Lehigh Township Residents Voice Opposition Against Wal-Mart Development

mc-walmart-plans-lehigh-township-store-20160511

Residents of Lehigh Township gathered Wednesday evening at a meeting of the township’s Planning Commission to learn more about the development of a Wal-Mart within the township—and to voice their criticism of the project.

The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter would be located at Route 145 and Birch Drive. The supercenter would also feature a gas station and a Wal-Mart convenience store.

Adam Benosky of Bohler Engineering attended the meeting on behalf of Wal-Mart to address any questions or concerns that residents had. Residents responded to Benosky’s plan with strong concerns that the project would negatively affect their community and quality of life.

Among the concerns were questions relating to crime, increased traffic and the store’s potential proximity to residential homes.

Lehigh Township resident Kate Popejoy questioned the crime levels associated with Wal-Mart stores. She asked, “How are you going to deal with the crime rate that happens with Wal-Mart? The crime rate is really not a pretty sight at most Wal-Marts.”

The commission said that next year’s budget will allow for the hiring two additional police officers, totaling 12 for the township, but the amount of police on duty at a given time will not increase, with two people on full-time according to the planning commission.

The addition of two officers to the police force did little to quell the unease in the room, as Popejoy referenced a Bloomberg news article which described a “tremendous load on police forces dealing with Wal-Marts.”

Some residents brought up the idea of the township intervening with Wal-Mart’s security, but Solicitor Michael Corriere said such actions are not within the township’s power.

“We can’t get involved with the internal security of Wal-Mart,” Corriere said. “In terms of the security, our officers will have to respond and handle it accordingly.”

Traffic is another concern that frightens Lehigh Township residents. Benosky could not provide specific numbers for the amount of tractor trailers that will enter and exit the property, but said he will inquire about an estimate and get back to the Planning Commission.

Vice Chair of the Planning Commission Cynthia Miller said she will do all in her power to restrict tractor trailers from using Birch Drive.

Residents seemed to have an overall negative reaction to the development, showing pessimism when discussing the future of the community.

“Why was this site chosen?” one resident asked. “We don’t need one.”

Residents argued that the construction and close proximity of the supercenter would prove disruptive for those who live nearby.

Alec Bodzin, a professor at Lehigh University and Lehigh Township resident, expressed that the Wal-Mart would require him and others to sell their homes. Bodzin said the Wal-Mart and the increased activity around it will cause property values to plummet, while providing an undesirable atmosphere for residents.

“I’m going to have to put my house of for sale,” he said. “When do I need to get a for sale sign in my yard?”

Regardless of the pleas of the community, it appears that there is little room for them to disrupt development. The land is zoned for commercial use and any client fitting the requirements of township ordinances will likely receive approval according to the Planning Commission.

“This is zoned commercial,” said Planning Commission Chairman David Shulman. “It could have been a supermarket, it could have been a strip mall, it could have been any number of uses that are permitted in our general commercial district. It just happened to be a Wal-Mart. We cannot change the zoning now that they submitted the plan for this site.”

Benosky, in an attempt to try and calm the concerns of residents, told attendees, “We’re trying to be cognizant of your concerns.”

After a resident asked to speak with Wal-Mart representatives directly, Benosky said that there is the possibility of getting Wal-Mart representatives to come answer specific questions which he could not provide answers to.

Numerous steps still need to be taken before the project is approved by the township, and it will ultimately be decided on by the Board of Supervisors before moving forward.

Lehigh Township Residents Voice Opposition Against Wal-Mart Development

mc-walmart-plans-lehigh-township-store-20160511

by Justin Sweitzer

Residents of Lehigh Township gathered Wednesday evening at a meeting of the township’s Planning Commission to learn more about the development of a Wal-Mart within the township—and to voice their criticism of the project.

The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter would be located at Route 145 and Birch Drive. The supercenter would also feature a gas station and a Wal-Mart convenience store.

Adam Benosky of Bohler Engineering attended the meeting on behalf of Wal-Mart to address any questions or concerns that residents had. Residents responded to Benosky’s plan with strong concerns that the project would negatively affect their community and quality of life.

Among the concerns were questions relating to crime, increased traffic and the store’s potential proximity to residential homes.

Lehigh Township resident Kate Popejoy questioned the crime levels associated with Wal-Mart stores. She asked, “How are you going to deal with the crime rate that happens with Wal-Mart? The crime rate is really not a pretty sight at most Wal-Marts.”

The commission said that next year’s budget will allow for the hiring two additional police officers, totaling 12 for the township, but the amount of police on duty at a given time will not increase, with two people on full-time according to the planning commission.

The addition of two officers to the police force did little to quell the unease in the room, as Popejoy referenced a Bloomberg news article which described a “tremendous load on police forces dealing with Wal-Marts.”

Some residents brought up the idea of the township intervening with Wal-Mart’s security, but Solicitor Michael Corriere said such actions are not within the township’s power.

“We can’t get involved with the internal security of Wal-Mart,” Corriere said. “In terms of the security, our officers will have to respond and handle it accordingly.”

Traffic is another concern that frightens Lehigh Township residents. Benosky could not provide specific numbers for the amount of tractor trailers that will enter and exit the property, but said he will inquire about an estimate and get back to the Planning Commission.

Vice Chair of the Planning Commission Cynthia Miller said she will do all in her power to restrict tractor trailers from using Birch Drive.

Residents seemed to have an overall negative reaction to the development, showing pessimism when discussing the future of the community.

“Why was this site chosen?” one resident asked. “We don’t need one.”

Residents argued that the construction and close proximity of the supercenter would prove disruptive for those who live nearby.

Alec Bodzin, a professor at Lehigh University and Lehigh Township resident, expressed that the Wal-Mart would require him and others to sell their homes. Bodzin said the Wal-Mart and the increased activity around it will cause property values to plummet, while providing an undesirable atmosphere for residents.

“I’m going to have to put my house of for sale,” he said. “When do I need to get a for sale sign in my yard?”

Regardless of the pleas of the community, it appears that there is little room for them to disrupt development. The land is zoned for commercial use and any client fitting the requirements of township ordinances will likely receive approval according to the Planning Commission.

“This is zoned commercial,” said Planning Commission Chairman David Shulman. “It could have been a supermarket, it could have been a strip mall, it could have been any number of uses that are permitted in our general commercial district. It just happened to be a Wal-Mart. We cannot change the zoning now that they submitted the plan for this site.”

Benosky, in an attempt to try and calm the concerns of residents, told attendees, “We’re trying to be cognizant of your concerns.”

After a resident asked to speak with Wal-Mart representatives directly, Benosky said that there is the possibility of getting Wal-Mart representatives to come answer specific questions which he could not provide answers to.

Numerous steps still need to be taken before the project is approved by the township, and it will ultimately be decided on by the Board of Supervisors before moving forward.

What To Look For When Hiring an Electrician

When having any electrical work done in your home, you want the job done properly at a reasonable price. Choosing a company can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to look for. Here are some tips to help you source the right person for the job.

Certifications and insurance

Electricity can be a dangerous thing, so you need to be certain the electrician is qualified to work in this field. Standards are in place to ensure the tradesperson has passed the relevant courses and examinations, enabling them to safely carry out the work. Insurance is essential, so ask to see the company’s public liability policy, which will protect you in the event of any damage resulting from their work.

Shop around

It is always a good idea to get several quotes, and make sure you communicate your requirements clearly, stating the type of materials and fittings you prefer. At this point, make a note of any questions, and ask each bidder about possible solutions. Using the services of an online directory will help you source prospective businesses. A quick check on Thomson Local for reviews of local electricians will put your mind at rest before you request the service.

Communication

It is important for the electrician to have good communication skills; they should be courteous, while focusing on your requirements and concerns. You should be given a complete breakdown of costs, and a good estimation of the time needed to complete the work.

Safety is a priority

Safety is something all electricians understand. They are responsible for the safety of you and your family while the work is being carried out. If you have any safety concerns, you should discuss them with the electrician. If you will be without power, you should be informed in advance.

Here is a checklist for choosing an electrician,

  • They should be certified for the job at hand
  • They should be insured
  • They should be experienced in this type of work
  • They should be able to provide references on request
  • They should have a professional appearance and attitude
  • They should provide a quotation with a breakdown of all costs
  • They should be able to give you an estimated time when the work will be complete

Workmanship Guarantees

All electricians should guarantee their work for a certain period of time. This demonstrates confidence in the electrician’s ability to provide a safe solution to your problems. Quality materials should be used, with appropriate power specifications that are in line with government recommendations.

Hands-on Experience

It is essential that the electrician has sufficient experience to overcome any obstacles that may present themselves during the course of the installation. Sometimes we have to adapt, and a good tradesperson will know this, and is always ready to provide a safe solution, regardless of the situation.

Attention to Detail

A good electrician will have attention to detail, as working with electricity demands extra care. Sloppy work can lead to injury, or even death, so make sure the person works in a professional manner.

Practical Thinker

There are many variables in the construction industry, especially when dealing with electrical power. A good electrician will be able to think outside the box, and be flexible enough to work as part of a team.

Reviews and Testimonies

If you are using an online directory to source your electrician, it will be easy to browse through customer reviews, which gives you added peace of mind that the work will be carried out responsibly, and on time.

Problem Solving Skills

All tradespeople have to improvise on occasions, and with so many variables, making the right decision is an important thing.

Working in Line with Others

If your electrical work is part of a construction project, then the electrician must liaise with other tradespeople. Any delay can cause the project to fall behind schedule, so all parties should communicate and work together to ensure smooth progress.

The Right Amount of Power

Your electrical wiring system will depend on the amount of electricity you will require. Multiple A/C, or heating units may require separate phases to be set up. Your electrician will be able to calculate the safest way to deliver the amount of power you need.

Large Renovation Projects

Often with an older property, the entire wiring system needs to be replaced, and a good electrician will advise you on where to have your power sockets and light switches located. Safety breakers should be installed and tested to protect your home, should there be a short circuit, or power surge. Energy saving bulbs require much less energy, and are recommended for almost all lighting situations.

Local Council Approval

Plans may have to be submitted to the local authority, and your electrician should have experience with this approval process, supplying them with all the relevant plans and documentation upon request.

Home Security

While the property is being rewired, you might want to consider home security. By including the right cables, your property can be protected by installing a modern surveillance system. The cost is very reasonable, especially if the cables are already in place.  A good electrician will have the working knowledge to prepare the new wiring system to incorporate CCTV and other protective systems.

Online Directories offer the best solutions

Sourcing tradespeople can be difficult, but with a resource like Thomson Local, you can contact the right people who work in your immediate vicinity. Once you have found a potential contractor, you can browse through customer reviews and get a good idea about their client relationships. In today’s digital world, online directories account for a major part of the online searches in the UK. Here is some further information about online directories, and how they configure with the online consumer buying practices. Local directories list all types of services, and are affiliated with various associations that guarantee the listed company has achieved a satisfactory level of competence.

4 things you need to consider before investing in art

With major art fairs taking place across the globe from Chicago to Istanbul to Shanghai, art enthusiasts, collectors and sophisticated investors alike are questioning whether to acquire works of fine art as investments. And as significant appreciation emerges in some corners of the art market, we see growing interest from clients about incorporating art into their investment portfolios.

Last year saw more than $60 billion in art sales, a 67 percent increase from 2009. According to the 2014 Deloitte Art & Finance Report, 75 percent of art collectors and buyers are purchasing art for collecting purposes but with an investment view — a sizable jump from 53 percent just two years earlier. In 2014, artworks sold at auction jumped more than 25 percent to $15.2 billion, with a record 1,679 sales worth $1 million or more. That’s four times more than a decade ago, according to data from Artprice.com.

Fine art investments

When clients are considering an art purchase, we encourage them to think of art as part of their total portfolio — as they would a second home, private business or real estate investment — but not an asset class that adds diversification in the traditional sense.

From that viewpoint, consider these four factors before investing in art.

Read MoreThink before that splurge purchase

1. Avoid getting caught up in the hype. When any asset class performs well, more investors want a piece of the action. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stock, a piece of real estate or a work of art.

Recent art appreciation has triggered great excitement, but in reality only a handful of artists and artistic periods will generate those big returns. Investors can fall into potentially hazardous behavioral patterns, hoping to ride the wave when a certain asset class performs well. Buying that soon-to-be-discovered artist or that underappreciated art form about to become the next big thing often proves to be the exception, not the rule.

“When considering an art investment, it’s important to step back and take in a holistic view of your investment assets, future cash flows and other tangible assets.”

2. Think of art as you do venture-capital investing. Just as every start-up is unique, so too are works of art. Some have a track record of success, but many are prone to the whims of the market.

What drives passionate collectors is the individual interpretation and unique viewpoints on artwork. That subjectivity also explains why it’s difficult to think of art as an asset class. Unlike start-ups, art has no balance sheet, cash flow or earnings to help determine its true value.

Read MoreTurning your hobbies into cash

To determine the fair market value of a piece of art, work with a reputable art advisor to find the sale prices of comparable works. The gallery or auction house may be able to provide documents showing their own related sales.

It also pays to learn about the artist’s life and times. That information can provide context and meaning for an investment piece. Note any prestigious awards or fellowships the artist has won, academic positions held and notable collectors or museums with the artist’s work. That information can offer positive indications about the long-term value of a piece.

The most expensive paintings ever sold

3. Shun the belief that art sales translate to resale value. The secondary market for art is limited beyond works from “blue chip” artists. Also, before you calculate any windfall, remember the Internal Revenue Service considers art as a collectible — meaning the tax rate on gains is up to 28 percent. Add that to the expenses associated with acquiring, owning and selling art and you may net only 55 to 60 percent of the sale price.

Reflecting the wide spectrum of possible returns from an art investment, focus on non-financial benefits first. View any financial gain as an additional benefit rather than an expected outcome. And if you acquire art as an investment, especially if you’re new to collecting, you’ll likely want to work with a reputable art advisor.

Read MoreArt investing is a long-haul endeavor

4. Value a collection as more than the sum of its parts. This adds a layer of complexity to appraising a collection and raises important planning considerations for wealth transfer or philanthropic giving.

The IRS and others valuing estates after death recognize art as an important part of a portfolio, so make sure you’ve updated your estate plan accordingly. Do you intend to sell your collection before you die? Gift it to your children or donate it to a museum? Each of these options carries a host of unique wealth-transfer and tax implications.

When considering an art investment, it’s important to step back and take in a holistic view of your investment assets, future cash flows and other tangible assets, such as existing art collections. While art often is viewed as an investment, many behavioral factors come into play, as with any other type of asset. We believe every asset serves a purpose in your portfolio, so identifying that purpose in advance is critical to determining long-term objectives for it.

We all want to benefit from something that’s doing well, and the art market is no different. Yet at day’s end, it pays to think about the purpose art serves in both your life and your portfolio.

Finding ways to provide better overall after-tax gains

As investment advisors, we are constantly looking for ways to provide any additional performance in client portfolios. As a tax attorney, I know there are a variety of actions an investor can take during a tax year to avoid or defer—but never evade—taxable investment income. One such technique is called tax-loss harvesting, or maximizing losses to provide a better overall after-tax gain.

In theory, it is quite simple. If you buy Stock A for $100 and it declines in value to $90, why not sell it, harvest the $10 tax loss and “bank it” to offset $10 in taxable gains from other investments? And if you still have a loss at the end of the calendar year after doing so, then you can deduct your losses—up to $3,000—against other income on your federal tax return and carry over excess losses to future years.

down arrow woman at clear board

In practice, it is far, far more complicated. If selling a security to take a loss were the good you’ve accomplished, the bad would be that you’ve lost the opportunity to benefit when the stock recovers its loss. But the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t allow you to sell the stock, take the loss and immediately buy the stock back. That would be too easy. Portfolio-cleansing “wash sale” rules prohibit you from buying a “substantially identical” security within 30 days from the date of the sale of the security used to generate the loss.

There are many complex and intertwined tax rules and investment considerations in working this strategy. You don’t want to run afoul of IRS laws or turn your portfolio into a tax-efficient mess that now no longer resembles your intended investment strategy.

For example, many investors have carefully crafted a thoughtful asset allocation. Selling a security that overweights or underweights an area of the allocation can cause far more investment damage than tax gain. Remember, by definition, you are selling when the security is at a loss, so you really want to be around when there is a rally back. This strategy is not about market timing, since you don’t know when the loss recovery will happen.

If you would like to explore this tax-deferring strategy, let’s consider when it works best and then let’s build your toolbox of what you’ll need to do to implement it properly.

“Tax-loss harvesting is a wonderful way to find a silver lining in the black cloud of investment losses.”

First, this strategy tends to do well in periods of volatility. Sharp movements in the market—say, during inevitable periods of volatility and correction—make this strategy both particularly effective in producing big deferral results and worth its complexities.

When does it not serve you well? When you are in a low capital gains tax bracket this tax year but expect to be in a higher capital gains tax bracket in later tax years, when you might harvest the deferred gains achieved from the harvested losses. There are three tiers of rates for long-term capital gains on investment securities: 0 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent. (Net short-term capital gains—for assets held under one year—are taxed at your ordinary income tax rates.) Consider when you’ll be in which tier.

For investors with increasing income, also consider whether the additional Medicare tax surcharge of 3.8 percent may apply to you later, further increasing your capital gain tax bracket.

Now the tool box of rules and tips:

  • Document the precise tax basis of each purchase of each of your securities to know which lots provide worthwhile tax loss harvest opportunities.
  • Research and select a replacement for the harvested security, that is similar to the one sold and meets your investment criteria. It might track a highly correlated index to the security sold, for example. But remember, if the investment loss you deducted recovers within 30 days of the purchase of the replacement security, you’ll need to hold the replacement at least one year or you will have a dreaded short-term capital gain upon its sale. Epic fail otherwise.
  • Buy and sell in the same day so that you don’t lose any investment exposure to the market. And watch out for trading costs, commissions and redemption fees.
  • You can’t get around the “substantially identical” rule by selling in your personal taxable account and buying it in your IRA. All of your accounts, and your spouse’s, will be scrutinized for wash sale rule violations.
  • Unintended consequence: You could turn qualified dividend income, taxed at capital gains rates, into ordinary income if you hold the new security for, generally, fewer than 60 days from when the dividend is received.
  • Record-keeping is key. Calendar and carefully track the tax basis of each lot owned, with buy date, sale date and replacement security. Make sure your broker’s records match yours, or the annual 1099B tax reporting form won’t reflect your records and planning. Not all brokers’ websites track mutual funds by buy lots, so that may not be your best record-keeping system.

Tax-loss harvesting is a wonderful way to find a silver lining in the black cloud of investment losses. Roiling markets will always give you investment and tax opportunities; take this tax one, but thoughtfully and with great attention to the details and rules.

Homes as ATMs It’s starting again

As home values rise, homeowners are gaining more equity on paper — and they’re taking it out in paper. Cash-out refinances jumped 68 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is the highest volume of this type of refinance in five years.

“People realize that refinancing these funds is extremely inexpensive and that rates will eventually rise, so they’re capitalizing on the strength of home price appreciation,” said Ben Graboske, senior vice president at Black Knight Data & Analytics.

House and money

Mortgage holders have gained about $1 trillion in home equity collectively over the past year. On an individual basis, borrowers doing cash-out refinances are taking an average $65,000, which is comparable to what borrowers did in 2006, the height of the last housing boom. While the jump is significant, the volume is still nowhere near where it was back then. In fact, volume is still 80 percent below where it was at the peak in 2005.

That is not the only difference. Today’s refinancer is in a far more solid equity position in his or her home, compared with borrowers then, who used their homes like ATMs, pulling out every available dollar. Even after tapping equity, the average resulting loan-to-value ratio for today’s borrowers is 68 percent, meaning the borrower has only leveraged 68 percent of the home’s current value. That is the lowest level in a decade.

“That reflects real strength of price appreciation and consumer sentiment,” said Graboske.

The jump in cash-out refinances could be behind the strength in auto sales and home remodeling. The lack of homes for sale has caused many potential buyers to stay where they are, even though they have the equity to move up. In turn, they are using that equity to not only enhance their home but to add to its value.

“This is because more homeowners will choose to stay in place and remodel rather than abandon their current low rate mortgage by moving,” according to researchers in the study.

Cash-out refinances were most popular in California, accounting for 30 percent of all volume, according to Black Knight. The next closest was Texas, accounting for 7 percent. These states have seen the most home value appreciation. Should home value appreciation slow or even flatten, those hearty loan-to-value ratios will shrink, but it is unlikely today’s highly cautious, litigation-leery lenders will allow borrowers to take out more cash than is prudent.

Renovate Your Kitchen—Without Knocking Down a Wall

When most people think of redoing a dated ’70s- or ’80s-era kitchen, their first instinct is usually: Knock down a wall! Open up the space! Buy some gleaming, modern appliances! All fine ideas, but, sadly, not within everyone’s reach, financially oraesthetically.

Maybe you’re part of the emerging backlash against open kitchens, or maybe your checking account just can’t accommodate the open plan of your dreams. But here’s the good news: There are plenty of other approaches to maximize the space and functionality of your enclosed kitchen—and you’ll likely love the results! Check out these pointers from the experts.

Define your space

Is your kitchen primarily a workspace or more of a social hub? Because any renovation plans should take into consideration how you use it. If yours is a little bit of both, however, New York City–based architect Timo Lindman suggests creating a kitchen that flows into other areas of your home while maintaining a “defensible perimeter.”

One option: a pass-through (think of the window inside a taxi) that opens onto a living space, such as the dining room. Another way to go? Pocket doors that can be slid shut while cooking and left open at other times.

Lighten up

One key (and, weirdly, often ignored) way to make an enclosed space feel airy and contemporary is through great lighting. So if you’re renovating, expand or insert windows if possible—or consider adding a skylight. And when selecting interior light fixtures, remember that light needs to come from different directions to minimize shadows, which can render routine kitchen activities like chopping or cutting seriously dangerous. That means strategically installing overhead lights and focused pendant lamps as well as under-the-cabinet fixtures.

Skylight in kitchen

Skylight in kitchen

“If areas of counterspace or various corners of a kitchen are poorly lit, they end up as underused workspaces, which reduces the amount of overall space in a kitchen and makes it feel smaller,” explains Tyler Merson, a professional chef-turned-master carpenter who designs and installs kitchens with his New Jersey–based company,Codfish Park Design.

Choose wisely

Smaller and enclosed kitchens mean more airborne grease and steam, which can take a toll on cabinets, lighting fixtures, and wall treatments. For these spaces Merson suggests choosing painted cabinets (over varnished or stained) because they can be rejuvenated more cheaply than those requiring extensive stripping, sanding, and refinishing. Also important: Select appliances that are actually suited to your space.

Kitchen cabinets

Spaces Images/Getty Images

kitchen cabinets

“As gorgeous and trendy as commercial-grade cooktops and ovens are, most domestic spaces don’t need them,” argues Merson. “In fact, their heat and output can overpower a small space, making it harder to work in and advancing the deterioration of all your finishes.”

Enclosed kitchens also require more discipline when it comes to choosing what gets to stay and what hits the recycle bin. “Over time, we all acquire kitchen paraphernalia—extra pots and pans, serving platters, random appliances that once seemed like a good idea,” says Merson. “But to maximize and enjoy a closed kitchen, you need to be ruthless and honest about what really needs to be accessible on a daily basis versus what could live in deep storage and come out only for special occasions.”

Trick your brain

In a closed kitchen, cabinet depth and placement make a world of difference. One way to fake space: Mount wall cabinets a few inches higher than the standard 18 inches above the counter. Another option is to use open shelves instead of upper cabinets (though shelves are actually best for daily-use items—like drinking glasses—that usually aren’t in place long enough to accumulate dust). Better yet, do away with the upper cabinets on one wall entirely.

“The Matrix”

Warner Bros.

"The Matrix"

“The eye needs to pause or a place of respite,” Lindman explains, “whether it’s a window or some open space where pots and pans are hung. Kitchens feel smaller when every last bit of space is maxed out for storage.”

Ultimately, just because your kitchen is separate doesn’t mean it has to be closed off or claustrophobic. “Be honest with yourself about how you use your space and what you really want from it,” counsels Merson, “and you’ll find your way to the design with the right amount of openness for you.”

Ceramic Is the New Granite Tips From the World’s Coolest Kitchens

Black ceramic kitchen from "150 Best New Kitchens"

Alno AG

Hey, want a new kitchen? Maybe a better question would be: Who doesn’t? The kitchen is one of the two most popular rooms to renovate, and quite possibly the star attraction for most buyers looking at a home. After all, It’s a place to make food, share food, socialize (while eating food), and spend time with family (no food necessary!). Bottom line: You’re likely to spend a disproportionate slice of your time in this part of your home. So why not make it great?

And as with any remodel, there are endless style possibilities, which basically means opportunities to agonize over the renovation road not taken. Quartz or granite countertops? Knock down that wall or improve it? Stainless-steel appliances or ones that look like wood cabinets?

Well, we’re not going to make any decisions for you—sorry!—but for ideas and inspiration, we turned to Manel Gutierrez, author of “150 Best New Kitchens.” For his new book, Gutierrez curated a selection of the most exciting kitchen designs from around the world, and we’ve presented some of those highlights here. Enjoy!

Mixed materials shine in an airy space.

Snaidero

Kitchen with mixed materials from "150 Best New Kitchens"

Don’t just open up your kitchen, integrate it

Yes, everyone knows that an open-plan living area is brighter and airier, but somehow the kitchen always ends up looking like … a kitchen. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Pick appliances with finishes that mimic cabinets, and show off your shelves with objects and books, just like you would in your living room.

Gutierrez says the design solutions he profiles in his book aren’t just focused on the kitchen—they also “seek to achieve an aesthetic unity” with the living and dining areas.

“The best results are truly original, beautiful, and, above all, very practical.”

Shelves in the kitchen are used as they would be in a living room—to show off objects.

LEICHT Küchen AG

Shelves in the kitchen are used as they would be in a living room—to show off objects.

Eye-catching ash wood connects the kitchen with the rest of the living space.

LEICHT Küchen AG

Eye-catching ash wood connects the kitchen with the rest of the living space.

———

Play with materials

Gutierrez says one of the main trends he noticed was the wider-than-ever variety of materials being used in kitchens today. Ceramic, stone, glass, and lacquer are taking their place alongside stainless steel. And best of all, designers are mixing and matching them with abandon.

“The more different the materials, the more interesting and intense the resulting combination,” he writes. While concrete is “the preferred construction material for modern architecture,” ceramic is an up-and-comer that’s both attractive and resistant—it’s even been used in space exploration. Hey, if it’s good enough for the astronauts, it’s good enough for your kitchen.

But it’s nice to know that traditional materials haven’t lost their luster either. The all-time favorite? Good ol’ wood.

You Can (and May Want to) Spend $300 on a Lightbulb

plumen3_large_large

Plumen

Lighting your home seems simple enough, right? Just pick up a box of bulbs at the dollar store, screw them into the appropriate sockets, and forget about it. But if you’re after a look for your home that’s a bit warmer and more subtle than the average DMV lobby, you’re going to have to put more thought into your bulbs.

A lot has changed since the incandescent lightbulb—still the cheapest and most common type around—was invented in the late 19th century. These days you can choose from halogen bulbs, an extrastrong but dimmable type of incandescent; warm-hued, energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs; and super-energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs.

Exciting, right?! OK, they’re still just lightbulbs. But what if a bulb could actually help you go to sleep—or wake up? How about one that looks like a crystal goblet, or a piece of modern sculpture? If you’re willing to drop a pretty penny, they can be yours. Read on to see six fancy models that might help illuminate your path.

The bulb that demands your attention

Plumen

The bulb that demands your attention.

Original Plumen 001

The Original Plumen 001 LED lightbulb is designed to be “a centerpiece, not an afterthought,” in your home (though, hopefully, your decor is not in danger of being figuratively outshined by a lightbulb). The sculptural design is included in the permanent design collections of the Museum of Modern Art and other prominent museums.

Price: $34.95 each

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Smoked goodness

Buster + Punch

The smoky-glass Buster Bulb.

Buster Bulb by Buster + Punch

The somewhat ominously named Buster Bulb is an amber-colored LED pipe inside an elegant smoked-glass bulb, which manufacturer Buster + Punch says creates “subtle ambient light” while also illuminating a selected spot in your home you wish to highlight.

Price: about $60 each

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Anybody else suddenly thirsty?

Lee Broom

Anybody else thirsty?

Crystal Bulb by Lee Broom

The Crystal Bulb is an energy-efficient LED bulb set in a delicate, hand-cut lead-crystal pattern (available in either a clear or frosted finish) that maker Lee Broom says was inspired by the patterns found on old whiskey glasses and decanters. Which is fitting, since you’ll need a stiff drink after you see how much these cost.

Price: $180 each

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Looks like we need a cleanup … or do we?

Only 1

Looks like we need a cleanup...or do we?

Only 1 Biei Molten Lava Light

The Biei Molten Lava bulbs from Only 1 and designer Toshiyuki Yasuda are unique LED creations that look as though they’ve melted into a surprisingly graceful mass of glass—creating a surreal “dreamy sense of reality” as the light is gently diffused by the air bubbles and imperfections in the glass.

Price: about $300 each

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Nighty night…

Lighting Science

Nighty night...

Sleepy Baby Biological LED Lamp

As any parent knows, the average baby sleeps roughly 15 to 20 minutes a year—which is somewhat less than the 7.5 hours of sleep doctors say the average adult needs each night to help avoid an eventual mental and physical collapse. The Sleepy Baby Biological LED Lamp from Lighting Science is designed to help fix that by emitting just the right amount of light to fool your infant’s biological clock into thinking it’s dark and time to sleep—but still providing enough usable light that you can change diapers, fold laundry, prepare food, or just stare numbly into the middle distance, all without messing up your own internal clock.

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Wake up!

GE

Wake up!

GE Align AM LED Bulb

If, on the other hand, you’re a person who has a hard time getting going in the morning, the GE Align Bulb may help. It may not look exciting, but the LED bulb is engineered to provide a bluish-white light in the morning that GE says suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that causes drowsiness. Using this bulb (in place of other lighting) for 30 minutes each morning can help your body maintain a natural sleep-wake cycle, GE claims.

Or you could also try going to bed earlier.

How to Deal With Terrible Roommates, According to Science

bad-roommate-science-hyphen

Roommates can be great—especially when you get a teammate who helps you pay the bills, an objective confidante when you’ve had a hellish day at work, andsometimes even, praise be, a friend.

Then there are the roommates that send us running for the hills—ready to break the lease, give up the deposit, and live in our car if we have to.

No matter how well you screen your roommates ahead of time, at some point you’re going to get a lemon. And while you probably could convert your center console into a halfway decent dresser, we have a better solution.

We asked a clinical psychologist for the scoop on how to deal with the most common archetypes of bad roommates. So take heed of these expert-approved tips so you can keep your lease—and your sanity—intact. (Thanks, science!)

Oh, and just remember to make sure that the offending roommate isn’t you.

The note dropper

Your roommate seems nice enough in person, but then one day you start finding Post-its.

First, it’s only one. “Just a friendly reminder! This is my milk!” But before you know it, you can’t go anywhere in your apartment without finding a yellow square of judgment.

You probably already figured this out, but a roommate who won’t confront you directly is being passive-aggressive. So how do you tackle an issue with someone you can’t even pin down for a conversation?

It might be uncomfortable for you (and them) but you should suck it up and be direct, says Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist, professor, and author in Los Angeles. Tell them to ease up on the notes and to talk with you in person if there are issues brewing. And don’t back down when they try to shy away from the discussion.

“Passive-aggressive people do their damage by making us feel guilty or frustrated,” she says.

And, if logic and reason don’t work, Durvasula recommends fighting fire with fire: Try leaving some notes of your own.

Wait, what? Isn’t that aggressive passive aggression?

“It is a backhanded kind of communication,” she says. “But it may be what works.”

The slob

Hey, where’s the sofa? Oh, there it is—hidden under 17 loads of your roommate’s laundry.

Sloppy roommates aren’t fun, especially when their stuff starts to creep into common areas. And while you may not be able to force teach them how to be tidy, you can fight back.

“Keep your areas clean. They may be inspired—or at least confused—by how you keep your space,” Durvasula says.

If that fails, move on to Plan B—for baskets.

“Lots and lots of baskets,” Durvasula says. “At least you can toss their junk there.”

The neat freak

On the other hand, some roommates are such obsessive cleaners that you’re forced to eat over the sink, afraid the crumbs might spill onto the floor and incite a war. No one wants that extreme, either.

“Have your own zones that are untouchable zones,” Durvasula says.

Your roommate may be able to relinquish some of the control—and stifle the related freakouts—if he knows it isn’t his space to worry about.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to go hog wild and splatter the walls with Ragu.

Keep your stuff in some level of order, Durvasula says. A neat freak won’t ever learn to love your mess.

The borrower

They’re constantly borrowing—or even taking—your stuff. The laundry detergent is always gone. Your takeout from the night before mysteriously disappears. After a while, you start to think you’re the only one who shops in this house—and you probably are.

Try to fix the problem by being direct: Ask your roommate to chip in more, or at least stop swiping your stuff so often. You want to keep things civil?  Say it’s a money issue.Your money.

If that doesn’t work: “This feels gross, but … you may have to label stuff,” Durvasula says.

The flake

You got a roommate to save money, but now you’re always having to float their share of something. If you have a roommate who always seems to vanish when a bill is due, you officially have a flake.

“You can go one of two ways,” Durvasula says. “One side is to be the parent. Put it all in your name, pay it on time, and give them a bill.”

At least then you’ll know things are paid on time.

If you’d rather not play mommy to your roomie, “let them put (the bills) in their name and be prepared for the electronic company to turn the lights off—that’ll learn them,” Durvasula says.

The jerk

It’s a Tuesday night and you have to work in the morning, but your roommate just came strolling in with five friends at 2 a.m. Why does this keep happening?

If your roommate is inconsiderate, there’s really only one way to handle it.

“Set ground rules about school or work nights, and set a policy about overnight guests. It feels very dormitory to do so, but sometimes you have to spell things out,” Durvasula says.

Finally, don’t take it too hard if things don’t change. Some personalities are just too stubborn to adjust.

“If after all of this you’re still not finding home to be too sweet, it may be time to find a new nest,” Durvasula says.