Weekly home and garden rail, with items on creating a recreation room for kids, new decor trends for 2010, how to stay safe when using ladders, and more.

Home Improvements: Unused space makes a great rec room

Playrooms are ideal spaces for encouraging children's creativity, providing them with the stimulation they crave and helping them create a connection with others.

Many unused extra spaces in the home can function as playroom spaces. Whether it's a sewing room you no longer have time for or maybe an extra bedroom that isn't being used, make sure the space is safe and secure for the ages of children who will be playing in it.

"Create universal spaces that will grow with your children," encourages Nancy Bohnett, academic director of Interior Design at The Art Institute of Las Vegas. "Your first child may be a 3-year-old girl who loves princesses, but she may outgrow her love for pink in a few years and gain a baby brother who will also use the space as he grows."

1. Gather supplies

Once you've got an idea of how you want the room to function, you'll be able to make a list of the items you'll need and want, whether it's an easel for your little artist, bins to store a large collection of blocks or a table for the perfect tea party. You may find that you have many of the items you need, whether they are crammed into your child's current space or stored in the garage.

For the items you need to purchase, take advantage of places like Ikea, peruse a garage sale, check the listings on Craigslist, find some treasures on eBay or visit a recycled furniture store to pick up pieces you need.

2. Decorate

When it comes to the walls, playrooms should be bright and cheerful, but there's no need to go overboard with paint.

"The reality is that children's tastes change as they grow. Creating an accent wall in a favorite color is a great way to bring color to the space and save money. It can be something your kids help with, putting their handprints on the wall or something fun and can be easily changed over time," says Bohnett.

3. Outfit the room

When it comes to flooring, hard and washable surfaces are ideal for these spaces.

"Having floors that can withstand the rigors of childhood play is important for a parent's sanity," says Bohnett. "Not only do children play with many things that roll along the floor, but they also play with messy things like paints, clay and Mommy's nail polish."

Don't let a small space rain on your playroom parade. Add a mirror to create the illusion of space. Lighting can be a breeze as well. Overhead lights that are already built into the space, daylight and some indirect light are all you need. Grab an old lamp from the garage and paint it to match the new scheme. It's a great way to personalize the space and an inexpensive alternative to a custom child-themed lamp.

4. Have a spot for Mom or Dad

Last but not least, don't forget that even in a kids' space, parents need a little room. Make sure there's a comfortable place for you to sit and supervise your children and to have the materials at hand you'll need for the space.

-- ARA

Decorating Tip: Incorporate new trends in 2010

Paula Berberian, creative services manager for Brewster Home Fashions, offers the following tips on what trends will be popular this spring:

- Colors: Pantone recently selected the color turquoise as the 2010 color of the year. Complement it with “hot-chocolate brown,” different shades of green or metallics.

- Patterns: Move toward simpler designs such as circle motifs and medallions.

- Furniture: Vintage furniture will be popular as a way to add unique personality while at the same time recycling items that already exist.

- Walls: Accent walls, or decorating only one of four walls, will continue to be a simple way to add a focal point to a room.

Home-selling Tip: Avoid bright paint colors

Painting is a great investment if you plan to sell because it’s inexpensive and you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. An off-white color will help your rooms appear bright and spacious.

-- www.realestateabc.com

How To: Stay safe when using portable ladders

These safety tips can help prevent injuries when using ladders:

- Inspect the ladder before use. A damaged side rail or lock may cause one side of a ladder to give way.

- Set it up properly. Use the 1:4 rule when leaning a ladder against a wall or other vertical surface: Position the base 1 foot away for every 4 feet of height.

- Do not try reaching so far that you lose your balance; move the ladder.

- Do not stand on the ladder’s top three rungs.

- Ladders used to reach a walking surface or roof must extend at least 3 feet above that surface.

-- University of Missouri Extension

Did You Know …

The Web site www.call2recycle.org can help you find a nearby rechargeable battery and cell phone recycling location.

Garden Guide: Scientists confirm leaf-burn cause

Scientists in Hungary have confirmed what has long been a fact for gardeners: Watering in the midday sun can lead to burnt plants.

The researchers found that water droplets that adhere to some plants can focus sunlight and lead to burnt leaves. Water droplets on a smooth surface, such as maple or ginkgo leaves, cannot cause leaf burn. However, floating fern leaves, which have small wax hairs, are susceptible to leaf burn.

The hairs can hold the water droplets in focus above the leaf's surface, acting as a magnifying glass.

Backyard Buddies

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is holding a contest to find unique ways birds are surviving in your community this winter.

Whatever the weather, go outside and look for signs of survival in your neighborhood. Can you find well-insulated nests? A special hiding spot protected from the elements? A bird that doesn’t seem to mind some snow?

Take a photo, create some artwork, shoot video, write a story or a poem, or create a sculpture.

E-mail your entry to urbanbirds@cornell.edu. For full details of the contest, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration/challenge.

GateHouse News Service