The Washington Post

Thomas Pheasant on interior design | Home Front

Oct 24, 2013

Thomas Pheasant is an award-winning interior designer recognized internationally for his designs and furniture collections. Based in D.C., some of his recent projects include the Blair House, the President's Guest House on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House, as well as residences in Washington, New York, Paris, and Moscow.

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.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Thanks to Thomas Pheasant for being with us on the chat today. Tom is one of Washington's best known interior designers and his spaces are published in shelter magazines all over the world. I'm excited to learn more about his latest project, the redesign of Blair House, the President's Guest House. His latest book is Thomas Pheasant: Simply Serene for Rizzoli. I'm sure you have lots of questions for Tom so let's get going.

I own in a one bedroom condo apartment on Capitol Hill. I'm getting ready to redo the bathroom and am seriously thinking of replacing the bath tub with a shower. How much of an impact do you think this will have on the resale value of the apartment?

I am always advising my clients to attack the baths and kitchens first.  This money will come back to you when you sell. Most people looking for to buy want immediate gratification and an updated kitchen and bathroom are hard to pass up. Plus you get to enjoy your investment while you own!

Good morning,  this is Tom and I am online ready to take some questions.

I have a Hitchcock table and chairs that have been painted. I need to repaint them to update the look. Could this be a DIY project or should I take them to a professional? Is there a companies in this area that will paint furniture and perform minor repairs?

I have no idea how talented you are in painting but I do not have the yearning to take on these kind of projects myself. I go to Lenore Winters Studio in Bethesda to do all my painted pieces.  She is fabulous and can make magic on the most pedestrian piece.

Any tips for painting next to bushes. I have bushes along my front steps and the railings need to be painted. The problem is the bushes are right there. This seems to cause at least two problems, one is getting around the bush to paint and the other is the fact that when the wind blows, it makes the branches brush agains the rails.

Wow, I am not the handiest of men but you should try wraping the shrubs in plastic garbage bags or tie them up with rope until the painting is done.

Fav white paint color & what color should ceilings be ?

My favorite white is Benjamin Moore #925. Its bright and warm.  I tend to make my ceilings slightly whiter than my trim since they typically look darker than the walls.

What is the next big "trend" for kitchens? It seems that white cabinets and white marble counter tops are the top choice in 2013. Will stainless steel appliances decline in popularity?

Since kitchens can be one of the more costly spaces , I believe in getting what you like not following trend. There is certainly a trend to more modern cabinetry and glossy finishes.  I think stainless appliances will always be popular. The commercial ranges seem to be not as much demand anymore due to energy conservation and the sleek look we are seeing more of.

In the high-end home design magazines, I'm now seeing many more pictures featuring furnishings in purple/lavender/aubergine colors. Is purple, and variations of the color, a trend for the future?

Okay, you are talking to the king of the serene interior!! Honestly, I am a big fan of color and the editors are always in need to set a new color , lime, purple have all been thrown at us.  I take color direction for the clients I work with. Color is a personal choice...pick what you like because living with a trend that is not you is never a good choice.

My husband warned me I'd regret using white grout in my new bathroom. I was sure I could keep it clean. But I've tried numerous cleaners, including Softscrub with bleach, to remove the brown tinge. All to no avail. Any suggestions?

Well, I do know what Heloise advises for cleaning. She suggests putting  two tablespoons of bleach in one cup of water and then using a toothbrush to scrub the solution into the grout. You can also apply a sealer coating over your grout which should help keep out moisture and mildew and dirt. Your grout then will hopefully look whiter longer!

Submitting early since I will miss the chat. I recently moved into a new (to me) house, and I love the paint color (neutral warm beige-light brown). However, I want to add a splash of color in the living room. Are accent walls still acceptable (in style)? Is there anything I should avoid or consider when doing this?

Just pick a color accent you love and try to place it in a few areas in the room..pillows, a rug, a grouping of ceramics.  It is important to incorporate the color within the space so the accent wall does not appear to be the alien in the room.

Question for Thomas Pheasant: Can you tell us anything about what you are doing in Blair House?

I was so honored when Blair House approached me.  As a native Washingtonian, I have a special connection and love for my city.  Blair House has had some  legendary designers work with its doors....Buatta, Mark pressure!! Because Blair House is an active guest house for the White House, there is a lot of daily wear and tear on the spaces.  Currently I am redesigning two guest suites and the main library along with a few bathrooms.  Each year we will focus our attention on spaces needing updating. We have a small window to work when the house is closed to guests.  It will be an ongoing project for as long as they want me to stay. I ran into Mario Buatta last week in NY.  I told him that I loved the work he did at Blair House and that I was keeping his room as is and just replacing worn fabrics with his exact selections. I think there is beauty in maintaining beautiful efforts by others as well and making your own mark.

Have you ever considered opening your own store? You have a great Georgetown location for your office.

Every year for the past 20!  I am working right now in opening Thomas Pheasant Studio Gallery in Singapore. It is an exciting new venture that once established I hope to bring back to the US.

we're repainting the interior of our house, and I'm looking for a custard-yellow for the powder room off our kitchen. It's a bright room and I think the current color is Benjamin Moore's Popcorn Kernel, but the old paint can's label isn't really readable, and the paint numbers may have changed since we painted it the last time. Can you suggest any other Benjamin Moore deepish-yellows to consider?

I think Benjamin Moore's Hawthrone Yellow is a classy color. Also Farrow & Ball's Yellow Ground is a very nice one.

So excited to have Thomas on the chat! I inherited my mom's antique farmhouse table and hutch - which I love and want to use - but have a fairly modern kitchen. Do you have suggestions for integrating them so they look like they fit in?

When i select furniture I look at each piece for its beauty and quality. I have found that if I hold the same standards to any piece whether modern or antique, they always look great when I mix them together.  I think there is a chic quality to collecting through a careful eye. If your antique farm table is beautiful go ahead and use it.  

Who served as inspiration for your career in design? And where do you see the key distinction(s) in your styles?

Please read my new book just launched by Rizzoli(plug intended).  I have been on my own personal evolution since I started my career in design.  I have been inspired by so many people and places that it is hard to list them. I do believe that my "style" or signature is the ability to created serene interiors that are not bound by tradition or modern surroundings.  I believe in the emotional power interiors can project .  I also am certain that this signature had brought me an amazing diverse group of clients that have pushed me along my evolutionary road.

Your spaces are always so balanced in terms of the visual "weight" of the furniture and elements in the room. How do you achieve that? How do you balance the amounts of wood, glass, metal and upholstery in a space?

You have to train your eye by getting out and looking at the best designs of the past. My study in classical architecture begame a foundation for my work as both an interior designer and furniture designer.  Once you understand proportion and can recognize the difference between good and bad .. you can begin to understand scale and the relationships between objects in any space.

In terms of materials I alway like to begin with opposites...light and dark, smooth and textural. Because I often work with neutral room schemes, it is necessary to involve contrast and texture into the works to give depth and interest.  

What are some of your favorite home stores in Washington? Do you ever go to flea markets here?

Of course I love Baker...Thomas Pheasant for Baker!!! There are a number of places to go to .  One of my favorite furniture galleries is right next to my studio...Archer gallery has fabulous pieces of modern collectibles.  There are numerous shops along Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown  and so much happening along 14th Street NW.

I just bough a 800 sq foot condo. It has plenty of light and great views. However I realized outside of just hanging up pictures I had at my last apartment, I have no idea what to do. How many pictures are too many to hang up or all the little questions like that. What site would you recommend to a novice, who generally has good taste but doesn't understand the finer concepts involved. Also what is the best way to find an affordable home designer that is used to working with smaller spaces?

First rule of good decorating, do not put anything in you home tha t you do not love.  I have been in homes where the people or thier decorators have covered the walls and tables with collectibles (misused term) that do not mean anything to the owners.  I really believe that your home should reflect you...your loves and your experiences.  Be critical....look at the pieces you have and carefully separate the pieces that make you smile from the pieces that you have no connection with.  Give away the latter and begin to work with those pieces you like.  One piece on a wall that you love is worth a museum of paintings you know nothing about.

Hi Thomas, My Living and Dining are one in the same room. How do you make an impact to a room when next to the dark chocolate leather sofa with wood cooktail table is the Dining Room with more wood furniture (tables and six chairs)? Thanks.

This is tough to answer.  In a multi purpose space you really need to think about flow and relationships.  Perhaps a wood dining table with cloth chairs in a fabric color coordinated with the leather....this add texture without too much boring matchy look.  Or leather chairs with a glass table!  Keep away from the furiture suite look. It drives me crazy....better to experiment!!!

I would like to get some older pieces sprayed white for a fresher look. But I don't know who to contact locally in Northern VA. Any recommendations? I am hoping to hold on to this furniture from my grandparents that was well made, but not my style.

We have talked about auto body shop painting on this chat in the past. The only name that seems to pop up is Maaco, which has a lot of locations. Can you all suggest any other places?

I'm not the OP but I think the first question was whether replacing a tub with a shower in a one bedroom would be a mistake on resale. Responding that doing the kitchen and bathrooms first isn't much of an answer.

Generally , I would upgrade any bath or kitchen area. I think that people are more prone to showers and they make the space feel larger and are definitly more comfortable and safer for showers....sorry if I miss the point...I.m typing as fast as I can.

We are looking to redo our basement. Removing the beige painted paneling and replacing with drywall, recessed lights, painting the fireplace, replacing the stained beige carpet, etc. We have selected a beautiful mushroom colored carpet (called stonebridge). We want to paint the fireplace some shade of white (currently an orange brick). Husband wants to go white on the walls to keep it bright, I want some color. I love palladian blue by BM, but he thinks it is too dark and too green. Do you have any other suggestions? I just really want a color that is warm and rich without being too dark. Trim and fireplace would be same color. Thinking white dove. Thanks!

I live White Dove and use it often for brightening spaces. Color is hard to prescrible online.  You seem to be doing all the right things...recessed lighting ..trashing the stain carpet etc.  Even with trained eye , I always test colors in the space.  I think you future will be going to the paint store and experimenting...its really the best way to get a mutual agreement for everyone.

How does the average do-it-yourself person create a more serene family room?

Organization.  When I work on family houses I am always aware of the mulit purpose demands on family rooms. I try to find ways to incorporate as much storgage as possible to take care of stuff projects etc.  .  Coffee tables with drawers...TV hung on walls not resting on cabinet tops...anything to help control the chaos.

My husband and I are at an impasse regarding whether to get a rug for our dining room. (I'm for it; he's against it.) He doesn't want to cover up the (admittedly gorgeous) hickory wood floors we put in recently, but I feel like the room isn't anchored without a rug. It's a rather small dining room and also serves as the entry room in our small rowhouse. Should I give up my dream for a rug for this room, or am I right in thinking that it's de rigeur to have one?

Rugs definitely warm up a dining space and help with noise and room softening....But..perhaps you can consider upholstered walls to bring warms and interest to the room .  If budget is an issue you can buy fabric and have it backed with paper to make hanging easy. It is not as luxe and upholstered walls but gives a wonderful boost to your room. If that is not possible think about upholstered chairs.

Another thing the OP should think about when deciding whether to replace a tub with a shower is the type of residents in her condo. Are there many families with children? If not, it might be a good thing to do.

Good thoughts. Thanks.

A suggestion for keeping the grout white. When we shower we always wipe down the tiles with a dry towel..lots of raggedy ones available. I have never needed to deal with mildew of discoloration in 40 years. Our children are still "wiping" when they visit.

You are an inspiration!

We have wall to wall carpeting (Berber-style) in our great room, and two dogs. The dogs have had their share of accidents on the carpet, and even though we have had it professionally cleaned twice, the stains come up again through the padding, and even spread, looking worse than before it was cleaned. What might be a better choice than carpeting, but would still have the quietness and softness under foot, and durability to stand up to dogs, kids, sand, etc.?

Dogs, kids...and some adults are not a carpets best friend. In family rooms or active rooms I look for carpet that clean well (wool) and that have a texture of pattern that is very forgiving.  Your problem is something everyone deals with...its hard to beat the comfort of just have to go for something that lets you live without worry.

I have a small shower stall in my guest bathroom that currently has a heavily frosted swinging shower door. It feels rather claustrophobic in there. Would you advise I get something different? I've seen clear-glass doors, but I worry about the upkeep to have them look clear and neat instead of streaky.

Personally, I'd go for the clear glass. If the frosted bugs you, get rid of it. They are not that hard to keep clean.

I have a dark grey couch and some warm paprika-red color (table+ chairs, rug) in the main living space of my apartment. WIthout adding more red, what colors should I look for in cushions for the sofa?

I would look for interesting textures in the same color as the sofa...example if you sofa is grey linen go for velvet pillows of woven leather pillows in various shades of grey...If your sofa is grey chenille, then go for a grey woven silk or grey linen damask pillow.  

Just curious.

I am doing some projects in Asia and Singapore is a great gateway.  My Baker collection is the number one selling collection throughout Asia and it had brought me much attention.  I am very excited !

Thanks  to all who took the time to chat. Best, Tom

Great to have Tom with us today. Great advice and wonderful to her his philosophy on design - and on collectibles! This one's a keeper. Meanwhile, next week tune in for the Crafty Chica - Kathy Cano-Murillo is a writer and artist and popular blogger who will be talking about Halloween, Day of the Dead and all kinds of crafts. How's that for a great variety of chat guests? Bye for now and thank you so much to Tom for being with us.

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
Thomas Pheasant
Thomas Pheasant is an award-winning interior designer recognized internationally for his designs and furniture collections. Based in D.C., some of his recent projects include the Blair House, the President's Guest House on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House, as well as residences in Washington, New York, Paris, and Moscow.
Recent Chats
  • Next: