Sandra Nunnerley on interior design | Home Front

Sandra Nunnerley
Jan 22, 2015

New Zealand-born interior designer Sandra Nunnerley lives in New York City, where she runs her design studio specializing in high-end residential projects.

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How to display and decorate with art in your home is a subject many of us have questions about. New York designer Sandra Nunnerley is here with us today to share her wide experience with art and decorating. The author of  the fascinating and beautifully photographed book "Interiors", Nunnerley was born in New Zealand and has designed homes all over the world. So let's start chatting.

Good morning everyone.

We've got a guide to building a succulent terrarium this week. They're cute, fun and not hard to make yourself.

And don't forget to email if you want to take part in House Calls. We're always looking for designers and rooms.

Thank you for taking my question. My house has a double story foyer with a center staircase. The floors and stair treads are a stained dark brown (Provencial stain) oak. The banister is also oak and the pickets and stair tread backs are painted white(like the rest of the trim in our home). The foyer is painted BM Manchester tan and we have a lot of shades of blue(mostly navy), beige and chocolate furnishings. The house is a colonial but my décor is a bit transitional. I'd love your thoughts on painting the banister (what color would look good if we do paint it) and also a recommendation for a carpet runner for the stairs.

Hello .. I always stain the banister the same color as the floor, in your case the dark brown.  For carpet runners, look for a great stripe carpet in your colors of tan and blue.  I love a stripe carpet on stairs to add a bit of punch and bronze stair rods with a simple ball finial to dress the stair beautifully.

Marsala? What are people thinking about this choice?

We have seen a lot of pros and cons on social media about this Marsala choice. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of dusky burgundy. What about you?

Hi, Jura-- I'm looking for colorful stair runner sources priced between big box & bespoke. Also, what skill level is needed for a polished DIY stair runner installation (there are cute Pins out there!)?

What a great question. I am not a DIY person so I would never try to install a stair runner myself. For security, you need to make sure you know what you are doing as you don't want to trip on carpet going down the stairs! One suggestion I have is only buy nylon carpeting for stairs - wool will wear out sooner, especially with lots of pets and kids in the house or lots of traffic in general. One place lots of designers go for stair carpeting is Carpet Palace in Bethesda where you can get remnants for discounted prices.


My home has an room designated for office use for my husband side job. We really don't have any art up. We have an Ocean blue wall color- any suggestions on art pieces to use? How about photos? Black and White versus Color?

You are definitely on track!  We use black and white photos all the time in a range of price points.  There are some inexpensive sources on line for fashion photographs and if you want to put a collection together, the auction houses all have Photography sales.  My motto is "see see see" go to museums and galleries and see what is out there.  Even look for "art walks" where artists in your area open up there studios for visitors.

We recently did an installation for a client with a great photography collection and we combined color and black and white -- don't limit yourself.

What is the best way to match up frames and other elements of artworks to build a gallery wall?

We always lay all the pieces out on the floor and take a photo so you can view it upright and edit as needed.  There are also great temporary wall hooks that are great to use if you are unsure.  

I like to find interesting juxtapositions within the work -- different genres and periods make for an interesting and personal wall.  It should be a reflection of your taste and style.  

When is it a wise idea to use photos as Art and when would be best not to use it?

There are no rules, as I mentioned before, you want your walls to be a personal reflection of yourself.  Mix it up!

Hello: We're looking for new window treatments. Due to the high number of windows in our home, we would like to try to limit our costs. Any suggestions for favorite places where we should check? Our style is MCM/transitional...thanks.

There are so many great catalog companies today online -- Room and Board -- Smith and Noble are two that come to mind.  Good luck!

This would have been a better question for the chat two weeks ago ... I know I should have done this at the beginning of the season, but it was only when I was putting away Christmas decorations that I looked critically at the large collection of holiday "stuff," some of which is brand new (those foolish post-holiday deep-discount purchases) and much of which has not been used in 10 years or more. Is there any charity that will happily take this stuff now? The Habitat ReStore, for example, refuses to take Christmas decorations most of the year. Will I have to store it until November? I live in Germantown.

I think that many venues will accept Christmas decorations at any time of year. And good for you for editing what you have - I know that each year, I secretly get rid of a few things and hope nobody notices. I think many places such as the Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop at 6101 Georgia Ave NW take donations all times of the year and don't have restrictions. Also try Goodwill and Salvation Army or church thrift shops.

I'm always daunted by hanging art. How can I get over that fear?

I always encourage clients to think about how to display works.  For example, I like to mix different kinds of art such as tribal or fold art and sculpture with more everyday objects like books or whimsical things with no particular value.  This allows the eye to make new and unexpected discoveries.  I also think many people are afraid to use coulour on their walls for fear of how it will interact with the art, when in fact art hanging on lacquered cherry red walls or moss green wall can be stunning.

Try not to over think it!

Do you travel a lot, and what design tips have you pulled from the different places you've been?

For me travel is very important.  You never know what you will find or when you will see something in a new way.  I often discover new artist or modes of expression that are not as well known at home.  Right now I'm loving the LA-based Japanese-American artist Kaz Oshiro.  I have one of his pieces in my living room -- which you can see in my book Interiors.

In the book I write about my travels and the inspiration I've found while travelling.  

Any recommendations on where to buy affordable original art in the DC area? Do the local colleges have student shows?

Look for "art walks" or studio visits in your area where artists open up their studios to the public.  I don't personally know the art schools in DC but it is a very good idea to look up student shows.  I know Philadelphia has been attracting a lot of artists from NY as the studio space is more affordable.  

What are some of your favorite art pieces to put in a baby or toddler room?

There are so many options out there today -- we love to use Serena and Lily for their art prints.  Color is great to use in a toddlers room and children react so well to color.

We always love to collect a few of the childrens drawings and crafts and group those together and display.  Chalkboard paint with magnets is always a fun idea for the children to have a bit of self-expression in their space.

Children's rooms are one of our favorite spaces -- there are many in my book.

Have fun with it!

If prints count, I find art in local galleries, street festivals, holiday's everywhere. What's really great is being able to talk to the artists themselves about their work.

Yes. Very good point.

Sorry if this is a duplicate – my original disappeared before I was finished. Looking for advice on a color/pattern for a (probably vinyl or linoleum) floor that would not call attention to itself, go with the room, and not show dirt. We and our two dogs practically live in the kitchen, a large room in a 1918 farmhouse with southwest and northeast facing windows (lots of natural light from the southwest), off-white walls, medium-dark oak cabinets, and a colorful Italian ceramic table. Thanks.

We love using porcelain tiles for a kitchen.  They are very durable and available in many price ranges and colors.  

The great thing about using porcelain is you can put radiant heat underneath with is such a great affordable luxury.

How does one get started?  How did you get started in collecting?

I chose earth tones for our house in town and happy colors like cream, ocean blue and coral for our condo at the beach. Now we are having a new house built at the beach and the builder will paint the walls and trim Alabaster by Sherwin Williams. I am thinking of making a big change and sticking with the off-white walls, bringing color in with furniture, art and accessories. Do you think a color lover can make this big a change and be happy with it? (My husband is dubious.)

You don't have to paint the entire rooms one color but think about doing an accent wall here and there.  Luis Barragan is a great inspiration -- one of the great 20th Century architects from Mexico -- he is a color master.

Go for it!

I've discovered terrific artists at Mid-City Artists events -- It's a weekend of open studios and artists homes (Dupont, U St., 14th St. environs) often in the spring and/or fall.

Thank you for this. Will have to check it out.

Hi there! Curious if you have any experience with services/software that allow you to make your own prints/artwork? Appreciate any insights!

Flavor Paper is a great source for original and custom prints.  You can blow them up to any size and they provide the wall mounting hardware.

We recently used them for a boys room at the beach for a huge print of a wave and surfer.

There are also many image rights sources online where you can purchase rights to an image for not a lot of money and have it printed.  We recently found a fantastic David Hockney image available online!


Can I paint my interior row house black with white accents? I don't want a red door. What other door colors would you suggest?

I was just in Singapore and saw the distinctive black and white Colonial houses.  I love your idea!  I was so inspired and have been thinking about incorporating it into a project.

Do a web search and I'm sure you will see how stunning and inspirational they are.

We are painting our orange brick fireplace white. It will be surrounded by white bookcases with color insets. We do not know if we should go crisp with a white mantle, or go with a mid brown tone wood mantle (something looking a bit reclaimed). The room is a family room in the basement so it is not formal. We selected a black mission style screen. We also need to decide about art above the mantle or a large mirror. Help!

I think I would go with a white mantel or something in natural wood that you picked up at an antiques shop or flea market. Something with a bit of patina and age. I like mirrors above a fireplace, especially in a basement. It will sparkle and reflect light and make the space look larger.

Thanks for being with us today and sharing your knowledge of interiors and art. Lots of great ideas for all of us. Thanks everyone for joining us.

It was so much fun being here and answering all the great questions.  Thank you!!

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Sandra Nunnerley
New Zealand-born interior designer Sandra Nunnerley lives in New York City, where she runs her design studio specializing in high-end residential projects.
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