Home Front: Design advice from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza

Feb 17, 2011

Chris Plantan, founder and creative director of the russell+hazel lifestyle brand, chatted with Washington Post Local Living section writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

Today we are here to answer your questions about organizing your papers and we have a great chat guest Chris Plantan. Chris founded Russell & Hazel, a brand that has brought new style and color to the plain manila world of home offices. This long weekend ahead is a great time to get motivated. So let's get going.

You can find today's Local Living cover story on how to get your files organized, here.

Ms. Plantan, I have seen a few of your organizational products at Target, and thought they were well-designed, thoughtful and attractive. However, there were only a couple of items available on the shelf, so I looked them up on the internet hoping to order online. Alas! It seems that is not possible. Where will I be able to find the complete line of products?

Good Morning! The collection of products you found at Target were part of an exclusive line that was designed for Target. So it is difficult for us to know what stores still have inventory. The best way to find our full collection of products is to visit the website or call our flagship store @ 952 279 1360. Our store manager will know where and/how to direct you to what you need.

I really enjoyed today's article on filing. However, my problem is a trunk full of sentimental papers I've been saving most of my life. How in the world can I organize this? I can't picture what I want the end result to look like so I am having a hard time setting up the steps to get started. Did you address these sorts of papers in that article you wrote on organizing your attic a few years ago? Thanks for your help!

Don't despair...there is away to save sentimental papers until you are ready to either pass them along or throw. Use a letter sized or a drawing sized box, big enough for 11x17 papers, and either label them by year, or by person and/or project. Check the specifications on the box construction to determine if you need ligne free and/or acid free. You can separate the pieces into categories by slipping sheets of tissue paper between or by putting them into sleeves. All items can be found at art supply stores. These boxes can be displayed on a book shelf or tucked away in a closet.

I am inspired to organize my linen closet. The top shelf goes way up to the ceiling, behnd the doorway molding. I am looking for some sort of shelf system to maximize use of that space. Right now it is just a tall stack of things that go 3 feet up and there is no organization to it. Any ideas? Also thinking of painting inside closet a pale blue - prettiness can be inspirational.

Organizing a linen closet is very satisfying. First of all, take everything out of it. Painting it a fun color such as pale blue is a great idea. You can also buy attractive shelf paper. Would you consider adding another shelf or would it be too hard to access? Container store sells clear plastic shelf organizers that work for sweaters or sheets. These might help you keep your piles in check. Have fun.

surprised you did not address those receipt scanners, or the use of computer scanners to capture, save and file paperwork. wrestling with the piles seems so 1993. scanned docs. can be quickly files and annotated - taxes, SAT scores, grandma's medical bills - and backed up for rock solid retention. are you aware of these means?

Yes. I didn't have time to go into as many of the filing solutions as I would have liked. But thanks for bringing those up.

Hi- thanks for taking my question. I would like to paint the interior of my very small walking closet- any suggestions? Right now I am drawn to a light pink or bubble gum (the closet system is white). I want something fun that won't add cast a lot of color onto the clothes. Thank you!

The interior of a closet is the perfect space to have fun with. I say go with whatever color (or even wallpaper) you love. It will make you happy everytime you open the door.

Chris & Jura: Thanks for your story on organization. I am planning to spend time this weekend organizing our home office. Do you have recommendations for how to store photos? I inherited a lot of photos from my parents (not all of them are great quality) and I'm paralyzed over where to begin with them. Thanks!

I  wrote an article last year on June 24 on organizing photos that you can find here. Creating a digital archive is the way to go  since we have so many photos in shoe boxes hidden away. The professional organizer I wrote about used something called www.scanmyphotos.com. Good luck.

You can also find archival storage boxes through library suppliers, such as Gaylord and Brodart.

Thank you good tip.

My favorite thing for sorting and storing papers is a storage cart from Homedecorators.com like this one. The drawers are just deep enough to keep a year's worth of statements, tax stuff, and receipts, as well as labels and what-not for the printer. At tax time, I sort through the statements and shred things I no longer need like quarterly reports, then file the rest.

Thats a nice looking organizer.

I need a color suggestion for a front door. My house faces south. Painted brick - pale gray/taupe. Black shutters and roof is very dark gray/almost black. Would like a blue front door. Any color suggestions? Am open to variety of shades. Thanks

I think a robin's egg blue would look nice with your existing palette.  Take a look at Benjamin Moore's Bird's Egg. For a darker blue, try Blue Ground by Farrow & ball.

We just finished off our basement, which is very small, about the size of a two-car garage. The primary function is now an exercise room, but we also include storage in a closet built under the stairs, with lots of shelving. I plan on storing holiday decorations, some china and crystal, etc., possibly some other things. Is it ok to store paper (i.e., family photos, documents, etc) in a basement? It is on the same heating and cooling system as the rest of the house, and we don't have any problems with excessive humidity or dampness.

It should be okay. You should keep everything in a basement in plastic containers to make sure moisture does not get in.

Love the chats! I am looking for attractive storage for paper items in my small rowhome? I've looked at Container Store, Target, and while they have nice flat boxes for vital records and kids artwork, what seems to be missing is larger storage for items like health insurance explanations of benefits, bank statements, retirement statements, tax statements--all that stuff that accumulates monthly and yearly. At this point, it has gobbled up an entire dresser, and it's just not a sustainable filing "system." Also, I've heard conflicting information on how long to keep that stuff--do you have any thoughts on when it's safe to toss old papers, or is there a resource I can refer to? Thanks!!

Good Morning! Long term storage is a challenge. But there are ways to effectively manage the problem. I would invest in a file cabinet....you can find traditional formats at office supply stores or retro fit a dresser or other piece of furniture. If you only reference the documents yearly, I consider that long term storage.....think wardrobe. File away. If you need access to the documents or manuals more frequently, I would consider that seasonal and have it accessible. They can be housed in file folders, binders and letter sorters. Magazine collectors are another great format for containing annual reports and/or user manuals. These can be stored in book cases and you have effectively hidden them.  Other than scanning, I hope this helps.

turquoise for a front door color!

And we love you for it....

Seems like a great opportunity to take advantage of those random paint cans that are marked down at Lowes. The returns, wrong colors.

If you like surprises...

Good morning ladies. I'm remodeling my reach-in master bedroom closet with new paint, lighting and an Elfa closet system. Can you recommend a subtle lavender paint color for inside the closet? I prefer BM colors. The walls of my bedroom are painted in BM manchester tan but this might change. I recall an article from a couple of years ago where designers named their favorite lavender paint colors. Can you post that article? Thanks.

We'll post the story in a minute, but here are some colors to consider in the meantime:

Misty Lilac by Ben Moore

Breathtaking by Dron

Idyllic by C2

In 2007, Terri wrote a fabulous article on the color lavender. You can find that story here.

What I can do with clothes that are too old/ugly to give to charitable organizations? I live in MoCo if it makes a difference!

Dare I say throw them out? If they are that old and that ugly and worn out, I think it's disrespectful to try and pawn them off for someone to wear. I'm sure there will be others of you out there that will say donate them, but the thrift shops only sell clothes that are saleable and I don't think your old worn out tee shirts are really wanted by anyone.

Office Depot and Staples carry a wide variety of file storage boxes, made of cardboard or plastic. Some of the plastic ones accept the hanging folders, and all of them stack neatly in your closet.

Yes. I have several of these in my attic.

Chris, I've browsed the Russell & Hazel website and love your office style. I'm a bit of a girly girl, and a sucker for trendy accessories like the stuff from Paper Source. I work with mostly men, though, and it's hard enough to get taken seriously without the floral sticky-notes. Your company manages to strike a balance between chic and professional. Any tips for how to achieve this on a regular basis for us shoppers?

Good Morning! Ahhh....the challenges of personal expression. Think wardrobe. If you are concerned about being taken seriously, start with the basics and layer the color, pattern and accessories. We offer basic black and white binders but you can add some color and style with post-it notes, fun pens and pencils and certainly in your choice of notebooks. If you have to have the basics on the outside, consider the inside of your notebook like the inside of your jacket or purse and draw all the girly notes you want...they shouldn't look inside!

Hello ladies ~ I have a sage green bedroom. I'd like to paint the wall behind the bed a royal blue color. Something thoughtful and peaceful yet happy. Suggestions?

Wondering why are going for royal blue? I do like Danube by Sherwin Williams.

You can cut them up and make them rags for cleaning.

You could,but how many rags do you need?

I've finally gotten the go-ahead to paint the dated paneling on two walls in the basement. My question is what color to go with? It's considered the Man Cave and we primarily use it to watch tv and movies on the big screen. One wall has been painted Stadium Red. One wall that connects to the hallway and staircase has been painted a Kilz colorcalled Tahini. I'd like to paint the remaining walls a chocolate brown, but everyone thinks that it will be too dark. My response to them is that it's a basement without windows and therefore will always be dark. My DH is fine with a dark brown, but am I making a huge mistake? Should I just continue with the Tahini?

You may not like my answer, but I think you should forget about the dark brown AND paint all the walls the same color - that goes for the red wall, too. I would either continue the hallway color into the room or pick another, lighter color that goes with it. Tanhini sounds like it's a beige, so anything should work. Though, chocolate brown sounds too dark and four walls of stadium red sounds like it would be way too much. Any other colors you like?



Are there any musicians out there? I would love ideas for organizing sheet music in a way that doesn't hurt the music (page sizes are not standard, unfortunately) but allows me to find it easily. A filing cabinet doesn't seem to work for me.

Wow. This is a great question. Any ideas out there?

Like many others between the first of the year and tax-filing time, we're trying to purge paper files, so I was excited to see your article today. However, it would be really helpful to have some guidance on digitizing much of the stuff that occupies so much of our home space. We considered a much-advertised scanner with built-in software for digitizing, organizing, and filing various documents but were discouraged by negative reviews. How about some guidance on this in the future for us organizational and technically challenged?

Good Morning! You are not alone in your questioning whether to digitize, save or throw. It really depends on your comfort level with technology and ability to retrieve the information if necessary. I would consider "practicing" on files that are older and determine if it is a practical method for you. What are you going to do for classification? How will you organize the documents? I do believe there is a future for this and consider this a great alternative for documents that you will not need to access to for years. Hope this helps!

I have a city apartmemt with no outdoor space, but I've always wanted a hammock. Are there hammocks I could buy for inside use?

I think any outdoor hammock would work fine indoors, if you have the space. But, you could also do a quick Google search for "indoor hammock," and you'll get lots of hits.

Good morning! These chats always put me in the mood to conquer one of those tasks I've been putting off. With the long weekend coming up, I'd like to clean out my basement. I remember an article or series in the Post one of you did on an attic. You went through furniture and dishes, papers, collectibles, etc. This is my situation, too. Could you post a link to guide me through my weekend adventure? Thanks a lot!

Happy to help. We'll ask Megan to post a link to our attic story series.

They, at one time, sold the really unsellable stuff to manufacturers who shred them into rags or something. I'd ask my local Goodwill, because it's possible they still want anything, as long as they can sell it to the rag manufacturer. I read an article in the WaPo about it a loooong time ago.

Check out www.goodwill.org for donation guidelines.

This Web page has links to the Salvation Army's valuation guide for used clothing, furniture, etc. that you donate. And you are correct that charities don't want damaged clothing or broken furniture.

Thanks for this. I know some places will sell faded stretched out ugly ripped tee shirts for salvage. But I really feel those kinds of things should be thrown out and aren't worth wasting time on.

Could you suggest some warm gray colors for a bedroom with high ceilings and two skylights? I tried various shades of blue thinking I would bring in some of the outside blue sky into the room, but I don't like how they look. I thought a warm gray would allow me to preserve the light airy feel to the room, and I could use color in other ways (comforter, pillows, etc.). The room has an iron sleigh bed and light colored furniture (Ethan Allen).

I don't think I like the idea of gray walls with your light wood furniture. would you consider a warm green? would like pretty with the blue from the skylights.

The Montgomery County Recycling Center off Route 355 and Shady Grove road takes clothing, textiles and shoes for recycling. Just Google the site and the county Web page exlains how to do it.

Thank you for this idea.

Here's our 11-part series on attic organization: Meet My Attic.

Hey Chris! I'm a total stationary buff. I love anything monogrammed, personalized, and sometimes probably go overboard. What are some good rules of thumb for sending out files, resumes, or cards with your own name/initials? Is embossing a thing of the past? I don't want to seem ostentatious or full of myself, I just love personalized paper goods!

Good Morning! I love your passion for stationery and personalization. I would recommend you consider the "detail" of the monogram and determine whether it is appropriate for social situations or business. Consider "from the desk of"  for business use or a simple monogram. For your own personal stationery....go for the gusto and have fun. 

I'm looking for new bedding to go with my chocolate covered fabric platform bed. I can't seem to find what I'm looking for in the department stores. Do you have any suggestions as to where to look? I have also considered having a custom coverlet or duvet made, but I do not want to spend a fortune on the fabric.

Diane von Furstenberg has just unveiled a new linen collection at Bloomingdale's. I saw it in the New York windows last weekend. Check the website. She has amazing duvets and her colors are bold and wonderful.

Hi, I really enjoy your chats and am always interested in the paint suggestions that you make. We are repainting our son's room who is 9. We went to the Benjamin Moore stand at White Flint Mall and was overwhelmed by all the paint chips. Really, how does one make the best choice?? I know paint color is personal preference, but where to start? We are leaning toward blue for a room that gets morning sun. Thanks!

Look in your son's bedroom. is there something in there that has a shade of blue you and your son like? If so, start from there. I would include your son in the process so he feels like it's his project, too, and can take some ownership in the end result.  Maybe you could pick out five shades of blue that you like for his room, then have him pick the shade (from that five) that he likes best.

Depending on the fabric, sometimes animal shelters will use them for cloths or for animal bedding.

This is an excellent suggestion. I completely forgot about this option. I know they can especially use old towels.

For the person trying to save old sentimental papers, I use a large plastic bin with hanging legal sized folders. I have one folder per year (for one year, I have two folders because there's too much) and just toss stuff in there. I do need to go back and organize it at some point, but it keeps it neat, protected from bugs and moisture in the basement and relatively dust free. They also make large legal sized plastic accordian folders now that would do the same. I find this easier to access stuff than the suggested box with linen/tissue between layers.

Wonder what happened in that one year that you had to use two folders!  Anyway, I agree that keeping the stuff in files this way is better than stacking it in a box if you do access it. I have family archives files in my attic and someday I do have to go through them and sort out what's really important to hand down to the next generation and what should be tossed.

Do you all have favorite thrift/antique stores you frequent in the broader Wash DC area? I'm familiar with several in my Falls Church/Alexandria live/work zone, but would love others, esp those with reasonable furniture prices and <45 min drive. In particular, I'm looking for a vintage/antique secretary desk that needs a little TLC, and would love to pay around $300-400 for it, if that helps with my definition of "reasonable". While I love Craigslist, I love browsing shops for other things too. Thanks!

Sounds like you need to visit some of the barns I wrote about in last week's cover story. Lots of old and new pieces of furniture at affordable prices. fun places to shop, too. And, you're in luck: they are all having sales next weekend. One of them: Chartreuse & Co., in Frederick,  will be open this weekend, too.

Just one caveat about painting walk-in closets: If you have a large walk-in closet that you also get dressed in,  make sure that you have a good light source for both day and night. If you don't, then definitely do not paint with anything darker than a pastel shade as it will make things difficult. Second, if you have a mirror in there, make sure NOT to paint the wall opposite the mirror a strong color or it will make it harder to decide on colors when dressing. I have a friend who picked a color she loved and found that the color behind her when looking in the mirror made selecting outfits harder.

Good points. thanks.

Any good suggestions on how to deal with the mountain of papers that come home from school in my elementary school kids' backpacks. Mixed in with all the graded papers, ads for fundraisers there is always some important permission slip etc. How do you keep track of all of this? I feel so overwhelmed and unsure of what to keep ( graded papers for a year?). I wish for the days when schools go mostly online!

Good Morning.

I had the same problem during my children's school years. What to do with the lunch menus, the school permission forms, the cute drawings and the report cards. So I used the binder system. Each child had a binder for each year. We still have them. In the front of the binder I had all the school contact information, immunization records, etc. Then used tabbed dividers. Some of the art work and small pieces had to be put in page protectors, but it seemed to work for us. We had them accessible for babysitters and grandparents as well. It is still fun to look back on ALL of them. 

your credit card company keeps all your receipts electronically stored, so if you want to review one or even make a return, you can call them and they can retrieve it for you. So you no longer need to save receipts! Also, intensive organizing sessions require a bottle of vodka. A small bottle in your filing cabinet is worth its weight in gold.


I have tried the duvet/duvet cover thing for several years now and I just never got used to it. Sure, its nice that duvet covers can be cleaned easily, but I hate how they feel. Now I just want to go back to a plain old comfortor - but they all seem to be made for dorm rooms and don't seem high quality. Any place I should be looking? I've checked BB&B, Macys (they only have theirs online) and a few other places. Thanks!

Overstock.com often has good ones. Also try Restoration Hardware, Room & Board, Company Store, Garnet Hill and Bloomingdale's.

We need to move the coffee table frequently in our small and multi-purpose living room and so want to replace it with one that is lighter in weight, but all of the ones I've seen are too heavy for easy moving. I've tried Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel. Do you have any other ideas?

I would try West Elm, CB2, Arhaus, Room & Board, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Ethan Allen.

Chris, are you looking for any designers at the moment? If so, how should one approach the situation?

Good Morning,

We are always looking for designer to add to our talent base.

It is best to send your resume and portfolio link to our design studio @ info@russellandhazel.com


Okay, could you suggest several warm green colors, then? Thanks!

Some places to start:

Seedling, Mineral and Greige by C2

Fresh Dew, Hancock Green and Colony Green: Ben Moore

Waterscape, Slow Green and Bonsai Tint by Duron


Make sure you have good light, enough space, ample trash bags/boxes and make sure you're wearing comfy clothes. Oh, and the bottle of vodka isn't a half bad idea either.

I could only do one or two hours at a time. Then I got a back ache. Maybe I needed the vodka.

This question is for Ms. Plantan: I'm remodeling my home and am adding a home office (SO EXCITING). I'm obsessed with blogs like The Selby that show famous people's home offices, the rooms are always so interesting. How do I give my own home office that artistic, funky look without it looking cheap or forced?

Good Morning! Yes, how exciting. I think what is most interesting about the offices and design spaces that you see on The Selby, is that you can actually "see" the person reflected in their office/work environment. Look for large work surfaces in which you can layer with books, found objects and your favorite things. Floor to ceiling book cases are great for storage and provide a wonderful canvas for self-expression. 

I am anxious to hear/see what you come up with!


Hi. My husband works from home and we don't have a room that can be a dedicated space for an office. He usually works in front of the tv. I have tried baskets, mobile filing cabinets, etc., but can't find anything to keep the laptop accessories, printer stuff, and all the other supplies that accumulates in that room neat. Any suggestions?

How about a bookshelf stocked with books, baskets and the printer? If you have one with doors, put the printer behind the doors. The shelf doesn't have to be in the same room with the TV, just close enough that it's convenient.

Hi I'm looking for a sturdy square table with 2 chairs for my grandkids to use when they visit. I've checked out pottery barn, but didn't want to pay $200 for a set. Do you have any ideas for other places to look for a set which would not "self destruct" in a few years. Quality is a real issue with furniture these days, and I've been looking in thrift stores for an older set but haven't run across any.

I know I offer this suggestion all the time, but it's a great place to find good-quality furniture at great prices: Craigslist. 

Some communities have textile recycling events (Falls Church does), often coinciding with Earth Day, I'd encourage the poster to find a way to recycle the clothes rather than sending them to the landfill. Some items may make good comfort cloths for animal shelters or vet hospitals. Or put them on freecycle -- maybe some crafters can user them for quilts and such.

I fear that many of these items would not be worth the time to use in making quilts - and would not make for an attractive design! But I do like your other suggestions!

I love that office supplies have become more stylish in recent years. With so many electronics on the market displacing paper items like planners, what direction do you see office supply trends heading in?

Good Morning,

Good question. Office supplies are like personal accessories to me. I should never have to buy another belt, but I do. I really don't need cool file folders, but I do! So even though we have technology to balance our paper needs and supplies, I still feel like supplies will evolve in function and purpose and continue to meet our style needs as well.

Thanks to Chris Plantan for giving all of us some inspiration to tackle those papers. This weekend is a good time to begin. Let us know how you do on next week's chat when we will be discussing toasters, as well as the usual topics. Thanks everyone.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius uses her years of experience as a home expert and her network of well-placed sources to help you choose everything from paint type and colors to how to de-shed sofas from pet hair to where to find the best designer fabrics at a discount.

Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
Chris Plantan
Chris Plantan is the founder and creative director of russell+hazel, a lifestyle brand known for it?s functional work tools, including notebooks, binders, desk accessories and time management systems. Her philosophy is that good design is both pleasing and functional. Launched in 2003, russell+hazel brough fresh colors into the office during a time when folders were manilla and post-it notes were canary yellow.
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