Sophie Donelson of 'House Beautiful' | Home Front

Sophie Donelson
May 28, 2015

Sophie Donelson is editor in chief of "House Beautiful." Previously, she served as editor in chief of "Hamptons Cottages & Gardens," and held senior editorial positions at "Elle Decor," Martha Stewart’s "Blueprint" and "City" magazines.

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.

Excited to have Sophie Donelson, editor in chief of "House Beautiful" on the chat today. Sophie and I had coffee recently when she was in town for an event at the Washington Design Center. She has so many great ideas for the magazine. Plus she is really fun. Previously, she served as editor in chief of "Hamptons Cottages & Gardens," and held senior editorial positions at "Elle Decor," Martha Stewart’s "Blueprint" and "City". Sophie is really plugged into to what's going on in design today. So let's get going.

Meanwhile, I have a book prize this week that is fab. "Beyond Chic: Great Fashion Designers at Home" by Ivan Terestchenko, an $85 Vendome book. You can win the prize by posting the best answer to this question: What was the best thing you did to freshen up your home this spring? Winner will be announced at the end of the chat. Email me your mailing address to:


Just a reminder that you can now earn 15 PostPoints each time you participate in our Home Front chat. Just record the weekly code that we'll post during the chat and enter it into the PostPoints Web site under Claim My Points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it each Thursday to get credit for participating. Today's code is: HF3474

Jura, I'm such a fan – I'm so excited to be here with you!

This one is for Jura...I recently stayed in a hotel where I had a big, fluffy duvet that felt super light but kept me warm in the air conditioning. Not only did it feel great to sleep under, it also made the bed look really nice. My duvet at home is flat and limp in comparison. I bought it from PB, so it wasn't a super cheap option. Any thoughts on where I can get a loftier, fluffier one?

Company Store has wonderful duvets with various fillers - lightweight to heavier. Also has a good selection.  Yours sounds like it is dead, but you might try putting it in the dryer with a a few tennis balls to see if it fluffs up! Don't use dryer sheets and use a low setting.

^^ I'm a big Company Store fan, too – great price, and I love the colorful duvets.

Great to hear  you like their selection.

I was going to say not a thing, but then I remembered. I made a table centerpiece from shells we collected at Sanibel Island, and purchased a new printed tablecloth. Brings back fond beach vacation memories everyday at breakfast and dinner.


In answer to your question we are as we speak having custom shelving built-ins installed around and over most of our massive brick fireplace in our family room after 20 years of a bare fireplace. It will brighten the room with lit shelves, hide a lot of brick (do not like to paint brick) and provide pocket doors over the mantle to place a flat screen TV and hide as needed. It will all be painted in a "bleached almond". We will also replace out the fireplace doors with something black (have the old brass doors). We are excited and think it will really change the room around. Now we have a place for some spring flowers and other items to bring more variety and color into the room

Sounds really nice! Investing in some custom shelving brings a sense of architecture to a room. The new fireplace doors sound modern and stylish. Good for you!

What is the best way to use color and style to unite a home? We have four rooms on the main level: dining room and living room across the entry hall from each other, family room and kitchen behind those two rooms. The informal rooms are a warm brownish-yellow, red, and green; the formal rooms have antique furniture against pale green (so pale it looks like yellow) walls. Somehow they feel like two totally different spaces to me, instead of part of a unified whole. How could I handle this better?

I don't totally mind what you've done here – that the formal and informal side each have a look. But if you're looking to use the formal side more (these are what I often call the "walk-by" rooms) you're right to consider uniting the colors. What about doing a bit of a deeper green, or a more true yellow for those family spaces? Something that feels in keeping with the formal side, but only a step or two off? Also, try looking at paint company marketing materials: Often, they'll promote a "collection" of paints, i.e. a family of colors that work beautifully together. Take that and run with it. It's hard to miss it up from there.

I'm a few months away from moving out of my cramped 300 sf studio into a larger one bedroom. I'm excited to start furnishing the new place but I'd really like to find some pieces that aren't direct from Ikea/West Elm/Crate and Barrel/etc. I don't have a huge budget either. Can you recommend some good places for used furniture? I'd be willing to drive outside the city area and am willing to refurbish, if needed. Thanks!

Oh, that's exciting! We just moved into a larger place, too – it's dreamy. First off: start local. Visit local antiques shop and second-hand stores and make a CASH offer. Great language is: "Would you take $80 for this side table?" and have the cash in your hand when you ask. (Who could resist!) Craiglist is a great one; I especially love narrowing my search to the fancier neighborhoods in my area ;) THEN, try the apps and sites like Chairish and Viyet – they offer local pickup AND shipping options!

I am moving into a new home that was freshly painted in a very neutral tone. Given the open floor plan, the living room, dining room, and kitchen flow together, and I'm stumped on how to paint--should it be one shade throughout the entire floor to keep the flow intact, or different shades as you enter each space? Any suggestions on colors to think about?

Congrats to you. Both your impulses are right. Using color is a great way to say "you are here", so, if you want to define a sitting nook to feel more welcoming, for example, I'd choose a color specifically for that location. A nice way to keep the flow united is to work up and down a paint chip. Most companies have 3-6 colors on a single swatch and by picking one – plus a complementary color or two on that chip, you'll ensure a consistent, pleasing look. And don't forget that even if you choose ONE color, the light, architecture and shadows will differentiate the spaces. My last apt was Farrow & Ball Skylight and it was shocking how beautifully different each room looked.

Hi Sophie! My boyfriend's style is minimalist, but mine is more colorful and active. Is there a middle ground for us?

You should probably just throw in the towel and save yourself the heartache. KIDDING! Listen, I've been there. There IS middle ground, but, my first suggestion to choose the spaces the mean the MOST to each of you. So, if you use the living room most but he's at the kitchen counter, then, make your style be known in each space. I feel for you: There's only ONE white room in our apartment and that's my husband's office. He's welcome to do whatever he wants there. ;)

I would ask the hotel where they get them. They might be happy to share that info. They might even sell them.

So true! I love the Westin Heavenly Bed and all its trappings. Westin sells everything on the bed, from the pillow-top mattress to the pillow shams. They have several duvet choices. Many of their guests swear by the great night's sleep they get at Westin hotels.

I have a stone fireplace with a simple cherry mantel. I like a traditional look with earthy, natural accessories. I need some advice on accessories that will work with a stone fireplace. I don't want the accessories to fade into the natural beauty of the stone & get lost.

Good question! Go BOLD is what I say. Nix any bitsy little pieces and choose pieces that will stand out against the stone. Think about how much more impact a large ceramic bowl or a set of big, turned wood candlestick will make than small items such as framed pictures and tchochkes.

Easily the best thing I did to freshen my home for spring was to take a quick photo of each of my main rooms and then look at the photo with a critical eye. It led me to make some color changes with pillows and other things I can easily and relatively inexpensively switch out (e.g. Wayfair has some great deals on throw pillows where you can get two for under $30!!) but also furniture and art arrangement. Best thing I've done in years!

Super idea! And an easy one for everyone to try. Wondering if you showed any of the photos to style savvy friends?

1) Invited an intern to stay with us for a month this summer, which forces us to clear out the guest closet. 2) Decluttered, especially electronics that we never use. 3) Haven't done it yet, but are about to get a cat for our cat, who is lonely.

Love all your ideas. I've recently been the guest in several homes. And I can tell you I really appreciate opening a closet and finding some space as well as some hangers, both for jackets and pants. Electronic decluttering is something we all must do. I have a box of mystery cords - haven't needed any of them in years. They need to go OUT. How lovely of you to get another cat for your cat!

I can't be the first to inquire about the color that was already on the walls in that room. They're beautiful! I would love to know what kind of paint/color it is.

My colleague Mari-Jane Williams has come up with the answer: Benjamin Moore Sea Star.

I live in a smaller apartment in NYC and I love to have guests over. What are any entertaining staples you can recommend? I am in the market for a chic bar cart.

I recently saw a room by Elizabeth Pyne that had a great solution for this. She used a higher-than-average height cocktail table between two chairs so that the guests on those chairs could drink and snack without hunching over or leaning over to a center coffee table. Also, that project was filled with round-back chairs because they can be backed into a corner unlike a square club chair, which wastes a lot of space. A bar cart is SO cute, but, for space-saving reasons, you might consider corralling your beverages, cocktail glasses, etc. into a single cabinet in the kitchen – you can direct guests there and it'll feel special. Maybe even add a mirror panel to the inside – for a little fancy!

We bought a roomba. Coming home to a just-vacuumed space is a great change from having to deal with the litter and hair our cats seem to track everywhere (love them dearly but they can create quite a mess).

Another cat related improvement! Good for you - it's a great idea. Meanwhile, how do your cats react to the movement of the vacuum around the room?

white paint?

The Resource section in the magazine is studded with references of Benjamin Moore White Dove (OC-17) and I'm also partial to their Swiss Coffee (OC-45). And, Pointing, from Farrow & Ball is a favorite of our team, too – it's very rich and alluring for white! Not at all bland...

This is what I do every spring: Change out the flannel sheets and down comforters on my beds to cool cotton and linen sheets and light quilts; lighter throw pillows on the sofas; clean out the fireplace and put candles in there instead of logs; a new wreath on the door and pots of flowers on the front walkway. And I get the windows washed! HB

You rock!

The cats don't mind the roomba for some reason. They hate our other vacuum but for some reason they've decided the roomba is fine. Which is strange since it's about as loud as the normal vacuum but they are cats.

You never know with cats!

What color trends do you see for this year? I need new paint colors for my bedroom and den.

Color Crush is one of the magazine's most loved columns – it also happens to be one of the most fun to edit. The editors pow-wow each month after attending dozens of trade shows and industry events and chat about what we've seen. It's so fun to see the colors we "predict" show up all over the market months later. Two of recent note: "Mist" – which is a pale, watery green-blue-grey and "Blush." Both would work fabulously in the bedroom. Pick the one you'd more likely wear. Per your den – make sure to view paint swatches in the light of the room. There's a difference from a TV-watching space with low light and a brighter reading room. If the latter, check our the June issue about painting sunny rooms. Black Fox by Sherwin-Williams for the former – designer Susan Ferrier loves this one!

I walked around my front and back yard and found some fabulous greenery to bring inside. My favorites were graceful and varigated solomon seal in a tall, clear glass cylindrical vase. And it didn't cost a thing!

Free! The best.

I love the spare and modern canopy beds. And while I have a cathedral ceiling in my bedroom, I only have a couple of feet on either side of the king bed. Will a canopy (no fabric on top, obviously) overwhelm the room?

I think it can work! We've seen a few beautiful modern frames in the magazine lately (like the Gerrie bed from Bremermann Designs), they're wonderful. But since you have a cathedral ceiling (!), you might want to consider a headboard that complements or mimics that shape – drawing the eye upward to this great feature.

Sophie - you zipped through a lot of great questions with wonderful answers. Thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a lot of fun.

As for the winner of the beautiful Beyond Chic book: it's the person who photographed their rooms and then studied how they could change the details. This is something we could all do. This chatter should email me their mailing address at and we will get the book off to you. Thanks a lot everyone for being on this chat. Next week: Charlotte Moss and we have a great prize: a copy of her latest garden book signed by Charlotte herself. Have a great week.

My kitchen is overflowing with pots, pans, wooden spoons and the like. We can't fit everything in our drawers and cabinets! Is there an interesting and functional way to use other wall space for this? These aren't necessarily the kinds of pots and pans you want to show off.

Declutter! There's a great closet trick where you hang clothing hangers one way, and, when you wear the outfit and rehang it, the hangers go the other way. In a month you can tell very clearly which clothing is worn, and which isn't touch. Do the same for your kitchen. You probably have 4-5 workhorse pots and pans and others that are Thanksgiving-season only. Move those into deep storage – and rid yourself of the rest! Same for spoons. You need 3 – max! – one for baking/sweet, one for onions/savory and an extra because I'm being nice :)

That was crazy-fun Jura! Your readers are smart – I hope they become my readers, too! :)

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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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Sophie Donelson
Sophie Donelson is editor in chief of "House Beautiful." Previously, she served as editor in chief of "Hamptons Cottages & Gardens," and held senior editorial positions at "Elle Decor," Martha Stewart’s "Blueprint" and "City" magazines.
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