The fireplace is the focal point of your home, so use the pending holidays as a prompt to secure loose tiles on the surround and hearth while cleaning off dirt or soot as well. Liven up your mantel garniture; change out the knick-knacks in preparation for your appropriate holiday embellishments, be it a creche, menorah, etc. Remember, when using screws or tacks to secure or suspend objects that those new holes will be visible once it all comes down in January. Use them judiciously! (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
2: Change the Hardware
Family gatherings are the perfect excuse to finally upgrade your hardware, such as switch plates, drawer pulls, outlet covers and heating registers. These are easily changed, and go a long way to brightening up a home. (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
3: Winterize your Windowboxes
Remember those window boxes you planted last April? Remove the brown, frost-killed pansies hanging limply over the edge of the box and plant hearty mums instead. Or arrange a holiday ornamentation of your choice, such as Indian corn, pine boughs or a whimsical assortment of giant illuminated candy canes (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com).
4: Rearrange the Furniture
Sometimes it takes a catalyst, like accommodating the Christmas tree, to make us switch things around. Simply rearranging the seating furniture or adding/removing a table will make you see your parlor in a new way. (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com.)
5: Put up Prints
Invariably, somewhere in your home you've got some antique picture frames in one closet and several prints in another. Now's the time to consolidate them. Have the framing shop cut matches mattes, and create a stylish display on a formerly plain wall. (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
6: Restore the Banister
Stair railings get sticky due to the unending process of hands sliding on them. Clean off the grease and goo with a mild detergent or furniture cleaner, led try, and apply a coat of paste wax. (Don't use furniture polish.) If the finish is worn through, add a little stain and follow with a thin coat of orange shellac. (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
7: Don't Bite off More than You can Chew
The second weekend in November is NOT the appropriate time to undertake a major project like painting the kitchen. Next thing you know, you'll decide to redo the worn cabinets or sheetrock the ceiling, and there will be contractors involved. You'll be the only family on the block eating pizza for Thanksgiving--and come Christmas, your kitchen will still look like this! (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com)
8: Paint the Front Door
A fresh coat of paint (or varnish, if it's naturally finished) works wonders to quickly and inexpensively brighten up the entrance to your home. You'll be surprised at what a transformation this small task will achieve, especially if you choose a new color! (Written by Dan Cooper; photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com)
9: Recover the Dining Chairs
Most dining chairs are constructed with what is known as a slip-seat, wherein the fabric is tacked to a detachable cushion, not directly to the frame. These are easily removed by unscrewing them from the underside of the chair. You'll need one of those heavy-duty staplers and a tack puller, and figure on half a yard of fabric per hair. Usually you can remove just the old fabric and not the stuffing, which keeps the shape of the seat cushion in tact (Written by Dan Cooper; photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.).
10: Display that Collection
Throughout the year, you've been collecting things that express your individuality. Whether it's a variety of bud vases, porcelain hands or stuffed pheasants, the holidays are the perfect time to artfully arrange these items where everyone can see them. Now your friends can compliment you while they silently question your strange compulsion. TIP: Every collection begins with one favorite item. This is the season to group your treasures on a tabletop, mantel or sideboard--someplace where they can be admired by visitors. (Written by Dan Cooper; photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.).
11: Stop Stairing
Aside from the skateboard left precariously in their path, your stairwell is often the first thing guests see upon entering. Here's a chance to make a dramatic change where everyone can see it. Add a stair runner, stair rods or those cute little dust-corners. The runner usually requires the assistance of a professional carpet layer, so try to plan this in advance, as everyone else wants their carpet installed by the holidays as well! (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph by Mark Tanner.)
12: Wake Up your Windows
Windows take up a critical portion of our wall space, and often the simplest addition, such as sheers or a simply crafted cornice, will add so much to a room. Cornices may be fabricated from a single trip of wood and a couple of angle irons, and then paired with sheers to enrich any interior. TIP: Twin windows layered with lush fabric, embroidered lace and festive wreaths make a declaration of Christmas spirit that even passersby can enjoy. Here, the McCharles House in Tustin, California, is dressed in holiday finery (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph by Jaimee Itagaki).
13: Shed New Light
Purchasing a new sconce for your home's exterior or a hanging fixture for the reception area will provide a striking improvement. If you're somewhat skilled with matters electrical, you can probably do this yourself. Make sure you shut off the breaker; while working "live" can be thrilling, there are potential pitfalls, like electrocution and fire (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of iStockphoto.com).
14: Get the Paper
Wallpaper a small room, one that guests will see, such as the foyer or a powder room. These spaces require a lesser amount of paper, typically 3-5 rolls. Take a wallpapering course, often offered free at DIY stores, but hang the paper by yourself or with a friend--NOT your partner or spouse, or you'll spend the holidays in the throes of a trial of separation. If you've been looking at the historic papers available online and through the pages of our magazine, remember that these are often printed to order, so make sure you have a sufficient lead time for production and delivery. The wallpaper in the Parashis foyer in Escondido, California (shown here), is by Bradbury & Bradbury. (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph by Mark Tanner.)
15: Polish the Brass
The glimmer of shiny brass enhances any home. Brass hardware invariably tarnishes over time, and even lacquer eventually fails. If you can remove the piece from the door, window or cabinet on which it's mounted, life will be much easier. If you cannot, mask the surface around the hardware with painter's tape and then gently polish while still in place. Tape prevents the polish from marring the finish on the door or leaving an icky white film in the pores of the wood that never go away (Written by Dan Cooper; photograph courtesy of Thinkstock.com).