Home Front: Design advice from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza.

Jun 30, 2011

Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

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

Morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us today.  Looks like you have lots to chat about today, so let's get to your questions.

If you haven't checked out our cover story about Wendy Rieger's bright home, you can read it here. We also talked all-things-ceiling fans, here. Enjoy!

Can you reccomend a great fabric store (NoVa or DC near Metro). I am interested in buying some good quality fabric, maybe canvas or tapestry to use as a temporary couch & loveseat cover, instead of buying new furniture or re-upolstering them. Also have a new dog who just loves to jump on couches so it needs to be washable. I'm visitng family in Fairfax, VA for the hoilday and can't remember the stores you have mentioned in previous chats.

In Georgetown, there's Haute Fabrics, 2603 P St. NW.  G Street Fabrics is very good - in Falls Church and Centerville. What other Virginia or DC fabric stores do you all know of?

We just finished our basement and don't know what to do about the stairway. The main floor is SW Ivoire and the basement BM Palladian Blue. What do you suggest painting the stairway and what can we do with the walls to make it appear less tunnel-like?

Are your stairs carpeted? If not, you could continue the Palladian Blue on the walls and paint the stairs white. You could also have a striped or light-color runner installed, too. 

Hi. I have a set of glasses inherited from my grandmother (she won them as a bowling prize--they have a bowling ball and bowling pins on them and they're very fun). One has very cloudy glass--do you have any possible ideas for how to removed the cloudiness? Washing doesn't seem to help. A vinegar dip? Many thanks.

You're lucky to have those! I have some fun glasses like that from I think the 1950s that have journalists with typewriters on them!

You could try putting vinegar on a cloth and wiping them thoroughly. Buy a rinse agent for your dishwasher and then run them through with a good quality granular dishwashing powder on hot and see if that will do it.

Is a red dining room dated? The rest of my house is painted in Ralph Lauren devonshire...light beige - gold. I have dark gold silk drapes in my DR and these need to stay. Any suggestions?

I think red dining rooms are a classic - especially in DC. Sure, they were the rage a decade or two ago, but they have never gone out of style. If it still makes you happy, keep it. If you are tired of the dramatic look, choose something else, maybe more understated, for a new look.

My boys are growing no matter how much I yell at them to stop and have long moved past the current car/truck/sport theme of their room. I nixed the all black look they begged for and we have compromised on maroon. Would you kindly recommend a nice maroon and complimentary light trim color? Preferably BM. Thanks so much, love these chats!

Hmmm...maroon is an awfully dark (and not so great - sorry!!) color to have on the walls. Is the room really big with lots of natural light? Do you think your sons would be flexible enough for you to lighten the shade and make it a reddish-orange? That way you could pull in colors like navy blue, brown, even some green. Take a look at BM's Flamingo Orange and see what you think. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your article on ceiling fans today. I live on the top floor of a 1920 four-storey building that was never retrofitted for central air. The only physics law I now completely understand is that heat rises, thanks to fourth floor living. Ceiling fans are what make living in my condo during miserable hot weather tolerable. I know that designers prefer, and the trend appears to be, using chandeliers in bedrooms. I agree that chandeliers look nicer than ceiling fans but there are certain times when practicality trumps aesthetics. Ceiling fans are one of those instances. And, this comes from someone who chose to buy a condo in a 1920 building because it was loaded with charm but lacked certain modern conveniences like closets and central air.

Thanks a lot for writing this. I totally agree with you. I love them in bedrooms. There is something romantic about having the fan and having the air moving as you sleep. It makes you feel like you are in Bali or Key West. I like them also on porches and sun rooms. Where you are, I'm sure you want one in every room of the house. I just saw a wonderful fan with lucite blades which disappear - designer Barbara Hawthorne found it and it will be in a Local Living issue soon.

My secret - Right over the Bay Bridge, first exit little town called Stevensville. A fun place to shop is Stevensville Antiques, VERY reasonable prices on antiques and home decor. I have purchased many items from them and the prices are so unlike what we see in NoVA and DC.


I have a 12x16 screened porch. Couch is dark brown/black rattan with apple green cushions and I have 2 wrought iron club chairs with taupe cushions. I have an old walnut chest with plants on it. I need a coffee table. Any suggestions to unite the room?

How about spray painting all the furniture white and adding an apple green pillow (something with a pattern would probably be nice) on the chair.

If I want to design a room to show off my wallpaper, is there a recommended strategy?

If you are going for a bold wallpaper and want it to be the design statement in the room, I would stick to solids in my fabric selections for the upholstery. I might get very simple window treatments or just plain fabric Roman Shades or plantation shutters. A simple rug or buffed wood floor would suffice. 

What color/type of rug would you suggest for a blue (Behr Skyline Steel) room with a chocolate brown couch. The floors are wood. I'm really looking to I incorporate some excitement into the room.

Hmmm. Excitement? My dining room walls are a light bluish gray and I have chocolate brown leather seats on my chairs. I just bought a chocolate brown sisal rug that I really like the look of with this combo. Maybe you could go with a shag in beige or taupe.

I've noticed when I have guests over I don't have enough seating. So I've decided to buy either two sofas or a sectional for my family room, but I can't decide which to get. I'm leaning towards the sectional since a sectional would offer more seating. Also, I don't plan to move anytime soon so I don't need to worry about the sectional working in another house. However, two sofas might look nicer and be more versatile. Do you have an opinion on sectional vs. sofas? Is there anything else I need to take into consideration?

The sectional look is a more contemporary one. If you get sofas, you can get a style that is more traditional if you wanted to. I personally would love to have the space to have a sectional. My sister has a large one that has a chaise built into one end. It is so comfortable!

I have a Jonathan Adler cross rug in my office that is brown/light blue - can you suggest a good coordinating wall color?

If the rug you're talking about is brown with a blue cross in the center, then one idea is to take a paint deck, put it up against the cross and find the closet match. Paint the walls that color.

I've heard it is incorrect to put a rug in front of the toilet. I don't mean those silly wraparound things. Is there any reason why I can't have a small rug that lies in front of the toilet and the sink (they are close together) in all my bathrooms?

No reason. Just wash it a lot.

Todays article on bright colors made me want to paint my whole house! I'm just not that courageous... Do I just go for it and hope it looks great? What methods do you suggest for extra bold choices?

You do have to be brave  - and just remind yourself that it's only paint and you can cover up anything you don't like for a minimal outlay of cash. I know some people prefer painting a large piece of cardboard with the color vs. swatches on the wall to see how they like the look of a huge in a room. If I were you, I might start with a small space such as a bathroom. Or paint an accent wall and see how it sits with you. Have some fun.

What do you think of shades for a slider? What kind of shade would work? Would you need 2 shades side by side? The slider is off the dining room and the cat loves clawing the drapes I have there now.

Alexandria designer Claire Schwab addressed this issue in a story I wrote a few years back. Here's what she said:

"Sliding doors are tricky. If you can only pull drapes to one side, you'll have to do something vertical. In that case, you can get shutters on tracks, which are framed to fit onto a window frame and move like a closet door. These shutters are custom, so they will be more expensive, but they are beautiful and easy to maintain because you can just wipe them clean. Another option is to have a pretty drapery that stacks to one side and use a valance on top to conceal the movable track.

But I would never advocate vertical blinds. They are cold and very commercial, and they provide no decoration whatsoever."

We are remodeling our small master bathroom and one of our inspiration pics has a single vintage pendant over a contemporary console sink. I love the look, but I'm concerned about such a layout casting poor light and shadows when looking in the mirror. I'm leaning toward sconces on either side of the mirror - your thoughts?

I'm not an expert on lighting, especially in a bathroom. But I do know that it's ideal to have multiple light sources, so maybe you could have the sconces and the pendant and use the sconce light when using the mirror.

Well I live in Key West and while ceiling fans are popular they do not convey the essence of our quirky Conch Republic. Cheap ceiling fans - you know, the white Home Depot variety - are here in most every dwelling. You buy a home, you replace the typical cheap versions for something much more stylish or remove them totally. Nothing says builder grade than a ceiling fan that says white with bad lighting. And just say 'NO' to the palm leaf or sail varieties. Living here, we see enough palm trees, thank you, and do not decorate with them in any shape or form. Unless you are so blessed with bad taste it doesn't matter. Buy high end or buy unique when it comes to a ceiling fan. And be careful about outside fixtures - one good storm or hurricane and say goodbye to your investment! We may be a tropical island but we do have style!

Love hearing from you! I agree - buy high end. It really makes a different and you will have them for years.

Most of my living room furniture was acquired at different times and with a small budget. We have a beige microfiber couch that I sometimes put a dark blue slipcover on. We also have a light blue patterned slipper chair, 2 bookcases (one white and one unfinished), black pressboard TV stand, and a wrought iron round table base with a huge Chinese brass plate (inherited, bought in Egypt in the '60s) on top as a coffee table. How in the world can I bring these things all together so it doesn't LOOK like they were bought at different times with a small budget?

As I mentioned above in a previous answer, an easy and inexpensive way to pull a mismatched group of furniture together is with paint. Paint the bookcases, TV stand and table base one color to help unify the room. 

Jura, fun piece on Wendy Rieger's home today. I used to work with her and it was always lovely to be invited to her place for parties. Did you meet Buddy and Rudy the cats? Sometimes they hide.

Thank you so much! It was great fun to see the house and watch Wendy throw a party - she is  a total pro and cooked everything herself. I did meet Buddy and Rudy who were adorable.

No, no! from a museum professional's perscpective, please dont run those glasses through the dishwasher-the hot water can crack the old glass. There's a less harsh way to cure your clouded glass here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5752449_clean-cloudy-antique-glass.html I havent tried it, but it sounds a lot safer.

Okay try this!

Two-part question: do you think I would regret painting the woodwork in my house (from original dark stain to white)? Thanks to previous owners, upstairs trim is already painted white, but I’m having trouble pulling the trigger on the downstairs trim (and stair risers) in my 80-year-old tudor home – it just feels like I’d be changing the historic vibe of the place, you now? But it does need to be brightened up and doesn't really fit our more modern style… Part two: the upstairs trim is Sherwin Williams Alabaster. Any general thoughts on this trim color (e.g., good neutral, too bright, bad undertone) and extending it throughout the house? (wall color will be changed in the near future)

Unfortunately, the only person who can answer the regret question is you. Do you like the way the white trim looks upstairs? If so, why not paint the downstairs for continuity? The previous owners have already started the process, so you should feel less regret about moving forward.

I need help. My wife and I have a 30 year old house with gray siding. We have a "gingerbread: trimed white front porch, wide bay windows on each side of front door with sidelites and black room and shutters. We like the farmhouse victorian look we have but would like to repaint the faded aluminum siding. can you pick a gray that is GRAY not blue,green, or tan. Like between black and white. Benjamin Moore or other company ok. Rick

I would choose one of the Benjamin Moore Historic Colors such as Stonington Gray.

Hello Ladies, Currenly my washer & dryer are on the main floor of the house in a small space off of the family room. It is sort of like a closet fully occupied by the machines. This arrangement necessitates having the basket of clean laundry or even the bags of dirty laundry from the upstairs bedrooms taking up temporary residence in our family room when doing the laundry -- ugh. I am very tempted to relocate the appliances to the basement, but that means another floor down for laundry. And then not sure what I would do with the empty space off o fthe family room. Advice?

Really diffiult to offer advice where without seeing your space. However, if you were to move the appliances to the basement, you would have an extra storage closet on the main floor - never a bad thing. If you didn't need the extra storage, you could set up a little office space. If you want to keep the appliances where they are, do you have the option of enlarging the space a little so you could put the appliances side-by-side and have a shelf/work area on top? That would be ideal, I think.

Is anyone else having problems with the chats this week? There seems to either be a big delay in posts OR they simply don't automatically reload.

We  will pass this along.

Chatters: We're in search of rooms for House Calls that are different from the ones we get a lot of (living rooms,  family rooms and bedroom). If you have a nursery space, bathroom, laundry room, mudroom, porch (front or screened-in), sunroom, etc., that needs some help, email a photo and your contact info to: makeover@washpost.com. Thanks! 

definately go with the panels. we have them - custom made, very expensive but worht every penny - and love them. no verticals could match the quality and light blockage needed. plus they will last so much longer. worth the investment to have them made to measure and keep them neutral as they will be with you for years. my two cents after having years of drapery panels that never stayed in place and got caught in the door frames. aloha!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Glad you found something you like so much.

Hi, ladies! Moved into my condo just a few months ago and am going through the process of removing wallpaper (which covers every blessed wall!) and repainting. My question for you - the dining room has a chair rail, which I love, but I'm torn on how to paint. I've picked a great warm orange color - do I paint the orange on above and below the chair rail OR do I put the color above and then paint the chair rail and the wall below it the same color? The chair rail and trim is a soft white.

If you love the chair rail and want to accenuate it, paint it a different color than the walls so it stands out.

Install good lighting. Good lighting will make a stairwell feel much bigger and open. Dim or insufficient lighting always makes it feel cave-like and feel light it is closing in.

very true. thanks.

In order not to be overwhelmed with the red, we painted our dining room red below the chair rail. We then color matched our grey carpet to a no-VOC paint and used that above the chair rail. It makes a stunning combination and we get the pop of red without being overwhelmed by it.

Very creative.

If you move the washer and dryer, you could put in a undercounter wine/drink fridge and a small sink and upper cabinet to make entertaining easier and even just family enjoyment. Also less space taken in kitchen fridge is nice. Rick Ps thanks for gray paint color choice.


I am designing a basement media room so our family can watch movies together. We are repurposing a vintage Danish rosewood sofa and chair upholstered in brown wool, and I was wondering what would be a good coordinating carpet color?

In the basement, you might want to go for something bold like Flor tile squares in bright red.

I would look for an outdoor wrought iron table that somewhat matches the club chairs and then paint it apple green to match the cushions. This would tie several of the other elements in the porch together.

Good idea.

That's all we have time for today. Thanks for joining us. 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.

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Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
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