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AOL Real Estate - Blog
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    5021 Virginia Dare, Kitty Hawk NC
    Zillow


    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.

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

    3150 N Sheffield Ave Apt 308, Chicago IL
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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.

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

    770 NE 69th St, Miami FL
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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

    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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 Knobdeco.com, 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 www.solardecathlon.gov.

     

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    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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.

    Dallas


    1719 Corday St.
    For sale: $389,900

    Dallas, TX
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
    Zillow

    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
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    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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    Tom Hanny/ZillowBrady Ryan and Leah Wymer's tiny home measures less than 100 square feet but they have room to roam on the island.

    By Catherine Sherman

    Our boots sloshed around in the mud. It was a dreary Pacific Northwest day filled with slate-colored clouds and the feeling it could downpour any minute.

    After several calls of "pardon me" and "coming through," we got the tripod inside and forgot about the looming storm. We settled into a world of nooks and crannies, warm blankets -- and the smell of chocolate.

    It's what you do when you live in a tiny home. You get cozy. And you make brownies on a rainy day.

    Leah Wymer and Brady Ryan's house-on-wheels wasn't some big, planned project. Wymer's dad, a carpenter, thought it would be fun, so they bought a used trailer off Craigslist for $500 and started building.

    Two years later, the tiny home named Tina developed into "this huge thing." Not a huge footprint -- she's only 98 square feet -- but a huge, move-to-the-island and start-your-own-business thing.

    Tiny Home Feature Final
    Video by Tom Hanny/Zillow

    Ryan insists they aren't "hardcore tiny homies" because his parents' house is nearby. But for many owners of tiny homes it isn't about escaping normal life or community, anyway.

    "We've had many times where we'll sleep upstairs and then our friends, usually a couple, will sleep down here on the pullout and it's like a sleepover," Ryan says. "I love sleepovers. I'm still a little kid at heart."

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Tom Hanny/Zillow

    Wymer says it instantly brings you closer because your proximity is so close, but she's the first to admit living "tiny" isn't for everyone.

    "If you leave your laundry on the ground, it's in the kitchen," she says. "Everything kind of overlaps a little bit."

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Tom Hanny/Zillow

    But if you don't mind things -- and people -- overlapping, making do with less can be life-changing.

    "Things don't bring you happiness," Wymer says. "Our lifestyle brings us happiness."

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Tom Hanny/Zillow

    It's not easy making money on an island. Wymer has her own wedding-flower business, and Ryan keeps busy making honey and sea salt.

    "The tiny home is like the cog in the wheel that allows the whole thing to spin," Ryan says. Not only are the couple's living costs reduced significantly, but they're able to do what they love most right in their backyard.

    "There have been a lot of times where I wonder if I'm dreaming, really, because of the beauty that is all around us," Wymer says. "I love when it gets later in the season, and the grass comes up to your waist. ...There is nothing like walking out there and brushing your hands against it."

     

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    ZillowOriginally a Presbyterian church,the 13,000-square-foot building has been divided into a home and three apartments.

    By Melissa Allison

    Are the queen and king of hip-hop planning to spend more
    time in jazz territory? Beyoncé and Jay Z appear to have bought an old church in New Orleans' Garden District that has been transformed into living quarters, Curbed reports.

    2015 MET Museum Costume Institute Benefit Gala
    Charles Sykes/Invision/APBeyoncé and Jay Z arrive at a New York gala in early May.

    The 1925 home, built as a Presbyterian church, also has been a ballet school and now is a large home with 26-foot ceilings, plus three 1,000-square-foot apartments.

    A light-filled great room serves as a hub with lots of nooks and crannies, including a step-up dining room, a loft-style sitting room and a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The master suite, which manages to be cozy while also exuding a royal vibe, adjoins a walk-in closet and a bathroom that's decked out with a massive, old-style wooden vanity, a large antique bathtub and a separate shower.

    Just one house off the main Mardi Gras parade route, the home has hosted weddings and major recording stars. According to the former listing, one Grammy winner said the "acoustics and vibes are great. I did my best writing ever, while watching the sunset from the rooftop garden."

    In January, a company with ties to Beyoncé took ownership of the home. It had been listed for $2.6 million. Her sister, Solange Knowles, co-owns a clothing boutique called Exodus Goods in the French Quarter.

    Beyoncé and Jay Z also have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, renting a $150,000-a-month home and bidding unsuccessfully on another.

     

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    Trulia


    By Brie Dyas

    Even grilled cheese tastes better when made in a stylish kitchen.

    For those who love to cook, a gourmet kitchen is the dream. However, unlike a living room or bedroom, this space is much harder to remodel. Kitchens can't be rearranged at whim, cabinets can't be easily changed, and counters -- well, there's very little you can do to hide 1980s laminate countertops. (Their existence is proof that not everything comes back in fashion.)

    But don't shelve your dream just yet. It's possible to get a luxurious look for under $50,000, which is close to the average price spent on a budget kitchen remodel. We asked designers where they'd splurge, where they'd save, and other projects to consider for a space worthy of your culinary creations.

    Before you start, carefully consider the space and your lifestyle.

    "Design your kitchen for the way you live 90% of the time," says high-end kitchen designer Karen Williams. "Not the holidays or a visit from the in-laws."

    She ranks the overall layout as the most important element in a kitchen renovation. "Good design is good design. A proper prep center, cooking, and cleanup [space] is essential." So before you get carried away on Pinterest, think more about the layout that best suits your daily habits rather than, say, Gwyneth Paltrow's.

    Making a list of your main concerns will be invaluable for efficiently communicating with a designer. "Share your ideas and priorities by listing them top to bottom," says Sandra Brannock, principal at Expert Kitchen Designs. "Listen to the kitchen designer and ask for clarification if you are unsure about the design direction. If it is suggested something you want is not cost-worthy, listen and heed this advice."


    Where to Splurge on Your Kitchen Remodel?

    Trulia

    Cabinets: Estimated Cost of $20,000-$25,000*

    "The materials you choose for the kitchen cabinets will define the style," says designer Natalie Kraiem. "If you are going for a modern look, I love to use high-gloss or matte lacquer or frosted glass in a solid color. If you want to achieve a richer look, then go with wood veneers. You could use laminates for a similar but less expensive look."

    Lifestyle also plays an important role in selecting materials. "Cabinetry will endure the most abuse, so look for all-plywood construction along with a superior finish and top-notch door and drawer hardware," advises Brannock. "Your investment will require 20 percent to 30 percent more upfront, but the obvious return will be realized five or more years later when your cabinetry looks and feels as great as when it was first installed."

    Brannock has a few recommendations if you're looking to trim costs: "Opting for cabinets with MDF construction will save you approximately 12 percent. Oak, knotty alder, and hickory are no-upcharge wood species that will save you 6 percent to 22 percent. Consider high-pressure laminate for a contemporary look."

    Appliances: Estimated Cost of $10,000-$14,000

    Obvious as it may be, quality appliances are key to the gourmet kitchen. Kraiem likes side-by-side refrigerator and freezer models that offer custom panel options, which can blend in with your cabinets for a seamless look. A high-end dishwasher is also a luxury worth looking into, especially if it also offers the custom panel option. Hoods can be customized to suit the overall design.

    If you're currently using an electric range, don't worry about converting to gas for a pro-caliber kitchen. Instead, replace the old stove with an induction model. "There are many high-end professional kitchens using this marvelous method," Brannock says. "It is instantaneous, efficient, and also minimizes the extra heat generated in a hardworking kitchen."

    Luxe Details

    Accessories have a big impact in a kitchen. "I like to splurge on hardware," Williams says. "It should look good to the eye and feel good to the hand. You see it and touch it every day."

    Expanding Storage Options

    Clutter can cramp the style of even the fanciest kitchen. However, you'll want to go for storage options that suit your kitchen.

    "Extra deep drawers can be a blessing or a curse if not thought through for one's individual needs," Brannock says. "If incorporating them, consider a smaller hidden drawer above them or a narrow partition to house smaller items such as lids or food processor accoutrements so all the space is utilized. These drawers add $200-plus each but are totally worth it."

    She also says that shallow-depth base cabinetry (13 to 18 inches deep) is especially cost-effective and can fit most people's storage needs.


    Where to Save on Your Kitchen Remodel?

    Trulia

    Backsplash and Countertop: Estimated cost of $7,000

    Renewed interest in marble means other natural materials can be found for a bargain. "With the popularity of white marble right now, granite may be a good choice. The marble yards have an overstock of the material and are usually offering to make a good deal," Williams says. "Stay with the softer, neutral tones so your kitchen won't look outdated."

    Additionally, new designs in porcelain present another cost-effective yet stylish option for counters, floors, and other surfaces.

    Since a backsplash tends to cover a smaller space, it's easier to cut costs here. "I tend to like to use the same countertop and backsplash material for a modern look. In this case, quartz is great because it doesn't stain or get damaged easily," Kraiem says. "I also like to use frosted glass or stainless steel for a unique look that's not so expensive." For more traditional kitchens, a tile or mosaic backsplash is the most budget-friendly option.

    Flooring: Estimated Cost of $2,000

    Your flooring is a big element of your kitchen, so it can have a big impact on overall style. "For example, with floors, 24-by-24- or 24-by-48 porcelain tiles in a concrete or minimalist color will 'speak' to those who walk on them as highly sophisticated," Brannock says. "Another option is wide and random-width hardwood flooring such as fumed white oak for a rustic yet timeless elegance." But the square footage here is probably less than in other areas in your home, so it'll be less costly than, say, redoing the floors in the living room.

    Miscellaneous items (Faucets, Sink, and Garbage Disposal): estimated cost of $1,000-$1,500

    While these smaller elements play an important part in the function of your kitchen, they aren't as noticeable, meaning you can get away with budget-friendly options. "Focus on the look and quality without splurging," Kraiem says.

    *Costs for this report were estimated by designer Natalie Kraiem and are based on a 10-by-10 kitchen. Your costs may vary depending on individual design choices.

     

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    Shutterstock

    By Geoff Williams

    Even if you love where you live, if you own a home that you purchased from someone else, you've probably looked around your house before and wondered: "What was the builder thinking?"

    But not everyone goes that route. Plenty of people pay to have their home custom-built. In other words, some homeowners are the builder -- or at least, they're the ones pulling the strings and making the hard decisions on how small or big their residence should be and what features it should have.

    And if that's what you're doing, you don't want to look around your house someday and wonder: "What was the builder thinking?"

    So if you're spending money on a custom home, keep these eight things in mind.

    Have Details in Place Before You Start Building

    That means not just knowing how the floor plan will look but knowing how the rooms will be designed, says Jonathan Macias, a real estate broker and the president of the Macias Realty Group in El Segundo, California.

    "Designing a house seems easy, but the amount of choices out there can be overwhelming for many. What color tile, what size, what pattern, will it match with the walls, what cabinets will go with this, what about the faucet?" Macias says. "All of these questions could be just for one small bathroom."

    In other words, you don't want to be agonizing about how a bathroom should look and holding up your contractors. Speaking of which ...

    Hire the Right People

    It should go without saying, but let Macias say it: "Do make sure you get all licensed contractors and professionals. Make sure they are properly insured and get references from past work."

    Don't Build Too Big

    Sure, you may have a lot of stuff and you might look longingly at mansions and want the same thing, but if that's the route you want to take, then think long and hard about what you're about to do. What may be right for you now may not be right for you in 10 years, or even next year.

    "I meet potential clients in my office almost weekly who tell me, "We built a 6,000 square-foot home, but now we're dying to downsize to something smaller. Most families don't even need 5,000 square feet, and a home as small as 2,500 or 3,000 square feet won't feel small if it's designed properly, says Andy Stauffer, owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction, a homebuilder in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    "A larger house is just more expensive and harder to maintain and clean," Stauffer says. "According to the National Association of Home Builders, a custom home in the USA costs an average of $105 per square foot to build. That means by eliminating even 500 square feet in a home that you don't need, you'll save over $50,000."

    Think About the Resale Value Now

    Even if you never intend to sell your home and plan to pass it to descendants, assume that you might sell it someday, Stauffer says.

    "It's simply a fact of life. Most of us don't know for sure where we'll be in 10 or 15 years, as much as we'd like to think we do," he says. "I recently spoke to a real estate agent who had some clients that built a five-story custom home. They loved it but when it was time to sell, they had to drop the price by tens of thousands of dollars and sell at a significant loss because nobody wanted to buy a five-story home and walk up and down the stairs all day long."

    So build your dream home, but don't make it a nightmare for someone else, Stauffer advises: "Don't go crazy."

    Keep Your Mortgage Within Reason

    You can always add to your home later, creating the dream house when you can afford it, and build your realistic home now, suggests Joan Fradella, a family mediator in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    When she built her home in 1998, she wanted to stick to keeping the mortgage balance low, and so Fradella was careful not to go, as Stauffer says, "crazy." She was going to have a luxury kitchen and bathrooms built into her home, but she didn't, settling for more modest layouts, reasoning that she could later.

    "I also didn't get the crown molding and French doors because I knew we could do that ourselves," Fradella says. And, indeed, her mortgage remained reasonable.

    Don't Sacrifice All of Your Amenities

    Looking back, Fradella feels it might not have been a terrible idea to have included some of those "extras," provided her mortgage hadn't been too much higher. Because as it turned out, she says, "Life happens, your kid starts to play hockey; [goes] to private school, then college."

    She still hasn't added any upgrades, and she's been living in her home for 18 years.

    Yet, she stands by her advice. "You will be surprised how quickly a $200,000 home becomes $400,000 in upgrades," she says.

    Preventing your house from becoming an economical abyss means knowing what upgrades are "must haves," says Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Custom Builders, a Chicago-area builder that specializes in custom homes. "For example, carpet can always be switched out to hardwood floors later, but a full basement is something you should decide on now," he says.

    Brunhofer also points out that lending now is relatively inexpensive. As long as you don't go crazy, "it can be much more economic to stretch and plan for those features in your budget now," he says.

    Of course, it's in every builder's best interest if you do include those upgrades now, since that's more money for the builder, but it doesn't mean Brunhofer isn't right.

    Check In on the Work

    Keep the surprises for holiday gifts and birthday presents. Don't get sucked into the idea that it would be fun to have someone drive you up to your new house, while blindfolded, so you can have a surprise unveiling (as you may have seen on home improvement reality TV shows). Because you might wind up stuck with a big mortgage on a house you're not thrilled with.

    "Visit the site during construction," advises Nicole Cannon, a residential architect based in Los Angeles. "Make sure things are matching your expectations and ask questions if they don't. The worst option is to remain quiet and end up with something that you are unhappy with or have to pay to fix after the fact."

    Don't Let Your Dream Home Cloud Your Reality

    Let's end this on admittedly a bit of a downer -- to prevent you from having an unhappy ending when building your own home.

    Cannon warns that having a house custom built can be an amazing experience, but it can also be a stressful time, and no matter what you might be thinking, "it will not solve all of life's challenges," she says. "I've had more than one client who thought that building a new home would bring their significant other closer, and a new home would solve their marriage problems. It's tragic when a home is completed and goes on the market immediately due to divorce."

     

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    Image 1
    Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

    By Lindsay Jackman

    For a renovation budget of $5,000, you can add some serious functional upgrades to your home. Kitchens and bathrooms are smart places to focus your dollars. They are hardworking rooms that you'll enjoy using, but also among the first rooms a future buyer will want to see.

    Another practical way to increase the function of your house is by adding living space. While you can't do an actual home addition for $5,000, you can create a functional outdoor living space that increases your usable square footage.

    Here's how to complete each of these three renovation projects on a $5,000 budget. (If you have a little more to spend, consider what you can do for $10,000.)

    Upgrading to Custom Kitchen Cabinets

    ​Creating a more functional and beautiful kitchen is a win-win, and one way to achieve that goal is by upgrading your cabinetry. For this price-point, you could design cabinets that work for you, the way you use your kitchen, and your kitchen layout. Custom cabinets allow you to maximize storage for the space that you have.

    Installing a Tile Shower

    Nothing says luxury in a master bath like a standing tiled shower with glass door. For $5,000, you could remove the standard bath insert and surround and put in a custom tiled shower. For additional function, tile in a corner bench and soap shelf. You'll feel like you're visiting a luxurious resort in the comfort of your own home.

    Image 3
    Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

    Create an Outdoor Living Area

    Boosting square footage is a great idea for you and future buyers, but additions are expensive. Adding a fabulous outdoor patio can drastically increase your usable living space for a much smaller price tag.

    The options for patio material include chipped granite, pavers or flagstone. Adding mulch in beds surrounding the patio will really make a visual statement, and keep the patio from looking like it's floating in your backyard.


    Image 5
    Courtesy of White Buffalo Styling Co.via Zillow

    Build a pergola or covered seating area to create more visual appeal and boost the space's usability. You can hang lights or fans overhead in the structure -- and if it's covered, you'll have a spot to escape the weather.

    While this upgrade benefits you, it's also a big selling feature. Most homes don't have an attractive outdoor living area, and adding this amenity will make buyers flock to your listing.

    Any of these three updates will make you love your home in a whole new way. You can't go wrong with improving kitchen storage, upgrading your current bathroom, or increasing your potential living space by taking to the outdoors.

    See more home design inspiration.

     

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    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    By Kerrie Kelly

    Dining rooms are a wonderful place to express your style through furniture, lighting, art, and color. Here are five favorite dining room styles, and the elements that make them so appealing.

    Tailored and Traditional

    Traditional style is all about the details: intricate carving, unique upholstery, textured linens, and statement lighting contribute to this exquisite look. Take your style traditional by focusing on architectural details like embellished table legs or an ornate console serving as a bar.

    Paneling is also a classic element found in traditional dining rooms. A gray-toned wall with bright white trim creates a crisp and clean look. Top off the style with an eye-catching chandelier and a few sconces along the wall for ideal ambiance.

    Some other style-boosting elements? Mixed finishes, graceful decorations, and textured rugs balance the look.

    traditional
    Courtesy of Zillow Digs


    Modern and Modish

    The modern-style dining room takes many shapes and forms, but some themes are very prominent and consistent throughout. Abstract art serves as a must-have focal point in any contemporary setting, but especially in a dining room. Modern art and decor add just the right amount of movement to an otherwise structured style.

    Clean lines and crisp corners are another important detail in contemporary design. Whether your chairs' frames are perfectly rectangular, or your table's angles are prominent and precise, having perfectly formed 90-degree angles is key to a modern motif.

    Other favorite contemporary design elements include high-gloss finishes, metallic details, and sleek and simple tablescapes.

    modern

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs.


    Restful and Rustic

    Rustic design often conjures up images of old log cabins and less-than-lovely ski lodges. Because the rustic look is so heavily influenced by wood and organic textures, it's best to keep it as light and airy as possible, adding in elements of contemporary and traditional designs.

    Try creating fresh farmhouse style with exposed beams, a distressed dining room table with bench seating, and plenty of greenery. Details like barn-inspired doors, nailhead trim, and reclaimed wood offer up a refined version of the classic rustic style.
    rustic
    Courtesy of Zillow Digs


    Cool and Cottage

    If you're partial to the calm and collected vibe of the Nantucket shoreline, you might be a fan of cottage design. This cozy and unpretentious style offers a light and bright alternative to traditional design with distressed wood elements, tons of texture, and simple, elegant lighting. You can't go wrong pairing a seagrass rug with an ornate dining table.

    Keep colors soft and sinuous with tones of gray, beige and white, and lightly add pattern with an area rug, table linens, or upholstered chairs. Other cottage elements to consider: gentle patina on surfaces like tables, consoles, and shelves, slipcovered chairs, and curated tabletop decor.

    cottage
    Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab via Zillow


    Trendy and Transitional

    Taking cues from modern and traditional design, the transitional style is a cultivation of contemporary elements and classic architecture. Minimal accents and culled accessories lend a clean touch to a timeless dining room setting, and the less-is-more-approach is alive and well throughout the space with statement lighting and just a few curated fittings detailing the space.

    If you'd like to mimic the transitional style further, consider these design elements: crisp window treatments, a calming color palette, and organic decor.

    trendy
    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    While these are only a handful of the possible design styles to outfit your dining room, they are great starting points.

     

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    Growing housing market. Uptrend arrow.
    Getty Images/iStockphotoSan Francisco, Denver and Portland led 20 U.S. cities as home prices moved upward at the fastest pace of 2015.

    By Christopher S. Rugaber
    AP Economics Writer


    WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose in September from a year earlier at the fastest pace in 13 months as a lack of houses for sale has forced buyers to bid up available properties.

    The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, increased 5.5 percent in September compared with a year ago, the largest annual gain since August 2014.

    Steady job gains and low mortgage rates have propelled a solid rebound in home sales, which are on track to reach the highest level since 2007. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent in October as employers added the most jobs since December. Borrowing costs have ticked up but remain below 4 percent, a low level historically.

    San Francisco reported the largest annual home price increase, at 11.2 percent, followed by Denver at 10.9 percent. Portland had the third largest gain, at 10.1 percent. All 20 cities surveyed reported higher prices than a year earlier.

    On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.2 percent in September from August. Prices rose in seventeen of 20 cities from the previous month. They fell in Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

    Sales of existing homes, while improving, have been volatile this year. They slipped in October after a healthy jump the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

    Overall, home sales have increased 3.9 percent in the past 12 months. At the same time, the number of available homes has fallen 4.5 percent.

    That squeeze has pushed up prices. The typical home sold for $219,600 last month, up nearly 6 percent from a year ago, the Realtors group said Monday. That is the highest median price for the month of October since October 2005, at the height of the housing bubble.

    Home prices are rising at more than double the pace of inflation and much faster than wages, pricing many Americans out of the housing market. That has also pushed up rents as Americans increasingly stay in apartments.

    Still, home prices are rising at a much slower pace than the double-digit gains seen in most of 2013. David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Dow Jones Index Committee, said that the higher prices aren't out of line with rising rents. That's a change from the housing bubble, when home prices soared much higher than rental costs.

    Several factors are likely holding back the supply of available homes. Many Americans still don't have much housing equity and as a result would profit little from a sale. That may be delaying them from listing their homes.

    In addition, the average rate for a 30-year mortgage has picked up in the past three years. It is currently almost 4 percent, which is still low. But millions of Americans have refinanced their mortgages at much lower rates and may be reluctant to trade up to a new home because doing so would require taking on a higher mortgage rate.

    Developers are also building homes at a historically modest pace. Construction of single-family homes dropped 2.4 percent in October compared to the previous month, the Commerce Department said last week.

    The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The September figures are the latest available.

     

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    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    By Kerrie Kelly

    There are few better workhorses than the kitchen island. It's beautiful, simple, and full of storage possibilities. Offering features from scratch-proof counters for chopping to hooks, rods, and bins for stowing, the kitchen island is an invaluable addition to any home.

    Best of all, there's an island option for every style and budget. Here are a few of the best.


    Sink Space

    If you're looking for a creative sink solution, consider installing it in the kitchen island. This setup provides a central spot to wash your hands, drain pasta, scrub dishes or rinse produce.


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Tucked Away

    Kitchen islands usually evoke visions of huge, solid, and largely immobile countertops reserved for spacious kitchens. However, tiny islands are slowly gaining momentum and becoming popular for their mobility, slim size, and ease of access.

    Take a look at islands on casters, which can be positioned where they're most needed, then tucked in a corner or underneath a counter when not in use.


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Sit and Stay

    Kitchen islands are great for creating an extra sitting area, especially if your kitchen or dining room lacks the space for an actual table.

    Choose an extra-long kitchen island with overhang to allow for a few bar stools or tall chairs. Add some festive placemats and a few dining accessories to create a unique tablescape -- and clear it all away when you need some extra workspace.


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Careful Cubbies

    One of the best ways kitchen islands add to a space is by providing unique storage options. In a room so full of doors and hardware, adding small baskets, hooks, and rods can be a fun way to stow your utensils, linens, or knickknacks. Even better, you can switch out the textures and finishes to match your favorite seasonal decor.


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    While kitchen islands are most often used as giant cutting boards, they've come full circle in design and function, and have proven to be a great way to add substance and style to any kitchen design. Take a look at your space, define your personal style, and determine your needs to find your perfect island oasis.

    Get kitchen island inspiration.

     

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    Courtesy of Mosaic Architects & Interiors.

    By Zillow Team

    Zillow Digs has announced its top home design trends for 2016, along with the three soon-to-be forgotten fads of 2015. Results were based on a survey of leading interior design experts and trending photos on Zillow Digs.

    So what will be 2016's hottest trends? Check out the results below.

    2016's Top Home Design Trends


    1. Art Deco-Inspired Patterns and Shapes


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Art deco will make a bold new comeback in 2016. Look for the style's trademark geometric patterns and honeycomb shapes to weave their way into everything from wallpaper to artwork, adding elegance and dimension to any space. Experts also predict gold statement lighting fixtures will become more popular.


    2. Nubby Wool Rugs


    Courtesy of Mosaic Architects & Interiors

    Nubby wool or other natural fibers will be the go-to texture for 2016, especially for area rugs. Their neutral hues create the perfect indoor/outdoor vibe, while softening bolder colors and dramatic statement pieces.


    3. Encaustic Tiles


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    These intricate patterned tiles get their coloring from different types of clay rather than glaze and can be used to create a beautiful, natural-looking focal point. Expect to see encaustic tiles pop up throughout the house in 2016, including on kitchen backsplashes, bathroom shower tiles, accent walls and even fireplace mantles.


    4. Artisan Accent Pieces


    Courtesy of David Scott Interior Design

    Travel souvenirs, unique artisan pieces and flea market finds will take center stage in home design as more homeowners gravitate toward decorating with unique art pieces that tell a story. Look for a rise in partnerships between big box stores and global artisans to accommodate the increased demand for one-of-a-kind or handmade items.

    3 Fads to Ditch From 2015


    1. Mason Jars


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    The mason jar trend is exhausted, and will finally make its exit in 2016. After using them to invoke a rustic chic feeling everywhere from wedding decor to restaurants, experts and homeowners alike are finally ready to move on.


    2. Chalkboard Paint


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Chalkboards smudge easily, and unless decorated with perfect handwriting, are usually not the best way to label household items. This trend is not built to last in 2016.


    3. Burlap Details


    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Burlap is too harsh for indoor use, and is far overplayed for another year in the spotlight. Instead, homeowners will gravitate toward softer natural fibers that are more suitable for throw blankets, pillows and rugs.

    Want to learn more about 2016's hottest home design trends? Check out more photos of the top trends on Zillow Digs.

     

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    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    By Kerrie Kelly

    November through January is a busy, busy time. With family dinners, office parties and Christmas shopping, lack of sleep inevitably follows and full-blown burnout becomes a very real possibility. Don't forget to think about yourself. A restful bedroom can be the key to combating fatigue.

    Clear the Clutter

    It's often said that a cluttered room is the sign of a cluttered mind. Having too much "stuff" obstructs from the flow of a serene space, and doesn't tie in well with any design concept.

    Take what you love and move it somewhere safe, and get rid of everything else. Having a clear and collected space will lead to a clear and collected life. Don't you feel better already?

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Soothe with a Calm Color Palette

    Nothing whispers "rest" quite like a soft and soothing color palette. From cozy cream to serene beige, color is key when creating a restful bedroom. Refrain from bold colors like red, green, or yellow, and instead use those shades to accent your calming paint choice instead.

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Total Texture

    Sink into a sound slumber quickly and easily with plush pillows, dreamy duvets, and cozy throw blankets. Layer different textures, prints, and soft colors to create a bed as irresistible as a 3 o'clock nap.

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Go Stress-Free with a Sitting Area

    Don't want to ruffle your restful bed sheets? Create a cozy corner instead with a chair, side table, and a great reading lamp. Grab a cozy blanket, sip a cup of tea, and get lost in a good book while relaxing the day away in your rest-inspiring oasis.

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs

    Finish with Lush Lighting

    When you're about to drift off to dream land, nothing's worse than switching from light and bright to dull and dark. Opt for lighting that is dimmable or masked by an opaque shade. Layer lighting with pendants, recessed cans, and tableside lamps for the perfect amount of sparkle.

    Courtesy of Zillow Digs


    The holidays don't have to mean all-nighters and dazed mornings. Create your restful bedroom using the above elements, your favorite sleep-inducing rituals, and personal touches that you find particularly restful. Sit back, relax, and lull yourself to sleep knowing that the New Year is just around the corner.

     

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