabilities. The organization has chapters across the U.S. that can assist with local resources. The group also offers the Christian Fund for the Disabled (CFD), a grant for individuals who have adaptive needs not covered by insurance, Social Security or other sources. Application guidelines for a CFD grant can be found here.
Grants for veterans
U.S. military veterans may be eligible for a Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) or a Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The SAH grant helps service-men or women who have service-connected disabilities build a home or remodel an existing home to suit their needs or pay off unpaid mortgages for homes acquired without a VA grant.
With an SHA grant, the funds could be used to adapt a home owned by the veteran or adapt a home owned by a family member where the veteran will permanently live. The severity of the disability determines which grant an applicant is eligible for.
The American Red Cross assists eligible veterans, as well as active service members, with financing for home modifications for those who experienced a disability while on duty.
Because the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) is committed to helping members of the U.S. Army remain independent, they offer financial assistance for needed home modifications for veterans and others.
As you work freelance and make needed adaptations to your workspace, keep careful records. Working with any online accounting software can make expense tracking easier and simplifies the process of collecting information needed for income tax preparation.
First, it helps to know exactly what you can and cannot write off as a business expense while using a portion of your home to run a business. For example, you can choose to write off the mileage for driving to and from client meetings, called standard mileage rate, rather than writing off other vehicle expenses, like gas, insurance, tires, oil, parking fees, etc.
The IRS publication 583 states, “To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your field of business, trade or profession. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business, trade or profession.” Necessary expenses include those related to internet connections and phone service.
The IRS has home office deduction information available to provide a clear understanding of allowable tax deductions for freelancers who use a portion of their home for their business. States may also offer tax credits for home modification. Those can be found on each state’s official government website, if applicable.
Design an ideal workspace to thrive as a freelancer
Freelancing can be freeing in many ways, especially for someone with a disability. It allows the convenience of working in a space created to meet specific needs, which can increase productivity, focus and overall well-being.
Many organizations and programs are available to assist you or someone you know with a disability who chooses to work as a freelancer from the comfort of home. Use these resources and get started designing the ideal, accessible home office space — perfect for launching and sustaining a successful freelancer career.
Nicki Escudero is a Phoenix-based freelance writer and journalist with more than 18 years of experience in the publishing industry, writing for global publications and international magazines. A former expat living in Australia, Nicki has a passion for world travel and loves to learn about new cultures.
Did you update your bathroom? Revamp your kitchen? Install new flooring? We would love to share your project, big or small! Send us what you did and our editorial team will consider it for our “My Fresh Home” series, which will be published every Thursday. Check out our submission instructions at the bottom of the page.
Today we want to share a story from Freshome reader Haiku, who completed a fireplace face-lift:
Most homes built around 70s and 80s usually have fireplaces with bricks varying in color from orangey-red to black-brown-red. Automatically, it makes the room look dated and drab.
One fairly easy fix is to whitewash the fireplace – it instantly makes the room look light and bright. However, it’s time consuming and can be a bit frustrating depending on how porous or dark your fireplace is. But it’s definitely doable! I’ve whitewashed two fireplaces, in both our previous and current home.
I turned our last fireplace from this:
It’s our listing photo, so all clutter has been cleared away but it does make a huge difference, doesn’t it?
Here’s how I did it:
I mixed together equal parts of white latex paint and water and stirred. I covered up everything in my living room that I didn’t want to get paint on, grabbed a sponge and a rag, and went to work.
I sponged the mixture on the bricks, making sure to dab the drips with the rag. Sore shoulders – check. I waited a day to let the brick absorb the paint. The brick absorbs a lot of paint – so much that I had to do a second coat. When it was done drying the second time, it looked too uniform, so I got my sander out and sanded down a few areas. Hello dust!
Now, on to our current (and forever) home.
As soon as I saw the fireplace, I knew I would have to whitewash it. However, unlike the first fireplace, which was built out of a brownish interior brick, this one was mostly red and black. Our chimney sweep said that it was exterior brick, which made it SO much more difficult than before. It took me well over a week, and I kept panicking because no matter what I did, I thought it looked bad.
I started with one part white latex paint and two parts water, which left me with a light pink fireplace. My girls were thrilled. I tried to fix it with a half-and-half paint mixture, and ended up with a pink-purple fireplace.
“No honey, there’s no dinner, as I have spent all day painting our fireplace purple.” So bad. Bad bad purple. I slept on it and decided to add a bit of warm beige on my current white paint-water mixture.
It was better, but definitely yellow-ish. Everyone told me it looked fab and begged me to stop. But it bothered me. Every single day. It just wasn’t right. I thought if I made the water mixture whiter and painted ALL the grout lines, it might look better. And it did. BUT it dripped everywhere, and now I probably have carpal tunnel. It still wasn’t the look that I wanted, so I got sander out and went to town on the overly yellow areas, concentrating on the edges. It took hours, 7 sander pads (brick eats through it) and 2 days of cleaning all the dust off. It literally got everywhere because this time, I didn’t think to cover anything up.
This is what it looks like now, and I think it is so much better than before. We hired a carpenter to panel the fireplace, and I used marble tiles around the surround and painted everything SW Snowbound. Getting the sconces wired in was a project in and of itself, but we love how it turned out.
What do you think? Would you whitewash your fireplace?
How to Submit User Stories
1: Include “My Fresh Home Project” in the subject line. Then, in the body of the email, please provide an explanation of why you chose to do the project, an outline of steps you took to get it done, and any advice for readers considering similar projects. Make sure to include your name and any before/after images you have!
The balance of cool and bold work perfectly in artist Debbie Boyd Hageman’s work. All images courtesy of Debbie Boyd Hageman.
New Orleans-based artist Debbie Boyd Hageman has always looked to mother nature for inspiration, solace and refuge. From the time she was a little girl out in the garden with her mother, helping to grow their vegetables, to photographing and painting outdoors in her beloved New Orleans, Boyd Hageman finds her creativity flows best when outside.
“I look at the landscape and I see something new every time,” says Boyd Hageman. She paints big, bold, colorful abstract paintings for commercial and retail clients around the globe.
The Philly native spent a good chunk of her childhood in the state of Indiana. In her early 20s, she headed south to Florida, where she began her artistic career. Though she had always painted and briefly spent time in college art classes, it wasn’t until the then 20-something hit the Sunshine state that she was able to sell her paintings and confirm she could be successful as an artist.
Her use of both bright and muted colors, often together, is part of what makes her art so appealing. Though she does sell smaller pieces so that her art is accessible at all price points, Boyd Hageman mostly creates larger pieces that can stand on their own. “I tend to express myself best using large-scale canvases,” she says.
Deep, dark colors from artist Debbie Boyd Hageman work well in a monotone room.
Freedom of expression
For this busy artist and mom, it truly is all about expression.
“Sometimes I hate a piece, then I love it, then I hate it. Eventually, I come to a place where I can stop working on it, which is where I love it again,” she says with a laugh. Though she works to keep the artistic temperament to a minimum, Boyd Hageman jokes she’s been known to throw a piece outside on the ground when completely unsatisfied. “I usually go pick it up later and get back to work on it.”
The prolific painter is also a talented cook who makes most of her family meals daily – and from scratch. Working as an artist has allowed her to spend more time with her husband and two children. Her family also loves the outdoors. Often, they will walk the levee overlooking the Mississippi River. The scenic walk is just a few hundred feet from her front door in the Algiers Point neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s that kind of freedom she finds most appealing.
“I love that I make my own schedule, set my own rules and can truly be myself,” she says.
New Orleans-based contemporary artist Debbie Boyd Hageman in her studio.
The creative process
The artist has set up a studio in her home and posts pictures of her process almost daily. Many collectors buy their pieces directly from Boyd Hageman through her social media channels. She says those channels are like a virtual art gallery and she has a huge appreciation for them. Some artists she follows and admires on Instagram are Adam Handler, Eileen Noonan and Joseph Conrad-Ferm, as well as many others.
The busy artist also sells her pieces at various art galleries and artistic spaces such as the Broad Theater. Plus, she sells at local hotels like the Old 77 Hotel through the curated collection from Where Y’Art. She also has pieces in the permanent collections of The Jung Hotel, Pigeon and Price and The Brent House Transplant Institute.
On days when her schedule and mother nature align, the natural beauty will pack up her paintings and her gear and head to the famous French Quarter. There, she often sets up shop in Jackson Square with a multitude of other talented artists.
“It’s a real community of people who take care of one another,” she says. She adds that she learns a great deal from her contemporaries on everything from the location of the best parking spaces to easy ways to haul canvases and equipment through the busy streets.