The Washington Post

Georgetown designer and homeowner Colman Riddell talked about her converted stable and small-space living | Home Front

Feb 28, 2013

Georgetown-based designer Colman Riddell has taken a historic Georgetown home that was once a carriage house and stables and turned it into stylish digs for her family of four. She chatted with readers about creative storage and small-space living.

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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Hi everyone. I really love the house that we feature in Local Living today, an 1850s Georgetown stable turned into a family home by designer Colman Riddell. Here is the story. Colman is an expert on small space living and giving your rooms a bold stamp. She also has great tips on integrating furniture and accessories you may have picked up on a stint abroad into your interiors. We are excited she could join us today.

Good Morning Chatters!  I'm beyond thrilled to be here!  Thanks for your questions.  Let's get it started in here....

Good morning, Jura and Colman. I've been searching for a specific color for my living room. I suppose you could describe it as cafe con leche -- a lighter (but not too light), almost creamy looking tan. Might you have any suggestions for me? It seems to be a popular LR color, but I haven't been able to find what I'm looking for!

Cafe con Leche?  Fantastic!  You should sell that name to Farrow and Ball or Ben Moore...  Here are a few of the medium beiges I use regularly (all Ben Moore):  Manchester Tan, Grant Beige, Bleeker Beige.  On the lighter side: Creamy White, Feather Down and Off White (Farrow & Ball)

Can you share the details? (manufacturer and style) Thanks!

I'm so glad you like that paper.  I started with it only on the ceiling and thought it was too fab not to use everywhere!  Its Osborne & Little Komodo Boa.  They have a few colorways that you can see on their website.  

I have cupboards that go all the way to the ceiling, but they sit empty because putting something in there (or worse: getting it down) is a production. Any solutions? (No, I can't climb a ladder or stool.)

Your husbands fishing gear?   I actually put our seasonal stuff and party stuff in our outdoor shed.  Perhaps you could use it for things that are only used once a year  -  you only have to bring out the step ladder twice.  

We are moving into a house that will have a room that will need to serve as the kids playroom and the occasional guest room. We'd like a solution that is comfortable for guests (so no airbeds) and doesn't take up a big footprint. Are murphy/wallbeds a good solution? Other ideas?

I think the Murphy Bed or Wall Bed is a great solution. I've heard that locally Hardwood Artisans is a good place to order one. They use standard mattresses so you never have to be embarassed to ask a guest to sleep there. When the beds are up, you just have an attractive cabinet. Does anyone out there have experience with wall beds that you can share?

My husband and I will be moving into a new construction townhome. I know that I want my bedroom to be gray (something similar to Martha Stewart Chinchilla), but I prefer warm colors for the kitchen/living room. I'm not afraid of color, but prefer it to be an accent wall. My question is three-fold. Is it odd to have the third floor be "cool-toned" and the main floor be warm-toned? What should the first floor be, then--cool or warm? Any color suggestions?

Great question.  Or questions.  I actually really like the idea of the first floor being warm and the second floor being cool - exactly what I did in our previous house in Waterford.  I think its nice if all colors are of the same saturation level.  Does that make sense?  I used a Ben Moore gray in the kitchen there, Nimbus, and painted the cabinets a darker gray.  Nimbus is a fairly light, warm gray.  I also like Revere Pewter.  My fav bedroom color right now is called Silver Crest.  Its a sophisticated blue with a gray base.  Would be beautiful to use both in your house.  Good luck and have fun!

Good morning. I'm reorganizing my small home office into a homework zone for my two children. It's right off the center hallway of our home, so I want it to be practical but nice. I have a question about interior doors. Right now we have builder's grade slab doors. I'd like to upgrade the doors to something in a shaker style, and I'm looking for some guidance on how many panels my new doors should have: one, two, three, five, etc? Is there a look that's more "colonial" or, even better, transitional? I'm also looking for a complementary French door. Thanks!

Good question.  I think 2 panels are nice.  You should consider the look and style of the other doors in your house.  Consistency is muy importante.   Another important thing here is to purchase the highest quality you can stomach - solid wood.  You can also look through design mags and choose some styles you like.  If you're handy, you can make them yourself or have a handyman do it for not that much cash.  Another fun option is to buy sets of "antique" doors and have them fitted into your space.  May still do that in the stables.......Thanks for the question, sorry to ramble!

Just a shout out to Jura's ongoing recommendation to use ASID interior designers during their spring charity fundraising. I was a newly divorced, penny pinching single dad, downsizing from a 3800 square foot house to a 1500 square foot house, trying to pull together a cohesive home from the leftover furniture my ex didn't want. For $200, a designer came to my house, came up with an overall design plan, including lighting, paint colors, recommended contractors to do crown molding, and saved me money in the process! She steered me away from a $2,000 rug at Bloomingdales I had intended to purchase for the dining room and showed me a $700 rug instead from Pottery Barn (she said no dining room should have a $2,000 rug under the dining room table--who knew?) She also steered me away from a dining buffet and showed me a different one that was more in keeping with the style of my table, without being matchy matchy. Three years later I'm still implementing her overall plan, but the $200 for those two hours was money well spent.

Indeed! You really got your money's worth. Thank you very much for giving us the lowdown on what the ASID Spring Spruce Up is all about. Here is a link to this year's program and how you can sign up. It begins on March 20. If others have stories to share please write in. This is so helpful in knowing what you can expect. Thanks again for sharing.

For the chatter looking for a creamy looking tan -- we used BM Lady Finger in our living room and love it. Check it out!

Hi! I love your decorating style and what you've done with your limited space. The little slice I could see of your daughter's room is lovely. My daughter, age 8, likes to leave her toys out so that she can see them as opposed to putting them away at the end of playtime (picture dramatic scenes crafted from different toy groupings that have taken her hours to pose just right). I'm trying to figure out a way to give her surface space in her bedroom to leave things out but also keep her smallish room looking tidy. Do you have any ideas for storage for my toy curator?

This is adorable!  I would have a hard time putting her creations away too!  I used some Ikea bookshelves in Elizabeths room and actually turned 2 of them sideways so she could use the surface for her displays.  The height was perfect for her to stand and play and I used fabric baskets beneath to hold her socks, tights and toys she uses frequently.  Also might want to take pictures of her masterpieces so she can appreciate them later!  Hope this helps!  

Good morning. What is the Riddells' dining room paint color? It seems to be more yellow than Dove Wing.

The Dining Room actually had such a terrible popcorn texture, I had to do something more drastic than paint to cover it up.  Replastering was not in the budget.  It is actually a grass cloth wallpaper from Thibaut.  Works very well with less than desirable wall surfaces!  

Colman, I love what you've done with your space. In particular, I really liked the almost Moroccan windows and how that shape was echoed throughout the home (in a mirror frame, etc). Also, I noticed in the picture of your bar area that you have some silver goblets displayed. What do you serve in them? I have twelve such goblets and would love to use them. In fact, I'd love to get more vintage silver/silver plate items for my home--I love how they reflect the light.

Hi, thanks for noticing the bar.  I actually use the goblets for water at dinner parties.  I also use the mint julep cups for cut tulips.  Really any single flower trimmed close to the top of the cup.  I just try to use them - they went unused for so long!

I live in a 1920s row home that feels so dark. Currently, the wall color is a brown-green khaki color that everyone agrees is too dark. We're about to put the house on the market and have the interior repainted. Do you have an suggestions that would help the house feel more light and airy? The floors are a natural-color wood with mahogany inlays and the trim is currently white.

Best to go neutral for the resale of your house.  You don't want people to have an instant negative reaction from your paint color.  Try some of the light tans mentioned above - Ballet White from Ben Moore, if thats too light in your space, go a bit darker with Grant Beige.  White trim is nice and clean, I use White Dove.  Good luck!

Hi: Your chat topic is amazingly timely for me! I have a small house with a very small dining that opens into a family room. I was hoping to put a buffet-type cabinet behind my family room sectional sofa for closed china/glass/silver storage and as a console for lamps and those sitting on the sofa. Unfortunately, the sofa back is low, 29 inches. A 30-inch high desk there now is a perfect height but I have only found a few 30-32 high buffets and they are either the wrong finish color or too modern for my husband's taste (the Mitchell Gold Mao Now Buffet would be perfect but the only available finish is too dark, fyi the sofa is MG's Clifton). Higher buffets would show unfinished backs. I'm not on a tight budget, but doubt I could afford custom design. I called a furniture store that sells Stickley, Hickory Chair, etc., but was told there was nothing. Do you have suggestions for a source for 30-32 high buffet or ideas for alternatives? Thanks!

Hi!  You could try a different approach to your search.  30" is standard height for dining room tables and most consoles.  Maybe search for a narrow one and use large baskets for storage - might not work for china or breakables, but just a different direction to consider.  Good luck!


Question for Colman: Doesn't the heat from the radiators damage your liquor and wine (or your computer)? How do you get around this? I love the idea, but am not sure how practical it is.

Busted.  Oh no, my husband the wine importer is going to die.  You're right - most of my liquor and wine is in another corner cupboard, the pantry and wine fridge.  The radiator cover/table I use for my office has additional plywood on top and extends so the computer is not on top of the radiator.  

I have a piece of plywood that I'm thinking of making into a chalkboard. How dark of a black do I want to go? Any suggestions on paint colors?

Well, the great thing about chalkboard paint now is you can use any color out of the Ben Moore paint deck to make it.  I used a lighter gray color because I didn't want Kane's room to be too dark.  A true blackboard is much darker, more along the lines of Ben Moore Day's End or Lead Gray.  Try a sample first!

My mother-in-law just called to tell me that Richard Pettit, who built/owned your carriage house (1850-1923), was her great-great grandfather. She has accumulated quite a bit of historic information about Richard Pettit should you be interested in any of it. She was also wondering if you had acquired any information about him/house since you have owned it that you could share with her. I can be reached on her behalf at Thank you very much. Mary Lou Green

Oh thats such great news!  Jura and I had a great time discovering information on these houses, but only left me wanting more!  Thank you for posting!  I'll be in touch.

Love your beautiful home. I think many people think they need a huge home but actually a cozy home is so much better in my book. I live in a 1945 N. Arlington Colonial with my husband and two kids and would love your creative tips for making small spaces work. I edit continually (my goal is to have more stuff leave the house weekly than comes in although it's a constant battle) and try to be creative with going vertical for storage. Recently I've come to the realization that I've accumulated a bit too much furniture in some of my rooms so working on editing that down. What else can you recommend? Thanks!

Thank you so much.  Going vertical for storage is really creative and useful.  Sometimes if I'm not happy with how something looks, it helps to take a picture.  Seems to give you better perspective about what needs to go!  Only keep what you absolutely LOVE!  Hope this helps!

I love the tiny powder room that is featured in the photo gallery. What was the inspiration?

I love my powder room!  For small rooms that don't get a ton of usage prescribe to the Willy Wonka School of Design.  I found the carnival wheel many years ago at the late, great Oatlands Antique show and added mirror.  I thought the striped paper would be good, but only if it ran across the ceilling as well!  It makes me laugh every time I see it.  Thanks for the question.

I have no closets/ no cabinets downstairs. none. Well I have one in the laundry room that I use for a pantry, but seriously no place to store anything. I don't like to wear shoes in my house and so the shoes on current rotation line the floor at the bottom of the stairs, tucked off to the side. In my world, I'd use this stair wall to also put coat hooks on to store our coats. What's stopping me is that this is the first thing you would see when someone uses the front door. My mother thinks this is messy. but then she's not the one climbing the stairs or the one who has the big pile of coats on the kitchen bar stools. We never use the front door, only the side kitchen door. and really I imagine for a party, would move all the coats upstairs out of eye sight anyway. Would it be so horrible to hang coat hooks on this wall? And is there such a thing as removable or foldable coat hooks so that when summer comes and coats are not needed, they are out of the way?

Hi -I am quite familiar with your dilemma.  There is not a photo of the entry of my house, but we have no coat closet.  I had a handyman make a large coat rack , almost the width of the entire wall, with several cool hooks I found at a flea market.  I also have a twig or tree-like coat stand and a few interesting baskets for shoes, hats and gloves.  Its all a bit trimmed down in the summer but looks ok most of the time!

Where can I find a reasonably priced loveseat for a small room? I would like it to be comfortable for reading and movie watching in my "retreat room", also, have a slimmer profile armrest on each side. We are re-doing a small bedroom for my "retreat". The room will also hold my office space for when I am working at home (several times a week). Thanks! Also, if I buy online, what is the best way to determine quality?

There are so many great sources out there.  I love Crate & Barrell, Mitchell Gold, Random Harvest locally.  Online is a risk - I love Wisteria, Layla Grace.  Scroll through any ratings or comments to see if people have any complaints.  Otherwise, is a crap shoot!

I'm hoping Colman won't mind answering a question from a fellow Georgetown mom who is considering the McLean School in Potomac for her child. How does she manage the commute to Maryland from the city? We are contemplating a move to Maryland if my son gets in but would much prefer to stay in the city. Thank you!

No worries about the off-topic question.  McLean has changed our entire family's lives.  No lie.  They have an extensive bus system.  My husband drops him off in McLean, Va and I pick up at Tenleytown.  Go for it - promise it will be worth any hassle!

My problem is paper. If I can't see it, I'll forget about it. So how can I have a less cluttered space, without forgetting about the things I put away? Any suggestions would be welcome! Thanks.

Oh the excess paper.  I hate it and don't do a good job of keeping it at bay.  I try to have files:  one for each family member, including the dog and one "OPEN" file.  The open file is the only one I keep on my desk.  Bills, notices, to-do lists, ect.  The rest are under a chair somewhere or in the file cabinet under the side table.....

Can you share your favorite online fabric retailers? Bonus points for suggesting discount options! Thanks.

I tend not to use online fabric sources - I use a fair amount of textured fabric and need to touch them to determine quality, etc.  However, a client turned me on to Pinterest as a source of great fabric retailers.  Check it out!

Don't forget about Craigslist and vintage furniture stores. Vintage furniture is often good for smaller spaces because the proportions are smaller than modern pieces.

So true. Thanks.

Random question that occurred to me last night a propos of nothing: what differentiates velvet technically from velour?

Made in the 70's?

I need to get new kitchen cabinets, but don't know where to start since I'm not making major changes in the configuration of the room. Does anyone have experience with kitchen designers or remodelers in Northern Virgina that they have used?

You're going to be surprised but I've used the Home Depot kitchen design department many times for clients!  Check it out - I think you'll be surprised!

Thanks so much for the great questions Chatters!  Its been a blast!  Good luck to everyone - and as my friend Sunny says, "Have Fun!"

Thanks Colman. Great chat. We always have a lot of interest in small apartments and houses. Thanks to everyone for your questions. See you next week.

In This Chat
Colman Riddell
Colman Riddell is a Georgetown-based designer and co-owner of a historic Georgetown home that was once an 1850s carriage house and stables.
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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