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How to customize your home with designer Keira St. Claire | Home Front

Keira St. Claire-Bowery
Jun 22, 2017

Keira St. Claire is an interior designer at Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md. She blends architectural elements with finishes and furnishings in residential projects, whether big or small, contemporary or traditional. St. Claire helped the owner of an Adams Morgan rowhouse creatively display his art collection in the basement where he himself lives. The modern renovation is featured in the upcoming issue of the Washington Post Magazine, read it here.

St. Claire can answer your questions on how to personalize your space even if you don’t have an 40-piece art collection.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Keira St. Claire is an interior designer at Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md. She blends architectural elements with finishes and furnishings in residential projects. St. Claire helped the owner of an Adams Morgan rowhouse creatively display his art collection in the basement where he himself lives. The modern renovation is featured in the upcoming issue of the Washington Post Magazine, read it here. Let's chat.

Hi everyone. Thank you for inviting me to join you for the weekly Home Front chat. I am honored to be here and excited to answer your questions about interior design and customizing your home. Let’s have some fun!

We just purchased a home and one room that I really love happens to have wood paneled walls … which I hate. Our style is transitional- leaning toward contemporary- we love natural sunlight, calming and sophisticated colors clean lines and minimal frills. We are not ready to invest in remodeling. Is there ANYTHING I can do to change the walls or are there treatments I can use to at least minimize the wood look?

I love this question! Your predicament actually presents a great opportunity to create a striking and unique aesthetic. Because you want to make the space feel brighter, I would paint the wood paneling. Select a light paint color- an off-white or pale blue would be beautiful- in a satin or semi-gloss lacquer finish.

I have a fear of hanging art or framed photography and then not liking where I placed it. I know I can take it down and patch the walls or start all over, but is there a formula for deciding what art will look good where? Are there simple steps I can follow about how to group art?

Great question! Planning to hang art is an important step and there are lots of easy ways to think things out before committing to your walls with nails… especially when designing a gallery wall. Take measurements of all your art (with frames) and create paper templates using craft paper, then using painters tape, experiment with different configurations. You can re-position the paper templates on the wall until you have the perfect placement. 

Good morning! I painted several rooms over the winter and early spring. Off whites and light warm grey. Now that the leaves are fully out the rooms now have a greenish glow/tinge which I do not care for, since the wall colors are altered. Any ideas how to choose paint colors to avoid this issue? I am not cutting down the trees. Thank you for taking my question.

Greys and whites come with many undertones. It sounds like your grey paint has a green or taupe undertone which perhaps the leaves are emphasizing. When selecting colors make sure to pay attention to the undertone of the color. If you are not confident about identifying the undertones, I highly recommend hiring a professional. Many interior design firms, including Anthony Wilder, provide paint consultation services that are easy and affordable.

We have a light color 2 story brick house that looks good on its own, but needs a little pop of color. What color would be best for the little bit of trim around the wood front door and windows (13)? I plant flowers every year that help, but still, once the flowers are gone, the house has a blah curb appeal. Shutters are everywhere in my suburban neighborhood and I wish to be a little different from the majority. Thank you!

Without seeing your home, the first color that comes to mind is blue. Check out this house we did a few years back. Although it has shutters, you could paint the inside trim around the door a deep blue. Although, I do think it’s important that whomever suggests a color see your house first. Many interior design firms, including Anthony Wilder, provide paint consultation services that are easy and affordable, here's a link.

What are some good ideas for stair carpeting? I have no idea what kind of pattern/ texture/pile height are popular these days, and my stair carpeting definitely needs to be replaced. I am assuming that it should at least coordinate with the color of the carpet on the landing, but is it better to use the same carpet for the landing, hallway, and stairs? Thank you!

Stairs are a high traffic area. Think about durability first even if you don’t have kids or pets. Wool is by far the most durable option out there. A looped pile is best for the stairs. I would coordinate the runner to the carpet on your landing.  There are no rules when it comes to pattern. You can certainly have fun with your stair runner and pick a bold pattern and make a statement or you stay neutral and classic by adding a contrasting boarder like I did in this project: 


We remodeled our home 5 years ago and had gorgeous built-in shelving installed in our living room and dining room. In 5 years, I have never been happy with the way they look because I have not found the right items or the right way to arrange everything- They either look too bare or too junky. It's been very frustrating because I've seen many beautifully staged shelves on Pinterest and Houzz with everything from books and framed photos to decorative plates, mirrors (which I really like) trays, and figurines. Nothing I have tried has created that sophisticated, elegant appeal I am looking for. I had no idea that what I put on my shelves could make or break the entire aesthetic of the room. Do you have any tips you could share for styling built-in shelving? Thank you.

I’m sorry this has been so frustrating for you… you should know that you are not alone. Working for a design/build firm, I see this all the time. Before I share my favorite tip, I want to give you my best advice: hire an interior designer to style your shelves; it is not as easy as it looks, and if you have a lot of built-ins it can be downright overwhelming. A good designer will ask plenty of questions to gain an understanding of your vision and personal aesthetic and design the built-ins to work for you and any existing items you wish to incorporate. There are plenty of interiors firms, including Anthony Wilder, who will take on a smaller project such a shelf styling.


Having said that, here is my rule of thumb when it comes to shelves:  if you have book shelves, books should be a part of the design. Decorative elements such as mirrors and other accent pieces can be incorporated to create the look you wish to achieve. For display shelving (often found in dining rooms), I select one or two statement pieces and then incorporate neutral, more uniform items, such as china or serving pieces, for the rest of the shelves. Make sure some of the items are personal to you or your family.  Many factors, including the height and depth of the shelving will factor into the design.

I recently moved in to an apartment and came to find out the walls are very thin. Even though I am very quiet, neighbors have been complaining of noise from my unit and I can hear my neighbors. A friend told me an interior designer might be able to help me with this issue … other than adding rugs, do you know of ways to minimize sound without major construction? Thank you for any advice you have.

Interior design does in fact play a significant role in sound insulation! Here is why: Fabric absorbs sound. Incorporating fabric, upholstery and other textiles wherever possible in your apartment will absolutely reduce noise transmission. Step 1 is using area rugs, runners and floor mats. You can also layer area rugs – looks great and adds insulation. Step 2 is incorporating window treatments – the thicker, more dense the material, the better like velvet. Step three, get an upholstered head board. Think of all the areas in the apartment where you might add fabrics. Book shelves against shared walls will help, as books are excellent sound absorbers! You could even fabric-back the shelves for an added layer of sound insulation … and an amazing visual pop. I did this at a recent project (See photo below). I haven’t even seen your space and I am excited just thinking about all the beautiful  possibilities that are out there. 

I'm looking at rugs for my living room but can't figure out the size to get. Are there rules to go by?

The size of your rug visually determines the size of your room. The larger and more area the rug covers, the larger your room will appear. There are no steadfast rules but one is to be consistent- All legs on the rug, or all legs half off and half on the rug. If you have a decorative area rug that you want to use in your space but it is too small, layering is an option- for example use a sisal rug and layer your decorative rug on top- to maintain the appearance of a larger room.

What do you think about designing a room around art? I have a few pieces and want to get more but not sure if that's the way to go. Can art be the inspiration or should I start with furniture? Thanks for any recommendations.

If you already have a collection to work with or a piece you want to make the center of a room you can pull colors, patterns or textures from that piece. Art is an opportunity to have fun… it’s not necessary for the art to match your space. It is important for art to speak to you personally. Select pieces that you love. You’d be surprised how easily all the things you love can come together beautifully and harmoniously when curated the right way. 

I want to add some color to my patio now that I can use it. What do you recommend? I'm looking for fun, inexpensive ways to make it personal. I'll probably change it next year!

In any interior or exterior design, I always think in layers. What do you want to use this space for? Seating? Dining? Entertaining? Start by defining your outdoor space with a colorful inexpensive outdoor rug. If you’re designing a seating area and your budget doesn’t allow for an outdoor sofa, you can find inexpensive outdoor chairs through many online retailers. Add a fun outdoor throw pillow to each chair for a personal touch. A collection of outdoor lanterns can help create mood in the evenings. You can also find very affordable firepits from your local hardware store; center the firepit in the seating area and place the chairs around. Voila! A fun place to gather around with friends. 

Is there a creative way to shine light on art without having to install a light right above the art if there is no outlet? I also don't want to damage the art with excessive lighting and I'd prefer not to have wires hanging down the walls. I'm guessing it’s expensive to add outlets where they don’t exist, right?

You can find floor lamps that have adjustable necks and bodies that can be twisted and adjusted to illuminate your art. Additionally, the lamp can be incorporated into your seating area so it serves as both task lighting and lighting for your art. No need to worry about damaging the art from excessive light exposure. To answer your second question, installing track lighting can be affordable (more so than recessed lighting) and depending on how close the source of origin for power is in the room, you might be able to wire and install track lighting for between $1,500-$2,000. You would select special bulbs that will not damage art. Check out the track lighting in the project featured in this article

I just moved into a house that I am in love with. I want to repaint almost every room and the exterior but I am overwhelmed with all the options out there. I know what color I want for some of the rooms; however, I don’t know how to get the exact shade I am envisioning. In the other rooms, I have no clue what color I want. And I would love to use wallpaper in at least one room. How do you find the perfect paint colors?

For the spaces in which you know what color you want, use samples and the “Goldie Locks Rule!” Get samples of 3 shades of the color you want- one should be on the darker end of your threshold, one on the lighter end, and one in the middle. Apply the samples to the wall in swatches approximately 2 feet square. After the paint dries, look at the walls at different times of the day and pick the color that is “just right.”


For the exterior, factors such as the amount of shade or sunlight in your yard and the material (example: brick, siding) will affect the appearance of the paint color, which is why simply asking your friend what color they used often doesn’t work. My advice is to do some research- find images of exterior colors you like online… but you’ll also need to drive around and find homes with exterior colors that you love. Identify your top one or two colors, then hire a professional who can help you select the hue and tone you are going for based on your home’s unique properties. Here is one of my favorite exteriors from a project I worked on last year 

I read the article and was impressed with the amazing space that was created for Mr. Dant by the designers. Was anything done to address noise from the rental above?

Special measures were taken such installing the drywall on channels to separate it from the structure, and insulation designed specifically to minimize sound rate travel was installed.  

How do you feel about blending hardware and plumbing finishes i.e. gold and silver tones?

I love an opportunity to mix finishes. Don't pick more than two to mix. Black and oil rubbed bronze are great neutral bases and mix with most finishes. Some finishes to mix are, chrome with black,  bronze finishes with stainless steel or nickel. Nickel and gold work together with silver leaf.  We mixed a lot of silver and gold finishes in a recent project, see it here

When trying to make careful decisions about value, should I consider giving up some short term wants of high end accessories over a need for a natural wood floor?

My suggestion would be to get your natural wood flooring first and then save for the high end accessories. The high end accessories will look that much better on a beautiful floor. 

You can buy large sheets of cork to attach to the walls, which then gives you sound protection and an easy way to display photos, posters, calendars, etc. You could even make a headboard out of cork.


I see grays and whites everywhere. Any other color combinations that you like right now?

Color is making a comeback in interior design. Trends are showing both pale and bold, colorful palettes. It's a great time for fun and innovation in home design. There's something for everyone. We just finished a design scheme for a bedroom with a blend of pastels and a loft for a client with bold oranges and teals. 

It sounds simple, but as an amateur book shelf styler out of necessity, here are somethings that I do: 1) don't forget that the books don't all have to go the same way. You can do stacks or have them spines showing. Depending on what they are, you may want to vary it -- especially if you are doing one or two shelves of all books do some with the spines upright and others in stacks laying on their sides (spines out, of course) 2) group your books -- whether by topic, alphabetical, or by spine color, figure out a grouping that works with you. then consider breaking up the grouping (so for ease, if you are doing by color, put a break between the red & yellow spines). Where this break is, insert your decorative items -- there can be a lot or not a lot of a break depending on your preference. Decorative items should DEFINITELY have a good amount that mean something to you and a few things that can be used as bookends. 3) again, some of your groups may be in stacks and some in the more traditional horizontal spine out position. when you see the groups and the space, you'll usually see something that makes sense.

Wow. Lots of good advice here. Thank so much!

Hi Keira, My husband and I have just purchased a new home in Chevy Chase Village that is much larger than (and aesthetically different from) our current townhouse in Georgetown, and which will require maybe 6 months of remodeling work before we move in. I am struggling with how to proceed with decorating plans at this point, as we’d like to try to incorporate some of the furniture we already own, though of course we will need to purchase LOTS more. What is a good way of proceeding so that we may be settled in with our children with a minimum of stress and fuss in due time? Should we wait until we move in and see our furniture in place before deciding color schemes, etc.? Or should we begin planning around what we have now and hope for the best? And how would an interior designer best be able to help us at this point when it comes to the color scheme, paint, wallpaper, window treatments, light fixtures, rugs, etc.? Thank you!

I think its great that you are thinking ahead!   If you hire a Design Build firm that also offers interior design services, you can work on all elements of your project together at the same time. Your architect, kitchen and bath designer, production team and interior designer will collaborate from the beginning to ensure your vision and all of the elements of your project come together seamlessly.   Your interior designer  should meet with you in your current space, take pictures, dimensions and note styles of  your furniture before the remodeling process starts. Spaces can even be designed around your favorite pieces of furniture. 

In the link you sent for the house with blue shutters, I see the brick looks like it has been limewashed, or otherwise given that whitish overlay. What is the best way to whitewash brick, and also to find a painter who knows how to do it? I have had very poor luck finding painters who even understand the question!

In that project, the existing white paint was power-washed and then hand scrapped until the desired whitewashed look was achieved. It is virtually maintenance free. The best way to find a great painter is by asking your friends for recommendations.

My small galley kitchen has white ceramic tile which I just have never liked. The rest of my house has its original oak hardwood floors. I have to replace some appliances soon and figured that's a good time to take care of the floor, too, but I don't want to do hardwood. Do you have any other suggestions?

There are great porcelain tiles out there that closely mimic the look of real hardwood and are resistant to spills.  There are many other beautiful porcelain and ceramic tiles that come in a large variety of faux marbles and modern textures.  

Thank you for all the great questions. It was fun to hear from everyone. Thanks again for having me! 

Thanks so much Keira. It was great to have you on the chat. Next week: Architect Dwight McNeill who did a super cool renovation and restoration of a mid-century place in Culpeper County for Sander and Siobhan Mueller. Siobhan will also be on the chat talking about how she furnished their weekend place with a mid-century vibe using mostly online resources. Also she learned a lot about  Ikea kitchens. The article will run that day. See you then.

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.

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Keira St. Claire
Keira St. Claire is an interior designer at Anthony Wilder Design/Build.
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