Designer Annie Elliott on paint, wallpaper and the color of the year | Home Front

Feb 14, 2013

Annie Elliott, chief executive and principal designer at Bossy Color, is a local expert in color, residential space planning and interior design. She chatted with readers about paint colors, wallpaper, accent walls and more.

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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Great day to welcome Washington designer Annie Elliott, owner of Bossy Color. We must ask her where her company got that name! Annie has a great talent for paint colors and knows tons of interesting wallpaper patterns. Ask her about furniture arranging and lighting. By the way, great lighting story in Local Living today by Lindsey M. Roberts. Check it out here. Meanwhile, let's see what Annie has to say.

Hello, everybody! It's such a pleasure to be with you on this sunny Valentine's Day. Thank you, Jura, for inviting me to participate. 

There are rooms in my house that have ceiling lights but those lights do not provide enough illumination. Should I have trac lighting installed or use floor lamps?

Floor and table lamps, definitely. Track lighting has come a long way since the '80s, but non-overhead light is more flattering. Try Shades of Light - they have some terrific fixtures for good prices.

What's the best way to light a living room that does not have overhead lights?

Yep - same answer. Floor and table lamps, stat.

Any ideas for paint color for a small powder room? Something bright and cheery for a small space -- but not too overwhelming?

I have the best paint color: wallpaper! Honestly, if you can't go a little crazy in the powder room, where CAN you? Kitschy, floral, geometric - whatever strikes your fancy.

Dear Annie; I love blue ceilings -- especially on exteriors in porches -- what is your favorite blue? My is Farrow & Ball Skylight. What other colours do you recommend for ceilings? Thanks Eve

Hi, Eve! I agree - a blue ceiling can be gorgeous (and I love Skylight!). It helps if the blue has a little aqua in it so that it doesn't go gray or purple on the ceiling. Try Sherwin Williams' SW 6770, Bubble. Good luck!

Help! we have a house whose interior colors are tan with white trim. the kitchen has white cabinets w silver appliances. The granite countertops are cream with black, olive and burgandy specks. our problem is the soffit in the kitchen, the privious owner painted the wall portion a deep red and added country style wall paper - we hate the wall paper. with all the tan and white in the house we want to add some color but we are nervous to make the jump.

Oh, ICK! :) You know I love wallpaper, but the phrase, "country style" makes me nervous. I can't give you a great answer without seeing your space, but it doesn't sound like this is the place for color. I agree that the wallpaper should come down, and I recommend painting the soffit the tan wall color. Hope this helps!

I imagine that you have to urge your clients to take more design risks and trust you and your judgment now and then. Are there any tips you would like to share for how to collaborate with a client who is bossy and / or very resistant to change?

Oh dear. Charge more? :) It's tough to make an indecisive person more decisive. As a designer, I would limit the options I present, and then really spend time helping them envision each one. Some folks just need to take things one step at a time. (Re: the bossy part, w/ me in the room, there's more than enough bossy!)

I'm planning to re-do the upstairs bath in my 1837 New England cape house. The bathroom is tiny (and will remain so). I'd love advice on flooring options that will suit the character of the house and stand the test of time. Perhaps tile?

Yes to tile, although wood is probably more historically accurate. Try marble 1" hexagonal tiles. They're timeless!

What's your go-to, always-reliable white paint for walls?

Benjamin Moore's Super White is a terrific white. But if you mean OFF-white, or ivory, try Ben Moore's Linen White or Ivory Tusk, which is more yellow. Good luck!

I am in the process of remodeling my diningroom and need a new paint color. Previously it was painted a dark burgundy, top to bottom with the exception of the chair rail, crown molding, and ceiling (antique white). The problem is the furniture (large diningroom table and china cabinet) is a white-washed oak and the hardwood floors are natural honey-oak finish. I want something lighter than the previous burgundy walls, but want to keep the chair rail molding; I also prefer to keep the ceiling white. Any suggestions for a new, lighter wall color that will accent the furniture and go with the oak flooring? I am open to a new area rug color, too, to tie it all in. Surrounding rooms include a hallway (antique white walls) and a kitchen that is wallpapered in beiges. Thanks!

Have I confessed that burgundy makes my teeth itch? I had a professor who said it was his favorite color...we were doomed from the start. ANYway, this is bold, but how about  light black? It will make your oak furniture look fresh. Check out Benjamin Moore's HC-166 Kendall Charcoal - and put it above AND below the chair rail, please. Go to Pinterest and search black dining room to summon your courage! Good luck!

Can you offer advice for coordinating rugs in a combined L-shaped living and dining room? I'd like to put one rug under my dining room table and another in the living room area.

Why don't you try using the exact same rug in both areas? Or you could do a neutral sisal (or polypropylene sisal - more durable) in the dining area and a colorful, patterned rug in the other. Good luck!

Where can I buy 2 medium brown leather chairs, that have foot rests and aren't too awfully expensive?

Here is who I would check out: Haverty's, Belfort, Bo Concept, Arhaus, Macys, Bloomingdale's and Ethan Allen.

I have cathedral ceilings that are 23 feet at the peak and is at a 45 degree slope. Should I continue all white? If I go with a color should I keep the ceiling white. I have very little white trim in the room. Carpet is gray. Should I do gray on the walls. Should it be the same as the carpet or should I go darker? Is sage green an option?

Hi! Sage green isn't the green of the moment, so let's take that off the table :) Let's keep the color light, and I'd wrap the same color on the walls and the ceiling. Light gray would be pretty, but wouldn't you rather do a color? A super light green rather than sage?

Why do general contractors want to use Sherwin Williams , rather than BW or other Consumer Reports highly rated paints? The contractor says there is no difference, that colors can be matched exactly and no one can see the difference once on the wall. Besides the expense, does it matter? What do you recommend for bathrooms?

Harsh truth: they want to use SW because it's less expensive than Ben Moore. Stand firm. I like Ben Moore's Aura for bathrooms, in the scrubbable matte finish.

We are converting guest room to husband's home office. It's a small room without much natural light. Can you recommend a warm grey for the walls? we will still use this room on occasion for guests, so would you squeeze a sleeper sofa I to the space or buy a frame for an air mattress?

I definitely would find a comfortable sleeper sofa. It makes guests feel so much more welcome than putting in an air mattress. You can also lounge on the sofa with a laptop. As for a warm gray, I like Martha Stewart's Bedford Gray as well as Benjamin Moore's Sandy Hook Gray.

Can a kitchen backsplash just be painted or is that a missed opportunity? If tile is the way to go, is ivory or white crackled subway tile classic, or a trend that thinks it's classic?

Hi! Definitely you can paint your backsplash! In fact, if your counter wraps up the wall about 4", you SHOULD paint; tile can look goofy in that case. Re: the tile, ivory or white crackle are fine, but why don't you look at some sizes other than the ubiquitous 3 x 6? 1 x 2, 2 x 6, 4 x 12...

In last week's chat, someone asked about US marble sources. Georgia has white marble quarries, since before the Civil War and still producing. This stuff is beautiful and long wearing. I know this because our family uses it for grave markers--a full length slab that lives in the weather of a Southern cemetery. None of the markers have damage.

That's fascinating! Thanks so much for that info.

Hi Annie! Thanks for taking paint color questions! I have an accrent wall behind a huge and expressive yellow (mostly) abstract painting in BMoore CSP Oil Cloth. This is an l shaped living/dining room, and the yellow painting wall anchors where the dining table is. WHAT should the rest of the room be??? Driving myself crazy with that now for 2 years: it's a North facing room with ranch windows on three sides--- so yes, it goes all North light cold, BUT it's got a lot of light coming in. On cloudy days the light goes VERY flat--- and I am afraid to paint the surrounding walls a light gray--- Like Going to the Chapel (BMoore 1527) because I think it will be too "cold" in there on cloudy days. Should I try a WARM greige, but LIGHT (because of the warmth issue I thought this would be good).What would that color be???? As soon as I see "off white" paint chips I can't tell the colors apart anymore...

Great question - tricky sitch you've got there. You're right to avoid "off-white," which will likely be yellowish. How about Ben Moore's Super White, which I mentioned earlier? Greige seems like a good idea, but don't go too tan. You definitely should do samples - start w/ Sherwin Wms' SW 7014 Elder White. Best of luck!

Hello! We have a 40 + year old home. In our small master bath, we have tile from the floor, up about 2/3 of the wall. It is white with beige flecks. We have to keep it for the foreseeable future. The rest is covered in hideous wallpaper, which we are removing. I want suggestions on paint colors. I like dove gray, turquoise, yellow, purple shades. I want something that is easy to decorate around. I HATE BEIGE everywhere! We moved into what is basically a beige box. BLECH!!!!!!!! Where there was not hideous wallpaper, it was beige. Please help! The room has a window on one wall. Our only other light is from a fixture above the sink. It's a Jack & Jill bathroom. The room it connects to is used as our home office and Mommy's "Mom Cave" not as a bedroom. Thanks for your help. I appreciate it!

Purple would work - go darker than you'd expect to make that tile feel fresher. Test Behr's 680F-5 Plum Swirl. PROMISE me you'll test!

Can you tell us why you named your company Bossy Color? Are you bossy?

I love that question :) My younger brother actually came up w/ the name; I was "Annie Elliott Interiors" for the first year or so, and then I mentioned that I needed to get a website up. He guffawed - guffawed! - and said, "What's the address going to be - w-w-w-bossy-color-dot-com?" I thought it was so funny that I had to use it. And I'm NOT that bossy in real life; I think of the "bossy" as helping my clients make tough decisions. Thanks for the question!

What do you suggest for those of us with Ikea addictions, who might be afraid to try the next step? Cost and decorating safety are strong pulls to the ginormous blue store, after all. Not to mention the meatballs. So what is a timid decorator to do? And if one happens to live off in the Northwest wheat fields, it only compounds the problem.

Ikea addictions - sing it! Nothing wrong w/ a little Ikea now and then. I suggest moving up slowly, and ordering (because you'll have to order in the wheat fields, won't you?) from well-known, national brands such as Crate & Barrel. Their customer service is usually better than the small guys'. Good luck w/ branching out! Be brave!

Hi Annie, I was kind of surprised to see in some publication or blog - I don't remember which - that the color of 2013 is a very bright Emerald Green. I can't imagine living with that on the walls. How would you use it?

Such a great question. You CAN put it on the walls (if you're me), but I agree that it could be difficult to live w/ in large quantities. Try it in small doses: pillows, picture frames, other decorative objects, or lamps. Yyou can always use another lamp, I promise - and 2 matching green lamps flanking your sofa? Fabulous!, 

Hi to you all!! I love blinds since they control light. Are mini blinds out? If so, what type of blind is fashionable today??

Mini blinds seem flimsy compared to the wider width shades that are being used all over the place today. I really like the one inch wood or faux wood blind. Have you considered shutters? They are also classic and can control light.

How sorry are we going to be that we've devoted two bedrooms to a soft gray and one accent wall in another bedroom to a deep, mocha-y gray?

Not sorry! Gray is a neutral; trendy or not, it will be around for a while. If all that gray is making you sad, though, paint both rooms yellow immediately.

We are converting guest room to husband's home office. It's a small room without much natural light. Can you recommend a warm grey for the walls? we will still use this room on occasion for guests, so would you squeeze a sleeper sofa I to the space or buy a frame for an air mattress?

Sleeper sofas have come a long way, so I would consider one if it will fit. A great contemporary one is the Twilight from Design Within Reach. Re: warm gray, Benjamin Moore's HC-172 Revere Pewter hasn't failed me yet. Good luck!

Love these chats, and have learned so much about paint color as a result, thank you! I know this can be a controversial topic, but: I want to paint my red brick house. After several additions there are now three slightly varying shades and styles of mortar between the brick - and, I live in a area of cottage style houses in Atlanta and many are charming painted brick. That's for selling the idea, but I have not been able to find much information on what paint to use, how to apply it, etc. Also, I'd like help with a color - I'd like a pale neutral cream, and, if it matters, the houses on either side are grey. Suggestions? I've seen some houses done recently here with sprayed-on color, and it looks thin and cheap - my house is 60+ years old and I want that older thick paint look.

So glad you like these chats! I am NOT an expert on applying exterior paint colors, but cream sounds terrific. Drive around your neighborhood, and if you see a paint job that looks good to you, slip a note under the door asking who they used to paint. I'm a big believer in asking.

Because we have a two-bedroom apartment, we had to combine the office and guestroom. I also tend to find sofa beds uncomfortable, and a pain to open and close. I found an inexpensive daybed and a trundle for underneath, as well as mattresses for both. Now the room (comfortably!) sleeps two, but on other occasions the daybed makes a comfortable and cozy little reading nook. Viva la daybed!

Indeed! As I mentioned earlier, I think sofabeds have come a long way, but it sounds like you've found a solution that really works for you! Thanks for writing in.

What do you think about using tin squares (sort of Victorian/Edwardian looking) as a backsplash? We have a traditional Colonial style house (built in 1984, not authentic Colonial), granite countertops in shades of brown, cream, and black, and oak cabinets. There isn't a lot of space between the countertops and the bottom of the upper cabinets, but I want to do something. Prefer something other than tile because a) the granite does have that 4" thing against the wall, and b) I hang things like decorative measuring spoons and my knife rack on a section of open wall space. Would tin work? Any other ideas?

Hmmm...I like the idea, but how big are the squares? If they're 12" square and a normal backsplash is 18" (and if you have that 4" counter backsplash already), it might look a bit odd. But can you get smaller tiles? If so, I think that could be very interesting. If you do it, will you let me know how it turned out?

I am painting a dresser to put in my very neutral living room. I would like to use BM Newberg Green and as a contrast color BM Hemlock. What do you think? Thanks!

You had me scrambling for my fan decks! It sounds FANTASTIC! Good for you!

We're trying to sell our house. The dining and living rooms have bold red carpet and the walls are very plain white. The room needs painting prior to selling. Is a white the way to go or is there a neutral you suggest to calm the red down?

Well, you could go for a sort of Oscar/Academy Awards look with silver and black... Red carpeting is a very bold element to deal with. I assume that there is not hardwood flooring underneath that you could uncover. If you have to keep the red, I might consider a sort of khaki wall color that wouldn't make the contrast so much as bright white would with red. Maybe Benjamin Moore's Creamy White or Muslin. Meanwhile, make the most of your red backdrop for tonight's Valentine's Day celebrations...

All the homes in magazines look uncluttered, serene and gorgeous. My home is FILLED with chargers, docks and computer wires everywhere. Can you suggest some solutions?

Ah, modern life. I suggest consolidating: have ONE docking station in the kitchen (on a shelf or in a cabinet w/ a plug, if that's possible), ONE on the credenza in your home office...just embrace the problem by plugging in a power strip and keeping the electronics in one place. It sounds like the overall clutter is what's driving you nuts. (And magazines are NOT real life, - please remember that!)

Hello fabulous Annie! I have a basement from the '50s with recessed scary light. Should I just put floor lamps all over the place. Plus a scary paper cork ceiling. Any suggestions? Thanks! Anne

How can I ignore a question that starts like that?! Is the scary paper cork ceiling a fire hazard? If so, please do what you need to do to fix/replace (a good investment if ever there was one), but otherwise, yes: floor and table lamps. Good luck, Anne!

With 7 windows in a family room it gets very bright so I want to put up some type of window treatment. They are 23 w x 63 L. Also there is a French door to patio. Any help for curtains, etc?

Wow - that sounds fabulous! I'm a fan of straight, ring-top curtains that you can just whoosh open in the morning and whoosh closed at night. They're modern, clean-lined...and the fabric adds warmth to a glass-heavy room. 

Annie - How did you decide to become an interior designer? I am interested in know your career path.

Hi! I like to say that I'm a recovering art historian. I have a master's degree in art history, so my first career was in museums (on the administrative side). I think I always wanted to be a designer, but I didn't know any, and I didn't know how one went about it. So while I was working at the Smithsonian, I started taking some night classes at the Corcoran to see if this would be the right field for me. It was :) I spread the word among friends that I was considering a change, and people started asking me for help. "I'm moving - can you help w/ paint colors?" "We're remodeling - can you work w/ our architect?" It was a very organic beginning. 

Hi, Annie. I did my kitchen floor in 1990--12" square ceramic tiles of alternating light colors, set on the diagonal, with moderately wide grout. It's now time to replace my cabinets (style will be traditional wood). I'd love to save money by keeping the floor (I don't need to change the floor for floor plan purposes), but I wonder if the floor is dated.

Personally, I'm a sucker for a checkerboard floor. If it's in good shape and you still like it, keep it!

Just a note about sleep sofas: I recently bought an AMAZING sleep sofa from Creative Classics in Alexandria. My daughter (bad back) says the mattress is extremely comfy. And there are small room-friendly sizes.

Thank you for mentioning that! I actually have Creative Classics in Alexandria on my list of stores to visit. I think that Sanity Fair blogger Skyla Freeman mentioned that store to me when I did an article about her fab 425-square-foot apartment on Capitol Hill. They specialize in pieces for small spaces, such as the historic rowhouses in Old Town Alexandria.

Kitchen colors. I have white cabinets and need new countertops (thinking granite) and new floor (can't decide wood or tile). Can the walls & floor be dark and the counters light? Or should counters be dark with softer shades on walls & flloor? I get afternnon light and the kitchen is in the center of the house (open to family room , off dining room & living room.

I recommend dark floors and dark countertops, light cabinets and walls. There's more than one right answer here, but that's one solution! Good luck!

Hello Annie, I hope you can help me. I would like to change the paint of my living room. Can you suggest a nuetral color that would go well with dark wood furniture? I want to make the room appear lighter. The room is small and would like to know what tricks to make a room look more spaceous. Thanks.

Hi! Tricks to make a room appear larger: a bigger rug (counterintuitive, I know!), a mirror to bounce the light, and plenty of floor and table lamps. Don't feel you have to go w/ a neutral; any light color will make the room feel large. I just painted my DR Farrow & Ball's #22 Light Blue, which goes from blue to gray. It's lovely - and looks great w/ our dark wood furniture. Thanks for the question!

Would a one shot consultation with a decorator be the best way to go? I would love to have a real decorator's opinion but I probably can't afford many sessions. Do you go to the decorator's office or does he come to your home?

The Washington Chapter of ASID contacted me after the last chat to assure me that they are having their Spring Spruce up event on March 20 this year. Check their website for the details coming soon, but you are able to get a designer to come to your house for a couple of hours at a special rate to introduce you to the design process. In this case, they would come to your home and advise you on your particular issues and questions.

This chat is so timely for me! I'm in the middle of painting my kitchen trim and plan to hire a painter to do the walls, which are currently covered in very old and peeling wallpaper. My husband thinks you can paint over wallpaper. I know our painter did that in one room before, but this wallpaper is in very bad condition, so I disagree. One of my husband's concerns is that he thinks there could be toxic chemicals under the wallpaper. What's your advice? I have a related question about the colors: I'm using Benjamin Moore "cameo white" for the trim and "flowering herbs" for the walls. The cabinets/counters/floor are all basically cream colored. Does this sound okay? Thank you!

Hi! You should NOT paint over WP if it's already peeling. No way, no how. Strip it all off and then paint. As for potentially toxic chemicals, I just don't know...anyone out there know about that? The colors sound ok - just make sure the Cameo looks good w/ the cream.

Why not just get a quote for something less dramatic and include that as a buyer incentive? No matter what you do, the buyers will probably prefer something else, so let them know up front that they can take the money and do what they want anyway?

Good idea.

I have tin squares as the backsplash in my kitchen. They're plastic ones from Home Depot or Lowes or some such place (came with the house), but you can't tell unless you touch them. I love them and visitors are always impressed.


The company that makes them suggests choosing from the patterns that have 6" squares for just the reason that you mention: the large squares would end up with too much cut off. The physical squares are larger, but the pattern within the squares is 6" (four 6" stamped blocks to a 12" square tile, in other words).


I've just had a porch screened in... but the floor is still old. want to do a rug with mosquito netting underneath to prevent any random bugs from coming up through the floor. Rug suggestions? sisel? in/door outdoor? thanks.

Definitely indoor/outdoor. Sisal would mold and not withstand the dampness. There are such great indoor/outdoor rugs out there - just saw some nice ones at Pottery Barn.

Hi Annie. Thanks for taking my question! My living room faces north and we have a very large maple tree in the front yard. We have a large bay window that gets a fair amount of light in the winter (although it's still much darker than the south-facing rooms), by the time the tree leafs out, the room gets pretty dim. We had originally painted the room a warm khaki color in the winter, which worked great, but come spring, the room turned dreary. I then experimented with a bold, yellow/orange color to liven up the space, but with all my warm accessories, it just doesn't work. So, now I'm looking to re-paint with a cool color, probably a blue-green to tie in colors from my rug. I just wasn't sure how saturated I should go. Do you have suggestions? Thanks again for taking my question!

Hi! I also have a north-facing LR, so I've struggled w/ this issue. I don't think you necessarily need to avoid saturated colors in a dark room; you just need to make sure you have enough lights to brighten the space when necessary. That said, a light blue sounds lovely - but please make sure it has enough aqua in it to stay blue and not go gray. I've had really good luck w/ Benjamin Moore's 2052-70 Ice Blue. Good luck!

Where did the earlier chatter find the daybed? I'm looking for a nice, SIMPLE daybed.

Can you help?

Hi Annie, I'm looking to re-paint my kitchen and adjoining living room. Both are informal spaces and my plan is to keep them informal, as my home does not have a first floor "family room" per se. I live in Southern Maryland and haven't been able to locate someone who does color/design consultation's. I've thought about giving the on-line tools offered by paint manufacturer's, that allow for the upload of actual room pictures. Do you have any advice for me? Thanks in advance, Michelle S.

Hi, Michelle! Hmmm - you should be able to find a color consultant in your area. Did you ask at the paint store? Try that, and check the ASID website. But in the meantime, go ahead and try those nifty online tools, but you'll still have to test colors before choosing one. Please don't skip that step!

I did this a few years ago, and it's actually pretty easy. First, you MUST powerwash the entire house. Don't worry if you hit it too hard in spots, because you're painting. Then apply a first coat of primer, preferably something thick (I used Sherwin-Williams, so there) before your main coat. Another thing that will help is to have the primer tinted a slightly lighter version of the final color, so you'll be able to cover and track your progress easily. Also, Home Depot has a telescoping roller with a really ergonomic handle for about $30, and you'll thank me for suggesting it. Took me about three days total, including drying time after the power wash, and cost less than $400 all in. Piece of cake.

Thank you!

I'm in a new TH with open plan, and lost about paint. I'm used to coordinating, complementary colors for neighboring rooms and my furniture/rugs etc. How can I still do that in an open plan? Cannot find one color that works everywhere (e,g, kitchen is light green, open to family room where I think that will feel cold).

Open plans can be a challenge, can't they? This actually may be a case for "the accent wall," with which I have a tortured relationship. You'd do a white, warm gray or beige throughout, and then you can define different areas with accent walls. I just wrote about this on my blog, and search Pinterest for specific examples. Good luck with this!

Annie - you rock! What a fabulous chat with so much great information and paint tips and other wisdom. I loved having you on and thank you for answering so many questions candidly. My favorite comment you made today: "Burgundy makes my teeth itch." I am with you girl! You should write a book with that as the title. Anyway, we are done for today, great questions everyone. Next week on the Home Front chat we have Georgetown art gallery owner Susan Calloway talking about art, framing and choosing artworks for your rooms. Meanwhile, have a wonderful Valentine's Day everyone!

I'm sorry I couldn't get to every one of your questions! Thank you, Jura, and thanks everyone for writing in. Good luck with all of your decorating and remodeling projects, and again, Happy Valentine's Day! 

In This Chat
Annie Elliott
Designer Annie Elliott, chief executive and principal designer at Bossy Color, is an expert in color and residential space planning. Her interior design firm has been serving Washington area residents since 2004.
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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