COURTESY STEPHANIE PONTES Stephanie Pontes and her fiancé, Nino Zangari, recently completed several home improvement projects, like painting their deck and creating a cabana under it. With most everyday activities and routines temporarily shut down, the Striffolinos are finally getting back to the planned upgrades they have wanted to make over the past several years. They went online, filled up their Pinterest boards and found cost-friendly ways to get the looks they wanted starting with the yard. MIDDLETOWN – Fiveyears ago, Kate and RichStriffolino moved into ahouse in the Fairview sectionof Middletown with plans torenovate the space and makeit their dream home. While working on the yard, the couple decided to start a blog to document the evolution of their home. The goal is to make a loving, colorful and creative space for their family, said Kate. “Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, after watching hours of home renovation shows with unlimited budgets, we decided to focus on what we do have,” she said. However, that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic began. And they are not the only ones finding now to be a perfect time to start overdue renovations and projects. “We had an interesting fenced-in area of our yard we lovingly referred to as the corral,” Kate said sarcastically. Rich took down the fencing and repurposed it into garden boxes. They then created a stone patio, put in two small koi ponds, planted more landscaping and added an arbor. They also opted for outdoor solar lighting, which creates “beautiful Mandali-like lighting at night around our home,” she said. But the “most important part” of the journey, Kate said, has been teaching their 4 and 6-year-old boys to “jump in” to new ideas and skills, even if it means trial and error. “When I look back at my parents, who were very self-motivated and did most of their own work around my childhood home, it comes down to trial and error,” she said. “How do you grow a perfect garden? Do you spend hours on the internet researching, or does it come down to this concept of ‘we will see’ ” what happens? And Port Monmouth native Matthew Hetherington decided now would be a great time to add a creative flair to his living room. After moving out of his childhood home this fall, he finally organize his video gaming equipment in his new home. What was recently a chaotic pile of tangled wires and controllers is now stacked in a row of cubicles, separating individual gaming systems and controllers, said Hetherington. And she’s very happywith the result, she said. “If I didn’t have the free time due to quarantine, I wouldn’t have that space in my brain to be more creative,” she said. “In the last year or two between renovating and moving in, I really didn’t have the time to dedicate to it.” “There are such talented women decorating their houses that just make you want to hop on Amazon and get the supplies,” she said. By Allison Perrine The Striffolinos are justone family of many in thetownship and beyond whoare taking this time to beproductive around thehouse. Here are some oftheir stories and ideas. Sheri Nocelli had been wanting to give her Lincroft home a makeover for about five years, but she didn’t get to do it until this week. She started by painting her kitchen, which she said was a “huge undertaking” and overdue. She also cleaned out her closets, wallpapered them, organized them and turned them into closets you would see on Pinterest, she joked. But she found her inspiration on another social media site: Instagram. The article originally appeared in the May 7th – May 13th, 2020 print edition of The Two River Times. He also decided to put LED lights on the top of the shelves, giving each shelf its own color. Red lights surround his Nintendo systems, blue lights around his PlayStation Ones and so on. “Everything is nice, organized and easy to find,” said Hetherington. “It’s also just nicer to look at,” he added with a laugh. Stephanie Pontes and her fiancé bought a foreclosed home in Belford two years ago, knowing that they would have some fixing up to do. Luckily, several of her family members are in construction plus, she knows her way around a how-to YouTube video. With the pandemic freeing up their time, the two used inspiration from homes in the Hamptons, New York, to build a cabana under their deck and a firepit from slate, as well as paint their deck and porch, and landscape their front yard. Pontes also decided to “borrow” white rocks from her sister’s mountainside home to adorn her driveway. But the couple had twoyoung boys, full-time jobsand a small budget, so thoseplans had to be tucked awayfor awhile. “I almost don’t know if I can enjoy it yet,” Pontes said, fearing she might mess it up almost like having to get into a beautifully made bed, she joked.