Fred Comer, co-owner of Georgetown's new antiques store Comer & Co, joined the weekly chat.

Jun 16, 2011

Fred Comer, co-owner of Georgetown's new antiques store Comer & Co, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for their weekly Home Front chat. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Fred Comer is joining is for the chat today. He and his partner Mark Manoff have a shop in Virginia and this month opened a new antiques shop in Georgetown called Comer & Co. I wrote an article about him today that appears in Local Living in which he discusses the viability of antiques in this modern world. He's got a lot of knowledge about the subject and is here to answer your questions. Let's get going.

We are having our small colonial painted--current color is BM "Fun in the Sun" We want to go a little subtler but not much darker; We are thinking about Weston Flax or Windham Cream with dark green shutters and white trim. How will these look on a not-stately home?

I don't have a BM paint deck with me, creamy neutral colors are always nice.  Consider painting your trim an off-white rather than a stark white.

What are the antique pieces that you find translate most usefully to a modern home....a modern use for an old piece?

A great example is using a sideboard traditionally a dining room piece as a bar in family room or den or a smaller sideboard as a front hall piece. 

Hi Mr. Comer, I have a mahogany wood dining room that I like. I would like to know how to make the dining room feel less stuffy. What type of decorating items would you use to complement this type of wood? Thank you.

I would recommend the use of mirrors.  A large traditional or contemporary mirror can add sparkle and light to a room. 

I suspect this question has been asked and answered before, but I'm searching for a soft, pale blue for a bedroom and I'm finding it harder than I imagined. I've heard one should look at a the gray side of the blue spectrum to avoid a baby-nursery feel. I don't want the robin's egg blue/ seaglass color---as pretty as it is, it's become overused, I think. I just want a nice, adult, light, true blue that doesn't overwhelm. Any suggestions?

Take a look at Glass Slipper and Lookout Point by Benjamin Moore.

I am looking for a 1900 speaking tube horn for my 1905 Walter J. Keith home. The pipe is in the wall from the master bedroom to the kitchen, with a horn at each end that resembles an old telephone horn. Any idea where I might find one? Ever Searching!

Easiest way to approach is by the internet, you can find anything by searching online.

My boyfriend's grandmother has a large, heavy marble top table in her basement that she'd like to have appraised. Could you recommend someone that makes house calls to Capitol Hill?

You will find a number of certified appraisers in your local telephone directory. 

I'm searching for a white lacquer tray to put on my dresser as a landing spot for jewelry and other small items. I've seen them a lot on Apartment Therapy, but am having trouble finding one in stores -- any suggestions?

Check out the chains, like West Elm, Pottry Barn and C&B. If you a Googe search, I'm certain you'll get plenty of hits, too.

Our metal glider from Restoration Hardware needs a new coat of paint. It's two-tone cream and white now. We have apple green cushions on other furniture. Should we keep the two-tone look? What colors would you recommend? I'm leaning toward BM galapagos turquoise. Thank you!

Turquoise and apple green is a cool summery combination. Why not go for it and get a new look - two tone was nice but a hot new color will make you feel like you got a new piece of furniture.

Your article was good, but failed to note that many (if not all) gas inserts have blowers, so the heat is circulated better than with just gas logs. Ours makes a big difference in the temperature of our living area. In a winter power outage, even though the blower does not work the insert keeps the living room at a tolerable temperature.

Thanks for this.

I'm moving on from roommates and into my own apartment in Arlington in a few weeks and I need some furniture. I'm OK with buying used coffee tables and dinettes from the likes of craigslist, but I'd like a new couch. I've checked out Roomstore, but I have no idea where else to look for affordable, fairly good quality (it doesn't have to last forever and I have a cat, so expect it will get slightly scratched up, but I'd like it to be comfortable and decent looking) furniture. Please help!

Second hand shops are a great place for young people starting out or students to find comfortable and affordable upholstered pieces. Start with your local Salvation Army or Goodwill.

I have a number of circa 1900 furniture items. Many mahogany ,including marble top dresser, federal gold leaf mirror, mahgony writing desk, steamer trunk with drawers and hangers, twin poster beds (4), multiple paintings, silver teas set. All need refinishing. I do not have the time or money for that. Can you recommend a good place to evaluate and perhaps sell them

Trying craigslist would be your least expensive alternative and give you maximum exposer. 

Good morning! I live in a DC row house that has a double parlor with 2 fireplaces. I would like to hang matching framed mirrors over the fireplaces. The room does not get much light and is narrow so I thought mirrors might help lighten up the space. Do you have any advice about where to look for framed mirrors? The walls above the fireplaces are about 5 feet by 5&1/2 feet. Thanks!

You can find framed mirrors EVERYWHERE, you just need to decide what style you're looking for to narrow down your choices. And remember, if you can't find what exactly what you're looking for, you could always buy a picture frame and have a mirror put inside or have a frame made to your specifications.

I know this is a sacreligious question, but please answer it anyway! My new house does not have a ceiling fan in the bedroom. I know they are ugly, but after living there for about 5 months, I have realized I really need one to sleep. So, what style/color do I minimize the ugly factor? The room is painted white with a greyish-tan trim and window casings. It has recessed lighting with white trim and I am looking for a fan without a light in it. The decor is modern-ish. I don't know whether to go with a plain white fan to see if it will blend in with the ceiling color and the light casings, or go with brushed nickel with dark blades to go more with my furniture (dark wood with brushed nikel handles). Or some other color. And do I get something plain or with a little style to it? Please help!

Haha. This is funny. I am doing  a story on ceiling fans right now which will be part of my Handy Guide series on home appliances. In fact, designer Barbara Franceski is someone I spoke to this week about fans and she like the kinds of fans that disappear.  Go to - she finds lots of good examples there of nickel and other metal minimalist fans. Many real estate agents say a fan in the bedroom is a must in reselling homes. And many people love the way it feels so why not install one?  Read my story on June 30 for more details.

I love old mirrors. I only wish that I could afford them. Hoe can you make a new one look old. Help I do not want to leave it outside because of the wood encased in it. Help

You can distress your mirror with a wire brush and a little paint thinner.  Try knocking it a bit with a hammer and a little sandpaper. Remember its a mirror so be gentle. 

My husband inherited items that date to the 1600s: it includes paintings, vases, ledgers and coins. How does one determine if a collection will interest a large firm such as Sothebys? Should one approach a single buyer with the entire collection? Are contracts usually involved? Attorneys? Could dealers appraise items based upon videos only - rather than physically appearing with the items?

Sotheby's, Christie's and other auction houses are always happy to look at fine art and antiques.  Most appraises likely will want to see the items.  

How do you decide what color to use in a room that has one color of paint above the chair rail and one below when you don't think that either color would make a particularly good trim choice?

An easy solution: paint the trim white. (I would also probably paint the walls the same color above and below the rail, btw).

How do I take care of the surface? Do I polish it with mineral oil? How do I prevent more chipping? Would you recommend a glass top so that I could place a tray on the cabinet?

Glass is an inexpensive and great way to protect surfaces that get a lot of use.  I use Old English dusting spray applied directly to the cloth not the table. 

I'm redoing my kitchen and I'm so excited! I wanted your opinion on colors. I think white kitchens are beautiful, and I'm leaning toward doing glossy white cabinets, white appliances, a grey counter (probably in Quartz), and a dark blue tile backsplash. However, I'm not replacing the floor, which is a honey oak (sort of medium oak shade) in Pergo. Do you think this color combination will look okay with those floors? And would you go with a lighter grey or darker grey for the counter? Thanks so much!

Yes. White kitchens are always beautiful and in style. I think wood or wood-like floors are a neutral that goes with everything. As for the counter, I might go for a lighter gray - and you might consider doing a light blue backsplash instead of navy - the navy is really going to look dark in your current configuration.

I'd like to answer the "online poll" mentioned -- only problem, it is impossible for me to find. ... Where's the big print when you need it? ... or maybe only those in the know get to answer. Generally I find the Post web sites difficult to use, guess that is what comes of expecting print people to change mode..... or for those of use who love the pr8int media to learn to use other modes. Luella Mast (

The poll is definitely in the story. Here is the link.  Please cast your votes about your opinions on antiques.

I have a formal dining room, oil paintings in gold frames. I am considering purchasing a large abstract for the largest wall. Can you discuss mixing art styles? All furniture is traditional.

Absolutely! Shake up your traditional furniture with abstract and contemporary art. You'll find both the furniture and art benefit from the tension. 

I'm looking for a wardrobe/armoire for my toddler son. Any suggestions (other than Ikea--did that yesterday), on where to look for child-appropriate (but not childish) furniture? Thanks!

Not sure what you mean by "child-appropriate."

Hi there. In the next couple of months I'll be stripping wallpaper and then painting the walls in a bedroom shared by my two sons (ages 0 and 3). There is a chair rail that I'd like to keep, so my question is how to deal with painting around it. Can I paint the same color above and below? Or should I choose two colors? And if two, does the darker color have to go on bottom? Thanks!

I would use the same color above and below the rail, especially beacuse it's a small space. Having two different colors, and the chair rail, will make the room feel visually chopped-up and smaller.

For the person moving into her first solo apartment, Ikea was made for people like you. Ikea has some good inexpensive furniture that is comfortable, but not always made to last. They have a number of different styles in affordable furniture like sofas that should give you options. If you can't beg, borrow or steal a truck to tote it home, they do deliver for $69.00 to your home. However, if you live near a Home Depot and an Ikea, you can rent a truck from HD for $19/hr go to Ikea to pick up your couch, take it home and return the truck. As long as your round trip is under 3 hours, it's cheaper than home delivery.

Great advice. Thanks for writing in.

Good morning, Fred. What do you see as the current "hot" period? I was an antiques dealer in the 80's when American country and English Georgian was the thing. Then we went through a Louis spell. I'm still in the design business and see more clients going contemporary. Where does that leave us antique lovers? Mid-century modern?

Quality furniture from the 20th century has now gained an exulted place among collectors.  You need only look through the pages of Magazine Antiques as proof that it has arrived.  I think French Deco is "Hot" these days.

I have a Queen Anne Lowboy in excellent condition. It is a family piece from England. I am interested in selling it. Would it be of interest to you? I can send an email photo.

I am always happy to look at furniture, you can email it to

I am looking for a specific sized dining table for my kitchen. I really don't care about the age- it can be 100 years old, 25 years old or brand new. I have not found what I am looking for in any stores or on Craigslist. In the past, I would have gone to Upscale Resale but they seem to have disappeared. Any suggestions about where to find a 48+" round table in a light to medium wood tone?

I'm speaking to the owner of Upscale Resale now. He is probably now going to open a small designer showroom in the future. He closed the Falls Church Upscale Resale  business in February. Check his website for updates.  Keep looking at the many sources in our area, flea markets, estate sales, auctions, thrift shops and antiques stores.

When I saw the white kitchens comment, it reminded me of the Absolutely Fabulous WHITE BOX kitchen episode. Its on youtube I think.

Hmmm. Let's try and get a link to this!

Be very careful buying used upholstered furniture because of the potential of bringing the dreaded bedbug into your home!

You are so right. Just recently my son and I spotted a loveseat on a street in our neighborhood and we picked it up for his college apartment. A day or two later I read an article about bed bugs in used upholstery. Yuck. So far, no sign of them...

Means (to me) something fun and good for a kid, but not so formal adult-ish. Make sense? Ikea had some plastic-looking blue stuff that did NOT interest me (what I could call childish). Sorry.

Actually, I would consider buying furniture that will grow with your child, rather than pieces that are child-like in style. That way, you won't feel the need to spend money on something else once your child gets a little older. This doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune and buy super-high end furniture, but I would think about buying a good-quality piece now so you can use it for years.

Try Hamilton's. They have an outlet store , I think in Chantilly. Anyway, I have purchased some nice stuff there that is new and very reasonably priced.


What's notable about old mirrors are the frames. Go to yard sales, estate sales and flea markets and find old ornate picture frames. Take the contents out of the frame and take the frame to a glass and mirror shop and have them measure a mirror for the frame. You can often get antique looking mirrors for very affordable prices.

This idea is a really good one. And it's fun to look through old shops and flea markets for just the right frame.

Try Upscale Resale in Falls Church. They have good-quality furniture.


Thanks to everyone who gave advice about my question last week about hosting a baby shower on my deck. There were so many good suggestions, particularly regarding plants for a shady area. I also decided to try to find some gauze domes to keep the food protected from bugs (I have one, but will need more). Now, if you could just get all the invitees to respond to the Evite...

Haha. This is so true. Recently a friend had a party with 100 evites issues - only about half of the people ever responded. We must do better guys!

1) if I can revisit last week: my neighbor's condo has a mirrored wall in the dining room. They used molding to make a look of french doors and kind of trellished the remainder of the wall. Retains the light, but you aren't really staring at yourself eating. 2) loved the Etsy cushion in the house calls design--I have found that a little time searching on Etsy gives me well made, unique accessories.

Insteresting application for the mirrored wall. I like the idea of framing the mirror with moulding, but not so sure about framing it out so much that it looks like French doors. Who knows, though, could look great. And if the homeowners like it, that's all that really matters.

And, yes, spending time browsing Etsy is well-worth the time and effort. Lots of one-of-a kind stuff and great prices.

If you have the color card from when the color was purchased, try an alternate shade of one of the two colors from the color chart for the trim. For example, if you have blue and grey, try using one of the other shades from the grey paint chip as your accent. Usually, you pick the more neutral color to select an accent.

A different suggestion for painting chair rail...

This one! I just painted my kitchen with Silvery Blue and now I regret not going with Lookout Point which I was also considering. When I painted test swatches I thought Lookout Point was too light, but now that I am done I see that the Silvery Blue seems much darker when all over the walls. I may have to repaint!

Oh oh.

True story: a month ago in Richmond some folks took a hand-me-down chair from friends. Unknowingly they brought along the freinds' missing snake as well! Folks were watching TV when the snake popped out to check out his new house!!!

Can this really be true?

Hi Gurus... has the online format for HOUSE CALLS changed? In the past, there were several photos of the "before" thumbnailed along the bottom of the main photo, and then the single "after" drawing with links embedded in the image to the products source and mfr. Now, the online is no more than a digital rendition of the print version. Is the Washington Post THAT poor? Or are the lifestyle editors setting up their own version of the Post Hunt? (I'd rather not have to play, you know...) Thanks!

Yes, the online format for House Calls has changed, and is not as interactive as it previously was. We still include the links to all the products, you just have to scroll down a little to get to them.

Hi. I also need to do something on my dining room walls. I've already got a large mirror in my living room, which is open to the dining room. Will it be too many mirrors if I use another one in the dining room?

Nope. You can use mirrors in both rooms.

Any color recommendations for a grey that would go with rust, navy and white? It's for a bedroom, it gets decent light.

Polished Pewter by Glidden.

Hmmm....I put "48 inch round table" into Google and found dozens of links, one of which claims to connect to 107 vendors. There seems to be a plethora of 48 inch round tables out there.

Yes. But you have to pay for shipping.

While white kitchens are always classic, be careful of using ONLY white. It can be rather blinding and monotonic after a while. Your ideas of having highlight colors in your countertops, backspash and flooring are good to keep from being overwhelmed by the white. I would suggest that you try to get grey and beige/tan/greige marbled quartz where the beige/tan/greige color complements the floor. That will tie the color of the floor to the countertop. I did a quick Google search and saw quite a number of beige veined quartz stones out there. YOu might also want to consider some accent tiles that include a complementary color from the flooring into your backsplash. I've seen some nice accent tiles that are inserted as diamonds in a few places that can tie your flooring colors into your backsplash.

Some thoughts on white kitchens. Thanks.

Fred, how did you get into antiquing? Do you have a favorite piece?

I can't remember a time when I wasn't crazy about antiques.  I am very fond of a little cigarette box, hand painted with flying ducks (think Maine cottage) that I bought when I was 12 with my weekly allowance. It is still with me and always makes me smile. 

My parents had a good rule for managing their stuff (and after 40 years in the Foreign Service, they had a lot of things). Their basic rule was to not have anything in boxes. All their stuff had to be in use or on display with no clutter. This really seemed to work for them, and the house didn't feel over-filled or cluttered. I'm trying to do this myself, and its more work than it seems!

This is a terrific tip. Nothing in boxes. Gulp.

What are some good places to go antique-hunting in the DC area? Willing to travel out to WVA, NJ or PA if necessary...

There are some great undiscovered places in the Western part of VA, Strasburg and Luray. Also you could try Virginia's Northern Neck. It is a 2 and half hour drive through the absolutely pristine Virginia countryside. 

You can look for old picture frames with chipped or missing plaster decoration. Remove the plaster, refinish what's underneath and you can have a lovely, simple pine or, sometimes, mahogany frame.

Great idea.

Check out Warehouse Showroom located off Edsall Rd on General Washington Dr behind Marlo at the intersection of I395 and the beltway. Also Belfort on Rt 28. Both have excellent prices and service

These are good suggestions. Thanks a lot.

Can you recommend any closet design companies? Not looking for container store - more the built-in look. Thanks!

Fred, what's your favorite antique piece in your home?

Another favorite piece of mine is an English tall case clock from the 18th century.  It keeps perfect time, I wind it weekly and the subtle tick tock gives the house a heartbeat.

Oh yes, it was on the local news. What I don't get is that the folks who gave away the chair didn't warn their freinds that their snake was missing!

Wow. Some friends.

We're really happy with the sofa we just bought from Macy's. Track the items for a months or so, though - the price will drop dramatically with their constant sales.


After years of having family pictures sit in folders, unframed, I finally bit the bullet and spent an hour at Michael's picking out some new frames. So now I have my father's HS senior portrait and my mother's portrait from when she won a beauty contest in Canada in matching frames (the pictures are the same vintage). I also reframed a picture of my husband's grandparents, my in-law's wedding portrait, and a wonderful picture of my in-laws taken in a stand of birch trees near my parents' cabin in Quebec. I brought all the pictures with me to Michael's and it only took about an hour to choose frames. I plan to hang them in our upstairs hallway. So it can be done!

Good for you! You have to take action on these projects and make time to do them right. You are an inspiration! I have boxes and boxes of photo albums and photos.

Good morning. Our 1917 home has little closet space, so we've been looking for a decent armoire for our master bedroom with a hanging rod for clothing. Any suggestions on where to look?

If you are looking for something old, consignment shops, thrift shops and vintage furniture places would be a good place to start. For something new, Ikea and Pottery Barn.

Do you have any tips to bring harmony and calm to a room?

Declutter. Declutter.Declutter. Put a fresh vase of cut flowers in the room or a blooming plant. Dust and vacuum the room and polish all brass and silver. Light a candle or two. Put special objects in the room that mean something to you.

If you match the frames and sizes of the mirrors, they can actually complement each other. Especially if you have other similar features (same crown molding or same chair railing, or even same paint).

Yes. You are right.

Years ago when I did something like this, I found the model furniture piece that I wanted. I them searched and found a local store that carried the same manufacturer and using the model number, I had them order the piece that I wanted. I had to wait, but I didn't have to have pay for shipping. Once you know the model and style, it's not hard to find a local vendor that can order the same piece for you. With today's economy, I find that many furniture stores will do whatever they can to seal the deal.

This is really good thinking!!!

For those that are budget conscious, there is a coupon that is good through Saturday for Michael's frames (25% off all frames) at These coupons come up regularly, about quarterly and you can find them with Google. So, since this type of project is usually not time sensitive, collect all of the photos/pictures and set them aside and wait for the coupon to appear and then get your project underway at a big savings!

Good idea.

If you're willing to go 2 to 2 and a half hours away, try Cumberland County, PA--many antique stores of all kinds, plus some good basic second-hand stores. Now I have a new aspiration-- box-less living! What a challenge!

Box-less living sounds like it could be a great article, don't you think? What a great goal. And traveling a couple of hours away to look for used furniture is indeed a fun and rewarding experience.

I own way too many books, many of which are paperbacks. I'm looking for shelving ideas that I can take with me when I move because I'm currently renting. I'm talking enough books to cover every wall in a standard 2 bedroom apt.

Are you sure you need to keep all of these books? Can you consider donating some of them to a library or school or charity? Putting shelves all over an apartment is expensive and can be a bit closed in. If you need a lot of shelves, a hardware store or Ikea may be your best bet.

What kind of antiques can you put in a BIG house? I got married and moved in with my husband, antiques in tow. However, what looked lovely in my stunning, 1920s apartment looks really small and a bit stupid in his McMansion with two-story family rooms and such. Any suggestions (besides moving, which I'd love to do!).

Scale is everything, try introducing one or two very large pieces to your room.  You will find often they are very affordable because so few people can actually use them. Then layer in your smaller antiques and that should do the trick. 

My son's pet king snake (Martin Luther) escaped several times, once turning up in a sock drawer and once hiding behind a bathroom vanity. Luckily we found him after several days but I was holding my breath and we had dinner guests using that bathroom while he was missing!


Check out Sur La Table -- they have a couple different sizes and I'm pretty sure they're on sale right now.


Note, you can only rent them if you are moving HD purchases. Use Zipcar!


Thanks to Fred Comer for answering so many questions about old and new. And we loved the conversation about box-less living. Truly something to strive for. Bye everyone and see you next week.

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.
Fred Comer
Fred Comer is the co-owner of Comer & Co., a new antiques shop in Georgetown on Book Hill. This is his second shop he has opened with partner Mark Manoff.
Recent Chats
  • Next: