Archive for the ‘Best and Worst Websites’ Category
DOWNSIZING OR REFURNISHING? DONATE YOUR FURNITURE TO THOSE IN NEED
There is a wonderful way to improve other lives while improving your home. The Furniture Bank has 70 locations throughout the country, picking up furniture from your home or store and delivering it to those in need. With more than 1 million homeless in America, gently used furniture donations are greatly needed to provide comfort to seniors, battered women, the unemployed and students.
The Furniture Bank works with donators and the recipients of some very functional furniture. A side benefit of donating furniture is being able to write off furniture donations from taxes. You may also wish to send a check to the Furniture Bank.
Some local furniture stores are even offering discounts of up to 10% if they work with a local furniture bank to donate furniture. Ask your local furniture store.
How to Donate Furniture if You are a Homeowner
Visit www.furniturebank.org to find one of the 70 locations for pickup across the United States. Each furniture bank operates independently and decides which items they are willing to take. Large items like beds, sofas, dressers and lamps are all functional pieces that families starting over need.
Donate Furniture if you Own a Hotel or Other Business
Businesses can reap the benefits of donating gently used furniture. Many banks will pick up the furniture even two or three hours away.
Why not help someone else in the coming year? Visit www.furniturebank.org
If you have ever walked into a furniture store and then into a clothing store, you’ll begin to see recurrent color themes. Our eyes begin adjust to these colors, and that’s how trends are born. Though I’ve vowed to never follow trends in color or fashion, (my friends would agree), I am interested in trying out small additions of the latest colors trends. It is easy to become stale in your sense of design and fashion, and adding a pop of a hot color doesn’t have to make you look trendy, just updated–there’s a difference. The Pantone group carefully selects after doing a lot of research on environmental and consumer trends, news, new technology and other noteworthy events, and their research paves the wave of the future, in how we see the world, our homes and closet. Selecting some key colors can make all the difference in the world when you are selling a house or just refreshing your look.
In my own home, I have decided to reupholster some furniture in my living room and office. Though I am careful to not go overboard in buying the hottest trends in fabrics, I am selecting fabrics that reflect a slightly updated look.
2013 PANTONE COLORS
This year’s hottest colors are emerald green and pale purple. Here are examples to whet your appetite:
WAYS TO INCORPORATE 2013 PANTONE COLORS QUICK AND AFFORDABLY
1. Paint a wall–this is easy and an affordable way to bring life into your home and freshen things up a bit
2. Paint a baseboard or molding a different color–why not take advantage of the 2013 color trends without making a long term investment?
3. Add a blanket or pillow with your favorite hot new color—maybe add a small geometric–your home will instantly look updated and fresh
4. Get an inexpensive poster, new or old, frame it in a Pantone 2013 color
5. Buy a kitchen appliance, small or large, in a hot new color—who says you have to take your kitchen appliances off the counter? Keep your favorite, or most frequently used appliance out. You’ll be surprised at how your family and friends will notice and compliment you on it.
6. Buy new knobs for your desk drawers—knobs usually run $5-20, but give a little burst of life and color that can modernize your office space
Just in: The Shop Cop is now contributing articles to AOL’s newly launched Homesessive, a site featuring the latest and greatest for the home and do-it-yourselfers. Jennifer Litwin will join other veterans in the home furnishings world to offer the best tips and treasures for the home. Jennifer will offer her top choices for the best in home goods on the market, as well as seasonal picks to spruce up your home.
I have shopped and reviewed all kinds of furniture, from the most high end to the most modest alternatives, but recently decided to look at some large chain stores that I thought would offer quick, attractive and affordable options for a den.
RESTORATION HARDWARE: QUALITY DOES NOT MATCH UP WITH THE NEW GLOSSY CATALOGS AND WEBSITE
Restoration Hardware has really done a transformation in the past few years, going from a stodgy fixtures store to a more updated take on the Ralph Lauren look. Their site and catalogue are impressive, making you feel like you are looking at a large estate in the south of France. The furniture is neutral, with light, solid fabrics against the backdrop of dark, aged-looking frames, and all looks oversized and extremely comfortable, as if broken in like an old pair of jeans.
Restoration Hardware Upholstery Disappointing in Person
I was close to just buying some chairs online, as do most Americans these days who are shopping for their homes; myself included due to time constraints. But I thought I should just visit Restoration Hardware a few miles away and look at the chairs in person. Ironically, the fabrics felt unimpressive; not as luxurious as they looked online or in the catalog. The chairs felt hard and surprisingly shallow and short, and I’m only 5’2″. I loved the exposed nailheads, but the saleswoman told me that I need to know if I buy the chairs I can never reupholster them because the wood is raw and the frame attachment to the fabric is not really something that can be changed. The arms and the seat cushions felt hard and lumpy; something I would not suggest buying, again, without really checking the seat to make sure it is comfortable, especially given the high price tags.
CHOOSING A “NATURAL” FABRIC COLOR
Restoration Hardware offers a myriad of what they call natural colors. The small fabric swatches make it difficult to know how the natural color will really look in your space. Retailers know if they offer a variety of natural fabrics online, you will think you are making a safe purchase. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of colors that look similar but different, and fabrics offered online are not usually photographed so you can really see the fabric up close. In my experience with Restoration Hardware, the fabric on the chairs was not good quality; I was underwhelmed. I called the 1-800 number, and was told that I couldn’t return the chairs. I explained that the chair didn’t look or feel like what I saw I on the Restoration Hardware site.
In short, if what you receive doesn’t match your expectations and looks or feels significantly different, call and notify the company right away. If you are dead set on ordering online, make sure you first go to the store and check out the piece in person. Ask all the right questions so you aren’t out thousands of dollars.
CAR RENTAL COMPANIES HAVE INCONSISTENT BILLING PRACTICES
Though I typically don’t have a need to rent cars, I did so recently on a few different trips. My experience with Budget made me want to never rent another car again, and this isn’t the first time that my credit card meant carte-blanche to the car rental company.
CORPORATE CAR RENTAL OFFICES VS. FRANCHISE OPERATIONS
Apparently, when you rent a car from Budget, Hertz, Avis, etc., you are possibly renting from the parent company. However, plenty of franchise operations, privately owned and managed, rent out cars under the names: Budget, Avis, Hertz, etc.
AIRPORT CAR RENTAL AGREEMENTS
Once you book a daily car rental rate online, over the phone or through your travel agent, you must sign a contract at the airport. This isn’t easy to understand, because the rental contract invariably adds airport fees, etc., that you may not have seen on the quote. Then, of course, the car style you expected to rent is probably not even available anymore. You are now forced to spend more money and get a bigger, fancier car; or shift down a gear and get a more modest car that costs almost the same as what you expected to rent.
After signing the contract for the car rental, and hopefully not for additional insurance, a big money maker for the car rental companies, you get to check out your new car. In my case, I was given a van that had 25,000 miles on it and seemed very worn out and dirty on the inside.
But before I could leave a little inspector man came out and asked us to look over the car, as he quickly walked around our car and told us there were just a few little scratches on the bumper—he put the little sketch of the scratches on the contract, mumbled a few words in broken English that we didn’t understand, and sent us on our way, as there was a huge lineup of cars trying to leave the Vancouver airport. I looked closely around the car, and pretty much agreed with the inspector, but it was dark in the garage and we were feeling the need to get out because of the long line of cars behind us. The kids were getting antsy.
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History repeats itself. Studies have shown that over time, people tend to make the same bad choices the second time around, and most of us are guilty of shopping at the same awful stores that we vowed we would never step foot in again.
I have also been in this rut. I vowed when the stock market crashed last year that I would explore new retailers, and new ways of shopping; I’ve been surprisingly happy with the results I came up with.
GET OUT OF YOUR SHOPPING RUT
After recently shopping at Costco (and renewing my membership for a whopping $50) I realized why I signed up in the first place. My son likes their chocolate cake. That’s it. That’s the only reason. And I paid $50 for that privilege to buy that one cake, one time.
In a recent radio show I hosted with the Miserly Mom, Jonni McCoy, listeners learned why Costco isn’t the price leader for many household products we assume must be cheaper because of their massive bundled quantities. You don’t need to be a repeat shopper. There may be other better ways to shop. You don’t need to pay anymore to belong to a “club”. Save your money.
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MY SUMMER SPENT TRAVELING, ON THE REQUEST OF MY KIDS
Because I’ve spent the past many years traveling for work, I haven’t had much time or desire for leisurely travel. And traveling with little kids wasn’t always the easiest. But this past summer was different. My son, Edward, told me last year that he wanted to travel, to see the world. Planning the trips wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t sure which hotels to stay in, which places offered the best values, and best times and ways to book our trips.
RECENT TRIP TO THE REGENCY HOTEL IN NY WAS AN EYE OPENER
My brother and sister-in-law recently took my nephew, Justin, to NY for a weekend. They were so proud of the amazing rate they were able to get through Orbitz. For somewhere in the low $200′s, they were able to get a room at one of my favorite hotels, the Loew’s Regency in NY. I couldn’t believe the rate–a rate that I hadn’t been able to secure in years, since right after 9/11.
THE ARTIFICIALLY LOW HOTEL RATE QUOTED BY ORBITZ
Orbitz said in fine print that upgrades may be available upon arrival, but that they couldn’t guarantee the room you get when you book through them. Unfortunately, when my brother, sister-in-law and nephew got to the famed Regency Hotel, they discovered they would be sleeping in a room with 2 twin beds—something unacceptable for the 3 of them. So they went to the front desk, spoke with a reservations clerk and were able to upgrade to a room with 2 doubles—for an extra $100, of course.
PROBLEMS WITH ORBITZ, EXPEDIA, PRICELINE AND OTHER ONLINE TRAVEL COMPANIES
We’ve all had the same complaints when booking trips with the online travel companies, as Consumer Affairs reports:
1) The rate you are promised promises you nothing—wait til you see your room. No online or in-person guarantees of a room type or that your view won’t be the parking lot!
2) When you need to change your travel plans, good luck finding someone who picks up the phone to help you.
3) Changing your travel plans will require you to spend a hefty change fee, with no added benefits.
4) With online travel agencies you won’t usually be allowed to take advantage of all the freebies, miles, rewards and other ways the travel industry is extending to nearly every human being on Earth right now.
5) Travel websites are hard to use and are inefficient when you need to change your plans.
CONSIDER USING A WORLD-CLASS TRAVEL AGENT
I recently asked my friend, Erin, how she always plans the best trips, and how she keeps her kids so happy on vacation, even when traveling great distances. Erin was excited to share her little travel secret with me. As Erin travels all over the world to spend time with her husband and children, as her husband travels a lot for work, she has found that having the right travel agent is key to happy travels. Erin referred me Paul Klein Travel, in Chicago, a corporate travel agency, where I turned over my business and headaches. Through using Paul Klein Travel, I have been able to secure the best seats, best rooms, best hotels, best upgrades and packages, and yes, best prices. I have tried to comparison shop the trips I have taken using Paul Klein, in almost 100% of the cases, Paul Klein Travel has beat everyone.
CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENTS’ VOLUME BUSINESS GOOD NEWS FOR VACATIONING FAMILIES
The beauty of traveling with a corporate travel agency is that you can book great vacations at well-known hotel chains and resorts, and take advantage of the corporate travel agency’s great rates. Paul Klein, as it turns out, is one of only 80 travel agencies that “partners” with hotel chains like the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, among many other great chains–chains that are often expensive and have little in the way of a rewards program. Through Paul Klein, we were able to stay in some great spots and take advantage of the opportunities to see different places we may not otherwise know about.
BENEFITS OF USING A CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENT–WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK FOR
1) Alerts if prices drop or are about to go up so you can secure the best air/hotel packages
2) Resort credits that average between $100-300 per trip—credits that may include meals or spa packages; even high tea and room service breakfasts—free with your travel agent relationship.
3) Instant phone calls made to the manager of a hotel to request a room change or upgrade on your behalf–something you may not be able to secure on your own.
Recently, I did a segment for ABC in Minneapolis about melting your gold and selling it because you could get more money for gold than a few years ago. Recessions work that way. Gold holds its value during a recession. But someone whose parent had recently died asked me if now was also a good time to sell an old wedding band, made up of several diamonds. Her jeweler suggested making an eternity ring, or using the small diamonds to make something for her daughters.
BAD NEWS: PRICES FOR DIAMONDS HAVE GONE UP
If you own diamonds and want to sell them right now the good news is you will be able to sell them for a little more than you could have in 2009, by about 5%. The reason is because manufacturers of diamonds are slowing production of their supply, which is causing prices to go up. It is unclear how long this upward trend will continue, but since January prices have been going up a little each month.
SHOULD YOU BUY DIAMONDS NOW?
There is no question that in the past three years diamond prices plummeted 30%. That is the question of the day. The diamond industry now has a set price marker, called the IDEX. This pricing index should be a good judge of what a diamond should sell for.
FIND OUT THE VALUE OF THE DIAMONDS
- Go to your local jeweler for an appraisal
- Compare venues across the board to see where you may be able to get the highest price (auction, jeweler, web)
- Consider buying inexpensive little diamond(s) and turning them into something else for your children. The prices have not gone up steadily for a few years, and you may want to hold out.
ARE YOU ONLY GETTING SECOND BEST, AT BEST? IF NOT THOUGHT OUT PROPERLY, YOUR NEW HOME CAN BECOME A DISAPPOINTMENT WHEN THE REPAIR BILLS APPEAR
Retailers bank on the fact that people are too busy these days to shop for their homes just one piece at a time, and just want their houses done. Period. Well, if you fall into the rut getting everything at once, you will regret your purchases. Each piece you buy should represent a purchase you made because of your everyday living needs . If not thought out carefully you will risk overpaying and creating a generic-looking space that really doesn’t reflect who you are, your taste or current daily lifestyle.
RUSHING TO CREATE THE PERFECT HOME CAN BE A DISAPPOINTMENT
We’ve all felt the pressure to have the perfect house, whether it be for an upcoming party, the holidays or to simply blend in with the neighbors.
CONSIDER SHOPPING AT AN AUCTION RIGHT NOW
After buying my first home, I realized how empty it looked. I went to auctions at the time, and felt the urge to bid on dozens of inexpensive items, hoping to be the “lucky” winner of all of them. I overbid on things I never even loved—the prices seemed too low to overlook, and I had a house to furnish. I wound up with over twenty pieces of junk for my home, and after putting everything inside, I realized I didn’t like half of the pieces, and would have no real use for them. Several of the pieces later required a considerable amount of work; something I never considered budgeting for.
START OUT SMALL, HAVE PATIENCE, AND WAIT TO BUY YOUR FAVORITE PIECES, BUT DON’T SETTLE JUST TO GET YOUR HOME FULLY FURNISHED
FLEA MARKETS: My best advice for someone with refined taste, who wants an elegant, interesting home is to start out small. For that reason, flea markets are the best way to get your feet wet. In Chicago, I love the Randolph Street Market, a flea market that has an urban flair mixed with country charm. Dealers rent stalls, and I’ve picked up pieces from $5-$2,000 at flea markets. The trick is buying only what you love, one piece at a time, mixing new with old, and only buying pieces you have a use for. Learning these skills takes time and a trained eye.
AUCTION: Auction is another great way to furnish a great big house, or even a city apartment. I especially love shopping at local auctions for artwork, and especially love that I don’t have to pay for shipping. Thanks to my big car. My favorite auction houses for the great values are: Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, Neal Auction in New Orleans, and occasionally Sotheby’s more reasonably priced auctions. You can’t go wrong. Especially if you put in a silent bid and agree only to a maximum price you would be willing to pay. Becoming emotional about a piece will not serve you well. Avoid auctions or brokerage firms that charge an astronomical amount to sellers or buyers, like 1stdibs. These places are not the best about warrantying the products they are selling.
BECOME YOUR OWN INTERIOR DESIGNER
The fastest way to date your house is to make everything look perfectly coordinated. The perfectly coordinated look is outdated and always has been. Your home will express more about you and your personality when you acquire one piece at a time. Designers will also want to save themselves time, and earn the most amount of money possible by trying to create an entire ”look” for you and your family. I’ve especially seen this when they are working with big families and know that people don’t have a lot of time to deal with all the details.
Take your time, and you, too, will have the house you love for a lifetime.
Homesessive on AOL.com
OUR LOVE OF PERFUME
I just realized that my most favorite perfume I’ve worn over the past several years no longer smells appealing to me. It seems to smell different from the way I remember it. But I just don’t want to make a mistake by throwing it out (I hate to throw out sentimental possessions) and buying a $60-75 bottle of perfume that I will not like after wearing for the first time. The $30 billion a year perfume industry just seems to grow annually, even during a recession. Since antiquity, with its creation in Egypt, women have made perfume a part of their daily rituals. Perfume is popular because it can heighten our senses in a way nothing else can accomplish. Our familiar scents can be associated with comfort, closeness and intense passion. The perfume industry is highly secretive, with little known facts as to how perfume is made or what makes some perfumes astronomically expensive.
PERFUME SCENTS ARE SHORT-LIVED
Perfumes can last for, on average, five years. You need to keep perfumes stored in a dry, dark and cool, but not cold, place. Sunlight and heat can alter the smell. If you see any brown thickening, the perfume is going bad. But don’t get rid of your perfumes until you really notice their smells changing. As we get older, our sense of smell changes, so recognize that your own sense of smell can make the perfume’s scent change over time. Once you open a perfume bottle, it starts to “age.”
On your body, smell will last longer if your body is moisturized. If your skin is dry, the perfume’s smell will evaporate more quickly. A fact I didn’t realize–I thought the opposite was true. Applying perfume lower on your body will make the smell last longer than closer to the face, where the smell is likely to rise and go away. Blondes seem to not have as much luck as brunettes when it comes to lingering smell on their bodies. Blondes do better with floral perfumes that keep their smell longer than other kinds of fragrances.
Citrus scents last the least amount of time, though popular, because citrus perfumes are made from some fresh ingredients. For men, after shave has the least amount of oils, and therefore evaporates the quickest of all fragrances. Age is also a factor in determining how a scent will last on your body.
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