5 Tips to Restyle Your Halloween Home

Do you remember reading the “Mini Page” in your local newspaper when you were a kid? There was always a puzzle where you had to find hidden items, like a beehive or a wooden spoon or a sailboat, in a seemingly straightforward drawing.

Well, this post is kind of like that, only I’m going to give you the answers! These photos are of an identical area in my home where I display a vignette. Most days, it looks like the photo on the left. But, this is prime real estate in the family room, so come the holidays I change up the vignette to reflect a more seasonal look. The photo on the right is how that area looks today. Can you spot the differences?

Liquor collage 3

Here’s what I did — and what you can do in your own home to give any tabletop, sideboard, shelf, or any place else a new look and a new life for the season.


1. Change the artwork.

In the everyday scene, a drawing by my oldest brother fits the space nicely. For Halloween, I used a printed canvas that I purchased a few years ago from Grandin Road (www.grandinroad.com). Clearly, it’s not as large as the everyday artwork, so I filled in the space with BOO letters that I made. I’ve used these items in combination with each other for a few years in different part of the house, but this feels like the perfect spot.

2. Change the textiles.

Switching up any fabric element such as pillows, draperies, area rugs, or towels is an easy way to update any space with a seasonal look. Here, swapping the cream colored runner with an orange one adds just the right punch of color in this vignette.


3. Cover up.

I love using books as risers to change the height of a display. In the everyday look, the variety of colors in the book bindings is perfect, but the books felt a little busy and clashy with the seasonal look. So, I simply covered the books with brown kraft paper for neutral appeal. (You could also use brown paper bags for this project.)


4. Swap accessories.

I’ve been collecting and creating Halloween accessories for years now, and this is key to any seasonal decorating. You don’t need to buy or make things all at once! Add to your collection as time and budget allow. Soon you’ll have a lot of accessories to choose from when putting together your holiday looks. I like to lay out all of the accessories on the kitchen island and see what groupings natural emerge based on a texture, color and material. For this Halloween look, the unifying elements are black metals paired with neutrals. I used an iron crow from Pottery Barn’s Halloween collection a couple years ago with some Party Lite candle holders. Next I layered in a couple of candle crafts from my Raven collection.

5. Add multiple points of light.

To me, every holiday display should have at least three (but preferably more!) points of light – either real or LED candles and/or electric light. Most of the accessories in this Halloween look are already candles, but I added a couple more to give the vignette more light. Two orange glass tealight holders from Cost Plus World Market (www.worldmarket.com) that are used on the patio in the summer seemed like the perfect accent to this collection.

Following these five simple steps no matter what the holiday or season will always give you a new look using what you already have.

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How to Embellish a Valance for Halloween

If you haven’t guessed it, I love decorating for holidays. I mean, re-doing entire rooms for a holiday. Bathrooms are particularly easy to makeover seasonally; they’re generally smaller, with fewer accessories and furnishings. So I endeavor to re-do the powder room and the hall guest bath for the holidays.

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A few years ago I purchased two simple black valances at Target to use in the guest bath at Halloween with a black and white shower curtain. I knew I wanted to embellish the valances, but kept putting it off, thinking it “had” to have a contrasting fabric trim or something. Then I decided to simplify the project, while still achieving a very Halloween look using simple grosgrain ribbon ($3 a spool) and orange rick rack that I found on sale for 10 cents a yard (so I bought a lot!).

For this project you will need a black window valance* (Target has discontinued this product, but Wal-Mart has several options under $12 online); ribbon and/or trim of your choice; fabric glue; fusible tape (available at fabric and craft stores); and an iron.

Decide on a design for your ribbon/trim. I kept this look simple with two bands of rick rack with a band of ribbon in between. Measure the width of the valance and add two inches; cut the ribbon/trim to that size.

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Following the instructions on the fusible tape, adhere the ribbon to the valance in the desired position/pattern. Leave one inch of ribbon overhanging the edge of the valance. Take care to make sure the ribbon is straight as you work your way across the width of the valance. (Use a ruler to periodically check, measuring the distance from the edge of the valance to the ribbon.) You should have one inch left over at the opposite edge. Turn the piece over and adhere the two end bits to the back of the valance.

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Repeat with remaining ribbon or trim. For this project, I used fabric glue to adhere the rick rack to the valance, following the instructions on the glue bottle and using the same one inch turn under on each end. I rather like the way it turned out! Here I’ve styled it with jack o’lantern jingle bells simply tied to the shower curtain rings with thin satin ribbon. Halloween accessories complete the look.

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*For fullness over a standard bathtub, use two valances. Carefully transfer the measurements for the design on the first completed valance to the second, to ensure continuity once they are hung.

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 So the question for you is: what simple accessories do YOU have around the house that, with some simple trimmings, can become Halloween accents for your home this year?

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10 Fall-Inspired Vase Fillers

River rock vase

Smooth river rocks anchor three simple stems for an easy autumn look, shown here at Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel.

Vase fillers have become very popular with nearly every home décor retail establishment and craft store offering a multitude of options beyond glass pebbles. Far from merely taking up space in a vase, vase fillers have multiple uses and can accent candlescapes, be scattered on a holiday table, mounded in low bowls for a coffee table centerpiece, gathered in clear containers … the list goes on. (This Halloween I’m using small, sparkly, lime green balls that are marketed as vase fillers for the bubbly brew in a witch’s cauldron.)

Of course, with nearly everything that rises in popularity, the price also rises. One of my favorite stores has an average price of $20 for fillers! I love to decorate with vase fillers seasonally, so it can be a substantial added expense to the holiday decorating budget, unless I can find low cost, yet appealing, alternatives.

And over the years I’ve done just that. So here are my top 10 stylish and affordable fall-inspired vase fillers. Most of them are either found in your yard for free, or may be picked up on your next trip to the supermarket. Any one may be used on its own, or combine them for interesting layers. Find a couple of branches from the trees in your yard and voila! An instant fall accessory.


1. Bird Seed ($5 to $10 for 10 pounds) I love using bird seed in my fall arrangements. It displaces easily, so pushing a candle into the filler or arranging large stems is a breeze. Look for a seed blend with all the colors of fall.

2. Pinecones (Free to $5/bag) Your yard can be the source of wonderful home accessories for the fall. I’ve collected basketfuls of pinecones from having just one tree in my front yard. Pinecones are relatively easy to paint, especially if they’re still closed, so they can take on a black hue for Halloween or red, gold, or silver for the holidays.

Layer Spanish moss, faux leaves and twigs for a rustic fall look.

Layer Spanish moss, faux leaves and twigs for a rustic fall look.

3. Fall leaves (real or faux) (Free to about $10 for 120 leaves) Real leaves can be brittle and break easily, while a good quality faux leaf will last for years. Sprinkle them in as the top layer of your vase arrangement, tuck them into a basket of pinecones, or scatter them on the Thanksgiving table.

4. Candy corn (about $2 for 1 pound bag) – The classic Halloween candy looks great with candles or spooky branches.

5. River rocks ($3 for 28 oz., Cost Plus World Market) – Rather than scooping rocks from your landscaping, opt for clean, smooth river rock as an alternative to glass pebble. They compliment any fall arrangement and make a good, study base for botanical stems. Great when layered with other materials.

6. Tree bark (Free) Take to your yard and collect any naturally exfoliated bark. Allow it to dry completely in the garage or mud room and dust off any critters or dirt before adding it to your arrangements. Lightweight and textured, it fills space and adds rustic charm.


Display seed pods, pine cones and leaves in clear vessels for an instant fall display.

7. Seed pods (Free) If you’re lucky enough to have a tree that drops interesting looking seed pods, use them! Be careful, though – some pods can burst open and deliver their contents unexpectedly if crushed.

8. Twigs (Free) See how much your yard can yield? After every storm or windy day, it seems like there are a ton of little twigs blown from their branches. I experimented with twigs a couple of years ago and was more than satisfied with the look. They can be spooky for Halloween or rustic for Thanksgiving.

9. Spanish moss (About $3 a bag at craft and home improvement stores) This gives great texture and a different look than the other filler ideas. Great for layering!

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Dry beans are a colorful and inexpensive way to add texture to vase displays and candlescapes.

10. Dry beans ($1 to $3 per pound) The range of colors available in the dry bean section of the supermarket is astonishing, from green to burgundy. I find the best selection at Fresh and Easy markets. Layer them in a tall cylinder and pop in a few branches of bittersweet for an arrangement to take you from September all the way through to Thanksgiving.

So much color, so much texture … I hope you’ll try using vase fillers in your décor this year!

Note: As many of these options are flammable, if you’re using a vase filler in a candlescape, be sure to keep the flammable material away from the flame. A clear candle sleeve works very well. ($12 to $16, www.williams-sonoma.com)

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Witchy Woman Treat Box

Witch treat box collage

So adorable and so easy to make, this Witchy Woman Treat Box has been rambling around my brain for a couple of years, so I’m glad it finally was realized for this year’s “Macbeth Witches” Halloween theme.

Have you seen the stacked boxes for Christmas treats, printed to look like a snowman or Santa? Well, a few years ago I found this paper mache tall round box at a craft store (Joann, $4.99), and thought it would be perfect for the face on a stacked witch treat box set. I even had the round hat boxes on hand to make her body. But then I got stuck trying to figure out what kind of clothes she would be wearing, and how would I even make them? I couldn’t paint them all on (I’m so not an artist!), so would I use fabric, paper, what? I couldn’t find pre-printed witches costumes, and how could I make that on the computer? And the hat?! I thought of covering a foam cone with black fabric.



If a craft isn’t dead simple, I’m not likely to do it–end of story. I put away all the pieces and with them, the idea.

Until this year … I found a paper mache witch hat (Michaels, $2.99) and thought, hmmm, could this be the perfect proportion for that tall round hat box? Yes it was! And then I SIMPLIFIED the project and decided the face and hat would be a super cute, easy project with little or no drawing required.


  • Tall round paper mache hat box (6” by 6”)
  • Paper mache witch hat (10” diameter)
  • Lime green acrylic craft paint
  • Black acrylic craft paint
  • Black permanent marker
  • Black self-adhesive felt
  • 2 wiggle eyes
  • Red rick rack trim
  • Hot glue gun
  • Double-sided tape


  • Black feather trim
  • Rhinestone button
  • Black and white scrapbook paper or gift wrap

1. Paint the hat all over with the black acrylic paint. Allow to dry and apply another coat of black paint. Because I knew I would cover the bottom of the hat with decorative paper, I only painted a 1 inch band around the underside of the brim. If you’re not using decorative paper, be sure to paint the bottom of the hat completely.

2. If desired, trim the hat with black feathers using hot glue and add a rhinestone button. You may substitute whatever trims you like, using whatever you have on hand or whatever catches your eye at the craft store. Try grosgrain ribbon and a buckle, or a ruffle and a moon-shaped pin.

3. If desired, cut a piece of decorative paper to fit the bottom of the hat and adhere with double-sided tape .

4. Paint the entire lid of the box, and the outside and bottom of the box with the green craft paint. I mixed Apple Green and Light Foliage Green, both by Delta Ceramcoat, for my box/face. Apply two coats, allowing the paint to dry in between coats.

5. If desired, cut decorative paper to line the underside of the box lid and the bottom inside of the box. Adhere with double-sided tape.

6. Decide where the center-front and center-back of your face will be and mark reference points lightly in pencil, making the mark across both the lid and the base so you can match them up later.

7. Using the center-front reference as a guide, create a face for your witch. (If you like, you can draw all the features on with black and red markers.) I used self-adhesive black felt for eyebrows. Simply draw a basic curve shape and cut it out; use the cut out, flipped over, to trace out the other eyebrow. Apply the eyebrows.

8. Apply wiggle eyes under the eyebrows using hot glue.

9. I debated how to create the nose, and noticed that some off cuts of the black felt were gently curved, so those became the nose. One long and one short piece did the trick.

10. Make a mouth with red rick rack.

11. Draw on hair in pencil first. Starting at the center back, draw a spiral for a bun. Then, turn the piece around and determine where the hairline will start on the front of the face, marking the starting point roughly equally spaced from the facial features. With the lid in place, begin drawing (in pencil) rows of sweeping lines from the top of the lid to the bottom of the box, curving until the lines meet the bun in the back. Repeat on the other side of the box. When you’re happy with your witch’s hairstyle, draw over the pencil lines with black marker. Erase any obvious pencil lines and the reference markings.

12. Draw in bangs on the forehead with black marker. I repeated the number “6” to make curls.

13. Hot glue the hat onto the head.

Your Witch Treat Box is now ready to be filled with treats!! I suggest crispy rice bats and ghosts, peanut butter eyeballs and ogre fingers. This makes a great gift for a teacher, neighbor, or grandparent.

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Scary Solutions for a Wickedly Fun Halloween!

Scary Solutions Collage

Scary Solutions for Busy People are here! This year’s theme for Halloween home décor ideas and projects is Shakespeare’s Macbeth, specifically the scene in the cave of the three witches. (Read the full scene here.)

From artwork inspired by a classic, familiar verse to macabre ideas for a candy buffet, this year’s projects all have one thing in common—they’re just plain wicked! You might be amazed at how one idea can spawn dozens! And I’ll share my process with you along the way, so you’ll be inspired to take any theme idea and make it your own.

Here are just a few of the treats to look forward to in the coming weeks:

  • Witchy Woman Halloween Treat Box
  • 10 Fall Inspired Vase Fillers
  • In the Witch’s Kitchen
  • Printable Witch’s Brew Ingredient Labels
  • Printable Recipe Book Labels
  • How to Cast a Spellbinding Garland
  • Two Easy Halloween Paintings
  • Freakishly Fun Wreath Update
  • How to Turn Dinner into Décor
  • Creating Artwork in Minutes
  • DIY Lawn Ghosts
  • Wicked and Wonderful Movies

… and so much more!! Be sure to “Like” Smart Solutions for Busy People on Facebook to get the daily details, or subscribe to the blog to get updates in your inbox.


Eeek! So excited!!

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Favorite Treats Inspire Fall Desserts

Some flavors just go so well together they’re practically inseparable in my mind. For these fall recipes, I was inspired by two of my favorite treats that feature such a flavor pairing: caramel apples and Reese’s® peanut butter cup candy. Neither is exactly a dessert on its own, so I came up with a couple of ways to get the same flavors in a more substantial serving.


Caramel Apple Tart

Rustic Caramel Apple Tart

1 refrigerator pie crust
2 Granny Smith apples
2 Golden Delicious apples
1 lemon
¼ c. + 1 T. granulated sugar
¼ c. brown sugar, packed
1 T. all purpose flour
1 t. + ¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 T. cold butter (unsalted if you have it)
Milk or heavy cream
¼ c. good quality store bought caramel sauce
¼ c. chopped peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Let the pie crust come up to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

2. Zest the lemon into a large mixing bowl. Cut the lemon in half and keep nearby. Working one at a time, peel, core and slice the apples. (I use a melon baller to core the apples.) As you place each sliced apple into the bowl, squeeze a little lemon juice and combine. This will help slow down the apples turning brown.

3. Combine the 1 T. of sugar and ¼ t. cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Combine the remaining sugars, flour, spices and salt in a small bowl. Add the sugar/flour/spice mixture to the apples and mix gently but thoroughly.

5. Unroll the pie crust out onto the baking sheet. Mound the apples in the center, leaving about 2 inches all around. Cube the cold Oct 18 newsletter 001butter and dot on the apples. Gently fold (but do not stretch) the edges of the crust onto the top of the apples, making a free-form, rustic tart. Make sure there are no holes in the crust, or the butter and juice will run out. (Repair any holes by gently re-closing the pastry onto itself using a little water for glue.) Using a pastry brush, brush the milk or cream onto the crust and sprinkle the reserved cinnamon sugar on the crust.

6. Bake the tart 35 to 40 minutes until the pastry is baked through and the apples are easily pierced with a small paring knife. Remove from the oven and place the baking sheet on a wire rack.

6. As soon as it’s out of the oven, drizzle the caramel sauce over the top of the tart and sprinkle with the peanuts. (That’s a traditional caramel apple coating, but you can substitute any nut you like, or leave them out all together.) Cool on the baking sheet 20 minutes, then remove to a serving platter and serve warm. Garnish with extra caramel sauce and nuts, if desired. A little freshly whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream would be nice, too.


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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

When I found a foolproof recipe for a light, fluffy peanut butter icing, I knew it would be a great match for my chocolate cake recipe.

This recipe uses baking soda as the levener to make it rise, and reminds me of the first time I baked a chocolate cake. In the second grade, I bought a kid’s cookbook at a book fair at school. The recipe called for baking soda; instead of 1 t., however, I put in 1 c. Whoops! The cake rose up like a balloon in the oven, literally touching the top of the oven – it was quite a sight! After it came out of the oven and cooled, it shrank to about 1 inch high. I cut a square out of the center just to try it. It was awful and salty. That is when I learned that measurements matter in baking, and I also learned how to pay more attention to abbreviations.

For best results, use fresh baking soda.

1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. milk
2 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar, packed
¾ c. cocoa powder
1 T. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 c. water
1 T. instant espresso

For the frosting:
1 c. peanut butter
5 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 c. heavy cream
½ c. mini chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 muffin cups with cupcake liners. In a small saucepan boil the water and stir in the instant espresso (substitute instant coffee if that’s what you have). Keep the mixture simmering while you prepare the batter.

2. Place the oil, milk, egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl and mix with a handheld mixer on low speed, just until combined.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the bowl and stir by hand just to combine (this will prevent the dry ingredients from spraying everywhere). Mix with a handheld mixer on medium speed 2 minutes. Add the simmering coffee mixture and fold gently. (The batter will be thin.) Using a ladle, divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until a tooth picked inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for a few minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely on the wire rack.

4. To make the frosting, combine the peanut butter, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl on low speed with a handheld mixer until creamy. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the frosting is nice and fluffy. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle the mini chips on top. (Note: I recommend keeping these in the fridge because of the butter content in the frosting.)

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