The Washington Post

Designer Caroline McCandlish, who owns McCandlish Design in Reston, joined the weekly chat.

Sep 01, 2011

Designer Caroline McCandlish, who owns McCandlish Design in Reston, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for their weekly Home Front chat. Together, they gave advice on interior decorating and home improvement.

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Hi everyone. We are happy to have designer  Caroline McCandlish from Reston here with us today. There's a great Q&A with her by our colleague Megan Buerger in today's Local Living which discusses healthy spaces for babies. Want to talk cribs or green design? Send us your questions and anything else you want to chat about.

What is the proper length for drapery panels? Should they touch the floor, be above the floor by 1/4", 1/2"? I don't want mine to puddle. Thanks.

Some people love the look of puddled draperies, but I prefer a cleaner, more tailored look. I like for draperies to hang 1/2" - 1" above the floor. This keeps them close to the ground but it prevents them from dragging and getting dirty or getting sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.

We have a red brick rowhouse in Logan Circle and are looking for a zesty door color. Preferably something in the light yellow or pale blue area. Any fun suggestions?? You guys are truly the paint color experts.

If you're looking for something "zesty" forget the light yellow and go for something a little brighter. I don't the paint deck in front of me, but check out Martha Stewart's paint colors at Home Depot - it's a nicely edited selection of great colors. One of my favorite pale blues from her paint line is Enamelware.

Love your chats and need your opinion! We bought a 1960s Colonial, and it's great with one exception -- the toilets are really noisy. I don't mean the flushing, but the, you know, personal use. The master bath is in between the bedroom and the office, and when the toilet is occupied it's as if the walls didn't exist. Same with the hallway bathroom; if you're in the hallway or one of the rooms on either side, you hear everything. I really hate this. Is there such a thing as quieter toilets, or is there another way to muffle the sound? I never noticed this in our previous house. The bathrooms have probably not been altered since the house was built 45 years ago. Thanks for any ideas!

Because fabric and floor coverings help to absorb sound, consider adding more soft goods to the bathroom. Add a thick shower curtain, a large washable bath rug, and some window treatments. Consider putting a white noise maker in the adjacent space to help mitigate the sound - this is also helpful to cover up any nighttime noises that may keep you or kids up at night. As your last resort, replace the toilet with a more energy efficient toilet that will be quieter.

My husband and I are renters and moving in a few weeks. We just found out we can't paint our new place! (it's the floor of an adorable rowhouse in Adams Morgan). The walls will be white and there are wood floors throughout. What could we do to spice up the walls?? He is devastated that painting isn't an option and I'd like to offer some creative suggestions to occupy the wall space. Thank you!!

We recently ran a story on this exact scenario. Check out all the advice from local designer's here.

I am thinking about redoing my bathroom. It is very small only the toilet and a standard bathtub/shower (the sink is in the dressing room.) I love traditional white subway tile. Would it be too much tile to do all the walls (floor to ceiling)with this tile? The other options are to do the shower/tub only or also add tile wainscoting around the other walls. I have seen pictures of bathrooms with all the walls done entirely in tile but they were much bigger.

You could do that, but it does sound like an awful lot of white tile to me, especially if you're not including any accent tiles in other colors somewhere. I think I would go with your other idea of tiling the shower/tub and continuing the tile as wainscoting on the other walls. You could paint or wallpaper above the wainscot to give the space a little more interest.

Hey Homefront Ladies! I need help. My elderly dog decided to pee all over my microfiber couch. I tried the normal pet remedies, but it still smells. How does one find a couch cleaner (which I assume will be less expensive than replacing the couch!). thanks!

Normal cleaning will get the smell and stain out of the fabric, but if it has penetrated the cushion, it will be more difficult to get the smell out. Consider renting a steam cleaner (available at home improvement stores and some grocery stores) and using an appropriate cleaning solution. You can probably find a good upholstery cleaner on Yelp or Angie's List if you don't want to mess with it yourself. If this doesn't do the trick, contact an upholsterer to get a price for putting new fill in your cushions. This will still be less expensive than replacing the sofa.

I'm moving this weekend and my boyfriend and I are desperate for some last minute area rugs. Anywhere you know of in the area where we could pick up some great traditional area rugs for relatively cheap? (around $1,000?) Also, we're having disagreements about whether or not the furniture goes all the way on the rug or not. I feel like in magazines, its always half-off the rug. But he wants the pieces to be all-on. Is there a winner here or do we just wing this?? Thank you!!!

First, a warning. Do not buy stuff in a desperate state - you might make the wrong decision! I would go to Green Front in Manassas. I would also go to Carpet Palace in Bethesda, Georgetown Carpet, Ikea, Pottery Barn and West Elm. Meanwhile, I would say that you should try the furniture both ways - both on and off the rug - and see what you guys think looks better - there is no hard and fast rule on this. Do our chatters have other rug places to suggest?

In our formal dining room, we have a window that is 94 in wide with about a foot of wall on each side. We have a similar width low sideboard under the window, and I'd like to have curtains framing both sides of the window, essentially covering up the wall. The problem is most places only sell curtains 48 in wide or less. While two of these will cover the window, they will not be covering the wall once closed. Would this look tacky?

Double up on the drapery panels. The folds will prevent anyone from noticing that there are two panels on either side, instead of one, and they were look fuller and richer.

I have a 4 x 7 Oriental. Can I lay it in front of an 8' long leather sofa? The red tribal pattern seems to hold its own. Currently have a too-large Oriental in front that overwhelms and rides up by a fireplace. Have best furniture arrangement now.

I think the 4 x7 rug sounds would look too small in front of your sofa.  Is your sofa sitting on top of your current area rug ? You should have the front legs on the rug, at the very least.  

I am getting ready to replace the builder grade carpet on my stairs. It is just me and 2 cats (with claws) in the house so not a lot of traffic. Is wool that much better than a man-made material? Or are the new materials of decent quality nowadays. I realize there are different grades. I'm worried about the cats clawing the carpet.

Wool is a fantastic material for carpet. It is holds up really well to traffic and stains clean up easily because it doesn't absorb moisture. While synthetic carpets are less expensive, wool will last a long time, it's sustainable, and it won't fill up landfills. If you're worried about cats clawing at the carpet, look at cut pile carpet and stay away from loop carpet. Your cats won't have as much to grab at.

I want to install two Dash and Albert runners on stairs. I've been told by one of their dealers that they are difficult to install because the weave has some give and that I should make sure I find an installer with some experience with Dash and Albert. Anyone have any recommendations? (The dealer, a furniture store, had no suggestions.)

We're going to have Annie Selke, founder of Dash & Albert on the chat in a few weeks, so this would be a great question for you to resubmit then. In the meantime, I'll throw it out there for other chatters to chime in. Anyone have experience with this issue?

I'm really struggling to find some unique (by that I mean non Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, etc.) curtains. Do you have any suggestions for stores? We were also thinking about possibly making our own, or having someone else make them for us. Other than G Street Fabrics, are there any other good fabric stores out there that we should look at?

I think you could totally find some fabulous fabric and get someone to make some simple curtains for you. It would be more unique. Actually Ikea has some fabulous curtain panels in fabrics you won't find everywhere. Meanwhile for cool fabrics I would suggest DeBois Textiles in Baltimore and Haute in Georgetown.

Please do not puddle draperies - that is so 1980's and no interior designer worth their salt would suggest such. Just touching the floor is proper. Nothing more, nothing less. And please buy the best you can afford - cheap drapery and even cheaper hardware is really obnoxious and revealing. Remember the windows are your focal point in a room - they are the eye candy and should be fashioned appropriately.


You might look on line at - They are amazing colors true and almost no cost to ship - they come quickly as well

Good idea.

The front of my sofa is not on my rug and I like it just fine. Do what you like, regardless of what you're supposed to do (for the record 82" sofa, normal 8X6 rug)

Yes. Yes. Yes.

There actually are people who live in the subways... why would I want to be like them? (I want to help them find better homes, not live in a subway myself.) Honestly, it's such an institutional feel, even if I liked it, I'd be hesitant to do it and put such expense into a fad that's soon to be dated.

Oh, I have to disagree with you here. Subway tile is a very clean and classic look that will likely never go out of style.  And they don't have to be expensive. Lowes sells a nice subway tile for right around a dollar.

Hi there, Caroline would you be willing to divulge your pricing structure? And whether you are accepting new clients? And whether you take on work piecemeal -- one room at a time?

Like many designers, I charge an hourly rate for my time and purchasing fee for anything that I buy on behalf of my clients. I am currently accepting new clients, and I work on all size projects, from one room to a whole house. Please contact me at if you want to discuss a project further.

I saw the question below about tiling the bathroom to the ceiling and we're currently doing something similar; I thought the same thing about too much white, so to make it more visually interesting we're tiling only about three-quarters of the way up the wall, installing thick base tile, inserting chair rail tile in the middle, and topping it off with a nice cap.

Sounds like a nice compromise. Using a darker grout is also a nice way to break up all the white and give the tiles a more modern and graphic look.

I live in a smaller space but would like to upgrade the aesthetic. Can you make some suggestions of pieces I should prioritize for either a bedroom or living room? I unfortunately can't tackle it all at once!

If you can hold tight for a couple weeks, we are running an issue on Sept. 15th dedicated to small spaces. Stay tuned!

I bought a 110-year old farm house earlier this summer, and it's filled with great hardwood floors on the first floor, and the original heart pine floors on the 2nd floor. During the summer, when I am barefoot a lot, I haven't worried about the steep wooden stairs, but when winter comes, and I am wearing tights/socks, I worry about slipping. The stairs are smaller (front to back on the treads) than in newer houses, so I won't want to carpet them. Any suggestions? Thanks! Pigtown*Design

Actually my initial thought would be that you get yourself a nice pair of flats or slippers with rubber soles - it will be safer for you to walk around in the cold weather! Wouldn't a tweedy carpet runner be safer and fairly discreet? You know, many bad accident occur around stairways in the home - people slip on stairs or don't have appropriate hand rails. 

My master bedroom has 3 windows - one is quite large and faces back toward the deck. The other two are pretty small and on another wall and face the brick wall of my neighbor's house (about 3 feet away). these two windows are well off center on the wall, and one is partially in the small hall to the bathroom. If I do curtains, do you do curtains on all 3 windows? just the big one? I am very confused.

I think it's best to have all of the windows in a room covered with a similar treatment. So whether you decide on full-length drapery panels or fabric roman shades, I would treat all three windows the same.

We have a 1950's split level which unfortunately does not have tons of closet space. The master closet is a reach-in closet, with sliding doors. There is about two feet of closet space that is behind a wall, so the space is hard to reach and becomes a black hole. Since adding a walk-in closet isn't in the cards, I'd love to find ways to make our existing one more functional. Would it be worth it to have the wall cut out so we can reach into the whole space? Would replacing the sliding doors with bi-fold doors make a difference? Thanks!

Hard to say without seeing your closet (and I'm having a hard time picturing what you are describing), but here's what i recommend: replace sliding doors. Add a light inside the closet. Consider putting a chest of drawers in the space that's difficult to reach.

All that said, it might be easier and worth it to just cut the wall out.

I've gotten a bit hooked on Joss & Main lately and their daily deals. However, I don't know anyone that's actually ordered anything from them or the quality level of the product. Do you, or any of the chatters, have any experience with them?


I'm trying to get pregnant, and the room that will be the baby's room, is attached to a bathroom that occasionally has mildew or mold that collects on the under counter cabinet doors. Also, the air conditioning register in the room looks a little iffy as well. How do I find someone to test these spots and make sure it's not anything toxic?

As you probably know, mold can be dangerous for infants and children, so it is important that you treat this issue now. There are home mold test kits available, but it would be best to have a professional test the area and find the source of the problem. Check your yellowpages. If you don't already have a ceiling ventilation fan, look into getting one installed.

I clean and repair rugs for a living, and my advice is, if you are planning to buy a wool rug and are not a good house keeper, get a smaller rug that goes in front of your furniture instead of under it. Moths eat what is under the furniture and doesn't get vacuumed. Best of luck!

Wow. Thanks for this.

What carpet materials are unhealthy to babies? It is interesting that we may not think about it, but babies will spend a lot more time closer and more exposed to carpets, and some are treated with chemicals that may not be good to breathe in a lot.

Any synthetic carpet will off-gas VOCs, though some are worse than other. That's why it's best to stick with natural materials.

Hello- I just bought my first home and I am re-doing the out-of-date 1980s kitchen. I love the look of dark wide-plank hardwood however my living room/dining room/foyer is medium toned traditional width oak flooring. What are your thoughts on contrasting wood? Should I carry the oak into the kitchen, choose tile, or go with my personal favorite - wide-plank dark exotic floors? Thanks!

I prefer that all hardwood in a house matches; it looks more cohesive and less like it was finished peacemeal. So I would suggest carrying the same oak flooring into the kitchen or using tile. 

I recently got new cabinets and countertops and I am just not happy with how the white painted cabinets look. The granite is bianco romano which is white with grey tones and some dark plum colored dots. I REALLY want to paint the cabinets but don't know if I should. I would love to make the cabinets a really dark plum color to pick up the granite but also wonder if I would be crazy to do that color. Should I do black? Should I just live with the white? TIA.

I think this depends on how much light you have in the space. If you want to keep it light and airy, consider painting the cabinets a light, warm grey that will compliment the bianco romano.

I really like how your House Calls projects are reusing a lot of the owner's pieces. Their Persian rug today, for example, I was happy to see in the updated design. In years past, some of your designers would swap out the heirloom pieces for trendier, more expensive, designer pieces - the stuff that would have your grandparents rolling in their graves! Good job on being more practical. I can now relate.

Thanks! Glad you are enjoying House Calls. I hear what you're saying, but in the defense of previous designers, when they swap out everything in the room, its usually at the request of the homeowners who say everything can go. Sometimes we have room in the paper to mention that, other times we don't.

I have found some bedding I really like, but it does not come with a bedskirt. I have looked at BB&B for one that coordiantes (I'd need an interesting shade of blue), but they only have basic colors. Any other ideas of where I should look for a bedskirt to match/coordinate? thanks!

Have you tried Garnet Hill, Company Store or Country Curtains?

I need a paint color in my bathroom, no window so no natural light. Vanity is a chocolate brown with tanish top, want to paint it this weekend.

Because you have no natural light source and a dark vanity, it is important to keep the color light. Any color is going to be implified by the lighting, whether incandescent or fluorescent, so stick with something neutral. And the lack of natural light makes it even more important to test the color on the wall before you commit to it.

I am sooooo envious (from my my suburban two-story colonial). Congrats on your new space!

I agree. It sounds charming.

Is it a bad idea to put a couch in front of a bay window? (It's the kind of window that extends out and has a ledge--I always get bay and bow confused.) The wall with this window meets our only other full wall in the living room, so I'm thinking of doing a couch along the full wall and a couch along this window. (We can't use the ledge for seating because there's no interior structure to support any weight beyond the potted plants there now.) Our other two walls are short walls because of entrances into the living room and neither can take a couch (each currently has an armchair; the full wall has a piano--I'd move out the chairs and put the piano on one of the short walls and a bookcase on the other). Everything just feels awkwardly placed in this room. I wish I could submit this to House Calls, but I don't live in the area. Thanks--love the chats!

I don't think it's bad to put a couch in front of the bay window. Make sure you are pulling some of your furniture into the room, though, and not lining the walls with it instead. Is having a couch on the opposite wall and two chairs and an table in front of the window an option?

We have just installed bamboo flooring and now the area in front of the front door is too high for our small oriental carpet. Only something really thin will fit. Right now, we have a really cheap synthetic mat in front of the door. Any suggestions?

Another option is to shave the bottom of the door a teeny bit. Not enough to cause a draft, of course, but if all you need is a little extra room, this could do the trick.

I order from them a lot. They ship promptly and the quality is good. I do wish that had free shipping though.

Great to know. Thanks for your input.

I'll probably be the hated chatter today, but I have to ask. Must we go green for baby? My parents are skeptics in particular because they didn't go organic for me and my siblings and we turned out fine. Now that I'm expecting, I bring up the idea of going organic for my baby and they act like I'm buying into a big marketing scam. Are they... dare I say it... onto something?

There are advantages for all of us, from babies to adults, to live in a healthy indoor environment. Sustainable, all-natural products are always better than synthetic products because they are less taxing on the environment. It's a lifestyle and parenting choice that each person should make.

Thank you for joining us today and thanks to Caroline for her thoughtful and insightful answers. We hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day Weekend.

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.
Caroline McCandlish
Caroline McCandlish is a LEED certified interior designer based in Reston. She received her master's degree in interior design from George Washington University and has clients all over the east coast. Her personal style is traditional design with transitional elements: "light, fresh and clean."
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