By Susan Zevon
On the leafy street where I grew up, spring brought blazing forsythia and a canopy of fresh green blooms. But for me, the season never truly arrived until the afternoon I would come home from school to find our apartment transformed.
My mother and our housekeeper would work all day stripping the windows of draperies, installing screens, polishing wood floors and furnishings, and covering the sofa and chairs in crisp green and white chintz. These were the days before air conditioning, yet even on a hot summer day that apartment seemed cool.
Today, few households boast a full set of summer slipcovers, but there are easy and inexpensive ways to refresh your home for spring.
It starts with the ancient ritual of spring cleaning.
“Spring cleaning has been a part of history for thousands of years, and it is often integrated into the religious practice of cleansing the home prior to a spring festival,” housewares designer Rosanna Bowles writes in her recently published Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010).
In Atlanta, Ga., where the summers are long and hot and there is a tradition of gracious decorating and entertaining, designer Suzanne Kasler transformed a client’s home for spring with a set of white cotton duck slipcovers, and a complete set of oriental rugs in a lighter palette than the deeper-toned rugs they replaced over sisal carpet.
In her own home, Kasler does not have a summer set of furnishings. She welcomes the season by cleaning, paring down and changing accessories. She advises clients to do the same.
“New books on the coffee table, a change of accessories and a few fresh flowers can make a huge difference,” she said. She finds the color blue, “a water color,” especially cooling.
Spring is a good time to experiment, said Stan Williams, author of The Elegant Thrifter blog spot and The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
“Move the furniture around, change the direction of the rug, reevaluate your window treatments for the change in light, take down the drapes and roll up the rugs,” he advised.
“Thrift shop finds give you the liberty to experiment,” Williams believes. “Buy a piece, experiment and if you don’t like it you can donate it back and take the tax deduction.”
You might try moving indoor furniture outside, and vice versa. Williams suggests transforming old pieces: creating a tiered plant stand out of an old dresser, covering old wingback chairs in white vinyl for a cool and contemporary look, painting an old table with bold black and white.
Bowles suggests putting a piece of furniture in storage to open up a room.
She also likes to temporarily replace accessories that are dark and seem wintry with ones that provide fresh, light accents. Set the table with pastel dishes and fresh flowers.
Other ways to renew your home for spring without spending a lot of money, she said, include letting in the light (except at noon) and, when the sun sets, opening drapes and windows to let in fresh air.
Clear the kitchen and bathrooms, counters and all, of clutter.
Lighten the bedding, using 100 percent cotton sheets and blankets when possible.
And when going through those closets and cabinets, donate what you no longer like or need to a thrift shop or charity, or sell it. Open up your home and life to the possibility of change signaled each year by the arrival of spring.
Cleaning the house for spring, step by step
Spring-cleaning tips, adapted from Erin Bried’s How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew (Ballantine Books, 2009):
Step 1: Schedule the spring cleaning (to get into the proper mindset). Have all of the proper supplies on hand and set aside plenty of time.
Step 2: Make a checklist, room by room, of what needs to be cleaned. In each room, dust every surface, wipe down dirty walls and doors, vacuum and/or mop, steam clean rugs if necessary, wash light fixtures, remove and clean drapes or blinds, beat cushions, rugs, pillows and mats (outside), and clean windows inside and out.
Step 3: Room-by-room specialty tasks:
Kitchen: Wipe out fridge, defrost and wipe out freezer, clean oven, organize pantry and drawers.
Bedroom: Flip and rotate mattress, change bedding, wash pillows (if washable), swap out winter clothes for summer clothes (donate anything no longer worn).
Bathroom: Besides the usual cleaning of toilet, shower, sink and counter, clean out the medicine cabinet and drawers.
Home office: Remove books from shelves and dust; wipe down computers; organize important papers.
Step 4: Prioritize tasks. If you have helpers, delegate tasks. If not, make sure you can finish what you start to avoid bigger messes. — AP