Barbara Franceski of Barbara Franceski LLC in Alexandria talks shopping in Old Town and offers interior design tips | Home Front

Apr 18, 2013

Barbara Franceski, principal at the Alexandria design firm Barbara Franceski LLC, will talk shopping in Old Town and offer interior design tips. Submit early questions now and join us Thursday at 11 a.m. EST!

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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Barbara Franceski is a designer who lives in Old Town Alexandria and today she's here to chat about the wonderful home and design stores in her own neighborhood, as well as any other questions you may have. In a minute, I will link to our Destination Design story today which features Old Town. Thanks for being with us, Barbara!

Here is our story today on the wide array of shops in Old Town Alexandria's King Street that feature home furnishings both new and old. Tell us what are your favorite shops.

Hi! I live in a modern open-floor condo with tall concrete ceilings and exposed ductwork (painted white). The condo has pre-existing spotlights in the kitchen and entryway. The living room space, however, is too dark even with a table lamp. What do you think about installing track lighting in the living room? Do you have suggestions on where to find track lighting in the area?

Hi! Layering light is the way to go. Bruck is a company that offers great design in track lighting. Locally, Illuminations carries the line.

I purchased an Ikea-like movable kitchen island. I've had it for 3 years, but the materials and construction are so bad that it is slowly coming apart at the joints. I'm hesitant to purchase another one of these assemble yourself islands, but I have not found a sturdy replacement. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? I was thinking about hiring a carpenter, but I don't know where to start on that. It seems most carpenters don't want a project like this, but rather larger whole house/kitchen projects.

Hi! You might try giving Conrad Snow a call at Vision Quest Millwork in Alexandria.

I want to make a trip to Old Town to check out some antique stores - obviously, there are tons down there, so I would love some guidence. I'm looking for those with the most eclectic selection as I want to use this trip to start getting ideas and I'm in an apartment, so smaller scale stuff is important. Also, I'm planning this for a Monday I have off, so I believe that is a consideration (figure some close Mondays). Thanks!!

Yes, a call before you venture out to see what days/times the shops are open is wise. That being said, go visit Verdigris Antiques, Chatree's, Trojan Antiques, and also check out the Look Again shop (benefits the Prevention of Blindness Society) never know what you may find there!

Why is it so difficult to find nice affordable ready made drapes. Although, I would prefer custom drapes, I cannot afford them because I have to purchase 34 panels that are 95" inches long. I see why most people hang blinds instead...I perfer soft treatments instead. Any suggestions?

The reason custom drapery is preferable is that you can hang them from just below the crown moulding to break slightly on the floor.  One solution (that will require a bit of customization on your part) is to buy pre-made drapery, but then add a wide block of another fabric to the bottom to get the preferred break on the floor.

Is there one shop that is really unusual on King Street? Which are your favorites?

What I love about Old Town is that it's not a cookie-cutter line-up of shops, plus you can get inspired by the history by just walking the streets. I love to go to Red Barn Mercantile, Stuart Nordin Home + Design, Random Harvest, Verdigris Antiques, and The Lamplighter.

I'm in the market for a new sleeper sofa and because I live in a small Capital Hill rowhouse it cannot be more than 80" long. I'd love to get a leather one because I have a toddler and when I go to the usual suspects, Macy's, CB2, Mitchell and Gold, and Room and Board, they either don't have one that fits the length or it's over $4000. Any suggestions on where else to look?

Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman makes custom sleeper sofas in all sizes -- I'd take a look at their line.

Have you been to the Crate & Barrel Outlet in Alexandria? Do you think it's worth going?

I actually did stop in there one of the days I was researching in Old Town! One of the perks of the job... Anyway, the Crate & Barrel outlet is indeed a good stop to make if you are in the neighborhood. There used to be a Crate & Barrel Outlet at Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets in Leesburg  but it has closed. The one in Old Town is at 1700 Prince St. and it has a large parking lot. Inside, you will find lots of dishes, housewares and the last time I was there, they had Marimekko items. You might find bed linens, furniture or garden accessories plus organizing items but it's really hit or miss. You can get some great bargains. Definitely worth a drive by.

Hi. What are your thoughts on having the ceiling painted something other than white (which I noticed they did in today's house calls)? I plan on painting my bedroom a medium-light gray and was toying with the idea of painting the ceiling a very light gray. Or conversely, painting the walls a lighter gray and painting the ceiling a darker gray. The room is on the smaller side and doesn't get a ton of natural light. i like the idea, but I'm afraid of the execution! Should the ceiling finish always be flat regardless of the color?

I love color on the ceiling! The ceiling is ususally neglected with Painter's White & it deserves more! Especially in a bedroom. However, I think if you are doing your walls in gray that you should consider a different lighter color for the ceiling. Perhaps Pink Cloud by Ben Moore or Borrowed Light by Farrow & Ball. Lastly, I think high gloss or at least some sheen on the ceiling is great.  

I am looking for some reasonably priced outdoor furniture. What would you recommend?

This is the time to scope out what is available and get a good idea of what prices and styles are in the stores this year. You might want to go to Lowe's, Home Depot, Target, World Market and Ikea. Have you all been out there looking for outdoor pieces? Share anything you found that you thought was good.

We are just given a whole room of nursery furniture. They are well made and lovely but I am at a loss as to what color will look good with medium maple furniture. Aiming for gender neutral scheme. Do you have any advice? Thanks.

You'll see from my answer that I am a big fan of Farrow & Ball paints. Green Ground, Farrow's Cream, Calluna, Pale Powder are all colors to check out.

We just bought a place with wood floors on two levels and marble tile floors in the finished basement (has rec room and bedroom). I'm trying to figure out a not horrendously expensive way to make some of the spaces cozier. Do you have any insight on bound carpets (I think that's the word) - as opposed to rugs? I'm assuming a area rug sized carpet would be a less expensive option for at least a few of the rooms.

Bound carpets -- or area rugs made out of remnants -- are a less expensive option.  You can go to Alexandria Carpet One or Georgetown Carpet, take a look at their remnant selection, and have a piece cut to your desired dimensions, and pick your favorite binding.

It's the 11th hour and I have 11 rooms I want to complete. Is it okay to mix match high quality furniture/items with more affordable items?

Yes! The high/low mix is one way to make your home not only interesting, but personal. I'd go for quality in a sofa, a dining table, and comfortable chairs...a good mattress is important, too.  You can play with accessories, artwork, even end tables in a variety of price ranges.

I noticed at the DC Design House that several designers had layered several rugs in their rooms. Do you like this look? I always thought it looked dumb to layer an area rug on wall-to-wall.

In large rooms, if there is wall-to-wall sisal or seagrass, I don't mind an area rug in a contrasting material to ground a sitting area. Basically, to give that area a tied-together purpose.

A white ceiling says unfinished and stops the eye at the top of the walls. Keep in the same color family. When I grew up in the 1950s and 60s every home had their ceilings painted. When did the trend stop?

Like fashion, things come and go. The ceiling is really the fifth surface in a room and should not be forgotten. I like to paint it or even wallpaper it.  I used a lovely William Morris print paper in a Kitchen that has a coffered ceiling.

I have a puzzle. I need to take out the carpet in my back hall. On one end is a charcoal gray slate floor, on the other end a cream vinyl flooring, a laminate on top of a ruined hardwood (light oak), and a berber and a cut pile carpet both in tans, the berber varigated. What on earth can I put down in that hall with all that going on?

One idea would be to use a checkerboard pattern in the hall to draw the dark and light flooring you have on opposite ends together.  If you have decent hardwood in the back hall, you could have a decorative painter paint this pattern, or you could use flooring tile or marble to achieve this look as well.

Hi, my husband and I can't agree on blinds for our sunroom. It is just off our living room which has wood blinds in a medium oak stain that matches the wood trim around the windows and the wood floors. Our sunroom has white trim and a darker Pergo floor. Should we get the same blinds as the rest of the ground floor so they match from the outside? Or should we get white wood blinds that will match the trim in the room?

My first question would be, are both of these rooms facing the front of your house? If not, I would recommend that you consider roman shades to bring softness to the space instead of more wood blinds.

Hello, we have a 20 year old couch that still holds it shape. We bought the upgraded filling at the time. We recovered it about 5 years ago. I'm not loving the new fabric and the dog recently chewed off about half of the skirt. Do I recover, keeping the old couch, or is it better to just buy a new one? If recover is better, any suggestions on who does this work in Anne Arundel county?

The bones of a sofa are highly important, that's why I recommended earlier that you spend more money on this piece. However, that being said, people are usually surprised at how costly reupholstering is. If you love the size, shape, etc of your current sofa, I'd recommend reupholstering because I'm all about reusing and recycling. I don't know a good workroom in Anne Arundel, but perhaps you can check out your neighborhood listserve.

Hi. I am going to do a kitchen update. We are going to paint the cabinets, put in a new counter-top and new appliances. Our house is very small and the trim throughout the house is cloud white. I have a couple of questions. First, if we want to paint the cabinets a white off-white color, which color do you recommend? Second, are stainless steel appliances still the preferred color or is it changing to something else? Third, is granite still considered the most desirable counter or is that changing as well? Thank you!

Check out our recent kitchen article. We addressed the top trends in the industry today and some of your questions will be addressed there. I would say pick a basic white that complements your cloud white trim. Go to your paint store and pick out a few paint samples and try them on your cabinets before you make the final choice. Stainless steel appliances are here to stay for a while, experts say, although there is a new interest in all white appliances in high end markets. The white is a less shiny, matte finish than the white appliances of before. Granite is indeed a very durable counter material, although in some circles it is considered to be overused and thus may be thought of as a bit dated. Quartz counters are quite popular now and come in a huge range of colors.

I have a split level home with one bedroom in the lower level. We are remodeling the room (removing the drop ceiling and wood paneling in favor of drywall). Any advice on lighting? Should we install recessed lighting or is that not advised for a bedroom? Should we just using table lamps? Or would some kind of flush-mount ceiling fixture be better? Thanks!

Hi! I can never emphasize enough the benefit of layering light in a room, even a bedroom. The use of recessed lighting in a bedroom is a subjective opinion. I personally have it in all of my bedrooms (on a dimmer), plus table lamps. What you always want to avoid is putting too many recesseds on a ceiling -- you don't want it to look like swiss cheese. That being said, I also like flush-mount fixtures in a bedroom.

I am updating but actually making the original tiny powder room in my house more original than the prior owners did. I'm taking out the gold trimmed mirror and shell sink with gold fixtures and putting in something more retro in the o;d style black and white 4x4 powder room. I need suggestions for a paint color now that I'm finally going to be taking down the wallpaper. Green would coordinate with the rest of the first floor. We'll be putting the house on the market eventually. I want something unobtrusive. The room has a window. Should I paint the ceiling the same color? There are so many colors out there. I prefer BM and don't want to waste money on F&B since we'll be selling soon, we hope.

Greens are great, because you can't go wrong with a color that is so profuse in nature. For unobtrusive, check out Aganthus Green, November Rain, Hancock Green (all by Ben Moore).

I bought a standard couch and a sleeper chair-and-a-half from JCPenney three years ago. Both have keep their shape and color well. The twin-sized mattress in chair&1/2 is pretty comfortable as sleepers go. I think I paid less than $2500 for the pair. JCP's improved a lot since my mother used to get my school cloths from them. It's worth a shot.

Thanks. It is great to have your opinion on this.

My husband and I move frequently for his work in the military. As a consequence, I often put off home furnishing and decorating purchases either because of an impending move, because I'm not sure a piece will "work" in another house, because styles change by location, or because of not knowing where to go for certain things. By the time I start to figure things out, we're moving again. Do either/both of you have advice for military families - I'd like to move beyond hand-me-downs and Sam's Club furniture, but dimensions, style, etc seem place-specific and that's what changes all the time for us. Thanks for any advice and Jura, this may be an interesting column idea for the future as the Washington area is full of military, State department and other folks who move a lot.

I think location does play into how we design our home (especially taking into account what we see outside our windows). However, I think that the one thing that stays consistent is you. Meaning your taste and style is what your home should reflect. So, artwork and accessories combined with classic pieces of furniture should be your roadmap.

We are thinking of putting in a freestanding copper tub. Seems the only places you can get this is online. Any recommendations on where you can see this locally ? Also, any recommendations for local tile shops ?

Renaissance Tile & Bath and Architectural Ceramics (both have locations in Old Town) are two great sources.

I have a water hyacinth club chair which, unfortunately. I left outside exposed to the winter elements. It has not rotted, has retained its shape and seems to be pretty sturdy; however, it is very dry to the touch and has an ashen appearance. Is there any way that I can restore its luster? Can I apply an oil based stain or paint? Many thanks for your help with this.

This sounds like a pretty bad situation. I would contact the manufacturer to see what they would suggest would be the best product to try and restore a bit of the original luster. Otherwise you could do more damage to it.

In a previous Q&A you had a representative from Maryland's Healthy Home Initiative. Do you know of any organizations or companies in DC that do healthy home assessments? Thanks so much!

I follow EWG Toxics Team on Twitter (@ewgtoxics). They may be able to direct you to the right place.

I have a back porch that's painted dark brown and I'm hoping to freshen it up--any ideas for color, or brand/type of paint? It has kind of random furniture (maybe I should check out Old Town for some new/old pieces!) and brick-color tile on the floor. I also would love any tips for painting around the screens--will the normal blue painters tape even stick to the screens? Any ideas so I don't make a total mess? Thanks!

I would consider using a neutral paint color (Benjamin Moore, Farrow & Ball, Pantone, Donald Kaufman, Fine Paints of Europe are all good options). Bring in color & pattern in your upholstery fabrics and accessories.

Thanks for your questions and thanks to Barbara for being a great guest on this chat. Go back and reread some of her really insider tips on Old Town shopping and also her decorating advice. It's been a pleasure. My next Destination Design will be Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets so let me know if you have some favorite stores for bargains out there.

Thanks for all of the great questions! Fun to see what types of projects everyone is working on. I'll close with a hearty invite to come visit Old Town & enjoy all it has to offer!

In This Chat
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.

Home Q&A archive
Barbara Franceski
Barbara Franceski is principal at Barbara Franceski LLC in Alexandria. Growing up minutes from the nation's capital, Barbara was strongly encouraged to appreciate the arts. An ensuing hallmark of the firm is thoughtful customization and” delivering beautifully detailed interiors that blend order with originality.
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