Home Front: Design ideas from Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza

Aug 19, 2010

Washington Post Local Living section writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza help you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss.

Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining our chat today. Jura is out this week and we don't have a scheduled guest, so it's just you and me today. I'm just recently back from a delightful six month leave, so my apologies in advance if I'm not up to my full typing speed. 

Okay, it looks like you have a lot to discuss already, so let's get started.


Have a closet that's in need of a makeover? I'm doing a story about closets next month and am looking for some that are in need of some reorganization. Sound like one in your house? if so, send a photo of the closet and your contact info to sapienzat@washpost.com. thanks.

I'm planning on replacing our sliding doors for French doors with blinds in between the glass and getting rid of the vertical blinds. What are your thoughts on these doors? Would appreciate any pros or cons on these doors before I make the investment. Thanks

I  think French doors are a great idea and a perfect choice to replace sliding doors. However, I'm confused by what you said: "...doors with blinds in between the glass." What  do you mean by that?

Can you suggest a book or magazine that I can read to learn some of the decorating basics? I've got some great opportunities to spruce up my place, and I'd like to learn the ground rules.

Take a look at Elizabeth Mayhew's Flip For Decorating and Domino: The Book of Decorating.

Help! I'm looking for twin bedspreads - NOT comforters, quilts, or douvet covers - just simple bedspreads. Do you have any suggestions of whom would carry them?

Not sure what your price range is, but generally speaking you can try Target, Garnet Hill, The Company Store, Pine Cone Hill, any department store (Bloomingdales, Macy's, etc.).  

Good morning. Can you recommend a paint color for a large walkout basement with a lot of maple built- INS? I'm looking for something to add coziness and am thinking dark green shades, perhaps forest green. Thanks!

Ack! Does your basement get LOTS of natural light? If not, I think a forest green will take you way beyond cozy and into the darkness. Not very welcoming.

You don't necessarily need a dark color to create a cozy atmosphere.  You can paint with a light color (which I recommend instead of the dark green) and bring in warmth and coziness with carpeting, comfy furniture, pillows, a big throw, art on the walls, books on the shelves.

I'm crazy about my new Dash and Albert rugs! I bought four striped cotton rugs and runners for for my upstairs bedrooms. They are such colorful, happy looking rugs but I won't be so happy if one of my Westies has an accident on any of them. Suggestions for the best way to clean them when that happens?

We had to reschedule Annie for sometime next month, but I can answer this question. If your rugs are the indoor/outdoor versions, you can actually take them outside and hose them down to clean. If they are the indoor rugs, I believe you can simply spot clean them with some mild soap and water.

I have not yet had the wallpaper removed in a room I am going to paint, so I can't just paint swatches on the wall. Can I just paint shirt cardboard, or is there something better? (I hate the paper, but don't want to choose a color I don't like.)

If you are going to take down the wallpaper anyway, why not paint swatches over it?  A better idea, however, would be buy a piece of foam-core board from a craft store or any place that sells school supplies, and paint that (a tip I learned from House Beautiful editor, Newell Turner). Or, you could ask your local paint store if they have poster board, which you can also use to paint swatches. I just recently bought (and painted) a couple from Monarch Paints in Georgetown.

I painted the living room of my small apartment with Behr's 540C-2 Serene Sky and am looking for a gray or taupe color to paint the entryway that opens into the living room. The living room gets plenty of natural light, but there are no windows in this hallway, so I'm hesitant to go too dark. What colors would you recommend?

I dont have the Behr paint deck in front of me at the moment, but that blur color sounds so pretty. And I love your idea to paint the entry gray. Really nice combo. Take a look at Pratt & Lambert's Feathered Gray to start. Also try Benjamin Moores Gray Cloud. More grays to follow in a minute...

They are also at JCPenney and Overstock.com. Decent selections. Good luck!

Yep. Good suggestions. Thanks.

I found one at Bed Bath and Beyond and another at Pottery Barn. You may have to look around, selection at each store that carries them is really limited. Most places only have one or two bedspreads, but tons of duvet covers.

More ideas for bedspreads...

Hi Terri Do you have any tips for removing old wall paper from a bathroom? I would like to paint the walls if and when I can remove the old gnarly wallpaper. I tried using a chemical solvent, but it (and I) didn't do a good job at all. I ended up having to replace the drywall and start from scratch. Do the rental wallpaper steamers work well? Thanks!

Oh, that's terrible...

Fortunately, I've never had to remove wallpaper but I have heard from others that the steamers do work well. Can anyone else chime in here?

Dear Terri: I know you get many questions like this but I really hope you'll answer mine as I am hopelessly untalented when it comes to decorating. We bought a historic colonial house and need a neutral color to paint the walls in the living room, hallway and stair. There is white baseboard trim and that will stay. We have a couch with cream and white fabric and we want to put in some sort of bold colored rug to liven things up. Any neutral paint colors you love?

Oh, yes, there are lots of neutral paint colors I love, but it depends on what you mean by "neutral." Do mean beige? Or are you looking for another color that can also be considered neutral? Let me know before I answer.

Macy's. In store not online.

really?  Why is that?

I am thrilled with today's House Calls which REuses much of what the owners already have. Judging from some of the comments, there is great interest in this type of gREen decorating. Please can we see more of this?

Glad to hear that you liked today's House Calls. I'm in the process of making lots of changes to this popular feature to update the look and feel a little.  I'd love to hear what else you guys love/hate about House Calls. Have a positive or negative thought about it?  Let's hear it...

I have white kitchen cabinets and am looking for a buttery, creamy yellow paint for the walls. I tried a swatch of Benjamin Moore's Hawthorne yellow and is a bit darker (and has a tinge of green if I'm not mistaken) than I am looking for. Any suggestions?

Yellow is a notoriously tricky color to get right. It inevitably looks much brighter on the walls than on the paint decks. My suggestion is to find a shade you like on a paint card, then test the color at the very top of the card. If you take a look at the card that include Hawthorne yellow, the color is a green called Castleton Mist, so you're right: the yellow you tested does have some green in it. Here are some other shades to try out: Benjamin Moore's Creme Brulee and Pale Moon and C2's Ecru.

I have heard of mixing liquid fabric softener (like Downy) with water and sponging on to remove wallpaper. I removed wallpaper in my bathroom last month with this method (I also scored the wallpaper before applying the solution with one of those rolly scorers) and it worked like a dream. This method might not be so hot for very old wallpaper but it worked for mine that was up for about 7 years.

Interesting. Never heard of this. Great tip. Thanks.

Have selected light chartreuse walls (to go with fiestaware), white cabinets, stainless appliances. What granite? Black with sliver flecks is all I can think of to match the Fiestaware, but will it match the light chartreuse walls?

My kitchen has solid black grantite countertops, which the previous owners put it and I really dislike it. It shows EVERY smudge. I would never use black again. It'snot my favorite color anyway, but that's beside the point. How about a gray and white? Or a nice mix of taupes, browns and white? I would highly recommend not picking out your countertops based on your dinnerware. I wouldn't have recommended you base your paint color on it either, but that's easily changed down the road if you tire of the color...or the plates.

Thanks, Terri! By neutral I do mean in the beige family. I'd love a pretty light gray, but I think with the cream couch that probably wouldn't work, huh?

Hmmm...I can't say for sure without seeing your upholstery, but a light gray with a light cream couch might look pretty blah and washed out.  Some of my favorite beige neutrals are BM's Pale Almond and Manchester Tan. I also love, love, love Farrow & Ball's White Tie, but that's probably more off-white than you are looking to go. F&B's Clunch is also a great color. Oh, and Restoration Hardware's Linen is great, too.

Welcome back Terri! Do you know of any great online and local sources for fabrics? We have a really wide and tall alcove space and we want to hang fabric as a tapestry, but we aren't finding anything we like. We lean toward a mid century modern type of style and everywhere we look the patterns are very floral or toile.

Here's a really great online resource for designer fabrics: www.insidefabric.com.

Locally, you could head up to Middelburg, Va to visit Haute, which has room after room after room of fabric bolts. You have to dig, but you can find some fantastic deals on designer fabrics. www.hauteonline.com

I seem to find a better selection instore than online with more sizes. I bought my daybed set there and never saw it online. Also, instore coupons are worth the trip when you can save by going in, touching and seeing what will coordinate with sheets, etc. if need be. Computer monitors can distort colors. Plus, you never know which store will have a special sale on something not advertised online. I frequent Macy's so much I feel like I work there (I get an employee discount from my mother who retired from them!).


We removed 70 years of layers of wallpaper in our former house. We scraped the big pieces off (some of the wallpaper had been painted over), and we had great success using Dif wallpaper remover for the rest of it. Like my husband said, it turned the wallpaper into pancake batter!

Ohhh...good tip. Thank you!

While I love the concept and using what an owner has already, could we please see a few other vendors besides Ballard Design, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and West Elm? I starting to feel like that is all you can design around - not everyone is a fan of the 'box' structure Ikea cheap models used. More high end, more designer quality and more panache with be nice. The same old no-frills, no-decoration chocolate wood and mirrors is so passe. It is starting to remind me of the website 'Catalog Living' with out the flair.

I hear what you are saying. However, the point of House Calls is for the designs to be accessible and affordable. We specifically ask designers not to suggest anything available "only to the trade," so the homeowners can get the item themselves. Lots of readers we hear from complain that House Calls suggestions are too expensive. Other we hear from say it's not imspirational enough. It's difficult to please everyone, but we're making some changes and trying to do just that, so stay tuned. And thanks for your thoughts. Much appreciated.

The one problem I often have with it is that the redesigned room looks different -- I don't mean the design, obviously, but the dimensions and location of windows/doors often seems off compared to the before photo.

Really?  I'll have to look into that, but our illustrator is always dead on in his renderings so that would surprise me. But thanks for pointing that out.

I have BM's Summer Harvest in hallways and leading into a kitchen area - not as intense as Hawthorne Yellow (which I used in another house!) - love it.

A nice yellow paint color recommendation, which is always welcome. Thanks!

Try Lands End or LL Bean Web sites.

good thought. thanks.

Those who own Fiestaware never tire of it: it is a life-long collecting bug. I'd buy new granite before I buy new Fiestaware, some of which I started collecting in my teens.

wow. that's dedication to dinnerware. interesting.

Oooh. I was thinking of getting black countertops in my kitchen but this is making me think twice. I've got light blue walls, white cabinets, white tile on floor. Maybe I should just keep the countertops light, but I'm worried that everything is light and the kitchen will end up blah.

Oh, yeah, I would definitely think twice about the black. Our our polished, too, which makes a difference. If you are considering honed granite, it might not be as bad, but ask around to be sure. Again, I would never get black again. I love the look of the marbles brown, tans and whites.

LOL you don't know what Fiestaware is, do you?

I do. And I know how much people love it, but choosing countertops based on Fiestaware? I can't believe it.

Repro Depot has cool stuff.  They are closed for the summer, but try looking online this fall.

Great. thanks for the suggestion.

My dinnerware will last longer than an area rug you'd recommend people base a color scheme on. It already has since it's from the 1920s!

Yes, I know it will last, I'm not questioning that. But will you use it all the time, everyday and nothing else? Never tire of it?  That's why I wouldn't base a long-term commitment purchase my dinnerware.

It sounded like a lot of chartreuse in that kitchen. I'd probably want to see a beige countertop so it doesn't get overwhelming.


Seriously??? Have you seen the prices of this stuff? $93.00? and higher? We are in a recession and people can't afford that. I'm still working and make good money but would NEVER pay $$ like that. Come on!

If someone is looking for designer fabrics, that site has them nicely discounted.  You're making a pretty broad general statement. I would buy fabric from there.

It would be great if, occasionally, you could show 2 different afters, one a "splurge" and one a "budget." That way, the readers could at least be educated as to what costs more, and why.

good idea. thanks.

Fiestaware is so delightfully colorful, why not a white-based countertop (Silestone has some) with flecks of color in it? Might be more fun than black.

I like this suggestion much better. thanks.

I have cornsilk colored KRAFTMAID cabinets, gunsmoke colored floors, wheat colored walls and a marble (brown/beige/cream) granite counters. They look marhhvalous!! With undercounter lighting the granite colored specs are so pretty

Sounds so nice! Nice picks. Thanks for sharing.

I can second using the Paper Tiger and fabric softener to remove wallpaper. I did it in my foyer. Just be careful not to score the paper too deeply as it will leave marks in the wall which you will end up spackling and sanding for days.

Great! thank you.

Blues, greens, yellows wouldn't go with taupe.

I assume you mean Jura? Yes, we both know what Fiestaware is. And, I disagree. I think those colors would go fine with taupe.

Wow, that hour went by quickly! Thanks for joining me and for your questions and very spirited responses. Lots of firey Fiestaware lovers out there.

Remember to send me photos of any closets you have that need some help (sapienzat@washpost.com), and include your contact info, too.

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.
Janet Schiesl
Professional organizer Janet Schiesl of BasicOrganization in Centreville, Va., is president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).
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