Home Front: Design advice from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza

Feb 24, 2011

Betty Byrne, senior home economist of Hamilton Beach Brands, chatted with Washington Post Local Living section writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

Good morning. Terri and I are happy to welcome Betty Byrne, manager of the Hamilton Beach Test Kitchen. She was a source for our story on Toasters today and she knows a lot about small appliances and how to best operate them. Plus she answers lots of consumer questions on household stuff. So let's get going, it will be an interesting hour.

Hi everyone.  I am so excited to be answering all of your toaster questions.  As head of our consumer test kitchen, I have been talking toasters for over 8 years- so ask away!

What is the brand name of the one wide slot toaster referred to in your article?

Hamilton Beach - model 22408 SmartToast.  This is a great toaster for small spaces, apartments, etc.  Thanks for asking!

Betty, so happy you've joined the chat this week. In your professional opinion, what specific toasters or kitchen appliances make the best:

- Wedding gift
- Housewarming gift for a bachelor pad
- Birthday gift for one of my grandparents

Thank you!

For the bachelor pad/housewarming gift, I highly recommend a griddle.  This can be used for complete breakfasts such as bacon, pancakes and eggs - all fast and easy breakfast choices.  Plus, cleanup is simple - place in the dishwasher for convenience.  Another suggestion for the coffee enthusiast would be a coffeemaker - always a useful item and there are many styles which make great gifts.

For a wedding gift, I'd suggest a slow cooker.  This appliance allows the modern family to come home to a healthy, home-cooked, hot meal.  This saves both money and time!

As a birthday gift for a grandparent, a toaster oven would  be a great item.  At this point in their lives many are downsizing, and a toaster oven is much more versatile than ever before.  It can cook a roast or even bake a cake!

When we purchase a toaster, four slice is a must. We buy the cheapest toaster unless the warranty period is double the normal run of the mill. Repairs are out of the question. We consider Comsumer Reports and their extensive testing also.

It's funny, I still think four slice toasters look very huge.  My family has three members, and we eat at different times so a two slice has always worked for us.

I have three lamps in search of shades- two require a particular shape. I was in Gaylord's and the cheapest are a minimum $65.00! Do you have any suggestions for places with a large selection with a wider range of prices?

You can try Target, Ikea and Pottery Barn.  Do you all have other ideas?

I just painted my office BM Classic Brown - which I love - from 10am through 4pm. The rest of the time, the walls look black! I've decided I need to upgrade my lighting in the room (right now just one sad little desk lamp). What should I be looking for - overheads, lamps - and what kind of bulbs should I use to soften it up in there?

You'll want to use a combination of overhead and task lighting (table and/or floor lmaps) and put everything on a dimmer so you can control the amount of light.

Hi Betty. In your experiences with kitchen appliances over the past decade, how are companies staying current? Everything seems to be changing so quickly with growing technology - from coffee makers to toaster ovens - that I'm surprised companies can keep up! I remember my coffee maker from 2000 and it might as well be an antique!

At Hamilton Beach, we invest many resources into examining trends and trend information.  We participate in significant market research and speak with thousands of consumers each year.   This combined with our in-house engineering staff, industrial designers and call center enable us to stay ahead of the curve.  Consumer needs are one of the most important aspects of new product development.

Betty: Do you think it is worth repairing toasters? If so, where can you have that done?

Hamilton Beach does not recommend repairing toasters.

A friend of mine is using her toaster oven, microwave, and outdoor grill almost exclusively now as her oven is kaput (stovetop is separate). She bakes cookies six at a time in the toaster oven. We were over at their house for a dinner party and you'd never have known that the oven wasn't working.

It's amazing what a toaster oven can do!  We are finding that many consumers are using their toaster ovens not only for baked goods, but also to cook whole chickens, roasts, etc.  Additionally, by not heating up the traditional oven, this can save both money and time.

I moved into a pretty small apartment and have managed to find a spot for everything except a large printer box. I'd really like to keep it because it makes transporting the printer so easy and I move a lot. There truly is nowhere to stash it. Should I (1) just deal with it and toss it (I have a feeling you will pick this), (2) break it down and put it and the styrofoam packing under my bed (I don't love having things under my bed but what can you do?), (3) something else, like wrap it like a present and call it a decoration? LOL. Thanks!

How about skirting a table and stashing the box and foam underneath? Otherwise, I think breaking it down and storing it beneath the bed sounds like your best bet.

My Lowes has an excellent selection of reasonable/attractive shades. One that I purchased there was the object of fascination/discussion at a recent cocktail party. No one would believe that's where I found it.

How fascinating! They must be really fabulous.

Hi ladies, love the chats! I am thinking about buying a console table from Pottery Barn but don't know about the quality. I live in the middle of nowhere so there is no option to go to the store and check it out. Can anyone share their experiences, good or bad with PB furniture?

I guess you are thinking of ordering one online. I know this is a difficult decision since you can't test drive it or see how the finish look or how sturdy it is. Pottery Barn has been around a long time and they do stand by their products. Does anyone out there want to add their thoughts on this?

Betty - what model toaster do you have?

I have the red Hamilton Beach Ensemble 2-slice toaster- Model 22002H.  I love the unique look of this toaster and it works great!  Here is the link if you'd like to take a look:  http://www.hamiltonbeach.com/products/2-slice-toasters-ensemble-2-slice-bagel-toaster-red.html

Hello! I recently purchased a house with a perfectly functional kitchen that unfortunately includes super ugly counters that are pretty much a match with Sherwin Williams SOLITUDE paint. The cabinets are painted white, the walls have white wainscoting (and are currently a hideous shade of red) and I'm thinking that my only option is to paint the walls SOLITUDE  and just go with it. What accent colors would you suggest? People keep suggesting tan, but when I think of blue and tan, I can't help but be transported back to every geese-themed blue and tan kitchen from my late 80s/early 90s childhood.

First, I would paint the wainscoting white. Then, I would consider painting either the walls or the cabinets a light gray. If you paint the cabinets gray, keeping the walls white (maybe white with gray undertones, like BM's White Dove) might be nice.

Are there any new home appliances about to be introduced? Do you think a blender is a must for every kitchen?

Hamilton Beach will be launching many new products at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago starting March 6, 2011.  I do feel the blender is a "must" - it's a staple of the kitchen.  It can be used for everything from making sauces to soups and salsas - plus smoothies, milkshakes and other icy drinks.

Same mid level quality as CB or WestElm. Steps above Ikea particle board crap. I bought two wrought iron coffeetables from them and they have stood the test of time and are well made. As for their wood furniture, let the price be your guide. You get what you pay for and it is better to step up several hundred dollars and get something that will last beyond a few years of wear and tear - especially with children.

An opinion about Pottery Barn. Thanks for the input.

Try eBay. I got some really nice rattan ones that fit two bedside tables for next to nothing. Brand new and still had the price tags of $159.00 on each. You never know what you will find but you have to really search. Just a thought.

Great suggestion.

What are the typical questions you get from consumers about toasters? And do you really have to unplug after every use? Do you recommend unplugging all small appliances when not in use such as coffee makers and blenders?

Typical questions from consumers usually focus on what types of foods can be "toasted" or how often the toaster needs to be cleaned.

Hamilton Beach does recommend unplugging all toasters when not in use. 

Try Ross or Marshalls. I got some great ones there a few years ago for less the $15.

That is a good idea too. The problem with this kind of store is that the sizes are often odd and it's hard to schlep your lamp with you when you are shopping there. You should not buy a lampshade without having the lamp there to test it. The advantage of a lamp store is that they can advise you what looks best and adjust the harp so it looks right.

Thanks for these chats. I look forward to them all week! Does anyone have info on those acrylic tub surrounds which cover the tub and go up the wall. My tiles are popping off due to some water which went behind the tile. Since this is a second bathroom, I think a tub surround would be o.k. Any recommendations for installers?


I have a 40 year old toaster that works great. New ones, including the more attractive one bought to replace this one, broke.

Good for you! Hope the electrical cord is in good shape.

There is a Lamp Factory Outlet store in Fair Lakes, (east end of the strip shopping center, toward the Thomasville/DSW end) that has reasonably-priced shades. They used to have other sites, so check the website for info on where else they are.


What would be a good color for a good size master bedroom on the back of the house - it has 3 windows but still does't get very much light... Needs to be a color that my husband can also live with!

Well, what colors do you both like?

You're not gonna like this, but if water got behind the tiles, you'll need to take everything down and fix the "behind-the-wall" stuff before you can put up anything new. It's going to cost money, but a lot less now than after the rot spreads.

So true. Personally, I had a leaking shower and nobody could ever find the leak - and I was having my kitchen remodeled and they were afraid the leak would ruin my new ceiling. It was a horrible complicated mess. So solve any water problems before you do any bathroom remodeling.

The lamp outlet in Fair Lakes also has a store in Springfield, in the same shopping center as Trader Joes. They are good for the odd size shades, too. Also, the Lamplighter on King Street in Old Town has a great selection.

Wow. Great resources. Thanks.

It is sad to say that PB used to be so much better than now. I think they have started to use cheaper materials. I bought a side table from them recently that I saw online for months and decided to buy it finally. What a mistake! Poor workmanship and the wood was not quality and seemed like a second or previosly discarded for scrap. I won't be buying anything from them again unless I can see it in person. The internet pictures make everything look super until you receive it. I was disappointed.

Wow. Great to get all these opinions. Keep them coming.

In any kitchen with limited counter space (not to mention cost and environmental considerations), a toaster-oven-broiler, with its many uses, wins out over a single-purpose toaster any day. I use mine for toast as well as a number of heating, crisping, and top-browning tasks. My mom used hers to broil steaks, bake potatoes, you name it, and even used the top as a warming tray, in her tiny NYC kitchen.

I remember having a toaster oven when I lived in a studio apartment. It was great for warming up stuff and not having to use the oven. Right now, I have a toaster and use my microwave for warming stuff up.

Hi Betty! I am in the market for a new coffee maker. The only special thing I require is that the coffee go into a thermal carafe. I'd like to keep the cost under $80.00. What do you suggest?

Here are two options you may like:

This Hamilton Beach 10 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker is $49.99.


The second option also has a thermal carafe but can also brew into two travel mugs.  It is $79.99.


I would suggest flattening the box and putting it and the foam in a plastic bag - maybe a zipped mattress cover? - to prevent them from becoming nesting materials.

good idea

I highly recommend uplighting. I found a great site, lumens.com that has a great assortment of accent lighting including halogen uplighting. Makes the world of difference in lighting various parts of the room after dark as well as accenting with light framed art and table and shelf displays.

Another one to add to the list. Thank you.

I'm a toaster oven fan, rather than a pure toaster user, and may I please make a plea for the "small kitchen" users out there to make the two-slice equivalent for us? Too often the smaller t-ovens are the equivalent of a stripped down starter car. Please give me great features in a small-sized oven. Also--if my kitchen were on fire, I'd grab the stick blender first. Love it!

Hamilton Beach actually has a 2-slice toaster oven option with our Toaststation.  This product is unique because it is both a fully functional 2-slice toaster and also has a small toaster oven.  Take a look:


My husband and I have a problem. (No, I'm not mistaking this for the Hax chat!) None of our stuff goes together. We have a motley assortment of furniture from our parents and random purchases. For example, our living room has four armchairs: one leather with rolled arms, one 1940s armchair in faded tapestry, one rocker/swivel from the 1950s which we had recovered, and another 1950s armchair with very square lines. There's nothing tying all these pieces together. I don't really want "matching" furniture, but how can we develop a plan so that our rooms look harmonious?

Hard to really say without seeing your spaces, but in the living room you describe, how about using a sofa and only two of the chairs, maybe the leather and the tapestry one? A neutral sofa with pillows that pull other colors from around the room might help to make the room look more harmonious.

I'd take my toaster oven over my microwave any day. Food warmed up in the microwave never seems to stay as warm as long as food warmed up in an oven (toaster or otherwise).

You know you are right. If I have the time, I like to warm stuff up in the oven rather than microwave because it tastes better. Since I don't have a toaster oven - or have room for one- those are my alternatives.

I know it's not from HB, but I love my Dualit toaster. They are ridiculously expensive ($300 or so for the 2-slice), but you can often find slightly imperfect ones at Wms Sonoma outlet stores -- I got mine there for $70 and it has only a very slight ding in it.

Good tip about the outlet. Dualit are one of the toaster luxury brands.

I had not had a toaster for years, only a toaster oven; it worked great and I never gave it a second thought. Then we bought a new home, and I thought "aha, everyone says toasters make better toast, I'll buy one." Big, huge mistake! (Sorry to say, it's a HB, too.) The lifter does not lift the toast up high enough to get it out without sticking something into the slots (big no-no, I realize). And forget about trying to do English muffins, they are WAY down in there. Toaster is going to a Goodwill place this weekend and I'm buying myself another toaster oven. Will never own a toaster again; a multi-purpose appliance seems a much better use of counter space.

Oh oh!! Well, here is somebody who swears by toaster ovens.  By the way, you guys should all vote in our poll today on what appliance you use to toast your bread. (No fair if you still are toasting your sourdough on a fork overan open fire.) Our producer Megan is going to post a link to it!

Can you recommend a white paint shade that would brighten up a house filled with (beautiful) 1930s dark wood trim and medium-to-dark stained floors? We want to kepe the trim as-is. We'd like a blank canvas to display our collection of art and unique furniture. Thanks.

Take a look at Benjamin Moore's Moonlight White.

I want a ceiling fan like this, and I would like to purchase it locally. Any thoughts on who might carry such things?

If you go to the manufacturer's Web site, you can search for dealers in your zip code.

My husband and I recently painted our living room "Revere Pewter" by benjamin moore. I like the color, but now I am struggling to pick drapes to go with the space. The only other furniture we have now is a small neutral khaki chair and a black living room table.

Let's see. You have gray, khaki and black. I think that khaki fabric would look good for window treatments.  Or possibly pale gray.

I've never owned a standard toaster and have only used them in hotel morning buffets or the campus dining room. Toaster ovens are so much more versatile that I'd never buy a regular toaster. There are several things that do not warm up well in microwaves that work well in toaster ovens. You cannot heat up pizza well in a toaster and it comes out mushy in a microwave. Fresh fries reheated in a microwave might as well be tossed out rather than eaten. Anything that needs to be crusty or crisp should be reheated in a toaster oven vs a microwave.

I totally agree.Leftover Chinese food is okay for microwave though.

Bought a toaster oven from Sears. Used it a few times and one day last month I heard a terrific noise from my kitchen. The glass door just shattered and it had not been used that day! I found out on the web that this has occurred to others with the same model. I liked it because it had the pizza stone inside but never again. The mess was awful - glass shards everywhere. I was not happy to say the least but I learned my lesson and will stick to my trusty toaster from now on.

Sorry to hear about this.

When space is at a premium, break down the printer box and throw away the styrofoam packing. If you need to pack the printer again, put it inside a plastic back (even a large garbage bag will do) and then fill the space around it in the box with packing peanuts which you can buy at a package/shipping store like UPS when you need it. The jumbo bags of peanuts don't cost that much and will easily protect your printer.

Thanks for those ideas.

I liked the redesign of the master bedroom in today's article, but noticed there are no dressers. Do they have a huge walk-in closet for all their clothes? We are about ready to re-do our master bedroom and get rid of our 30 year old furniture that is past its prime, and I was thinking case goods first. But seeing this has me reconsidering. What do people do though without dressers?

Instead of investing in furniture, you could spend the money on a professional closet system. It will free up floor space in your room and give you a super-organized closet. Here is a link to a story I did on closet organizers.

When we were married, I wanted to put a toaster oven on our registry. My husband said,"Why? I have one that works." That is about all it did. Now more than 7 years later, it still sits on the counter -- beaten up with no handle, and a knob that has to be turned with a knife. Any recommendations? I would like to get one for our anniversary!

I think this would be a great idea!  Toaster ovens certainly can last a long time - however, it sounds like you're overdue for an upgrade!  A new toaster oven can range in price from around $30 to about $150.  Features range from 2-slice up to a true countertop oven with dual racks and rotisserie, convection and other features.  I would recommend a higher end toaster oven, and perhaps one with touch pad controls.  My favorite is the Set & Forget toaster oven which also has a temperature probe:


Depends on the food...if you have fried wontons or egg rolls or crispy chicken or something like that, microwaving it destroys the texture. Since texture is very important to foods like that, it's better to use the toaster oven.

Yes. But there are never any leftover eggrolls at my house. Only chicken with cashew nuts, Imperial shrimp and beef with broccoli. Those are perfect to warm up quickly for lunch the next day!

Annapolis Lighting (includes locations in Rockville and, well, Annapolis) has a great selection and not necessarily expensive.


Our entry hall has had a bare lightbulb ever since we moved in last summer. I can't find a fixture that works with the rest of the ones in the house house -- all original -- and the sellers took what they had as a part of the closing agreement. The house is a center hall Colonial built in 1938. The dining room has a brass candelabra. The living room has brass candle sconces with lightly etched glass (not frosted). The back of the hall has a brass fixture etched glass, too (not frosted). I have looked at most of the usual suspects but can't find a good match. Help, please!

I don't think you need to match your other fixtures. In fact, I would suggest you do something different in your entry, maybe even fun. You could go with a lantern, a bell jar fixture or a chandelier - all classic choices that would likely work.  But I would just go with something you see that you really love, whether or not you think it "goes" with the other fixtures in your house.

My sympathies on frequent moves... but why not use it as an end/side table. Put a table "round" on top and drape it, or wrap it with fabric (like a big Christmas package) and put a piece of glass on top. or even paint it (A wonderful interior designer helped me select paint for cardboard box side-tables when I was just starting out!) The styrofoam inserts will keep the box stiffened, and it's still perfectly useable when you have to schlepp to the next place.


Thank for all of the replies! The word "nesting" was enough to convince me to get rid of it. Ick!

Ick is right.

School House lighting has very classic fixtures for a traditional house. Check out there catalog on line.

Also Rejuvenation in Portland . www.rejuvenation.com

Im looking to take out the wire shelves in my pantry. Does anyone know of a good website that will let you design a closet layout on line.

See the link to the closet story above.

I was looking for a kitchen table a few years ago and looked at all the PB options. I was pretty disappointed that their affordable/small space option was MDF covered with veneer, and they tried to make that sound nice and durable in the description... Thanks but I am not paying $600+ for a table with materials comparable to Target! If you like a particular style that they have, make sure to read the materials and construction first so that you get a good piece of furniture.

Another good posting. Thanks.

My grandparents still have a toaster that was a wedding present some 50 years ago. It makes the best toast I've ever had, but it has one problem. It used to somehow sense the weight of the bread and sink down and begin toasting, but now you have to bounce the bread in a particular rhythm to get it to work. My aunts and uncles call it the in-law test, since no one marrying into the family can seem to get it to work.


Where can I find a toaster that takes good care of THIN bread as well as bagels, etc...? All of the models I've seen don't close down far enough for thin sliced bread so it ends up cupped or folded and is almost impossible to straighten out without breaking after you take it out.

I find that unfortunately, thin bread has a tendency to curl when toasted in either a toaster or a toaster oven.  Thin bread curls more when toasted due to the moisture difference between the crust and the bread.

I had the same thought about the room - closet systems are not cheap and that would add considerably to the cost of any update. Dressers do seem to have disappeared from the landscape.

They aren't inexpensive, but I think they are less pricey than most people think. And they add value to a house. Not to mention making your life a little more organized.  

There are on-line stores where you buy the shape and size frame you want and a contact paper type cover. You can use either a fabric or your own paper and make a custom shade for very little money. I can look the site up for next week.

Great. Please do.

Not everything at IKEA is particle board. We've gotten some nice stuff that isn't. Of course, pottery barn is at the higher end, certainly, but lots of what IKEA have is quite good.


For the person that doesn't like the blue counters, if they are formica, it is actually not very expensive to replace formica. You can buy large sheets of formica to replace the laminate as long as you know how to cut and install it. There are how-to pages on-line for how to do it as long as you are handy with tools.

Thank you.

Try Lamp Factory Outlet in Springfield.

Have not heard of that one. We have a long list now.

Well, we have never had so much activity about toasters, toaster ovens and microwaves. Betty, thanks for answering a lot of these questions and discussing the ins and outs of  these appliances that we all have on our counters. We should all print this chat out so we remember all these great sources for lampshades, too. Until next week, thanks everyone. 

Over Thanksgiving my sister asked for recommendations for a toaster that toasts quickly. None of us had an answer. I see that the first toasting is the slowest, so maybe she should start by toasting her second piece of toast. LOL Is there any way to tell how fast one can get one's toast?

Yes.  The higher the wattage of the toaster, the faster it will toast.  Wattage is listed on the outside of the packaging or underneath the appliance.

Sort of off topic, but in response to the person who said heating up pizza in a microwave doesn't work, I find that ovens dry out leftover pizza. Best way to heat it up, courtesy of Cook's Illustrated -- in a cast iron frying pan, with a lid on (doesn't have to be a tight lid, you can even just place a baking sheet on top). Lid keeps the moisture in, and the pan ensures no soggy crust.

Yum!! Love that.

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.
Betty Byrne
Betty has worked at Hamilton Beach Brands since January 1995. Spending the first 22 years of her career as a Design Engineer, she is well versed on manufacturing processes and mechanical design.
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