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

Oct 13, 2011

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

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Hi everyone   - rainy morning here in D.C.  It's just me this morning answering your questions. So I've grabbed some coffee and my fandecks and am ready to go. Our producer Megan Buerger is also going to chime in for some questions. So let's get going!

Would love some advice on where to find some interesting yet reasonable priced (Under $250) ceiling fixtures for a long galley kitchen. Thanks

A lot of designers like Shades of Light in Richmond which has a great Web site as well as store. And they even have an outlet. Also www.bellacor.com and www.lampsplus.com. Any other ideas?

I just don't like stainless steel appliances and prefer white ones. My kitchen designer is adamant that if I go with white appliances, I must choose white cabinets and that white appliances do not go with wood finishes. I was planning for something light like bamboo or natural cherry for the cabinets until this discussion. What do you think - will white appliances look weird with non-white cabinets? Also, is it weird to mix in a stainless rangetop with white appliances because I would like a Wolf rangetop so I am willing to make that an exception to my no stainless appliances decision (they don't come in white)?

My first comment would be that this is your kitchen and you are paying a lot of money for it and it should look the way you want it to look. Of course, professionals have opinions on why some things look better with others. Certainly there are plenty of kitchens where wood cabinets were used with white appliances. A more modern look is to go all white, as your designer says. If you want a Wolf rangetop, I think it would be okay to go white with the appliances. The function of the appliance, in the end, is more important than the color.

I am currently trying to stage my house for potential buyers to see but the problem is that we still live in the house. Should I remove everything from all the bookcases or just leave a few books and candles on each book case? Also should I remove everything from closets, linen closets, kitchen cabinets? I dont have much space to store these things elsewhere in the house. HELP!

Good for you for wanting to declutter and rearrange things for prospective buyers and to make your place look its best. Bookcases should look organized and neat, not empty. So do not remove all your books. I would say books are better than filling shelves with candles and photos. You certainly do not have to remove everything from your kitchen cabinets. As for closets, make sure the coat closet is pristine - buy a set of matching wood hangers - Ikea has very reasonable ones - and only put a few coats in there. Clean the floors and shelves of all your closets and maybe invest in a few organizing bins from Target or the Container Store - possibly in nice fabrics.  You certainly don't have to get rid of everything - just make it look its best.

Good morning. I always enjoy your chats and look forward to reading what design tips Darryl Carter has to share with everyone. However, my question is about winterizing your home; now that it was 16 degrees in my car this morning! Do you know if there are independent companies that will come to access your home -- air leaks, needed insulation, etc? I would like to find someone who is independent from a company that provides insulation and/or windows. We've put in a new furnace (original dated to the 1960's), but still want to have the rest checked out. Thank you so much for any suggestions you might have.

Sixteen degrees? Wonder where you are writing from! I don't think it's Prince William County!!! Meanwhile, there are companies that will come an do an energy audit. They will advise you on things you can to to plug up holes and drafts and what other things you can do to save money on energy. Make sure your company is independent and not affiliated with anyone providing insulation or other services.

I have some beautiful magnolia leaves that I want to decorate the mantle with. Do you think they will hold up well inside through xmas with no water?

They will dry and get a bit brown around the edges but they should be fine. Don't pick them too early. Also they look nice in a vase of water.

Can you please comment on how to make color choices that are good for multiple years? I am looking at the many rooms done in grays and yellows popping up in shelter magazines and wonder if this combination is a fresh look that will last, or could I end up with next year's version of turquoise and brown that pops up everywhere and just looks dated a year or two later.

Yikes, I'm not sure why turquoise and brown were ever "in." Why don't you try browsing online galleries and magazines from a few years ago and compare them to ones from today? Chances are, you'll find a few classic color combinations that appeal to you that have endured over the years.

I have an archive of Architectural Digests from the past 15 or so years. When it came time to paint, we popped open one from around 2001 and found a gorgeous off-white and blue-gray thick pin stripe in a hall bathroom. It was timeless, not trendy, and that's what you should look out for. 

A tip if you're really struggling: look for colors that match the style of your home. If you have a traditional row house, for example, mod brights like chartreuse and orange are trickier to pull off than dusky deep greens, creamy neutrals or a rich navy. 

I am in search of modern mid-century sectional couch - where would be a good place to look. Thank you!

I don't know if you mean vintage or new. Tonight I'm going to check out a new shop in Georgetown called Archer at 1027 33rd St. NW which specializes in mid-century modern. This could be a resource for you.

My coworkers stainless fridge went out and she got a black fridge to match her stainless stove. In my 60's kitchen, I have white appliances with dark cabinets. I changed the light fixture & painted the ceiling and walls, it made the room instantly brighter.

Sounds good.

This is less of a design question and more of a "how do I seat a lot of people in my small house" question. I've got 12 people coming for Thanksgiving. I made this offer thinking that my table and china would accommodate 12, but didn't think about my tiny living room. We have seating for 7, possibly 8. Would it make sense to rent a couch for a few days? It'll be cramped, but it would probably fit. Do places even rent furniture for a few days (as opposed to monthly)? Any suggestions would be very helpful. Thanks!

I see that you are worried! Now you did not say if these people are also going to be houseguests or are just coming. Megan just reminded me that we are doing a holiday feature on help for those who have fearful thoughts about the holidays and entertaining gobs of people. I'd love to know your situation - please email me at konciusj@washpost.com to see if we can answer your question in more detail. Right now what I would say is that I would not think you would have to rent a sofa - but maybe just some extra chairs. A few holidays ago, I rented two long tables for $8 apiece and set up an elegant sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for 12 in my living room. I also moved all my living room furniture into my dining room for a couple of days to accommodate this. It worked beautifully. You can totally rent anything for a day or a week.

We have a very small dining nook in our kitchen. I've always wanted to do banquette seating there, with a seat on hinges to give some storage underneath, but there is a heating duct right under the window where a banquette would go. Could a carpenter build some sort of vent under the banquette itself, or would it be better to avoid the heat issues and just use a long bench rather than a built-in?

Yes. A carpenter should be able to vent your heat properly under a banquette.

Hoping that you'll take this question, I really enjoy your chats and expertise about our area! I am looking for a small bookcase or console table (looking to spend less than $75 and want an all-wood piece) from a secondhand or consignment furniture store that I can paint/redo. I've been to some thrift places that are very hit or miss or way too expensive. I already tried Salvation Army and some places in Leesburg. Can't seem to find what I looking for size-wise or price-wise on Craigs list either. I live in N. VA but am willing to drive to DC or MD for good thrift stores. Thanks for taking my question!!

Funny, I just moved and searched long and hard for the exact same thing. The DC area has some great thrift stores where I ended up eventually having some luck. Miss Pixies, on 14th and R, ended up being a pot of gold for us. We bought console tables, old benches and even a dresser for way cheaper than we ever would have found at a chain like Pottery Barn. We also found it more helpful than Craigs List because we were able to go and take measurements to make sure the piece was right for us. Also check Trohv in Takoma Park.

Finally, you always have the option of picking up a very basic bookshelf unit from the Container Store and painting it a pretty, bold color. This hardwood free-standing book case would be an easy, inexpensive option. 

Good morning. I had a question about big store inhouse design services, like Ethan Allen. They offer you free decorating advice, then suggest products for you. Would you recommend these services? If not, what would you recommend for someone on a budget who wants to make the right choices when it comes to decorating? Thank you!!

Ethan Allen has built a reputation of providing good service and good quality products - and has assembled a staff of professionals who offer advice. I think this is a good choice if you like their look. You can also hire designers by the hour. You can contact the local office of ASID -  202 488-4100 to find designers in your area who offer that service.

I just got a new house and need some patio furniture. I figured there would be great sales in the fall, but I don't even know where to look for patio furniture. I've looked at Lowes and Home Depot, but might want something a little nicer. Crate & Barrel doesnt seem to have much of a sale. Any ideas? Thank you!

Offenbacher's is one idea.  Also www.patio.com. Where else have you guys found good bargains?

Hi, we're currently renovating our basement, and we want to keep the walls white, but are looking for a color that is less stark than what we currently have (unclear what it is - we inherited it). All the whites out there are so overwhelming - can you recommend something popular in a softer white? Benjamin Moore preferred. For what it's worth, I don't want to veer into cream territory. Thanks.

Whites can be very overwhelming, especially in spaces like basements that can so easily appear stark and cold. Because of that, have you considered a tamer shade? I hate to point you in the cream direction, but a halfway shade between bright white and cream could do the trick. Lancaster Whitewash by Benjamin Moore comes to mind...

Busted: Tile handle in bathtub Hi. We have an old fashioned tile bath/shower that is quite a few decades old. A contractor was installing a new shower head and knocked off (albeit rather cleanly) the tile handle that accompanies the soap dish built into the tile wall. The contractor, while contrite, has no ideas as to how to fix the rough edges where the handle used to be. It was (of course) thrown away so re-attaching isn't an option. Is there anything we can do to make it look better? For this person I can tell you that a simple emery board (nail file) will make it a lot safer by sanding down the sharp edges. I have done this successfully with both glass pieces and metal pieces. It is amazing what a difference it makes.

Yikes! This is a lousy problem. Could some sort of little box be built over it that could be a place to put shampoos? Glad you filed down the edges... Has anyone dealt with this issue?

beach house with white wash wicker furniture, light maple wood floors, natural wood trim fireplace and doors what color paint would you suggest for walls. I like the beachy cottage look

Would you want a seaglass blue or green. I might suggest Behr's Green Shimmer or Martha Stewart's Endive or Benjamin Moore's Caribbean Mist.

Our basement is paneled in knotty pine, and i cannot stand it! I want to paint over the paneling in a shade of white to lighten up the space. There are only two small (teeny) windows so very little light in the room. Can you recommend a nice clean white that works well in a space with little light? i want a crisp color that wont look yellowish or make the room look drab.....thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Try Lamb by Martha Stewart for Home Depot.

I'm about to paint the concrete floor on my covered front porch to make it a little more pleasant to use (red brick DC rowhouse). We just refnished the ceiling in white. I'm thinking a blue-ish gray color though I'm not wedded to it, and I'd rather not go with the standard contractor grey color. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

With beautiful red brick, I agree that you can veer in a more interesting direction than a standard contractor gray. A subtle hint of deep blue or green will richen the concrete and make it appear less like an elementary school. For a dark shade, Benjamin Moore's Narragansett Green is one of my all-time favorites. For a lighter shade, BM's Amsterdam. Both are classically beautiful without being boring. 

When we sold our house I rented a storage unit and put lots of boxes in there. It helped the house look larger and gave us a leg up on the packing job. Sold the house quickly, too!

That's a good idea if you have a lot of boxes of stuff. If you can safely stash it in the attic or stack it in the basement then it's okay. Making the house look larger is totally the right idea!

For brand new ones, check out Room and Board.

Yes. Good thought.

What about those Naked Furniture places? That might be another place to check.

Another good option. Check out these bookcases from Discounted Woodworks.

Terri had mentioned in the 9/23 discussion that there would be a story on a collegue who worked with a paint consultant. Do you know when that story will be printed?

Hi. Yeah, I'm sorry about that. The story ended up being cut at the last minute for some reason, not sure why.

Ask some of your guests if they wouldn't mind bringing a folding chair. We have some folding chairs that we use in our dining room that have padded upholstery seats and are quite comfortable. Someone might have something like that, and if you already have seating for 8, you only need four more chairs. Seems a waste of money to rent furniture. Alternatively, you could buy some chairs like these for future occasions. I bought my chairs from Home Decorators catalog; we've had them for years and they've really held up well.

Good idea about Home Decorators. Also Ikea has some good looking spare chairs. It's a good investment.

House Beautiful profiled a kitchen with light wood cabinets and white appliances several months ago. It was, well, beautiful! It was in a house in the sustainable village of Serenbe, Georgia. I'm sure you can find it online. I think the key is to stay away from some of the darker woods, like cherry.

Good thought.

Thanks for making me feel better about the white appliances! I am not good at matching things so are there any wood tones/finishes you would suggest to go with the white? Would bamboo be too yellowy next to white appliances? Thanks again!

I would agree that bamboo might not be your best choice.

I am weighing the pros and cons of painting my end unit DC rowhouse, and would love some feedback about whether or not this is a good idea. I have some issues with my mortar and water getting through, and the paint store says sealing up the house will help with these problems. The houses behind me and on the other side of the street are painted, but none of the houses on my block are. Do I have to take the other houses into consideration re: paint colors, or painting at all? I feel like this is such a big decision, any suggestions would be great.

I'll chime in on this one because I have some personal experience here. It's completely biased, but I happen to think I live on one of the prettiest blocks in DC. If you get a chance to walk through, please do (Q street between 14th and 15th). We have a neighborhood group that monitors the homes' presentation, from the paint colors to the front yards. Somehow, though, each house still looks unique and beautiful. Some have kept their brick, others have been painted, yet they all work together in an elegant, cohesive way. So, if NONE of the houses on your block are painted, I would take this into consideration. Fortunately, because you're an end unit, you have a little more freedom to experiment. Poke around different streets in the city and figure out which color combinations appeal to you. If you can actually see the colors on a rowhouse right in front of you, you'll feel more confident in your decision to try it on your own home.

Good Morning: We are (finally) planning on furnishing our living room soon and will be using a sofa that we already own; we want to use this as more of a formal living room (i.e. no TV) and we are considering either occasional chairs or a upholstered bench opposite the sofa. Any thoughts on either of these choices? Thanks.

The best layout for your furniture really depends on the size and shape of your room and what else it has going on: window placement, walls, fireplace, etc.  Could you use both? Place a pair of chairs opposite the sofa and an upholstered bench to the side of both? If you can only choose one option, I would go with the chairs and add a bench later on.

Hi, I am wondering if you have any recommendations or suggestions about how to find a kind of staging service. My inlaws recently relocated to the area and literally days before moving my mother in law was diagnosed with cancer. They packed up and moved but they've been dealing with the cancer and as a a result have a house full of boxes. They could really use a service that helps them set up their home. I recall reading an article in the Post some time ago about companies that assist with downsizing and setting up new homes for retirees. What sort of companies do this? Family in the area, including us, have young children and there is only so much we can do. Can you recommend a company? They are in Fredericksburg. Thanks!

Hi. Yes. There are people who specialize in this. You might start with the National Association of Professional Organizers. Some of these professionals are experts at moving seniors. www.napo.net  There is also the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

I'm redoing my bedroom. I've picked out new furniture, which is a dark rustic suit and going to get chocolate brown carpet. I think I'm going to paint over the purple and go with a soothing sage green on two of the walls. Do you have a suggestion?

Hmm, sage green and chocolate feels a bit trendy. You might regret this in a year or two. I agree that the purple should go, but what about going with a lighter neutral on the wall and then aiming for pops of color through your accessories? Benjamin Moore's Linen White or Butter Pecan would look light, fresh and pretty. Then, add a bold lamp, some fresh flowers and a few statement throw pillows into the space and you'll tie it all together. 

I have a sliding glass door on left side of fireplace and regular double window on the right side of my cottage styled living room. What are the best curtain options for a cohesive look? I want to be able to easily open and close the curtains.

I think I would do stationary panels + woven shades on both the window and the doors. Hang the shades high, so you can easily open the doors. OR, you could do staionary panels on the windows with woven shades and hang panels that you can close on the doors. As long as one element is consistant on the window and the doors, the look will be cohesive.

Jura, I will be eternally grateful if you could give me about 3 choices of Sherwin Williams green to paint a kitchen, which has oak cabinets, almond tile countertops (which I can't replace now), and off-white ceramic tile floor. Family Room adjoins that needs a green to tie in existing upholstery on wing chairs. Many thanks!

Sure. I like Recycled Glass, Cargo Pants and Agate Green.

Don't forget about Ikea - sometimes cheaper than renting. We picked up a very sturdy folding table and folding chairs there last year for our holiday party. (Of course, this only works if you have a place to store them once folded up.)

Yes. Good point about the storage.

has some cheap tables and folding chairs. I actually bought a bunch before I was able to afford furniture, and now even though I have a real dining room table, I still set them up for large parties. We use the dining room as a buffet, and depending on the size of the dinner party, use either the family room or basement as our "ballroom."

It's nice to have an extra table and chairs around. If you have space in your garage or basement, it's worth investing in something you will use for years to come.

I love the look of French chaises. How do I place one in a room? The usual formula for living room furniture placement is a couch flanked by two chairs, with a coffee table in the middle. When I have seen a picture of a chaise it is usually by itself diagonally placed in a corner, so I am not sure how it relates to other pieces in the room. Thanks!

I love the look of french chaises, too. And you're right, typically they belong in a corner of a living room or bedroom since they are often a lone piece. The "formula" you're talking about is more for sets of furniture. There are no real rules here, and chaises can look lovely in a hallway nook with an end table, in the corner of a bedroom across from the bed, or by a window in a family room that gets a lot of light. Fool around with it before you decide on a placement. And, since these are tricky pieces to place, make sure you can return it if the fit isn't just right. 

How long will it be before "chrome" finally begins its demise as 'metal-of-choice'. And what will replace it?

Chrome and nickel are pretty much standard right now. Silver colored fixtures will always be in style. Brass isn't as popular right now, but it looks right in some bathrooms and kitchens. Bronze is hot.

Make sure you use a good primer before painting, otherwise the pine will bleed through in no time.


For the poster who doesn't like stainless steel: We have white appliances in our VA home with medium-toned oak cabinets, and biscuit appliances in our beach house, with maple beadboard cabinets. They both look fine, IMHO. I prefer a sort of vintage look over the cold, high-tech look of stainless myself, and think white or biscuit is a lot easier to keep looking nice, considering the constant smudges you get on stainless steel.

Thanks for this.

I think the poster should stay away from the reddish/yellowish woods and go with something like a white birch or limed or rift-cut oak.

I agree.

Howdy! This may not be in your wheelhouse, but I'm a new homeowner in DC and am kind of clueless about home maintenance and simple repair. Any ideas on classes or teachers on this kind of stuff? I'm thinking simple drywall repair, painting, etc.

Your best source for this is the big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's.

Best advice I got before we put our house on the market was to make sure all closets were 1/3 empty. If buyers saw how stuffed our closets were, it would have emphasized just how small our storage capacity was.

That is good advice. Thanks.

This isn't exactly a design question, but it is important for how a house should look - I close on my first place next Friday (yay!) and will spend the next day cleaning up. What should I focus on besides the usual cleaning of appliances, counters, windows, and floors? Would scrubbing the walls be positive or negative? The house is in great condition, so all we really need is to make sure it sparkles - am I missing anything?

Congratulations on your first home! That's very exciting. And I think it's a great idea to get in there and give everything a good scrub down before you start unpacking. Something you may want to consider: hiring a cleaning service to come do the pre-move-in cleaning for you. Cleaning companies provide this exact service, I believe and a team will come and get it done in a matter or hours while you can concentrate on your move. I think it's worth it!

We need new window treatments in our 1917 home - we are considering either roman shades or simple shades. We like both but can't decide which to go with - our tastes trend toward vintage modern. Any advice?

I'm not sure what you mean by "simple shades." can you be more specific?

Your comment re: having wall colors match the style of the house is exactly what I am trying to accomplish but am getting nowhere ... over-analysis paralysis, I think. We have a 1940 bungalow in Arlington that is currently painted (interior) the yellow one associates with an insane asylum. It is frighteningly cheerful in the way a clown is. I am trying to find colors that will progress nicely from the center entry hallway that goes straight up the stairs, a dining room on the left and the living room on the right. Each area is visible from the others... but then I got bogged in taupes and tans and they just seem so blah. Suggestions/thoughts much appreciated.

Frighteningly cheerful yellow sounds... frightening. Don't blame you for itching to switch this up. However, I happen to think that taupes and tans get a bad rap! Let's call them neutrals, to start. Now you have a couple choices. You can paint the entire area -- all connecting rooms -- one fresh neutral, or you can switch up certain rooms with bolder colors. I would not, however, paint each room a varying neutral shade. That might look a little random.

Why don't you consider painting the hallway/stairwell/entryway a clean neutral shade and then going bold in the dining room? Dining rooms are a perfect place to get a little more dramatic. (Terri Sapienza did a great piece last week on incorporation navy into your home, some food for thought...) 

I have similar tile soap holders in my old bathrooms and I would just carefully remove the whole tile soap holder (maybe use a Dremel to remove the grout carefully). Then, I would replace it with a new one - I'm sure you can source them online or at a Habitat Restore or salvage place. I think it would even look cool in a different color, if yours is tough to match - for instance, a bright color in a black and white bathroom could look cool!

Good idea about finding a salvaged piece. Good luck with the Dremel!  Thanks for your advice.

You might want to be aware that a dark solid carpet shows every bit of lint. I have a navy carpet in my bedroom--was going for restful--but I get my exercise picking up little light colored threads and lint every time I walk in there.

Every bit of exercise helps.

Cabinets can last for many decades. Appliances have a shorter lifespan. Get the cabinets you like.

Words of wisdom.

Good morning. I am also trying to decide on a refrigerator color. Most stores display the current popular stainless steel color models. I have white cabinets with brushed silver pulls. I upgraded the built in oven and dishwasher two years ago They are both white. Do you suggest keeping all appliances white? Also, what is your opinion on outside/ verses inside water dispenser?

Yes. I would do white. Personally, I like the dispenser inside  - it gives a cleaner look.

I'm in an older home and our master bedroom has little storage. We have to keep our shoes on the floor which we don't care to do, but have no room in our closet to store them. What can we do here that will look nice and keep the out of the way?

This is such a common problem! Shoes on the floor is no fun at all, and I really (really!!!) hate shoe racks that line the floors but just add an extra level. Why don't you try picking up a book case (like these from the Container Store) and stacking your shoes on that? Then, it will appear organized and you'll be able to see them right in front of you, much like you would if you had a dream closet (I'm channeling Carrie Bradshaw, here). 

I love white appliances and agree that a light wood would look great with them. I think a stainless Viking range would look out of place with all that, though. The main look is light and airy and a Viking range is so heavy and industrial looking. Total mismatch in my opinion.

Thanks for your opinion.

Yes! agree completely-- we picked our tan from the Fresh Air (VOC free) paints at Home Depot. Not a ton of color choices, but that can actually be a good thing. The color is beautiful on the walls and becomes warmer or cooler depending on the light...


Thanks everyone. We'd love to hear from you about your holiday entertaining dilemmas. What are you dreading or fearing? We are going to do an article with tips for holiday survival.  Please email us at makeover@washpost.com

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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