Jennifer Boles on interior design and her new book | Home Front

Dec 05, 2013

Jennifer Boles is an interior design blogger and author of "House Beautiful Fabrics for Your Home," and "In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z." Boles's blog, The Peak of Chic, earned her a spot in the the Design Blogger's Hall of Fame in early 2012. Jennifer has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, Town & Country, Elle Decor, and Array.

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

I have read Jennifer Boles' blog The Peak of Chic for years. She has a wonderful eye and a great knowledge of the history of interiors. Her new book "In With The Old" (Potter Style: $34.95) has a fascinating array of stylish design details that Jennifer explores. We are excited to have here here on the chat today to answer your questions. So let's get going.

Thank you so much for having me here today. I can't wait to discuss my very favorite topic: decorating!

I have a huge wall in my condo that has the TV console and TV on it. I need ideas to decorate it. All other walls have art.

Since you have art on the other three walls, I would forgo art on the TV wall.  If you want to distract the eye from looking at the TV console, you could always paper that one wall in a bold print. I'm generally not a fan of papering one wall only, but it could work here and you won't have the cost of papering the entire room.  You could also balance out the TV by hanging a mirror or starburst clock on that wall and place decorative brackets on either side of it. Last suggestion: inexpensive LACK bookshelves on IKEA. Place a few along that wall. You can place your TV and other "stuff", including books, on the shelves.

Please give Jura my love! David Keller

Love getting love!!! Thanks! How nice to hear from you.

Jennifer: In what form is your design library, dewy decimel or good old boxes under the bed? All of your references never cease to amaze me and I am curious as to how you organize your design books.

Great question! So, my design library is organized by subject. There are sections on The Great Decorators, British Design, Contemporary Designers, etc. I don't bother to alphabetize within sections.  It might not seem like the most efficient system, but it works for me.

I have bookshelves in my living room (all design related), bedroom (fashion, society, and biographies), and study (more design books, cookbooks, and gardening).  Whew!

Why are fabrics so expensive? Are they worth it, I.e., $100 per yard vs. $35 vs. $15?

The cost of luxury fabrics is often justified when you consider the high-quality material and craftsmanship that goes into producing it.  That being said, there are many affordable fabrics, especially cottons, that look great.  I think that if you're going to use an expensive fabric, it should be used in a meaningful way- meaning, don't waste it in a place where you and your guests can't enjoy it.

I covered my living room sofa in an affordable Sunbrella indoor/outdoor velvet. It looks great and it didn't cost a fortune.  For the throw pillows, however, I am thinking of going with an expensive fabric.  That way, I will have a dash of luxury without having to spend a lot.

Jennifer, can you recommend specific printed fabric that is light blue (a true blue) with navy as a secondary color?

When I read your question, Quadrille immediately came to mind. Visit and check out the Quadrille, China Seas, and Alan Campbell collections. There are many, many printed fabrics there which feature both light blue and navy.

A few examples from their website: Tashkent II; Kazak; Moroc; Katmandu; Henriot; Bagatelle; and many, many more.

Hi. I am redoing the downstairs of my house and after looking at numerous samples on the wall, I'm thinking of just covering everything with SW dollop of cream and pulling in color from the soft goods and art? Does that make sense?

The beauty of neutral colored walls is that you can introduce all kinds of color and pattern through fabrics, art, and accessories.  If you love colorful fabrics, then a neutral wall might make sense. By the way, seasonal slipcovers are nice because you can change out the look and colors of the room when the seasons change.

What inspired your book and what is your favorite part or detail from it?

My main goal in writing my book was to help keep classic design alive and well.  When I look through my vintage design books and magazines, I always find great examples of classic, timeless design. Often, I reproduce these examples in my own home.

Just because a style or decoration has some history to it, it doesn't mean that it's old-fashioned. I think that was the point I tried to make in my book.

All of the book's entries are things that I either have in my home or that I wish I had. I especially love the entries on trompe l'oeil, fruit and vegetable ceramicware, grotto furniture, bamboo, and, well, I could go on and on!

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and we just bought a home built in 1998. We are in the process of remodeling the kitchen and are considering white cabinets, tiled floor, a quartz countertop, and stainless steel appliances. Any suggestions on a backsplash? We were initially leaning towards small square glass mosaic tiles but now am wondering if that's going to look outdated very quickly. We would choose a neutral color. Do you have thoughts on small glass tiles for a backsplash all around the ktichen?

I think that small glass tiles would look nice.  My advice would be to avoid anything too colorful or too opalescent. I think those examples might look outdated pretty quickly.

Another solution is a mirrored backsplash. I realize that mirror can be a pain to keep clean, but I have seen all kinds of kitchens with them, and they look really terrific.

I noted in your own home decoration you are quite fond of animal prints. I share that enthusiasm and am in the market for a zebra rug. Should I purchase new or hold out for an antique hide to accent my library? And, when did animal prints become popular in home décor?

I adore animal prints, especially leopard spots! Animal prints were actually popular back in Napoleon's day. Empress Josephine chose a leopard print carpet for her dining room at Chateau de Compiegne. And, many stylish people of that era decorated their homes with real animal skins.

I suggest holding out for an antique hide because they have a nice looking patina.  One alternative that I really like are hooked rugs that look like zebra skins. I realize that hooked rugs aren't for everybody, but Sister Parish and Albert Hadley used these rugs in their projects and they looked super chic.

Please help by giving me ideas to cover 3 sliding glass doors in a Living Room that looks out on a patio on the back of my house. I always look forward to The Discussions every week! THANKS.

Now that is a decorating dilemma, and I should know because my entire apartment has sliding glass doors instead of traditional windows!  I'm struggling with this situation, too.

The problem with traditional curtains is that if you want them to draw, you'll need a lot of material to cover the width of the doors. All of that fabric will block out a lot of light. In my building, I have seen neighbors who have stationary fabric panels at each side of the door. Behind those panels are sheer curtains which can be drawn so as to filter light and to maintain privacy. I know that sheers seem dated, but there are some great sheer fabrics out there that look fresh and modern.

Don't put lined bamboo roman shades over the doors.  That's what I did and it is a major struggle for me to pull those things up every morning. They are HEAVY!


Do you think skirted tables look dated? I know they are considered a traditional look, but are they stuffy?

I think that skirted tables can be good-looking and a great solution for room corners where you need some volume to fill up the space.  The key is for the cloth to be tailored. No ruffles or extraneous trim.  Often, an unembellished cloth looks best.

Check out the 1970s-era decorating books by David Hicks. He used stylish table skirts in many of his projects.

Jennifer is the reason that I started my blog, Pigtown*Design. I had been researching something, and discovered her blog, and read it from start to finish. I was at an odd junction in my life, and knew I had to do something to keep sane and have a scheduled event each day. I thought I could try to emulate her and write a piece about the things that I loved and that interested me. Because of Jennifer, and subsequently, my blog, my life has been all the richer in the people that I've met and the experiences that I've had. Thank you so much, Jennifer! xo Meg

Hi Meg! The great thing about blogging is that so many of us have become fast friends thanks to our blogs.

I always enjoy your blog immensely. I still hope to travel to Baltimore to see you and your hometown!

I live in a basement apartment and my small room has no windows. Any tips on lighting/wall decor? The walls are an off white, carpet is a very neutral pattern grey/white and my bedding is gray with orange accent pillows.

First, mirror is your friend in rooms with no windows. It doesn't have to be mirror on the wall per se. You could invest in mirrored bedside tables or a console. The mirror will help to reflect light.  Also, go with finishes that have reflective qualities as well.  Antiqued brass and chrome will help to bounce light around the room.  If you have art or photos hanging on the wall, try using gold and silver-toned frames.

For lighting, try table and floor lamps and wall sconces. A combination will help to create warm light throughout your room. One last tip- buy light bulbs that emit a soft, warm light. Some of them actually come close to emulating daylight. 

Good Morning! Am currently in the process of updating the master bedroom and REALLY need advice on window treatments. The room is small, with three windows. Two of the windows are centered over radiators. The queen bed is centered over the third window which is 40 inches wide (the only place it fits) and covers the bottom 2/3 of the window. I've painted the room BMs Indian River, the bed is upholstered in a soft white. Am thinking about soft roman shades in a color similar to the paint. Seems a light colored shade would look odd with the bed. Any thoughts/ideas will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I think you are definitely on the right track. I would use a fabric for the shades that is a similar color to the walls.  That way, you are creating a monochromatic envelope, so to speak, around the room's perimeter.  What you could do is go one shade lighter than Indian River for the roman shades. That way, there is a subtle transition between the wall cover and your soft white bedding.

Good morning! I am going to take the plunge and copy something I have seen in lots of magazines: I am going to paint an old-fashioned piece of furniture. I have an old, dark secretary that I inherited and want to paint a medium gray (it will go in a room that is painted BM Sterling). However, the fittings (drawer pulls) are gold (brass). Should I remove them and put in something more modern (their design is a bit old, too)? If so, I would have to commit since they are not "standard" and I would have to fill in the holes. If I don't, will it look like just an old piece of painted wood, versus an updated treasure? I have no vision and cannot decide!

I would definitely change out the hardware.  I have lots of gray in my apartment, and I have found that silver-toned hardware works best with light to medium shades of gray. Invest in some modern looking hardware in chrome.  That one small thing will help to make your treasure look completely up to date!

I'm looking for a soothing medium honey/tan color for my bedroom. Behr or Martha Stewart would be good but open to others. Anything come to mind? Thank you!

I like Martha Stewart's Gingerroot , Cappuchino or Sisal.

Love your blog! My bedroom is very large, with hardwood floors, and is painted a light blue (Benjamin Moore's "Smoke"). The bed is a upholstered in camel; the couch is upholstered in a wheat velvet. Drapes are ivory linen, with a wheat border. I need a large rug - and can probably get by with a 10x14. Any suggestions for a good style, and especially where I can find a good quality and very large rug for less than $3000? I like some of the Restoration Hardware rugs a lot, but they are closer to 7k -10k. Would a flatweave dhurrie or a sisal be too casual? Thanks!

There are many great sisals on the market that, thanks to their woven patterns, look dressy.  The same goes for dhurries, too.  If you're leaning towards either of those, then I don't think you'll regret your decision.

Have you ever visited the Dash and Albert website? They have great rugs that don't cost a fortune. I love their rugs.

I'm a graphic designer and get no end of inspiration from the Victoria &Albert's website. They have a fantastic online collections search. I spend far to much time salivating over period fabric and wallpaper. It does inspire me so!

Oh my gosh, you have no idea how much I love the V&A website.  It's almost as good as visiting the museum in person.

I agree with you completely!

Do brown, lavender, and cornflower blue work together??

Yes! The combination especially looks nice when the brown is a true shade of brown.

We just bought a new home and are renovating the kitchen. We have successfully done two previous kitchen overhauls, including redesigning the space for one (and sticking with the previous layout for the other). Each time, the design, layout, colors, materials all seemed obvious and both turned out great. I'm really stuck on the layout and the materials for this design. Nothing seems "right". Short of hiring a designer, do you have any tips for when you get "designers block"? Any resources you turn to?

I often look at designers' websites.  They often show many photos of the designer's work, and you might find a solution.  Also, magazines and books always spark great ideas.

I have a white cowhide rug, but I don't have a place for it on the floor. Can I throw it on the back of a couch? Any other uses for it?

I visited a really stylish retail shop in Atlanta recently, and they had a white cowhide rug tossed over a long console table. I have to say that it looked really great. 


Not a question but a suggestion for the sliding glass doors. I have vertical draw blinds with matching valance in bedroom and family room . Both rooms overlook the back yard. Colors are part of the room decor. They are lightweight and adjustable for different light situations.

That's a great idea.  Lightweight is key.

Jennifer, thanks for answering my question. The Ikea cabinets are out of the question since my TV console is brand new and $$ so I'll keep it. If I get up the nerve to do wallpaper, I think it will look fantastic! Any recommendations for removable wallpaper in case I mess up? (@mangotomato)

There is a major paint brand that has removable wallpaper. I can't remember if it's Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore?? Whichever line it is, the paper is supposed to work well.

Two tipping questions! 1. How much to tip furniture delivery people? I tend to tip more if they have to take the piece to the second floor, but I'm never sure what the baseline should be. 2. We're in the home strech of remodeling our kitchen. The contractor and one worker have been working on it. We obviously pay the contractor, as he owns the company, but is it appropriate to tip the worker? He is a super nice guy, here more than the contractor is, and always leaves the workspace super clean. If we do tip him, how much? This is a full gutting of the kitchen, new floors, walls, cabinets, etc.

I think that depending on how heavy the piece is, $20 is a fair tip. If it's a full-day job, then a bigger tip is appropriate.

I would tip the worker who has been remodeling your kitchen.  I'm not sure how much you should tip him, though. $100? $200?

This has been great fun! Jura, thank you for having me.  And thank you everybody for your terrific questions. Happy Decorating!

Great chat and thanks for answering so many questions. 

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
Jennifer Boles
Jennifer Boles is an interior design blogger and author of "House Beautiful Fabrics for Your Home," and "In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z.." Boles's blog, The Peak of Chic, earned her a spot in the the Design Blogger's Hall of Fame in early 2012. Jennifer has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, Town & Country, Elle Decor, and Array.
Recent Chats
  • Next: