A collection of necklaces in plain sight make accessibility and coordination easier, while creating wall art of sorts.

A collection of necklaces in plain sight make accessibility and coordination easier, while creating wall art of sorts.

While I wear the mantle of The Home Guru, I get practically all of my ideas and advice from others who are specialists in their fields. But most times, the spark of an idea comes right at home, faced with a chore to be done or some small improvement to make life easier or more enjoyable. And frequently, they are suggested by my wife Margaret.

Just recently, she came up with a clever organization idea for her walk-in closet resulting from her frustration of having to fumble around in a jewelry chest for just the right necklace, among many she has collected, to match her outfit for the day.

To the left of the entrance is a corner with two small stretches of bare wall where she suggested I nail several rows of brass brads from which she could hang her necklaces in plain sight. “See it to use it,” she said. I counted out her necklaces, noted their length, then nailed three rows of the brads in an attractive, even pattern. After my wife had hung the necklaces in their new open environment, we realized we had created a work of art of sorts.

But the practical aspect of the project is its usefulness every time she holds up a garment and can see at a glance which ones coordinate. Since we created this little project, a couple of my wife’s girlfriends have been introduced to the idea and have promised to organize their necklaces in the same way.

From this small project we are inspired to find even more ways to put frequently used objects in plain sight. For instance, I’ve taken to organizing all my home office suppliers in see-through containers, as well as old files, so that additional labelling is not required as with the cardboard boxes I formerly used.

Not everyone will be a fan of keeping items out in the open. I supposed people fall into two camps: one side needs to see everything in its place to feel assured that their home is in order, while the other side wants to keep things out of sight so their environment may function as a blank slate.

Some people may also worry that they will “stop seeing” items if they are always out in the open. Rather than inspiring more frequent use, their various collections may dissolve into so much background noise.

My suggestion is to be judicious about what goes on display. Too much of anything, or too many items loose without an assigned home, will become clutter, and clutter is the enemy of organization. Pick out only what you really use, and use frequently, and take the time to give everything its own place. What may otherwise have become disheveled can instead look enticing.

The kitchen is no doubt the busiest room for most families, and storing items in the open can help boost efficiency. Plates staked on edge in racks, pots and pans hanging from peg boards, and serving utensils arranged in vases have become popular, and a set of open shelves, opposed to closed-up cabinets, can make a kitchen appear larger. If you worry that dust will settle on plates, you can choose cabinets with glass doors.

If you are prone to purchasing small appliances that you don’t use as often as you would like – I am thinking of slow cookers, pasta machines, stand mixers and the like – having them lined up on a dedicated shelf, out of the way but not out of reach, may make inspiration strike more frequently when you are planning which dish to make.

Food itself can suffer from being out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. Think about which foods are easiest to see and reach, and you may get a sense of what foods you are eating most. Follow the nutritionists’ advice instead, and keep fresh fruit in bowls on the counter and sliced crudité on an eye level shelf in the refrigerator. Move leftovers to transparent containers, or at least label them, and you are more likely to eat them before they go bad.

Our hobbies give us much pleasure, so why not indulge in the display of your tools and materials even when you are not using them? You might find wall space to display woodworking tools, multicolored skeins of yarn, or exercise accessories. Seeing your favorite tools and materials may spark a creative impulse in you, even at an odd hour.

If out of sight is out of mind, everything in plain view is more likely to be used and therefore be truly useful.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

Steps. Some people seek to avoid them in their housing choices, preferring one-level living, while others insist on having sleeping quarters on a second level. And, the reasons for either preference can be quite different.

When I was very young, maybe five or six years old, I had a recurring dream of tumbling down an endless flight of steps, but they were of a rubbery consistency and I just bounced like a ball the entire way. Maybe my subconscious had absorbed the story my mother had told me about how as a toddler I miraculously survived a fall down the steps to a concrete basement floor.

The experience never dampened my enthusiasm for a beautiful staircase, however, from the time I discovered that I could enjoy a bumpy ride down the bare wooden steps on my romp from our second floor.

When we moved from a two-story row home in Philadelphia to a ranch-style home in the south, I remember, even as an eight year old, that it seemed strange that, when it came time to climb to my weary trundle bed, there were no steps to climb. It just didn’t feel right that I was sleeping on the same floor where I ate. From my experience in real estate, I’ve found that many people feel the same way.

Let’s face it, steps are a necessity in most housing situations. While it may be easier to build a one-story house, it makes more sense economically to have two stories rise above one foundation and to be tucked in under one roof. Then, there is the argument for the raised ranch, which is basically a two-story involving a split staircase, and the split-level also involving steps, but not in one long run.

While early in my real estate career, I thought that only senior homebuyers would have a preference for avoiding steps, I found many young buyers with the same avoidance issue because they had young children and were afraid either of their injury falling, or of being too far removed if the master bedroom was on the first floor.

Older buyers may prefer homes without steps, and indeed for many with mobility issues, the need for level floors is inarguable. But assuming one must live with stairs, is there any benefit to having them?

A set of stairs in the middle of the home might be an annoyance for people who aren’t used to them, but I have lived with them for most of my life. There were times in New York City when I have lived in four and five-floor walk-ups and in the country, I’ve lived in a two story home with laundry and storage in the basement. I’ve looked at the stairs as part of my exercise routine. In fact, the workout that comes from regular stair climbing may help to keep us young.

As a case in point, I think of my mother-in-law. My wife was initially relieved when her parents, upon retiring to Hyannis, Mass., selected a single story bungalow to live in. Her relief turned to irritation, however, on the first visit. The house was indeed a single story… with a basement. This dim lower level was deeper than the first story of the house was high, with a steep set of rough-sawn wooden steps leading straight down into it, and my petite mother-in-law flew up and down those stairs several times a day.

With every visit my wife would try to firmly make some suggestion to her mother that she not use the basement so often, but then “Mamytė” would run off again, carrying down laundry, bringing up line-dried linens (she had both outdoor and indoor clotheslines), putting food into storage, or bringing up the good dishes for the many parties she hosted. Occasionally she would even make an extra trip down to use the rowing machine she had set up by the dryer. Well, it drove my wife crazy, but her mother lived to be nearly 92, and she was able to keep using the stairs up until her last few years.

Even without the involuntary exercise stairs give us, they also benefit homeowners in other ways, whether by helping shape the design of a home or patio into a hilly property, offering a means to build up on a smaller parcel of land, or helping keep the bedrooms away from the sounds – and smells – of the first floor.

Yes, steps are here to stay, whether we can make them on not and, lately, as I feel an occasional twinge in one knee or the other, I wonder when my day will come.

There is a song by George Gershwin called “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” Notice that he didn’t say he’d get there by just strolling across to it or taking an elevator.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

Jan Efraimsen of Woodtronics Millwork Corp. stands in front of the mantel and bookcases his company designed and constructed to best utilize space and bring definition to a room.

Jan Efraimsen of Woodtronics Millwork Corp. stands in front of the mantel and bookcases his company designed and constructed to best utilize space and bring definition to a room.

Normally built-ins are utilized to transform dead zones into functional space, such as under stairs or windows, or between fireplaces and corners, but with our most recent project, there were a couple of other objectives to achieve besides organization, storage and display.

Because my wife and I would be moving from a historic home with architectural detail in each room, such as chair rails and corner cupboards, to a new condo where, basically, we were dealing with clean, sleek lines and plain white walls, we wanted our built-ins to add that missing architectural definition, especially in our great room.

We also wanted them to have a more organic feeling as though they were planned as part of the construction, rather than an afterthought. In essence, we wanted to treat the room as an empty stage set and utilize the built-ins to give it definition.

There was another need. There was no fireplace in the model we liked, and having always lived in houses that featured one as the gathering place for entertainment, we knew that we would want to incorporate one into the project. We planned for a traditional mantel with a fireplace insert, not wood-burning or gas, but one of those amazing new electric versions where you dare not test the illusionary flames with your hand to test if they’re real.

And, finally, because our new great room was to be the repository of collected things from several rooms from our former home, we needed shelving for more display space. We wanted to be able to sit on our sofa and look straight ahead at many things we love, while enjoying the fireplace or watching TV.

To help us realize our dream, we called upon Jan Efraimsen of Woodtronics Millwork Corp., of Yorktown Heights. Efraimsen’s story is one of a fortunate change of career some thirty years ago from an electronic engineer to a self-taught cabinet maker, based on his hobby in woodworking. “I started out with only a skill saw in my basement, making wooden jewelry boxes,” he says. From there, he secured residential building projects by going to construction sites and offering to do finishing cabinetry work.

Today Efraimsen runs a large operation in a 7,000 sq. ft. work space with 10 cabinet makers and enough heavy duty tools and machinery to build projects for large commercial projects, including restaurants and offices, as well as residential jobs.

It was a collaborative process working with Efraimsen and his designer Christine Keating. On his first visit, Efraimsen took exact measurements and, within a couple of weeks, Christine had created a set of drawings that perfectly reflected our vision. With a few adjustments of the details, primarily to the type of molding, dentils, and fluting to be used, we agreed on the final styling of both the mantel and the bookcases.

As for the wood to be used, Efraimsen suggested cherry for its hardness and ability to finish and stain beautifully. During the process, I was invited to the shop to discuss details as the mantel and bookcases were being fabricated and sanded. When it came time to choose the stain color, it was suggested that we match the color used on the kitchen cabinetry, which could be seen from the great room. Three different mixes were created and I was shown samples until the color was matched perfectly.

On the day of installation, the modules constructed at the shop were moved into place and anchored seamlessly.

Now whenever I sit in front of my masterful great room built-in, whether to enjoy the flicker from the fireplace, to enjoy TV from the set positioned at one end, or recount my years of memories from all the things we’ve collected, I find myself thinking of the fun that went into the creative process of bringing this beautiful project together with true artisans.

To know more about Jan Efraimsen’s work, visit http://www.woodtronicsny.com/. For an appointment to discuss your own built-in dream, call him at (914) 962-5205.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

15350190_sI’ll confess that I’ve always been a country boy at heart, having been reared in the Tidewater area of Virginia where, as a boy, I spent most of my time outside and barefoot at that. So, it was a real transition for me when I went to college and lived in a third floor dorm room and couldn’t just swing open the door and feel the lush softness of grass under my feet.

Now as I contemplate a transition from a single family residence with a yard to a top-floor condominium in a five story building, I have one particular concern: how would I adjust to living without my own outdoor property? I began my adult life in a series of apartments and townhouses in New York City and Boston, so at least I was not completely new to the notion of my home being “in” a building, but the decades of living on and tending to my own homestead made me feel deeply connected to the outdoors.

And I know I’m not alone. I’m working with a retired couple who is in contract to sell their home and making the hard decision of whether to move to one of two styles of condominium: one with a front and back yard, the other in a building with just a Juliette balcony. The former affords many of the same outdoor pleasures of single family home ownership, but bears the responsibility of maintenance, if only for some flower beds, which the husband doesn’t mind, but the wife does; the latter is maintenance-free but lacking that connection to nature, except for the views from oversized windows. The couple is still pondering.

As for me, I know I could be happier in new digs without a yard and be content with an elevated view of trees and surrounding hills to greet me each morning, especially in this extraordinary region of ours. However, the days have grown darker as we approach winter, and soon many of us will be leaving home for work before the sun rises and returning again after dark. So much for the nice view.

Especially for the winter months, here are some ideas to bring a bit of the outdoors in, at least throughout the chillier half of the year.

One no-fail option is to fill your home with plants, and literally have a part of nature alive in your home. The volumes written on the choosing and care of houseplants can fill a wall of shelves, but the basics remain the same: observe how much light a room gets, see which plants grow best with that amount, select the hardier specimens – especially if you are a beginner, and from that group pick what pleases you most.

If potted plants aren’t your thing, use the decorator’s secret and source out some convincing artificial plants. They may not replenish the air like their genuine counterparts, but I am convinced that they have the same soothing effect on the psyche. From a delicate orchid to a tall, potted palm, artificial plants can give you any look you want without the need to match plant to environment. My wife Margaret is particularly clever in mixing artificial blossoms with real cut stems to create bountiful centerpieces, especially during holidays. Sometimes she and our guests make a game out of trying to guess which blooms are real and which aren’t.

If it’s the smell of real flowers you miss, you can try to bring fragrance into your home through aromatherapy, potpourri or scented candles, but do take care that they are low in chemicals that you may not want to be breathing in.

But plants and flowers aren’t the only way to bring the sense of nature indoors. An organic feeling can also be built through the various textures of wood, stone, and other surfaces. You may be lucky and have these built into the structure of your home already, be they unique wood floor planks, exposed ceiling beams, or a stone fireplace. Otherwise, you can use smaller elements to the same effect.

Consider a line of seashells along a mantelpiece, or a hand-carved wooden bowl that still retains the irregularities of the original tree. One deluxe option, which includes the element of water, would be one of the new designs of vertical indoor fountains, where water flows down over a wall of copper, slate or pebbles.

While we are on the subject of flowing water, let’s not forget the element of sound. There are machines advertised that generate the sounds of ocean waves, rain or birdsong. Now you can also create the same soundscape with the use of an app or a streaming music service.

With such diverse options available, I do not need to lose the feeling of being in a verdant landscape of my own creating, no matter what the season is outside.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

The Home Guru’s coffee table with its odd assortment of collectibles.

The Home Guru’s coffee table with its odd assortment of collectibles.

The classic sitcom Seinfeld may rival Shakespeare for the number of neologisms it has given us—“low talker,” “regifting,” and “anti-dentite” among them—and it has also brought us the holiday Festivus and the career of The Original Soupman. But there is still one area of the Seinfeld universe that has yet to come into being: I am still waiting for my coffee table book about coffee tables.

Okay, granted, Alexander Payne published The Coffee Table Coffee Table Book, a collection of a few avant-garde coffee table designs, but it didn’t seem to measure up to the all-encompassing exploration that many of us envisioned Cosmo Kramer producing. It also did not unfold into its own coffee table shape.

The original coffee tables were actually tea tables, developed in the late 18th century in Europe and Britain. These tables were quite a bit higher than the coffee tables we are used to today, and they initially were placed behind the sofa. Human nature being what it is, eventually other items found their way to this new open surface; lamps, books and other amusements.

These early examples evolved into the lower models that made their way to the front of the sofa, although the history of this transition remains unclear. Two possible cultural influences on the Victorians may be the chabudai, a low table found in traditional Japanese homes, and the tables used in tea gardens in the Ottoman Empire.

With the mechanization of manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution, the basic design was standardized to the low and unadorned form we know today. J. Stuart Foote, president of the Imperial Furniture Company, claimed all the credit for inventing the coffee table himself in 1920, and marketed their functionality to Americans with vigor. Some have even theorized that the introduction of television into the average suburban home helped solidify the basic design of these fixtures, the low profile of which could accommodate beverages and TV dinners without obstructing the view of the screen.

Every design trend has created its own version of this simple fixture, including the return to a handmade esthetic in the Arts and Crafts movement, the strong geometric shapes of Art Deco, and the industrial-inspired use of glass and steel with purity of form in the Bauhaus movement. Perhaps the simplicity of the form of the coffee table helps give designers greater freedom in their creativity.

The ingenuity of interior designers in more recent times has made the coffee table multifunctional, with shelves and drawers built in underneath for storage. With the individualized artisan movement of today, it’s not uncommon to go online or watch a competitive show about flea market finds and see either coffee tables repurposed into other objects, or other objects repurposed into coffee tables.

In my own home I have a very large, round 19th century table which I found on one of our early antiques expeditions when my wife and I operated a weekend antiques business. In addition to holding drinks, it has served as an expression of my interests and individuality, as it does for many. This semi-private, semi-public surface can hold seasonal decorations, game controls, remotes, family photos, and yes, coffee table books. In my case, I have used it to display my love of antique collectibles, and my coffee table carries an odd assortment of brass items, a candle snuffer, a tea strainer, butter knives, a trivet, a crystal bowl of vintage marbles and, inexplicably, a beautiful newel post glass ball. Vive la différence.

Today the design of the coffee table seems to be returning to its original taller design, with top surfaces that elevate horizontally. Part of this function is to allow access to storage underneath, but part is also to bring one’s laptop up to a comfortable level for typing or video streaming. Ergonomic, surely, but perhaps less condusive to the face-to-face gathering that these tables used to cultivate.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

22019569_sEach fall throughout the years, I have given various tips for preparing for the long, cold winter ahead, and among them, here are some that are top of mind.

For the lawn, rather than gathering leaves and lawn clippings in bags, cut the leaves while dry with your lawnmower into dime-sized pieces. They will fall among the blades of grass where they will decompose and nourish the lawn over the winter. Bagging them is such a waste of nutrients!

Also outside, remember to disconnect all garden hoses and drain the water that remains in the faucets. Water that remains can freeze and cause pipes to burst as the ice expands. If you don’t have frost-proof faucets, turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.

Remember, your roof is your first line of defense in protecting your home throughout the winter season. Without your roof functioning in good condition, water damage can occur which in turn can cause deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable. It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm.

When all the leaves have fallen, it’s time to clean out gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if needed. Clogged gutters are one of the major causes of ice dams. Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards.

This kind of advice is easy to dole out, but very honestly, for safety’s sake, I have never once been on a ladder to the second story of any home I’ve owned. Scratch that. It’s not for safety’s sake. It’s my fear of heights. No matter the reason, it’s always a good idea to have a roofing professional or handyman check out the condition of your roof.

It’s also a good idea to extend downspouts three or four feet to take water away from the foundation of the house.

On ground level, I have checked weather stripping and caulking on doors and windows, walking around examining the areas where window, door, and corner trim meet the siding, caulking any gaps I’ve found.

Inside the home, winter’s goal is having a home that is well-insulated, devoid of drafts which occur when cold air seeps in from the outside or when warm air exits. Having always lived in older homes, I’ve probably used every trick in the book to supplement inadequate insulation until it could be upgraded. Among them, and my favorite, has been the frequent use of draft snakes at the foot of doors to keep drafts at bay between rooms.

The draft snake was adopted during the Great Depression era as one of the easiest ways to cut back on energy waste. You can make one on your own by simply rolling up a towel or filling up a pouch of fabric with either sand or kitty litter. There are many on the market, however, which can lend craft charm to the winter indoor landscape, even though you have to nudge them out of the way when that door has to be opened and closed. It’s worth the bother in heat saving, however.

The old fashioned remedies of lined draperies at windows and at open doorways between rooms still work today as well as they did 200 years ago in stopping drafts.

But air leaks around windows and doors are not the main culprits in robbing a house of warmth in cold weather. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, the more significant leaks come from the attic and basement: knee walls, which are the side walls that support attic rafters, the attic hatch, wiring holes for cable, electric and phone lines, recessed lights, furnace flues or ducts and basement rim joists, where the foundation meets the wood framing.

If you haven’t done it as yet, the very best chore on your checklist should be to have a home energy audit which can determine where your energy is being wasted and prioritize your efficiency upgrades. An energy auditor analyzes your energy bills, completes visual, health and safety inspections, and may use special equipment to detect sources of energy loss.

The good thing is that there are incentives and rebates available through New York State and local Westchester and Putnam county agencies to help finance your energy upgrades, and any provider found online will be happy to explain how they work and assist you through the process.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.


During the last quarter of the year, any homebuyer prospect can tell you that it hasn’t been a sure thing that you can get the house you’ve set your cap on. In today’s market, if a house is priced right and is in good condition, it doesn’t last long on the market. Further, we’ve seen the return of multiple offers and bidding wars as buyers have returned to the game and inventory has remained tight.

According to a report released last Thursday by the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors (HGAR) which reports on real estate sales in Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange Counties, home sales in this region continued to be rigorous in volume and moderate price changes through the third quarter, representing an increase of 15.2% in home sales over the third quarter results of last year.

Specifically in Westchester, the sales of single family homes increased during this period from 1,935 units to 2,065, or 6.7%. Sales of condos jumped significantly from 330 units to 403, an increase of 22.1% and co-ops jumped from 481 units to 546, an increase of 13.5%.

In Putnam, sales were more dramatic with single family homes increasing from 233 to 275 units or 18 %, and condos increasing from 27 to 41 or 51.9%;

The rapid pace of sales all year long and into the third quarter put some downward pressure on the supply of available properties posted with the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In our area, Westchester experienced a decrease in inventory of 4.3% and Putnam of 2.1%.

Leah Caro, President of the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service and President of Bronxville Real Estate in Bronxville, commented on the last quarter as “holding steady with the modest increase in sales in Westchester and with prices not becoming too overbearing for purchasers to stay in the marketplace.”

Of particular interest to Caro was the significant increase in sales of condominiums. “Condos and particularly co-ops took the hardest hit during the recession, in the double digits,” she said, “and the fact that they’ve rebounded now is indicative that there are first time purchasers moving out of rentals and jumping into ownership. At the same time, those condo sellers can be buying into a single family home.

“When we see that all segments of the marketplace showing an improvement, it means health in the real estate market,” she continued. “When one segment over performs or under performs another, it shows that something is out of balance.

“As in the last quarter, I talked about the ‘tale of two inventories.’ Homes that were priced well got multiple offers and sold well, while homes that were overly ambitious in their pricing did not sell and are coming off the market. Maybe those owners had the luxury of time to have the market catch up to the price they’re seeking. Because of that, we are seeing inventory levels that are pretty stable. I think the number of sales looks good.”

According to the HGAR report, although the region’s inventory has been trending downwards as a result of strong market activity, it has not shrunk so much or so rapidly as to put a crimp in the continuing market improvement. Further, there doesn’t appear to be so much of a decrease as to generate significant upward pressures on prices. In fact, there were price decreases in some market sectors

In Westchester for instance, the third quarter median sale price of a single family house was $676,500, representing a price decrease of $6,000 or nearly one percent from last year. In contrast, Putnam’s median price of $335,000 was $15,000 or 4.7% higher than last year

The closed real estate sales reported here largely reflect successful marketing and showing activity that took place during the spring and early summer months of 2015. At that time there were favorable conditions for a healthy market, including stable mortgage interest rates in a tight range around an average 4.0% for a 30-year conventional loan, and even lower rates from other mortgage products.

Also in that period, acting as a confidence-building factor for prospective homebuyers, unemployment rates were decreasing and new jobs were generally increasing. HGAR’s overall assessment of the report was that “our local regional real estate market has had a good run and remains poised for more as conditions permit.”

Leah Caro projects that there may be sustained momentum through the fourth quarter and advises sellers that anyone coming out to view homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s “are not folks who have nothing to do. I would advise sellers to keep their homes on the market during the fourth quarter,” she said, “because they’ll be inconvenienced less in that there are fewer buyers out there, but those folks who come out tend to be real buyers rather than lookers.”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

37365058_sWho says bigger is better? Well, all of us do, it seems, when it comes to living larger and wanting more space, especially if we happen to be downsizing, but don’t want to be fully aware of it.

There are countless ideas in decorating magazines, on HGTV and the internet about how to give the illusion of pushing back those walls and elevating the ceiling, but not all experts are in agreement about which techniques work best. It all depends on the mix of color, furniture arrangement, accessories, pattern and texture. But, color is where to start.

The rule of thumb for enlarging space has normally been to paint walls in lighter colors. For me, a prime example comes to mind from the play and movie “The Producers” when Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom hit pay dirt and hire their very efficient secretary Ulla who in turn paints their entire office white, including all furnishings, even the safe. Suddenly the set expands visually from a dim and depressing space to a bright and sunny environment, seemingly twice its size. Traditionally we have believed this works because we know that lighter colors reflect the light, rather than absorbing it.

But some decorating consultants would argue that lighter colors bring walls and objects closer to us and actually make a room seem smaller, while darker shades, such as a grey, can give the illusion of receding into deep space. I believe that either technique can work depending on a variety of factors, from the height of the ceiling to the amount of natural light the room receives, to how the room is furnished and accessorized.

But there are endless ways to deceive the eye.

Some years ago, I had a friend, a fashion editor, who complained that she had the smallest bedroom in her apartment that one could imagine, with just enough room for a double bed, a dresser and a night table. But she came up with an ingenious idea inspired from a scene in a Barbra Streisand movie. She covered her entire bedroom in a small floral print. That included the wallpaper for both her walls and ceiling and the fabric which was used for all her bedding, including the headboard.

When she invited friends over to see the finished result, it was amazing. Stepping into that room with its pale, repetitive pattern throughout was like entering into an endless flower garden where the walls just seemed to disappear.

There are other tricks that expand space as follows:

There’s an old rule that small furniture in a small space is the way to go, but a few larger pieces of furniture in a small room will often make it look bigger. Just don’t overdo it. A sleek sofa or chair will give as much sitting room as an overstuffed version but will take up much less usable space. For the dramatic effect of utilizing larger pieces without taking up floor space, take to the walls, either with a mirror or art.

Don’t automatically place your furniture against walls, believing that it frees up floor space. Sometimes placing a piece at an angle or surrounded by open space, even if it’s just two or three inches from the wall, will make a room look bigger.

Choose tables and desks of clear glass. When you can see through objects, it creates clear space, rather than blocking it.

When it comes time to select fabrics and rugs, choose smaller prints like my friend did or plain colors that will visually expand a small room.

You can lengthen a room with drapes by hanging them from the ceiling rather than from the tops of the windows. And, making them sheer lets in the light.

Another way to raise the ceiling is by painting it a darker shade than the four walls.

The oldest trick in the book is placing two mirrors on walls across from each other which gives the illusion of a room that goes on and on forever.

It’s always best to choose furniture with exposed legs, rather than a skirt, for expanding space.

And, finally, eliminate the need for some pieces by taking advantage of all the double-duty furniture now available to us through outlets like Home Goods, such as ottomans that double as storage units or as coffee tables.

Then again, if you live in a small house and want to ignore all the tips above, there is nothing wrong with living in a cozy space, with everything near at hand, feeling embraced by your environment. After all, when you think about it, who said everything has to stretch?

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Early example of a Hoosier Cabinet, produced in the early 1900s for kitchen storage.

Early example of a Hoosier Cabinet, produced in the early 1900s for kitchen storage.

As I opened the door to my kitchen pantry to grab a quick snack, the thought occurred to me that I’ve lived in homes and apartments that didn’t feature a pantry, and I wondered what I ever did without one.

As a kid, I distinctly remember how happy my mother was when she and my dad were able to purchase an older home that featured a “butler’s pantry,” which we hadn’t had before. To me, it sounded like something that only a fancy home with a butler should have.

A pantry might be as small as a shelf in a cupboard or as large as a walk-in closet. It is where we keep the foods and supplies used most often. This also is where small appliances will most likely be stored, such as the toaster, kettle, mixer, juicer, and coffee machine. In my case, I also squeezed in a dry mop standing to one side and a small canister vacuum cleaner on the floor under the bottom shelf.

Being naturally curious about the origin of things, I also wondered how the pantry came about. The history of kitchen storage is an interesting reflection of what was going on through the ages socially, economically and, today, architecturally.

The word “pantry” comes from the French word “paneterie” meaning from “pain,” the French word for bread. In medieval times food and supplies were stored in a number of specific rooms. Meats were kept in a larder, alcohol stored in a buttery, and bread was stored in the pantry.

In Europe, traditionally, the butler’s pantry was used to store silver, serving pieces and other kitchen related items. Because of its value, silver was kept under lock and key with the butler actually sleeping in the pantry to guard against thievery.

In America, pantries evolved from early American “butteries,” built in a cold north corner of a home, into a variety of pantries in self-sufficient farmsteads. A cold pantry was the place to keep foods that did not necessarily need to be kept refrigerated. Breads, pie, cheesecakes, pastries, eggs and butter were common foods kept in a cold pantry. Vegetables could be brought up from the root cellar and stored in the cold pantry until ready to use.

Prior to World War II, America’s smaller homes did not have closets, cabinets or pantries for food and kitchen storage. To fill the need for kitchen storage, in the early 1900s, the Hoosier Cabinet, made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in Indiana, was created to be an all-in-one pantry for the new American home. Most Hoosier Cabinets were about six feet high, four feet wide and two feet deep, making it ideal for small kitchens. The cabinet was typically sold with built in storage bins and containers for everyday items like flour, sugar, coffee, tea and household spices.

Hoosier cabinets today are found mostly on eBay, but for those that don’t have a pantry, there are tall pantry-type cabinets that go from floor to near the ceiling. These cabinets can store a lot of items, particularly if they are equipped with pull out can racks, shelving on the back of the doors, and built-in bins.

Whether a home features an elaborate pantry room or just designated shelves in kitchen cabinetry, there are now so many storage gadgets and devices that can make available space go much further. Lazy Susans help with access to items that would normally be stored in the back of a shelf. Pull out shelves accomplish the same goal. Bins can help keep loose items together and organized.

Because some things stored in pantries can be quite small, a pantry can be enhanced with a few smaller containers or drawers for loose items. Also, there can be mini-shelves or racks for spices that can be added to the back of the pantry door. Of course, pantries are good places to store bulkier items, like paper towels and plastic storage containers.

In today’s homes, butler’s pantries can serve as an “in between” room located between the kitchen and formal dining room. Typically you will also find countertop space to be used as staging areas for serving meals, as well as storage for tableware, serving pieces, table linens, candles, wine, and other dining-room articles. More elaborate versions may include refrigerators, sinks, or even dishwashers.

If the kitchen is regarded as the “heart” of the house, then certainly the pantry is its blood supply.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

Westchester County Legislator John G. Testa of Peekskill in front of his Arts and Crafts home, in his family since 1940.

Westchester County Legislator John G. Testa of Peekskill in front of his Arts and Crafts home, in his family since 1940.

For a politician, John G. Testa, Westchester County Legislator, says he’s too sentimental about most things, including his hometown of Peekskill where he was born and bred and particularly his Arts and Crafts home which has been in his family since 1940.

“I am the fourth generation of my family here in town,” Testa said recently, “and I have moved only two blocks from the home in which I was born when I acquired this house in 1984, where my two great aunts had formerly lived.”

Built in 1928, the modest three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath, 1400 sq. ft. house became Testa’s renovation project for some years. When asked to what extent he worked on the house, he answered, “Everything possible! It has been totally redone, from the heating system, converting to all natural gas, electricity, plumbing, restoring all the windows, the roof and the renovation of every room.

“Fortunately, I was young and had the knowledge of how to do it,” he said. “I should also point out that my wife Nancy was a partner in the various projects we have done on the house and has lived through quite a bit of upheaval as major renovations were in progress. We raised two great children, John Jr. and Katy in the home, who also lived through and helped with the projects.”

Today the home stands as a testament to a great period in American architecture which comes under the category of Arts and Crafts. But many people are not quite sure what the characteristics of the style are.

The Arts and Crafts movement evolved around the turn of the 20th century as a backlash against the fussy style of the Victorian era, instead subscribing to a more natural aesthetic and traditional craftsmanship. While Testa’s house is modest on the scale of homes produced during this period, it was also the very upscale purview of such great artisans as Gustav Stickley and William Morris, and it characterizes much of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

Arts and Crafts style is said to be driven by clear design guidelines, refreshingly honest and pure in spirit. Some consider the movement most closely identified with wood as its single most important element. While oak established itself as the iconic wood of the style, Testa’s home features chestnut woodwork, which is significant in that American chestnut trees were literally wiped out by a blight in the first part of the 20th century.

There is also a color palette associated with the style: subtle, muted tones taken straight from the natural world, which Testa’s interior decoration reflects, while its exterior has been fully restored from its substantial, characteristic front porch to its shingles, painted in a rich grey.

The home sits on a 50 ft. by 140 ft. corner lot facing a park across the street which served as a training camp for the New York Jets when he was a child. “What an experience it was to be walking out of my backyard and seeing Joe Namath working out on that field!” he said. At the time, Testa would come to his aunts’ home to help with various projects, “so you might say that I’ve been working on this house all my life,” he said.

Considering that Testa served as Peekskill Mayor for three terms, from 2002 to 2007 and is now in his third term as County Legislator, it is surprising to hear that “I was never really interested in politics. I have always been a school teacher, in the Peekskill and Lakeland School Districts, teaching both technology and social studies,” he said, “and came into politics as a natural kind of progression, serving first on Peekskill’s Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and the Peekskill Zoning Board.”

Nonetheless, his efforts as a politician yielded great results. When he first became Mayor, Peekskill had a fund balance of just over $1million and, by the time he left, it had soared to over $11 million.

After teaching for 33 years, Testa retired two years ago, to devote more time to all of his other activities for the community and the county, and to enjoy his home.

As a big promoter of his home town, Testa said, “I’m so happy to see that Peekskill is getting back to public outreach. Private investment is coming back, along with historic preservation and new residential developments. I see a bright future for Peekskill as a great place to visit and to live!”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.