Barbara Hawthorn, the DC-based designer who decorated the Capitol Hill home in this week's section, joined the weekly chat.

Jul 28, 2011

Barbara Hawthorn, the DC-based designer who decorated the Capitol Hill home in this week's section, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza in a weekly chat about interior decorating and home improvement.

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Hi everyone.  Today's Local Living section features an 1860s  house on Capitol Hill decorated by Barbara Hawthorn of McLean. She used a lot of modern furniture pieces, contemporary lighting and fabrics and finishes that are party and pet proof.  Barbara joins us on the chat today so send in your questions on design, paint, sources, upholstering and more. Let's get going.

Just had a new front door installed (went from solid black to door with 3/4 oval glass) Having the glass really makes an improvement, but looking to add a slight pop of color. Home is medium sage green vinyl siding, white trim, black shutters. North facing door with 4 foot porch overhang, the black door was just too dark. Can I add another color to the mix or should I stick with the safe white? Any suggestions appreciated!

Absolutely. Try Benjamin Moore Lafayette Green HC-135. It will give more color than black but also work with the shutters and siding.

What is the best way to create a multiple-purpose room in a small space (e.g., office, gym, hobby/crafts area) while minimizing clutter?

Use multi-purpose storage cabinets all along the base of the walls with a lamainate or engineered stone on top that will give you work space for both crafts and office use. Hang a large mirror along the opposite wall that will expand the feel of the space and allow you to put a bench and weights where it is good to check that your form is correct. Hang a flat screen TV with DVR on the wall with a flexible arm to watch while working out or to play work-out videos.

Consider rubber floor tiles or some of the new chilewich vinyls. They are colorful, easy to clean and perfect for a work out surface or crafts.

We have several oriental carpets we'd like to hang on the walls -- the largest are 5 X 7 feet. What suggestions do you have for doing this and where in the greater DC area we can purchase the necessary items (dowels, hanging loops etc.) ?

It is best to put a wood frame on the back to keep the rug stable. Natural fibers may stretch out if hung without stabilizing support. There are framing stores that may have the materials you need. It is also a good idea to take the rug to a reputable oriental  rug store that specializes in old rugs and display. I would suggest Keshishian in Chevy Chase.

I have a small galley kitchen in a rowhouse. I am so confused looking at kitchen cabinets. I want a white kitchen with a modern edge to it. I cannot tell what is the best kitchen cabinet as far as quality and don't know how to tell. My choices are: Martha Stewart Pure Style Dunemere at $7k, KraftMaid maple wood painted white at $8k or a Homecrest white wood at $9k. What do you recommend for countertops and floor? Thank you!

I do not have experience with the cabinets that you have mentioned. Reico kitchen stores located throughout the area  have a design staff that can give you advice and answer many of your cabinet questions. You will also want to make sure that the materials used in the cabinets are formaldehyde free.

I want to hang new curtains for the sliding glass doors in my master bedroom (15.5 by 20.5). The textured ceilings (yuck!) are a standard 8'. One wall has 16' of sliding doors, and an adjacent wall has doors measuring 6'. Currently these doors are framed by 84" long curtains on traverse rods mounted onto the door trim... I think the rods are ugly and outdated . The only curtains that ever get closed are those over the 6' section of glass. My big question: do I hang 84" curtains from rods and rings mounted to the trim or just above, or would it look better to mount rods just below the ceiling with longer curtains to give the appearance of a higher ceiling? Do you have a better suggestion for hardware? We never close the curtains on the longer expanse of glass, they're basically hung for uniformity, so a long curtain rod will always be exposed. Thanks for your help!

I always like window treatments to be mounted as close to the ceiling as possible where ceilings are low. Restoration Hardware has a good selection of drapery rods and hardware. Also, google drapery hardware and you will find  excellent sources for all kinds of drapery hardware at very good prices.

Of course the plumbing disaster struck when we had four house guests, but at least it means I get to re-do our 1950s pink tile bathroom. It is not a big area (4ft 9 by 7 ft 3) but I've fallen in love with a very patterned granite tile ("Rain Forest" -- lots of brown and green swirls on a cream background). Would it be okay to use that in a very limited area -- say, the wall at the head of the bathtub? What then should we do with the other walls & the floor?

Plumbing disasters always happen when you have overnight guests or are having a party. The tiles you have chosen sound nice, although they sound like they have lots of pattern on them. Doing one wall of them and then doing plain cream subway tiles or something like that would be nice, I would not do the whole room in them. I would do something in off-white for the floor tiles as well.

We recently moved and our new master bedroom is BM's Shelburne Buff. White ceiling and trim, hardwood floors. For various reasons, painting right now is not an option. Any suggestions for color schemes to bring in with the bedding, rug, etc.? I'd prefer to stay away from reds since I think they're not calming enough in the bedroom. Thanks!

If you are planning to eventually repaint, then I would stick with mostly white bedding and bringing in some light blue-green accents. For example. You could do a white bedspread or matelasse and have bluish-green Euro shams, throw pillow or bolster and a duvet, quilt or blanket folded at the foot of the bed. You could also hang white or off-white curtain panels and add a nice trim to compliment the bedding color you choose. Take a look at  BM's Serene Breeze for the shade I'm thinking of.

We are painting our sons' room and are disagreeing about the best time to remove the painters' tape: when the paint is wet or dry? Thanks!

Removing the tape while the paint is still wet will give you a smoother finish.

How did you become interested in interior design, and where did you first do your work?

My mother tells me I was born with the passion. As a little girl I did not eat my M&M's but instead made color patterns with them. I also liked to move the furniture around when we stayed in hotels until I thought it was arranged properly. Throughout high schools and college I worked in my dad's engineering firm and learned drafting and technical skills the old fashioned way. I also studied art and art history. Today there are many excellent design schools in the area like Marymount, Montgomery College, and George Washington.

I love the BM Tricycle Red walls in the dining room!! I NEVER would have thought to pick that color and it looks wonderful. Any other unusual paint color favorites?

Do not be afraid to experiment if you love color. If you are a fan of reds I also love Farrow & Ball's Rectory Red #217. If you are into sun colors, try Benjamin Moore's Sun Tan Yellow 2155-50, Bold Yellow 336, Tangelo 2017-30. and Sweet Orange 2017-14.

Have fun!

Are there any good flea markets this weekend? Wanting to take a day trip somewhere.

Not a flea market, but there is an "Antique Fest" in Leesburg on Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Check out for more details. 

Thanks for your advice. I have a vegetable garden, and in May purchased some tomato plants at a very reputable nursery. Two were labeled 'brandywine'. Unfortunately, now that they are grown and producing fruit, it appears one plant was mis-labeled....instead of a sturdy, low brandywine plant, it is a massive, climbing cherry tomato variety. These are not the tomatoes I wanted, and this plant requires a lot more care. It's not like I can return it and get a new plant...there wouldn't be time for it to grow. And while I'm still getting fruit, it's not of the variety I wanted. I can't help but think they owe me something, but don't know what, other than perhaps some free plants next year. Is it worth letting the nursery know there was a mistake? Thank you.

Yes. Of course you should report it to the nursery. Sometimes when I'm buying impatiens I get 12 or 24 plants and when I get them home, the pinks don't match although they were all labeled the same... so this is not uncommon. If you had your receipt, even just something printed from a credit card bill,  I would take it to the nursery, ask for the manager and explain what happened. I would be surprised if he did not make some amends for you. Maybe bring him a tomato of the variety you did not want!

Barbara - how often did you and the architect Ralph Cunningham work together on this project? Or were they separate endeavors? My husband and I are hunting around for architects and designers and some firms are very open to working with designers while others seem vehemently opposed. What is the best (or least expensive) route?

The best results are when there is a true team effort. It does take a village to get the best results. We worked seamlessly and closely with Cunningham and Quill. 

Good and frequent communication among all the parties is essential. We have also worked successfully with other architects. Another essential component is the contractor.  AJ Johnson was the contractor on this project and we were in daily communication. AJ and his crew appreciated the importance of following the architect's and designer's specifications and when questions arose called and asked instead of guessing.

Good luck with your project. Interview carefully and select those who recognize that your happiness with the end result is their most important task. They must be good communicators who are able to work as a team. It is also important that you like their personality. You will be spending an incredible amount of time with these people and you have to feel comfortable with them!

I have a two story house with 24 steps up to the second level. Nothing unique but it does lead to a long dark hallway. I am lost as to what to do. Currenly painted builder white with recessed lights down the hall to the bedrooms on both sides as the staircase comes up in the middle of the floor area. I have thought about beadboard as we are coastal south or even wallpaper. Ceilings are very high so do-it-yourself painting would be a challenge without a scaffold. What do you recommend? And if paint what color? We like sea colors, coastal colors, beach colors but are open to anything. Even a mural if appropriate. Thanks!

If you lean toward coastal colors, then go for it. And keep the colors on the lighter side to brighten up the dark space. Wallpaper would also be a good choice. Either way, you could also add interest on the walls with framed family photos or a collection of something you have. I remember a really cool hallway at the Kips Bay showhouse a few years back where the designer hung a collage of mirrors (all different shapes and sizes) along the walls of a very dark and narrow hallway. It completely transformed the space, making it much more interesting. It also felt much bigger and brighter than it was.  For your hallway, you could also hang some interesting light fixtures in place of the can lights.

Were there any special challenges in dealing with an old house--HVAC, wiring, plumbing, etc., and how did you evaluate the safety and condition of them?

Cunningham and Quill, the architects, were very professional and on top of these issues. The contractor carried through the execution with very high standards.

I'm too cheap to spend few thousand dollars for the services of an interior designer, even though I've seen some very impressive work. On top of that, I think I'd get far less from an interior designer because I have small children, and have no desire to make more than a modest investment in furnishings; we're pretty good about keeping food, paints and other furniture-unfriendly materials away from our living room, but our systems is not foolproof. What Do-it-Yourself tips would you offer to someone who has a pretty good eye for decorating, but not a big wallet?

I experimented inadvertently with removing the tape while the paint was wet v dry. I think the best approach is to wait until it is slightly dry. If the paint is very wet, it can still bleed and drip. If it is dry and there is some paint on the tape, it can pull away the paint on the wall. If you've waited too long and it's already dry, you can put a razor or putty knife along the edge as you peel the tape - that keeps the paint from pulling away from the wall.

Yes, you don't want to pull the tape off immediately after you've painted, but definitely pull it off before the surface is completely dry.

Hi, I have been looking for a rug for my living room for some time now. I have looked online, but haven't had much luck since the colors can vary so much. Are there any good resources locally...VA, MD, DC? I have checked out C&B, Pottery Barn, West Elm, etc... Would love a rug warehouse that carried more contemporary style...not interested in an Oriental.

Have you gone to Green Front? They have locations in Farmville - the original - and Manassas and Raleigh. THey have an amazing selection of all kinds of rugs, not just Orientals.

Could Barbara please comment on the comfort and feel of the more durable fabrics she used? What should I look for if I want a more traditional, soft, luxe feel to my fabrics but want entertaining and kid-friendly durability? (and where should I be looking, or is this designer-only?)

Many of these fabrics are available at retail stores like Calico Corners and G Street Fabrics. You can also check the web sites of Chella, Sunbrella, Perennials, and see where they have showrooms or where you can find their products. Many of these fabrics are also available at some of the on-line fabric outlets. You would just type in the brand name and see what is available.

Although the fabrics are durable and easy to clean,they still are soft and inviting to the touch.

Barbara: Do you know of places you can get contract fabrics at a discount? I love the styles you use, but I don't want to pay designer prices.

Why do you like the Benjamin Moore Regal Flat paints?

The colors are rich with pigment and last for many years without fading. They also only need one coat if you use a primer and two without.  Flat paints also do a better job of hiding existing flaws in the walls like uneven or rough surfaces. Just be sure to ask for the washable formula.

Hello. what is a good, economic, place to purchase a lamp shade? thanks!

Lamps Unlimited in McLean on Chain Bridge Road. They have every size and style you can imagine and can even order custom sizes and styles. The prices are also great.

What do you think about slate floors for homes with multiple pets?

Slate is good with pets. Just make sure that there is some texture to the slate so that they do not get slippery when wet.

A single parent friend wants advice on painting her bedroom. It is a small room with a sloped wall to ceiling. what are some guidelines?

Select a light color and paint everything the same color - the flat ceiling, the sloped ceiling and the walls. If there is baseboard and trim around the doors, select a color slightly lighter than the one you use everywhere else. Using the same color will unify the space and make it feel much larger.

I will be renovating my kitchen soon and have interviewed one kitchen designer. I like him and am tempted to sign a contract with him, but I also think I should interview a couple of other designers. Part of the problem is that I'm having trouble finding other kitchen designers. Do you think it would be a bad idea to only talk to one designer? I'd appreciate any advice. Thanks

I think it's always prudent to interview several contractors or designers before making a final decision on hiring. You can do a search on the National Kitchen and Bath Association's web site for other kicthen designers in your area.

I know this isn't necessarily "design" related, but what happened to the home sales listings the Post used to publish on Thursdays? I miss them. Sniff.

We are sorry we had a break in those. We know they are very popular. They are back in today's Local Living and we anticipate them being there on a regular basis. We had a technical issue with the vendor that supplies those numbers. My husband actually LOVEs reading them and circles the ones of interest for me to see!

For the person with the high 2nd floor ceilings, you can still do DIY painting if you add a chair rail. With a miter saw (which you can rent), it isn't hard to do a chair rail. Paint the walls up to waist-height, then add the chair railing right over the paint line and it will make a dramatic difference. Although it would be best to paint the builder's white (in our house, the builder's white is not very durable), you don't have to and then you wouldn't need scaffolding. We just did our hallway this way with SW Sporty Blue and then painted the trim (including the chair railing) a crisp white. Although we did paint above the chair rail a light grey, it would have worked with the builder's white as well. The difference between our crisp white and the builder's white gave the trim a nice pop.

Sounds nice. Thanks for the ideas.

What's a good color for a guest bedroom that only has one window? Don't want it to be too stark or too cave like.

Select a neutral cream color that has some warmth but is still light. Try Benjamin Moore's Affinity colors. I like Etiquette AF-50.I also like BM Off-White Colors Creamy White OC-7 and Natural Cream OC-14.

For contemporary rugs, you should still check out the traditional rug dealers in the area. Most don't carry the contemporary pieces in stock because they don't sell as well, but many of them have the ability to acquire them for you to try and decide if you want to buy them. Just a thought...

Very good thought. Thanks. I also like Carpet Palace in Bethesda, a favorite of designers. Great remnants.

We have marble and granite countertops. How often do these need to be resealed? Is this a do-it-ypurself project?

You know, I have had my granite for 12 years and once or twice I have used that sealing spray. But nothing else. They are absoultey fine. Should I be doing more?

My fiance and I are looking for a place together -- for the past few years we've been living in his place, which is nice, but its not "us." We're looking to move into a place that is less fancy but larger, so that our stuff can fit!! One problem: his taste (though wonderful) is so, so masculine. How should I go about suggesting decorative elements that speak to my more girly side (I love pretty things!) without them seeming silly or unnecessary? Surely not everything in our home must be leather-bound....

You have the right idea - less of the leather and more clean, crisp design that might fit both of your styles. I would try to give your husband a space to make his own - like a den or office. Try and compromise on the living room/dining room with something modern and inviting and comfortable from shops like Crate & Barrel, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams or Room & Board. For the bedroom, keep it neutral, but slip in something for yourself like a vanity table or jewelry storage piece and pick linens that are luxurious in pastel colors.

What are the fears that people have about interior design, whether working with a designer or not? (in descending order.)

I think the main fears are:

First, that the designer will design to their taste and not yours. I always say that it is your home and it is essential that the home reflect the clients' personal sense of style and how they need the home to function for them.

Second, that the designer does not understand the word "budget" and will try to sell you a Rolls Royce, when you really want a Honda. I always sit down with my clients before making any selections and discuss the budget and show them what is available at different price points. We work together as a team on how to get the most for less and where it makes the most sense to splurge.

Third, a designer should never be "intimidating". We are here to provide a service and if you do not feel comfortable asking questions and stating whatever is on your mind, you will not get the best results. I always remind my clients that it is THEIR home and I need to know whatever is on their mind to do the best possible job for them.

A tip I got from one of the HGTV shows for a small room with a sloped ceiling is that you can take a light color paint for the walls (to help make it feel bigger). Then take the paint and ask the paint store to lighten a small sample with a little white. Use this on the ceiling (especially the sloped part) and the lighter shade will make the ceiling feel like it is a little higher and keep it from feeling like it is crowding you in. You can also opt to do the regular ceiling in the original shade and only the sloped part in the slightly lighter shade and it should still give the feeling of raising the ceiling.

That is a great tip. Thanks!

I really depends on how frequently you use the cooking surfaces for foods and anything that may attract bacteria. If you are an infrequent cook, then you can probably seal it once every several years (say 4-5). I cook pretty much daily or almost daily and I reseal our granite every other summer. I like to so this the night before we leave for vacation so that it has the vacation time to set and dry (the stuff we use says that it should stay dry for 24-48 hours). Then we come home and can use the kitchen again. I have a friend who doesn't really cook, but uses the kitchen frequently and is a bit of a slob. After 5 years, his counters are in pretty bad shape and would take some serious cleaning to get back in good condition.

Love the idea of sealing it before you go on vacation. You bring up some good issues.  Thanks.

For Ms. Hawthorn: What color yellow is the Jameson Kitchen? Also, do you know of a ' white' ( I use the tem loosely) that would read like a warm sunset in the evenings... something that wood "glow", and not go gray without sun on it?

The Jameson kitchen is BM Semolina - 2155-40. It is a strong color that feels like late morning sun. Try the BM Off White colors like antiquity OC 107 or pale moon OC 108,

It looks like you posted a question from "I'm a cheapskate", but not answer.

Can't find the question, butI would be happy to provide some free advice.

I am going to paint over panelling, so I know I need to prime the surface. Do you recommend a separate primer, and if so, which one/what type should I look for? Or do the new "paint and primer in one" paints work as well as the commercials lead one to believe they do? Any first-hand experience or preferences between brands you can share for this first timer? Thanks.

I like Kilz.

Another chat comes to a close. Sorry we didn't get to all the questions. It was lively and we thank Barbara and her staff for all the helpful answers. Have a great weekend everyone!!  Check out my piece today on blenders that has a Will It Blend?  - Washington edition video that will give you a laugh.


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.
Barbara Hawthorn
Barbara Hawthorn has owned her own design firm for nearly 30 years. Her work includes a Park Avenue "pied a terre" for a global entrepreneur, a Design Boutique in the Bahamas and offices of prominent attorneys, lobbyists, doctors and venture capitalists. She grew up in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, and graduated from Vassar College in 1971. In 1974 she earned a masters of Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
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