Ronda Carman on interior design and her new book | Home Front

Jul 11, 2013

Ronda Carman, author of the new book "Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living" talked about the book, what she learned from it and offered interior design tips.

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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Good morning and welcome to everyone. Our guest today is well known blogger and author Ronda Rice Carman, whose latest book is "Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living (Rizzoli; $45). This is a great book to sit down with and get great ideas from. Ronda did a great job rounding up the best designers in the country (including our own Barry Dixon) and showing them in their own special rooms. Ronda's blog All the Best is a great read, too. Ronda is  a Texan by birth who lives with her family in Scotland. So let's start chatting now.

I am thrilled to join all of you today. Thank you Jura for asking me to talk more about my book Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living and what I learned. I was lucky to learn from some of the best desingers in the industry and can't wait to share more...

My husband and I are getting to rent out our townhouse and want to repaint to a more neutral color without doing a sterile white like you might get in an apartment. Parts of the townhouse don't get a ton of light and are kind of dark, while many other parts are bright and airy. We'd like to stick with one color throughout (bedrooms, halls, basement, etc.), and I'm wondering what colors you would recommend for the walls, as well as what you recommend for the ceilings and trim.

Desinger Kevins Sharkey did the same with his Manhattan apartment featured in the book. He used a soft taupe/neutral color palette and painted the entire apartment (except for the kitchen) the same color—walls, ceilings, woodwork; everything.


Mirrors also cover an entire wall of his living room and reflect the river in the distance. The overall effect is very soothing and seamless. 

What was your reason for looking a designers homes?Lessons learned?

In some ways I wrote it for myself, because I am curious. I wanted to know what kind of sheets designers used in their home. own little version of People Magazine. Like Diana Vreeland once said, few things are more fascinating than how people live during their private hours. 

Were you surprised by anything from the designers in your book? Do you have any favorites or favorite styles?

I loved learning it was simple things designers love in their homes. As David Hicks wrote in his daughter India’s autograph book, “Good taste is by no means dependent upon money.” David’s thoughts are a common theme in this book. Often it’s the little details that make the biggest difference in our day-to-day life. Designer Vicente Wolf counts lightly starched sheets, blooming orchids, sunshine, and a surprise snack in the refrigerator among his favorite things. As for fav them all :)

Hi Jura, love the chat! I know this has been addressed before - any advice on where/how to get a rug bound? I need a large area rug - 10'x14' and I believe you have suggested getting carpet cut and bound. Any suggestions on rug/carpet shops in DC/VA or close in suburbs? Thank you!

One place I have had a lot of luck (and it is a favorite source of lots of designers also)  at is Carpet Palace in Bethesda at 7351 Wisconsin Ave. They have a terrific remnant section and it's a wonderful place to get a great deal on a piece of carpet that they will bind for you.

I love your blog! When did you start blogging and what advice do you have for young people who blog?

THANK YOU! I started it on 2007 as a hobby. I was/am crazy about design though not a desinger.

Advice...find your voice. Create origninal content using your voice.  Blog about what you love!!

Where do you draw your own interior design inspiration from? Do you hire a designer?

I have never hired a designer but I always seek advice. One of my reason for writing this book. I am always reading, clipping mags, reading blogs...seraching for things I love and inspire me. I've made many mistakes but have learned much more!! 

Was it hard to get access to designers personal spaces for your book?

I am VERY lucky that I have gotten to know so many designers since starting the blog in 2007 and have been invited in to many home. That really is what gave me the idea for the book. I loved seeing how they design from themselves. I am grateful that so many opended their doors to me. 

Hi Ronda: I love your blog. What a fun topic for your book. What designers homes did you find the most surprising? I would ask which was your favorite, but I figure that's something you would not want to pick!

LOL! Thank you!! I am asked that question all the time. I always answer it would be like asking a mom their favorite child! Most surprinsing would be Kevin Sharkey. Very much a traditionalist and then went all mid-century

Hello. I would like to renovate my kitchen, and I'm looking for new appliances. I am also on a serious budget. Are there any local scratch and dent stores you can recommend? Thanks.

I have heard that the Habitat Re-Stores have great appliances at a discount. You can also call places such as Sears, Lowes or Home Depot and ask if they are having a floor model sale. Do you guys know of anyplace that specializes in slightly dented or scratched appliances?

I Love the Book - I find it to be inspiring because it comes from a real life prospective. These designers have incorporated their work in how they live their lives and vice versa. Any thoughts of cultivating a panel speak presentation with a book signing effort including a few of the designers from the book?

Thank you so much. I have long wondered what inspires one person to elevate the mundane tasks of daily living and another to despise the regular routines of life. In an age of increasing mass production, and a recurring sea of sameness, I hold in high regard those who ponder the idiosyncrasies of living life in a unique, meaningful and deliberate manner. I would love to gather many for a talk and signing. Would be GREAT!!

I just moved into a new home and found that cleaning the bathroom mirrors with Windex turns them cloudy. What could cause this? Can you recommend alternatives? I've never seen this before! Thanks for your help!

Try vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Combine equal parts of white vineger and water and spray your mirror and then try using a soft cloth to wipe it clean instead of paper towels. This is a greener and less toxic method of cleaning windows and mirrors and works really well.

What two wonderful places to spend time in. What do you miss about Texas when you are in Europe? Do you have elements of Texas in your home there?

It's a wonderfully crazy way to spend life...but I love it. In Scotland I miss family, friends, Mexican food and Target!!! Scotland need a Target store. 

How is design different in England/Scotland today than it is in the states?

Most people think of Scotland/England as very traditional (plaid, castles, china) but it much more “European” and modern than I expected. Very much modern/upscale Ikea in some ways. Not all...but many.

We have a new sofa and chair at a beach house. The sofa is striped with a wide gray-blue stripe and narrow beige, tan and gray. The chair is a milk chocolate with a large starfish pattern. (Both are Sunbrella fabric.) We can't seem to find a drape for the sliding door. The blue seems impossible to match. Everything is too blue or too green or too shiny. I wanted something calming, not too busy. We were planning cellular shades in a beige for the window, perhaps top down bottom up style with a sheer white on the top half. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I am just doing a story on a really wonderful beach house in Bethany done by Barry Dixon. He used a sort of grid netting fabric on the windows in the great room there that has a view of the ocean. He found it at Donghia but I'm sure you can find something like it from other manufacturers as well. There are sheers with these. I would stick to beige for the window treatments with all you have going on. Good luck.

What tips did you personally pick up when writing the book about Designers at Home? There must have been so many good ideas.

As I wrote the French literary salon came to mind (a place to gather likeminded individuals and increase knowledge). Similarly I saw the book as sources of information, inspiration and exchanging of ideas (a modern-day version). What I learned was it's little things and people make a house a home (even for desingers). Oh....and peonies are the fav flower hands down :)

I am luck to have bought a house with a loft above the MBR. Turning it into a mom-cave. Do you have any suggestions where to get a comfy (but stylish) chaise or recliner? The ones I've seen are ugly (recliner) or too modern (chaise). Thanks!

What a neat idea to have a Mom Cave. I would suggest a small refrigerator would be a great part of this room. Getting a nice looking recliner has always been a challenge.  So many of them are hulking chunks of upholstery.  You should try La-Z-Boy the traditional recliner maker since they have a lot of styles including smaller scaled ones for women. I've always liked the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams recliners that are beautifully made and don't look like recliners at all. Ethan Allen has some nice looking ones too.

Good morning, could you please recommend a light gray paint, with blue undertones, for a small bathroom? Most of the tile is white, with some light colbalt accent tiles. Thank you!

At least for in Scotland...I have become a huge fan of Farrow and Ball. Parma Gray and Skylight are both very pretty. Of course it depends on your lighting? I one of those who puts 20 shades on the wall of a few days before making a selection.

Hi, I need recommendations of where to shop for a reclining or sleeper loveseat. Price range is $500-1000. I'd like something that will last a while and preferably the smaller ones (don't need the console in the middle). This will be my first piece of nice furniture! Finally. I appreciate any help, thanks.

Consider something with a slipcover. With your budget, you might try Ikea, West Elm or Hagerty's.

Hi Ronda - Have you ever wanted to become an interior designer yourself?

Yes and no. I LOVE design! But design is not my skill set. I know what I know!  I am a much better editor and storyteller. I will stick with curating content and leave designing to the professionals :) 

I have a large den with 50's era maple paneling that extends more than halfway up the 8 ft high walls. It also has built-in shelves on 2 walls in the same maple paneling. Is it ok to paint the wood paneling? I'm thinking two light colors -- one for the ceiling and walls and one for the paneling. I feel the room is too dark with all that paneling, but many people seem horrified about the idea of painting the maple. Any special techniques needed for painting paneling?

Paneling can look great but I know that sometimes, you just want to lighten up. You might consider painting the walls and the paneling the same color - just a suggestion - but try and imagine it and see if you like that idea. Lots of people will be horrified at your decision to paint, but too bad - it's your house! You should go to a paint store and ask them to suggest appropriate primers for your job. You will have to clean the paneling well and then sand it before painting. You want to make sure that none of the wood shows through the paint.

My "style" is English Arts & Crafts and have several pieces I've brought back from living in London. Do you know of any resources in the Maryland/DC area? I particularly like the Scottish School.

I would haunt the auction houses for this style of furniture. Sloans & Kenyon in Chevy Chase and Weschler's in downtown Washington and Potomack Auctions in Alexandria are three sources.

What stands out about Scotland compared to the US?!

It different in so many ways. The attitude is more laid back in terms of home and design.  It's not taken as "seriously" I suppose...if that makes sense. I personally don't know anyone in Scotland that has worked with an interior designer. Not say people don't, but it's not as common. And the sytles are a bit mor modern than I expected. 

Hello - I just moved into a house and want to touch up / repaint the trim (it's scuffed from the prior owners). The original color is BM Chantilly Lace - is this a good white to continue to use, or should I go with one of the more traditional trim colors (Super White, White Dove, etc.)? The house is very earth toned in color (natural maple floors, lots of muted green on the walls, views of a forest outside). Thanks!

I have not used BM paint since moving to Scotland in 2005. But prior to my move I always used Benjamin Moore Decorators White for all of my trim.

I'm in need of two area rugs for my new townhouse; not sure of the dimensions I'll need yet (depends on the furniture I buy). What's your favorite source for reasonably-priced rugs? I want something that will hold up for a few years, but I can't spend a ton of money, since I still need to buy furniture/paint/movers/etc.

I like the rugs at CB2, West Elm, Ballard Designs, and Also the natural fiber rugs at Do you guys have rug sources to share?

Do you see blogs being a viable source of design information in the future? Have you thought about doing videos?


Yes and yes. Like every medium it changes all of the time and video content is becoming king (if it's not already)! I am in the process of rethinking and relaunching many things on All the Best Blog. It's a very exciting time to be online. Stay tuned...much more to come.

What should I look for in an outdoor chair cushion? What type of fabric is best for outdoors; what type can withstand the weather, etc.? What type of care do you recommend, especially if they get caught out in the rain?

Sunbrella and other fabrics out there have been designed to repel moisture and mold. Many cushions today can really withstand the elements and keep looking good year after year. That said, it's still ideal if you can have a place to stow cushions right in your back yard, whether a plastic or wood storage chest or cabinet or a shed you can toss them into when it's looking like rain. Keeping cushions out all day and night makes them susceptible to other perils such as bird droppings, tree debris and acid rain.

Good Morning: we have a sun room in the rear of our home that we are converting to a dining room. It is a bit narrow but long enough for a table to seat 8 people. My question is: how long should the table be? I've read that it's ideal to give each person seated at least 30 inches of space, if possible. Is this correct? Any suggestions?

As a general rule plan a minimum of 24 inches for each place setting. If you have the room, 30 inches is ideal. But Jackie Kennedy liked round tables and for people to be elbow to elbow. So no hard fast rules.

It was really fun hearing about your book and your life in Texas and Scotland and how you keep that blog going. You gave us some wonderful tips. Good luck with your book tour and we will be watching your latest adventures on All the Best. Thanks to everyone who tuned in today and see you next week when we will be discussing shopping for home furnishings in downtown Bethesda and getting helpful design tips from designer Camille Saum. Ronda - again thanks.

Thank you all so much for your questions! This was great fun. And many thanks to Jura for aksing me to be a guest.

All the best,

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.

Home Q&A archive
Ronda Carman
Ronda Carman is the founder of the blog "All the Best: A Passport to Stylish Living," and author of the new book "Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living." Carman also writes for New York Social Diary and the Huffington Post, and is a reviewer for Mr. & Mrs. Smith Hotel Collections. A Texan by birth, Carman now lives in Scotland with her husband and son.
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