Subscribe Now


Whether it’s renovating the kitchen, adding some outdoor living space or beautifying your home’s exterior-and whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional-there’s work to be done and precious little time in which to do it! By Bryon Rivers.

While you’re watching that robin building a nest in your magnolia tree, consider this: there’s but a few months of warm weather on tap for 2010, and your nest isn’t going to build itself. Whether it’s renovating the kitchen, adding some outdoor living space, beautifying your home’s exterior, or building a whole new house-and whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional-there’s work to be done and precious little time in which to do it.

“The time we have in New England that is actually ‘nice’ is short, so people want to spend as much time as possible outdoors,” says Shawn Dasans, assistant manager of Seasons Four, in Lexington, MA, a store which specializes in high-quality (Dasans describes it as long-lasting “heirloom quality”) outdoor furniture and accessories for patio, deck, porch, and poolside. Dasans says his savvier customers shop for and order items like weatherproof wicker sets and authentic-looking outdoor oriental rugs as early as January and February, so they can get a jump on spring as soon as the crocuses make their first appearance.

That’s good thinking for those who would rather spend spring and summer enjoying the backyard instead of working on it. From landscapers to builders to interior designers, home improvement experts abound in the North Shore, and some of the best offer advice in the pages that follow.


According to area landscapers, one trend on the rise in the last few years, which is showing no signs of decline, is the “outdoor living spaces.” On the more economic side, this can be something as simple as a patio, but many are taking it a step (or several steps) further with the addition of fire pits, fireplaces, seating areas, “living room” sets, outdoor kitchens, Jacuzzis, and more.

Nick DiBenedetto, owner of ND Landscaping, Inc. says the sharp rise in property values over the last decade has people taking a different approach to developing their homes and land. “Instead of spending a lot of money on a vacation home, you can create an oasis in your backyard,” says DiBenedetto, whose backyard boasts an oasis of its own. He points out that when comparing the cost per square foot of renovating inside vs. outside, a backyard makeover is “the best buy on the planet.”  “Some of the most joyous moments of my life in summer is getting home from work and hearing a gaggle of voices in the backyard,” he says.

Since “return-on-investment” can also be measured in enjoyment, an outdoor fireplace or similar feature should have high visibility, even from the indoors, says Barry Comak, co-founder of Comak Brothers Landscaping. “We try to make it so that it’s part of your house, even though it’s outside,” Comak says. Visibility makes a space more inviting and facilitates usage even in cooler weather, which adds value and extends time spent outdoors. Less expensive, but no less important to the landscape, is grass. “It’s inexpensive, keeps areas clean, shows you the edge of the flower beds, and marks out the area between the patio and the plantings.”

John Filias, an experienced excavator and president of Jeffreys Creek Land Contractors, says the most critical part of big projects involving stonework is what people cannot see-what’s happening below the surface-so hiring a reputable company (Jeffreys Creek was named “Best Landscaper Boston North” by Boston Home Magazine in 2009) is important. Proper excavation, a solid foundation, and good drainage will stand the test of time, “Whereas Larry Lawnmower puts some sand down, then lays the stones, and three years later, your patio looks like a rollercoaster,” cautions Filias.

When it comes to the stone itself, Bob Goddard of J and R Fine Landscaping says customers with a larger budget sometimes ask for something a bit out of the ordinary to set their project apart. Goshen stone, indigenous to western Massachusetts, is one such material, and J and R is one of just a few companies on the North Shore that use it. It’s harder to come by and pricier than many types of stackable stone, but it has a “uniqueness and beauty,” according to Goddard. “It has different colors: grays, silvers, and bronze,” he says. “And if people are going to spend $2 million on house, they don’t want same patio as everyone else.”

For those who don’t have a big budget, but for whom the idea of an outdoor living area is still appealing, Wolf Hill Home & Garden has just started carrying the Cambridge Pavers line, which includes palletized kits for outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, and fire pits. “Firstly, it’s a very well-priced line for contractors but also a good line for consumers,” says Wolf Hill general manager Steve Rudolph. Although the fireplace and kitchen require professional assistance, Rudolph says the fire pit kit is one most homeowners could do on their own. All three are on display at Wolf Hill’s Ipswich location.

Another way to enhance your “relationship” with the yard is lighting-but there is more to it than you might think. “Everyone has been to the box stores and bought their solar lighting and said, ‘I just wasted $80,'” says Tony Hurley, owner of Artistic Landscapes. Hurley says lighting paths, trees, shrubs, and other features are important in the Northeast because we have so few daylight hours for much of the year, and he takes a less-is-more approach-better lights, fewer fixtures. “One thing I don’t like is the ‘runway,'” says Hurley. “You’ve got 12 lights going down the sides, but the walkway is not illuminated. I might put in four, but the entire walkway is lit.”

Every landscaper (even aspiring ones) needs supplies, and with one of the largest facilities of its kind in the region, Landscapers Depot offers a wide variety-pavers, stone, trees, shrubs, equipment rentals, and more. But two things set his business apart, says general manager Tom Greer; motors and mulch. “We have a patented truck design that can bring up to eight pallets and two different materials in one delivery,” says Greer. This makes deliveries faster and more cost effective. And if it’s mulch on that truck, Greer is proud to say Landscapers Depot grinds and colors its own, using no waste woods (such as ground-up pallets), which means you won’t find unsafe debris or chemicals in any of it. To keep your own trees from becoming mulch, proper maintenance is required. Mayer Tree provides all types of tree services, from pruning to fertilizing to removal. “We are committed to tree preservation,” says Michael Duchemin of Mayer. “Our arborists evaluate the health of each tree or shrub and the surrounding environmental conditions prior to implementing the most current pruning techniques and plant health care standards.” Should a tree require removal, Mayer employs techniques and equipment to “reduce the impact on and the amount of time spent on the customer’s property.”


In a world that doesn’t seem to take a break, finding a few extra minutes to play catch-up-or maybe even relax a little-can be difficult. While some choose to create an “oasis” in the open air, others look within their walls for comfort.

Should you want to bring some outdoors inside, your answer may be a glass room addition from Sunspaces,the North Shore’s source for Four Seasons sunrooms, patio rooms, and conservatories in hundreds of standard sizes and configurations. These additions allow homeowners to “Reap the benefits of an outdoor living area, 365 days a year, without inclement weather, pests, or other intrusions,” according to the Sunspaces website. Four Seasons’ patented glass technology, which recently earned an “Energy Star” rating, helps moderate extreme temperatures, even in extreme heat or cold, and “can be built quicker and with less disruption to your life and home” than a traditional addition.

As odd and somewhat obvious as it sounds, the bathroom is an ideal place to get a bit of alone time or add some minutes to your day, says Jason Sevinor, a manager at Designer Bath & Salem Plumbing Supply, now celebrating their 65th year in business. One example is the addition of a TV to a wall, medicine cabinet or even shower. “It’s all about multitasking,” says Sevinor. “If someone wants to catch up on the news or watch their favorite show, it’s one less thing they have to do later. You can find out what the weather is like outside so that when you get out of the shower, you can pick out the right clothes.”

Interior Designer Anna Orfanides says clients are also spending more money-and time-in the master bedroom. More and more, she sees requests for master suites that resemble studio apartments. “Larger bathrooms, little reading and eating areas in front of the fireplace, things like that-sometimes even little kitchenettes,” says the owner of Peabody’s Anna O Designs. “You basically roll out of bed and you have everything right there before you even go downstairs.” Orfanides, who prides herself on making the most of her clients’ space, says for those with less of a budget, color is a great way to transform a room. “Paint is something that’s overlooked sometimes,” she says. “Color can transform a mood.”

Underfoot, comfort can be found in multiple colors, textures, and fibers at Khouri’s Oriental Rugs & Carpeting. One of the newest and most popular items is a line of rugs exclusive (at least in terms of the North Shore) to Khouri’s. “These are Oriental rugs with all vegetable dyes and handspun wool with incredible antique designs that make them actually look like old rugs,” says owner Ralph Khouri. These  rugs are perfect for the homeowner who wants an antique rug but might not be able to afford one, Khouri explains. For those who may be sensitive to chemicals, Khouri’s also offers hypoallergenic carpets.

For a taste of what’s cooking in the kitchen, McCormick Kitchens gives clients the ability to partner with the McCormick Kitchens design team and create their own space. “We have such a creative team in our showroom,” says owner Frank McCormick, “we can almost put you in your kitchen Â… It’s not like the past where it was a blue print. It’s almost like a digital picture.” McCormick says now is a great time to remodel because the economy has caused vendors – from cabinet to countertop suppliers – to reduce prices and offer incentives to retailers and customers. “We’re a one-stop shop,” says McCormick. “We design it, we install it, and we have the professionals to complete your space.”

“Kitchens have really become the social hub of the home,” says Pat Marcotte, marketing director for Jackson Kitchen Designs. She said it’s one reason why islands are so popular. “Islands allow [homeowners] to have a work station where they can be preparing meals and be in the center of family activities at the same time.” And while granite is still reigning supreme in terms of countertops, Jackson’s own Kitchen Designer Maeve Cullen says wood is also gaining favor with customers. “It’s just something new and different, and wood is always very rich,” says Cullen. “When you think of most New England floors they are always wood, and when I try to coordinate a space, I like the horizontal surfaces to look good together.”

Going from horizontal to vertical, Stacey’s Home Decor carries a full line of Hunter Douglas window coverings. With new homes growing in square footage and wall space, Vincent Lozzi, president of Stacey’s, says motorized blinds are getting a lot of attention. “The technology has really progressed so we can do a simple battery-operated cellular blind; there are no wires too deal with,” says Lozzi. “They are concealed and radio controlled, so you can be in the living room and shut the blind in the kitchen.” Stacey’s staff also boasts award-winning designer Mary Bahar-and yes, she makes house calls.

Whether it’s window coverings or upholstery for that vintage armchair you’ve been meaning to makeover, Linda Newall, owner of SurroundingsÂ… A Lifestyle, says the look for spring is texture. In response to demand, manufacturers are using lots of linens and woven cottons, says Newall. “[These materials] are easy to live with and you can use them for a long time. A sofa or chair done in a nice soft gray linen: you could use it forever and just change the pillows out [for a new look].” In terms of colors, Newall says mocha browns, blues, and soft grays will be the color palette of 2010.

Of course, none of these beautiful interior features makes much sense if you can’t see them, so that’s where Design Lighting comes in. “Our showroom boasts over 8,000 square feet of the finest residential lighting,” says Donna Christopulos, Design Lighting’s showroom manager. Christopulos says the store and staff pride themselves on “exceptional customer service for each and every customer” and offer a wide variety of fixtures “from crystal chandeliers to contemporary pendants and a vast selection of bath and outdoor lighting.”


A home filled with high end appliances, comfortable furniture and accoutrements is desirable by anyone’s estimation, but taking some of the work out of the mix is one way to ensure these amenities actually get put to good use. And taking some of the cost out of maintaining, heating, and cooling your home doesn’t hurt either.

One of the most redundant jobs taken on and/or paid for by most anyone who owns a home is painting and maintaining the exterior. But what if you didn’t have to paint your home ever again? Using an acrylic-based coating called SmartColor, Lifetyme Exteriors can give your home-brick, stucco, wood, vinyl or aluminum-sided-a just-painted look that lasts many times longer than a typical paint job and is guaranteed for as long as you own your home. “It keeps your house looking good all the time,” says Principal/Sales Manager Rick Dudley, “whereas with your average painting cycle of four or five years, a good portion of that time is spent with cracks, chips, peeling spots, exposed wood, and rotting areas in plain sight.”

Most people don’t think of the garage when it comes to home makeovers, but GarageTek, a company with 1,400 existing customers in Greater Boston, is hoping to change that. GarageTek systems are designed to organize and de-clutter “the forgotten room” using TekPanel-grooved interlocking panels on which brackets, racks, lockers, cabinets, and shelves can be hung and used to store everything from screwdrivers to surfboards. “Approximately 68 percent of homeowners use the garage as the entry way to the home,” says GarageTek of New England owner Bill Duplisea. “It is the first place a guest will see.” Other offerings include hoists, floor coatings, and devices for laser-guided parking.

For those with more traditional entrances, Moynihan Lumber, which celebrated 50 years in business in 2009, now carries a line of fiberglass doors (ThermaTru) which look like real wood doors, but are more energy efficient and built to withstand the sharp temperature shifts that can cause wood doors to warp and crack. “These are maintenance-free products, but maintain the traditional feel of doors and windows reminiscent of traditional New England,” says manager Ken Monroe. Monroe added that Andersen and Marvin windows also offer maintenance-free but authentic-looking New England style and that all such replacement doors and windows meet requirements for federally sponsored energy tax credits.

Taking some of the expense, labor, and headaches out of the window and door replacement process, Pella Corporation has developed a new “low profile” method of installation. “[Pella’s] process is low impact to the home or business, since you don’t have to cut back or replace siding as you’re installing,” says Pella Corporation Installation Engineer Tim Heitkamp. “That way, you can replace all the windows and doors at once, or as many at a time as your budget allows, and the exterior of your home still matches, instead of looking like a series of patches.” Pella earned the Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for manufacturing energy-efficient windows and educating consumers about them.

Energy Star ratings are, of course, not limited to doors and windows, and according to Jeff Kennen, sales manager at Tri-City Sales, energy-efficient appliances are a big seller. “Everybody’s concerned today about saving money on energy costs,” he says. “Front load washing machines save about 50 percent on water as opposed to top load. That’s less checks to have to write to the water company every quarter.” Kennen says that brands such as Wolf, Viking, and Subzero-all carried at Tri-City-are great “for those who are serious about cooking and want the best they can get.”


If a room re-do, a coat of paint, or some new accoutrements-indoors or out-isn’t  going to cut it, maybe it’s time to start thinking bigger. More drastic. More expensive. Is it time to expand that living room? Knock out that wall? Start from the ground up? If so, you’re definitely going to need some assistance-in more ways than one.

First, there’s that little matter of financing. “We offer home improvement loans and home equity loans, so members can add the amenities to their homes rather than selling and repurchasing or building a new house,” says C. David Surface, president and CEO of St. Jean’s Credit Union. “We take pride in the fact that in the worst economy this country has seen in decades, we were able to continue to lend and help our members improve their homes.” Anyone who lives or works in Middlesex, Essex, or Suffolk counties is eligible to become a member of St. Jean’s Credit Union.

Sheldon Knowles and his business partner, Davies Browne, are North Shore natives who have spent most of their lives with some form of tool in hand. Together, they operate Rocky Neck Associates, handling everything from building homes to designing interiors to crafting cabinetry in their custom millwork shop in Gloucester. Knowles says he and Browne pride themselves on quality and attention to detail-especially when working on one of the many historic homes on Cape Ann. “Living in New England, on the water, we have such a fluctuation in temperature, and these homes take an awful beating,” he says. “When we take on a restoration, we all want to be dead and buried when it needs to be done again.”

Steve Howell of Howell Custom Building Group, Certified Green Professionals with the National Association of Home Builders, says that by using “creative design to make better use of space within the home’s existing footprint,” many homeowners are taking a less wasteful approach. Howell says “While many new green products and materials are being marketed today, the most “Green” thing you can do is use durable construction techniques and quality materials” so a structure “last 50 years, rather than 15.” To achieve this, Howell suggests working with the best, most reputable home professionals you can afford. “Your home is one of your biggest investments, so you want to protect yourself by hiring a company that takes the time to do things right, communicates honestly and continuously, only hires talented, trustworthy and fully insured employees and subs, and stands behind their work now and in the future, because they are in business for the long term.” If you are looking for a company that meets these criteria, Howell does so in award-winning fashion.

Luxury homes are also the forte of Groom Construction, a company that specializes in LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) homes that “consume less energy, create less waste, and provide a healthier, more comfortable environment for you and your family.” Owner David Groom says the most important part of the project is the relationship between customer and builder. “From pre-construction budgeting and design build services through to job completion, our skilled craftsmen are among the industry’s finest, and their talent and workmanship are matched only by their dedication to putting homeowner needs first.”


1 “I try to steer people toward reclaimed wood for flooring-it’s beautiful and adds a richness to the room.” –Anna Orfanides, Anna O Design

2 When lighting landscape features, “The less light we send up into the air, the less light pollution there is.” –Tony Hurley, Artistic Landscapes LLC

3 “Water-efficient toilets, shower heads, and lavatory faucets are easy ways to be green in the bathroom, and in many instances, it doesn’t cost any more.” –Jason Sevinor, Designer Bath & Salem Plumbing Supply

4 Recycle hardscape materials. “We built steps from remnants of a concrete patio, from a customer’s house all the way to the lake.” –Bob Goddard, J AND R Landscaping

5 Build a structure that will last 50 years, rather than 15 years, using durable construction techniques, quality materials, and proper water management of the exterior. –Susan Howell, Howell Custom Building Group

6 To conserve energy and heating costs, “Use spray foam insulation-it costs more, but your payback is just a few years.” –Frank McCormick, McCormick Kitchens

7 “Products that maintain their integrity (e.g. fiberglass windows and doors)Â… help the environment. You’re not painting, not sanding, not disposing.” –Ken Monroe, Moynihan Lumber

8 “[By creating outdoor living spaces], we’re looking to keep people home on the weekends-the clutter of I-95 on Friday afternoon in the summer is ridiculous.” –Nick DiBenedetto, ND Landscape

9 Prune trees to improve sunlight penetration and air circulation within surrounding trees, shrubs, and turf. –Michael Duchemin, Mayer Tree


1 “Bury [landscaping] rocks so they look more organicÂ… I like to make it look like there’s ledge underneath and it’s sticking up.” –Barry Comak, Comak Brothers Landscaping

2 When installing stonework: “Dig down to the right depth. We go down to where we’re not going to have any issues in 100 years.” –Matt Marchant, BL Fisher Corp

3 Keep as many items off the floor as possible to avoid damaging items and to make it easier to sweep. Remember, dust from the garage often ends up in the house. –Bill Duplisea, GarageTek

4 Clearances are of major importance, especially with large appliances. You have to have enough room for someone to walk by with the appliance door open. –Maeve Cullen, Jackson Kitchen Design

5 When hiring a landscaper: “Be smart, check references, and ask to see proof of insuranceÂ… and really, you should be shopping for value, not price.” –John Filias, Jeffreys Creek Land Contractors

6 Put your best rugs where they’ll be noticed. “You’ll want a really nice quality rug for your living room, but not for the dining room, because it’s under the table.” –Ralph Khouri, Khouri’s Oriental Rug and Company

7 Watch your mulch. “Most mulch producers use demolition from buildings and used pallets that could contain nails or have chemicals spilled on them.” -Tom Greer, Landscaper’s Depot

8 Spending more money upfront to purchase a higher quality item that will save hassle and money in the long run. –Rick Dudley, Lifetyme Exteriors.

9 One way to a beautiful space on a budget is to, once a year, buy one very special thing, and the rest of the room can revolve around that.” –Linda Newall, Surroundings

10 When looking for outdoor furnishings: “Shop early in the season. The earlier the better, to be able to get exactly what you want.” –Shawn Dasans, Seasons Four


Anna O Design specializes in custom interior deigns tailored towards the client.

49 Shore Drive, Apt E,

Peabody, 978-335-9475,

Artistic Landscapes LLC is a custom landscape design/build firm with full accreditation in several disciplines. One Sawmill Way, Georgetown, 978-317-9875,

Comak Brothers Landscaping is dedicated to the art of creating environments that represent and please their owners. 647 Lowell Street, Peabody, 978-535-1227,

Design Lighting has been the premiere lighting showroom on the North Shore for 25 years. 350 Winthrop Avenue, North Andover, 978-794-1650,

Designer Bath & Salem Plumbing Supply boasts an award-winning showroom and celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. 97 River Street, Salem, 877-361-2284,

GarageTek of New England gives you the garage you’ve always wanted-one that suits your decor and lifestyle. 260 Tosca Drive Stoughton, 800-590-1874,

Groom Construction Co. Inc. is dedicated to high end luxury residential construction largely on the North Shore. 96 Swampscott Road, Salem, 781-592-3135,

Howell Custom Building Group creates fine home additions, renovations and new homes north of Boston.

360 Merrimack Street, #5, Lawrence, 978-989-9440,

J and R Fine Landscaping has been making yards the envy of the neighborhood for 25 years. Andover, 978-475-1193,

Jackson Kitchen Designs features the latest in granite and laminate countertops as well as quality cabinets. 1093 Osgood Street, North Andover, 978-685-7770,

Jeffreys Creek Land Contractors, Inc. specializes in landscape construction, stone masonry, irrigation systems and more. 180 Southern Avenue, Essex, 978-768-3359,

Khouri’s Oriental Rug and Carpeting is a purveyor of fine oriental rugs, wall to wall carpeting and interior design services. 56 Atlantic Avenue, Marblehead, 781-639-1441,

Landscapers Depot, Inc. offers a vast selection of landscape and masonry supplies for contractors and homeowners. 59 Route 125 Kingston, NH, 603-642-6677,

Lifetyme Exteriors provides house coatings for all surfaces, designed to last a lifetime. 1 Braintree Street, Allston, 866-916-6600,

Mayer Tree Service Inc is a one-source tree service company that specializes in the removal of challenging trees. PO Box 517, Essex, 978-768-6999,

McCormick Kitchens is a “soup to nuts” design center, with services ranging from planning to installation and beyond. 135 Broadway, Saugus, 781-231-4200,

Moynihan Lumber serves contractors and homeowners with lumber, building materials, doors, windows, cabinets, and more. 82 River Street, Beverly (also North Reading and Plaistow, NH), 978-927-0032, www.moynihan

ND Landscaping specializes in residential and commercial design & build, landscape maintenance, and snow and ice management. 2 Martel Way, Georgetown, 978-352-5400,

Pella Corp. is a leader in designing, testing, manufacturing and installing quality windows and doors. 102 Main Street, Pella, Iowa (area store in Haverhill), 866-261-2277,

Rocky Neck is a general contracting company focused on restoration, home building and historical preservation. 14 Wiley Street, Gloucester, 978-281-8783,

Seasons Four, The Outdoor Living Store offers high quality outdoor furniture, garden accessories, plants, fountains and more. 1265 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, 781-861-1200,

Stacey’s Home Decor offers design consultation, home furnishings, window treatments, and more. 26 Joyce Street, Lynn, 781-595-0097, or www.staceyswindow

St. Jean’s Credit Union is a full-service financial institution serving the North Shore for the last 100 years. 250 Maple Street, Lynn (also Salem, Newburyport and Revere),  781-592-5420,

Sunspaces Inc. offers a wide variety of sunrooms, entry doors, pergolas, awnings and more. 230C South Main Street, Middleton, 978-774-8423,

Surroundings sells European-inspired home accessories and gifts, including imported linens, furniture, wall coverings, rugs and lighting. 96 Washington Street, Marblehead, 781-639-0676.

Tri-City Sales offers a wide range of appliances and electronics for every room from two north shore locations. 262 Highland Avenue, Salem, and 77 Turnpike Road, Ipswich, 978-744-6100,

Wolf Hill Home & Garden Center is a family owned and operated company, offering everything for your home, indoor and outdoor. 60 Turnpike Road, Ipswich, and 104 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester, 978-356-6342 and 978-281-4480