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

Aug 04, 2011

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

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Good morning, chatters. Thanks for joining us today. Lots of questions already in the queue today, so let's get started. 

I'm painting a basement stairwell; the upstairs hall is painted a chocolate color, the downstairs basement is finished and painted BM Linen White, there is a bedroom at the base of the steps that is painted Sherwin Williams Lacewing. I'm thinking of a dusty lavender to connect the two spaces, such as C2's Bella Donna. Obviously, there's no natural light on the staircase. Appreciate your feedback!

I think I would just continue the Linen White in the hallway.

I was just at an estate sale & got a beautiful old basket. However it's very dusty & the previous owner smoked. How is the best way to clean it without harming the basket?

First, I would use a small brush to dust it off - you can even gently use a small brush attachment on your vacuum. Then use a damp cloth to wipe everything down. For smaller crevices, you can use a Q-tip.

I have two dogs and just purchased a 15 yr old colonial. What are the best options for flooring in the great room, dining room and kitchen that will look nice but can stand up to the wear and tear of medium size dogs? I like hardwood but don't know how that will wear with doggy accidents and nails.

Hardwood might be your best bet. I like Pergo myself and it has worked well for me with our cat and his claws. But some people say they have found it not so great for pets.

What do others think?

Hi! I'm looking for a light-weight desk to place in a small den/loft space that can easily be moved. The space serves as a guest room with a white MG&BW pull-out sofa. Ideally, the desk would be foldable, functional and modern. Any suggestions where to look?

How about the mini parsons desk from West Elm? A classic look, lightweight and currently on sale.

So I reread the chat from 2009 with Barry Dixon. To my chagrin, I recognized a question that I'd posted about painting my living room--my question was about paint color because we live in a forest and don't get much natural light. Anyway, it's two years later and we STILL haven't painted the living room! FWIW, I'm still open to color suggestions--our furniture upholstery is mostly garnet, sage, and deep brown leather and we love the Mission/Arts and Crafts colors and styles.

Did you read the Q and A with Barry Dixon in Local Living today by our producer Megan Buerger? He suggests a few paint colors you might like. Also, I would say look at the Benjamin Moore Historic Colors at the back of their fandeck.

Hello - thanks for the great chats. What type of shower curtains do you recommend? My bathroom is small, and the clear plastic ones make it look bigger. But do they look a little cheap? Cloth curtains seem more elegant but since they are opaque they divide the space in the room, making it seem smaller. What do you recommend? Thanks.

I do prefer opaque shower curtains for a more finished look. I have a lovely matelasse white curtain I got at the Matouk Outlet in Fall River, Ma. for $24.

Hi, Jura and Terri! I've been thinking of painting my honey-colored stained cabinets, but am worried about what to do if I end up not liking them. If I paint, I'm pretty much stuck painting, correct? I wouldn't be able to go back to the original stained look? Thanks!

Well, you could go back, but you'd have to strip the paint first, which is probably more hassle than it's worth. I can understand being hesitant about making a permanent change like that, but I'm willing to bet that you'll be happy with the results. Light, honey-color cabinets is kind of a dated look and painting is an easy way to update them. Plus, if you don't like the color you paint them, you can always (and easily) repaint. What colors are in your kitchen and what color are you thinking about painting the cabinets?

Hmmmm . . . . I honestly don't think whites look very good when there's no natural light whatsoever. I'm wondering why you would go with that over a lavender.

I guess it's just a matter of personal preference. I think an off-white would brighten the space and it's a continuation of the room color, so it will flow nicely rather than look choppy. I don't think you need a "bridge" color, but if you like the look of the lavender in the hallway than you should use it. 

Hi - I inherited a piano from a family member and realize now that she was a smoker and the piano smells, not obnoxiously, but I can definitely smell it especially when the house had been closed up. What can I do about it if anything? - Leslie

Finishes on pianos can be very delicate and you can't use anything too strong on your own without consulting with a professional. Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook suggests trying a very small bit of mild dishwashing liquid, then wiped down with a slightly dampened cloth, and then dried with a clean dry cloth. Consult with a professional piano restorer if this doesn't do the trick.

After you vacuum/brush the baskets, place them on a flat surface in a large plastic (e.g., garbage) bag and carefully place a dish of ammonia or a dish of vinegar inside the bag before you seal it. The vinegar or ammonia will help absorb or dissipate the smell of the smoke. Works in cars, rooms, etc. (Also works pretty well at getting rid of fish smells after cooking. Plus, you can put the vinegar on the stove to warm a bit, which also helps.) Obviously, placement of the bag/basket is important so that the ammonia/vinegar does not spill and is not accessible to children or pets.

Wow! This is great info. And a much better idea than cloying aromatherapy sprays or candles.

We're updating the bathroom in our home and the question came up as to whether or not the fittings should have the same handle. For example, if the sink faucet uses levers but the shower has cross handles. I don't think it matters, but the contractor thinks it looks better if they are the same - can you please weigh in on this debate?

I think it's nice but not necessary.

We are considering a sisal rug for our dining room. Do you think sisal/and or other natureal rugs will be around for a while? Our other option is a more traditional wool carpet. Thanks!

Yes, I think natural fiber rugs are a classic look that's here to stay. 

Hi Jura and Terri, We are in the market to update to update our dining room window treatments. The Second Yard in Fairfax would have been the perfect shop if it were still open. Can you recommend another shop with a great selection of traditional drapery fabrics? We would prefer a shop in Northern Virginia, but we are willing to travel to Maryland. Thanks so much!

Are you willing to go to DC? Haute Fabrics in Georgetown  at 2603 P St. NW is a good place. Also try Fabrics Unlimited in Fredericksburg and Charlottesville.  Any other ideas?

We had honey oak cabinets that were in excellent shape. Convincing my husband to paint them white (BM's Mayonaise) was a challenge, but well worth it. They look beautiful! One thing that helped us make the leap was the Cote de Texas blog - she's got a great archived posting about updating stained cabinets with paint.

A vote for painting dated cabinets.

Does anyone have good suggestions on places to shop for rugs? I seem to find an endless supply online but would really like to see them in person. I need 2 large ones and a small one for an office in my new house that hsa hardwoods. Thoughts? Thanks!

Yes. I know what you mean. I did order a chocolate brown sisal rug from sisalrugs.com and I do like it but it was a bit scary to send off my money without seeing it in advance. Places I know of are Ikea, Carpet Palace in Bethesda, Georgetown Carpet, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel. Other suggestions from our chatters?

We have Veneto granite countertops (Granite Transformations) and stainless steel appliances. The wall color is still up in the air, but I'm thinking a heavy cream color, and we'd like to install a subway tile backsplash. I fell in love with Lauren Liess's cabinet color, so I want to try the same: a light sage color. The floors are brazilian cherry.

If the rest of your kitchen has been updated, I think you should definitely paint the cabinets.

Restoration Hardware has really nice shower curtains--we have a hemstiched one that we;re happy with. They have mattelasse too. They are having their bath sale right now, too, which is a bonus.

Great. Thanks a lot.

Looking for sources for cotton-based bath mats and cotton-based door mats -- or ideas. Don't want the polyester weave that so many door mats have -- because the goal is to wipe feet after being in the garden, watering etc, before tracking across the kitchen floor -- and polyester mats or whatever those things are do NOT absorb water from work shoes/sneakers at ALL. Likewise, would like a washable, durable, not-sliding-all-over mat outside the shower. My ideal is sort of stiched-together-thick towels, but not sure how that works/how we'd execute. Not in the D.C. metro area, so "chain" stores or brands are most helpful. Thanks.

Take a look at the indoor-outdoor rugs from Dash & Albert. They would look great in front of a door or bath tub/shower. I know we recommend them all the time, but they really are well made, easy to clean and very affordable.

Hello, I have a small living room, windows on two walls, open walkways on the other two walls, one opens into foyer and the other into dining room. Currently all the furniture is push against the wall. Is it ok to float furniture where theback of a chair or sofa in facing an open walkway?

Yes, that's fine, but I would probably float the chairs rather than the sofa if possible. Can the back of the sofa face one of the walls with windows?

On the subject of paint, Barry Dixon gave a tip to slather a single color on all walls and trim. I recently painted my kitchen a Farrow & Ball color, Dorset Cream, however I had a dilemma about whether to paint the white pantry door the same color so it would disappear. I didn’t because all my door & window trims are white. I also kept my crown molding white, but am now rethinking it. Any suggestions?

I think either look would be nice.  Do you like the way the kitchen looks now?  You could always test the waters by painting the door cream and see if you like that better. You can always easily paint it back to white.

Is there a design rule regarding the color of hardwood floors and cabinets in the same room? Most photos I see on design websites the floors are usually lighter in color or if there are white cabinets the floors are really dark. I would like to put hardwood in my condo to include the dressing area where the bathroom sink cabinet is located. My sink cabinet is a light maple with a spice or redish stain. I would like the floors to be be several shades darker than the cabinet. Is this a faux pas?

Non. It is not a faux pas. I think the darker floors would set off your reddish cabinet.

This probably doesn't come up a lot in home design, but I recently read "The Children's Book" by A.S. Byatt. The book takes place during the development of the Arts and Crafts movement, and there's a lot of good information in the book about how that design aesthetic developed--so much so that the movement almost becomes a separate character in the book. Reviews on the book were definitely mixed, but I enjoyed it a lot. Just thought I'd throw that out there in case someone's casting about looking for an interesting end-of-summer read.

Thanks. That's great to know.

Vacuuming the basket is not going to get the job done. When I bought my home in 1982 a wicker lampshade in the kitchen was heavily stained with nicotine residue. I bout a "wicker cleaner" product which melted the residue off to reveal the white shade. Online tips suggest using a weak solution of household ammonia and water. The person with the old basket might try that in a spray bottle (or use a commercial product such as 409.

Hmmm. To me those sound a bit harsh, but I think you have to take cleaning thing slowly, trying the lesser strength  products first . You don't want to ruin the patina of an antique basket.

We're also considering this. We have terrible 1970s, very plain dark brown cabinets and I really dislike looking at them--the kitchen and family room are open to each other, so they're very visible. I'd like to paint them white so that they'll disappear until we can redo the entire kitchen (on our master plan, but it will be a while). Thanks for the rec of BM Mayonnaise--appropriate for a kitchen and I think I will be able to remember that name!

I think you will be very happy when the cabinets are painted. You might even want to consider adding or replacing the existing hardware.

I am a huge fan of Dash and Albert. I had the pleasure of meeting the owner of the company who is an energetic and personable woman in the Berkshires. I am all for supporting women business owners and companies in the United States. The indoor/outdoor rugs rock! I literally take mine outside on my patio and scrub it down with bleach then hose it off. This freshens it up. gets rid of dog accidents and it's free and easy! The rugs come in great colors and prices are affordable.

Yep, Annie Selke is great. I had the pleasure of spending lots of time with her in the Berskshires for a story I wrote about her and her company. And, yes, her rugs are pretty amazing.

What does mattelasse mean?

It is a French word that means quilted or cushioned. Matelasse appears to look quilted, but is actually made on a loom and has no padding.

A fabric is stitched in thread the same color in patterns to resemble quilting. Most matelasse products, which can include bedspreads, pillow covers and blanket covers as well as shower curtains, are cotton and most are white but they do come in other colors. Matelasse is casual and comfortable and machine washable.

Yes, the sofa can be placed on one of the wall with windows. Thank you for your response


We have bought 4 from Marco Polo Oriental rugs at 648 S Pickett St, Alexandria (near Van Dorn). Gorgeous rugs and of course you negotiate the price. He threw in a 2x3 one with our last purchase.

Great. thanks for passing along the tip.

For the chatter who's looking for cotton bath mats, try Bloomingdales' Hudson Park bath rugs. They're all cotton and have nylon backing so they don't slide all over the floor. They're a little pricey but great.

Yes. I have some of those and I love them.

Don't know if this method would work for cigarette smell, but we had old children's books that had musty "basement" smell, and we closed them in an Igloo cooler filled with kitty litter for a month or so, and the smell was pretty much gone from the books. I found that suggested on the internet.

Oh yes. I have heard of that solution for a host of smelly ills. Worth a try!

What about putting the basket in a paper bag surrounded by balled-up newspaper and leaving it for about a week? This worked form me one time on a pretty Christmas bag.

Another good idea to try. Thanks.

What type of fabric is best for slipcovers? I want to cover a chair that has a navy floral print so the fabric will have to be heavy enought to not let the pattern show through. I know some of the fabrics are washable but is really ok to wash them or is dry cleaning better? Thank you!

I think cotton is the best fabric. Your slipcover maker should sew the slipcovers after pre-shrinking the fabric and hopefully make them loose enough that they can withstand further washings.

Slipcover my existing chair or buy a new one?

It depends. If you want a nice slipcover, you'll have to have it custom made. Add the cost of having a cover made added to the cost of the fabric you'll need and decide if it's worth it to go that route or just buy a new chair.

Thanks for the encouragement! It'll be a ton of work, I know, but it'll be nice to have a change; honey maple cabinets are not really my style. :)

Try convincing him after making him a fabulous dinner...

My husband and I are have an disagreement. I believe that curtains should touch the floor barely or pool a little, he thinks they shoud stop at the top of the woodwork trim. please let us know which placement is correct. thanks.

You are correct here...almost. Curtains should graze the floor (not pool).

Thanks for your idea, Jura. I wondered too if maybe putting some baking soda under the piano in a small petri dish or something may pull some of the smell into it. I wonder if the smoke is in the strings inside too.

Worth a try! Or call the piano manufacturer and see if they have some solutions. Piano tuners also may be helpful. Enjoy!

we have a mid-sized dog (55 lbs) & both stained bamboo (3 years old) & oak (10 yrs old) flooring in various parts of the house. no noticeable damage to either type despite the fact that her nails are longer than they should be. Go for the hardwood!!


Hello. You all suggested Lamps Unlimited in McLean to me last week. I went there last weekend, and they were wonderful! Thanks so much for the recommendation!

Happy to help!

I would LOVE to do that. The current knobs/pulls are designed in such a way that they catch your fingers and wrench them if you don't grab them in just the right way. I truly despise these cabinets.


Hello, My husband and I are planning our home office, where we will each have a workspace. His desk and bookcase are black. My desk is white. The walls and carpet are neutral. If the space were all mine I'd put in lots of pink and maybe some aqua. If he had his way, it would stay totally neutral. What can I do make this space look nice for both of us? We still need desk lamps, desk accessories and wall art. Thanks.

can you email me about this? Might make  a great House Calls. sapienzat@washpost.com

We're out of time today. Thanks for being here and for the lively discussion! 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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