Home Front: Design advice from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza

Mar 10, 2011

Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

It's a dismal rainy Thursday morning here in DC. We hope you grab a cup of coffee and sit at your computer for an hour to chat with us about what's on your mind about the design and organization of your home. 

Are there any designer showhouses coming up in the DC-Maryland area in the next few months?

The two major ones in DC are the Washington Design Center Dream Home that opens that opens March 18 at the WDC and is free and open to the public. And then the DC Design House that opens April 9 at 3134 Ellicott St. NW and will be open thru May 8. I will be tweeting about these as they get closer so sign up follow me @jurakoncius

This is a link to my lampshade site. I made a couple and they are easy, inexpensive and look great.


Hi Jura, I have two questions. I am helping my friends who are in their seventies. They want to paint and change old linoleum (I think) floors on the first floor.

1. What do you recommend to do first? Change floors or paint the interior walls? I know that both would make a mess. We are not sure yet if we will go for tile, or wood, or linoleum.

2. What do you recommend for a floor for an aging couple? I want them to have a floor that is wheelchair friendly and I do not know what to recommend them. Thank you for your help, Angeles.

It is nice of you to help them. My advice would be to change the floors first and paint second. The only thing that would change this advice was if your walls needed a lot of prep or wallpaper removal - then I might be tempted to do that first. I also might leave the baseboard trim to paint until after the floors were done.  My choice might be something like Pergo or another wood laminate product. It is durable and wheelchair friendly.

My 1968 house has the original hardwood floors covered with carpet. We pulled the carpet up in my daughters room and the floors are awesome! Five inch planks, golden colored, my issue I want them darker like a reddish color and some areas are lighter then others. How do we know if they need to be sanded?? That process scares me...

You should hire a professional. Great that you found these great floors - and you want to preserve them and make them look their best. Call and get bids from several wood floor refinishers in your area.

Our basement currently has knotty wood panelling. I've often heard people comment that for whatever reason this is "nice". I would like to get rid of it/paint it/remove the top half/etc., anything! Any advice? Has anyone had experience with a NoVa company that has done such for them? It's dreary, and I think a big reason why we don't hang out downstairs more.

Taking down the paneling, putting up ne dry wall and repainting sounds like a great idea. If you don't want to tackle that project, however, painting over the paneling would be an easier solution for the time being.

I have number of rather large necklaces that I inherited from my mother (African trade beads, southwestern pieces, etc.) I currently keep them in a basket on my dresser, but that means I never wear them because I don't see them. Also, they're very decorative pieces in and of themselves. So I'd like to hang them on my bedroom wall. Does anyone have any recommendations for decorative hooks? (Also, is this a bad idea? Should I be worried about strain on the necklaces? Most seem to be strung on leather cords, so seem fairly sturdy.)

This is a terrific question. Jewelry storage is something we all have to deal with. I really like the look of beautiful bowls of jewelry on top of a chest or vanity table. They are home accessories in themselves. I actually have several glass bowls - formerly vases I think that flowers came to me in - that I have adapted as necklace and bracelet holders. Then you can actually see what is in them. Baskets are good, but you can't see what is in the bottom. I know that the Container Store has a large jewelry organization section and has nice padded stands where you can hang necklaces. Some people do hang them on pegs on the wall - and I know what you mean about not wanting to strain the wonderful cords that your African trade beads and Southwestern pieces are strung on. I would love to hear from all of you with other ideas.

I am currently renting an old house that has plaster walls. Don't want to punch holes everywhere, but would like to hang a few of my own things. Ideas? Are those 'command' strips strong enough for the average picture? Thx

One of those strips is holding my winter coat on a column here at the Post. I think if you follow the weight restrictions on the packaging, you will be fine.

We bought a new home last fall. It's in the right neighborhood & the interior is great, but it lacks curb appeal. We need a complete overhaul - painting shutters, laying sidewalks, removing overgrown plantings and starting fresh. I'd love some help - someone who would upload a picture of my home and be able to show me what their suggested changes would look like. I've contacted a number of landscape companies to no avail. Any thoughts on who could tackle a project like this?

Where do you live? In the DC area? I can't believe landscapers haven't called you back. I think there are people who could help you at places like American Plant Food and Johnson's Florist and Garden Center.

Hello. I love your column. I have three children, including two sons. We have decided to let them share a room. They are 3 years apart in age (currently ages 2 & 5). We want to decorate their room to be fun while they are small, but not be overly "baby". Do you have suggestions on color, decorating themes that will grow with them? We have decided against bunk beds - we just don't like them. They love "boy stuff" - cars, trucks, planes, dirt, super heroes, and I don't mind including it, but I don't want to paint Spiderman murals on the walls either, because tastes change. HELP ME PLEASE!

I think your instinct to stay away from painting themes is a good one, because your son's taste will change often and you don't want to have to keep repainting everytime they've found a new interest. I would paint the walls in a color that is appropriate for them, but you like, too. If you like color and the room gets a lot of natural light, a navy or chocolate brown would be a nice choice. They are colors that will grow with the boys and you can stick to bringing in themes and current interests with accessories, bedding and wall art. If you would rather have neutral walls, a tan or gray would be good choices and a nice background for cars, trucks and dirt.

I'm planning out a nursery for our first baby. I am using Maxfield Parrish and others of the "Golden Age of Illustration" as inspiration. I am thinking of using a deep/rich blue for the walls. The crib we've ordered is gold wrought iron and the changing table will be white, so the furniture should provide some contrast to the walls. Do you have any paint recommendations? Thanks!

Blueblood by Sherwin Williams; Drawing Room Blue or Pitch Blue by Farrow & Ball and  Behr Premium Plus Ultra Arrowhead Lake.

There are some pretty colored wood stains (Lowes) that would soften the dark wood, but still let the grain show. They are sheerer than paint, but more opaque than typical stains and come in colors other than wood tones.


Wouldn't it make sense to paint first, so you don't have to worry about covering the floors while painting??

But when you lay floors you create a big mess too. I think there are lots of opinions on this.

Primer, primer, primer. You're basically painting over plastic laminate, unless it's real wood paneling--in which case you're better off staining it light or leaving it alone.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

How nice that you have hardwood! I second Jura's advice about hiring a professional. My husband is a contractor and does most everything himself, but even he hired this out for our house. You can really ruin your floors with sanding if you don't know what you're doing.

Glad you agree. I think you really need to protect those hardwood floors - they are a treasure!

Good morning! I found a great Craigslist deal, and I am picking up my antique vanity this weekend. From the pictures, it looks like it has dulled a little bit and has a few scratches. I am new to the world of antiques. Would it be blasphemous for me to sand it down and stain or paint it?

I guess that depends on how old the pieces is. You will have to wait and see when you pick it up. If it is a true antique, they you should value each and every age mark on it including the signs of wear. If  it is a vintage piece that you really want to work into your design scheme, by all means paint or  stain it.

Hi. We have a spare bedroom that is rarely used for guests. I was thinking about transforming it into a "fun" library, not a dark study but a fun place to be where my kids will want to spend time. What would you put in there? It's not the biggest space, but certainly not the tiniest. Thanks!

This sounds like a fun idea for an extra room. Let's see....if I were doing this, I would keep the center of the room open with a plush area rug and maybe a bean bag or two and add plenty of bookshelves and maybe a desk area inbetween. Make sure to have overhead as well as task lighting.

What would be a good color to 'neutralize' and modernize an area with a butter yellow cabinets? We have an open floor plan, lots of windows and lots of cabinetry. The kitchen has stainless appliances, brown/gray/black granite countertops, and pale yellow cabinets with brushed nickel hardware. I like contemporary: bright primaries with taupe/gray basics and black accents. The cabinet color is totally throwing me off, but the cabinets are brand new and custom so I don't want to repaint. Also, I have copper pots on display. thanks!

I think I would go with gray walls.

Good morning, Ladies! I have a balcony that gets tons of sunlight during the day. I'd like to decorate so that it is a welcome site when coming home in the evening. Any non plant ideas would be great!

Where is your balcony located and what room of the house is it attached to?

I am finding that I cannot comment on today's House Calls. Other people's comments come up, but no window to add comments. Are others having this problem? Anyway, the bookcase that has been hung on the wall is an accident waiting to happen -- much too big and potentially heavy to be safely wall-hung. Just put it on the floor. I don't like the sofa blocking a doorway. Could you have used a couple of loveseats instead: one where the sofa is, but not blocking the doorway so much, and one facing the fireplace, making a conversation area with the fireplace as focal point? The TV would still be OK where it is.

The couch isn't blocking the doorway, it's to the left of it. Thanks for your comments. We'll check the problem with the HC comments asap. thanks.

hi jura, what are you thoughts on vinyl vs. other for child proof carpets or runners - we have some upcoming rug rats.....best, campion

Hi Campion. What a fun question. People are always looking for rugs that wear well with kids - and with pets.  I do love the Dash & Albert indoor/outdoor rugs.  The rugs from Giggle are fun. I do love the chenille rugs from Pottery Barn Kids and they look easy to clean.

There are some great peel-and-stick children's decorations out there - including Spiderman. We started with a cute nursery theme, then moved on to general sports, then onto Cars, and now Pokemon. Of course, he's ready to change again as soon as I can find what he wants this time. We find that the builder off-white walls, while boring by themselves, make great backdrops to these different themes.

Great suggestions. Thanks.

First you need to prime with the appropriate primer. Then paint with your paint color. Real wood needs to be sealed etc. Replacing with drywall will look better. You can do it yourself. A good screw gun adn some help.

Drywall would look better, yes, but repainting the paneling is an okay option in the meantime and it's something they could potentially do this weekend fairly quickly.

Pottery barn used to have some pretty frames that were for hanging jewelry. Some of them had hooks on the top for hanging necklaces, and others had wire strung across for hanging earrings. I don't see them on the PB website anymore, but here's a site with a photo and instructions on how to make your own. I think it's a pretty way to turn jewelry storage into wall art.

Really cute idea. Thanks.

This is the perfect time and place for wall decals! You can have Superman or trucks today, and something else next year, at low cost and with no damage to walls. For examples Google "kids room wall decals."

Good idea. thanks.

Wooden chairs. Metal will retain too much heat and cloth or plastic will fade too fast.

Good point.

Since I assume the necklaces (which sound fabulous, by the way!) will be hung one-per-hook, you might want to look into decorative knobs, rather than hooks. The options at a place like Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware would work. You could get something ornate to complement the necklaces or very plain and simple to avoid detracting from the neckales. Plain wooden pegs or dowels painted to match your wall color would also work (and probably be cheaper!). You could also hang one or several rods (small, simple curtain rods or even towel racks) so that you could hang several necklaces per rod. This could look cool if your collection is large and the rods are arranged nicely to fill a larger space (maybe stcked vertically or arranged in a diamon shape).

Your ideas are fab. Those necklaces would look wonderful hung the way you described and would be out there for you to pick from.

I have seen nicely framed bulletin boards used for necklace display and storage in magazines. It can look really good in a closet or bedroom wall.

Another good idea. Thanks.

I would recommend a shadow box for displaying the jewelry. You can get horizontal ones that can be laid out on end tables or coffee tables. You can get vertical ones that hang on the wall. If you use the vertical ones, get ones with a "pin cushion" style back and you can not only use pins to hold the leather cords, you can put pins under the heavier parts of necklaces (say one on either side under a large bead/pendant) that will support the heavier parts and put less strain on the cords. The glass box will protect the box a little more. You can buy them at various places like The Container Store, on-line or there are instructions on E-How for how to build one yourself.

Great resource. Thanks.

Yes! My best friend in high school was stuck with the stuff she picked out when she was 5. She hated it and wanted to change and her mother would sigh and say, well, you picked it out honey. Her mom really did not want to go through the hassle of redecorating, so she just refused.

Oh, that's terrible. Themes (and trends) are best handled in ways that are easily and inexpensively replaced.

I have a jewelry box for small pieces, earrings, delicate chains etc, but was overflowing with bigger chunky necklaces. I solved this with a repurposed cork-board (covered in a fun printed fabric that coordinates with my bedroom) and bought decorative stick-pin hooks. This has worked great for my extra long and chunky pieces, and allows me to display them rather than have them hidden away in a box. Caveat, none of my necklaces are very expensive, so I don't worry about long-term damage of hanging them.

Bulletin boards are popular it seems. Keeping pieces out in the open and not hidden in a box is the key to eraly enjoying your collection of jewels.

Some community colleges and HS vo-tech programs have Landscaping programs. Maybe you could get the work done you need and help kids learn and earn.

Interesting thought.

A few chats ago someone had a question about where to obtain child size chairs. Miss Pixies on 14th street frequently has these. Their website is pretty up to date, so you can see if they have them in stock, but you could also call and ask. These are used, but always look sturdy, and I've seen a variety of styles.

Nice of you to come back with this information. Miss Pixie's is a wealth of great stuff.

Layer a neutral fabric over a piece of cork, frame it, then attach clear push pins. Then hang it in your room as art. Also, after Easter last year, I picked up those egg trees for ninety cents and they work perfectly for necklaces and earrings.

Egg trees as jewel trees. Love it.

thanks for your input, but, cool gray or warm grey and pale, medium or dark? thanks again....

Unfiatunately, it's really difficult to be more specific without seeing your space. I would just get sample pots of some grays you're drawn to and paint large swatches (either directly on the walls or on foam core board, which you can find at craft stores or art supply stores). Keep the swatches up for several days and be sure to look at the colors at different times of the day to see how they look in different light. And put swatches up in different places in the room, too, so you can get a sense of how it will look everywhere. After days of looking at the color like this, one should eventually stand out as your favorite. If none of them do, try the same thing with different shades. It's a process, I know, your efforts will be worth it in the end.

I read here a while ago about an interior designer (or designers?) who would help you rearrange what you already had. Can't find their name or firm anywhere, though. Can you remind me how to find someone like this? We really need some help, but on a very limited budget. Thanks!!

Check with the Washington area chapter of ASID - The American Society of Interior Designers - they have a design-by-the-hour program that might be have some openings.  Call 202 488-4100.

Hello, we are turning our dining room into a family/play room in anticipation of our first baby arriving this summer. We have beautiful hardwood floors. A remanent carpet that covers most of the space seems like the most practical idea, but I really do not like carpets. Do you think a softer area rug would suffice for a baby learning to crawl/walk?

Hello! I love the chat! I'm moving into a new apartment with hardwood floors that has a combined living/dining space (1 open room). I will be getting some area rugs for this space, but since it's one room should I get one large (or two of the same) area rugs for both the living and dining spaces (there will only be about 3'-4' between the back of the couch and the dining room table area). Or should I get two different rugs to differentiate the areas a little more? It's not a huge room so I am worried about everything looking like a mish mash of pieces or having too much going on. I want to define each space, but with some harmony. Thanks ladies!

I would keep things separate and get two area rugs. You could keep the rugs the same or get different ones, either way would work. If the room is small, sometimes having the same materials keeps the space looking a little more harmonius. But I really think you could go either way.

I totally feel the homeowers pain. I have 60's paneling in my house and we have been torning it down room by room and insulating and drywall. I say if you hate it get rid of it. Those that like it doesnt have to live with it, you do. Check DIY network website for ideas to take it down.

I like that. If you hate it, get rid of it. Works for a lot of issues in life.

I came up with a great solution for this - I papered a metal sheet with pretty paper and hung it up over a low bedroom bookshelf. Then I put my jewelry in clear fronted tin cups (you see them used in magnetic spice racks a lot) and attached magnets to the back. Then I just stuck the tins to the papered sheet. This keeps things separated so there is less tangling of necklaces and displays what I have, so I don't forget. (I also decorated up the tins a bit)

I wish I could see a photo of this.

Team, I am in the middle of redecorating my living room, and I need an area rug to cover my hardwood floors. Do you have any suggestions as to what stores carry a good selection of rugs in this area? I've tried Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Homegoods, Ethan Allen, & Pottery Barn. I like a lot of the rugs I've seen online on Homedecorators.com, Amazon, and rugsusa.com, but I'm nervous about purchasing one without seeing it first.

Wow. You have already look at a lot of places. If you really want to be able to see the rug, other places to try are  Carpet Palace, Room & Board, Ikea and Arhaus.

It's attached to the living room. We are in a third floor condo.

I think i would just add a small table and two chairs with colorful cushions covered in outdoor fabric. I would also have a candle lantern or hurricane lamp, too, either on the table or hanging. It would be a great place to relax after work once the warmer weather comes back.

Loved the redesign in paper today.. furniture placement made such a difference, that and window coverings.

Agreed. The window treatments really make a dramatic difference in that room (as they do most rooms).

Agree that you have to be very careful, but it can be done properly if you have the studs for it. We have two horizontal units in our LR, with books (though not packed full, admittedly), and they've been fine for a few years now. That being said, we have a bench underneath and they're on the side of an entry, so if something came crashing down, it's not likely to injure our two pets.

This subject is always tricky. Thanks for telling us your story.

If you plan to remove it, you could probably get someone to buy it from you. Vintage building salvage is very hot and expensive. At the very least you could get someone do the removal labor for free if you let them have salvage rights.


For the expanding family who is going to convert the dining room to a playroom, go and get some of those foam mats that assemble like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Sams' Club sells them in packs of 4. You piece them together and you can go wall-to-wall. The nice thing about those is that if you want to expose the hardwoods when you are using the room, you just pick up the mats and put them back down again to return the room to a playroom. Protects the floors, protects the kids and they can handle messes, food, baby spittle, etc.


Overstock has great rugs

yes but you have to order them without seeing them in person

Thanks for your questions everyone. It was fun and we look forward next week when our guests will be some really talented bloggers who have great ideas for home design. Terri will have the story for you next Thursday in Local Living.

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.

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Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
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