Futuristic Appliances: The Kitchen of 2020

The International CES is a globally renowned electronics and technology trade show taking place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Earlier this year at the 2014 International CES, the vendors’ focus seemed to be on making it easier to turn your home into a smart home. Shortly after that show, the industry was buzzing about the newest home gadgets and even we talked about several in our blog post, 8 of the Coolest Futuristic Home Gadgets.

At the 2014 International CES, Whirlpool introduced its interactive cooktop concept, calling it the kitchen of 2020, since it’s not yet a reality. But the idea is that once the cooktop concept comes to fruition it will integrate hands-free devices and touchscreens, allowing you to have a stovetop surface that also serves as a place to check the weather, search for cooking tips or find recipes on Pinterest. The kitchen of 2020 will allow you to multitask, integrating cooking and other activities, saving you and your family time.

Watch a video about Whirlpool’s Interactive Cooktop at CES 2014

Also on display at CES was Whirlpool’s upcoming refrigerator which streams music from Bluetooth-enabled devices. It features Harman/Kardon speakers and can play music, podcasts or other audio through the refrigerator from your tablet or smartphone.

The home appliance landscape is definitely changing as technology evolves. It’s hard to even imagine what our home kitchens will look like within the next 10, 20, or even 50 years. We’re headed straight towards living like the Jetsons. What we predict is definitely a more connected world within every part of the home, but as the Whirlpool product introductions at the 2014 International CES show, appliances will definitely be more connected in future kitchens. What kinds of technologies would you like to see?

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Photo Credit, DerrickT


The Fair Housing Act: What You Should Know and What Most Don’t Know

As we enter April, we celebrate the 46th anniversary of the 1968 landmark Fair Housing Act. The act came shortly after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. Its goal is to eliminate housing discrimination, creating equal opportunity throughout every community. It keeps communities free from housing discrimination, meaning anyone regardless of color, race, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status has access to housing and quality schools.

What You Should Know

More specifically, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says this is what is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act:

In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

In Mortgage Lending: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap (disability):

  • Refuse to make a mortgage loan
  • Refuse to provide information regarding loans
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
  • Discriminate in appraising property
  • Refuse to purchase a loan or
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

In Addition: It is illegal for anyone to:

  • Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right
  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

What Most Don’t Know

In late 2013, the National Association of Realtors published a blog detailing some of the more interesting things most may not know about the Fair Housing Act. Here are a few:

  1. The federal government was instrumental in inventing redlining. Redlining is the act of drawing a “red line” on a map around a neighborhood to signify an area in which a financial institution does not want to offer financial services, making it impossible for inner-city residents to borrow money. While the practice is associated with private lenders, it was initially the Roosevelt administration that backed loans to encourage home ownership, but only to the right groups. They refused to back home loans to people in redlined areas.
  2. Walter Mondale wasn’t quite as supportive of the Fair Housing Act as some may think. It was President Lydon Johnson who encouraged him to take on the project because everyone else was turning him down. Mondale wasn’t so happy about the decision when it became an issue among his colleagues. Some lawmakers felt it made them look like hypocrites considering segregation was still a large problem in some cities.
  3. The Fair Housing Act wasn’t the first of its kind. A year after Lincoln’s death the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was signed into law. It prohibited racial discrimination in the rental or sale of property, but it did not contain federal penalties for violators.

Read more about your rights under the Fair Housing Act on the HUD website. If you think your rights have been violated the HUD website also provides instructions on how to complete and submit a complaint form.

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Photo Credit, Seattle Municipal Archives


Google Buys Nest: What Does It Mean?

In our past blog, “Home Efficiency: Smart Home Ideas,” we talked about some of the smart home products available on the market. One of the products we touched on is Nest, a “smart” thermostat, which you can control from your phone. It comes with a whole host of other features including programmed schedules and energy history reporting. What particularly makes it a smart thermostat is that it can build a programmed schedule automatically based on the temperatures you select at different times of day. It tracks your preferences and adjusts accordingly. It even has a sensor that can detect when you’re not home so it can adjust the temperature and save energy.

The Nest company also offers a smart smoke and carbon-monoxide detector.

What may be surprising is that Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion in early January 2014. What interest would Google have in smart home products, particularly the Nest devices?

Mashable reported that at the International CES tradeshow there were plenty of companies showcasing their smart appliance products. In fact, the market is expected to grow rapidly, by as much as 24 million units by 2017, according to ABI Research.

The Nest company (before the Google purchase) marketed itself as wanting to make everyday household products smarter and Internet-connected. There are other companies developing outstanding smart products including Philips’ smart light bulb, but Nest appears to be gaining more of the steam and Google has taken notice. The Nest acquisition may put Google at the head of the class in the marketplace of smart home appliances. Nest is reported to be shipping up to 50,000 of their devices each month.

Additionally Google may have another angle with the Nest acquisition. As pointed out by nymag.com, Nest is a data collector. Once it’s installed it can pick up all kinds of information including when people come and go, when lights are turned on or off, and how energy is used. Then the information can be used in multiple ways. Google has previously been interested in a similar type of data collection when in 2011 they had a project named PowerMeter (which shut down) that tracked energy usage.

Now Google has an evolved version of the PowerMeter with its obtainment of Nest. Smart thermostats are only used in about 1% of U.S. homes, but with their expected growth, Google is on the cusp of the technology and poised to ride it through the next step as homes become more and more Internet connected.

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Photo Credit, David Berkowitz


What Happens During a House Fire

The temperatures drop and the amount of home fires increase. Home fires occur more during the winter than any other season. Approximately 905 people die each year in winter home fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. The administration also reports that $2,091,000,000 in property loss occurs during winter home fires. About 67% of winter fires develop in one- or two-family homes, with the prime fire time taking place between the hours of 5 to 8 p.m.

The folks at This Old House (TOH) offer a great explanation of what happens in a typical kitchen fire. Since cooking fires are the cause behind about half of all fires, they use a stovetop fire to describe what happens from beginning to end.

Ignition: The fire ignites. In the TOH example the fire occurs when a pot or pan boils over, causing oil to spill directly onto the stovetop flame or burner. It only takes a few hundredths of a second for fatty substances to ignite.

First 30 Seconds: It only takes a few seconds after a flame-up for the fire to spread. Flames will travel across the stove. The oily residue on cooking utensils can ignite, and any other combustible materials around the stove, including paper towels or dish towels, will begin to burn. This is a critical point to extinguish the fires. Remember never move the pot/pan, or use water to attempt to extinguish the flames. Instead cover the pot/pan with a lid.

30 Seconds to 1 Minute: The fire spreads igniting more objects including wooden cabinets, wallpaper and curtains. A dense plume of hot, smoky air develops, which can burn your breathing passages. The fire generates poisonous gases like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, and it only takes a few breaths of it to cause someone to pass out.

1 to 2 Minutes: The flames intensify, spreading heat to other parts of the kitchen. Cyanide and carbon monoxide levels increase. In an enclosed fire room, the typical level of these gases is 3,400 parts-per-million, which cuts survival time to less than one minute. The poisonous smoke begins to travel, and once it reaches a vent or the top of a doorway it can begin to travel through halls and up stairwells.

2 to 3 Minutes: The fire continues to burn cabinets, countertops and shelves and anything within them including dry goods, containers and cardboard boxes. This generates more heat, making the upper level of gases rise up to 400 degrees F, which is hot enough to kill someone. The smoke may now include other toxic components from the items being burned including arsenic (a wood preservative), lead (from paint) and other toxins such as ammonia and hydrogen chloride. The fire is now hot enough to spread not only by direct flame contact but also by auto-ignition. Objects spontaneously begin to burn without even touching the flames.

3.5 Minutes: The heat reaches as high as 1100 degrees F and flashover occurs. Everything in the room can burst into flames. Oxygen is sucked out of the room. Windows shatter and balls of fires shoot out of them. Upper level rooms fill with thick, hot smoke, and because of the high flashover temperatures, all of the rooms throughout the house are at risk.

3.5-4 Minutes: Flames begin pouring through the doorway into neighboring rooms setting carpet and furniture on fire. In the kitchen the fire penetrates the walls and ceiling, sending flames to the second floor.

4-5 minutes: Flames can be seen from outside the home as they travel through doors and broken windows. At this point, it’s much more difficult to rescue anyone on the second floor. Rooms neighboring the kitchen flashover. The materials used in construction impact the damage. Synthetics including polystyrene and PVC auto-ignite at temperatures between 850 and 1075 degrees. Steel plates used in roof trusses start to buckle at 1000 degrees F. The roof may begin to collapse as the blaze burns uncontrollably.

Firefighters Arrive: Firefighters take immediate aggressive action if flames are visible from the outside when they arrive. They’ll use as much as 3,000 gallons of water to extinguish the flames. They may also use dry chemicals to extinguish flames, and they may break open windows or cut open the roof to vent off smoke and gases.

After the Fire: Extensive property damage is incurred. Even if flames did not touch a room, the high heat softens glass and melts plastics. Most appliances are ruined as their interior parts are likely melted. The burned or melted plastics and other synthetic materials will off-gas toxins. There are unseen weaknesses in the structure. It is unsafe for anyone to be in the home.

Returning Home: You’ll need permission from the Fire Marshall to enter the home. Smoke damage is severe and permeates everything, leaving an odor that is difficult to remove. Water damage can cause mold to grow rapidly. It will likely take weeks or months to sufficiently cleanup and repair the home to a state that makes it safe and comfortable enough to live in again.

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Photo Credit, State Farm


10 Green Ways to Stay Warm This Winter

In Iowa, and throughout much of the country, it’s been a cold, harsh, snowy winter. The arrival of spring is still a month away. On Super Bowl Sunday, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, predicting 6 more weeks of winter goodness. But as you may remember from last year, Iowans experienced cold and snow as late as May. It’s hard to predict exactly when warm weather will arrive.

Here are our 10 tips for staying warm, but in “greener” ways, saving you money and easing the affect on the environment:

  1. Tune up your furnace, if you haven’t done so yet. Poorly maintained systems can suffer heat losses that add up over time, as much as 1-2% a year, according to Consumers Energy.
  2. Change furnace filters monthly. Furnaces use less energy if they can breathe.
  3. Keep your thermostat set to 68 degrees or lower.
  4. Set your programmable thermostat to a lower temperature at night and whenever you’re away from home. For each degree you set the thermostat lower, you can save 5% on your heating costs, according to the Consumer Energy Center. If you set the thermostat as low as 55 degrees at night or when you’re away from home, you can save as much as 20% on your heating costs.
  5. Use a humidifier. Moist air feels warmer so using a humidifier can make you feel warmer even when your thermostat is set at a lower temperature.
  6. Move furniture away from exterior walls, where it’s usually the coldest area of the house. Make sure registers are not blocked by furniture, drapes or other objects.
  7. Reverse your ceiling fan’s direction to push the hot air down from the ceiling, where it naturally rises, to the the living space.
  8. Keep windows and doors, including garage doors, closed as much as possible.
  9. Open south-facing curtains and blinds during the day to let the sun and heat in. At night, make sure they stay closed to keep the heat in.
  10. Use warm accessories. Place thick throw rugs on floors, especially if you have wood, tile or stone floors. Cover your windows with insulated curtains. Put flannel sheets on your beds. Keep warm blankets on your beds and your couch.

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Photo Credit, Joelk75


Affordable Housing in Under 24 Hours

Can you imagine having your home built within one day?

The technology is already here. Called “contour crafting,” the technology can build a 2,500 sq. ft. home in about 20 hours.

Since 2008, Behrokh Khoshnevis, professor and director of the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California, has led a team in developing a layered fabrication technology which uses 3D printing, according to Mashable. After a building site is cleared and leveled and workers lay down a few rails, a computer program guides a robot with a nozzle attached to a flexible arm on a crane to apply layers of concrete, with the ability to construct straight or curved walls. The robot is called a “contour crafter” and it layers the concrete based on an architect’s pattern. The layered concrete is shaped into walls with gaps to allow for plumbing, windows and chimneys.

Khoshnevis claims the technology is versatile enough to build homes in worldwide slums, to construct homes after natural disasters, or even to build habitats on Mars or the Moon. In particular he points out that this technology could address the problem of providing adequate shelter to the 1 billion people in the world who don’t have it. A problem that he says breeds poverty, disease, illiteracy, crime and overpopulation.

The professor also notes that building is one of the few industries still done by hand, and it’s way behind most manufacturing. Almost everything made today is constructed through an automated process.

Building construction through contour crafting is not limited in design as the walls can follow a curve, allowing for distinctive architectural features with no extra cost. The technology allows for great flexibility as all that has to be changed is the computer program.

While some opponents of the technology may worry about job loss, Khoshnevis says it should create new, safer jobs which can also employ women and older workers. Contour crafting has the ability to offer a construction process that has less waste and produces less noise, dust and harmful emissions.

The contour crafting technology has yet to arrive on the commercial market. As the technology is developed and if it becomes more widely available, it could change how J. Thompson Builders builds homes.

Watch professor Behrokh Khoshnevis talk about contour crafting at this TED talk in Ojai, California.

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Photo Credit, Contour Crafting


8 of The Coolest Futuristic Home Gadgets

J. Thompson Builders strives to stay up to date on all the latest, cutting edge technologies in the home industry. As we head into 2014 we decided to scour the Internet to see what new cool futuristic technologies are cropping up. We want to keep you abreast of any new technologies that you may want to consider incorporating into your home.

Most of these technologies are so futuristic that they are still in the concept stage and have not been developed yet. While many of these gadgets below are not yet available on the market, they could be very soon.

Let us know which technologies you hope are developed , and which you would like to have in your home.

Floor Plan Light Switch

Don’t remember which light switch goes with what light? This concept is a master light switch with a floorplan of the room to show you what lights you are turning on or off.

Read more about it

Self-Sterilizing Door Handle

Most people don’t clean their home door handles daily, or even regularly for that matter. But door handles are a source of germ transmission. With the self-sterilizing door handle, a UV lamp turns on whenever the handle is in the resting position. The UV lamp works to sterilize the handle, killing germs and bacteria. When someone touches the handle, the lamp turns off until it’s not being used.

Read more about it

Senzo Nightlight

The Senzo Nightlight hangs on the wall at a height where adults and children can conveniently touch it. Instead of fumbling for a light switch the nightlight turns on when touched and offers a tube of soft lighting. During power outages the light doubles as a backup light.

Read more about it

On Switch

This concept product helps people know for sure when a light is on. The light switch has a large “ON” sign that stays on as long as the lights are turned on. The product is meant to remind people that they’ve left a light on.

Read more about it

Electrolux WAVE Ultra Sonic Wine Ager and Fridge

We’re not sure why this is still just a concept as the idea started gaining press as early as 2010. But we hope they’ll see it through to production. The WAVE emits ultrasonic waves that help age the wine. A touchscreen gives you options to choose the speed of aging.

Read more about it

Netatmo Weather Station

This weather station displays more than weather information, but it also monitors a full range of other environmental factors including humidity, air quality and noise pollution. You can set it up so you receive notifications on your smart phone or tablet. It’s currently available for sale.

Read more about it

Airocide Air Purifier

Airocide is designed by NASA scientists. It purifies the air to help sufferers of asthma or allergies. Instead of using filters it uses nanotechnology to oxidize pathogens on a molecular level. It’s currently available for sale.

Read more about it


No need to remember your house keys. Turn your iPhone into your key with the CalypsoKey. It’s case surrounds your phone, and allows you to unlock your door with just a tap of the case on an access point. It’s currently for sale.

Read more about it

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Photo Credit, Calypso


How to Choose Home Plans

Augustine front elevationWinter is a great time to start thinking about the house you want to build in the spring.

As we told you in a former post, What You Can Do NOW to Plan Your Dream Home, part of the preparation to build starts with searching for house plans. You can Google “house plans” or “home plans” and find thousands of options. Your local library and bookstore has lots of home plan books as well. Download house plan design software if you want to take the DIY-er approach. Or consult with an architect for a more custom experience.

Better Homes and Gardens recommends starting with these three basic tips to help you choose a home plan:

  1. Select a house plan based on your lot size. Narrow your search by square footage. Lot size, as well as the number of bathrooms and bedrooms you want, and how many levels you desire will dwindle down your plan choices.
  2. Consider how spaces function. When you walk through the door, what will you usually have in your hands and where do you want to put it? For example if you have a family, you may need a mudroom for kids to hang up book bags and coats, and store shoes. Your kitchen should be located near the main entrance you typically come through so it’s easy to carry groceries into. When deciding on a plan, make sure the spaces connect in ways that make sense for the way you live.
  3. Think about the way you live on a daily basis and how you like to relax or entertain. Do you want more open areas for people to congregate or do you prefer more private, quieter spaces? Select enough bathrooms to accommodate your family as it grows and changes. Consider adding relaxation spaces to make your home a retreat – more people building homes are choosing to put more thought into outdoor spaces, incorporating fireplaces and hot tubs, or they design the master bathroom with spa-like amenities.

Creating Your Custom Home Plan

J. Thompson Builders knows how to create livable floor plans. We have several pre-built plans available, and can help clients as much or as little as desired to find a plan that best suits their desires. We have extensive experience in creating gorgeous lower level living spaces, spacious and functional kitchens, large mudrooms, spacious garages, and ample built-in storage. We can help clients as much or as little as desired to find a plan that best suits their desires. We work closely with a few select local architects who share our drive for excellence and top quality construction.

J. Thompson Builders also offer “value design consultation” to every client, or can work with your architect or interior designer. We have a passion for keeping up with new styles and trends. To help you realize your most unique and creative visions, our fabrication shop called J.T. Unique (link) can produce or source looks ranging from cozy cabin to old world.

Browse our Custom Home Gallery for inspiration, and find our more about Our Process and Our Services, and how we can help you in choosing a home plan.

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Top 7 FREE Interior Design Apps for Your Home Project

Whether your home is undergoing a renovation, you’re building a new home, or just tackling a weekend decorating project, there are a great deal of apps on the market to make you interior design tasks easier. We’ve found the best FREE apps. No need to waste your money on an app that may not live up to your expectations. You can try these out, and we think you’ll find they come in handy.

1. Houzz Interior Design Ideas

Everyone who is building, remodeling, or simply owns a home should know about Houzz. As they claim, they are the “leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device.” And we agree. Their app includes more than 2,000,000 photos of rooms, over 350,000 products curated by their experts, and a directory of professional designers, architects and contractors.

2. Color Capture

The Color Capture app is brought to you by the folks at Benjamin Moore. Instead of toting paint samples around, you can use this app to save your favorites and add notes. Even if you are not using Benjamin Moore paint, you can use the application to help you decide what kind of colors you want to use. It won’t be an exact color match, but even the company says the colors chosen in the app will vary from the printed samples because of variances among screen displays.

3. ColorSmart

ColorSmart is Behr Paint’s version of a paint selection app. It allows you to browse through Behr colors, preview colors in different rooms, save your favorites and paint a room image you upload to ensure the color matches your décor. Like the Benjamin Moore app, you don’t have to use Behr paint to find this app useful.

4. Magpie by Conran

Magpie by Conran is an app that allows you to create a scrapbook of pictures, videos or notes about things that inspire you. It’s all neatly arranged on a personal moodboard that you can share with others, print or just save within the app to reference later.

5. iHandy

It’s a level…on your iPhone…simple as that. No need to purchase a level to hang perfectly straight picture frames. You can get one free.

6. Dropbox

Dropbox is a file-sharing app and one of the best ways to share large files. It’s a great way to upload files, access them remotely, and to share your ideas or plans with your architect, contractor or anyone involved in your project.

7. Flickr

The Flickr app stores your photos online. It’s a useful tool for uploading, saving and sharing photos relevant to all your home design projects.

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Top 10 Design Trends in New Homes

Search the home design websites and scan the most recent issues of home design magazines. You’ll notice similar trends keep cropping up. We’re seeing those same trends emerge when we work with homeowners in building their new home. Here are our top 10 design trends in new homes:

  1. Open Floor Plans: this trend has been gaining steam for some time. Families desire open, inviting living spaces where everyone can interact.
  2. Hardwood Floors: The choices in hardwood flooring continue to grow, with a variety of colors and grain patterns available. Wood is a great investment, lasting as long as a century. For more about hardwood flooring choices, read Styles, Types, Finishes: Finding the Hardwood Floor That’s Right For You.
  3. Universal Design: The evolution of home design includes a shift towards building homes suited to all types of people, as well as a home that will accommodate homeowners as they age. Universal design takes into account people of all ages and abilities. For more about universal design, read Accessibility/Universal Design for Homes.
  4. Spa Bathrooms: As the economy turned, more homeowners looked at ways to enjoy luxuries at home. This potentially spurred the trend of spa bathrooms. Instead of just focusing on function, spa bathrooms feel like a retreat, incorporating features like multiple showerheads and heated flooring.
  5. Smart Homes: As homeowners’ lives get busier, they desire the highly advanced automatic systems that a smart home offers. You can monitor and control lighting, temperature, media, security, and other daily living functions with speech, gestures or through smart phones, computers or other devices. For more about smart homes, read Smart Home Ideas and Smart Home Regrets.
  6. Healthy Homes: Homeowners are opting to use more eco-friendly products and fewer chemicals in building or remodeling.
  7. Energy Efficiency: There is more concern over choosing energy efficient options when building or remodeling. Homeowners are choosing Energy Star-rated windows, low-water toilets and sinks, solar panels and energy efficient HVAC systems. For more about energy efficient options for homes, read Solar Water Heaters and What is a Net-Zero Home?
  8. Outdoor Living: This appears to be another trend influenced by economic factors. The concept of “staycations” was introduced to encourage people to find ways to stay home, but still feel like they experienced some of the relaxing benefits of a real vacation. On the cusp of the staycation trend homeowners began turning their outdoor areas into living spaces. High quality furnishings, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, televisions and audio systems are all features used in outdoor living spaces.
  9. Reclaimed Materials: Homeowners see the value in making something old new again. And so do we. It makes sense to use the resources already available to us whenever possible. Many items are reusable, and reclaimed items have an aesthetic appeal. For more about how you can use reclaimed materials, read Best Building Materials to Salvage/Reuse. For more about how we’ve used reclaimed materials for products created in our fabrication shop at JT Unique, read JT Unique Reclaimed Bar Top.
  10. Alternative Products: Homeowners are choosing alternative products for their durability and beauty. For more about some alternative products on the market, read Guide to Composite Decking, Seed vs Sod, and a Few Grass Alternative Recommendations and New Reclaimed-Wood Windows/Doors Brings Green Style to Your Home.

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Photo Credit, maine-homeseller