The Washington Post

Michael Roberson on interior design | Home Front

Jan 23, 2014

If you follow Washington designers, you’ve seen photos of her work in the pages of Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Washingtonian, Home and Design, and the Washington Post, to name a few. The Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers awarded her “Designer of Distinction,” and when the Washington Design Hall of Fame was established in 2003, Michael became an inaugural inductee. She has made significant contributions to the greater D.C. design industry and the many charities championed by show houses and special events in Washington.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Good morning everyone. What a nice thing to do on a cold snowy about what I love to do.

Welcome to interior designer Michael Roberson, who is with us today from chilly, snowy Arlington. Michael is one of the Washington area's most prolific designers and her work has appeared in House Beautiful, Traditional Home and many other publications. She has been part of many showhouses and is known for her modern forms and love of neutrals. Michael is a longtime resident of Arlington and she can talk about some of the shops that I wrote about today in this article -Destination Design: Arlington. Meanwhile, is anyone having furnace/pipe issues in this cold? Came home last night to a 53 degree house and furnace dead. My trusty repairman drove in from West Virginia - 80 miles - and got there at 11:30 to find the pipe on my furnace-attached humidifier frozen, since it drains into the outside drain of the house. When it froze up - it signaled a problem to the furnace which shut it down. He got the furnace on in a minute, and told us he had made four calls for the same issue yesterday. So be warned: turn off your humidifier in intense cold if it drains outdoors. Also, in one of my bathrooms, the cold water won't run so I may have a frozen pipe. Have cranked up the heat, have a plumber coming this afternoon and am praying to the ice gods. Any advice for me?

I've grown tired of my white and beige and tan furniture. I don't want to purchase new furniture or reupholster because of the costs, but thought I could add color to the walls. What paint colors would you suggest?

Painting the walls is an option but given your pale pallet I would use a soft color that flatters you on the walls and then use a more intense color on pillows and accessories

Have been in our house for 12 years. Kids are 11 and 8. Initial theme was pre-school havoc and hand me downs. We want to overhaul and make the house a more desirable environment -- still family oriented, but new everything. We have a sense of what we're looking for, but have never embarked on this kind of project before. We need help and are ready to spend some money within reason, but don't know where to start.

You could call the referral service I mentioned before , ASID DC chapter 202-488-4100 . Also, Elle Decor magazine has a designer directory you can access online. This can be great fun for you.

I want to paint my bedroom a Benjamin Moore gray with an accent wall in yellow. The room has a large window and gets morning and afternoon light. The room is currently painted yellow. Should I stay with yellow or go with gray? What color gray? What color yellow for the accent wall?

Unless the architecture is very modern or the wall has a very clear separation, I'm leary of accent walls. Instead, why not use grey on the bedding or a painted piece of furniture? To find a grey that complements your yellow take a sample of the yellow with you to the paint store and find a grey that compliments it. Then use that sample to select fabrics.

I've long needed to seek help from a designer for my condo, primarily kitchen and bathroom, but I'm self-conscious of my small space (500 sq ft) and relatively modest budget. I have the impression that designers prefer either commercial business or huge houses and budgets and would laugh me off the phone if I tried. First, am I right? Second, are there any special resources for finding design help for my situation (that AREN'T do-it-yourself)? Thanks!

The DC chapter of ASID has a wonderful referral service. You can call 202-488-4100 and tell them what your goals and budget are and they will give you several designers to call. There are designers who work on modest budgets and are very talented 


I'm planning to re-do the upstairs bath in my house. The bathroom is tiny (and will remain so). I'd love advice on flooring options that will the test of time. Tile? Thanks

Tile is always the best option in a bath. There are lots of options available to you. In a small bath I would suggest using either a small scale tile  of 1" or so or use a 12" sq. stone tile. One creates a pattern and the other could expand the sense of space. I wouldn't use anything too bold or patterned. 

Is there a good way to stop ice from forming on windows in this cold?

I'm afraid the only answer is new windows that are insulated...or storm windows. I've lived with those frosted windows in the past and can imagine yours today.

Can a kitchen back splash just be painted or should I go with tile?

I think tha'ts a budget thing. Paint is affordable and could be fun. There are many options for a backsplash: tile, stone, stainless steel and some fabulous glass panel options as well as mirror.

I've inherited some mid-century modern iconic chairs that need reupholstering. Since these have very specific lines, what reupholsters in the D.C. Area do you recommend who have experience with these? (I've picked the fabric already.)

Cannon Upholstery in Bethesda would do a nice job. Some Mid-Century furniture, from mfg. like Knoll, that have moulded forms require a specific process and you may need to contact the mfg. for help. Good luck, sounds like you have some nice family treasure.

How did you get the name Michael as a girl? I have always wondered?

My mother named me that (and my father must have agreed) but she has never really given me an answer!

What type of blind or curtain is fashionable today? Does it depend on the style of window?

Fashionable isn't really a word I like to use when it comes to interiors. You don't want to keep going in and out of style. You're correct that the choice does depend on the style of window, also the function of the window covering. Is it privacy or to filter light or decorative? Deciding that can help you find the right thing.

Can you recommend a pretty light paint color for a baby boy's room? Blue is a fine option but the room needs to grow with the child, or may be converted someday for another use.

What about Benjamin Moore Blue Angel or Benjamin Moore Bird's Egg.?

We have cats that occasionally scratch the furniture. Nothing terrible, but enough that I'm a bit worried about the new sofa arriving at our home next week. Do you have any suggestions for aesthetically pleasing ways to protect armrests, etc?Ccovering them with packing tape or aluminum foil doesn't go with our look :)

I had the same problem. I bought the special double sided clear tape at the pet store and put it over the arms of the sofa down to the floor. It works pretty well. You don't have to leave it on forever. Meanwhile, put a nice scratching post in the room next to the new sofa and sprinkle some catnip on it. Good luck!

For plumbing fixtures on outside walls, my friends in Pittsburgh recommend opening the cabinet doors to let the warm air in!

Yes. Great idea. There is no cabinet under this tiny sink in my guest bathroom, unfortunately. But this tip is great for kitchens and  other bathrooms. You can't be too careful!

Seriously, why is it that color schemes that have white plus one other color look sooo good? Example 1: white plus blue. Example 2: white plus green. Example 3: white plus chocolate.

Well, those color schemes have a crispness to them. The contrast is dramatic and they always make a statement. Rooms with complimentary colors are less dramatic but lovely in a different way. Any well designed room is lovely ,and hopefully, suits the personality of the occupants.

Thoughts on a good place to find affordable danish mid-century lounge chairs? (you know the ones - solid wood frame with a separate cushion for the back and butt).

Try Modern Mobler, 7313 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC. A fun place to visit.

I'm at a loss as to what to put on my walls. They've been painted, but there is no art hanging up. I will do a couple of wedding photos, and have one or two unique art pieces, but not enough to fill a home. I'm not a fan of mass-produced artwork--I want my pieces to have a story. However, I don't have the funds available to buy one-of-a-kind pieces. Help? Where could I look for one- (or two-) of-a-kind pieces?

If what you have  are all about the same size I would hand them together as a grouping. I would also find a wonderful Large mirror to purchase and place on an important wall. Mirrors do a great deal more than reflect your image. The bring light and motion into a room. It isn't important to have something on every wall, blank walls are also nice. Most of all it sounds as if you are just married, congratulations, and will have a lifetime to acquire art that you love.

What's your favorite historic house to visit in Washington? i want to go to some places on the winter weekends.

Gunston Hall just outside of DC is wonderful. Not a grand house but one very reflective of the time. While you're in VA. you could also explore Woodlawn  Plantation which also has a Frank LloydWright house on the grounds. DC of course has too many houses for me to pick one!

Try 20x200 online. Affordable, limited prints.


Student art sales are a great place to get original art at good prices. I don't worry about value, e.g., what could I sell this for in 20 years, but just buy what I like. Check out the Corcoran school, MICA (in Baltimore), and Glen Echo.

Good thoughts. Thanks.

I'm thinking about replacing my old linoleum kitchen flooring. I have kids and pets. Where to start?

Definitely not wood as it scratches too easily. Cork is a wonderful option. The tiles are sealed and very easy to take care of. You also might consider Marmoleum. The modern version of my grandmothers linoleum floor. It comes in great colors and is very"green'. It's biodegradable, made of natural  materials and doesn't off-gas anything.

We have a two-bedroom apartment and have to use a guest room as an office. What do you suggest we use for a bed -- a pull out couch? A day bed? A futon?

If you have the room, I might opt out for a daybed. While sofa beds have improved they will never be as comfortable long term. A daybed with bolsters and pillows would be great seating and sleeping.

I like neutrals but just looked around and realized I need some color pops! What do you recommend with a palette of brown, ivory, taupe, beige?

What about Robin's Egg blue and a little Coral? 


I've found the Feliway spray is pretty effective at keeping my cats from scratching furniture and rugs. I reapply every 6 months or so. Be careful with light colored furniture, tho, it might stain.

Great idea. Thank you.

Question for Michael - did you always know you wanted to be a designer, or did something happen that triggered you to want to go in that direction?

Life is interesting. When I was 7 yr.s old I won the Scholastic Art competion in Houston with a lino print of rabbits. Tha got me a schlorship to the museumof fine arts school. At 16 I realized I wasn't going to be a great artist, just a good one, and changed my focus. But, that art training formed the basis of my sucess as a designer. Thank you for asking

Great chat and lots of good decorating advice. Thank you so much, Michael, for being online with us. Good luck in the cold everyone and please join me next week, same time. I will have certified professional organizer Scott Roewer discussing getting rid of stuff and organizing what's left - a very favorite topic.

I've enjoyed chatting with you all.

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.

• Home Q&A archive
Michael Roberson
If you follow Washington designers, you’ve seen photos of her work in the pages of Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Washingtonian, Home and Design, and the Washington Post, to name a few. The Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers awarded her “Designer of Distinction," and when the Washington Design Hall of Fame was established in 2003, Michael became an inaugural inductee. She has made significant contributions to the greater D.C. design industry and the many charities championed by show houses and special events in Washington.
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