It's almost peak season out there.
No, we're not talking sports, theater or -- heaven knows -- network television. We're talking fall, that beautiful, bountiful season that is Western New York's last reprieve before winter settles down around our ears.
Summer may be this area's best-kept weather secret, but our brilliant autumns could rival New England's. And fall's timing couldn't be better: just when we're roundly weary of summer's wilting heat and humidity, we feel a fresh, crisp edge in the air.
Fall is a season of transition; change is everywhere. Brand new apples, pumpkins and winter squash dominate the farmer's markets; goodbye (and good riddance) to poor old zucchini. Dinner is once again served on a plate, instead of on a bun. Out with bathing suits and sun tea; in with cozy sweaters and fresh-pressed cider.
We pay more attention to our homes in autumn, as we shift indoors. Now we'll look for ways to pump warmth and color into neutral decor that seemed perfect during summer's high heat, but feels cold and barren now.
Fall is also the ideal time for preventative home maintenance, before winter has a chance to turn a small problem (like a few loose shingles) into a big homeowner's headache (like a leak that ruins a living room wall).
To help us make the switch to cold weather, we asked local home experts to share their hottest tips, both practical and prettifying. (The contributor of each suggestion is listed in parentheses after his or her comment.)
We promise that you don't need to be Bob Vila or Martha Stewart to use these great ideas in your home. Try a few; we think you'll see that getting ready for fall and winter in Western New York can be as easy as apple pie.
Enjoying beautiful autumn -- indoors
Floral: You're moving indoors, so bring some of nature's beauty inside with you. Pull rich fall tones into your rooms with one or two dried (or silk) floral arrangements. (Rod Nash of the Cottage, an interior design store in East Aurora.)
Harvest: You aren't going to redecorate completely each season, but you can enjoy lush fall colors by filling bowls and baskets with gourds and squashes. Or try sticking some twigs with brightly colored berries into a crock. (Joanne Parsons, Joanne Parsons Interior Design in Orchard Park)
Scent: A big part of a home's "feel" is how it smells. Use potpourri or candles in heady pumpkin, cinnamon or apple scents. (Rod Nash)
Afghans and big, fluffy throws in fall colors, like mustard, pumpkin and sage, are perfect for snuggling under while reading or dreaming by the fire. Toss one over the back or arm of a chair. Target, T.J. Maxx and Marshall's are three stores that are great for these accessories. (Alyssa Anthone, interior designer at Interior Makeovers: Redecorate With What You Have, a Snyder company.)
Magazines: Fill a honey-colored basket with appealing magazines and plunk it on the fireplace hearth or next to a cozy chair. It says, "We're inside more, we're reading more." (Rod Nash, Joanne Parsons)
Pillows: Bring fall colors into your home by changing pillows on sofas and chairs. Try darker shades of reds, oranges and rusts. Or pick up on a huge trend affordably by adding some pillows in elegant chenille or velvet. (Alyssa Anthone)
Area rugs: When you change the centerpieces and pillows, also change the area rug. (Alyssa Anthone)
Paint: Just one wall in a deep, rich fall color, perhaps adding a faux finish. Or paint or stencil the ceiling to bring the ceiling down visually and cast some of the ceiling tone onto the walls. (Alyssa Anthone)
Shelves: If you have built-in shelves, remove everything and paint the back wall (or add fabric) in a gorgeous fall shade. Afterward, don't merely replace the same books and curios. Go through your home for objects you love and use some of them, especially if they are seasonal. (Alyssa Anthone)
Dining room: Putting rich, fall-colored fabric on your dining room chairs is an economical way to enjoy the season without changing the whole room. (Alyssa Anthone)
Fireplaces: Become a focal point in the room during cooler weather. Even if not in use, it should be swept, set and ready. The mantel gives a room real presence; try decorating it seasonally, with fall gourds and candles. (Alyssa Anthone)
Art: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has an art rental program that is reasonably priced. Dedicate space in your home to original art, and rotate it seasonally. (Alyssa Anthone)
An ounce of autumn prevention
Furnace: change furnace filters, and have a professional vacuum the unit. Don't try vacuuming it yourself; there are delicate wires that can be displaced. (Sam James, the owner of House Wizard, an Amherst handyman's service)
Storm doors: Most newer storm doors can be adjusted to make sure the drafts are staying out. Or caulk around door and windows, wherever you feel a draft. (Sam James)
Outside faucets and drains: Turn off outside faucets and bleed the lines to ward off damage from freezing. Make sure drains in garage, porch or driveway aren't clogged.
Roof: Replace loose or missing shingles, to help ward off ice problems this winter. (Sam James)
Air conditioners: Put plastic covers over them, whether they are widow units or standard outside condensers. (Sam James)
Siding: Whether aluminum or vinyl siding, stained or painted wood, or brick, get the outside of the house pressure-washed every two to three years. Fall is the ideal time because it washes off summer's oxidation and last winter's build-up. (David Martin, owner of Advanced Restoration Systems, a North Tonawanda patio and deck restoration company)
Decks: Should be cleaned and restained. Most people choose spring for this routine maintenance, but fall is better, because snow and acid rain make winter the toughest season for decks. (David Martin)
Concrete driveways: Seal standard white concrete with water repellent before road salt from cars and plows pits the concrete and breaks it down. New concrete should be sealed every year for four years; after that, it can be done every two to three years. (David Martin)
Gutters: Particularly in wet fall weather, it's vital that the gutters are clear of debris. Overflowing gutters are the No. 1 cause of foundation failure. (Dick Young, Young Waterproofing in Cheektowaga)
Downspouts: Do a hose test to make sure it's not overflowing and plugged up. Make sure all downspout conductors are at least 10 feet from the house. (Dick Young)
Basement: Western New York soil is largely clay, and in hot, dry weather -- like this past summer -- clay settles and sinks. Your foundation sinks with the clay soil, causing basement walls to crack, and these cracks may leak when the wet weather comes. Inspect your basement for new cracks and call a waterproofing professional if you see any. (Dick Young)
Fireplace: Have it inspected yearly, checking the flue, smoke chamber and chimney for safety and cleanliness. To avoid this maintenance (usually around $80) is to risk a possible chimney fire, home damage and maybe even loss of life. (Frank Laurich, owner of American Fireplace of Clarence Center)
Carbon monoxide detector: If you don't have one, get one. Heating season is the time when most CO2 tragedies happen. The best ones are electric, with a battery backup. Mount it next to the heat register that's closest to the furnace; that's the heaviest concentration of CO2. (Frank Laurich)
Windows: We've moved beyond ordinary storm windows. There are new kinds of glass that block almost all UV rays, prevent fabric fading, and are equivalent in insulating capability to six inches of fiberglass. Check with a window specialist or log-on to one of these Web sites: www.southwall.com, www.energystar.gov, www.softlitewindows.com. (Bob Gerow, Dee Gee Windows and Siding of Hamburg)