Chat home decor with the Washington Design Center's Jennifer Sergent | Home Front

Jul 19, 2012

Jennifer Sergent is the marketing director at The Washington Design Center and produces its annual DreamHome show house. She will be discussing this year's DreamHome, in which eight designers were asked to decorate rooms inspired by pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery exhibit, "40 Under 40: Craft Futures." The exhibit, honoring the Renwick's 40th anniversary, opens July 20th.

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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We are happy to have Jennifer Sergent with us today. Jennifer  is the marketing director at The Washington Design Center and produces its annual DreamHome show house which is open there now. Designers were asked to decorate rooms inspired by pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery exhibit, "40 Under 40: Craft Futures."

In addition, the Design Center is making news this week because its building has been sold by Vornado. Hopefully Jennifer can tell us what will become of the high end showrooms that serve the design community and the Washington public. Let's go.

Hi there! Thanks so much Jura for inviting me to join the chat. We are really looking forward to the opening of the 40 Under 40 exhibit at the Renwick tomorrow. Here's the link to the exhibit page:

And yes, there's lots to talk about regarding the design center's future. As many of you know, the building is in the process of being sold to a prospective buyer, although the deal has not closed. The buyer intends to convert the building into a new use over the next couple years, but the showrooms in our building are collectively looking for a new location where they can move as a group.

Annie O’Connell, the showroom manager for Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, had this to say in a letter to designers this week:

“We want to assure you that EF+LM will be remaining in DC and is working closely with other leaders in the industry to create a new Design Center that will carry on the tradition of bringing you and your clients the best and most innovative products in the home furnishings industry. … The showrooms of the Design Center have been meeting and are already working towards finding a new building to house the Design Center.  This is an exciting prospect that gives us a tremendous opportunity to find a space that is more vibrant and conducive to the work that we do.” 

I'm looking forward to your questions about this and all things design! 

I have very slippery bathroom floors., especially when the floors are wet. I have bathroom rugs in certain areas and those solve the problem in those areas, but the area where it is the worst, I cannot put a rug. (locations of doors, shower angles, etc. It is a relatively large room with large 12" square tiles. Is there some sort of treatment that would make them less slippery? Do you know if some cleaning products might be better than others? thanks.

This sounds tricky. I would suggest having a custom bath mat cut for your space. You could get a remnant from a carpet company and have them make it for you. Slipping on tile is not something you want to do.

My apartment has a long, narrow hall which leads from the piblic spaces to the bedrooms. How can I make this area seem wider and shorter, or at least more interesting?

You could paint the walls a bold color. Or how about painting the door of the room at the end of the hall in a contrasting shade to draw the eye down the hall?

Worn out my recliner, but want to replace all furniture. Which piece to start with when I have to buy piece by piece?

You must have done a LOT of relaxing to wear out your recliner! It sounds like you want to replace things one by one. I would map out a strategy of seating - how many chairs, sofas, recliners etc. And what colors you want to focus on. It's best to do neutrals for your upholstery and add color with pillows, throws, rugs. If you're going to start out with a new recliner, consider something like leather which would last a long time.

Good morning Jennifer! My high-schooler fell in love with a duvet cover from Anthropologie, but is now struggling with paint selections. I've inlcuded a link that shows the color (coral). In our gold-colored living room it's very orangey-coral, but in sunlight, there is more of a pink tone. She'd like to play up the pink rather than the orange, and is looking at a grey/chrome/mirror and yellow/white combination for the other colors in the room. She thought about painting the walls a light grey, and using the yellow as the 30 in the 60-30-10 rule. The duvet (and one or two accents) will provide the 10, but she really says she wants a soothing backdrop. Her room is about 13x15, and includes one large window centered in a side wall and three big, empty walls. (There is one door breaking it up - to her bathroom. The closet is entered through a hallway before you get to the main part of her room.) Any reactions? Your help is greatly appreciated! Best regards, Lynne Davis.

Lynne, what a fabulous color she's chosen! It will make a great statement. Gray is a wonderful neutral (I don't like white walls much), and it will work really well with the yellow. One missing factor though: is there an area rug? Any other fabric (pillows, etc) that you can pull from for the color? You might even want to browse wallpaper samples with that coral color (we have a HUGE collection throughout our showrooms), and maybe frame a sample as art, and then take paint cues from it. What an exciting project. 

Jennifer-- What surprised you about the designers' takes on the art, and the rooms that evolved? On the other hand, what did you expect from the designers that you saw in their rooms as inspired by the art? Carol Freedman of Carol Freedman Design

Carol! Great question. What surpised me most is the way they designers interpreted each piece. I initially thought they would choose an art piece (you can see all of it here: and interpret that piece rather literally -- same colors, lines, etc. But designers like Will McGovern and Scott Cooke and Christine Philp used their pieces only as a baseline, providing more a philosophical springboard than an aesthetic one. 

What do you do with a living room which is unused, unloved and unwanted. The room has been the same for 32 years, camelback sofa, toile wing chair , mahogany piecrust table and tea table; you get the picture. Typical Williamsburg style. I've come to appreciate the lighter look of Swedish pieces, but since the living room is never used it seems a waste to spend $$ on redecorating it as a living room. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I know of homes that have this same room in them. The question is - what other room in the house do you mostly live in? I would say that if for 32 years there has been no change in this room, and you have  a budget for a new look, why not start over and give yourself an exciting new space to hang out and entertain in. It is sad to have a room in the house that gets no action at all!

I wanted recessed lighting to go with a ceiling fan in my master bedroom. But my electrician misunderstood and put in wiring for either track lighting or pendants. Track lighting seem so 1990's (correct me if I'm wrong). I am now thinking I would choose pendants. Is that too many things hanging from a ceiling? Will I end up with lighted pendulums when the fan is on? Please help. thanks!

Omigosh. Pendants surrounding a ceiling fan? That just seems wrong. Too many hanging things in your room -- and yes, the pendants would probably sway when the fan is on. I would either a) go with track lighting -- there are many options these days or b) tell your electrician to fix his mistake! I prefer the latter. 

Happy summer! Does anyone have recommendations for a beach umbrella that will not turn inside out with wind and is somewhat durable. Last year one I've had for 8 years became unusable because the triangular piece that keeps the canopy up broke. So, bought a Tommy Bahama one from Costco last year to replace it and one of the spokes broke the 2nd time we used it. Bought one from a boardwalk store this year and it flips inside out a lot since the spokes are thin and flex a lot. Bought one online this year and same thing. I've spent $30-$50 on each one so it's frustrating. Am willing to spend $100-$150 if I can get something decent, since renting is $15/day. So if anyone can help this beach-loving fair skinned female get some shade it would be appreciated!

This is a great question. Can anyone help? I just googled around and found nothing much in your price range that looked like a quality purchase. Do other chatters know of a good quality umbrella? I fear that the ones I have purchased recently have been the off the boardwalk variety that last only a year or two.


Morning chatters! I have a question on placement of an area rug in the TV section of our living room. The rug will be on top of hardwood floor, in between our couch and tv - should the rug go under the front legs of the couch, or should we place the rug in front of the couch? Thanks!

Depends how big the rug is. If it's big, then yes, extend it under the sofa, but if it's on the small side I would put it in front. One of those things where you have to try it both ways and decide which way you like better! 

I'm trying to sell my parents' gorgeous Noritake china, but have been striking out on the usual suspects (CL & eBay) and it's not worth it to ship it to a place like (what they pay wouldn't even cover shipping). Wondering if you guys know of any places locally (ideally VA/DC) that buy/consign china?

Try consignment shops. There are a number in Bethesda. Also remember that you can save money by bringing your china to Replacements if you happen to be driving through North Carolina this summer or fall. You could also consider auctioning it off or donating it. Unfortunately, the market for some fine china patterns is not very robust at the moment. Do you all have favorite consignment stores to suggest?

Why not get a ceiling fan with a light and forget about the pendants or track lighting? There are some modern, streamlined fans with lights, not the country style ones that seemed to be popular in the 90s.

Good thoughts. Try

Please help me light this cave-like room!! We recently painted the lower level family room of our home in Grecian Ivory & Poseidon (teal) from Sherwin-Williams. Gorgeous, not too dark. Accenting with gold and red-orange pillows. Now, the overhead lighting...I am thinking of replacing the lousy builder grade lights (termed used loosely) with flush mounted fixtures about 150-300 watts each. We spend 90% of our T.V. time here and the kids play here. There are two small windows. The floors are ceramic tile (gorgeous!!!!) We have toddler twins so floor lamps are out. We do have a table lamp. Any other lighting suggestions? Or am I on the right track? Thanks!

We have a small basement room where our kids watch TV, and my good friend (and last week's guest), designer Debbie Wiener, helped with the lighting -- it's recessed and everything is on a dimmer, and we LOVE it. We actually don't have any lamps or floor lamps in the room, but the dimmable lights, with additional lights pointing to a shelf on moulding that goes around the space, really do the trick. Hope that helps? 

Is there a place in the area that accepts furniture for trade or credit? When my husband and I bought our home we purchased some furniture from the previous owner and a few years later, while it's still in great condition, we'd like to update it to fit our taste and lifestyle. Not sure where to start or what we want, but it's just too big for us and heavy to move. Any tips aside from hiring movers?

Trade or credit? I do not know of such a place, unless you can work out a deal with a consignment store. Does anyone else? You could post it on Craigslist and see if someone will haul it away and hopefully pay you something for it. Otherwise your choices are donating it to a charity that can use it or paying to have it hauled away.

Sorry, I'm confused! So the Center is closing or relocating? Is the next location of the center confirmed? Is it possible that it could close for good?

I know, it IS confusing. The building that houses the design center is going through a change of ownership. The new prospective owner intends to convert the building to a new use over the next couple years. The showrooms in the design center are collectively looking for a new property where they can relocate. So in the near term, NOTHING is changing. You can still go to the design center (and see our amazing DreamHome!). When the showrooms decide on a new location, they will move, but all of this takes time. Bottom line: the manufactuers in our building now will relocate eventually, but they are NOT leaving the DC market. 

Hi chat gurus! Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the article on screened porches. Well written and useful (floor fans, genius). And then a question came to my mind: If I wanted to do exactly what David Mitchell did, which is paint the wicker or rattan furniture black, what kind of paint would you recommend I use? His looks just fabulous.

My mother recently had her patio furniture (metal mesh-type), and it looks great. She hired someone to do it, and it's a spray-paint process, and the paint is semi-gloss. I would definitely not try to paint wicker yourself. I would just ask someone at the local paint store for a reference. 

My daughter just got a job in New York and as proud of her as I am.... I can't seem to unlock my jaw from the shock of what it costs to live there! Now, she of course wants to furnish her apartment. I can't blame her, that's the fun part, but how can we go about doing this wisely and relatively inexpensively? I'm OK with a few investment pieces, so long as they will last, but for accessories... I'm wanting to go cheap. Help, Help, Help....

Congratulations. Getting a job in NYC is big. Your daughter will no doubt want to furnish the place so it reflects here new life and her own style. NY is the best place to shop for everything and there are tons of flea markets, thrift shops, sample sales and discount stores. If you are generous enough to buy her a terrific mattress (buy it in NYC to save on having to move it) , a small sofa or loveseat (check out Ballard or Wisteria) and maybe a basic laminate parsons desk (try and office chair (maybe Ikea), she can find accessories up there and will have fun doing it. If you have a few family furniture pieces stashed in your attic or basement that she can use to begin her life, all the better.

I need help with my bedding. A sheet is too light for me at night but a blanket is too warm. What is else would work? How can I find a very light weight blanket? Or is there such a thing?

Yes, there are summer blankets, which sometimes are loosely woven cotton. I use one of Cuddledown's lightweight down comforters in the summer. Try Garnet Hill, Company Store or Cuddledown.

We need to replace all of the window treatments in the bedrooms and bathrooms. We want a modern look but still need privacy, all on a budget. Should we go with blinds, shades, roman shades, curtains? We want to make sure after all of the expense that we have a nice look that will be current.

If you do blinds, go with wood blinds. Metal is icky. Romans can be a good choice, especially because you can choose the fabric. We have a designer on call service at the design center where you have an unlimited selection, and the designer can help you find a work room to make them. Otherwise, retail stores sell pre-made curtain panels. I think you can find all varieties on a budget -- it's just a matter of what style you prefer. I would try blinds for the bath, romans for a kid's room, and curtain panels for a master bedroom. 

A friend lives in a small apartment attached to a house on a lake in the woods. Her apartment is being renovated and she thinks she'll end up with a very cabin-y feel to it. But she's stuck on what decorating in "cabin style" might mean. There will be lots of windows and french doors, so not much wall space. The space is small--probably about 800 square feet, so anything she does needs to be on a small scale and on a small budget. It's sort of one big room, with her bed tucked into a window nook on one side. And there will be a pot-belly wood stove somewhere in the room. I know she loves vintage from the 1950s. Any thoughts? Even just a list of possible items might help start the creative process...

We just hosted Suzanne Kasler at the design center last month, and she was signing her recent book, Inspired Interiors. She actually did a project with a cabin-y feel too it that was appropriately rustic with a sophisticated feel nonetheless (leave it to Suzanne...). Perhaps you could start there... Here's how you can get it: 

I'm not sure if this is exactly a home question, but thought it might be because I'm trying to reorganize our possessions and clear things out. :) I inherited my mother's vintage clothing collection (1960s and '70s) and would like to sell it. I'm sorry to let it go, but I need the space more and none of it fits me anyway. She had many high-quality, interesting pieces, so I don't want it to go just anywhere. I'm thinking a boutique-type place; any stores come to mind? Many thanks.

You could try Annie Creamcheese at 3279 M St. NW  in Georgetown or Meeps at 2104 18th St. NW . Know that stores are very particular about what items they can sell and what pieces still have value in today's market. You could also try selling on eBay.

Are there free online tools that you recommend? I just moved into a new one bedroom apt and am struggling to come up with best furniture placements, etc.

Online tools are great... to a point. Many designers offer two-hour consultations to get you started on placement. You really need someone who is versed in scale, color, etc. who can look at your furniture and your floor plan and come up with an arrangement that makes sense. Not free, but the $500-or-so investment in one of these consultations will make you sooo happy in the end. We have a great online designer portfolio where you can browse designers: (and I also have a personal blog where I write about great local designers, DC by Design: You might want to consider it? 

The living room connects via a large opening to the dining room, which is used only slightly more than the living room. So these two rooms run the depth of the house. We already have a family room which opens to the kitchen and to a 16 x 20 foot sunroom addition. The only thing I can think of is a library, but that would be strange opening to a dining room.

I think a library would be a wonderful choice! You could have bookshelves installed to hold whatever books you have stashed all over your house. You could furnish the room with a few comfortable reading chairs and small tables. You could do  a big round table in the middle of the room and use it for a  beautiful flower arrangement or orchid surrounded by stacks of books. This would be a room you would use to relax and unwind. I think it sounds lovely.

I have had a Solartek Windbrella for 10 years, which is more than I can say about any beach chair I've ever owned

That is a miracle. Will look it up.

We have the same problem (sheet not enough, blanket too warm), and solved it by using a flannel sheet. I put regular sheets on the bed, then a flannel sheet on top. It's wonderful. (I also bring one with us when we travel.)

Thanks for suggesting this.

I am a beach bum of many years. Last year we purchased an umbrella anchor, "Mike's Spikes" at a local hardware store at our South Carolina beach town. So far it has been the answer. There are other plastic types on the market but this heavy duty metal spike is great. Just pound the spike into the sand and then place the umbrella pole (pointed part) into the spike. I have also seen people bring sand bags down, fill them, and then hang them on their canopies. When they leave they just empty the sand out of their bags and trudge off the beach. Search Mike's Spikes on the 'net.


I hadn't heard of Wayfair until seeing it in the "House Calls" this morning, and they appear to have some good pieces that could work for us. Is anyone familiar with the quality there?


Hi. What would I expect to see at the event? (The link isn't working for me.) For me, when I think of "crafts" I think of the stuff I do in my basement when I'm watching TV: sewing, paper crafts, and that's about it. I know there's so much more, but what? Thanks!

I thought the same thing! But this exhibit takes craft to a new level. It's unbelievable what these artists are able to do with paper, metal mesh, 35-mm film, wood planks... One artist, Stephanie Liner (whose piece is represented in Will McGovern's room at the DreamHome) created a huge orb, upholstered the inside with fabric, and put a live model in it, to represent a woman's pressure from outside society to fulfill certain norms. Another designer, Christy Oates, created a flat wall-mounted panel that folds out into a chair, in the spirit of origami. Shanon Munn used that piece to inspire her DreamHome room. Just incredible stuff. The exhibit opens tomorrow! If the link is not working, you can call the Smithsoninan for more info: 202.633.1000

The chatter could buy a paint gun and do it herself. My sister has had great experience painting all sorts of furniture with her paint gun. She insists it's super easy. You would just have to make sure sure you are using the correct kind of paint for the job. Getting my own so I can repaint my dining room chairs is on my to-do list!


Sorry if I've already sent, but wanted to make sure you got this question. Three cushion covers on my good, old Leathercraft sofa have the finish worn off by a couch potato husband and two dogs - body oils, etc - and redying won't help anymore. Rest of sofa in great condition. No local co in my city can do and Leathercraft doesn't have any matching leather anymore and can't find good quality match - leather is glazed, semi-aniline.. DC area has several companies that claim to do refinishing Can any readers recommend one for this task - not cleaning or redying.

Have you tried

Does anyone else have a suggestion?

Um - how big is it. Most people live in there in quite a small space (your sticker shock on housing prices is usual). Will it take much furniture?

Good questions.

Come to Kensington! There are already a bunch of shops in big industrial buildings. There is room for more. And, it would make my commute to come see you so much better :)


A while ago, there was an article or guest on the chat by an AV consultant who helped a homeowner organize the electrical needs of speakers/tvs/wires. Do you have a link to that or know of someone who can do this? I have an older, small home, and would like to modernize, go wireless, internet/tv combo. But I need advice on where the technology is and what my needs and options are for providing new power sources. I really want someone I can trust and can talk to me in a way I understand - I dont' know anything about technology. I still don't have a cell phone, but I see all that changing.

Our designers wowed us this year with their use of technology in the DreamHome. One designer, Jeff Akseizer, set up a light, sound and TV system that is motion-controlled, so if no one comes in the room after an hour, it all goes off, and comes on when someone walks in. He used Absolute Custom Solutions for that and Control4 technology. Barnes Vanze Architects also has an awesome sound system and slideshow in their Modern Study; They used Energy + Light + Control and ABE Networks. I'm sorry I don't have contact info but I'm sure you can Google them. I've sen their work up close and am blown away by it all. 

I need paint color suggestions for our 1980s master bath. It's got light peach tile counters and shower/tub surround (think the 80s-90s Southwestern trend) and the cabinets are cream laminate with oak strips at top and bottom. Golden oak trim and doors, and lots of mirrors. Floor is white carpet. We considered a light aqua after liking the color at a resort, but when we tried samples on the wall it didn't work well. I think we need something more warm and neutral until we are able to remodel. Prefer Behr or other affordable brands. Thanks!

What about Behr's Pecos Spice? You might as well plug into that Santa Fe vibe until you can remodel.

Good Morning. Fled the suburbs for a cute 1930s center hall colonial four year ago - and the master bedroom is driving me crazy. The room is 11.5 X 17, has three windows (2 with radiators below), and three doors. There are medium toned woven wood shades on all windows. Our bed is a queen four poster - the only location for the bed is directly in front of the window w/o a radiator. Looking to change out the bed - possibly for an upholstered headboard only. Would also like to soften the windows - possibly using relaxed roman shades. Any thoughts on fabric choices/style for both the headboard and shades would be appreciated - I'm leaning toward natural linen but don't want a match-y look. The room is currenly RH Silver Sage with natural toned wood floors - wouldn't mind changing out the wall color. Thanks so much!

A lot of designers I know are posting their work on Houzz. I just did a quick search for "beds in front of windows" and it came up with some gorgeous images -- I'm sure they can provide you with inspiration when you decide what kind of bed you want to get, in addition to teh window treatments behind it:

Their customer service is very good. Real people can answer questions about their products.


As another fair-skinned female (and melanoma survivor), I've given up on trying to buy my own. Unless you're willing to spend upwards of $200 retail for one with a wood pole and heavy, Sunbrella-type fabric, you are MUCH better off getting the rental umbrellas available on most of the Atlantic beaches from the umbrella-and-chair concessions. They even put it in the sand for you so no worries about having it go cartwheeling down the beach in a stiff breeze.

Wow. Good thoughts.

Selling on e-bay is a great idea. Some people specialize in selling for you, taking a cut or you could contact some of the sellers and see about selling them the whole collection.


Up here (Lancaster County, PA) several companies that paint cars have a new sideline -- painting porch furniture, notably wrought iron. I had a friend go that route and her pieces look fabulous. Huge color selection, too. Ask around.

Thank you.

I would like to paint my kitchen walls soon. At this point financially, I am stuck with the 1980's mauve laminate counter top. The previous owner had put up a small flowery wallpaper with matching border. So I plan to remove the wallpaper & paint. The cabinets are the 80's honey oak finish and the appliances are white. I like Benjamin Moore paint. Do you have any suggestions for a wall color, possibly light greens or blues? Also can you suggest a coordinating white trim color?

You might not have to live with the mauve. I did a blog post on designer Sue Burgess, who bought a weekend place near Middleburg. She PAINTED the laminate countertops white! You can see the photo of the result in my post (scroll down a lot and you'll see it):

That way, you can create your own color scheme for the cabinets and the rest of the kitchen. Good luck! 

Thanks again for having me -- I had a great time and hope to meet you soon at the design center! 

We appreciate your being on the chat today. Thanks for illuminating us on what's happening at the Washington Design Center. We will stay tuned for more developments. Meanwhile, try and get down to see DreamHome  at the WCD and the new Renwick exhibit too.

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
Jennifer Sergent
Jennifer Sergent is the marketing director at The Washington Design Center and produces its annual DreamHome show house. She will be discussing this year's DreamHome, in which eight designers were asked to decorate rooms inspired by pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery exhibit, "40 Under 40: Craft Futures." The exhibit, honoring the Renwick's 40th anniversary, opens Friday July 20th.
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