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Vintage shopping and small space decorating with Sanity Fair blogger Skyla Freeman | HOME FRONT

Oct 25, 2012

Skyla Freeman is a Capitol Hill staffer who runs the blog Sanity Fair. A former writer for President George W. Bush and an interior design lover, she writes about decorating with an emphasis on cheap and chic style, and living big in small spaces. Want to know about DC's best vintage finds or how to make your studio apartment look like a penthouse? Send in your questions now and join us live on Thursday at 11 a.m.!

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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Skyla Freeman, who writes the lively and stylish blog Sanity Fair, has the cutest apartment on Capital Hill that was featured in Local Living today. In only 425 square feet, she has designed such a cute and chic place and has tons of ideas for small space decorating including fabulous closet tips. She also is an awesome vintage shopper in DC who loves to share and discover new places to find home furnishings. We have other great small space articles today including Elizabeth Mayhew's column and Megan Buerger's House Calls and a shopping column by Lindsey Roberts on living small. So let's get going.

Thanks so much to Jura and The Washington Post for having me on this morning's chat! There are so many great questions coming in!

Good Morning! I am hosting Thanksgiving this year for 12. I'm feeling prepared, but somewhere along the way, I've lost not one but 8 salad forks from my 12 set. They are Halstead design from Crate and Barrel and from what I've seen, Crate and Barrel only sells the set, not individual replacement forks. Do you or the chatters have any ideas where I can go to find replacements?

Have you tried Also why not mix in another pattern that is coordinating but not matching?

Good Morning. I am posting early in hopes you wil be able to take my question. I have two window seats and a built-in kitchen banquet that need cushions and I do not have the time to sew them myself. I would appreciate a recommendation for an upholsterer preferably in northern Virginia who could do this. Thanks so much.

I hear Spicer's in Alexandria is very good. What else do people recommend.

I love the look of framed wallpaper--like the chinoiserie panels you featured on Oct 8th in your blog. But where can a person find those simple, oversized, fabulous frames? Is that a sort of custom-frame-shop-only purchase?

Hi! I feel like frames are always a challenge because of expense, but you can absolutely do large framing on a budget. I buy the biggest sizes IKEA has to offer (around $25), and often repaint them or have custom matting done to meet my needs. And I can't say enough about vintage and thrift stores - ignore the pictures IN the frames while shopping! Just remove those later, and add your own artwork.

My husband and I are lucky enough to be new homeowners and have a lot of empty space! I would love to acquire some high quality furniture items - particularly things like dining room pieces. I am willing to spend the money on things that will last, do you know? It's disappointing to read reviews on items at Pottery Barn or Room & Board that say "we've had this for 4 years and it's really starting to fall apart". Any tried and true places for finding furniture pieces that are really meant to stand the test of time? Thank you!

First of all, consider buying previously owned or vintage wood furniture. Auction houses such as Weschler's or Sloans & Kenyon have frequent auctions where dinign room tables and chairs made 20 , 30 or 40 years ago go for very reasonable amounts. Two stores I would also suggest to you are Room & Board and Ethan Allen.

Hi Skyla! I live in a small studio and, like you, try not to see that as a hurdle to stylish decorating. One exception: The walls are still drab white-beige, but I'd love to paint them. My hurdle is that (being a studio) relocating all my art and furniture from against the walls seems really disruptive and labor intensive. Do you think hiring painters to do it in a day or two is a justifiable expense?

I think it really depends on time vs. money. If you don't have much time, and really want a great finish (no stray paint marks on the baseboards), go professional. Or, get a few DIY-inclined friends together, bribe them with pizza and a great playlist, and have a painting party! You'll be done in no time at all.

I just moved into a rental house with a huge bay window in the dining room, and a radiator directly beneath the window. The curtains that came with the house are hideously ugly, so I need to replace them. Because of the radiator, the curtains can't be floor length, or else they'll trap all the heat inside the curtains when closed. I also can't switch to blinds or shutters because I'd like to stick with the curtain rod that's already in place to keep costs down, since it is just a rental. However, the problem I'm having is that I can't help but feel that curtains that are shorter than they are wide are kind of, I dunno, stupid looking. I'm having trouble imagining or finding examples of elegant and stylish curtains that are sill-length and really wide. Can you offer any advice here?

I know you don't want to spend a lot of money, but blinds of some sort are really what you want for this type of window. Might you consider a chic roller blind that you could install yourself? Or ask your landlord if they would kick in some cash to put in something that would convey with the house.

I love how you've spraypainted a number of items in your house to modernize them. Where do you go to get advice about painting metal vs. wood, etc.? Would love to hear about any good stores or websites.

Thanks! I actually have very little paint "knowledge" - but I don't need any. I just bring a sample of whatever I'm planning to paint (or a drawer from a piece of furniture, etc., if larger), into Frager's on Capitol Hill and they give me great advice. They can tell you exactly what primer to use, and which paint finish will work best. The good news is about spray painting is that it sticks to just about anything - and that will include you, so be sure to wear protective gear!

I noticed in the photos of your apartment you have pretty curtains covering the windows. I'm in a studio with the standard-issue long, white hanging blinds but dream about swapping them out, maybe for Italian shades (my current decor is very mod and minimalist - a lot of CB2). Any recs? Oh, and it being a rental built decades ago, the walls are concrete, so not much drilling can be done.

Those curtains are actually concealing some pretty hideous vertical blinds that I keep pulled back behind the curtains in the daytime! If you owned your place, I would say to go ahead and invest in some good blinds (I'm very partial to roman shades myself). You can find some great quality ones, with your own choice of fabric, on Etsy. But for a rental, I would avoid spending much. They likely won't fit in your next place. Pick something classic, but neutral - or paint it with stripes or something to liven it up.

I only can pull up the first 18 plus endless repeats of Skyla at her desk...not that it isn't a lovely photo but I'm curious about the other three featured spaces.

Yikes! We are looking into this right now. Sorry.

We really like the look of a sofa on the Restoration Hardware site, but the description says it's only available through the website and catalog. Do they really expect people to order without being able to sit on the sofa? That seems a little ridiculous for a major piece of furniture. Any suggestions for something similar to the Sorensen line there?

I know what you mean. But from what I hear, increasing numbers of consumers are ordering major pieces of furniture online without even laying eyes on them or sitting on them. I totally understand your hesitation. I would head out to Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Room & Board, Crate & Barrel or Arhaus. What other ideas do you guys have?

If you have a blank room, totally void with no piece to begin to build the room around, what is your first inclination to begin with as a starting point? Thanks! Tina Steele Lindsey

Pinterest. Sign up there if you haven't already, and create a few pin boards of the images that really speak to you. Think about the structure of the room, and what you want to spend most of your time doing in it (watching TV? reading? hosting friends?). You'll start to see some favorite colors and styles emerge in your choices. Otherwise, color is really my favorite place to start. Everything else you choose will be based on color!

Problem is there aren't enough sellers and too many buyers. Make it out of an old door. Re:Cycling

Recycling is good.

Loved the small-spaces article would be great to see more of them. Maybe how a couple or a family live in a small space? Our kitchen was redone by previous owners 19 years ago. The maple cabinets are in great shape and we already replaced the carpeted (!) floor with dark gray ceramic tile. The appliances still work fine, although the fridge is loud and I keep wondering if it is about to give out. We decided we'd wait until one goes and then replace them all, but lately I have been thinking how inconvenient it would be to suddenly lose the only refrigerator in the house. Do you think it makes sense to replace them all, even if they are still functioning?

This is interesting because I just had to replace my fridge and dishwasher within two weeks. I had my kitchen redone in 1999 and the lifespan of many major appliances is 10-14 years. I would not wait until my fridge is totally dead to replace it - it takes time to find the one that you want and shop around for good prices. Do you have any idea how old it is? You can find out by plugging in the model and serial number into the manufacturers website. I don't like to replace things that are still running, but a fridge is an exception.

Skyla, I would love to hear your thoughts on the longevity of home decor. To what extent should design choices be aimed toward timelessness? Should the looks and feels of four distinct seasons be factored in before decorative commitments are made? (As a recent Southern California transplant, that last one is of particular interest.) In your own home, is your overall "vibe" in a constant state of microevolution (i.e. adapting to new pieces, making adjustments here and there to accomodate for new tastes, maybe switching up an accent wall once in a while), or do you tend to maintain a look for a certain length of time and then perform a complete style overhaul? I'd love to know your method and how you've trained yourself decorate with discipline. Thanks!

What a great question. I really struggled with this one for a while, because I was living in DC, and decorating like it was Palm Beach (so that's a no on seasonal awareness). And, while the chinoiserie style has been my favorite for years, it is hugely popular right now, so everything I chose started to feel trendy. I think the best answer is:  don't worry about it. Seriously. Just like your wardrobe, you're going to have to make updates, anyway. Your home is going to reflect your changing styles and needs, rather than becoming a time capsule (hopefully). And, if you are picking a color palette and style that reflect you, your home won't come off looking like a mall store ad. Finally, shop antiques and vintage. Those are pieces that have already stood the test of time. They'll be able to go the distance with your home too!

Neither of the hardware stores in my town sells Benjamin Moore paint. Is there a palette from another designer (Eddie Bauer, Martha Stewart) that closely matches BM's? I love BM's palette so much, would really appreciate your advice. Thanks!

I really love Mythic paint. Farrow & Ball and Behr receive a lot of (deserved) industry praise, but they do have prices to match. Mythic tends to be lower cost, but I've found the quality to be great, and I know a number of folks who use it. You can find it at Frager's, and I believe Home Depot as well.

I agree with the earlier poster. I wanted to buy one of their new dining room tables, but not only do they not have the tables on the floor -- anywhere -- but they don't even have the wood samples available. And they charge to send the samples to you! I'll be shopping elsewhere.


Another good reason not to wait until your fridge is totally dead before replacing is that some utility companies (BGE) offer incentives for recycling working freezers and refrigerators.

Great thought. Thanks.

Guy solution. Just wait and keep a cooler around and buy ice if it breaks down. Or keep broken one in basement and run it on ice. Storage with doors.

Or stash the food in the beer fridge in your man cave!

How do you begin creating creative wall collages? do you generally have one piece you build off of? or a compilation of a few that you add to?

I love wall collages! They are opportunities to be endlessly creative. Some of my favorites are from Kate Spade's home - check out the photo diary of her place at the website The Selby for inspiration. My advice is to pick a color scheme, a theme, or use all-matching frames to bring some visual order. The photo collage over my desk is line of sight as soon as you open my front door, so I wanted it to be really visually appealing, but also very personal. To get the look, I digitized family photos, printed them in black and white, and then framed them identically (all white mats). The frames were all found in vintage stores, and I painted them to match. Also, to get the pattern you want with a collage, lay things out on the floor on top of wrapping paper. Trace the frames, tape the paper to the wall, nail the holes, and you're done!

Looks compact, but comfy! Where did Skyla find it?

It is from Creative Classics in Alexandria, which specializes in small space furniture. They are experts at pieces for those tiny, narrow  Old Town Alexandria rowhouses.


Hello Skyla, The dining room in my home was recently painted a very bold shade of red. The room sits between a neutral hued living room and a disappointingly soft blue kitchen. The red is a little more intense and attention-grabbing than we had envisioned and we're looking for a way to "soften the blow" with some neutral wall decor. As the room is quite large, the larger the art or wall hanging, the better. Do you recommend any particular outposts to buy affordable large pieces, or can you recommend any DIY projects that might blunt the red and simultaneously make it "play nicely" with the two surrounding rooms? Also, if you think we should be approaching the "seeing red" problem from another angle, please let us know.

Home Goods is a great place to find large wall art; World Market usually carries a number of options as well. Frankly, I'd say - embrace the red! Some black and white modern art on the wall (a la Miles Redd) would look fantastic. But also remember:  it's just paint. If you are really struggling to make it work, consider trying another color. You should feel welcomed by every room in your house.

I'm in the middle of remodeling my kitchen in my DC condo. After that, we want to add built-in bookshelf/storage cabinets in our dining nook, which is separated from the kitchen by a counter-depth wall (support - can't move it). Our kitchen cabinets are off white. Do you have a recommendation for the color of the built-ins? My husband wants the traditional white, but I'm worried it will look odd with the kitchen cabinets being so close. Should we opt for a color? I think something too dark will make our small space feel smaller. Thanks for any suggestions.

Have you thought about painting the interior of the built ins a fun accent color? You can keep the exterior frame a neutral, even matching with the cabinets, and then paint the background (possibly even the shelves) in a really marvelous color. Use that same color as an accent in your dining room, and it will tie the whole space together.

I just had a bench cushion made by Robinson's on Mt. Vernon Avenue; price was reasonable for the work.


Someone asked about FLOR tiles last week and I wanted to add to the discussion. I've installed them in two rooms of my home, and also put together a Flor area rug. If your floors are flat and unblemished, your room has nice straight lines, and you are somewhat handy around the house, I would think you'd have an easy time installing Flor. It gets tricky when there are odd cuts to make (e.g., closet interiors, radiators, curved walls). Patterns are a little more complicated, too, since it's one more thing to remember as you install. Also, it's a bit physically challenging - you have to be on your hands and knees most of the time, and while cuts are easy with a sharp utlity or capret knife, you need enough leverage and wingspan to hold a straight edge and cut at the same time. I liken the next-day soreness to what you experience after a day of gardening/weed-puling! All that being said, I found it very easy, not too time-consuming, and also very forgiving - if you're a novice or a bit unsure, just order extra tiles in case you make a mistake - that's the beauty of Flor!

Great to get all that first hand advice. Thank you.

Hello, good morning, Jura & Skyla! I've been meaning to join your chat for a few weeks. Great to be here! Skyla, as an organizing expert I know the basics about maximizing storage in small spaces, but since you are living it, I am betting you have some killer tips! What are some of the great things you have learned about storage, or products that have been helpful? - Lorie Marrero,

Let go. That is my biggest tip! And the hardest to convince people to do - but you really are limited by the laws of physics! I also really try to do two things:  1) make a plan, and stick to it. The color scheme for the apartment is green, white, black, and gold. It whatever I want doesn't fit in that theme, it doesn't come home. I'm allowed to carry it around the store, photograph it for posterity, whatever, but it doesn't make it to the cash register with me. 2) Longevity doesn't equal value. Just because you've had it forever, doesn't mean it needs to be a part of your life now.

I'd bought that same chandelier in the UK in 2007, brought it home as hand luggage, took it to a repair shop in the Kensington MD warehouse district . They gave me the adapters for US bulbs and installed it in my (quite formal) dining room...It's plastic, so it does scratch, but it's like MardiGras every day! Distributed by Present Times... some of the most fun and fantastic "stuff" in the US. Online it's $65.00 here.

I love that Gypsy Chandelier and I just pinned it on my Pinterest Lighting Board!!

Hello, I took a look at your photo gallery on and love your creative storage ideas. Can you tell me where you found the little shelf drawers that hold your jewelry? Also, the Target plastic drawer sets lined with wallpaper are a wonderful idea. Did you adhere the wallpaper to the drawers, and if so how? Thanks!

Thanks! The white plastic "jewelry drawers" are actually stationary drawers from the Container Store. One of my biggest storage tips is to just ignore whatever the manufacturer says ought to go in the item, and imagine what you can do with it instead. Actual jewelry boxes are much more costly, so this saved me a lot. As for the drawers - clear 3M double stick tape is great! I've even used it to put up wallpaper.

I'm going to re-do my 1970's rustic den step-by step. First I'm going to replace the patterned mauve indoor-outdoor carpet and put aread rugs on the red Spanish tile. The den is really long, so there could be 2 sitting areas. Should I get the same kind of area rug or coordinating area for the two areas?

One possibility is to get a very large neutral rug (sisal, etc.) to cover the room, and then use smaller rugs over that in the seperate seating areas. I would coordinate colors, but not use the exact same rug - that will keep things harmonious, but not matchy-matchy.

What are your thoughts on fabric DIY headboards? I made one for a full-size bed with a fun Anthropology print a few years back and am toying with trying it again for a queen. I want to maximize the bedroom space, so am staying away from the chunky frame/sleigh bed motif, though this would be nice someday in a larger room. Thanks for your insight!

I love fabric headboards - it's such a great opportunity to play with color and/or pattern. They are also just practical:  it's nice to sit in bed with a book and have something comfortable to lean on. I say go for it - and make the headboard the centerpiece of the room (maybe accent it with some artwork over head as well).

I like the look of mixing dining room chairs, or at least having slightly different host chairs. Are there are suggested guidelines to follow when trying to mix styles?

One popular idea these days is to assemble a bunch of chairs that are similar in size and height but are different styles. Then you can paint them using the Annie Sloan chalk paints to unify them. Otherwise, if you just want two different host chairs, just make sure they are the same scale as your other chairs and give them the same fabric on the slip seat.

I need a new chair, and possibly a new couch. But my furniture store has closed! I have always bought my upholstered furniture at Reincarnations. Where can I go to find similar interesting pieces that will fit in my DC rowhouse?

Have you tried Arhaus, Bo Concept or Room & Board?

Hello Skyla! I am Jean and I also live in a Capitol Hill studio! How do you feel about dividing spaces. I know from the contest that you did so, with a bookcase. I worry that it would make my place seem tinier.

Great question! It really depends on the layout of your space. I understand there are some situations where dividing the room, due to floor plan or size, just won't work. But in general, I think it's worth doing. For one thing, you'll gain more storage space, but you are also defining the space visually. The eye needs to be guided through a room, and given points of focus, as well as places to rest. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but my apartment doesn't look any bigger without the bookcase in the center, because then your attention is arrested by the bed area. I know - I tried it! Check out IKEA for great room dividers.

What are some solutions for people who like a lot of change in their decor? I don't necessarily mean someone one who tries to keep things trendy, but who just gets tired of seeing the same things on the wall or floor month after month. The idea of picture rails is one I really like and hope to use, because a person can swap out art to switch up the room a little, but what are some other easy/not too expensive ways to change a room and keep it fresh?

Vignettes would be a fun way to do this. Grouping interesting objects on a tray or side or hall table, along with leaned artwork, will give you something to tinker with frequently. I change out stuff all the time, and it's really fun to experiment. Another option is to change the artwork in your hanging frames. I'm considering doing that right now with the two large frames over my TV. To go from black and white to color would give the entire room a different vibe. Also, throw pillows. They're inexpensive, and very fun to change out (I try to buy covers, rather than pillows, and switch them out using the same pillow insert each time. It is SO much easier to store a few cloth covers than an entire pillow. Crate and Barrel has wonderful down pillow inserts).

Thanks everyone. Skyla, you have really great ideas and thanks for sharing them with us. Clearly, you all  like talking about small space decorating and shopping vintage. We'll try and do more of this. Stay tuned for more exciting new guests in the Thursdays to come.

Thanks so much for the wonderful questions everyone! I really enjoyed chatting with you all.

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
Skyla Freeman
Skyla Freeman is a D.C.-based politico and design blogger. A current Hill staffer, and a former writer for President George W. Bush, she indulges her creative side at the popular home decor blog, Sanity Fair. A self-described design enthusiast, she writes about interior design with an emphasis on cheap and chic style, and living big in small spaces.
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