Home Front: Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza chat about chain store decor

May 03, 2012

This week, we're chatting about chains. Check out Terri Sapienza's story about Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, and let us know what you think!

Every week, Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza help you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? They're happy to whip out their 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 (or call-in-a-pro) advice. They can even help you cope with the eternal pets vs. furniture battle. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. They invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. We thought we'd start with a discussion about chain stores, which, as i say in today's story, often get a bad rap in the world of interior design.  Shoppers tend to dismiss the chains when decorating, which I think is a big mistake.  What are your thoughts? Do you shop at the chains? If so, which ones? Do you have a favorite?   Share your thoughts.

I am considering using a steel gray paint on wooden dressers in my sons' shared bedroom, but am not sure how to fit it in with our preferred color scheme of blues and greens. Does it sound too far out? What wall colors might work with gray dressers?

I consider gray a neutral. I think it would be great in a boys room and would be a nice complement to blues and greens.  A pale blue such as Skylight by Farrow & Ball would go nicely with the gray chests.

This reminds me of the Friends episode where Rachel and Phoebe were sharing an apartment. Rachel buys a table from a chain store (similar to Restoration Hardware), but tells Phoebe some tall tale about buying it at a flea market because Phoebe claims that chain stores are what's wrong with the world--mass produced items with no soul. (But in the end she confesses she really likes the table.) I don't object to people shopping at chains, but I so seldom see anything I like--the designs are all very modern and hip which is not my taste at all (I prefer antiques and vintage items). But to each his or her own.

My friend just reminded me of the same Friends episode this morning - how funny. I understand what you're saying and it's true - you like what you like. BUt some people may actually like something in a chain store and not buy it just because it's from a chain. The main point of my story was just to give the chains a chance, if you're not already.

You can jazz up any chain store purchase by recovering it or accenting it with some cool fabric. I've found some great vintage fabric on Etsy that is perfect for recovering small items, such as pillows. You can also find and add fun details with cool buttons, trim, ribbon, etc.

Very true. In the 2012 DC Design House in Spring Valley, which by the way is open until Sunday May 13, Designer Kelley Proxmire took benches from Target and reupholstered the seats in small pieces of expensive fabric. It gives a very polished look and saves money.

In last week's chat you asked for opinions about using gray in home decor. As a very pale person, I find the right gray clothing to be flattering to my natural features and I welcome the gray trend because I don't want to be "washed out" by the colors in my home. Along those same lines, I never went for the red wall (or chunky red couch) trend.

Everything you say is true. I do think gray is a great color for a lot of people both in fashion and in their homes.

Have you been to the DC Design House? What do you guys think? What's your favorite space?

On a recent outing in NYC with clients we stopped into Restoration Hardware to pick up some secondary lighting for the couple's Conn. country house. I must admit I was blown away with the number of purchasers, not shoppers, the store had. Not due to the lack of salespeople, but because each salesperson had customers with them, we had to wait for a short period of time. Not just one of the salespeople, but a few acknowledged our presence and offered assistance as soon as they were free. We were even offered bottled water while we waited for the next available salesperson. Our shopping experience was extremely positive and bravo to Restoration Hardware for raising the bar in the wonderful world of Retail Home Fashion!

Very interesting story. Yes, RH has definitely been raising the bar in terms of retail home shopping, both in terms of the shopping experience and their prices. I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about them these days. Some people love their look, others are tired of it. Either way, they have people talking about them.

Love the home chats. I'm hoping someone can advise me on a laundry problem. Recently while traveling I had a hotel launder some of my clothing. It came back with a sweet. flowery smell I didn't like, but I assumed it came from their detergent and would wash out when I laundered them myself. Unfortunately, some of the items still carry the scent, which I find unpleasant. I re-washed everything with baking soda, and that didn't really help. Now I'd trying to air everything out, with mixed success. These are some of my favorite clothing pieces...what else can I do to get the scent out? Many thanks for any advice.

Have you tried washing them with a little white vinegar?

Respectfully, you guys are nuts if you run a $2,000 grill as a "save" option. Unless there's something that the $2,000 grill can do that a $250 grill cannot...

Well, it was a less expensive trophy grill is my guess. Aspirational.

Hello, Would you please suggest a paint color for our kitchen cabinets? I'm thinking of a slate bluish gray color. Currently, they're dark wood, and we want to brighten them up. The walls are ivory and the backsplash tiles are blue and white.

Interesting you want bluish gray. With your blue and white tiles, have you considered a shiny crisp white? For a slate blue, I might go with Wedgewood Gray by Benjamin Moore.

I have no problem with individual items from chain stores; if they fit in and add something to a room, that is great! But I don't like rooms that look like catalog pages or ads from the store, with no personality from the owner.

Yes, I completely agree. These are precisely the points I make in today's story.

Help! I have putty colored carpet in the basement and a charcoal gray sectional sofa (the Tillary from West Elm). I'm looking for a paint color that will bring a little color into the space (which, being a basement, gets only limited natural light) while not clashing with either of the neutrals. Suggestions much appreciated!

How about painting the walls an off-white to add some light into the space, then bringing in color with accessories and art?

Do you have any recommendations for home scents - diffusers, essential oils, etc.? I don't like the artificial smell of things like Febreze, but our house smell a little stale.

First of all, do you have a dehumidifier going? That does wonders for taking out a stale smell. Some companies make what they call a "linen" scent. It's very neutral. I fine that the more expensive the scented candle or room spray, the better it smells. Jo Malone room sprays are expensive but last many months. Also try L'Occitane, Molton Brown or Woods of Windsor products. Anyone else have favorites?

Hello. I have a 12'4" basement wall (2 windows) with an exposed pipe on one end that I would like to cover with bookshelves, cabinets, or somesuch. As there are windows, I'm really only looking to cover the lower half of the wall. I'm looking for suggestions of places to find tall cabinets or bookshelves, about 24 inches deep, 4 feet high, that I can use to create a built in effect. I looked at Ikea, but for their entertainment line, they do not sell extra finished wood to cover the area with the exposed pipe. For their kitchen line, they do not go high enough to cover the area I want covered. Any suggestions? I got an estimate for a built in bookshelf ($4,000) and that's not in my budget.

If you like the Ikea shelving, you could always buy them and pay a carpenter to add a few finishing touches to them, such as doors and trim as well as something to cover the exposed pipes.

I approach shopping at a chain store the same way I do a vintage store or even a flea market. I have to carefully look at each item to determine whether it is well-made and worth the sales price. Some stuff will be over-priced junk; some will be worthwhile. But I don't see the point of refusing to shop at a chain simply because it's a chain. That's simply snobbery and leads you to buying a lot of expensive junk.

Yep. Very well said. Thanks.

Wow, your story made me feel like such a schlub, because when I buy things at Pottery Barn or RH, it's a "reach" for me, rather than a "budget" alternative to designer furnishings. Some of those PB/RH things cost a LOT! All this time I thought I was cool because I bought a PB couch instead of Ikea, but it turns out that I'm not very classy and there's a whole segment of Washingtonians who might look down on me.

Oh, come on now, that wasn't the point of the story at all. The point was that there is great design to be found at the chains and that people who snub their noses at them are the ones should feel like the, as you put it, "schlubs."

I just loved the outdoor patio off of the Master Bedroom. I am going to try bring that look to the deck on the back of my house in Herndon VA. What they did was not super pricey. The picture on the plastic was only $400.00 that is not bad for something like that.

Yes. That is a totally cool space. I wanted to sit there all day!

Forget the sprays, oils, diffusers, etc., and deodorize your home the old-fashioned way: no matter what the weather, open the windows for at least 15 minutes each day, preferably 30 minutes in good weather. You need to completely exchange the indoor air for fresh outdoor air. Today's homes and apartments are far too air-tight and that's what causes the musty smell.

That is so true.

I'm delighted that Restoration Hardware is now sizing their furniture to fit smaller, older homes (like mine!). I've mixed RH's upholstered goods with wood furniture acquired from family, at auction and estate sales. I also love Home Goods and Target. After seeing Kelly Proxmire's "x" benches, I bought a couple to redo myself. Wish me luck!

Yes, I think RH's decision to add some smaller scale furnishings into their mix was a smart move and especially helpful to those of us who live in old DC homes with small dimensions and doorways.

Kelley's Target bench transformation was definitely inspiring. Good luck with your own makeover. Let us know how it turns out. 

I have nothing against gray but the house was drab, dreary and numbing in its samenesss. There was nothing to delight the eye and keep you engaged. At least the kids' rooms were pleasant but that's about it.

Another opinion!

I have a Stickley sectional in a brown and black fabric. Floor is Brazilian cherry and coffee table and tv stand are dark cherry. I really want to lighten the room. Should I have the couch redone?

Sounds as if your couch could use a makeover in something a little less dark and heavy. Yes, look for a fabric of neutrals, maybe in sand, tan, coffee, mocha etc. in a stripe, small print or texture.

A real bayberry candle will really get rid of a musty smell in a room. Don't use the fake scented ones; you need the ones that are made from the wax off the bayberries themselves. I have found them at Yankee Candle, but only in Vermont and only in the fall (also, only tapers). A really good shop might have them at other times of year.

Yes. I love bayberry candles and I always get some when I'm in New England. Great idea.

Wow- a lot of varied opinions on this topic! I would put it in this perspective - most of us shop for wardrobe pieces at stores like Banana Republic , H&M , Zara - designer knock offs - the home furnishing chains offer us the same opportunity - to buy a "fashion" piece - or even a basic - for a fair price.

Yes, that's a great analogy.  Thanks.

I am nearly ready to take the plunge on a Sure Fit slipcover for our sofa but would appreciate your thoughts on color. (even if I recover it myself, which I've debated, I'd still have to pick a fabric). TV room, little natural light. Walls are Behr Stable Hay. Recliner is a milk chocolate, a little more milky than chocolate. Carpet is an ivory beige. Wood trim is honey-toned oak. Husband would prefer a neutral-ish couch, and I can do colorful throws. Should I go with a deeper or a lighter neutral on the slipcover? Thanks.

I would go with a lighter color. They are washable. It will make the room look bigger. And bring in some color with pillows, just like you said.

Rather than spending money on candles and diffusers- upgrading to a higher level of filtration on your HVAC system is a great way to really get rid of cooking orders, pet odors etc.

Yes. That is also a good idea.

Simmer some cinnamon and water for a while. Works for my house. If you have filters in your range exhaust fan, clean them--that helps a lot.

Yes. And make sure your furnace filter is changed often. A good vacuum with a HEPA filter is also important.

Our family room is currently painted a color that falls somewhere between Sherwin Williams' Hopsack and Latte, with the darkest brown possible as an accent wall and below a chair rail on another wall. We have a large red sectional (which we love), and maple doors, trim and blinds. Accents are green, red, cream and gold.  I'd REALLY like to lighten up the room. Any paint color suggestions? We're Sherwin Williams devotees, so anything in their color palatte is welcomed.

I really like Sherwin-Williams Bagel.

I want to purchase this chair for a small sitting area. It would be next to a black/brown wood dresser and I am trying to figure out what color area rug to get. I would like to keep the space fairly neutral and clean. Any suggestions?

I would look for something off white with a small print or weave in it in maybe beige or brown. Or just go with a textured sisal or seagrass.

By stating that "most of us shop" at places like Banana, the poster is showing his/her snobery. SEriously, most people don't shop at stores like those very often because they're fairly expensive for a lot of people. I'm someone who is able to shop there, buy most of my friends aren't. The poster is just one snob level down from those that shop at the hoity toity stores. SEriously.

Yikes. I think you're reading too much into the comment. I got the impression that the original poster was just speaking generally and giving examples of chain clothing stores. She/he also included H&M and Zara in that list, which are both considered inexpensive places to shop for clothing. 

Just an FYI- the return policies for places like PB have changed recently. My parents bought an upholstered couch, chair, and ottoman from there a few months ago and the cushions look like they've had it for years. They called to inquire about it and found out that the warranty is 60 days. That seems a little absurd for a purchase of a few thousand $$.

That's a good point, and I think it's very important to discuss the return policy on anything you purchase, especially home furnishings that you're spending a lot on. I think Loi Thai's comment on return policies in my story today was a comparison to custom furniture orders, which are rarely returnable.

I'm looking for blinds for our family room windows. I see a lot of natural blinds around but are these still a good investment and where is the best place to buy them?

Natural blinds are a good investment. Blinds in general are worth spending money on for quality - they protect your furniture from the sun's damging rays, provide security, provide extra insulation during the colder months and add style to a room. I have bought a lot of blinds at Next Day Blinds and have been very happy. They stand behind their products and will come fix a broken cord years later.

Any suggestions besides Yi's in Rockville? I got a quote to upholster a very small chair, nothing fancy, and it seemed really high.

Check out this story I did about reupholstering several weeks ago for a few more local suggestions. Another place I spoke to for the story, but didn't get included because of space was Mount Vernon Upholstery in Alexandria (703) 360-8111.

Can you recommend a white paint by Sherwin Williams? I am a fan of white interiors but have been unable to choose among the many whites available. Do you recommend flat paint for walls (not kitchen or baths) and glossy for woodwork? Also want to paint a brick wall the same white. What type of paint for this? Thank you.

I like Dover White by Sherwin-Williams. Yes, flat for walls and glossy for woodwork. If you want to paint interior brick, it should be properly prepared by scraping the surface with a wire brush and then carefully wiped off. You need to apply a good primer and an interior paint.

What's all for today folks. Thanks for joining us and for all of your comments about chain store shopping. Have a great weekend. Chat with you next week.

Who do you call to check your window unit? Mine are getting up there in age and last year I thought I'd have them checked out, but, I could only find folks who serviced central air systems not window or wall through units. Thanks!

How old are your units? If they are more than eight years old, it might not be worth having them serviced as you would be better advised to get newer, more energy efficient replacement units. I would call the manufacturer of your units and get the name of a factory trained repair person.

I am glad to see the comment about finding the cool vintage fabrics on Etsy. It's great fun. I have just discovered this source and have already used a couple of fabrics for my porch furniture pillows. Love it!


In This Chat
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
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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