Abby Adams and Joan Osofsky on home design and country living | Home Front

Oct 10, 2013

Abby Adams and Joan Osofsky are co-authors of the new book, "Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country from Rizzoli." The book is about modern country living with ideas and tips to make your home warm and welcoming.

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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Welcome to Joan Osofsky and Abby Adams, authors of a new Rizzoli book Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country. They have nailed the look of modern country and their book has inspirational photographs and lots of great ideas. So let's chat.

I'm Joan Osofsky. I have co-written Love Where You Live with Abby Westlake. I have been in the business for almost 30 years...with three retail home shops in the Hudson valley region of NY and the Berkshires. I have seen the evolution of Modern Country Design and I feel our book is an amazing platform for this inspiring look.

What is so tired you don't want to see it again?

I am tired of walking in to homes where it reflects the decor of something out of a big design type store.  They have the rug, they have the sofa, they have pillows and I know just where it came from and it shows no individuality.  Mix up what you buy so it reflects the spirit of you, not the stylist of the store you bought it from

Any tips for budget shopping? I'm young and love design, but always find myself turned off to high prices. I never know where to start.

First of your homework.  Look through great books and magazines and find out what you love.  If you love vintage, start looking for great centers in your area that sell old things...flea markets, etc.  You have to hunt and the better your eye, the better chance you have for finding a bargain.  Also, sales at smaller, curated shops are often better than the big box stores.

What are you favorite paint colors? Anything you find yourself using over and over again?

I love to talk paint.  I love Revere Pewter, Benj. Moore, Edgecomb Gray Ben Moore, Clunch, Farrow and Ball and Elephants breath farrow and want me to go on

How can you incorporate country design into an urban space, like an apartment in a city? Any specific tips?

Country design is all about comfort and charm - just as important in the city as in the country.

Rainy greetings! I have very dark Ethan Allen bedroom furniture and am very tired of it. I inherited several Empire dressers from my grandmother and would like to use them instead of what I have now. They are in rough shape so I would either refinish them of paint them. Suggestions? I have a painting with a red in it I just love and wondered if it would be okay to paint the dressers that shade of red? The rest of the bedroom is neutral. Appreciate the chats so much.

Absolutely you could paint it.  I love some of the red farrow and ball paints...they are absolutely stunning!

Hello Abby and Joan, Do you have any suggestions on creating a brighter feel to a room that's filled with dark leather sofa, dark wood furniture and wall that's painted blue/grey? Should a first paint my walls a different color? There's plenty of natural light when the blinds are open but only one ceiling light. Thanks.

I think you should paint your walls a different color.  Moonlight white is a beautiful white that is warm and yet bright, but not cold looking

Abby: what else have you written?

The Gardener's Gripe Book, published by Workman, still in print. It's a lighthearted look at the joys and frustrations of gardening. Also, An Uncommon Scold, wise and pithy quotations from women.

Hi ladies - love the chats! Can you provide the link to the article you did a few months ago about consignment shops in Bethesda please. I'm getting ready to sell some stuff. Thanks!

Sure. Here it is. This was one of my Destination Design columns. I will be doing Frederick on October 24.

Do you find it helpful to design your gardens to be viewed from inside the house rather than from just the curb appeal?

Yes! I like to think of the house as the center of the garden - start with hwta you see from the wondows and move out, to the garden, the wilder spaces, the surrounding landscape

The images in your new book show a blend of indoor-outdoor living (large windows, vast country yards...). Do you have any tips for getting an average-sized suburban yard to look its best during the colder, deader times of year (late fall and winter)? Outside my window at these times, I usually just see a bunch of brown plants and the neighbors' yards :-/.

First get rid of those brown plants! Keeping paths clear and tidy is more important at this time of year. I like to think of my yard and garden as year round - in the winter the bones show. This is a good time to think of the overall design.

We're renovating our master bedroom and enlarging the two adjoining bathrooms. Our furniture is French cherry and I'd like to keep the French look. I'm looking for a better French blue than the current Benjamin Moore Serenata we currently have in the bedroom. I don't want to go too gray. I'd appreciate ideas you have!

Farrow and Ball has some lovely blues.  Borrowed light is nice, especially since you seem to want a soft blue without gray.  I like a little gray in blue, so parma gray is a favorite of mine...also Borrowed light is nice

Why these houses?

They were homes that fit into the chapters that we created, we felt they reflected the sensibility of the owners, their passions and design taste, and we clearly felt these owners loved where they lived and we felt it.  We did not want to bring anything into the homes so we had to love what their homes were filled with.  We literally pulled up with the photographer and went about our photoshoot.  No prop styling at all!

You say there is demand for authenticity -- how does this translateto sales in the marketplace?

It translates that many people are looking for more unusual items...can be vintage,items  from smaller, more curated stores, and things that connect personally with the homeowners.

People are coming in and looking for one of a kind, or things that I find that are either ahead of the design curve or not mass marketed

I have wide pine floors but it makes for too much orange. I'm thinking of painting or pickling them. But is that okay?

You can paint or pickle them - it can always be undone. If they're looking very orange it might be polyurethane - try stripping a little corner.

What is your favorite historic country house to visit?

I live near the Berkshires and one of my most favorite places to visit is Chesterwood, the home Daniel Patrick French.  His home and studio and the beautiful gardens are open to the public and it is a National Trust property.  This is also a little known can stay at the Meadowlark, his private studio in the woods.  Check it out online on the Chesterwood site.

What are some fun towns to visit in the Hudson Valley? I want to go antiquing there sometime.

Germantown, Rhinebeck, Millerton, Pine Plains, Hudson, Chatham - you can't go wrong. Check out the artisinal farms in the Ancram area.

Are they all friends or business associates

Friends, neighbors, Hammertown connections, friends of friends - between us we know a lot of people!

There is a cute image of a child's bedroom with one wall devoted to chalkboard paint. How do you "collaborate" with a child on the design of their bedroom?

collaborate is the key word.  I believe it should be a collaboration and if your child likes the idea, is artistic, etc. the chalk board is a fantastic choice.  As far as other things...wait until they are old enough to make choices and have or 7 and beyond and perhaps you give them some choices and see how they respond.  curate for them first and then let them see some things and see how that works

Always reading advice against using family photoraphs, memorabilia, etc, in the house when trying to sell the property. This advice seems all wrong to me, as I have never been attracted to a house on the market which looks like a dealer's showroom. I think the appeal of a house comes from the personal style of the people who live there. Would you agree?

From the point of view of selling a house it can be a turnoff if there's too much miscellaneous personal stuff around. But I agree that when you walk into a place and feel the personal style and love of the people who have created it - that's compelling. 

Where do you find ideas on what's new?

I am always scouring magazines, and looking for ideas whereever I am.  I meet a lot of people, visit a lot of homes, museums, other stores, travels and my most inspiring moments come from Maine, to Paris, To England, to other rural areas.  My eye is always open and receptive to things.

Favorite blogs...Remodelista, design sponge, Lonny and of course,

Do open floor plans fit into modern country??

Absolutely.  The more open, the better!!

Do I need curtains or treatments in every room? Anything simple that's fresh?

My favorite look is no curtains, no window treatments, just windows. But if needed for privacy, simple is best. Plain linen shades the same color as the walls, wood venetian blinds, simple drapes. . .

What are some other books you both have enjoyed over the years that describe how to furnish a house with a country flavor?

Since I like the mix of modern and old, I love Daryl Carter's books, Bunny Williams's   book, An Affair with a House, Rough luxe design, Mary Randolph carters A Perfectly Kept House is the sign of a Mispent life.  There is also a new book on Swedish Interios...Reflections on Swedish Interios and Remodelista has a great new book

how do you feel about paneled walls? is that country, or more of a "cottage" look?

They are fine, but I would paint them to give them a cleaner, more modern look.  My daughter has paneled walls in her house and she is painting them out with Moonlight White by Benjamin Moore.

Any plants that you have found to be over-used or just not right for the garden

Those dense yews and junipers that folks put in foundation plantings - and they grow and grow and obstruct the windows. So tempting as space fillers when you first start planting, so hard to get rid of 10 years on

I just bought a house that is painted entirely in a neutral beige. That's fine since I don't feel pressured to change anything until I've had a chance to live in the space. Except that I already feel like the living room could use a jolt of color. However, the main living area is open enough that I couldn't change the color in one room without considering how it will impact the kitchen and dining room. There is one wall I could paint a different color (I'm thinking green or orange) but I don't know if that will only confirm I'm as old as my children think I am.

I don't know...give it a try.  I love the Farrow and Ball colors and the historic colors with Benjamin Moore.  Very warm colors. 

Did any of the homes incorporate the latest in green technology rather than relying on furnaces or wood burning fire places?

The house in our chapter "Cabinet of Curiosities" - a 1790 house that has been lovingly restored with many cutting edge Green features. No need for AC in the summer and their winter heating bills are down to one tenth of what they's a stunning achievement 

Should I tackle a renovation in a rental house?

Depends on what you are paying for rent?  If you have some good design skills, convince the landlord it is in their interest to let you do some things, and perhaps they will give you a reduction on your rent for what you do

Hi, need help with a long wall in my family room. Center of room is brown leather/sofas with tables. Adjacent walls have tv mounted & fireplace. Just need to know how to "fill up" the long blank wall without making the room look to overcrowded. The room is fairly large. Thanks!

Can you break up the space? Set the sofa at right angles to the wall maybe, with TV watching at one end, library/den at the other. Or if the TV is stuck in the wall, place the sofa opposite.

So where do you see the line between "miscellaneous personal stuff" and stuff that is "important" to selling the house? Can you give examples of what you might put in each category?

I think the right amount of personal stuff that you get the feel there is a soul to the house and people live there...but not overly cluttered.  I believe you should leave photos out for people to see, etc.  What is important that you clear lots of stuff out of rooms so they look bigger and not as cluttered, and then style things with throws and other things to give layers and texture to the room.

I have a very large front window (large picture window in middle, two casements on either side of the picture) that take up pretty much the entire front wall of my living room (looks out onto the street). Previous owners have pleated drapes with the old style valence (?sorry, can't think if this is the right term or not, right now). This is all covered by a wooden cornice board. I'd love to update it, but am concerned about getting a rod to go all the way across this large expanse. Any suggestions on what to do?

You could explore Roman shades.  Perhaps one shade in the center window panel and two on the smaller, side ones.  Shades could be in linen

Anythings you each like to collect?

I collect vintage tole trays.  If you look in the book, you will see that I have a wall filled with them.  I love them!  I also collect vintage ironware and vintage textiles, from cotton sari kantha throws to vintage indigo quilts

Any recommendations for a kitchen floor material if your floor is uneven? I like wood, but I have wood floors in the rest of the house, and I worry about it being too hard to continue the wood into the kitchen and make things match (plus I already have medium-brown wood cabinets and worry that would be too much wood). I like the idea of cork or marmoleum but heard they're not good for uneven floors. Right now I have bluish gray 12-inch square tiles, but some of them are cracked and they look terrible. My counters are a tan granite and the walls are aqua (for now). Ideas? Thanks!

Personally I love wood in a kitchen floor - comfortble underfoot and maintainable. But agree that wood cabinets might be a bit much. Paint the cabinets? Pickle or bleach the floor?

What do I do with all the things from a big house?

Auction, tag sale, give to family and what you are not going to use...just get rid of

Can I have a sectional sofa in my federal era house?

Why not? 

How do i warm up a white kitchen?

With wood counters (I used vintage boards that were pieced and made into a counter top), wood floors, light or dark, vintage items.

We inherited a lovely 1960s custom solid cherry table that is too big for our house. We would like to see it go to someone who appreciates it. Due to its size, it would probably be of interest to a narrow group of buyers. Do you have any suggestions for consignment stores in the area or places that take furniture and sell it for charity? (Weschlers didn't want it because we don't know the maker; GoodWood and Miss Pixie's say they don't buy from individuals; Kaboodle Home Gallery said they have too many tables; Upscale Resale and Evolution Home didn't answer emails; and we haven't gotten any responses to our Craiglist posting.)

I do know that A Wider Circle is a wonderful place to donate furniture. They provide furniture to families who are transitioning out of shelters or who need some of the basics of life. They will pick up at your house.

Any types on incorporating a super-saturated color into a room (not neccessarily on the walls)? For example, the color of the year (emerald). I find that if I add any more than one vivid color to a room, the colors will fight with each other.

This is a very good question.  I find this really hard to do.  I find with my shop, when I put two chairs together with color next to a more neutral couch, this will make the room pop and there is some balance to it.  Solid color pillows on the sofas or chairs with colors are also good ways of bringing color...I have two gold pillows on my linen courch

Are there any other options to granite counter tops?

I have caesarstone countertops and I like them!  I also love marble.

Are you okay with putting a TV over a mantle?

Two schools of thought - hide it or flaunt it. Either one is right. In one of our houses the owners installed  the TV over the fireplace with a painting that covers it and slides aside when needed. 

Any fun spots in NYC to visit?

We will be in New York at Cursive in Grand Central Station next week from 4 to 7...October 15.  On November 19 we will be at the Washington Press Club 36th Annual Book Fair and author's night.

How do you feel about knotty pine paneling in a cottagey 1950s beach house?

Is that what is there?

I inherited some beautiful Meissen china from my grandmother and would like to display it in our master bedroom in a corner cabinet. It goes with the rest of the decor in the bedroom (and not at all with what I have in my kitchen and DR). Is it just too odd to display china in an adult master bedroom?

Not too odd at all - if it looks beautiful why not display it where you can see it every morning when you wake up?

Are slip covers still 'in'?

Absolutely.  It makes sense in today's lifestyle...just want them to be less baggy and more fitted.  And, great linen and denim weight fabrics

Are you thinking of another book?

Yes we are thinking of another year we will focus more on that!

Don't be afraid to reach out to a nearby non-profit group. A church would probably looove to have your table, and someone in the congregation probably has the means to pick it up from your house. Church potlocks always need tables :). Just call their office and chances are that even if they don't need the table, they know someone who does need one.

Good ideas. Thanks.

Is it possible to find good American made furniture?

yes it is.  Regarding upholstered furniture, Hammertown only carries brands that are made in this country.  And, I feel they are fairly priced. 

I love the look of hanging dishes and plates on a wall in a group. However, are the springy metal plate hangers bad for the plates? I don't want to damage them.

I have used hangers with plastic coating. 

Any signings coming up?

Yes, at Cursive in Grand Central Station NYC, Tues Oct 15, 4-7pm. and on Tuesday Nov 19th we'll be in Washington at the National Press Club Book Fair, 5:30-8:30, and Nov 23rd, 5-7 pm, at the Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY. There'll be more - follow us on the Hammertown Barn website for more listings 

How do I find out more about visiting the shops?

Go to and you can find out more about our shops and you must...signing up for our weekly blog.  It is great.

Yes its the original paneling from the 1950s.

I would keep it.  It is a cottage, it is reflective of the fities, and if you decorate in the right spirit, it will add charm.

We would like to update the brick wall in our family room. There is a small fireplace with vents on the brick face of the raised wall-length hearth. It is difficult to keep a fire going and is very drafty. Any suggestions?

This is kind of a technical question - maybe you need a fireplace expert.

Loved so many of your ideas - and the great paint color suggestions. The book is lovely and I am looking forward to spending more time with it. So on a dreary rainy Thursday morning, this was a real jolt of fresh air. Thanks everyone. Next week we will be chatting with Steve Revnew of Sherwin-Williams paints. Think of some great questions for him.

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
Joan Osofsky
Joan Osfsky is owner of the lifestyle store Hammertown Barn in New York and co-author of "Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country." Joan is a self-taught merchandiser and stylist who has a a lifelong passion for the country living.
Abby Adams
Abby Adams is an author of several books, including "The Gardener's Gripe Book" and most recently, "Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country from Rizzoli."
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