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    By Laura Gaskill

    Shakers viewed simplicity and careful work as a form of prayer, which led to the design of beautifully pared-down furniture, revered to this day by modern and traditional design lovers alike. Officially called the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, the Shakers in 1774 broke away from the Quakers in England to form their own religious society in colonial America, where they lived in celibacy and granted full equality to men and women. Although Shaker communities had thinned greatly by the early 20th century, a few small practicing Shaker communities do exist today.

    With clean lines, unadorned forms and utterly practical applications, Shaker designs are, if anything, more relevant in today's hectic world than they were in the 18th century. If you've ever been curious about Shaker style, read on for a run-down on five of the group's most iconic designs.

    1. The ladder-back chair. Ladder-back chairs did exist before the Shakers, but they were more ornate ... and less comfortable! Shaker ladder-back chairs are simple and straight, with a leaner look than other versions.

    Modern Hall by Kansas City Interior Designers & Decorators, Katy Sullivan Designs

    There are many modern incarnations of the Shaker ladder-back chair, like these from Oly Studio, with an even more slender, elongated look.

    There are also Shaker-style ladder-back chairs in bar- and counter-height versions.

    2. The peg rail. The Shaker peg rail, a simple board affixed to the wall with evenly spaced pegs, can be used to hang up just about anything, from clothes to tools. Traditionally, the ladder part of ladder-back chairs could be hung on the peg rail to get the chairs out of the way while someone was sweeping up.

    Today you've most likely encountered Shaker-style peg rails in the mudroom, where they make a welcome addition - but why not buck the trend? Try a peg rail in the kitchen to hold pots and pans, in the bath for towels or in the workshop.


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    By Mitchell Parker
    Photos by Ryan Patrick Kelly Photographs

    After living for six years in his downtown Edmonton loft in the Canadian province of Alberta, this homeowner was ready for a change. He liked the industrial nature of the space -- soaring ceilings, raw redbrick walls, exposed ducting and conduit -- but didn't like its low-grade cabinetry. Plus, he was flat-out tired of his furniture.

    While he didn't mind getting his hands dirty doing some of the work of refreshing the space, he knew he needed professional help when it came to the layout and choosing colors and furniture styles. He found designer Brenda Brix of AMR Design while searching for local professionals on Houzz and enlisted her help through a design consultation. She wrote up a detailed plan, and he implemented it himself, finding materials and furnishings and even teaching himself how to build and modify pieces.

    For example, he bought mirror tiles and antiqued them. He took a basic pine cabinet from Ikea and distressed it. He even located his own stainless steel and installed it himself as a backsplash. "I wanted to add personal touches and cool things that people would come in and we could talk about them for five minutes," he says.

    Industrial living room by Edmonton interior designers and decorators AMR Design

    Brix's plan divided up the long, narrow space without interior walls into a TV room with a sectional near the farthest window, a reading area with a single chaise in the middle and a conversation grouping with four chairs, seen here in the foreground. The sleeping area is to the right (not shown), separated by bookshelves.

    Each chair in the conversation area is from a different supplier, because Brix and the homeowner felt that four of the same club chair would have made the space feel too heavy. (Red chair: Costco; leather chair with metal: Wayfair; metal chair with sheepskin: Restoration Hardware)

    Breaking up the three walls of brick with artwork also kept things from feeling too heavy. The homeowner made the bus stop-style signs himself on canvas. "It brings a little script into the space and flows with the brick, so it feels like you're outside," says Brix.

    BEFORE: The low-grade kitchen cabinets and lack of a backsplash played a big part in the homeowner's decision for a new look.

    Industrial kitchen by Edmonton interior designers and decorators AMR Design


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    By Natalie Wain

    Andrea and Adam Freeman adopted a gradual approach when it came to renovating their Edwardian family home in Kingston, a suburb of London. After they moved in a decade ago, the Freemans tackled the loft conversion as well as other light renovation work on the property, which they share with their three teenage children and pet dog. But 10 years is a long time, and when Andrea's home baking business, Andi Freeman Cakes, started to grow quickly a few years ago, the family realized they needed more space.

    "Andrea and Adam had spent years getting their house exactly how they wanted it, so they didn't want to move," says designer Siobhan Casey. "Instead they decided the best solution was to dig down to create a basement for a new family kitchen and dining area that would then free up the existing kitchen for Andrea's custom cake business." The couple wanted the basement to be the new hub of the home, where the sociable family could entertain and spend time together.

    Contemporary kitchen by East Anglia interior designers and decorators Casey & Fox

    The new basement is 700 square feet (66 square meters). "Andrea has wonderfully eclectic taste and had a vision of how she wanted the space to look, but once the building work was completed, she needed some help putting her ideas together in a coherent way. That's where I came in," says Casey, of Casey & Fox. The basement now houses a generous kitchen, a dining area and a TV-watching area. The space successfully blends traditional and contemporary elements with a hint of midcentury style.

    "Andrea's not afraid to experiment when it comes to design," says Casey, "and the finished room is such a wonderfully eclectic and welcoming space, perfect for entertaining family and friends as well as kicking back and watching TV."

    A walnut staircase, just peeking out, leads down from the main house into the new family kitchen and dining area. "It's a large space with limited natural light, so we opted for neutral units with accents of walnut in the upper cabinetry and underneath the island to add warmth," says Casey. "It's a lovely touch that brings texture to this part of the room and prevents it [from] becoming too cold or clinical."

    A double-width island, in Glacier White quartz, is the main feature of the room, providing ample space for relaxed family breakfasts.

    One element in particular adds drama. "The extractor fan [range hood] is a beast!" Casey says. "Andrea really wanted to avoid a curved or hidden fan in favor of something with a bit of weightiness about it." The glimmering stainless steel fan she chose is a striking, almost sculptural feature that's stylish as well as functional. "The polished finish bounces more light around this part of the room as well," adds Casey.

    LED lighting is set into the ceiling and bathes the kitchen in pools of soft light. It's Casey's favorite feature in the kitchen. "It's such a wonderful product that's cost effective to run, and they're specially designed to prevent any harsh spots of light, so they gently illuminate the entire space," she describes. (Range hood: Britannia; LED lighting: Ecoled)

    A glass backsplash underneath the walnut wall units has been painted in a blue-gray hue for timeless appeal.

    The Smeg gas range, with a cast iron griddle, references the industrial feel of the concrete floor and has been set into the quartz worktop of the island for a seamless effect. The range surface "is silver glass, so although it looks quite sturdy, there's still an element of glamour, plus it's very easy to clean," says Casey.

    Given Andrea's quest for light, the dark wall color -- Farrow & Ball's Down Pipe -- seems a surprising choice at first. "They were very keen to add another element of drama to the scheme," says Casey. "Andrea wanted it to be a talking point and felt that uniform white walls would look a little dull."

    The polished concrete floor injects an industrial-style vibe into the space. "It's a great look with a seamless finish, but it was a practical choice, too," says Casey. "With three kids and all their friends coming in and out, as well as a dog, Andrea wanted a surface that was easy to sweep and mop clean. And the underfloor heating means it isn't cold underfoot."

    In a space with little natural light, no opportunity was missed to get the lighting right. LED lights set into the underside of the island worktop illuminate the glorious grain of the walnut panels. "The lights here also add dramatic effect," says Casey.

    Vintage bar stools are an elegant but simple choice. The contemporary elements of the kitchen area blend seamlessly with the midcentury styling that continues as the space transitions into the dining area.

    The sociable family needed a large table that would comfortably accommodate the children as they do their homework, as well as the frequent dinner parties the Freemans enjoy hosting. The Horace table is made from reclaimed wood and can seat up to 12 people. "It's a marvelous find," says Casey. "It cost less than 500 pounds [U.S.$800] and is a great example of how you don't have to spend a fortune for a fantastic piece of furniture." Arne Jacobsen butterfly chairs in muted gray complete the look.

    Tom Dixon pendant lights illuminate the dining table and reflect light from the bifold doors. Each pendant light is in a different finish. "Andrea didn't want a homogenous scheme, so we've introduced subtle differences wherever we can," says Casey. (Table: Horace, Metro Retro)

    Contemporary artwork is also displayed where it will benefit from the light from the nearby glass doors. The choice of art, including a print of the Empire State Building in New York, breaks up the plain brickwork in the dining area.

    Warm yellow and brown hues from the exposed brick wall contrast with the muted gray of the concrete floor and dining chairs, adding another layer of texture to the family dining area. "The juxtaposition of the raw brick and the clean, contemporary lines of the kitchen is what helps to define the different zones in the basement in a very natural and effortless way," says Casey.

    The drinks cabinet was requisitioned from elsewhere in the family home.

    Original monochrome tiles from the Edwardian part of the house are referenced in the dark gray and white walls that flank the walnut staircase down to the basement.

    The brushed stainless steel handrail gives a hint that the basement may be a departure from the traditional scheme elsewhere in the house. "Brushed stainless steel gives an even more industrial-style feel than polished steel would, so it clearly marks a departure from the more traditional elements of the house," says Casey.


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    bow at the curtain. christmas...
    ShutterstockConsider new window treatments for the holidays.
    Your family is visiting for the holidays -- and you cringe at the idea of Grandma and Grandpa sitting at your rickety dining table, channel surfing on your 12-inch TV, and noticing the spills and stains on that ancient couch in your living room.

    Here are 10 ways to spruce up your house or apartment in time for the holidays. Each project costs less than $200, can be finished in an afternoon, and includes an "alternative" for renters who can't make permanent changes (such as replacing those hideous kitchen countertops).
    1. Repaint Kitchen Cabinets
    People tend to gather in the kitchen around the holidays, so give yours a major facelift by sanding down and repainting your existing cabinet doors. While you're at it, change out the hardware -- including knobs, pulls, and hinges. It's a fraction of the cost of entirely replacing your cabinets and makes a big impact.

    For example: If you have oak cabinet doors from the 1980's, sand and repaint these with a chic white tone. Add satin nickel or oil-rubbed bronze hardware (you can get great deals at Ikea or Amazon), and voila -- you have an instant facelift for the cost of a few cans of paint and a handful of knobs.

    Renter Alternative: Switch out cabinet hardware for something a little more modern (just be sure to save the original pulls so you can put them back before you move out, and shop for the same dimensions so you don't need to drill any holes). Alternately, "wallpaper" your cabinets with contact paper, which comes in a wide range of designs and colors and is easy to remove when it's time to move on.

    2. Turn Your Bathroom Into a Spa
    New fixtures can make an old bathroom look new again. You can snag a seriously cool waterfall faucet for around $100 if you bargain-hunt, or upgrade your bathroom with a new medicine cabinet or pair of wall sconces. If you're a serious thrift-shopper, you can buy gently used fixtures from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore and use the money you saved to also repaint your vanity.

    Renter Alternative: You can't do anything about those awful pink tiles or that chintzy countertop, but you can distract from them with accessories that summon up a luxe, soothing feel.

    Decorate with fluffy towels, a high-end shower curtain and fancy containers for your toothbrushes and cotton swabs. Place a few candles on your vanity and around the tub.
    Put a large art piece in your bathroom that commands attention - and distracts from those 1970's tiles.

    3. Create an Accent Wall / Feature
    Highlighting one part of your room can add energy and personality-and draw your guests' focus away from the things you don't love. Try a bold color on just one accent wall, use a stencil kit to paint pretty details onto the wall, or paint the back of those built-in bookcases for a subtle-but-powerful pop.

    Renter Alternative: Wall décor doesn't have to be permanent. Check out removable stick-on decals in various styles and patterns. Hang eclectically framed art in one area to create an impromptu gallery. You can even display all those holiday cards you've received in an artistic way, like hanging them on strips of ribbons with clothespins.

    4. Lighten Up
    Replacing outdated light fixtures with more modern ones can make a big difference. Try a statement piece like a candelabra in the dining room, or create cozy conversation areas in your living room with table lamps.

    Renter Alternative: As long as you keep the fixtures that were there originally, there's no reason you can't swap out that hideous builder-grade fixture for something a little more modern and sleek. Simply stow the old one away to reinstall when you move and take the new one with you to your next place.

    Not that handy? You can also use floor lamps, table lamps and mirrors to make a small space seem bigger and brighter.

    5. Upgrade Window Treatments
    High-quality curtains can make small rooms look bigger. Simply hang floor-length curtains a few inches above your windows, and run the curtain rods to the far outside edges of the windows. The visual effect makes the ceiling appear higher and the windows seem larger.
    Renter Alternative: Take down those horrid plastic mini-blinds and stash them somewhere until you move-or at least cover them up. Nothing makes a room look more sophisticated and pulled together than a great pair of curtains in an eye-catching pattern.

    Additional Tips

    Whether you own or rent your home, these additional tricks will help you take your place from "blah" to "ooh, ahhh" in no time.
    6. Slipcovers
    There's no need to replace that stained couch or those worn-out armchairs. Just cover them with a crisp new slipcover and they'll look as good as new. (Bonus: if any holiday spills occur, you can just pop the cover in the wash.)
    7. Corral Clutter
    Make use of decorative storage like boxes, bins and totes to keep smaller odds and ends out of sight. Dual-use furniture, like an ottoman with a lid that lifts up, can add extra style and storage and give guests another seating option.
    8. Add New Accessories
    Breathe new life into a room with accessories around a common theme-for instance, a set of new throw pillows, picture frames and table lamps in festive tones of red, green and gold (or blue and silver for a more contemporary ambience).

    Use area rugs or interchangeable tile rug squares to cover up worn patches on the floor or add extra warmth. Add a new tablecloth or runner to that old dining room table. Create picturesque arrangements by grouping items - picture frames, vases, candles - in strategic groups of three.
    9. Create "New" Furniture
    Scope out yard sales, estate sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, even your own attic for furniture that needs a little TLC. Get a set of cheap dining room chairs and repaint them so they look fresh and modern. Reupholster the worn cushions on your current chairs. You could even "shop your home" -- swap pieces from rooms that your guests won't use to replace rickety pieces or mix up your current furniture arrangements.
    10. Festive Touches
    Never underestimate the power of decked halls to distract your guests from less-than-opulent parts of your home. Drape wreaths and garlands over banisters and bookshelves. Dim the light in the dining room and use candles to set a cozy vibe (and hide the nicks in the table). Use scented candles or potpourri to summon homey smells like baking cookies or cinnamon and spice. Even if the bits and pieces of your home are a little bland, the overall feel will be warm and welcoming.

    Paula Pant once spent $17,021 on a kitchen remodel - although she only budgeted $5,000. Oops! Find out how she went so horrendously over-budget (and feel free to point-and-laugh) on her blog, Afford Anything.


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    By Mitchell Parker

    Walking into their split-level 1958 Seattle home always created a bottleneck for the NyQuist family. Kristen, Steven and their three kids -- Elliot (age 8), Clio (6) and Shepherd (4) -- would often get stuck on a 5-foot by 3-foot landing, where they would crowd around peeling off their backpacks and coats before shuffling farther into the home.

    Before Photos

    So Kristen turned her attention to a coat closet (seen here) at the top of the stairs. She plowed into Houzz in search of inspiration and came up with a solution to turn the closet into a recessed mudroom of sorts.

    BEFORE: The closet was unappealing with the doors on. When Kristen removed them, she knew she had to turn the space into something visually pleasing.

    AFTER: She removed the doors and added a cushioned bench, several hooks, some fresh paint and eclectic touches to completely change the experience of entering the home. "Now stuff isn't hanging around on the landing anymore -- including all of us," she says.

    She began by measuring the closet and hunting for a bench on Craigslist. She found one and topped it with a cushion from Pier 1 Imports.

    Each family member then got his or her own blackboard hook from Anthropologie. To keep clutter down, Kristen implemented a strict rule that only two items can be hung on each hook at any given time.

    Ikea baskets under the bench provide storage for shoes and other items. She considered leaving the existing shelf in place but thought it made the space feel too short when seen from the entryway. A piece of art from Ikea helped make it appear loftier.

    To hang the hooks, Kristen had to add a new piece of solid wood to the existing border for more support.

    While the home's architecture leans toward midcentury modern, Kristen pushes for a more eclectic style with saturated colors, lots of textures and a bit of shine. To add boldness, she painted the interior of the closet yellow and the hook trim blue.

    To save money, she used paint left over from a previous project. (She had color samples of Sherwin-Williams' Banana Cream and Blue Nile matched at The Home Depot in Behr brand paint.) She then splurged on a metallic gold (Parlor Gold from Ralph Lauren) for the trim, an idea she got from this photo on Houzz.

    Here's the breakdown of the project cost:

    Bench: $45, from Craigslist
    Cushion: $80, from Pier 1 Imports
    Hooks: $70, from Anthropologie
    Blue and yellow paint: Left over from a previous project
    Metallic gold paint: $30
    Print: $40, from Ikea
    Baskets: $7 each, from Ikea
    Backpacks: Already owned, from Hanna Andersson

    Total: About $286


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    Source: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab
    Kerrie Kelly Design Lab via ZillowA perfect piece of fruit from the farmers market can become part of your tableau, and glass makes simple things sparkle.

    By Kerrie Kelly

    As the holidays approach and friends and family gather, we often are tasked with bringing together all the elements for the celebration. Luckily, when it comes to centerpieces, there are many ways to dress your table without splurging on new dishes and linens. Instead, you can look to items from nature, affordable finds and items you may already have to create a fresh and effortless look without a lot of shopping. Check out these five chic ideas that will make you "celebration ready" for the season.

    Get woodsy

    A single branch can be dramatic and sophisticated, setting the tone for your table scene. A more substantial branch can be laid down the center of the table and dressed with unscented votives to create some organic ambiance. Don't hesitate to paint the branch white, gold or silver depending on your table's palette. Alternatively, you can go vertical, filling a glass vase with one stunning arched branch of foliage or berries. Arrange berries or small scale branches at each place setting and nestle in a place card for a more formal aesthetic.

    Source: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab
    Kerrie Kelly Design Lab via ZillowBranches and greenery from your yard can help stretch an inexpensive bouquet from the grocery store into several.

    Go with glass

    Forgetting the flowers and candles can be a great way to create an extraordinary tabletop. A few simple glass apothecary jars filled with acorns, pinecones, candy -- or at Christmas, ornaments that didn't reach the tree -- can create a beautiful centerpiece. Choose varying jar heights to create visual interest, and consider filling them with something that guests may be able to enjoy, like biscotti or another treat.

    For interactive fun, have Thanksgiving guests write down what they are thankful for and drop the message in an empty table jar. When dinner is served, guests can take turns pulling out the messages and reading them aloud.

    Double duty

    Decorate your holiday table with something that not only looks good, but tastes good too. At Christmas, let crafty friends, family and kids make gingerbread houses for your holiday centerpiece. You can choose to make this in advance using a kit or your own recipe, or you can use the activity as a way to entertain guests while you take care of cocktails and dinner. Encourage guests to break off a piece of the gingerbread while at the table after dinner. For an element of surprise, fill up the edible house with more goodies or simply scoop up bowls of vanilla ice cream to pair with the treat.

    Farm fresh

    Nothing is more striking than the rich color of seasonal produce, so let your market finds take center stage when you set the table. Place a perfect pear, pomegranate, gourd or persimmon at each placesetting, fill a bowl with figs, or create a heaping pile of colorful squash down your table runner for a striking look. These items last longer than flowers and give a nod to the season without breaking the bank. Stick to one type of fruit or vegetable for the most dramatic effect.

    Repurpose it

    Consider repurposing pieces found at flea markets, antiques stores and even a beloved granny's attic. An old trough can make a great statement when filled with moss or ground cover.

    If you have enough time, consider planting white narcissus bulbs in a found container. They will be in bloom for your December and New Year's table. The flowers not only offer a heavenly scent, they share the promise that spring is just around the corner.

    See more of Kerrie Kelly's holiday decor on Zillow Digs.


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    meeting the team of engineers...

    When we started planning our home remodel, we gathered our team to discuss design options and costs. This early collaboration is important even for smaller remodels, because you need to know what you can afford. It is also somewhat rare.

    From what we've seen, the general order of operations is: 1) hire an architect or designer and draft your plan, 2) submit those plans to your city or county for approval and permits, 3) choose two or three contractors to bid on your project, and 4) select your contractor and begin construction.

    The problem with this scenario is that bids are often higher than your expectations and budget. And by the time you realize this, you are hopelessly in love with the vaulted ceiling and skylights your designer has drawn. At that point, change is emotionally hard.

    Here are our suggestions for being able to afford your remodel:

    Hold a planning meeting with your designer and a potential contractor. You might pay a fee for this service, but we think it is better to invest $500-$1,000 up front to avoid expensive surprises at bid time. A good contractor will have ideas about cost-saving strategies and materials that might save money and time. And you will know upfront what those splurge items will cost, so you can pick and choose.

    Pick your splurges. Not everything needs to be top-of-the line, but a house should have a few big moments. Prioritize your lists of needs and wants to make your must-haves clear. We chose a dramatic vaulted ceiling in our kitchen/living/dining space and a large glass slider into the backyard. Luckily we let go of a few things early, before we ever saw them in drawings and pictures. By then, we would have been tempted to raid the 401(k) for the midcentury chandelier that we just had to have. This process of prioritizing saved us from ourselves.

    Prepare to compromise. Some of our compromises were shortening the planned kitchen island, buying a counter-depth fridge instead of a paneled built-in one, and adjusting our floor plan to take advantage of an existing structural wall.

    Find creative solutions. We used less expensive slider doors for our master bedroom and kitchen. Because you will never see them up against our expensive backyard slider, we decided to mix and match manufacturers. That switch alone saved us over $5,000. We also decided to keep and skim coat over an existing patio instead of demolishing it and starting from scratch.

    Protect no sacred cows. We were determined to design our house around our dining room table, which reflects our style and holds many happy memories. In our planned open-concept living room/dining room/kitchen it just didn't fit. It was too big, too rectangular, and it blocked the open feel no matter where you put it. That meant considering costly work-arounds to try to accommodate it. Once we realized that was crazy, we had a brief mourning period and then we moved on. You really can't design a house around one piece of furniture. You have to approach the process with an open mindset and let function and your overall goals lead the way.

    Reuse creatively. That same table, with a few modifications, is going to make a perfect his-and-hers desk in our new office. Hooray! We are also working with existing door and window openings where possible to save money on demolition and framing.

    Start with traditional, proven technologies. Because our goal is zero net energy, we evaluated all kinds of expensive technologies like ductless mini splits, heat recovery systems, and spray foam insulation. What we found by modeling these options is that, with our climate, we can achieve our goal with a conventional furnace, traditional insulation, and a smart approach to what we call home systems integration. There is no need to over-engineer if you take a systematic approach to planning.

    Size your heating and air conditioning correctly. Our house is less than 2,000 square feet. With new insulation and windows we will need a 2.5 ton furnace. The existing furnace: seven tons! More isn't always better and it is certainly more expensive.

    When you are on a budget, there will always be buzzkills during the remodel process. We really wanted a decadent bathtub and a larger back patio. But will we miss them when we are staring at our vaulted ceiling or enjoying the view through our large sliding door? I doubt it.

    Holland & Nick Brown are on a quest for a Net Zero Nest: remodeling a house (on a mainstream budget) into a home that makes efficient use of energy and water.


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    a string of multi-colored christmas lights are strung across a white plastic fence.  their reflection is cast upon the reflectiv
    Getty Images/Flickr Open

    'Tis the season to deck the halls and light the lights! is looking for the most festively decorated homes across the country and we want you to join in the holiday cheer. Send us a picture of the exterior of your seasonally spirited house -- whether it's strung in bright lights, adorned in tinsel or dressed up as a winter wonderland. (Just your home, please. Don't include people in the photos.)

    Click here and scroll down to enter for a chance to win a $250 gift card from Home Depot.

    Editors will be continually compiling a gallery of the submissions to feature them on (Please be patient. Once a photo of your home has been entered in the contest, it may take up to two days for your photo to appear in the slideshow.)

    Our audience will be voting on which homes they think best show the spirit of the season.

    Out of hundreds of submissions, the 20 homes with the most votes will move on to the next judging round, where a panel of judges will select one winner whose house best captures the spirit of the winter holidays.

    The submission period began Dec. 8 and will close on Dec. 22 at 11:00 p.m. EST.

    Readers will be able to vote on their favorite homes beginning Dec. 15 at 12:00 a.m. EST. Limit one vote per person every 12 hours. The voting will close on Dec. 25 at 11:00 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen on Jan. 1, 2015.

    If you love what you see, tweet us at with the hashtag #AOLHolidayHomes.


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    By Zillow Digs

    Zillow Digs has announced its choices for the top five home design trends in 2015 -- and the four soon-to-be forgotten fads of 2014. The results were published in the 2015 Zillow Digs Home Trend Forecast, a one-of-a-kind report that combines data from a survey of leading interior design experts and an analysis of the most popular photos on Zillow Digs.

    Curious to see what trends made the list? Check out the results below.

    Top 5 Home Design Trends for 2015

    1. Gold fixtures

    1. Gold Fixtures
    24 Design Construction

    This retro statement hardware color will make a comeback in 2015 with a new modern twist: bright gold with a sleek finish for extra shine. In 2015, homeowners no longer should feel limited to silver or stainless steel fixtures and will feel free to mix and match finish colors, or go bold with all gold.

    2. Cowhide

    2. Cowhide
    The Corcoran Group

    Cowhide is the ideal accent texture for 2015's modern yet approachable design aesthetic. Elements of cowhide will find their way into pillows, rugs, throw blankets and even artwork this year.

    3. Wallpaper

    3. wallpaper
    Jeneration Interiors

    "Wallpaper is coming back in a big way," says Zillow Digs designer Jamie Beckwith of Beckwith Interiors. From digital prints to textured wall coverings, this trend is primed and ready to take off in 2015.

    4. Blue accent colors

    4. blue (2)
    American Dream Builders

    Blue will be the most popular accent color and is the perfect complement to Marsala, the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year. "Pops of indigo blue or deep navy will become a staple in home design this year, as their deep natural hues become extra vibrant against warm earth tones like Marsala," says Zillow Digs home design expert Kerrie Kelly.

    5. Modern/midcentury modern elements

    5. Modern
    Lukas Machnik

    Midcentury modern elements will weave their way into 2015 home decor -- from architecture to furniture -- and will be one of the biggest up-and-coming design styles for 2015. Zillow Digs experts advise homeowners to be careful when integrating into homes -- the trend is great for inspiration, but shouldn't take over the house. Even antiques and classic styles such as Shaker furniture can blend with modern for a sophisticated look.

    Four 2014 Fads to Replace

    1. Chevron print

    1. Chevron
    Jared Epps

    From home decor to fashion, chevron prints became one of the most overused trends in 2014, and designers say it's time for the infamous zigzag pattern to take a breather.

    2. Bright colors

    2. bright colors
    Zillow Digs

    Coral, purple and teal are on their way out with 2014. "It's hard to work with such saturated colors," says Zillow Digs designer Jamie Herzlinger. While these cheerful hues are certainly fun, they are not built to last.

    3. Solid painted accent walls

    3. accent walls
    Zillow Digs

    Expect to see solid accent walls, especially in red, fade away as wallpaper and textured wall coverings take the stage in 2015.

    4. Matching furniture

    4. matching
    House and Homes Palm Springs

    If you didn't hear us in the Zillow Digs Fall Home Design Trend Report, you better listen up now, as design experts have made it loud and clear: eclectic, multi-era decor is here to stay, and polished, matching wood furniture is a thing of the past.

    Want to get started on your 2015 home design inspiration? Check out some of our favorite photos of the trends on Zillow Digs today.


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    Courtesy of Alexander KolbeThis Connecticut house will combine extremely energy-efficient design with prefabrication and custom architecture.

    Eco-friendly houses can look as chic and gorgeous as any site-built homes, while still being quite kind to the planet. With the reality of abundant waste going into landfills and the effects of global warming, it seems clear houses should be built with more consideration for the earth. A new house under construction in Connecticut that is designed and built by evoDOMUS, a firm influenced by German design, is a perfect example.

    Germany and other European countries have worked to build more efficient and eco-friendly houses for many years because of their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and because of the high cost of fuel in Europe.

    Alexander Kolbe, who cofounded evoDOMUS with his wife Michelle Kolbe, worked for several years in Germany designing very energy-efficient homes for a variety of companies. He and Michelle, also an architect, met in Berlin and have been married and designing homes together since 2000.

    Through their company, the two architects aim to design and build homes that are of the highest quality, modern and sustainable and have net-zero energy capabilities.
    "Our ultra energy efficient, custom designed, contemporary homes take modular home building to new levels, using a flexible, panelized construction method," the firm says on its website.

    Alexander Kolbe learned his craft from some of the best construction minds around the world. (One of the homes he designed for the British division of the German firm Baufritz, House Jackson, appeared in the book "Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe" by Sheri Koones, the author of this article.)

    In 2011, the Kolbes decided to go out on their own to form evoDOMUS to start designing and building highly sustainable houses in the United States.

    "Given the choice of spending a sizable sum of money for a home that consumes energy at an alarming rate, or spending slightly more initially to benefit from substantially lower utility costs, and thereby helping to conserving our planet's limited supply of fossil fuels,
    we at evoDOMUS believe that the latter can prevail," the company website says. "The key is to make it an easily understandable and obtainable choice. Also, this 'healthy for the planet' choice need not look healthy, nor must it look like it is good for the planet! It can look bodacious, chic, generous and new, without being bad for anyone."

    The First House

    Two years after starting
    evoDOMUS, the couple contracted to design and build their first house in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house not only will have beautiful modern design but also the best technology that is used around the world -- extremely efficient insulation, high quality triple-pane windows by Loewen, continuous ventilation and energy-efficient appliances and lighting.

    One key to the energy efficiency is the highly efficient prefabricated panelized system manufactured and erected by the New Hampshire company Bensonwood.

    EvoDOMUS project manager Rob Shearer said it is the panelization process that helps make the homes so airtight.

    "When the exterior envelope is constructed in a controlled environment, with precision machinery to assure that everything is flush and square, it makes all of the tiny gaps and cracks inherent to any type of construction much smaller, and easier to seal," Shearer said. "In addition, the panel joints are gasketed, and the overall effect is an extremely tight enclosure. Controlling air infiltration is crucial to an efficient, healthy home. Not only for controlling temperature, but also humidity. It is a common misconception among builders that 'houses need to breathe.' Houses do not need to breathe. People need to breathe."

    Tight houses require mechanical ventilation, and the New Canaan home will use the Zehnder system ERV ventilation system to
    control the distribution of fresh air throughout the home. This system keeps the house very airtight with a 95% efficiency.

    Building the Home

    The foundation took a week to build and the envelope another week. When the few non-factory installed windows were installed and the roof completed at the end of October, the house was completely dried in. The project is scheduled to be ready for the homeowners to move in February. Click on the video below for a time-lapse view of the project's rapid progress.

    Prefab Panelized Building
    Alexander Kolbe/evoDOMUS

    Other Systems

    The heating and cooling in the house is generated by two separate ducted Mitsubishi mini split heat pumps, one per floor. The walls are approximately 14 inches thick and provide minimum R-35 insulation. (Learn more about R-value here.) The roof is R-60. The facade of the house on the first floor is Resysta siding, made of rice husks, natural oils and resin. The second floor is StoTherm stucco system with a continuous additional layer of insulation.

    The bathroom fixtures are all water-saving, low-flow fixtures. The dual-flush toilets have in-wall Geberit carriers that hold the wall-hung toilets and the water tank, which is integrated into the wall and is not visible. All tiles in the house have a high content of recycled material. All lighting systems are LED or CFL to save energy.

    Since contracting the initial house, evoDOMUS has added two more Connecticut projects, in Greenwich and Redding. The firm also has begun projects to be built in California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Medellin, Colombia.


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    5021 Virginia Dare, Kitty Hawk NC

    By Melissa Allison

    Small homes have gotten so hot, thieves are lifting them.

    In recent months, bandits have made off with a 200 square-foot cabin in Canada's Yukon woods and a tiny house in Texas. The latter was recovered, and its owner now recommends a boot clamp and a hitch lock for other owners of tiny homes.

    The home above, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, probably isn't going anywhere unless Mother Nature is involved. The 560-square foot house at 5021 Virginia Dare Trail North in Kitty Hawk is for sale for $250,000. The two-bedroom, one-bath cottage sits on new pilings and has a wide front deck.

    See more homes that measure 600 square feet or less and aren't on wheels below.

    3150 North Sheffield Avenue, Apt. 308
    For sale: $159,000
    Size: 600 square feet

    3150 N Sheffield Ave Apt 308, Chicago IL

    This studio loft is a 10-minute walk from Wrigley Field and near many popular restaurants and shops. Homeowners Association fees are just $218 a month.

    See other listings in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood.

    International Falls, Minnesota
    1775 Grindstone Island
    For sale: $284,900
    Size: 400 square feet

    1775 Grindstone Island, International Falls, MN

    Located on an island in far northern Minnesota, this property includes three bedrooms spread across three small cabins that total 600 square feet. The main cabin has a living room, kitchen and "master" bedroom; each of the other two cabins is a bedroom. Separate buildings house a sauna, shower and outhouse.

    Check out what else is on the market in and around International Falls.

    770 Northeast 69th St., Apt. 5E
    For sale: $149,999
    Size: 521 square feet

    770 NE 69th St, Miami FL

    Residents enjoy views of Biscayne Bay and Palm Bay Marina from this studio's entertainment area and extended balcony. A sleeping alcove big enough for a queen bed is hidden at the back of the unit.

    See more Miami homes for sale.

    Emigrant Gap, California
    41027 Skyline Drive
    For sale: $169,000
    Size: 480 square feet

    41027 Skyline Dr, Emigrant Gap, CA

    This tiny cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains is near skiing, hiking, rivers and lakes -- and has a hot tub on the screened-in porch.

    Check out more homes for sale in and around Emigrant Gap.

    West Point, Texas
    530 Justice Road
    For sale: $434,900
    Size: 336 square feet530 Justice Road interior


    The home is small, but its spread is Texas big. It sits on nearly 24 acres between Austin and Houston and the property includes a four-acre lake.

    See other listings in West Point.

    Boulder, Colorado
    811 Main St.
    For sale: $200,000
    Size: 565 square feet

    811 Main St, Boulder CO

    Located in the former mining town of Gold Hill outside Boulder, this cabin was built in 1914 and has a sunny kitchen, sleeping loft and claw-foot bathtub.

    Check out more listings in Boulder County.

    New Orleans
    526 Madison St., Apt. 2D
    For sale: $239,000
    Size: 375 square feet

    526 Madison St, New Orleans LA

    A block from Jackson Square, this French Quarter condo has a kitchen and sitting area downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. It also has lots of windows, exposed brick and hardwood floors.

    See more homes for sale in New Orleans.

    Rockport, Massachusetts
    182 Granite St.
    For sale: $154,000
    Size: 400 square feet

    182 Granite St, Rockport MA
    Fred Light for Nashua Video Tours via Zillow

    Built in 1850, this "micro cottage" in coastal Massachusetts includes a living room, kitchen area, sleeping loft and bathroom. And it's less than an hour from Boston.

    See more homes for sale in Rockport.

    Portland, Oregon
    709 Southwest 16th Avenue, Apr. 509
    For sale: $189,900
    Size: 517 square feet

    709 SW 16th Ave Portland OR

    This corner condo studio in Southwest Portland has hardwood floors, a dining room with built-ins and a gas cooktop.

    View more real estate in Portland.


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    LA Closet DesignA spacious and well-organized closet can make getting dressed a luxurious experience and help you look your best.
    You may not have Kate Middleton's wardrobe, but with these five closet upgrades you can create a luxury closet fit for royalty:

    1. Cozy seating
    A fur chair offers a gentle landing spot where you can slip on your heels. Jonathan Adler's chic Maxime Fur Chair suits a variety of décor.

    LA Closet Design
    2. Deluxe drawer inserts
    Felt-lined, specialized drawer inserts protect and display your jewelry, ties, glasses or lingerie. Rev-a-Shelf's velvet-lined drawers put the perfect accessory for your outfit at your fingertips.

    3. A 3-Way Mirror
    Before she walked down the aisle at her sister's wedding, Pippa Middleton probably checked in a three-way mirror to see how she looked to those sitting in the back of the church. You can check the rear-view, too, by installing a three-way mirror in your closet. If space and budget are issues, Bed Bath & Beyond sells a $129 over-the-door, three-way mirror in black or white.

    4. Crystal Chandelier
    The glittering light of a chandelier or crystal wall sconce will warm your closet and prevent you from putting on one black sock and one navy blue sock. Pescaso's mini-chandeliers, available through Costco, lend a romantic elegance to your closet.

    5. Embellishments
    Drawer pulls, molding, decorative medallions and trim add a touch of sophistication. Accessorize your drawers with a glittering Swarovski crystal pull from, leather and stainless steel beauties from Doug Mockett, or the fun options from Anthropologie.
    LA Closet Design

    On a Budget? Lisa Adams, CEO of LA Closet Design, is known for building luxury closets, but she also knows how to get the look for less.

    "Here's my playbook for creating a luxury closet for less," she says. "Lose the wire and plastic hangers and get matching hangers for your closet; add base and crown molding to create a more finished look; add a chandelier and ottoman, update your knobs/handles and install pullout valet hooks."


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    Trail of bright light in box
    PM Images via Getty"Magic Boxes" combine all the functions of an HVAC and ventilation system in one unit, saving energy and space.
    Most people understand the advantage of building a very energy-efficient house -- lower energy costs and reduction of fossil fuel use. Another advantage in building tight, energy-efficient homes is they need smaller heating and cooling systems than houses with air seeping in because the structure isn't tightly sealed.

    However, when a house is built with minimal air leakage, it is essential to have an excellent ventilation system to maintain a healthy environment inside.

    Courtesy of NilanNilan's Compact P system
    All-in-one systems are often called "Magic Boxes" because they combine all the functions of an HVAC system in one unit. One of the truly revolutionary systems is the Compact P Heat Pump from Nilan, certified by the Passivhaus Institut in Germany. The Compact P Heat Pump, which functions as a ventilation system with heat recovery, also includes space heating and cooling and provides the household's hot water supply. (Heat recovery means that the heat -- or cooling -- already created for the stale air in the home is not lost. The temperature "magically" is transferred to the incoming fresh air.) This type of system is compact, provides healthy indoor air, and reduces energy costs.

    While heat recovery can recapture a portion of space heating energy before stale air is exhausted and replaced with fresh air, the additional heat pump in this system also can warm the fresh air on the coldest days. Separately, the same heat pump also provides 47.5 gallons of hot water for domestic use. This unit has additional options to incorporate a geo-thermal heat pump or outdoor air-to-water heat pump, which can supplement air heating with radiant floor heating. Most of the Compact P units produced are being used in Europe, but some are being tested in recent U.S. projects, including in Vermont, which has some of the more challenging weather conditions in the United States. So far these "boxes" are functioning very well.

    Courtesy of Build EquinoxCERV unit by Build Equinox
    Though European countries have led the way, an example of an all-in-one system manufactured by a U.S. company is the CERV (conditioning energy recovery ventilator), developed by Build Equinox. CERV systems, which are UL Listed, incorporate heating, cooling, dehumidification and ventilation. The systems have been incorporated into a 25-unit, moderately priced prefabricated housing complex that HVAC engineer Peter Schneider is working on in Vermont. Schneider, a leader in his field, called the CERV system a "brilliant device," adding that so far he is very pleased with the systems' efficiency, comfort and usage in a location that is high-demand because of the climate.

    Other companies around the world making similar systems include Drexel & Weiss in Austria and Daikin in Japan, which produces an all-in-one system that doesn't include a ventilation system. Another company with a strong ventilation business in the United States, Zehnder, produces an all-in-one system called the ComfoBox which is not available in the U.S. market.

    Magic Boxes are becoming more popular in Europe, but are still in limited use in North America. The demand has been small, probably because of a lack of awareness of the systems and because of the small number of extremely energy efficient homes being built here. All-in-one units tend to be more expensive than unbundled systems -- although according to Schneider, that additional cost seems small when all HVAC factors are taken into consideration, including energy efficiency, comfort and health. However, one potential disadvantage is that if one of the systems breaks down, all systems are lost -- including heat, cooling, ventilation and water heating. Also, there are not yet enough professionals in this country who are able to fix these systems, but that is likely to change as building codes become stricter and people become more familiar with the optimal building materials available.

    Sheri Koones' latest book, "Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe," includes homes that use magic box systems. She won the prestigious Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Award from NAREE in 2008, 2011, and 2013, and is a columnist, freelance writer and speaker.


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    Urban CapitalThe $60,000 units would include a basic bedroom -- complete with a pullout bed -- a bathroom, kitchen and laundry.
    A Toronto developer is thinking inside the box and has designed prefabricated cubes that contain everything you need in a home -- except the space to put it in.

    Cubitat, a collaboration between developer Urban Capital of Toronto and the design firm Nichetto Studio, based in Sweden and Italy, is another entry into the "micro living" niche market where less square footage means more efficient living. Each cube is 10 feet high, 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and is meant to be a home you place within a home.

    Each wall contains one of four fundamentals for living:
    • Complete kitchen.
    • Storage and laundry area.
    • Bedroom with pullout bed.
    • Entry to a bathroom placed within the cube.
    The "plug-and-play" cube spares nothing. The kitchen has a fridge, freezer, a range with an oven, and a sink. The bathroom features a shower stall, toilet, sink and storage. And the bed pulls out from a wall unit with its headboard facing a TV so you can watch telly in bed. Everything is wired and plumbed, so buyers only need to hook up the cube to existing utilities and drains.

    Cubitat, which is still only a prototype, was introduced to the world in January during the 2015 Interior Design Show in Toronto. Developers are still gauging interest -- and there has been a lot. But there still are a few details to iron out, like how to hoist or squeeze the cube into existing spaces and which permits would be needed to transport such a wide and high load. The developers may have to find a way to deliver the unit in snap-together pieces, rather than as one cube.

    At the moment, Cubitat is projected to cost about $60,000.


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    AD NPH House Video

    It has been a good year for Neil Patrick Harris. He was chosen to host the Academy Awards this Feb. 22, won a Tony for his starring role in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," and now he has landed on the cover of March's Architectural Digest, the arbiter of good taste in home design.

    Harris and hubby David Burtka, an actor and chef, invited AD to photograph and comment upon their newly renovated Harlem townhouse, which they share with 4-year-old twins Harper and Gideon and two dogs. The 19th-century building, accented by dark wood staircases and wainscoting, was remodeled by interior designer Trace Lehnhoff in collaboration with architecture firm Povero & Company.

    Harlem is now the Brooklyn of Manhattan, in terms of upwardly mobile types leaving SoHo and the Upper West Side for the northern reaches of the city. Celebs also flock to Harlem to eat -- Katy Perry, Denzel Washington and Prince routinely travel uptown for red velvet cake, soul food and chicken wings at Red Rooster, Melba's and Sylvia's restaurants.

    NPH bought the 8,000-square-foot townhouse in July 2013 for $3.6 million. The yearlong renovation now features:
    • Jonathan Adler light fixture hovering over the living room, which includes a fireplace.
    • Music room walls covered with Donghia fabric.
    • Kitchen with Wolf range and hood, plus Holly Hunt pendant lights hanging over a quartz island.
    • Kids room with Flash Gordon lithograph and Keith Haring chair.
    • Space for Harris' production company offices and a screening room.
    Harris and Burtka, who married in September in Italy, had lived with the kids in Los Angeles while Harris was working on "How I Met Your Mother," which was supposed to be a short chapter in his life but lasted nine seasons.

    "But the plan was always to come back to New York when the show ended and raise our family," Harris told AD.


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    Opening of the Hollyhock House
    LA Times via Getty ImagesTod Mesirow and other members of the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation gather for a selfie at the Hollyhock House.
    One of the recent "happening" events in Los Angeles that drew thousands of fans from across the country wasn't an awards shows or a new club launch. It was the reopening of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House after a five-year, $4.4 million facelift.

    In typical Hollywood fashion, the Feb. 13 reopening had a dramatic twist; thousands of fans toured the house for 24 hours straight free of charge, viewing the residence at dawn's early light and at other times when the city-owned structure usually would be closed to visitors. Some people even camped out overnight to be among the first to glimpse the renovation when the iconic home's 250-pound concrete front doors opened at 4 p.m.

    "It's like, when are you ever going to see it at night?" Jennifer Wong, an architectural designer from Laguna Beach told the Los Angeles Times. "You get to see it as if you lived there."

    Hollyhock House, commissioned in 1919 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, is now the heart of East Hollywood's Barnsdall Art Park, which overlooks Griffith Observatory -- another fabulous L.A. sight, particularly at sunset. The Hollyhock House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007 and is considered the prototype of California modernism. Ongoing self-guided tours cost $7 for adults and are available Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., with the last entry at 3:15 p.m.

    Hollyhock House was Wright's second project in California, although his son, Lloyd Wright and assistant Rudolph Schindler took over most design duties when the elder Wright was away working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan. (See more stories about Frank Lloyd Wright's work here.)

    The newly reopened Los Angeles house, with a hollyhock flower central motif, is arranged around a courtyard and features a series of split levels, steps and terraces, leaded glass windows and even a moat.

    The house has seen some rocky times over the years, in addition to the 1994 earthquake that damaged its structure. Barnsdall fired Wright in 1921 when the project far exceeded its budget. Reportedly disillusioned with the costs, she donated the house to Los Angeles in 1927. Since then it has been used as the California Art Club headquarters, an art gallery, and as a United Service Organizations (USO) facility.

    The latest restoration reportedly fixed a leaky roof and clogged drains, enlarged windows to add light, and restored original details and wall colors that were changed over the years. While we're on the Wright real estate path, the West Hollywood Lloyd Wright Studio and Residence designed by the architect's son Lloyd Wright has been sold for $1.95 million. The concrete block and stucco house, reminiscent of Hollyhock House in places, has upstairs living quarters and a downstairs studio workspace.

    ZillowLloyd Wright's West Hollywood Studio and Residence also reflects the style of his father's Hollyhock House.


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    Courtesy of Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar DecathlonThis house built by students from New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington was an entry in the 2011 decathlon.
    Since the first U. S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2002, thousands of college students from around the world have designed and created houses that are efficient at both collecting sunlight and converting it into usable energy.

    Already, teams are hard at work for the next competition this October in Irvine, California, where the public will be able to tour the solar-powered houses free of charge to see innovative designs and learn how to save energy and money in their own homes.

    The first Solar Decathlon was held on the National Mall in Washington in 2002. Since 2005, it has been held in a U.S. city every two years and also has expanded worldwide, with competitions staged in Europe in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and in China in 2013.

    This December, an event will be staged in Latin America for the first time, said Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon.

    "The newest competition in Cali, Colombia, South America, will emphasize affordable homes for tropical climates and higher-density solutions to sustainable housing," King said.

    See a selection of homes from previous Solar Decathlons in the slideshow below:

    Visiting one of the Solar Decathlon events, it is difficult not to be inspired by the innovative, beautiful, energy-efficient houses, and by the students who give tours of their houses. The student designers and builders have impressive knowledge of the mechanics of their houses and can explain all the systems and considerations behind the design decisions to visitors. All that helps make Solar Decathlons an opportunity for the public to see the variety of prefabricated building methods, systems, materials, and techniques that can be used to build more sustainable, healthy, and efficient homes.

    Over the years, the houses have improved dramatically, King said.

    "The first competition in 2002 set the benchmark," he said. "In 2003, a new set of university teams studied the 2002 houses and improved the designs for the 2005 competition. Then a new set of university teams studied those designs and made further improvements. With each successive competition we see new innovations. "

    At the 2002 event, houses were not attached to the grid and had to provide all of their own energy. Since Solar Decathlon 2009, houses have been connected to a temporary, ground-laid village "micro-grid" to demonstrate how houses that are grid-connected can give excess energy back to the public utility grid.

    At the first event, electric cars that needed to be powered by the team's house were provided to each team. (Points were accumulated based on how many miles each team could drive on their energy.) A similar "commuting contest" has returned in 2015, requiring teams to power not only their houses but also an electric car.

    Affordability, an important aspect of home construction in light of recent global economic struggles, was added as a requirement four years ago.

    "Probably the biggest change to the competition occurred in 2011 when the designs were required to be more affordable, with construction [costs of] $250,000 or less," King said. "This new rule challenges the teams to design houses that are innovative yet cost-effective."

    The houses also must demonstrate functionality, with students cooking meals in homes that provide their own heat and cooling as well as hot water for showers and laundry -- all by using the electricity generated by their solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems.

    The 2015 U.S. competition will include 10 contests: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, appliances, home life, energy balance and commuting.

    Since the first competition in 2002, 130 collegiate teams have participated in Solar Decathlons. The houses built for the events are now located throughout the country and around the world. Those houses continue to serve numerous educational, conservational, and community-oriented functions, and the program could have an even wider impact.

    "The more than 2,500 students participating in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 will go out into the world, get jobs, and I believe will change the world," King said. "Solar and energy-efficient houses will become the norm in our near future, not the distant future."

    Where to from here for the Solar Decathlon?

    "To date, the competition focuses the design challenge on 'How do you design a fully sustainable house?' To some, that is too narrow," King said. "Sustainability involves so much more than just the house. Water, transportation, waste recycling, and land use are just some of the other important factors that must be included. To raise the bar even higher, a competition to design sustainable houses that will be built permanently in a model sustainable community somewhere in the U.S. has intriguing merit."

    For further information, visit


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    By Melissa Allison

    Don Draper returns Sunday for a final turn on "Mad Men," but his slicked-back spirit will live on in many a midcentury modern home with exposed beams and windows clear to the roofline.

    In fact, a midcentury modern home that appeared in Season 2 of the show is now on the market for $7.5 million.

    If that's a few million too steep, check out these midcentury modern listings starting at $225,000:

    Glasgow, Kentucky

    409 Brice Avenue
    For sale: $225,000

    Glasgow, KY

    It's the first time this home has been on the market since it was built in 1955. Like many midcentury modern homes, it features an open floor plan, natural materials such as creek stones, and walls of floor-to-ceiling glass.

    See more listings in Glasgow.

    Los Angeles

    5158 Los Adornos Way
    For sale: $1.997 million

    Los Angeles, CA

    The midcentury vibe of this 1963 home runs so thick you'd expect Samantha Stephens from "Bewitched" to greet you at the door with a martini. It features a stone-and-mirrored fireplace surround, newly polished concrete floors and a master suite with a sunken vintage tub and a private meditation garden.

    Check out more Los Angeles listings.

    Bloomington, Indiana

    438 S. Meadowbrook Drive
    For sale: $499,000

    Bloomington, IN

    Like a lot of midcentury modern homes, this one has been renovated with new wiring, plumbing, insulation and a high-efficiency heat pump -- plus a year-old hot tub on the back patio.

    Check out more homes for sale in Bloomington.

    Jackson, Mississippi

    2456 E. Northside Drive
    For sale: $300,000

    Jackson, MS

    Vaulted ceilings and tall windows bring an airy feeling to this midcentury modern home, which boasts open spaces but also privacy, with a secluded patio off the master suite. The backyard also has an entertainment-ready patio with an elevated deck. (Update: The listing was removed in late March, perhaps an indication of a quick sale.)

    View more homes on the market in Jackson.

    Rancho Mirage, California

    71767 Tunis Road
    For sale: $499,000

    Rancho Mirage, CA

    Much of the appeal of midcentury moderns is their embrace of the outdoors. This 1956 home in the arid Coachella Valley features mountain and pool views -- plus the requisite exposed beams of the era.

    See what else is on the market in Rancho Mirage.

    Albuquerque, New Mexico

    1101 Sigma Chi Road Northeast
    For sale: $375,000

    Albuquerque, NM

    Built in 1951, this home has international flair, with a flat roof, metal casement windows and little decorative detailing. In back, it boasts 40 feet of window walls with views of the backyard and mountains.

    Check out more listings in Albuquerque.


    1719 Corday St.
    For sale: $389,900

    Dallas, TX

    A wall of water welcomes you into this home's open floor plan, which was a hallmark of the architectural era. The space also features bamboo floors and a large backyard deck. (Update: This home is now off the market.)

    See more homes for sale in Dallas.

    Carnegie, Pennsylvania

    2 Scheffield Road
    For sale: $449,900

    Carnegie, PA

    This 1969 home's open floor plan and wraparound decks are great for entertaining, or just taking in the view. "It is a masterpiece of nature and dwelling," according to the listing.

    See more homes for sale in Carnegie.

    Midland, Michigan

    4000 Orchard Drive
    For sale: $585,000

    Midland, MI

    This 1964 home sits on 2.68 acres and features mahogany wood, broad expanses of glass and a fireplace that's surrounded by stones reaching to the top of a soaring ceiling.

    View more listings in Midland Township.


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  • 04/15/15--06:56: The Pure House
  • Filed under: , ,

    Courtesy of The Pure HouseEnergy efficient homes can cost about 10% more to build, but can pay off dramatically in savings over time.
    An optimistic view of housing in the future is that all homes will be built to require minimal energy to operate and to be healthy living environments. One example is the Pure House in Westport, Connecticut. Built using a prefabricated, high-efficiency panel system, it meets the criteria. Although the builders opted not to have the house certified, it follows the concepts and engineering requirements of the rigid Passive House standards, first developed in Germany.

    The house is equipped with four zoned high-efficiency heat pumps, the main source of heating and cooling. People sometimes are skeptical that these heat pumps are sufficient for cold New England climates, but because the house was built with such a tight thermal envelope, a more elaborate heating and cooling system was not required. All insulation in the house is thicker than required by Connecticut building codes.

    To minimize the need for electricity, the house is equipped with LED lights, which use far less energy, and Energy Star-rated appliances. The house even has a charging station for an electric car.

    American-made products were used throughout the construction, including high-performance, triple-pane windows and doors, as well as sustainable materials such as EcoTimber, a type of engineered wood flooring. The materials sourced for the construction and interior design were chosen for their healthy, non-toxic composition. As an example, the kitchen and bathroom fixtures by Grohe are all lead-free. All the paint, stains, glues and other materials used in the construction are as non-toxic as possible, to maintain a healthy environment inside the house. A heat recovery ventilator exchanges the stale interior air with the outside fresh air continuously through the day and night. The landscape is designed for zero runoff and the native planting requires no irrigation system or fertilization.

    "What I like most about building Pure Houses is the incredible air quality. Breathing fresh air all the time, that is what it's about" says Doug Mcdonald, founder of the Pure House​. Although, Mcdonald admits there is a small up-charge (approximately 10%) for building such an efficient house, he also conveys the long-term savings in energy costs. He says his houses use about 90% less energy than the conventional houses in the area.

    Mcdonald says the Pure House "is born from the same model that brought you restaurants that serve 'farm-to-table' food and the reason why you shop at your local farmers market. You want to know that the ingredients are pure and natural and good for you."


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    For Earth Day story by Sheri Koones. THIS USE ONLY
    Courtesy of MandibuleThe Positive Energy ECOXIA House in Yerres, France, is a certified Passivhaus, built for sustainability and efficiency.

    There are many options available for those who want to build a "green" house. The number of sustainable and energy-efficient options used in the construction is dependent on budget, taste and the level of desire to be independent of the grid and utilize sustainable practices.

    Here is a checklist of things to consider when building or remodeling a home to be sustainable and energy efficient:

    1. Insulation
    First and foremost, use excellent insulation. Be sure there is adequate insulation, whether it is spray foam, cellulose, fiberglass, etc. The foundation, attic and exterior walls must all be properly insulated.

    2. Air Sealing
    Be sure to check for air infiltration. This can be done with a blower door test that will show where outside air is coming into the house. A tightly sealed home requires less heating and cooling.

    3. Windows
    Buy the best windows you can with your budget. Today there are many options in design, frame material, color and efficiency of windows. There are double and triple-pane windows, as well as gas-filled ones. Even frames can be insulated. Also, when designing a home, it is wise to have more windows on the south side of the house to take advantage of solar gain. Having fewer windows on the north side of the house prevents solar loss in those areas.

    4. Appliances
    Use ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. They consume far less energy than non-rated ones. That saves energy and dollars throughout the life of the appliance.

    5. Non-toxic Materials
    Make sure all stains, finishes, paints and adhesives are no-VOC or low-VOC. These toxins can continue to seep into the air and can cause illness and discomfort.

    6. FSC-certified Wood
    Using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council helps provide healthy forests for future generations.

    7. Passive Solar Orientation
    Orient the house for optimal solar gain, if possible. This limits the need for artificial lighting and saves money on electricity, while also reducing energy costs.

    8. Footprint
    Limit the hallways in the house. Space should be used efficiently so there are fewer square feet to heat and cool. When a house is well designed, less space can still provide all the areas and functions desired.

    9. Multi-functional Rooms
    For example, a guest bedroom can easily work as an office or playroom when friends or family are not visiting.

    Courtesy of Jim TetroThe 4D House built by Team Massachusetts for the Solar Decathlon has a partition wall that can be closed for privacy in the bedroom or opened to increase the entertaining area.
    10. Flexible Rooms
    Walls can sometimes be moved to open up space for entertaining, as seen in a house built by students at the University of Massachusetts for the Solar Decathlon, a competition staged by the U.S. Department of Energy.

    11. Ventilation
    To maintain a healthy indoor environment, a tightly built house requires adequate ventilation. Heat recovery ventilators and energy recovery ventilators are systems that continuously exchange the stale inside air with fresh outside air, while retaining the warmth or coolness already created in the house.

    12. Low-flow Faucets and Showerheads and Dual-flush Toilets
    Both of these substantially reduce the water being used in the house.

    13. Recycled, Reused, and Reclaimed Materials
    This limits our depletion of natural resources as well as the amount of material that goes into landfills. There are many types of recycled, reused and reclaimed materials -- including countertops made with recycled glass, reclaimed flooring and antique furnishings.

    14. Lighting
    LED and CFL lighting uses less energy than incandescent bulbs and the bulbs last much longer. The cost of these efficient bulbs is going down, and the variety of bulbs available has expanded.

    15. Large Overhangs
    Large overhangs around the house block the sun's heat in the summer months when the sun is high in the sky. In the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky (in the northern hemisphere), overhangs allow the sun to come in through the windows and help heat the house.

    16. An Efficient Water Heater
    Traditional water heaters maintain a tank full of warm water and are continuously using energy. Tankless water heaters heat water on demand.

    17. Native Plant Landscaping
    Using plants indigenous to the area limits the need for irrigation and fertilization.

    18. Permeable Paving
    Using paving materials that are permeable, such as gravel, allows rainwater and melted snow to return to the water table.

    19. Solar Hot Water Panels
    The cost of solar panels is coming down and there are subsidies available to reduce the cost further. Hot water panels can be used to heat the household's water or be used as part of a radiant heating system.

    20. Photovoltaic Panels
    PV panels can be used to reduce or eliminate the electric load. While connected to the grid, they can provide electricity when it is needed and receive electricity when the sun is not out. Extra electricity can also be returned to the grid to reduce electric costs.

    21. Thermal Mass
    Stone and other high-mass materials can be used to absorb energy when the sun beats down on them. That heat (or coolness) can later be released when it is needed. Some houses have stone around the periphery of the room where the sun is most likely to hit.

    22. Heating System
    A heating and cooling system that limits the energy consumed should be used. Heat pumps are becoming more popular in this country and quite popular around the world. They can be used successfully when the house is built with a very energy-efficient envelope.


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