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

Jan 19, 2012

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

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

Good morning, everyone.

Ask us anything today. Terri and I are here to answer your questions about paint, shopping, organizing, whatever! Happy to hear any story ideas of what you'd like to see us write about, too. Let's get going.

Are sheers with drapes outdated? I have 2 large windows in my dining room and 2 in my living room that face the road. I don't want to block the light with shutters, but would like to give us a little privacy and was thinking sheers across the windows with static drapery panels on either side would be a good option - but I don't see that much anymore. Is it out of style?

In a word, yes. Why don't you have curtains made that you can pull all across your windows? It really would look nicer. You could also install tiny blinds that fold up into nothing at the top of the window, if you feel you need this extra layer of privacy.

We're painting our front door a deep orangey-red (Spanish Red by BM). Should we stick with traditional shiny brass hardware or go with something like the medium white bronze finish from Rocky Mountain Hardware? Any other ideas?

I would prefer a bronze finish yes. I would stay away from nickel or polished brass.

How bad do you think it looks to have a seem in your granite countertop? The seem would be right in font of the sink so it is as limited as possible...

Seams are part of living with granite. Do not despair.

I had the same problem in an older home, and the plastic sheeting made taut with a hair drier REALLY WORKS! The stick-em strips did not ruin the varnish or paint on the window frame, AND when you can get it smooth and taut, it pretty much disappears (especially if you've got curtains). Just two little hints: first, remove the in-window A/C for the winter (I had to get newer smaller A/C units to do this), and 2) jam in foam strips (or styrofoam wedges) where the upper and lower sashes overlap. It is so very difficult to get replacement windows that really look good (not plastic-y) that, until you've the resources, the plastic sheeting really is a marvelous stop-gap (pun intended) resource.

Glad this is working for you. And thanks for the tips.

Good morning. My husband and I are expecting our first child. We have a very small house, and we will need to create a nursery/guest room combination. Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to do this effectively? Thanks!

It depends a lot on the size of the room, of course, and what pieces of furniture you can fit inside without it being too cluttered. Is it big enough to fit a sofa bed and small crib? Here's a link to a House Calls done by designer Kathryn Ivey that addressed this very issue.

I wanted to suggest flannel sheets for the person who asked about their freezing basement bedroom last week. They really do wonders at taking away that initial "cold sheet" shock. Also, a more insulating down comfroter might be in order - ours is very, very good at heat retention, so once we're in bed, it's only a matter of minutes before the chill is gone and we stay warm all night. Finally, maybe moving the bed away from any exterior walls or vents is worth a try?

Great ideas. Afterl last week's chat, I ordered a new down comforter for my guest room from Cuddledown. Their Primary Down model was a recent choice from Consumers Digest. I had been putting it off, but thinking that my guests deserve the best warmth I can give them in there with the drafts from the windows and all. I also of course got a duvet cover as well which cost almost as much, but will look polished.  My down comforter in my own bedroom is decades old and it serves us well throughout the year.  Flannel sheets are something that people love and I know Garnet Hill is famous for them.

I have been helping my 80-year-old mother fix up her home (this week interior painting everywhere. Yay!). Next, she needs her wall to wall carpeting replaced. Our budget is not substantial. I have folks I can call for just about any type of work, having done a lot on my DC row house -- but I have no idea how or where to shop for this wall to wall carpeting (I have all hardwood). She lives in Northern Virginia. Do you have any advice or suggestions? Love your chats. Thanks.

you can find hundreds of options, styles and prices at any local carpet store; just do a google search for shops in your town. I'm sure there are several.

Can you recommend some places (preferably Virginia) for furniture? I need some new bedroom furniture and some living room furniture. I have no idea where to go besides Ashley Furniture and Macys. Please help!

Belfort in Sterling, Arhaus and West Elm at Tysons Corner, Ethan Allen, Havertys in Fairfax or Dulles. What about Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel?

I have kind-of an odd upholstery question. I have two leather square ottomans that don't match my current decor, and I'm wondering how doable it is to re-upholster them in a fabric - how would it look and whether it would be worth my while and money. Any thoughts?

You know you might reconsider these things. Leather goes with almost everything - it's a basic. Could you use these in another room? Could you buy a nice try to put on top of one and turn it into a side table or coffee table?  It's probably not worth reupholstering them - you can buy ottomans pretty inexpensively.

Hi, I learn so much from these chats and get so many great ideas! My living room walls are broken up by two doorways, two big archways and three windows. To make the room look less chopped up I plan to paint the walls and the trim the same color. Will that achieve the effect? Look terrible? If I do use the same color should I have the walls eggshell and the trim glossy or keep the kind of finish the same? Thanks!

While I think painting them the same color might look just fine, I don't think it's necessary to go that route. Just curiou: what is your current wall and trim color? (if you did maint them the same, i would use a different finish for each, like you mention).

What are your thoughts about darker paint in the living room? I just moved from a 1BR condo to a house, and the living room is currently empty with light beige walls. I have ordered a sofa from Room & Board that will have a kind of bronze/coppery fabric, and I was thinking of painting the walls a deep orange. The LR is a decent size with large windows. Is it too much to do that color on all walls? Or should I paint just one wall the dark color and leave the others as they are now? Is it weird to do two opposite walls in the dark color? I'm pretty much a paint newbie!

Good for you - you're not going for the conventional. Your new sofas sounds great. I might try and paint one wall first and see how you like it. I would choose a major wall. One wall might be enough, or you might find that you want to saturate the whole room with color. One of my favorite oranges is Orangery by Farrow & Ball.

If you're sleeping in a very cold room such as a basement, in addition to the usual flannel sheets and down comforters, I suggest going REALLY retro and wear a "nightcap" to bed as people used to do in the days before central heating. You really do lose a lot of body heat via your head, and a "nightcap" will help you retain it. If you're ever camped outdoors, you might have worn one, and there's no reason not to wear a light cotton one indoors. Beats hiding under the down comforter for the entire night.

Can't figure out if you are making fun of us or actually giving us a good tip!

We're getting ready to sell our house and I'm updating our master bedroom. The walls are painted pale gray, window trim and doors are white. My bedroom set is teak. I need a suggestion for a quilt/duvet/coverlet and pillows in a color or pattern that is clean, contemporary and goes with the room color. My personal preference is to stay away from plaid or overly flowery.

Go with white. It's crisp, clean and classic. And it goes with everything.

Last week a poster asked wondered why their home built in 1955 had cold floors and about insulating there crawl space. I had a free energy audit done last Oct. by my utility company. They insulated and put vapor barrier in my crawl space, caulk all windows (even though they are new) & weather strip all outside doors...WHAT A DIFFERENCE in the warmth of my home and energy bill. And if you are elder or low income it can be done for free!

Love success stories. Thanks for sharing this.

Has anyone ever seen 3M Command strip type products for hanging things from the ceiling? I have a very lightweight mobile to hang, but don't want to drill into my plaster ceiling in order to screw in a hook. Other ideas/solutions welcome, as well!

My winter coat is currently hanging on one of those 3M Command strips next to my desk. Very classy, huh? It works! Anyone else?

Hello Terri and Jura, We just recently bought a new house, and I've noticed that the doors from our hardwood hallway to each bedroom and bathroom have a very large gap at the bottom, at least 1 inch. I suspect the previous owners had carpeting in the hallway, removed it to sell the house, and it left a large gap at the bottom. What can we do to fix this? I would rather not buy new doors. Thanks for your response.

Im just guessing here, but I think you could take your door off the hinges, add a piece of wood at the bottom to lengthen it, then caulk, sand and paint the entire door to make the addition look seamless. Anyone else have any suggestions?

We are remodeling our DC micro rowhouse kitchen. In Europe, we've seen drying racks that are installed above the sink to save counter space, but we can't make any headway on that idea. We're new to this remodeling thing, and really don't know where to look.

If you can't find what you are looking for, you should talk to your carpenter about making one for you. That way, you can design something specific to your needs.

The chatter could slipcover them - wouldn't cost very much, even with a nice welt and pretty fabric.

True. Good idea.

My 5 yr old changes her clothes multiple times a day. Sometimes she'll go through 3 or 4 outfits in deciding what to wear, then she'll want to change again when she gets home from school. As a result, it's chaos in her bedroom. She doesn't want to keep her clothes in her dresser because then she can't see them all at once. She's not too thrilled with hangers or folding either. What do you recommend?

How about a coat rack?

Also try insulated curtains (or add curtain liners yourself w/ lightblocking, insulating fabric from the fabric/craft store, if you can sew at all-- it's not hard). It is AMAZING what a difference this can make.

Great. Thanks.

I have to agree with this week's comments about insulating a crawl space. And the FIRST thing I learned to do was seal (with a block of insulation) the air-vent grates in the foundation. They came off in early spring, but boy that made an immediate difference in the dead of winter.


what about adding door sills in the doorways? my hardwoods have sills where they join the tile floors

Good idea.

To chime in on the "Updating the Bedroom" maybe a white and soft grey patteren duvet with a white coverlet? Layering colors such as white, taupes and greys can give your bed some depth? I know we have been doing a lot of grey, taupes for bedding lately at Valerianne!

Yes, that would look nice. But the chatter said she was moving soon, so plain white bedding might make more sense because it will go with anything, including a new bedroom color in the new house, if he/she decides on something other than gray. And, yes, Valerianne is a great place to look - lovely bedding and accessories.

My husband and I like our bedroom very cold (the heat in there is actually broken and we've never gotten it fixed). Anyway, we use regular cotton sheets but also use a flat flannel sheet as an extra layer with our other blankets. Works great. We also travel with a flat flannel sheet as hotel bedding tends to be too hot for us. I'll never forget a story a friend told me about his dad who loved his flannel sheets--he made the bed, put on his flannel pajamas, got into bed, but then couldn't move. :)

How interesting. I actually don't like flannel sheets myself. I like the crispness of cotton. But everyone who is cold should try them!

I'm serious! I wouldn't make fun of people trying to stay warm and save money at the same time. (However, I can't rule out your bedmate making fun of how you look in a "nightcap".)

I don't know if this was a single or a couple sleeping in the basement! But if it's two people, I would say matching nightcaps.


The walls were papers a sort of sponge look paper in pale aqua and pale gray, trim light gray, so it blended. Now that gray is a trendy neutral I want something else! Room gets very little natural light (windows are small and high) so I am thinking something warmer. I am re-doing the whole room, and starting from scratch.

What other colors do you have in the room (furniture, rugs, art, accessories, etc)? That's what you should base your wall color on. 

My husband and I live in an old townhouse with a dark, dusty (unfinished) basement. No matter how often we sweep and vacuum the floor and rafters, dust accumulates over everything - the washing machines, dishes, wine, etc. We use the basement only for storage and laundry, but since we go down several times a week, I'd love to make it somehow more pleasant. I'm just not sure how. I read here once about hanging fabric on the ceiling to stop dust from falling down. Do I need to be concerned at all about the wires and cords that run along the rafters? Could I just staple the fabric right up there? Obviously I think lowering the amount of dust and grime would do a great deal to help things, but I'm open to other suggestions! How do we make a basement more homey? Thank you!!

Your basement sounds exactly like mine. You need the storage and you just want it pleasant and clean enough that you don't dread going down there. First of all, I might scrub down your walls with a wire brush and some soapy water and give the floors a good scrubbing too. You might give the foundation a good coat of new paint starting with a good primer. I would not suggest fabric down there - paint would be a better solution to making it look better. I wonder where all the dust is coming from? Hopefully your dryer is well vented.  Set up shelves along the walls of the basement and keep things in plastic containers to keep them dry and dust free.

Interior doors are fairly inexpensive. Unless you're very handy, it's unlikely that adding wood, filling and painting are going to look that great - not to mention that many interior doors do not take paint well. Shop around and see if you can afford to simply replace the doors.

Thanks for this idea.

Hello, We do not have a guest bedroom, but we do have a finished basement family room with a full bath where guests enjoy their own space. Problem is they do not enjoy our pull out sofa. The sofa is a carry over from our previous place and really does not work in the basement space. We need to get a sectional. I have yet to find a sectional that contains a pull out bed and I have looked everywhere. Does such a thing exist? Would it be better to get a high quality air mattress for guests (there is room, but it would be tight)?

I just did a Google search for "sectional sleeper" and got lots of hits. The choices look pretty limited, but to answer your question: they are out there! 

I don't love clutter but I live with it. Jura, I follow you on Twitter and love Declutter Sundays. My current problem is clutter related to my late parents. I have several boxes of photos, documents, love letters, and general family history and I'm just not sure how organize or keep it. I need suggestions for a short term solution (not my dining room) and long-term solutions. Don't really want to just recycle photos from my Dad's long government career or my Mom's mementoes. Any suggestions? Guidelines? Help? Please!

We are all living with some sort of clutter. Thanks for following me as I dig through years of accumulations in my attic! You have done the right thing by putting like things with like things - sorting through your papers and photos and making piles of things that go together is a good way to eventually decide what you need to keep and what is a duplication or meaningless. You should definitely keep things in good quality plastic storage boxes or even better for papers, archival quality boxes that you can get at the Container Store. You might set up a changing photo exhibit in a hallway or on a chest of old photos of your parents that you can enjoy. Do you have family members who you might want to share some of the photos with? You could also take digital photos of some of the things and then get rid of the originals, if they aren't too old or too nostalgic. It's okay to set up a little are for your mom's things - like one shelf someplace. I recall the story I recently did on NBC4 news anchor Wendy Rieger's home. She had a small stand in her foyer where she had her moms photos and some things that reminded her of her mom. She said it inspired her every day as she went to work.  It's important to put things in albums or at least organize them in small containers to make them accessible and organized. But you must make decisions - you can't keep everything. It's a process. Sigh.

Diane Keaton wore one in her old stone farm house in the movie The Family Stone.

Love that! Need photos.

Have you thought of an electric floor mat for your floor? I think there is a company called "warm your floor or something like that." The mats can go up to 250 sq feet. Garnet Hill also sells mattress pads that are heated.


I would go with sheer shades with adjustable vanes and stationary side panel drapes. The sheer shades can remain down with the vanes tilted for nighttime privacy or stacked at the top of the window during the day.

Thanks for chiming in.

I would also suggest locking & washing/dusting windows and double check that nothing (scissors, razor blade, tape) is left on window ledge when putting on film. I had razor blade encased all winter 1 year. if you clean windows now they will be clean yet when you take down film. Nice way to start spring.


Adding a strip at the bottom might work on painted doors, but not on clear-finished or stained wood. The seams would always show. An inch gap is really not so bad, and most people will never notice it. Lots of us live in homes where carpeting has been removed and hardwood restored. People don't pay much attention to all those holes next to the walls where the task strips were nailed down, either.

Love your attitude. Don't worry, be happy.

Was your answer based on the door's color or a general statement about not using nickel?

The color of the door.

An energy auditor told me that dust comes from air leaks. Spider webs are a sign of air leaks too.

Wow. Did not know that. So some caulk would be a good idea.

Based on a quick Google search... Interior Doors Hollow Core - $30 Interior Doors Solid Core - $90

Big difference.

I have two chairs that need to be recaned. Can you recommend any place in the in the Alexandria area? Thanks!

Me too! Please send tips on caners in our area!

Crate and Barrel carries several ... We've got one (TV-room becomes a guest room) and it's holding up quite well... and the pull-out bed is not a back-breaker.


As an interim, just get bottom kick-plates in whatever metal finish matches your hardware. If the doors match, it'll look intentional. Get new doors later...


I have 4 free BM pint samples coming to me from buying a new house. The problem is, I'm not sure what room to paint first nor what color I'm looking for. Other than Palladian Blue and Stone House, what are some of the tried and true colors that could work in a variety of rooms?

Picking out the best color depends on so many variables in a space, including the amount of light it gets and what furniture, accessories and other colors you plan on having in the room. My suggestion is to wait until you have everything moved in and placed in their proper rooms before you choose paint colors.  If you are set on painting before you move it, then I would choose a light neutral (such as a creamy off-white) for most rooms and then repaint, room-by-room, down the line. If you rush into picking colors, you're probably going to regret the choice and end up repainting anyway. A light neutral will go with everything and look great while you take your time deciding on other colors.

Just a suggestion... Go ahead with the white coverlet, and then run over to Tuesday Morning (or Target) and get some pillow-shams in a nice grey or taupe... or any other color you wish. A cheap thrill, and it works!

Cheap thrills always welcomed. I just looked up the addresses of Tuesday Morning stores myself - i want to check one out - haven't been in years.

Flannel sheets and a down comforter are great. What adds an extra layer of warmth, however, is a featherbed or down mattress pad. Then you are snug in a cocoon of down, mmmm.

My Martha Stewart featherbed was good for a year or two  and then quills started pricking me during the night. I tried to wash it and it turned into a huge ball of wet feathers. UGH. Anyway, once we took it off, my husband and I decided we liked the mattress alone way better than the lumpy and bothersome feather bed top. Well, I guess I told you what I think...

To the poster with beige walls and the new orange-coppery fabric sofa: We have BM Shaker Beige walls and one accent wall painted BM Butterscotch Sundae in the living room. It looks great. My painter put up six samples of orange-y paint before he did the whole wall and I'm glad he did-you might surprise yourself by wound up picking the least "orange-y" one as we did . It's hard to tell from the paint chip.

This is very helpful. Thank you.

Hi Ladies, love the chats. I have what may be an odd question. How frequently should house interiors be painted? We had most of the rooms in our house painted when we moved in eight years ago, and some rooms are starting to look dingy. How frequently should interiors be repainted? Thanks!

It all depends on wear. Upper level floors need to be repainted less, unless it's a child's bedroom. Hallways and foyers often need more often. I had heard seven years as a figure years ago... but it all depends on how busy your house is and the traffic that goes through - and if you have pets or children!

I am renting an apartment and there is no backsplash in the kitchen. It's just white paint over normal drywall walls. Is there something I could add that would be removable when I move out? There are a couple shelves on the backsplash also, so it would have to either be cut to go around those, or be able to have screws drilled through it. Thank you very much!

How about removeable wallpaper? Sherwin Williams makes a line called EasyChange that has lots of options and styles. Anthropologie also carries cool removeable wallpaper. Check them out here.  

Termini's (they are in Rockville, and Silver Spring... and pick up and deliver anywhere) did a wonderful job on an old Grandfather Rocker. Not inexpensive, but very, very well done.

Caning is not cheap, I know. Thanks for this suggestion. Someone recently quoted something like $3 per whole... does that sound right?

I am re-doing the whole room, so far I have no furniture or rugs to base wall color on. We have a lot of original art, but I won't try to "match" the artwork to the decor. Right now everything is a blank slate. I plan to get a great chair/ottoman or chaise for reading and build from there.

Then I would do with an off-white for the walls and trim for now. Then add furniture, rugs and art and pick a paint color after everything is in place.  But you might end up really liking the light walls after everything else is in.

$3.00 seems a bit high... but finding someone that truly CANES (not just splines) is tough!


Get thee to TJ Maxx. Just found an amazing Ralph Lauren comforter for $40.


I agree about the quills , but it might be better with flannel sheets since they are thicker:) I bought my down mattress pad from LL Bean about 15 years ago. It is wonderful. We have an old house that runs cold anyway and we turn the heat way down at night to save energy (and money). You can wash it like a down blanket, and it's not lumpy because it is quilted. I think featherbeds are actually thicker and probably lumpier.

you are right about the flannel...

Lots of great questions and we appreciate all of you weighing in with your own ideas and sources. Have a great weekend and we look forward to chatting with you again next Thursday.

In This Chat
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
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
Recent Chats
  • Next: