RISMEDIA, May 5, 2011—(MCT)—Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg of Mission Hills, Kan., leads us through a weekend action plan for transforming our dead-leaf-riddled outdoor spaces into true retreats—including a celebratory drink at the finish line.
Friday after Work: Make a plan. Determine the scope of the project. The good thing about a weekend makeover is that the change can be as simple as positioning furniture and redistributing accessories. Truly updating the space can cost a little more, says interior designer Stephen Saint-Onge in his book No Place Like Home (Wiley; $20). “This is something you could do alone, as a fun family project or with a group of friends,” Saint-Onge writes. “Instead of a book club, how about forming a makeover club?”
Take digital photos. Landscape architect Joann Schwarberg documents projects by taking photographs from different angles. The “before” photos help pinpoint problems.
Make a list of tasks and supplies. Schwarberg creates spreadsheets of tasks to be performed. She includes the fun, like new pillows and plants, as well as the mundane, including cleanup.
Early Saturday: Clean like mad. Empty pots and clear out furnishings. “They need to be out of the way so you can clean the area and visualize something new,” Schwarberg says.
Christine Stephan, who assists Schwarberg, hoses off the rings of dirt outside of pots and washes the interiors with water and a drop of disinfectant. “You don’t want this year’s plants catching last year’s diseases,” Stephan says.
Spruce up. Prune nearby trees and shrubs. Clear the gutters. Add mulch to existing nearby landscaping. Power wash or hose down the area of the house getting the makeover, including the walls and pavement. If necessary, apply touch-up paint on the house. Make sure all the lighting works.
Saturday afternoon: Shop around. Assess your furniture. “If the old stuff has to make it another year or two but looks pretty run down, consider painting it with one of the special spray paints made for metal or plastic furniture,” Schwarberg says. “This will shine it up and maybe add a new fun color. Remember to clean it thoroughly first, or the paint will flake and chip.”
Another option if you have a patio set worth keeping—or if you find a great set at a flea market or estate sale—is to take it to an auto body paint shop and ask them to give it a new life, she says.
Consider new cushions and pillows. For cushions, Schwarberg advocates a solid neutral color.
“That neutral could be a blue, lime green or whatever,” she says. “You want the cushions to be fine for any type of party, whether it’s a luau or fiesta. So the accent pillows can be the fun patterns, but you don’t want to get sick of the cushions.”
Or perhaps all that’s needed is a new umbrella.
Buy pots, plants and rugs. You might already have an outdoor-grade rug in your house that you can use on the patio.
Sunday after Breakfast: Race to the end. Plant pots. Schwarberg’s system: Place about an inch or two of gravel in the bottom of large pot. Smooth it out so a plastic liner sits level on top of it. Make sure pot and liner have holes in the bottom to drain the soil of excess moisture. Insert the plastic liner pot (about an inch smaller than the ceramic or clay pot) and layer the inside with an inch of gravel, filter cloth, organic potting soil and your main plant, tree or shrub; add annuals and herbs around edges. Use Styrofoam packing peanuts to fill in the gap between pot and liner — this prevents shrinking and swelling of soil that cracks pots. Add a finishing touch of sheet moss at the top to retain moisture.
Arrange furniture. Schwarberg likes to place club chairs on a diagonal to create outdoor conversation areas. If you also have lounge chairs, set them in the lawn facing the patio, she says. “This gives an additional view of the yard and extends your entertaining space beyond the paving.”
Eat, drink and have fun. Sit back, relax and toast your hard work. Your weekend makeover will pay off all season.
Bankrate: Mortgage Rates Inch Lower
RISMEDIA, May 2, 2011—Mortgage rates remained below the 5 percent mark, with the benchmark conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate inching lower to 4.95 percent, according to Bankrate.com’s weekly national survey. The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.37 discount and origination points.
The average 15-year fixed mortgage stepped down to 4.14 percent, and the larger jumbo 30-year fixed rate reset the low point of the year at 5.40 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were also lower, with the average 5-year ARM dipping to 3.69 percent and the 7-year ARM dropping to an even 4 percent.
Mortgage rates were lower this week, but the movement in mortgage rates continues to be tame. Mortgage rates have remained within a one-third percentage point band since mid-December. The Federal Reserve did little to rock the boat, holding interest rates steady and changing very little in the post-meeting statement. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s initial press release was a historic event, but uneventful. While the Federal Reserve confirmed that they will halt their bond purchases at the end of June, this has been widely expected and any resulting volatility in bond yields or mortgage rates is far from certain.
Mortgage rates are closely related to yields on long-term government bonds.
The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At the time, the average 30-year fixed rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.95 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,067.54, a difference of $174 per month for anyone refinancing now.
The survey is complemented by Bankrate’s weekly Rate Trend Index, in which a panel of mortgage experts predicts which way the rates are headed over the next seven days. The vast majority of panelists, 77 percent, don’t see much of any movement in mortgage rates over the upcoming week. The remainder are split, with 15 percent predicting an increase in mortgage rates and just 8 percent forecasting a decline in mortgage rates over the next seven days.
For more information go to www.bankrate.com.