Q&A: Elizabeth Mayhew on decorating secrets

Elizabeth Mayhew
Jul 12, 2018

Elizabeth Mayhew is a decorator and style expert who writes a regular column for The Washington Post. She is currently the Brand Editor for Reese Witherspoon’s Southern-inspired brand, Draper James and a contributing editor at NBC's Today Show. She also is the author of FLIP! for Decorating (Ballantine). She has worked for a number of publications including Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living, and Woman's Day. A native of Louisville, Kentucky and a graduate of Georgetown University, she now lives in New York City.

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 15 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.

Welcome back to Home Front. Jura's out on a photo shoot today, but we have style expert and design columnist Elizabeth Mayhew here to answer all your questions!

You can find her last column, on keeping painted walls looking brand new, here. (Check out the step-by-step photos of her fixing chipped paint on her wall!)

So happy to chat with you.

 

I am a bit of a klutz and have lots of stains on my carpet. I have had it professionally steam cleaned and they reduced some of the stains. I am hesitant to get new carpet because I have a ridiculously heavy living room table, and built in closets, and don't want them to have to cut around them. Any easy/low tech solution? Thanks

Have you looked into Flor? It's a great modular flooring system whereby you buy squares of carpeting (comes in so many colors and patterns!). Here is their website:

https://www.flor.com

You can then easily replace the stained squares when you need to!

Hi! I just bought a house with my husband yesterday! We live in Philadelphia, and we have a row home, so want to stay true to the "colonial" style. I am thinking of painting the walls white and the trim black. Is there a specific color I should be looking for? This will be in every room in the house--I am a huge fan of the "minimal" style, so want every room to be painted white. I was thinking of just going with a typical designer white, but I know I want a matte style for the trim. Do you have suggestions for best paint color?

Love white walls with black painted window trim--very cool and of the moment! I wrote an article several years back for the Wash Post about finding the right white (I tend to like Benjamin Moore's Decorator White, but it doesn't work for every project--can be too gray for some rooms). Like all paints, you need to experiment, but reading this will be a good start:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/white-picking-the-right-one-isntsouhblackand-white/2013/01/22/d0d96270-5ffd-11e2-b05a-605528f6b712_story.html?utm_term=.40344c5b28fd

I have a whole condo that needs to be pulled together. I decided to start with a bed frame (because right now the mattress is on the floor) and a bedroom rug. I began shopping online and now I'm overwhelmed. There are so many retailers selling home goods and it seems new stores or lines appear everyday. How do I approach this? I'm at a standstill and I'm not normally so indecisive. I'm especially concerned about quality and that's hard to determine when shopping online unless something has been well-reviewed.

You are in luck--I am working on a piece right now that tackles this question, so stay tuned. But in the meantime, you should start with the big pieces (bed, sofa, dining table) and then fill in from there. You are correct that there is no better time than now to find well-priced, quickly available furniture, but the options are limitless. Depending on your style, I would suggest looking at www.ballarddesigns.com, www.westelm.com, www.serenaandlily.com, www.annieselke.comand of course good stand-bys like Crate and Barrel.

Looking to purchase a mid range price sofa - in $2K range. Where would you suggest I look? Thank you.

Would be great to know what style you are looking for!

Hi, I have a small house, with a small open concept living room / dining room / kitchen combo. What do you think about having the entire wall in the living room section covered in mirror to make all the space look bigger? Maybe one of those mirrors that is in a bit darker tone? Would it work and would it look good?

This concerns me for a few reasons: 1. mirror is not easy to keep clean, especially in high places; 2. mirrors only really work when they reflect beautiful things; 3. you will be left with apparent seams for large surfaces.  You could think about doing aged mirror, but it is not inexpensive! Perhapes you could get away with a collection of mirrors?

Hi. Love the column. I need to finish decorating my small open concept house and am trying to decide what materials and color to use for last large window that could be focAl point when we enter the house. My colors include variations of blue and green print with a touch of red. This window is in small dining area next to the kitchen. Any advice? Thanks much. Susan Cruzin

Do you want advice for fabric or paint?

How cool is she? what does she care most about?

Ha! Super smart, gracious and a reall person. Cares most about her family and friends! And of course she loves books and good story.

how high do you hang paintings above a sofa in a living room? say the room is about 10 ft high.

I did a whole article on this! Pictures should be about 60" to center. I am very short so I tend to hang pieces lower. Also when hanging over a sofa, you have to take into account someone's head hitting the piece. I would say about 6" above the back of the sofa would work. 

 

Hello design experts. I have these gorgeous arched windows in my apartment that have the most beautiful view. The apartment is otherwise relatively unremarkable, but these windows make it a showstopper. People literally gasp when they walk in. The problem is they are west-facing, so from 6-9pm you literally cannot be in my living room on a sunny day. I need to find a solution to be able to block out the sun and sit in my living room without detracting from the glory of these incredible windows. Every time I've looked at window treatments I feel sad about how they would ruin the appearance. Any advice?

 

For reference, this is a picture.

This is a no-brainer for me....I would hang a pole (if walls are white, you can hang a white pole so it disappears) above the top of the arch. The pole should be about 6 inches longer than the edges of the arch. Then hang curtains than when open do not impede the beauty of the window--when the sun shines, just slide them closed!

Thinking of going a dark inky blue in my small master bedroom. Keeping the ceiling white to camouflage the smoke alarm and sprinkler heads. Should the trim stay white or match the new paint? Suggestions for paint colors for the walls?

Love Benjamin Moore's Gentleman's Gray (it's actually a blue). Amazing color! You can go either way with the trim--if you keep it dark, the room will be super cozy and actually feel bigger; if you paint it white, the color will pop more.

I moved into my house 5 years ago. I have done major kitchen, bath and closet remodels and I LOVE them. However, I cannot seem to buy wall art/decorate. My bedroom (approx 12X12) has white hemnes furniture (from ikea) and I painted the walls pink damask by benjamin moore. And then did nothing else - no art, no photos, no nothing. I don't even know where to start . . . I want a carpet and something on the walls but there's just so much empty space that I can't seem to figure out how to start.

You need to find one thing: rug, art, or fabric that inspires you. From that you will find your way! Without knowing your style it's hard to give sound advice, but another thing to do it to look inside your closet. Do you have a favorite piece of clothing? Maybe a colored shirt or patterned sweater? Typically I find this is very helpful for people who are stuck in a decorating rut. What you wear can be very helpful in deciding your decorating style.

We have a modern leather recliner that my husband has claimed and spends most evenings in. The leather is in great shape and the mechanism still works well. But we seem to have lost all the support in the seat cushion. When you sit on the chair, the cushion compresses down so far that you can feel the supporting structure across the front and sides of the seat. From underneath, there's really nothing I can see wrong. Webbing is intact. Is it possible to have the cushioning replaced inside the existing leather? The recliner (flight recliner, I believe) was quite expensive when purchased from DWR over a decade ago, so we'd be willing to spend a little to fix it. Who would do this kind of repair?

You need to take the cushion to an upholsterer. Likely it just needs new padding. My guess is they can open the leather at the seam, so it won't be that hard of a repair. You also might want to reach out to DWR--they have excellend customer service and most of their pieces have some sort of warranty.

 

Just ordered a ten foot square jute rug, but didn't order the pad. What is the best pad. It will be on hardwood flooring in beach house on Cape Cod. Thanks for your answer. MJD

I always just go online and order the pad from wherever I bought the rug. Crate and Barrel has good ones! Here is the link:

https://www.crateandbarrel.com/search?query=rug+pads

Building our retirement (to live in full time) house on top of mountain - 360 views (it's a round house). How do I go about choosing paint colors? We like grey tones, but am overwhelmed -- grey with blue hint, grey with beige, grey with green, warm, cool, matte, etc. Don't want the entire house 1 color, but so afraid of making mistake.

Ha! My whole house is gray!!! I wrote a piece a few years ago and stand by EVERY color I chose! Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl is always a staple of mine, but read my piece for more:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/7-shades-of-gray/2012/08/07/bdbdcef0-d1dd-11e1-8bea-6dc0b4879aab_story.html?utm_term=.b014cc7c114a

Apologies if this is gross... I have long curly hair that sheds. I do a lot of swiffering to stay ahead of the tumbleweeds. I recently replaced my desk chair, which was long overdue. It was really worn out but also the wheels had become so clogged with my hair, the wheels couldn't turn and I kept tipping over. Now that I have a new chair, I'm trying to remember to check the wheels regularly to prevent build-up again, but it is NOT easy to remove hair that's gotten wrapped around the casters. Do you have any ideas for combatting this really annoying problem other than shaving my head?

This is a first! Not sure how to combat this than to suggest a Dust Buster vacuum that you keep close to your desk chair so that you can vacuum every day! 

Post Points code: HF7882

Hello. The original 1930's powder room located next to our front door needs an complete overhaul. It's a tiny (3.5 ft x 3.5 ft) space & I'd like it to look like a timeless jewel box. Any ideas for décor? Also, where can I find a small sink that would fit in our 18 inch space? Thank you!

Powder rooms are the PERFECT place to do something amazing and wonderful. Love the idea of making it a jewel box. To that effect, you could do something whimsical, like hang a fun paper (I recently hung this in a client's powder room) or you could paint it great color (I lacquered one client's powder room in Tiffany Blue) or you can do what I did: I hung my collection of black and white photos in my powder room floor to ceiling. For many years I had my extensive collection of antique purses hanging in my powder room--they were graphic and interesting and always fodder for conversation. 

 

After a year-long renovation of our historic Chevy Chase home, we are finally (in 6 weeks!) due to move in. It's a large house with lots of rooms that will need rugs, and we only have a few since we're moving from a Georgetown townhouse. Any advice for where to find rugs, how to select them, and what approach to take in deciding what we need where? I'm overwhelmed! Thanks!

Many desingers start by picking out the rugs primarly because they are expensive and can also really determine the design scheme for a room. However most of my clients are not investing in major rugs--they have animals and kids and want to keep things more neutral. Of couse there is always the decorating default of sisal or wool sisal, but I have found that Moroccan are a neutral and more interesting option. Not sure if they are to your liking, but here is a piece I wrote about their popularity. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/design-trend-alert-moroccan-rugs/2013/10/29/960c42f4-3bfb-11e3-a94f-b58017bfee6c_story.html?utm_term=.538b80c86198

My living room is at the front of my house, with a north-northwest exposure, which means it gets little light in the morning, and is bright in the afternoon. I'm looking to repaint the walls (which are that old ubiquitous pale yellow) and I'd like a neutral but what? White? Off white? Taupe? Gray? Is there a Benjamin Moore paint color you'd recommend for a living room with a north-northwest exposure?

Try Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl! Also if you could go for a beautiful light blue/gray, have your paint store color match Farrow & Ball's Borrowed Light. 

I am on a budget and want to paint the living, dining, and foyer. What are good colors that will brighten up these rooms without painting the trim (baseboards and windows) white? Thanks.

When you say "brighten up" do you mean that they are dark? Can you tell me a bit more about your decor?

 

Can't say why, exactly, but I'm a bit obsessed with the idea of using resin panel(s) when I upgrade my late-mid-century modern house. I don't see them for sale in places where I can view them up close, but I'm intrigued by the way they can offer a translucent divide between spaces. Looking for an open-ended response about the suitability of the product in the home.

So sorry, don't know much about this subject. Sounds like it might be a question for an architect.

If you had to pick the 5 best decorating and interior design books you've ever read, what would those 5 be?

Ha! Of course I stand by all of the information in my own book, FLIP! For Decorating. I complied all of the secrets and tricks I've learned over the years. I wrote it to answer as many decorating quandaries as I could think of. I have been immensely inspired by a book called Paris Apartment photographed by Barbara and Rene Stolie--actually all of their books are incredible. Also one can't leave off books by David Hicks. And if you haven't seen the newer books The Authentics and New York Behind Closed Doors, you should.

I have always been unwilling to buy any seating (sofa, chair, etc) online, regardless of how nice it looks, because I don't know if it will be comfortable and, for dining chairs, I want to be sure my feet reach the ground --I've found that manufacturer' dimensions are not always accurate. Returning is an enormous headache with furniture. But that obviously limits my choices. You mentioned several online sites, but I am so reluctant. I would appreciate your thoughts on this dilmena as a designer.

Comfort is personal--think of Goldilocks: we all want something that's "just right." Ordering online can be tricky which is why I typically suggest clients go sit on a sofa or chair before they purchase it. If that is not an option, at least go to a local store to educate yourself so that you can be a savvier shopper. Do you like foam or feather inserts? Or a combination?  How deep do you want the piece to be? Once you have gatherered your preferences, you will be better off making smart decisions.

Speaking of online furniture shopping, Elizabeth is working on a column on this very subject! Stay tuned -- it will be in an upcoming issue of Local Living.

Moved a chair back too soon after sopping up spilled water, and the metal end cap gave me a tiny rust spot. Is there a good way to tackle it?

Have you tried using distilled white vinegar to get it out? 

I have a small SMALL low ceilinged ranch home that really doesn't get a lot of light. And I live in the Pacific NW where it is dark and grey for 9 months of the year. My interior paint in my living room has been yellow for years, but I want a change. I don't want to do grey as that will match the sky outside too much. Any suggestions to freshen it up?

How about a pretty light pink? My favorite these days...

Like everything in my life (clothing included), I am drawn to grey and white. Can you suggest a gender-neutral accent color for accessories (paint colors also welcome) that will work with grey and white furniture, bedding, etc? I have considered turquoise and soft mint green, am I missing anything?

The best thing about gray is that is goes with EVERYTHING!!! There is not a color in the whole spectum that it doesn't work with...pink, yellow, green, blue--you name it. You can't go wrong.

Thanks everyone for joining, and especially Elizabeth for all of her great advice. There were so many questions!

Please come back next week when Kate Lluberes of the furniture and textiles firm Evans & Sheldon joins the chat. And Jura will be back with us, too!

Loved chatting with you all. Please continue to send questions--always want to know what you need help with. 

xo, Elizabeth

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 or follow her on Instagram @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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Elizabeth Mayhew
Style expert Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's "Today" show and a monthly columnist for The Washington Post.
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