Maryland designer Erin Paige Pitts, who participated in this year's D.C. Design House and was one of Traditional Home magazine's "Top 20 Young Designers to Watch" in 2009, joined the weekly chat. Design columnist Terri Sapienza will spotlight Pitts in the WP magazine on June 26th.

Jun 23, 2011

Maryland designer Erin Paige Pitts, who participated in this year's D.C. Design House and was one of Traditional Home magazine's "Top 20 Young Designers to Watch" in 2009, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for their weekly Home Front chat. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

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Hi, everyone. Today we have designer Erin Pitts as our guest. Erin is based on Gibson Island, Maryland and specializes in coastal decor, creating sophisticated and family-friendly spaces. Check out this Sunday's Washington Post magazine for a peek inside her home and her tips for achieving a simple, beachy look in your own home.

Let's get started with your questions.  

Thanks for the great're all wonderfully talented! My question is in regard to drapery hardware. I'm hanging some linen drapes in the master bedroom and was wondering if I could use a simple rod with end caps and rings. The room isn't large and all the finial options seem big. What would you recommend for drapery hardware? If you like the finials what shape do you like? Thanks!

I think a simple, undertstated rod with end caps would be just fine and, probably quiet lovely. You don't need decorative finials all the time. For simple rods, check all the chain stores.

Erin - how did you get into coastal design, specifically? What are your favorite places to shop for coastal decorations? Favorite coastal cities to gain inspiration from?

Hi erin! Happy to have you with us. What is your background? How long have you been doing interior design?

I studied Interior Design at Bradely Academy of the Visual Arts in PA.  I have been doing interior design or working in the design industry ever since.  I'm turning 40 this year so that should give you a perspective on the span of time I have been doing design.

I have a very long entrance hall; right now I have a series of 6 small photos of a sunrise, but the wall looks too empty. I'm thinking of arranging different sized photos/prints along the wall (cluster of small photos, a larger one, then a couple of medium sized ones). Does this seem like a good idea? Any suggestions or resources to check on how best to accomplish this so it doesn't look a frame/print store displaying inventory?

Tutorials for hanging frames "salon style" is something you can easily find by doing a quick Google search. Instructions are everywhere. In the meantime, you could also try putting your current sunrise photos in much larger frames for more impact.  Just make sure to have also have large mattes cut to fit the small photos.  

Erin, I've read about you in Traditional Home and on design blogs. Welcome! What are some of the biggest or most popular/high end projects you have worked on? How did you get those clients? Love you work!

Hi Thanks!!  I just love hearing positive feedback.  I have been working on an incredible assortment of projects over the last few years.  The biggest- which isn't really very coastal was in the May issue of Home and Design Magazine titled "Italian Escape".  It isn't really my preferred style but it was the client's dream home.  As far as coastal properties are concerned, I am currently working on a residence on Long Island, one in Annapolis, a few here on Gibson Island.  I was also just hired to do an ocean front residence in Bethany Beach, DE.  I work hard at building relationships with clients and if you do that, your name speads!

From what I can tell on your website, you've designed everything from small dining rooms to large vacation homes. What has been your favorite project and why?

My favorite projects are always the ones where I have captured the client's dream.  It is the most satisfying part of what I do.  So in that case, it could be a coastal home or their in town residence.  It really doesn't matter as long as they are happy with the end result.

I'm hosting a big fourth of July barbecue next weekend, and well, I need to impress! My husband's coworkers are joining us (as are his parents) so I'd like it to be fabulous as if it were done by Martha herself. Any ideas for neat dishes to serve? Punch? Deserts? Any cool decorative ideas for really making the affair stand out?

You're in luck. Check out today's story on outdoor entertaining.

Where do you see the beach trend in design going next? We have had two years of Pantone colours of the year being somewhat beach-y in nature (turquoise and honeysuckle pink) and I am forever seeing websites and blogs proclaiming grey as the newest neutral. It is refreshing from so much reds and golds of the last ten years but I don't want to have this look become dated. So as someone with a beach house, what do you see as the next step for the beach cottage look without being shabby chic? Thanks from FL!

I always believe if you take cues from the colors of nature, you will never find your interiors dated.  Use accents to add punches of color that can be switched out over time as trends change.  I recently was asked by a client to pick a soft pink for a daughter's bath room.  The client wanted a shell pink.  So... I went and got my favorite conch shell and referenced the soft pink from the inside of the shell against paint colors to pick the perfect soft pink.  I think all things natural are always in style.

Our kitchen floor has 12x12 tiles that are cracking. I think it's because the sub-floor is uneven (it's an older unit). We've replaced them a few times but it keeps happening and it's getting REALLY annoying, so we'd like to replace it. We were thinking about using marmoleum - it's eco-friendly and durable ( from what I've read). Has anyone here used it? Any tips on cost, ease of installation, contractors? Any thoughts on whether that would be as attractive to buyers as tile?

I wouldn't do anything until you have Ditra installed.  It is a product that is installed under your tile to prevent cracking.  All tile guys know what it is and it should help solve your sub floor problem.  The other idea is to go with smaller tiles so there is less stress over the width of the tile from changes uneven condition of the subfloor.  I think Marmoleum is a great green choice but for resale there may be some folks who would prefer tile.

I have a teak salad bowl that I bought about 25 years ago at a place on Wisconsin Ave. In Georgetown, just below the canal. I loved that place! For years I just rinsed the bowl out (no soap) because I didn't want to strip any oils out...but now, after so many salads, it smells rancid. How can I safely clean it so I get another 25 years use?

I k now the place you mean. Wasn't it Bowl & Board? I bought many cutting boards there and I still have several of them.  Obviously you have cared well for your bowl. You can use a mild soap and a washcloth to clean your wood bowl. You just have to rinse thoroughly and dry carefully and store it in a dry place. Every year or so I have heard it's a good idea to use food-safe mineral oil to rub into your bowl. Work it in well, and then wipe with a clean soft cloth. Put the bowl aside for a few days so the oil really soaks in. Wipe it again just before you use it. If you bowl has deep cracks in it, it should probably be retired, just like cutting boards with cracks in them, because they can be places that bacteria hide.

TERRI! I loved your outdoor entertaining piece. These gift guides (the one for recent grads, the wedding guide, etc.) are always a treat. Curious as to how you guys put these together? Do you have items in mind or do you go out and physically shop for them?

Thanks! Glad you liked today's story (and the recent grads one and the wedding story done by my colleague, Megan Buerger). When I do a gift guide story I usually physically go out to do some scouting, but I also always keep a folder of cool things I find. Whenever I see something I like, I make a note of it, print out the image or tear the page out of a mag/catalog. Basically, i'm always on the hunt.  Glad you're enjoying.

I've noticed that a lot of architects don't use interior designers, and especially the larger ones, have in-staff interior designers. Does this put them at a higher caliber than lone designers? We're looking to buy property and build a home near the Chesapeake, but are having difficulty deciding which route to take.

First of all, I would love to talk to you about your project!   Some of the most influential and famous designers out there are a "one man show" so, having a large staff does not make for a better design.  I have assistants that help me do "behind the scenes" work like order samples, make project binders and run errands but I do all the design work myself.  My clients tend to prefer that as they know what they are getting.  I also think hiring an interior designer is a very personal relationship.  To do an excellent job for your client, you really need to get to know them and how they live.  It is a good client- designer relationship that fosters the best finished design projects. I suggest you interview several designers and see who" fits" you the best.  It is also important to have all the parties involved (i.e. husband and wife_ present at the interview. 

what was it?? thanks!

Benjamin Moore #881 Pink Essence.  It is very subtle but next to white millwork is beautiful.

Is it just me? Or has restoration hardware totally changed their direction in recent months? Since when do they lean so far in the massive-scale-California-casual genre? Any idea why this has happened?

Yes. They have totally changed their focus and merchandising. Here's a story where I discussed the philosophy of Restoration Hardware's president Gary Friedman.  He wanted to distinguish himself from the pack and I think he has.

I like the framed artwork that was on page 4 of today's local living section. Do you know how it was made? It reminded me that I have a small amount of seashells from different beaches that I've visited - I want to display them in some creative way, but I'm not sure how. They are mostly small-ish shells and I probably have no more than 30 total. Do you have any ideas?

Many of the framed shell art I use has the shells sandwiched btwn two pieces of glass  The shells are glued in place before the add the second piece of glass.  It is a beautiful way to show off earth's treasures!

More home keeping than design....does anyone have a great vacuum for carpeted stairs?

I like the Miele canister.

Am submitting early due to a meeting. I need a pale green color for a kitchen/den combo (cabinets are Dove White). Local choices are limited to BM, SW & Lowes. The rooms get good light but am almost paralyzed by the thought of choosing. This will not be an easy paint job (doing it alone) and I need some good options from the start. --- Love the chats and can't wait to read the transcript, especially today, as I live in a coastal area.

I like Guilford Green, Benjamin Moore.  Hancock Green is also good.

I just started working with an interior designer out in VA, and the first proposal she submitted to be blew my budget by almost double. Why do designers do this?? I was so offended, and then -- after I talked to her about it -- she miraculously got the price down dramatically in a number of hours. So was she just taking me for a ride? The whole interior designer thing seems suspicious. They say they get discounts on pieces... but then they charge a high rate... I'm lost!

I am so sorry to hear you are having difficulty with your designer.  I often find when issues arrive, it is due to a lack of communication or expectations between designer and client.  Did you give her your budget ahead of time?  My contracts read cost +___%  this way the client knows my mark-up from wholesale on all items.  It is a very transparent way to have a design relationship and has worked well for me.  Also, as designers, we will pull fabrics or furniture in the concept stage.  Then we doing the pricing we will often look for less expensive alteratives to show the client.  I like to give my clients options at various pricepoints whenever possible.

I just moved into a 750 sq. foot studio apartment and am struggling with ideas on how to maximize the use of the space. Any advice?

Check out this story I did several years ago on a guy who lived in a Dupont Circle condo with a main living space that was only 187 square feet - the small space tips and ideas from his designer Jason Claire (co-owner of Vastu on 14th Street) are really helpful. 

The link to the story on outdoor dining only goes to the pictures of beach towels, tote bags, and such. Not what the poster was looking for.

The story is in embedded above and to the right of the images. 

I know this is an often asked question - but what are some good light neutrals (taupe, greige) for a master bedroom that receives morning, filtered sunlight? I prefer the BM Aura line of paints and my painter is coming on Monday morning, so I need some! Thanks!

The good news is BM can do any of their paint colors in Aura so, you aren't limited!  I love BM Revere Pewter.  It is the perfect taupe/greige and have used it many times with success.

YUCK! I simply cant imagine have something I use to hold food and ever put some Dawn on it....SMH

But you put Dawn on dishes that you use for food! Any homekeeping manual you look at will tell you that you should use a bit of soap even on wood and rise with very hot water.

Hi ladies, love the chats!! Have you guys thought about spotlighting the interiors/architecture of local buildings that aren't homes? (New hotels, eateries green office buildings)? the NYT does this a lot, and although it isn't the "Home and Garden" section anymore, I figured I'd ask.. thanks!

Right now, we concentrate on the design of people's homes in our Local Living coverage. Commercial architecture is sometimes covered in the Style and Real Estate sections and sometimes the Sunday Magazine.

Why do some many designers use very contempary/trendy designs?? I personally hate straight lines, bland, cold trendy designs.

You know different designs appeal to different people.  I personally don't like trendy, I like clean lined and timeless design.  I am too frugal to be trendy!

Hey Erin! I was browsing your website and LOVED the "special areas" section. There is one slide where you did what looks like a foyer or small kitchen. What are the wall and floor pieces where you stored all those plates?? They're GORGEOUS!

Hi - thanks for taking a look at my website!  That is a house that I did for a client in Baltimore.  She was an avid collector of antiques and the dish rack was something she had been bringing with her from house to house for years.  I love the way we used it in this house- it is a small desk area off the main part of the kitchen.   Unfortunatley, the client just moved out of this house and is relocating to Wellesley, MA.  The good news is I am currently working on their new home there!

I think that they've totally gone off the rails with their new look. I didn't mind the huge Belgian pieces, and all of the lovely linen. But when you look at the catalogue now, it's chairs made from airplane wings, desks that are airplane wings and items that are very specific to a narrow range of taste. I admore Gary Friedman's wanting to change the look, but my thinking is that this is the final nail in the coffin. Meg@PigtownDesign PS - Hi Erin!

Meg - you always have an educated opinon! Thanks for chiming in about this. The store has a lot of faithful followers. Let's hope Gary can keep the business going - I still adore those Turkish towels...

Hi - I've been looking for more lamps for my apartment, which doesn't get a ton of natural light and has no overhead lighting. i'm having trouble getting over the sticker shock of a lot of the lamps that I've seen in stores. The lamp from house calls today intrigued me. Would you recommend one or two lamps like that in a room instead of multiple table lamps?

The lamp featured in today's House Calls is based on the iconic Arco floor lamp, designed by two Italian brothers in the 1960s. A pricey version, closely inspired by the original, can be found at Design Within Reach.  CB2 carries a more affordable option, but it's not as close to the original design.  

If you go with this look, I would stick with only one in a room. These lamps are definitely statement pieces, so two would be overdoing it. 

The trend with designers in my island paradise is that beach decor is not to look like your typical seafood restaurant. We believe seashells in the house are bad luck so we only use them outside for patio decor or on stair treads. No palm trees on linens, as accent pieces or anywhere in the house please! Too tacky. Sooth, calm and lots of pale colours are best but remember that a beach decor can be too much is not done well. Just a little hint from the Conch Republic Key West!

Hello in Key West!  I got married there and spend a ton of time there every year (my in-laws live there in the winter).  I agree with you - tacky beach is not my style at all!!  I love subtle tones and colors that seem to complement the surroundings.  I like layered texture and subtle pattern with some nods to coastal elements but VERY subtle.  What restaurant are you?  I bet I've been there!!

Terri I loved the story you did a few months ago on the pink/coral color shade. Any chance you'll be doing another one soon? Would love to see those every season... such a great concept for a piece!

Happy to hear you like the color trend stories.  I really enjoy doing them. Maybe I'll try to fit another in at the start of fall. Thanks for the idea! 

We are repainting two bathrooms on the downstairs level of our home, and are itching for some unexpected pops of color. The whole home has a sort of masculine modern loft-esq theme, so its full of neutral browns, navys and chic greys... what colors would you recommend for a bathroom that might be a nice surprise?

I am thinking a wallcovering may be a nice addittion to all those masculine colors.  There are some amazing wallcoverings out there now- forget the old wallcovering you tore down 15 years ago. The new wallcovering is hip and mod and totally cool!  I am a particular fan of Cole and Sons and Studio Printworks for patterned wallcovering and Phillip Jefferies for textural, subtle wallcovering.

Any advice to those looking to break into and/or stand out in the industry?

You need to create a niche for your work that isn't widely addressed.  Then of course, you need projects to back up your niche.  A blog is a great way to get the word out about your design style.

She meant she can't imagine having Never put soap on it. Me neither, lol. I gently wipe my antique wooden bowl with a soapy sponge, wipe it off with a wet towel and then prime it with olive oil. Just as good as it was 100 years ago (just guessing the age).

That is impressive. Yes. I think the trick is use really hot water and you won't have a soapy residue.

I need to put drapery panels in my master bedroom. The ceiling is 8 ft, which means 84" panels are too short and 96" panels are too long, if I want to place the drapes higher than the window frame, but not as high as the ceiling. Does anyone sell an odd size in between? Custom made would be too expensive. I could make them myself, but it would take an awful long time and probably be a lot of trouble. Any ideas? Thanks.

Buy the panels that are too long and have them cut and hemmed to your exact measurements. Sounds like you sew, so you could hem them yourself. If you don't, a local dry cleaners should be able to do it for you.

Hello, We are really struggling with lighting in our house. Are there designers that specialize in lighting needs? We really need someone to give us a guide for the whole house. We have almost no overhead lighting - just the halls, bathrooms (which are from the 70's) and a sad fixture in the kitchen. We need a whole house makeover - I can't go another year with plastic topped home depot floor lamps! Are all designers (such as yourself) trained in how to do proper lighting? It does seem like a specialized area, any direction you can provide would be much appreciated!

Hi Lighting HELP!  All professional Interior Designers have the knowledge and skill to help you with your lighting needs.  You should be able to hire a designer hourly to develope  lighting plan that can be exectuted by an electrician.  There should always be a balance of two types of lighting in your space- task and ambiant.

For the writer trying to decorate a large wall...I have an arrangement of family photos hung on a large wall going up my staircase. It is the most complimented feature in my home. I took some time to hang, but is well worth it. I mix different frames, and both color and black and white photos. You can buy attractive frames at craft stores, target, etc.

Yes. I love that look too. Thanks.

I'm about to buy an upholstered bed for my master bedroom. The wall color is a pale blue gray with dove white trim. My window panels are a light natural linen. I'm trying to achieve a soothing environment. I'm torn on what to upholster the bed with. Do you think a linen color that would blend with the drapes or what do you think of a blue/gray a little darker then the wall color for the bed. Too much bue?? Thanks !

I would go with the light natural linen. That way, if you ever decide to change the paint color, it will go with whatever color you decide to use. You can bring in more blue with decorative pillows, if you want.

Had to write in finally. As I'm sure you can see from the House Calls comments, your readers are perplexed about what's happening to the section! First we lose the "Home and Garden"... then the format of everything becomes so streamlined that it's difficult to read online... what's going to happen next? Sure, the old section's format was dated, but let's figure out a way to do this that makes sense. We miss our Home & Garden section!

Thanks for your comment. We have passed it along to our editors.

Good morning. My husband and I are planning the baby's room, and we need this bedroom to serve both as a baby's room and a guest room (we live in a 2 bedroom condo). Do you have any ideas about how to maximize space so that it can serve both purposes? Thanks.

I love designing multipurpose spaces!  First of all, go with a more sophisticated color scheme that will work well for both baby and guest.  Some flexible furniture pieces that can work for both applications would be a day bed with trundle.  It could work for one or two guest and the baby could also grown into it when they are out of the crib stage. 

I would love a brick kitchen this even done?? What do I need to look out for--I imagine there needs to be sealant or some such?

Yes, it can be done and there are thin brick producst out there for just this application.  Yes, it should be sealed.  there is also a product called an impregnator that helps bring out the color in the brick or stone.  I would suggest  using that as well.

We're out of time. Thanks for joining us, and thanks to Erin for her input and advice. For more of Erin's decorating advice, see this Sunday's Washington Post magazine.

Enjoy your weekend, and chat with 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.
Erin Paige Pitts
Earlier this year, Maryland designer Erin Paige Pitts was chosen to participate in the D.C. Design House. She was named one of the Washington Design Center's "Once to Watch." In 2009, she was selected by Traditional Home magazine as one the "Top 20 Young Designers to Watch." Her specialty is coastal decor. Design columnist Terri Sapienza will spotlight Pitts in the WP magazine on June 26th.
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