Home Front: Design advice from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza

Mar 03, 2011

Julie Morris, director of custom products and programs for Calico Corners, chatted with Washington Post Local Living section writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

Morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. We have Julie Morris of Calico Corners with us this morning, ready to answer all of your questions on fabric, reupholstery, window treatments and more. Let's get started.  

Julie, what is your personal style at your house? How do you have it decorated, and what fabric did you choose?

My personal style is traditional with a twist.  I love rich and luxurious fabrics so you will see a lot of trim and layers on my window treatments.  At the same time, I don't like a lot of clutter, so the overall appearance is clean and can lean  towards transitional a bit.  I also like to collect artwork from my travels that adds personality to the room.

We've been having some technical difficulties this morning, so we may be off to a slow start today. Bear with us...

I do not have slipcovers but like the idea. However, I am getting a reclining sofa. Can slipcovers be used on reclining furniture?

Yes, slipcovers can be used with reclining furniture by putting in an extra zipper--the same applies to sleeper sofas.

A slipcover can in fact be made for a recliner and will look just fine in the stationary position, but it is not recommended if you plan to use the piece as a recliner. Additional zippers can be added, allowing the slipcover to open up to operate the chair/sofa, but the original piece will be exposed underneath. So in this case, reupholstery is a better approach.

What do you suggest for a covering on a glass front door (a grid of 20 panels in wood)? Need to have privacy but don't want it so dark that we lose all the light benefits. The door opens directly off the porch into the 11x13 living room.

There are windows on the same wall as the door, with wide wood window frames starting about 2 feet from the edge of the door frame. The windows have simple horizontal-pleat shades in a vanilla tone. I'm willing to change that if we can find a good solution that still gives us top-down/bottom-up flexibility with a combination of privacy/light.

We need something over the glass so that passersby do not have the full view of our entire lower level (as they would now). Thanks.

On a paned door, you can do a sheer fabric with a rod pocket top and bottom for privacy--or you can do a flat Roman shade that can be raised and lowered, but still looks clean against the window.  You can use any type of fabric in a shade.  Then you could use the same fabric in draperies for the other windows in a full-length drapery--there are many styles for this.

I'm planning to put in all new wood floors on my first level this spring, taking out the current mishmash of 1960s parquet wood and 1980s Pergo. My question is about wood color/tone. The stairs (which you see right when you walk in the front door) and the floors upstairs are all a lighter colored oak in good condition. Do I need to match that color for the new floors on the ground level? Or could I do a different color wood? I'd like something in the medium family that feels a little warmer. Love the chats and appreciate your insights!

I think it would look more cohesive if all of your wood floors had the same color stain. Maybe you could install the new floors and have the old floors refinished?

I am looking for an affordable 8x10 rug for our den to use over natural oak hardwood floors. Do you have some recommendations for places to look? Any rugs you really like right now that are affordable for someone on a budget? Thanks for your help!

I am actually looking for a rug to replace the West Elm model I bought for my dining room about six years ago. It is fraying at the edges. Horrible.  I must say, it didn't last that long but it was only $399. Before that I had an Oriental, which is still looking good but I got tired of it. If you want an old rug, go to a local auction or flea market. If you are looking for something contemporary, Ikea, Crate & Barrel, Room & Board, www.homedecorators.com and www.capelrugs.com.

My problem may be more appropriate for a therapist, but I hope you can help me. The interior of our house was painted 3 years ago, but I have yet to decorate many of the walls. (It took me a year to hang curtains.) I have only vague ideas of what to put up, yet I can't get going and the walls remain bare. I fear the prints, plates, photos that I would like to hang would be the wrong color, the wrong size, etc. With a limited budget, what can I do?  Is there a rule of thumb as to what size/number/ratio of objects to place on walls? My home is a colonial with small rooms and eclectic furniture. Thanks.

For inexpensive wall art, take some of your favorite photos and have them printed in Black and White and frame--you can tie in a colored mat if desired.   

I am looking for an affordable 8x10 rug for our den to use over natural oak hardwood floors. Do you have some recommendations for places to look? Any rugs you really like right now that are affordable for someone on a budget? Thanks for your help!

Check overstock.com, rugs-direct.com and rugsusa.com.

Ballard Designs and Dash & Albert are also good places to look.

I want to get some new furniture that is based on colors with a white or gray based, not the muddy colors that are so prevalent or brown-based. Where can I find something? All I see is brown or olive or khaki.

Try www.brocadehome.com and also West Elm. I know what you mean - the muddy colors are everywhere.

I was looking for outdoor fabric on the Sunbrella website, and noticed Calico Corners is retailer for their fabrics. Unfortunately, I'm not near a Calico Corners, but do you have to special order the fabrics? Can you get samples of them? If I know the style name & number from the Sunbrella website, could I call a Calico Corners store to have them find out more about the fabric?

We have lots of Sunbrella available for purchase at calicocorners.com.  Swatches are also available.


Faithful reader of the archives, submitting early because I work during the live chat time slot. My beloved grandmother made us a quilt as a wedding present. Because it's very pretty and especially because of the sentimental value, we like having it on our bed, but the colors are pastels so the effect is rather feminine. Could you suggest a light green or blue for the walls, and could your guest suggest curtains or other window treatments, that would not make the room look like it belongs to a teenage girl? It's a small room (10x12) with windows west and south. Thank you!

Try paint samples in colors you like and paint up large white foamcore sheets to try before you commit to a color.  For window treatment ideas, check out the online catalogs at www.calicocorners.com.  The stores also have lots of drapery ideas on display for you to check out.

Hi, what do you think about a yellow bedroom? Specifically, Sundance by Benjamin Moore. This master bedroom gets alot of sunlight. I want something happy and soothing. Thank you!

I might cut the Sundance with a little white. It could be a bit too bright.

Do store-bought slipcovers ever actually work or do they just look weird? We have couch I can't afford to replace now. What do you think about adding a slipcover?

Ready-made slipcovers tend to look baggy and more like a shower cap than a slipcover.  Custom-made slipcovers however look almost as good as re-upholstery.  Plus they are a great way to change the look of a room.

Julie, I would like to save some money by buying some dining room arm chairs and reupholstering them myself. Is it worth the effort? Any suggestions for what style of chairs to get?

I think finding some great chairs and reupholtsering them is great idea. Try to find a chair style with a detachable seat to make it easier. 

Julie has a YouTube video about slipcovers. You can watch it here!

So excited you have Calico Corners online! Love the place. We have a sturdy apartment-size sofa that we intend to keep but would like to have in a different fabric. What do you suggest? The issue with the current fabric is that it is too scratchy and, um, not a color and design we would have selected had we been married at the time of the purchase. But, it's very clean and in good condition. My mother and I had some success several years ago recovering a chair ourselves. I'd like to do that for the sofa, too. Appreciate any ideas you can share. Thanks.

I think it's great--if you absolutely love the sofa (outside of the fabric selection) and it fits the room nicely, keep it.  Custom slipcovers or custom reupholstery are both good solutions.  If the structure of the piece is in good condition you may want to consider a slipcover since this gives you the option to take it on and off to change with the seasons, and slipcovers fit so nicely (when custom made) that they almost look like they're upholstered and will generally save some money.

Julie, what suggestions do you have for when I'm sewing my own drapes? I'm making full length (to the ceiling) drapes for two 36-inch wide living room windowsl.

Figure that each panel of 54" fabric will cover about 18" of window width--also consider whether you want the draperies to stack off the window so that you have more light coming in.  Be sure to use enough fullness--we recommend at least 2.5 times fullness so that they don't look skimpy.   The Sunset books are good guides for home sewers. 

We know there is a problem in your posting questions right now. Our tech staff is working to solve this. Hang in there! We will answer the questions we have right now. Julie is on the case.

We are remodeling a 1960's bathroom that does have natural light. Are there some paint colors to avoid in bathrooms? Love the chats.

I think what you want to avcid in bathrooms is using materials that are trendy rather than classic, so your remodel doesn't look outdated soon after you've spent so much money on it.  But paint is an inexpensive change that you can make anytime, so I would just pick a color you really like.

Julie, what is new in fabric styles? Which is your personal favorite?

We're seeing a lot of great graphic prints and contemporary floral and geometric patterns--silhouette flowers and leaves, scroll or wrought iron designs.  Also lots of linen prints, some old world or tea-stained or in updated fresh colors.  There are also many beautiful embroidered linens and silks, sheers or cottons that make lovely window treatments.   And then there are all the great stripes, in silks and cottons, so that you can go formal or casual.  We have so many great fabrics that it's easy to find something you love!

Julie, what new trends do you see for window treatments?

We're seeing lots of draperies, full length to the floor, and a break or slight "puddle" on the floor is still quite popular.  We're doing lots of banding on lead edges which adds a nice element of interest.  We are also still adding lots of trims to draperies; however the current trend is more in flat braid than tassel fringes.  Also, fabric shades are very popular and are a great solution for most windows.  More tailored styles are the trend, including Flat Roman shades, Casual Romans with tails.  As far as fabrics for window treatments, we're still doing alot in silk (with interlining of course), linens, and great, large-scale prints like the Thomas Paul collection that you can see on our website. 

So many big box stores offer basic drapes for bargain prices. I was wondering what suggestions Ms. Morris might have for customizing the drapes with trim, fringe, valances, etc., to tailor them to one's own living space.

You'll find lots of braids and pleated or plain grosgrain ribbons at Calico that are good for trimming out draperies--whether custom-made or ready-made.  This is one way to customize something rather plain vanilla. 

Hello! I have a Cape Cod-style house and can't figure out how to dress my dormer windows in the bedrooms. The front window faces the front of the house and is tucked into the roof, but the ceiling is normal height and straight across. Here I may not be able to do panels since there is no room on the side of the windows but plenty of room on top for a ceiling mount treatment.

My problem is the side window: It sits right up against the slope of the front roof line so the top corner of the left side hits the slant of the roof. The right side of the window is normal with ceiling clearance and side clearance. What kind of window treatment could I do here? Do both windows need to have matching window treatments or can I use the same fabric but do two different window treatments? Thanks so much!

Actually I grew up in a Cape Cod house on Cape Cod so I'm very familiar with those windows!  You can certainly do two different window treatments, keeping the fabric the same for consistency.  When a window is cut off at the corner like that, it's always best to do a treatment that is board-mounted--like a shade if you want something functioning, or a valance to simply soften the window.  Boards can always be custom cut and fit to any shape or size so at least the end result looks intended and follows the lines of your window.  It doesn't sound like something you can camaflouge. 

I'm thinking about draperies for my dining room. What is the most fashionable length these days?

We love the effect of floor-length draperies at a window--they're long and graceful and carry the eye upward, making the  ceilings appear higher.   It's also fashionable these days for draperies to break slightly on the floor--perhaps 1-2" extra.

Please email your questions to us at localliving@washpost.com for the next half hour! We are having trouble receiving questions here!

does this work?


Hi there.  My eight-year-old couch is developing some holes in the seat cushions.  Given my toddler and summer's impending birth of another, I don't see my husband and I spending money on a new couch.  But what can I do between now and new couch-hood to make it look better (aside from turning--both sides are holey)?  Can I cut some fabric from a hidden place in the couch and make a patch or would that look terrible?  Thanks!

I would suggest recovering the seat cushions.  You can always use a coordinating fabric if the current fabric on the piece is not available.

I also like traditional with a twist sort of furnishings.  We currently have swags and valances (which I still like) over sheers (which I don't) in our living room.  The sheers seem dated to me now, and don't give us privacy, either.  Windows in the back of the house, in the family room and kitchen, have Venetian blinds.  Should I do the same under the swags/valances, or could a flat Roman shade in a nice fabric work?  I only need to close them at night; I'm fine with a lot of light coming in during the day.

For the living room I'd suggest going with a fabric shade instead of venetian blinds.  It will give the room a softer look.  And since the swags are already voluminous and flowing, I'd suggest a tailored style shade like a Flat Roman.  Depending on where your swags are mounted on the window, you'll want the shade width to extend to where your cascades begin to taper down; or if you have nice woodwork you can mount the shade inside the window frame.

I have a sage linen pillow cover from Ballard Designs that I would like better if it was a lighter shade of green. I'm worried about using bleach, but don't think I could get even fading with sunshine alone. Would lemon juice work? Please advise!

Bleaching is a tricky business and we don't recommend it.  For the amount of fabric required (probably less than a yard) you can purchase exactly the color you want and you'll know what to expect before you do!  You can use the existing pillow form, if desired--or if you need new forms, the Calico stores sell both feather/down and cotton-covered poly fiberfill forms. 

By the way, we recommend that sofa pillows be at least 20" -22" - 24" for a great look.  Smaller pillows will look dinky and out of scale. 

Hi Julie, I have antique chairs that I want reupholstered which I plan on using as the focal point of my room, yet I will need to compliment them with a new sofa and loveseat. Is this something Calico Corners can do for me as a 'one stop shop' to ensure that everything coordinates?

We sure can--that's what we do!  We can reupholster any existing furniture and we also offer a wonderful line of new custom furniture--it's as easy as selecting fabric and the furniture style, and it ships in approximately 4 weeks. 

Julie -- First of all let me say that I love Calico Corners and have gotten lots of great fabrics, as well as advice and decorating ideas! What can you tell me about soy-based cushions? Good/Bad?...  Pros/Cons?

My understanding is that while this is a "green approach" which I love, the soy cushions do not hold up as well as traditional foam.

Hi Julie my name is Dallas. I was wanting to have cornices made for my living room. Would I be limited to the material I can use on them?  Also would buttons be appropriate for a livingroom application?  Thank You.

Consider the width of the cornice and the direction of the fabric (if any).  Some fabrics can be railroaded (run horizontally) and some have to run up the roll.  Heavier fabrics (i.e. upholstery weight) can be used for cornices  as well as medium-weight fabrics.   And yes, buttons would work as a cornice trim--also self or contrast welting or decorative cording.

is this a cheesy idea? I've been wanting to replace the framed prints throughout my apartment for years now. I can't decide what i want to put up, would love an art wall of varying sized frames but don't know where to start. I do, however, have a calendar of vintage movie posters & as I'm a huge film buff, I'm wondering if it might be a nice idea to have a few of my favorite months framed. They're about 16"x24" (maybe smaller, I'm not good at spatial relations). I'd have to keep the calendar part, but that's very small. What do you think of maybe 3 of them displayed side by side? Am i nuts?

Well, you have to figure whether it's worth the money for framing for calendar pages. If it is worth it to you, then do it. Three would be the minimum to display - otherwise they will just be floating around. Before you do that, make sure there is not something else you would enjoy framing, such as great black and white photos of vacations, favorite places or favorite people.

My kitchen and Master BR (which is right above the kitchen) are in the front of my townhome, and consequently gets all the natural sunlight.  I’ve recently decided to put plantation shutters in the kitchen and was wondering if I have to put them in the Master as well.  Is there a rule of uniformity I have to follow?

If you want to do something softer in the bedroom, draperies or fabric shades would be great.  As far as curb appeal, we always suggest a simple white lining facing the street to keep the look from the outside clean and simple.  Check out the window treatment section on calicocorners.com for ideas for window treatment styles.

For people looking for affordable area rugs, I have been blown away by the selection at csnstores.com. Some of the prices are out of this world, but some are very affordable.  Limiting your search by price, color, size, style, etc. is also a breeze.

Great tip. thanks!

When are the biggest sales at Calico Corners during the year?

We have scattered promotions throughout the year, but our two biggest promotions are in March and September.  If you're looking to decorate now, our March sale begins tomorrow! 

I don't know what to do with my kitchen windows. I have a window over my sink, plus glass sliders that open onto my deck. How can I handle these very different windows?

Let the window dictate what the window treatment should be--and you certainly don't have to do the same thing at every window in a room!  Use the same fabric for a harmonious look--consider a shade with valance over the kitchen sink and then a lined drapery for the sliding window.   There are lots of different styles to choose from!

That's all the time we have today. We apologize for the technical problems and appreciate you sticking around while we dealt with them. We also want to thank Julie for joining us and for all of her great advice. Chat with you next week.

Towards the end of the chat we were experiencing technical difficulties with the program that produces our chats and so we solicited questions via e-mail. From there, we manually entered them into the chat program ourselves.

So, if you noticed a delay in pace today, that is why. Hopefully we'll have better luck next week.  See you then!

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.
Julie Morris
Julie Morris is the director of custom products and programs for Calico Corners, a reliable source for well-priced fabrics, custom furniture, window treatments and bedding. Julie is an expert on everything from window treatments, reupholstery, slipcovers, custom bedding, tableskirts and pillows; in short, just about anything that can be made from fabric.
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