Improvementalism:
The fanatical belief that remodeling doesn't need to cost you a fortune - or your sanity.

FaceOff: Does Google TV or Apple TV Have the Upper Hand?

Something juicy we're working on lately - super flat screen TV installation

Custom Ultra thin flat screen TV media center

Do you ever wish that you could visit a website called Gapple? Or Apoogle? These two tech giants are constantly facing off with regard to technology, and it’s tough to determine who the current frontrunner is when it comes to their products. One day you’re a Mac. The next, a PC. It’s tiring. And since ¾’s of the population isn’t fortunate enough to have dual operating systems in their homes, we find ourselves identifying with one versus the other.Enter Google and Apple in the TV world. Wonderful. They’ve found yet another way to put a wedge between themselves and confuse the common consumer with products that are seemingly similar.

So, what’s the deal with Google TV and Apple TV? Are they the same thing with different makeup on? Is this a Coke versus Pepsi issue? Or are they really not the same thing at all? Here’s the scoop on the who, where, when, what, why and how.

Who: If you’re a tech junkie, you love upgrading your in-home experience and having the latest toys. These devices are sleek. They do cool things. They look great on the coffee table. And you want one! But do you know why? More on that in a few.

What: Without further ado, let’s chat about the fundamental differences with these devices. Apple TV is a digital media receiver that redirects content from iTunes, YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe to your TV. You can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and show off your vacation photos to a standing-room only crowd at your next party… That’s where the buck stops though. Google TV, on the other hand, is a software platform. Simply put, it’s like your computer had kids with your TV. With Google TV, you can download 3rd party apps like Twitter, Facebook, or MSNBC, and your TV screen becomes an extension of your computer monitor. Google TV is customizable, whereas Apple TV is not, and also features a picture-in-picture (PIP) capability if you’re surfing the web and catching up on HGTV at the same time (busted!)

Supremely awesome Island inspired crash pad for a young actress

When: Both Google TV and Apple TV make it possible to watch whatever you want virtually whenever you want. We like this.  It helps for those days when you drank too much coffee and can’t sleep at 3:47 am.

Where: Neither of these devices are mobile, meaning they’re something you will set-up in your home on a particular TV and keep there. Is your home outfitted with a TV in every room? If so, either option will be an expensive prophecy, as a unique Google or Apple device is required for each TV, and there is no way to split them like traditional cable. (anybody know a hack?)

Why: You’re cool. We’ve established that. And you want the same up-to-the-minute technology that you read about on tech blogs. Both Google TV and Apple TV bring another dimension to home entertainment, and for movie buffs and people who are tired of having to DVR shows or buy expensive movies on pay-per-view, either of these options makes a lot of sense. They bring what you want to you when you want it, kind of like an entertainment butler.

How: Apple TV is a small receiver box that sends content from your computer to your TV. It’s a cinch to set-up, and the audio and video quality is better at 720p than Google TV is at 1080p. Google TV takes more patience to get running, and you need a Logitech keyboard, Sony-equipped TV, or a DISH box to make this dream a reality, but once it’s up and running, the possibilities are endless regarding what you look at on-screen. The most important question to ask yourself is, “What am I planning to do with this technology?” Your answer will help determine whether you’re a Googler or if an Apple a day will keep your techno obsession at bay. If all else fails, get one of each and really impress your house guests.

Do you have Apple TV or Google TV?  How do you like it?  Sound off below! Reporting live from my PC, back to you.

How Do You Keep A Kitchen Organized?

Martha Stewart's Cantitoe Corners Kitchen (www.marthastewart.com)

Listen…  If you’ve got a perfectly organized kitchen, this conversation might not be for you.  I mean, you can read along, but you may be shocked at what you’re hearing.  If Martha Stewart’s color-coordinated  kitchen perfection has been mastered in your home, well… I’m going to need a picture to see the proof.  (seriously, please share in the comments)

For the rest of us, kitchens are one of the hardest working rooms in a house – serving so many functions at once for so many people.  Breakfast on the fly, lunch packing for multiple people – somebody’s picky, somebody eats gluten free – somebody threw a spoon full of yogurt at the dog!   Coffee and dishes,  people cruising around in the same space like bumper boats at a carnival – and everybody’s got a different agenda.

There was actually a birch log in this cabinet.  Along with SpongeBob...

Forget housekeeping, evening meals, and washing up after dinner.  Your dishes look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa – you never did figure out why they sit so sideways in the cabinet …  and God help you with the sippy cups, bottles, dishes, and glasses!  Whatever somebody else needs always seems to be exactly where you’re standing! Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh.

If you’re lucky enough to have a live-in relative,  a housekeeper, or a nanny cruising around too – well kitchen mess surely exponentiates with every person that has to successfully function out of this little room-o.

I rescued a pickle, crayon, and Barbie shoe from this drawer.

We’ve all been there.  Who has time to sort all the crap out of the cupboards and fix all the woefulness?  Here are a few things I’ve learned about keeping the Kitchen organized:

Purge. Nothing creates new energy in a kitchen like releasing the old.  Have a drawer full of take-out seasoning packets, chopsticks, and forks?  Do you avidly keep every plastic container from Whole Foods so you can save the planet while sending friends home with leftover quinoa? Figure out what you actually use, have the proper lid for, and have room to store – and shed the rest to a recycling bin near you.

Matching glasses from a restaurant supply store & Target

Purchase. If it’s been a while since you’ve had a single dish that matches in the kitchen it might be time to do yourself a solid and get some new ones.  Practically speaking, mismatched dishes and glasses don’t always stack well and they take up more room – impractically speaking they can really drive you nuts visually too!  Dishes don’t have to be expensive either – (hello, Recession?) the various sets below all came from Target for a client with two little girls.

Dishes don't have to cost a fortune.

If you have the room, think about buying more than the standard set of eight, ten, or twelve of certain items.  Only you know what your family goes through most frequently, but most Moms crank through small bowls, plates, and cups for kids pretty fast.  Get a few more dishes – spend more time playing Angry Birds with the kids, less time standing at the sink.  You know you want to…

Dish organizers double the space

Partition. Older cabinetry often divides pantry space in a way that doesn’t coordinate with the size of anything you own.  Seriously.  So do yourself a favor and hit Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond etc. and grab some shelf & drawer organizers.  Things stay put a lot better when they have actual spots to be organized into.  Who knew?

no pickle in this drawer!

Post. If you want to be a bold, bold kitty – once you’ve sorted through what you want to keep, and gotten coordinating dishes and separated Church and State, try labeling where you want things to live.  It’s a great social experiment! See if it helps everyone keep things where they belong or if your family calls mutiny.

Tea, coffee, and me!

What helps you stay sane in your kitchen?

Wondering What Colors Work in a Mid Century Home? Try Food Colors …

Some things never grow old. I am still overly delighted with the first wear on a new pair of socks.  I dig 50’s juice pitchers at the Flea Market, every time.  I get giddy over a fresh set of Crayola Crayons – the 64 Pack – and love, love, love the way my office feels after it’s been organized by a professional.

I also never get tired of noodling on colors.  I love thinking about color combinations, pondering what’s right for a room, what’s historically accurate, and why certain stuff works. This project below was one of my favorites –  a family home we remodeled like mad in a canyon nearby. When you really look at the delicious colors in the family room below they evoke foody feelings. Don’t you think?

There’s some sort of pumpkin pie, chocolate, whipped cream thing happening for sure… either that or I’m officially hungry. Post Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas always feels very home-centric for me – and all about foods I don’t normally even eat.

I highlighted some harvesty colors in the space that make it feel very Mid-Century. In actuality, a lot of the colors from this time period are a little more pastel/sun-faded than these, but I reserve the right to see the world the way I want to…

Errrm… ok. So wet plaster isn’t even remotely close to a food.  I know – I should have tried harder before I hit publish, but I couldn’t think of a foody name for this color!!  And that’s honestly what wet plaster looks like (trust me – saw some in a leaky ceiling last week –  and it’s definitely not edible, friend-o)

Wanna know what Crayola 64 has to say about these colors? You know somebody gets paid a lot of money to eat bonbons and test out color names for their crayons…

Nothing in the 64 crayon box matches this color, foody sounding or otherwise.

What food would YOU associate the last color with?

Los Angeles – Earthquakes Big and Small Are Bad News for Homes

Crack kills

Southern California has serious lifestyle perks. The weather, creative people, and a steady stream of new things to see and do top my list of reasons to be here.  Unfortunately, as with most things, these are balanced out by earthquakes, fires, and in many places, a higher crime rate. As a recent victim of a break in at my home, I can attest to this.  Being awakened last night at 4 am by a little 4.4 earthquake reminded me of all the important things to know when you live in Earthquake land…

With all the things going on in our lives, how can you truly protect your home on a daily basis from the reality of life? I highly recommend all of my clients take steps like activating an alarm system on their doors and windows.  This is a major deterrent for most burglars- a blaring alarm or a barking dog can scare off all but the most determined. But what if the danger is more insidious? The damage caused by earthquakes, be it The Big One or smaller seismic adjustments, threaten your family’s safety – and your biggest investment.

Earthquake:

This is a good time to mention having a home inventory done.  A photographic inventory of your home’s exterior, interior rooms and features, and all of your belongings and collections will help you speedily make an insurance claim and move on faster.  Make sure you leave a copy of your inventory with your home insurance agent and or a safety deposit box or a family member out of town!

Getting your home ready for an earthquake involves some effort. Recent rumblings have reminded me that it’s a sure thing to experience an earthquake if you live in Los Angeles. There are ways to be prepared for The Big One. Find a corner or a closet in your home and begin to prep the most important elements of a survival kit, including a gallon of water, per family member, per day.  This is incredibly important!

Emergency organizations remind us that our water line from the tap could be contaminated from ruptured sewer lines, and undrinkable in the aftermath of an earthquake.  A two week supply is a great start.  You can use normal bottled water containers from the grocery store, but they tend to leak, so camping gear water containers are suggested for their size and true storage capacity.

Other important things to prepare include items for avoiding infection. A good First Aid kit, medicines, handy-wipes, and personal care items like shampoo, conditioner, toilet paper, tampons, and toothpaste will go very far in the event of a serious disaster, and could mean the difference between your family surviving comfortably in rough conditions long enough to get medical attention. Also consider prepping a small toolkit and clothing for everyone in the family, as well as blankets, diapers, glasses, and anything necessary to life for children and elderly family members.

For homes built before 1935, making sure the house has been properly bolted will protect your investment through shaky times. This is a job for a contractor. Securing large furniture, artwork, and water heaters to the walls can keep things from falling on you.  Another thing that may save your life is learning how to shut off your gas valve, water line, and electricity in case the lines are damaged.  We can help with all of this!

During an earthquake, remember to move as quickly as possible to interior walls and doorways, protecting your head and avoiding glass windows.  If you have more than one child, consider making a plan regarding which parent will secure which children if possible to avoid confusion.

In the aftermath of an earthquake of some magnitude, you should be prepared for aftershocks.  Immediately check to see if anyone is injured and might need first aid.  For your safety, you should also check on your gas appliances, water lines, and electrical lines.  This is where it really helps to know where your shut off valves are! Shut off anything that might have a leak and DO NOT use matches, or appliances with electrical switches, or light a cigarette until you have been cleared by the gas company or emergency services to do so.  Stay away from damaged buildings and broken glass. Knowing the closest fire, police, and medical assistance locations could save your life!

This is a good time to check on your pets, neighbors, and anyone in your near vicinity.  Experts warn against using your phone for anything but emergency calls at this point. Select a family member out of town for everyone to contact, because long distance phone services are often the first to be returned to working order.  Get to know your neighbors, and consider sharing equipment like backup generators and large tents in case of long term emergency.  Who knows… one might be a doctor or a nurse!

The first 72 hours after an earthquake of magnitude are the most critical. Things you assume are readily available and safe for use may be compromised! Spend a few hours preparing your home and family for the worst, and you will weather the storm in better condition than most.

We work with our clients to safeguard their homes against damage in case of emergency, and educate them about some of the most confusing and obscure systems in their house.  Do you know where YOUR gas shut off valve is? Sprinkler shut off? Give us a call and we can empower you to properly protect your domain.

A wonderful resource for more information is this site:http://www.mygreathome.com/safety/earthquake_preparedness/index.htm

LA Fire Department Earthquake Preparedness Handbook:http://www.lafd.org/eqhbtext.htm

Southern California Earthquake Data Center: http://www.data.scec.org/

What the heck is a home inspection?

David Salvato thoroughly inspects every outlet

Nobody can deny I’ve got a thing for houses.  When I visit friends, I ask the kind of questions that earn me blank looks, shrugging, and an occasional eye-roll over my obvious excitement for the things many people, well… just don’t care much about. But nobody beats out a Home Inspector when it comes to an eye for detail…

If you’re a real estate agent in LA, you probably know David Salvato- with DHI Home Inspection. He’s one of those people that seems to be everywhere, a featured Home Inspector on Active Rain, and I love his juicy updates on Twitter describing conditions good and bad in homes all over Los Angeles.

Today I grill David in honor of first time home buyers using the tax credit- and giving them some sound advice, with a quick Q & A followed by some of David’s Home Inspection Deal Breakers.

tools of the trade

@EvangelistaLA: David… I’m guessing you either have to be OCD or majorly methodical to be a home inspector. What makes you so thorough?

@FollowDHI: I get my patience by remaining focused on the task at hand. I inspect every home as if were one I was buying for myself. As the owner of David Home Inspection my name is on every inspection and I take that very seriously.

@EvangelistaLA: How do you feel about buyers who want to be present for your inspection?

@FollowDHI: I love it! I guess I must have been a teacher in another life or something. I truly enjoy sharing the details of the home inspection with the potential buyers.

David caught a gas leak on this inspection

David caught a gas leak on this inspection

@EvangelistaLA: Gimmie the dirt. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen on an inspection?

@FollowDHI: I would have to say by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen was a complete cutaway of a roof truss system to make room for a non-permitted bonus room. The roof could have collapsed on the occupants. The Home was deemed uninhabitable by the local building department. It took an investor to remove all the damaged trusses and rebuild it.

@EvangelistaLA: Woah. I’m guessing with banks taking ownership of so many homes you’re seeing some wild conditions in REO properties. What’s the deal with that?

@FollowDHIConditions vary with location- and the amount of time the home is left unattended. It’s not uncommon for a Home Inspector to find things like the Heating and Air Conditioning systems removed. Vinyl doors and windows missing. Copper plumbing and electrical wires pulled out. I recently inspected a home where the $6,000 pool equipment had been stolen!

I mean this guy is EVERYWHERE...

Your bonus: DHI’s Top Ten Reasons Homeowners Tend to Walk Away:

  1. Foundation cracks that are beyond normal. Small hair line cracks are considered normal – caused by the shrinking and settlement of the concrete itself. Larger cracks are sometimes caused by large tree roots or poor soil conditions.
  2. Mold. At times mold will come up on the report. Mold in large amounts can be caused by long term roof leaks, plumbing and irrigation damage- and the health effects attributed to major mold exposure may be serious.
  3. Asbestos. Any home built before 1978 will contain asbestos of some type, unless it’s been removed already. In older homes where the new owner wants to renovate, it is best to know where the asbestos laden products are and call a pro to remove them. This can impact a renovation budget heavily.
  4. Lead. For young families with small children a home with lead paint can be a big issue. Many times I find paint peeling or flaking off- leaving small bits of paint that can be ingested by children. The lead paint removal process is a expensive, and takes time.
  5. A Bad Roof. The roof system is one of the most important parts of the house. Replacing a roof can cost thousands and in some case even over ten thousand. Wood damage under the roof will cause the replacement price to escalate quickly.
  6. Wood destroying insects and organisms. Subterranean termites are the most common termite in the United States. A mature colony has from 80K to 400K workers. (eek! Something tells me they’re not lazy either…) The average colony can consume a one foot length of 2×4 in 118 days. Other unfriendly suspects inclue the Powder post beetle, the Carpenter bee, and the Carpenter ant. Long term infestation by any of these pests can lead to the loss of structural integrity.
  7. Household pests. (uh. Yuck…) Rats and mice are the most common finds in Southern California homes. This is especially true in homes that have a lot of fruit trees and date palms. Rodents can cause thousands of dollars in damage to the homes systems and equipment. They can eat the insulation off electrical and control wires, can nest in and destroy HVAC ducts as well.
  8. Missing or damaged systems and equipment. Plumbing, electrical and HVAC equipment are some of the first things taken. Many homes are being sold as is- Bank Owned. When homes are left unattended they are subject to thieves removing HVAC equipment appliances, copper wire and plumbing.
  9. Signs of past fire damage. Even after repairs have been made many people can’t get past the feeling of bad luck that comes with a home that’s been involved in a house fire.
  10. Death or Murder in Home. (major eek!) We saved the worst for last. Everyone has seen Amityville  Horror. Never met anyone who went through with the purchase of a home after this kind of disclosure.

Seen something wild at a Foreclosure? Bought or sold a house somebody died in? Shoot us a comment!

The Four C’s of Condo Living

Proper wiring and support can help your TV hang out for many a movie night

Four C’s of Condo Living: Cosmetic, Color, Curtains & Clutter

You Can’t Take It With You, People: When it comes to living in an apartment or a condominimum, many people instinctively want to update and work on it in ways that just don’t pay off in the end. To make sure you don’t over improve, I like to think in terms of the Four C’s of Condo Living: Cosmetic, Color, Curtains, Clutter.

Cosmetic, you ask? Unless you have a pretty amazing Landlord, willing to reimburse you for the cost of work you do, all work and updates to a condo should be cosmetic, or surface changes.

Some of my favorite cosmetic changes are: Changing knobs in kitchen and bathrooms on drawers and cabinets, changing out a light fixture like a chandelier over a dining area, and hanging a TV on the wall to clear space for more storage and furniture below.

Save the knobs you have taken off (in a handy plastic baggie to wrangle all the screws) and label them by room for when you part ways with the condo and need to put them back on.

This method is super handy for that ugly, nipple shaped light fixture (does anybody else see this??)  that landlords love to put in the kitchen/dining area.  Bag it up, shove it in the back of the closet, and have an electrician replace it with a cute, inexpensive light fixture with some personality. You can get some smoking deals online and in stores like this one. Consider taking it with you go, and give your landlord back his nipple… Ahem.

Looking remarkably like ...

Mounting your TV on the wall in a condo or apartment can be a bit trickier.  Sometimes you luck out and a previous owner has already done the work for you, or units in a newer building might have built and wired with your slick TV in mind. No such luck?

Assess your walls, furniture placement, and outlet locations carefully.  Also, if your cable/satellite TV has already got a hookup in a wall somewhere, it’s good to know where it is located.  Aim for as little mess/deconstruction as possible, with the smallest distance for your wires to be visible between the TV and your components.

Color: Nothing changes a space like surrounding yourself with the colors that please you most. Think hard on what you want your space to do for you – warm colors are invigorating, exciting. Cool colors are calming, relaxing.  Neutrals are cozy, and can make a great backdrop for changing accent colors by season, should you have the ‘design bug’ like some of us…

Color enters your space in lots of ways. Paint is the most obvious, either painting entire rooms or selecting accent walls to highlight with a bolder color.  It’s always good to really look at the ‘shape’ of the wall you’re planning on painting an accent color.  Aim for a wall that’s relatively square or symmetrical, so that you don’t have funny little slivers of color around odd shaped architecture in your home.

Bring home swatches from the paint store, and get a sample of the paint and try it out before you commit. (seriously) Check out the color in the morning, middle of the day, and at night before you go for it.

Color swatches

Your flooring (often carpet) is another color to consider. Most units have some sort of beige/tan/gray tone that you have to work with when you are planning your paint colors, and furniture purchases.  It shouldn’t rule your life, but it’s worth thinking about it when you’re plotting.

Furniture, rugs, pillows, bedding, and artwork all add color and life to your place.  Think about what you’ve already got, and making everything look as good as possible. Have a subtle art collection? Perhaps a bolder color wall might balance out a black and white photography display. Have wild Rock and Roll posters from the 60’s and a Velvet Elvis? They might speak well for themselves on a more neutral background.

Curtains: Most apartments and condos come stocked with noisy, plastic-fantastic hanging blinds that make a bunch of noise and take me back to the 70’s (when I suspect somebody thought they were cool.)  uh… gag.  While they do block light, and they survive multiple tenants, they do positively awful things for your mental state.

The 70's are calling...

Consider taking them down and replacing them with colorful, interesting curtains to add some life to your pad.  Shove the plastic ones under your bed or in the back of a closet to be reinstalled for the next tenant.

Don’t have the dough for the designer curtain panels you want? Try a staging trick:  Measure the height you want, adding a few inches for a rod pocket at the top, and a hem at the bottom.  Find a more affordable fabric you like and have your local dry cleaner sew a pocket in the top for the rod and hem the edges.  Hit Lowes or Home Depot and have them cut a dowel rod to length for you to stand in for a curtain rod.  Then nail your dowel (and curtain) to the wall at the desired height. Viola! Custom ‘curtains’ without the custom price.

(Author’s note: this approximates a ‘dummy panel’ or a curtain that doesn’t open and close. This works great in a space that doesn’t have sunlight issues, or need to be blocked off for privacy. You can, of course, do the same thing and make real, operable curtains, but that requires a lot more fabric and can drive your budget back up in the range of premade curtains.)

Clutter: We all know about the Clutter Monster.  In a smaller and or shared space, clutter can kill the open feeling you had when you walked in and decided to rent the condo in the first place.  My good (and incredibly tidy) friend John Trosko of OrganizingLA shares lots of ideas for keeping the chaos at bay here.

Multi function storage can really be helpful in a condo. Find seating with storage tucked away inside of it for blankets and extra clutter. Inexpensive closet storage units and correctly sized interlocking plastic storage boxes with wheels can also go a long way toward keeping your space streamlined.

Magazine file boxes to keep clutter at bay

Craving some design? Personalize inexpensive storage boxes to match your space.  You can get fun magazine storage like these here.

Need some ideas for how to spruce up your condo on a budget? Shoot us a tweet! Have any condo living tips of your own? We love comments…


Client Love for Improvemental

Laurie did a museum quality restoration of my 1921 Craftsman. She also managed my move, had the chimney rebuilt, supervised the installation of new rain gutters, a new hot water heater, and about fifty other things. She somehow did all of this on time and on budget. She's really good. She did such a good job on my house, I recommended her to my parents. That's not something you do unless you're really happy with a person's work.

- Adam, Hollywood Hills

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