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

Dec 08, 2011

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

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Hi, everyone. Welcome to the chat. Only 2+ weeks until Christmas - try to get your holiday shopping and decorating done this weekend so you have time to relax and enjoy the season. Okay, lots of questions, so let's get started.

Please help. Do you have a good bedroom paint color with dark cherrywood furniture and a multi -colored quilt? Thank you.

I would go for a soothing color. Colony Green by Benjamin Moore comes to mind. Also Wisteria Blue by Martha Stewart for Home Depot.

Hi! Do you have eclectic home-gift ideas that don't involve gift cards? Or is that too touchy to try to do for friends, who may not have your same tastes? Thanks.

You're in luck. We just ran a holiday gift guide last week with 20 suggestions under $50. See it here.

Hi I love love love prints of haute couture fashion. Whether in old B&W, or, ink on paper sketches... I'd love to incorporate that into a room theme. Any non-cheesy way to do so? Should I limit it to some prints on the wall, and leave it at that? Also, what color paint should I use assuming the prints are B&W, and, the flooring is a medium-light hardwood... Right now the walls are builder-eggshell and the limited decor is more or less honey shades to dark brown (flooring, sofa, chairs). The large throw rug is hemp, also shades of brown but I can remove that. Thanks!

I think I would frame them all in the same style frame (maybe black with white matting) and hang them in a large grid on one wall.

I am looking for an "oversize" area rug, probably at least 11X14. Can you recommend some sources that won't break the bank? Overstock is usually my first stop, but they didn't have anything that really appealed. Thanks!

Overstock is a great idea for rugs. I would also try Green Front in Manassas or Farmville.  Try www.capelrugs.com and www.westelm.com or Ikea.

Could you please suggest an appropriate window treatment for my master bath? There are two windows (together) that open out, rather than up, by means of a crank handle on the inside of the windows. The screens are therefore on the inside of the window. I am stumped as to what to do.

I would go with a Roman shade that can be pulled up to let in light when you don't need privacy. It's also a great way to add color and pattern into the room, if you want to.

I loved this article...except for the suggestions for managing child custody over the holidays. As a former child of bitterly divorced parents, I suggest alternative approaches. Thanksgiving and Christmas / Chanukah are the two biggest holidays of the year. In my family it worked really well to divide as follows: we would spend Thanksgiving with one parent, and Christmas with the other...then switch the following year. If the parents live close enough, an alternative might include Christmas Eve with one parent, and Christmas day (10 or 11 am on) with the other, switching off in alternate years. Chanukah has 8 nights, so can be more easily shared. The worst thing you can do is be mad at your child for celebrating with someone else. When we tried to see both parents on Thanksgiving, the parent who got us second was inevitably hurt that we no longer had an appetite. Not a good way to build holiday memories. Work it out in the holiday spirit.

Such a sensitive and important topic. Thanks for sharing this. Everyone, if you haven't read it, check out the cover story in today's Local Living Keeping the Holidays Calm and Bright by Janice D'Arcy.

I'm loving these new House Calls -- at first I thought I'd wonder about the homeowners and this and that, but the anonymous factor kind of makes the tips more universal. Glad to see you guys changing things up -- and the suggestions are fun and helpful. Thanks!

Thanks for the comment! Glad to hear you are enjoying our special Holiday House Calls; we are, too.

We have a large wall space in our living room since there are very few windows. We desperately wanted to find something to creatively fill the space with -- so we got a triptych map -- but it just doesn't look right. Do you have ANY suggestions? We probably can't afford a huge painting and we have TONS of mirrors in the space already... Thanks!

First, a question: what about the map doesn't look right?

I plan to put my home on the market in the next year or so and I have two major ugly items to address. One is the all brick fireplace in the family room. It lacks a mantel, the dull red brick goes to the ceiling and the fireplace surround is an outdated brass. The other is the upstairs hall bathroom that is neutral in color -- tiles, walls, floor -- but entirely original to this 1978 house. They both need complete makeovers but I need to choose one or the other due to budget constraints. Which would be better for selling?

The bathroom would probably be a better investment of your money. But it sounds like the ugly red brick is calling out for paint - you could paint it the color of your walls or white, beige or black. The fact that the bathroom is in neutral tones is in your favor. Is the toilet, sink and tub in good shape? Maybe to save money you could take every single thing out of it, clean it thoroughly and buy new towels, shower curtain and rug. Don't put anything else in there to keep it simple. You could think about adding an inexpensive mantel in the living room too. 

Good morning! Like many folks, I enjoy decorating for the holidays and take some pride in the effects I have created. But the pictures I get of my handiwork invariably look underwhelming. As a former journalist, I'm actually a good photographer, but landscapes and portraits are my strong points, not home interiors. Any suggestions for taking good holiday (and non-holiday) home interior pictures?

Our art director (and trained photographer), Tippi Thole, offers these tips: 

1) Determine what you want to capture. Is it the entire room, a well-designed vignette on your mantel or something else? Room shots will require wide-angle lenses (probably 28mm - 35 mm). Detail shots will require a 50mm lens or longer so there isn't any distortion.

2) Use a tripod. To capture the ambiance of a room, natural light is best. To do this, the camera should be on a tripod (or a makeshift tripod like a stool, table, etc.). This will enable you to take longer exposures that will maximize pretty window light or showcase the glow of candles and Christmas lights.

I'm excited that we are putting our tree in the study this year which means it will be near (but not too near -- safety first!) the fireplace and will help our upcoming party traffic flow to this underutilized room. My question is, I'd also like a small tree in our living room. Is it too much to have two trees, if one is a table-top? And should the small one be decorated differently -- that is, without garland or a topper, or in a theme? I don't want my home to look Christmas tacky, but sometimes that line is hard to find. Thx

You don't mention if your home is large or small. If you put a table-top tree in your living room, maybe you should keep the decorations very simple. Garlands and toppers on a tiny tree may be over the top. Christmas is the time of year that you should enjoy your home and decorate it the way it makes you happy.

Do you know of a good affordable place to find contemporary ceiling fans? Either online or local (Virginia or DC preferred) recommendations would be greatly appreciated. I have extremely large rooms and need big fans and everything I have see seems so expensive for a ceiling fan. Thanks.

Have you looked on the Websites of Lowe's, Home Depot and Amazon? Keep looking as after Christmas and before the fan season there should be sales.

Our small bedrooms make it necessary to place furniture under or beside windows, so draperies can't go to the floor. We have pleated shades, but because the inside mount lets light in around the sides, we need something that at least covers the edges of the windows and frames. How long should the draperies be? And are valances out of style? I haven't seen any in recent designs.

Plantation shutters would probably allow the least amount of light into the room when closed. You could also do a Roman shade mounted above and on the outside of the window frame and extended just slightly beyond it for more coverage.

I have the same problem. Ikea and West Elm generally don't sell anything larger than 9 x 12. Your best bet might be to get a remnant and have it bound. Try Custom Carpets in Rockville or the one on Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda . . . can't remember the name.

I believe you are referring to Carpet Palace in Bethesda. A great resource for remnants.

Just saw a tweet that today only Dec 8 - all rugs at West Elm are 30 percent off! So for the person looking for an area rug, check this out.

The cushions on my Leathercraft leather sofa have worn and cracked so badly the furniture refinishers can't fix. Would you replace (I have the upholsterer who can) with leather from mfr. that is close, but not exact match or a contrasting chenille or other fabric?

I would definitely not do contrasting chenille fabric. If you think the rest of the sofa is still in good shape and the leather is pretty close as a match, I would go with the new leather cushions.

Hi! love the chats... I have a long dresser in my bedroom,, dark cherry, and I'm stumped as to how to decorate the top. I hate clutter but totally bare is no fun to look at first thing in the morning either. Tried a runner to soften it but then it kind of looks like a dining room table. Pretty candlesticks seem kind of cliched to me. Can you offer ideas on quirky, artsy, possibly functional tchotkes to dress it up? I've been looking for a long time but nothing is speaking to me. Are there any great sources for fun jewelry boxes for example? thanks for the help!

How about a pair of lamps? Or just one on one side and maybe a tray on the other to hold a stack of books, a pretty box or container, a smaller tray for everyday jewelry and a small vase with flowers? You could also try leaning a piece of art work on the dresser and against the wall near the lamp. Try out objects that appeal to you and have fun with it. 

Gorgeous, modern, affordable ceiling fans on ylighting.com

great, thanks!

I agree put the focus on the out dated bath, but everyone doesnt like painted brick, my self being one of them. Some buyers may like the original fireplace, just paint the brass black. But paint red brick, painted white or black like suggested will turn off buyers, just another opinion...

Another opinion noted.

I've really enjoyed the first two pieces. Great idea. Thanks for doing them and looking forward to more.

Thank you so much. Megan Buerger and I really enjoyed doing them. We have two more scheduled for the next two Thursday's in December by Megan that hopefully  you will also love.

Hi ladies, thanks for taking my question. I know you've covered this in the past and hopefully you can refresh my memory. I am cleaning out my parents' house and am collecting a huge amount of genealogy/family history ephemera -- papers, photos, other documents etc -- that my mother stored in hanging file folders in a file cabinet. The house is in south-west Florida and as you can imagine everything feels a bit damp. I know that's not the way to keep it around for the long term and I'm guessing acid-free storage boxes. I checked everything for mold and so far, it's all clear. Can you give me some helpful hints about how to store this sort of stuff? And maybe a store, online or real, that you suggest have good archival materials? I live in NYC. Thank you!

Get yourself a copy of Saving Stuff by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. It shows how to save everything of importance in your home. Container Store has acid free boxes. You should make sure everything is dry before putting it away.

swap out the toilet, sink, faucet, lighting fixture and mirror; either paint the vanity and install new hardware or swap it out. you can get a granite remnant cut down for about $200 for a 31" vanity. you CAN swap out a tub faucet by tunneling through the wall behind (if you're lucky it will be a closet). THEN: buy a trendy shower curtain, rug, and towel set. On the first pass, your potential buyers will register the bathroom as "updated" and on a second, more thorough showing, might decide that the house has enough other positive features to overlook a 30+ year old bathroom.

I agree with most of this, but would suggest avoiding "trendy" anything and stick with white curtain, rug and towel set instead. White always looks crisp and clean and when you eventually take it with you to use in your new home, it will work anywhere.

We have two small lamps on our fireplace mantle, plugged into an outlet in the middle. Any suggestions on how to hide/cover up the cords?

This is a real eye sore. For the holidays, you could put decorations or a garland on your mantel. Otherwise, you will have to figure out ways to cover it up using accessories. Would you consider battery operated lamps up there?

I have a couple of dispensers for 3-oz cups in various bathrooms. (They are spring loaded, and sit on the counter.) I'm redecorating a bathroom and cannot find them any more. A search of Bed Bath & Beyond only yields plastic, ceramic or metal cups. I think they are unsanitary, so don't want to go that route. Maybe I need a new search term?

When I have guests, I put these small cups in a small basket. I remember those spring loaded dispensers you mention, though. I think disposable cups are a thoughtful bathroom accessory, although I know they aren't the most eco-conscious choice.

I think it might look good to put a small area rug next to my bed, but on top of the carpeting. The carpet is a medium gray frieze (solid color) and the colors in the room are gray walls with black & white toile and red accents. I was thinking one of those long haired fur rugs. Would that look tacky?

You mean a faux fur rug? Well, since not that many people will see your bedroom, (although I guess I don't know that for a fact!) I say go with what will make you happy when you wake up in the morning!

I saw where someone had replacement seat cushions for a leather sofa made with fabric that looked like Indian/horse blanket. It had a cool, Sundance, western vibe, if that would work with her style.

I agree. But that look might not go with the rest of her room. That's a pretty specific look and will look out of place unless there is a woodsy feel to the room.

I would place a jewelry tree on the bedroom dresser. It's functional, artistic, and depending on what pieces you hang from it, would have sentimental value.

Another idea..

I agree with the poster who said many buyers hate painted brick. Many actually like the rustic look of the red brick and especially hate the idea of stripping it if the paint starts peeling. If it looks dull, try cleaning the brick and mortar to freshen it up and put a light colored decorative screen in front of it, such as a brushed nickel screen that you can get for less than $100.

A new screen is a good idea. I still personally would prefer painted brick to a the look of bad red brick.

Try Novica.com. I especially like the handcarved painted ones from South America.


If you're looking for something plain, go to any good carpet store and have them custom-cut and bind a piece of a carpet you like (maybe a remnant) for you.


also get new switch plates and outlet covers. its a quick cheap way to spruce things up. especially if they have been painted over like mine. get them slightly larger than the ones you have now and it will cover any dings or paint mistakes.

Nice idea, although some people don't like the look of the light switched and outlet covers on the wall and prefer they "disappear" under a coat of the wall color.

I want to paint all of my trim white. It is currently stained walnut. When I went to choose paint, I discovered there are at least 100 shades of white. What is a good white for trim?

You are right. There are so many choices!!  Benjamin Moore's Decorator's White or Linen White are two very popular selections.

Suggested items: Family photos in elegant silver frames, pretty beaded fabric jewelry boxes from Pier One, Home Goods or Anthropologie. Leather jewelry boxes from Pottery Barn. Small art glass or pretty pottery. And..dare I say it...striking faux silk flowers -- one or two stems -- will do a lot to soften all the hard edges. Any lamp should have a lovely textured fabric shade.

Fluff on.

I'm another one who strongly disagrees with the suggestion to paint the brick. Unless you get an expert to do it ($$$), it usually looks terrible. And I'd guess that most people prefer the natural color. I once lived in a house where we tried to remove icky looking paint from brick, and man, was that a mess! Never again. Better idea: add a simple mantel, and see if you can pick out a subtle color from the brick and find a candle or two in that color, or its complement, to put on the mantel. That might liven up the "deadness" of the color, and highlight the fireplace better.

Another opinion. Thanks.

Ceiling fans: go to a good lighting/electrical supply store like Annapolis Lighting or Rexel to look at fans. Not sure if they'll fit your "affordable" range, but at least you will get to see them in person and find the styles you like best.

Thanks for the tip.

What's the best way to hang garland around a doorway or room transition? I don't want to damage the molding, but I can't think of any other way than using small nails or a staple gun.

Have you ever tried those removeable clear plastic hooks from 3M? See them here.

Go for it! My parents usually have the main tree in the living room with a knee-high tree sitting on the stair landing leading to the second floor. The second tree is really simple, just little red bows (the pre-tied kind you find at craft stores) for ornaments. It doesn't distract from the main tree, even though you can see both from the front door, and it gives a little cheer to an otherwise blank space.

Go for it agreed.

I've also been meaning to buy a floor rug, but this is my first rug purchase and I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the options. If I'm primarily looking for a rug to help with heat retention in a hardwood-floor apartment, do you have any suggestions as to what in particular I should be looking for?

I think the main thing about getting heat retention is to get a great thick pad, good quality pad underneath your rug. Consider wool and look for a tight weave.

For many years, we hung sheer curtains under our swags-and-valences in the living and dining rooms. Finally I got sick of the sheers and have tossed them out. Would Venetian blinds look appropriate under them? We have white or eggshell wood blinds in the back of the house (family room and kitchen) and I'm wondering if we should just do the same thing in the front. Would it look odd if we used a different color, like a maple or other natural wood, in front if we have the white ones in back? The white I think would look a bit stark with the more traditional colors of our furnishings that we have in the front of the house.

I would go with wood blinds over Venetian, for sure. And, no, it wouldnt be odd to use a different color than white. Go with the color that best suits your room.

good call on the light switches...swap out the actual toggle switches and make sure the electrical outlets and over the tub lights are up to code (GFI).

Thanks for continuing the conversation.

Does anyone remember the episode of trading spaces several years ago where the one neighbor said do whatever you want but dont paint my fireplace. So of course they painted the fireplace and the woman started crying during the big reveal and stormed off the set. Im sure they figured out a way to unpaint that. Just clean the brick and add a mantel.

Not worth crying over!

Wow, that went by fast. Lots of great questions and suggestions today. Thanks for joining us. Chat with you next week.

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.

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