The Washington Post

Kerra Michele Huerta | Home Front

Kerra Huerta
Aug 06, 2015

Kerra is an interior and event designer and the writer behind the popular design blog, AptEnvy.com, a site dedicated to improving the lifestyles of those renting the American Dream. The Seattle transplant and a long-time renter herself, Kerra specializes in small space design and planning, and aims to create warm, eclectic spaces with an effortless West Coast style. She uses her own 560-square-foot, one-bedroom rental in Dupont Circle as a laboratory for her DIY and space planning skills. Recently, she overhauled her mid-century influenced apartment to a more feminine direction.

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.

Kerra Michele Huerta of Apartment Envy took her design talents to her own one bedroom rental place on Dupont Circle using lots of wonderful DIY tricks. Read the article here. She is here now to answer your questions 

Today, the person who submits the best budget DIY hack idea will receive this cool just published book "Absolutely Beautiful Things: Decorating Inspiration for a Bright and Colourful Life" by Anna Spiro (Octopus Books; $29.99) Just submit your idea and wait until the end of the chat. I will announce the winner and then you should email me your mailing address at konciusj@washpost.com.

Good morning, and thank you so much for having me, Jura! I'm excited to answer everyone's great questions!

Very excited to see your new apartment, Kerra. I've been a fan of your work for awhile now. I'd like to hear more about the flooring you used in your bathroom, since I have similar small bath with a bad floor for which I'd like a non-expensive fix. So you just slap that new flooring down over the old floor and that's it? Did you put down one big sheet and then cut around the toilet and other fixtures? I would worry about messing up the installation so any tips would help. Also, I'm intrigued that you paint your bedroom in dark colors. How do you avoid making it feel cave-like or, even worse, like you live in a basement? I'm wary of dark colors in a bedroom.

I'm so happy you like my flooring trick! What I did was get an area rug size that was big enough to cover the entire area, then measure the perimeter and cut it down to fit. (I did mine with a boxcutter outside on my building's shared terrace.) Once I got it inside, I carefully cut around the toilet and voila! Ugly tile gone! Tip: Make sure your knife is very sharp so you get clean lines, and you're cutting on a surface that wouldn't be ruined by the knife!

 

As for the bedroom, I always try to balance dark with light. For example, in my bedroom, the walls are black but the bedding and headboard is white. This keeps the room from feeling like you're entering a black hole and makes the bright white bed that much more inviting.

I have a blank space over my buffet table in my dining room. Looking for a piece of art that's affordable and stylish. Any suggestions on where to look??

Those big empty spaces can be tricky! There are a few things you can do to fill a large wall space:

1. Check out flea markets, thrift stores, and consignments stores for inexpensive vintage art. You can find really big ones (like the one above my fireplace) for cheap, and they're usually framed! A couple of my favorite places to look are Off The Beaten Track (DC) and Sloans & Kenyon (Bethesda).

2. Blow up one of your favorite photos! If you're anything like me, you have thousands on your phone right now. Upload them to an online printing service and get them as wrapped canvases, or have them printed poster size and put them in a big IKEA Ribba frame. Both are inexpensive solutions! Try Costco (if you have a membership) or Mpix.com for printing.

3. Same as above, but try it with gorgeous fabric or wrapping paper! I often bring home fabric from my travels and wrapping a blank canvas from an art supply store is a great way to display it.

4. Cluster multiple frames together for a grid or organic gallery wall. IKEA is my favorite option for budget frames and, if you get all the same color frame, you can mix and match art with photos in the same grouping.

Hi Kerra, I love your apartment! Where did you get the coffee table in the living room? I have been wanting a square glass one with a shelf like that for years. And why are square coffee tables so hard to find?

Thank you so much! The pair of small square iron and glass tables in my old apartment are Pottery Barn knockoffs I found on Overstock.com. The large mirror, glass, and brass rectangular table I have now is a Horchow knockoff I found on Amazon.com.

Jura, I'm looking for a new comforter that will work in the summer and in winter. In the UK, I've seen sets you can buy that have one lightweight comforter (duvet) for summer, a medium weight one for spring/fall, and for winter, you can fasten the two together to make a really thick, warm duvet. I can't find anything like that here. Have you ever seen anything like this in the U.S.?

Yes! Try Cuddledown.

I am slowly updating my décor (on a budget) and I have 2 custom made Masland area rugs (formal living & dining) that were great in the 90's but now look dated because of the mauve color. I was thinking of just going with solid gray remnant to make the space look a little more casual and updated. Should I hang on to my old rugs? Is mauve coming back any time soon? I'm having anxiety about getting rid of them. They don't look awful but definitely dated. Thoughts?

I'm personally a huge fan of mixing those vintage rugs with more modern decor. I do it all the time in my client homes! To make the mauve more current, mix it with an unexpected color and freshen up the whole room. If you can't afford to get a contemporary sofa (or other large furnishings) right now, try adding in accessories in your new bold color. Try celery green as an accent to the mauve -- unexpected and modern combo!

Good Morning! I have an 11 year old couch that I purchased from SCAN furniture which is no longer in business and I am faced with a dilema of needing to get it repaired-the base is sagging in the center and not supporting the two seat cushions (this is a no spring base) or replacing it but I am at a loss to figure out how to find a good match for the chair that matches the sofa-or how to find a complimentary piece? thanks so much!

A good upholsterer should be able to fix that for you, so worry not! I highly recommend my regular upholster, Yi's Interiors. They're fast, friendly, and do lovely work!

I thought that the home front designers would stop featuring lamps seemingly unattached to outlets--in today's room remake, I wonder who will trip over the cords on the floor lamp and lamp on the end tables. Perhaps the cost of floor outlets should be considered in the redecorating budgets!

Lamp cords are tricky! What I always do with all cords (not just lamps but also TV and computer cords) is run them under the area rug. It's a sneaky trick, but it works!

The code is HF1741 

I need to get more organized with small drawers to put my things in. However, I cannot afford those large apothecary pieces with lots of drawers. There is some Martha Stewart craft furniture that has a lot of short drawers (height-wise) at Home Decorators but I would have to really stretch my budget for it. I looked at Ikea's Kallax with drawers but the individual drawer size may be a little larger than what I am looking for. However, a wall of these would be great. Ikea also had Alex cabinets with a lot of short drawers but it has an unfinished look because of the cutout space where you open the drawers instead of drawer pulls. Do you have any ideas?

Whenever I have a storage dilemma I always go back to me favorite piece of furniture: The dresser. If you've seen my bathroom, you know the vanity is practically nonexistent. For my makeup and small toiletries, I use small gift boxes I've received and saved (bottoms and lids) within the drawers to house my small items to keep them organized in the drawers. I use dressers in my clients' homes needing small space solutions also, especially near the front door. They use the top drawer for mail, and the other drawers for hats, scarves, grocery totes, etc. Then the top is free for a leaning frame and maybe a bar tray. A vintage dresser is very inexpensive on Craigslist and you can find them in almost any style!

Hi Kerra, and thanks for doing this chat, the photos of your work look amazing. I dream of having a beautiful home like that, but it's so daunting, and of course, I'm on a budget. Every time I get up the gumption to, say, paint, or buy new living room furniture, I start to think of all of the other things I want to do, too -- replace closet doors, add closet organizers, upgrade my kitchen, etc. -- and then "home improvement" feels too big and I get overwhelmed and abandon it. Do I really need to tackle all of these things (and the decisions involved) at the same time, or is there a good way you can recommend to chunk it up? Thanks!

I feel your pain! It took me 11 months to transform my tiny apartment, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Here's a way to break it down so you don't get so overwhelmed:

1. Make a list of the rooms you want to freshen up.

2. Make a list of everything you'd like to fix/change in that room.

3. Every time you have a free night, day, or weekend, take a peek at your list and do a project.

There's no "correct" order in which to do it -- especially when doing little projects -- so just pick things you're in the mood for and check them off the list as you go. It will feel good to see the list slowly dwindle, and seeing the progress with help you stay positive! Good luck!

Can I use a short patterned wool plush rug in dining room? I recently fell in love with one and would love to use it there to brighten up the room.

Yes! I love rugs in dining rooms! And wool really holds up well. Just make sure your rug is bigger than your dining table. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the rug is about 24 inches large than the table on all sides.

I had a few old calendars from 2014 and did not want to throw them out. Decided to tape the pretty images inside of my kitchen cabinets: every time I open them, I smile ;)

Neat!

Kerra Michele, I love your sense of adventure when it comes to design. We really want to show off our photography on our stair wall going upstairs but unlike yours it does not get a lot of natural light so I don't think it will look great and the photos won't be appreciated. Should we install some kind of light on the wall? Issue 2: we have a large painted portrait of my in laws that we *have* to keep on that wall and the size and style are not of anything else we want to hang there. Any ideas to make it stand out less? (We may try spray painting the huge gold frame.) Thanks!

That's definitely a tricky situation! If it's really not your style but you must keep it hung up, I would say paint or switch out the frame and put it on a different wall. If you have it in the middle of your gallery wall you will love and appreciate all the other things less. Hanging it on its own in a less conspicuous area would probably be your best bet.

As for the lighting, if you own I would definitely have a contractor come out and install some simple recessed lights in the ceiling there. If you rent, some wall lamps will do the trick nicely!

I'm not a very DIY person - just not my gift / skillset. One project I did do though was a DIY makeup area - two wall-mounted floating shelves, one mirror, and three hooks for necklaces. Takes up way less room than a vanity and chair.

Cool idea.

We took an IKEA children's wood table and stapled laminated fabric to the top. Now it's a super easy-to-clean table that we use for breakfast and lunch for the littles, saving our nicer dining room table from their destruction.

Great idea. Thanks for sharing.

For a super inexpensive, DIY, check out my pallet coffee table. Pallet: free ($5 cab ride). Labor: free (me, myself and I). The only cost involved the stains and the top coat and the wheels. I absolutely love it. Someone even stole my photos and tried to sell it on Etsy!

Good for you! It looks super!

Love your apartment. How do you decide on your color palettes and how do you work with samples or sketches, etc. before going all in on a gallon of paint?

Thank you! For my own apartment, I got my palette from the vintage painting I fell in love with and huge above my fireplace. For my clients, I often take my palette from artwork they already have or, of they don't have much to go off of, I ask to see their closet. I believe that everyone should look gorgeous and perfect in their own homes, so I try to start with colors they look best in! This often involves a trip to the closet.

When selecting paint for walls, I recommend buying a sample and painting swatches. It's important to paint a swatch on every wall in the room because light hits each wall differently, and also look at the color swatch at different times of day before committing.

Thank you! I do have a modern couch and large pieces (baby grand piano) so this makes me feel better about keeping them. I may replace the one with the most mauve and leave the one with the one mauve swirl. Not a fan of celery green. The other colors in the room are gray, cream and black. Any other suggests on another color to bring in?

Trust me. Celery green is your answer ;) Just pull it in with other neutral accents. You only need a pop here and there.

You can repurpose a teapot as a cute vase for fresh flowers. You only need to pick up 3 or 4 stems to create a small bouquet.

Nice idea. Thanks.

I have a red sofa. I'm moving to a new place with aqua countertops. They won't be in the same room, but the floor plan is semi-open so I will need the wall colors to flow between the two. I would really like to avoid white or beige. Any suggestions?

I hate to say it but the red sofa and aqua counters should probably be the end of your color infusion right there. Putting a third color on the walls will probably overwhelm the space a bit too much. Beige walls wouldn't work work with that palette but a nice gray would, if you don't like the idea of white. Try Benjamin Moore "Nimbus" -- it's one of my favorite pale gray paints! A dark gray could work too, if you prefer that, but just make sure to try swatches on the wall first to be sure they don't go green or brown.

I wanted to hang art over a large sectional sofa, but because of the size, I couldn't find anything in my limited budget. So, while I have no artistic training, I decided to DIY an abstract art project. I visited an art store and bought a huge canvas, paint and supplies. We ended up with a unique abstract art piece, in a scale that works and saved hundreds of dollars!

You are brave! Great it worked out.

Hey Kerra! Beautiful work on your apt redo. Looks AMAZING! I see you have a lot of natural lighting in your apt - totally jealous. How would you suggest brightening up a small apartment that has little to no natural lighting? Fun colors, lots of lamps, one huge lamp? Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Thanks!

Thank you very much! I am so lucky to have a corner apartment and I can understand your frustrations. My place gets great natural light during the day but, as with with most apartments, there's virtually no overhead lighting! Arg! Who designed these buildings, anyway??

My advice to everyone, not just people with limited natural light, is to have several lamps placed throughout the room. At night they create a nice ambiance and make us look much better than we do in overhead lighting. (Which, let's be honest, is super important.) Beyond that, I would suggest adding color to punch things up a bit. You don't have to have white walls just because it's a dark, small space. In fact, I generally embrace dark spaces and own it by keeping the palette dark and cozy. But it's really up to your personal style and preference!

I am a novice quilter, who would never have the patience to complete an entire quilt. So I completed four 12" squares with complimentary designs/fabrics, framed them, and hung them in my entry way. Colorful and inexpensive.

Bravo!

Where do you like to find furniture? Accessories?

My thing is mixing old a new, so I go to lots of different places to find my goodies! For new things where quality is required (like sofas that will see heavy use, for example), I love Room & Board and Restoration Hardware. Both stores offer lots of shapes and styles, and it's easy to customize the fabrics and finishes for each individual client. I also find great deals on Jossandmain.com, allmodern.com, wayfair.com, overstock.com, and amazon.com all the time!

For used items, my favorite local places are Off The Beaten Track and Sloans & Kenyon, but also I troll Craigslist.org and Krrb.com daily!

What are your favorite shops in your own neighborhood?

The Dupont area has some awesome shops! For furniture and accessories, my favorite local shop is Hudson & Crane. They have a fantastic eclectic mix and great prices on art, furniture, and accessories. Salt & Sundry is another nearby favorite, and they have a lot of fabulous kitchen and home accessories.

I took 2 old rakes, kept the metal rake parts and threw out the wooden handles. Then they were painted white and hung on my bedroom wall. They are handy for necklaces and scarves and add interest to the wall.

This is REALLY cool!. Wow amazing recycling.

Is there anything you regret selling?

Ooooohhhh... Good question...

I don't think so. There were a few things I wasn't sure about selling initially, so I held on to those until I was sure they wouldn't work in the new space. Ultimately getting rid of everything and starting over was a positive thing for me, so it all felt good in the end :)

Hello! What an amazing apartment!! Love everything about it but fell especially in love with the two large posters of Roman place names. I bet it's a list of metro stations. Where did you find them?? I was born in Rome, love and miss Rome so much!! Thanks for any help you can give me!! And again, congratulations! Mirella

Thank you! Those are the Roman subway stations, yes! I lived in Rome in college and these are special to me -- some of the only things I kept from my old place! I found those on fab.com about 3 years ago. I hope you find some!

Kerra: Thanks so much for letting us see your fab redecorated home. And thank you for answering so many questions on the chat. Great tips and great inspiration. The winner of the book is the person who used the old rakes for jewelry organization - very creative. Send me your email at konciusj@washpost.com and you'll be sent your book Absolutely Beautiful Things. Home Front will be taking a two week vacation - yippee - and hope you guys will be doing some fun things in August to chill and regroup. Meanwhile, join us again on Thursday August 27 when our chat guest will be Kim Lewis, a very creative designer from ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and an expert on tiny homes. She has offices in Los Angeles and Austin, Tx. Should be a great chat. Until then...

I have a dark entryway in my apartment. I would like to put a dresser with some lighting on it. However, there are NO outlets in the entryway. The closest outlet is in the hallway and would be a hazard. I have been looking for cordless lamps but they are $400 plus. any ideas?

I hate it when apartments have no lighting or outlets! So annoying! I often run extension cords along the baseboard when I need an outlet, and that's probably your cheapest, easiest fix. Good luck!

A big THANK YOU again to Jura and all of you lovelies for your fantastic questions! It was a pleasure! Please follow my blog for more tips, and don't hesitate to email me any time with questions in the future!

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 • Find Jura on Pinterest
Kerra Huerta
Kerra is an interior and event designer and the writer behind the popular design blog, AptEnvy.com, a site dedicated to improving the lifestyles of those renting the American Dream.
Recent Chats
  • Next: