Elizabeth Mayhew on outdoor design | Home Front

Jun 12, 2014

Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's Today Show. She is the author of FLIP! For Decorating (Ballantine) and has worked for Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living and Woman's Day. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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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This morning's guest is Elizabeth Mayhew, who is a contributing editor for NBC's Today Show and writes a design column for the Washington Post. She has written for many design magazines and is a book author as well. She's got lots of solutions for living better and more stylishly and today we'll have outdoor furniture, indoor/outdoor fabrics and outdoor rooms as a special topic. 

Hi Everyone,

So happy to be back chatting with you. Please send your decorating dilemmas my way...


Hello Ladies! I was wondering if you have any favorite whites for painting kitchen cabinets. The counters will be a honed white marble. Looking for something that isn't too stark. The trim in our house is White Dove-love it but I think it's too white for an entire kitchen. Thx!

I might be the wrong person to answer this because I like very clean whites (I shy away from the creamy ones). I ususally use Benjamin Moore's Decorator White for all of my trim and cabinetry--it's very crisp and has more of a gray tone than a yellow tone. I also use Pratt and Lambert's Seed Pearl but usually on walls. You have to be careful with white because it is very site specific--the tone it takes is dependant on what is around it and what kind of natrual and ambiant light is in the kitchen. May I suggest painting your cabinets a gray instead? It looks gray--t :). Try Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl or for a darker shade try BM's Coventry Gray or BM's Chelsea Gray (that is what I used on my kitchen cabinets). 

The living room that was done over today appears to have a fireplace and a pleasant view of the outdoors. So why would the designer turn the furniture away from those things, and only toward the big TV? Is that really what the client wanted?

Hi! Meg here, your House Calls writer. That is in fact what the client wanted -- the Puderbaugh's use the room for TV watching, and have a fireplace in another room. The one in this space does not function and the Puderbaugh's would actually like to get rid of the brick wall at some point. Thanks!

Is there any low-cost furniture that can withstand the elements, or am I doomed to spend a fortune?

I guess it depends on how you want to care for your outdoor furniture...Are you willing to move it indoors during the harsh winter months? If so, then you can probably get away with something that is less expensive--you can even try going to Ikea. Also so much depends on your decorating style; you want your outdoor furniture to be an extentsion of your indoor style. Please send more details (where you live, what you like) and I can give a better suggestion. 

Do you have any secret fabric outlets in New York City you want to share with us?

Are you looking for any fabrics or outdoor fabrics in particular? Just so happens many of the fancy D & D showrooms are having their clearence sales in the next few weeks....

How can you make an outdoor space feel cozy? It seems like my patio space is so spread out that's not very intimate, and I'm not sure I have enough $ for more furniture.

I think you should try using large pots and outdoor lanterns to help delineate a smaller space. You can also use outdoor rugs (my favorites are from Dash and Albert (www.dashandalbert.com) to create a focal point and arrange furniture around them.

Do you have any recommendations for what color/pattern of engineered stone to use for our kitchen counters? We are redoing the cabinets using IKEA high gloss white (ABSTAKT). The kitchen walls are Restoration Hardware's Silver Sage color. We are thinking of bright white kitchen counters with a blue-grey vein, but are wondering if that would be too much white. Thank you!

I think a blue-grey vein would be nice, but you can also use Pebble or Concrete Caesarstone (on sale now at IKEA through Sept--great deal!). Gray countertops might look fantastic and warm up all of that white.

I’m having trouble finding a 24” wide metal washstand (similar to Restoration Hardware’s Gramercy single metal washstand) that will fit into my small bathroom. I’ve done extensive online research but all are at least 3” too wide. I’d like to have a marble or engineered stone top and do know where I can find the top and sink. I’m thinking I may need to have the washstand fabricated. Any suggestions for either finding a 24” wide one or where to get it fabricated?

I went through the same process--hard to find smaller washstands for powder rooms. I ended up having to have one custom made by Waterworks and it was NOT inexpensive and it had a very long leadtime. 

What is the best way to clean outdoor cushions? They don't have any particular stains on them but are just overall dirty from pollen, etc. Thanks!

First I would vacuum them just to remove all of the pollen. Make sure that the foam inside of them is specifially made for outdoor use (water will just pour right though them). If it is the right foam, then you can sponge them off with warm, soapy water, rinse or hose them clean and air dry. If you have a particularly nasty spot try using Formula 409 or another all -purpose cleaner, just make sure you rinse it clean. 

Elizabeth, Can you offer some suggestions in making a living room brighter? Everything in my living room is dark furniture and even when lights are on it still looks gloomy. Thanks.

Ah, one of my favorite questions. First of all, I would start by tackling the lighting. Every room needs at least 3 points of light and for a living room, I suggest NOT using an overhead light. It is best to have a floor lamp and several table lamps--it's just more flattering to all in the room. Then look into replacing all of your lightbulbs. New LED bulbs can have a dramatic effect--if you buy ones that have a clean with light (high Lumens) then your rooms will have decidedly different look. If you are up for replacing furniture, then I would add in a piece of lucite which always lightens a room. Personally, I would probably paint a piece of wood furniture white just to break up the brown. If that is out of the question, then at least get some white or colored throws or pillows to brighten the room.

Do you have a favorite outdoor fabric? I see Sunbrella written about all the time.

Sunbrella definitely has the corner on the market--you can buy their fabrics from www.ballarddesigns and www.outdoorfabrics.com, but two of my favorite collections are the Great Outdoors Collection from Holly Hunt and the Perennials Collection (https://www.perennialsfabrics.com). Both are available through designers, but you can purchase both through Design Services in the Design Buildings. The bottom line is that more expensive outdoor fabrics feel less like outdoor fabrics. You can really get something that is solution died, but feels like a velvet or a chenille. 

i have fall colors (BM showtime with the one wall BM fiery opal) in my living room. i wanted a warm, toasty feel but it's more bold-feeling than i intended. i have stark white moulding and crown moulding along with a white built-in bookshelf and credenza. i was thinking i could paint the moulding and built-in with a creamier white to warm the space up. thoughts?

Paintng the trim would definitely warm up your rooms. Stark white paint is like white icing--it highlights everything and makes the color it surrounds pop. Try either White Dove or Linen White or you can take a basic white and just add a bit of the wall color to it so that it has a more mellow cast. 

We are considering a pergola to cover the small patio area off of our dining room. Any suggestions? Are the pergola kits worth considering? The pergola would need to attach to our house.

I love pergolas--used to have one off my kitchen in my old house. Trouble was, our house was white and the pergola was wood. It always bothered me because I wanted to paint it white so that it was a natural extention of the house. My husband wouldn't let me paint it because it is a nightmare to upkeep, plus if you have wisteria or other climbing vine, you have to remove it every few years to repaint. 

I've seen outdoor kitchen spaces in magazines and love them, but wouldn't know where to start to create my own. Have you ever worked with a client on one?

I have not worked with a client on one, but I have been fortunate to see many great outdoor kitchens. I would first start by selecting the appliances--especially the grill. It really is no different from planning an indoor kitchen with the exception that all surfaces need to be weatherproof. 

What do you think of the 17 pound stack of Restoration Hardware catalogues that everyone's talking about?

They make great barbells! To be honest, I have them, but have not even opened them. When I want something from Resto, I just visit their site. 

I'd like to get a brightly-colored new front door that won't need repainting (i.e. metal or aluminum). Preferably, the door would have some glass (maybe at the top, so we have privacy but still a little light getting through). We like Home Depot, Lowes, and other big-box stores. What would you suggest?

Have you checked out Pella? http://www.pella.com

I have big time allergies to plants and grass and therefore, can't plant or upkeep anything myself. I have a friend who has volunteered to plant flowers and plants for me, but I need ideas for very low maintenance. Can you recommend any books or online resources for planting ideas? I live on 1/4 acre with mostly grass and a couple of trees. Sunny backyard and shady (mostly) front yard.

So much depends on where you live! What grows well in my yard, might not in yours. I am not a gardener--I like my yard to look as pretty as it can for as little work as possible. I have hydrangea, flocks, vibernum, and hostas. I would do a google search for "low maintenance plants" for your "zone". 

My master and guest bathrooms are small and have old vinyl flooring. I don't have much money to replace them, but would love to do a temporary update to hold me over until I do. Any ideas?

I am in the process of doing exactly what you need for a client...we are just ripping up the old vinyl and putting down wall-to-wall "vinyl sisal" called Bolon (http://www.bolon.com). It comes in great weaves and colors and is a fun alternative until she can afford to replace it will either tile, marble, or wood. It's super easy to clean--just mop it with warm, soapy water. 

We appreciate your being with us today. Next week, I am doing a Destination Design shopping column on Vienna. Va. My chat guest will be Aimee Wedlake Lange who owns the popular Vienna upscale linen shop Valerianne. We'll talk bed and bath design.

Always happy to chat with you! Hope to talk again soon.

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.

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Elizabeth Mayhew
Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's Today Show. She is the author of FLIP! For Decorating (Ballantine) and has worked for Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living and Woman's Day. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
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