Q&A: Todd Martz on traditional design

Todd Martz
Aug 16, 2018

Todd Martz is a designer who owns Home on Cameron, an Old Town Alexandria, Va. home furnishings shop and an in-house design studio. Todd has more than 20 years in the design business and has a broad knowledge of furniture styles and interesting accessories. He has a deep historical knowledge of architecture and furniture styles and a penchant for traditional interiors with a modern twist.

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.

Todd Martz is a designer who owns Home on Cameron, an Old Town Alexandria, Va. home furnishings shop and an in-house design studio. Todd has more than 20 years in the design business and has a broad knowledge of furniture styles and interesting accessories. He has a deep historical knowledge of architecture and furniture styles and a penchant for traditional interiors with a modern twist.Want to know how to keep your traditional look while bringing in some modern? Now's your chance to ask questions of an expert.

Good morning, I am ready for questions!

First, I loved the happy yellow vibe of your room at the 2017 DC Design House! Now my actual question: I love plants and have them at pretty much every window of my place. Advice for avoiding a hippie jungle look without getting rid of anything?

Thanks for noting the Design House. I would use the same pots and arrange the plants in straight lines. Then the only variable is the plant. Keeping your look clean!

Good morning! I have a 14" x 15" framed handmade textile that is simply gorgeous. The framer (Gizmos Art, Westminter, MD) did an absolutely stunning job of matting and framing the piece. The problem is, while the location where I have chosen to hang it is mostly perfect, the lighting is awful. Hence, I need some type of picture frame light for the piece. Hard wiring would be too expensive, but having an electrical cord hanging down the back of this piece seems a little tacky. I have looked online and am overwhelmed by sizes and styles of lights. Seeking suggestions on the size, and types/styles of lights (plug in? battery operated? LED? incandescent?); any recommendations that will help showcase the beauty of this piece. Thanks so much!

I have had great success with the battery lighting. Easy to install and operate. Without seeing your space, I cannot recommend a specific fixture. 

I’m a big fan of buying local, including local art. I’ll be attending the Old Town Alexandria Art Festival Sept.15-16. Are you planning anything at your shop, Home on Cameron? These festivals and art walks are such a great way to make residents aware of local artists!

One of the local artists we represent will be painting in the store and available for questions. We feature several other local artists in store. Stop in for the action. We are at 315 Cameron Street.

My family and I live in a 3 story townhouse with great light. Formerly a rental, it is in desperate need of a new coat of paint. While bedrooms and bathrooms are easy transition points for a new color, I am unsure where other natural breaks are when no molding is present. For example, the foyer shares a wall to a dining room, the stairs to the second floor bedrooms, and a hallway to a powder room. The dining room is open to the kitchen, a sun room, an office nook and stairs down to the family room. I don’t want it to look like a patchwork, but all the same is boring.

One way is to start a new color at a corner. It is a natural place to change a color. What I like to do is use shades of one color. Maybe the stairs are slightly darker, and the sunroom a lighter version of the same color. 

I see so many furniture pieces and accessories such as lighting that I love in design magazines. I’m sure most of them are custom. Do you think it’s worth the investment to purchase a custom sofa, for instance? Are they really that much more expensive? And what is the longevity of custom versus in-stock items?

Custom pieces are necessary when you are looking for a unique size or style. Maybe the size needs to fit your room or someone with different heights in your family. This request is why we feature custom upholster and wood pieces in our store. 

We're starting to scope out ideas for a master bath remodel, our first substantial house project (which we'll be hiring out!). While I can search online for inspiration, I really like to see things in person. What are the best showrooms and stores these days to see vanities, sinks, tile? We're in Alexandria but willing to drive.

Ferguson's is a great place to start. They have a large showroom here in Alexandria. Best Tile is in Lorton. They have a large selection of tile. Architectural Ceramics is also in Alexandria, they feature unique pieces to express your style. Renaissance Tile in Old Town shows plumbing fixtures and tile. 

I'm in the throes of trying to redecorate and re-furnish a small house - a typical mid-century brick rambler. Years ago at a book auction I unintentionally acquired a box of pre-WWII books on home decorating. Most of the spaces discussed and illustrated were small. I got a lot of good ideas from studying these books. Those spaces were a far cry from the gigantic caves some people live in now.

These earlier styles have the great ideas on using the space that you have. Once the function is achieved. it becomes easier to express your style. I have been doing Design work for 20 years. We feature pieces for "normal" or small size homes in the store. 

I love those slope armed sofas with bench cushions - but will it look dated in five years? Thinking of a neutral, off-white fabric for upholstery. Thanks.

Any single item can look out of place or dated. How all of the pieces in the room relate create a timeless look. To me this sofa style will work in many different timeless designs.


I have a couple of doors with the original brass door knobs and I wonder what would be best to keep them clean but not necessarily shiny. I prefer a 'weathered' or antique look to them. Thanks!

Brass usually is covered with a lacquer to seal the finish. If you remove the lacquer, they will age. Then clean with a brass cleaner to the look that you want. This will create a dull finish. You can leave as much darkness as you like to show weathering. 

My house was built to look like a New England 1775-ish saltbox. Flat boards 3-5 inches wide edge walls and windows. Walls are all off-white, trim is "colonial" colors, i.e. dark red, mustard. I'd like something different but what colors can I use or am I stuck removing the wide trim everywhere?

What is your style? The trim style goes with the architecture of the house. The colors do not need to reflect the saltbox. Keep the trim and update the trim colors.

Did you read my story about a little yellow chair and whether I should reupholster it or not? Here it is.

I have a mix of old and new pieces in my home, some furniture I inherited. I'd love some inspiration on how to use them together. Can you recommend a place to see designed rooms? Not a furniture store per se, but a great setting for designed spaces.

I love designs that have depth. One way to achieve this is with pieces that mean something to your family. Maybe they are used in new ways or rooms. Stop into the store to see how we combine new and vintage. We show room settings to explain how the pieces work together.  

I'm redoing my kitchen in an older home so the ceilings are high. I want to take advantage of the height of the room, but I'm not sure floor-to-ceiling cabinets are the best solution either. How do I reach those tall cabinets? Any experience with this type of situation?

Check our web page www.Homeoncameron.com. It shows a project that I did where we used a library ladder to access upper cabinets. That space is great for the Costco extras.

So I have a wing chair - I have always loved them but want to update it with more modern fabrics. Will changing the fabric help it look less traditional? Should I go neutral with fabric and then add color with pillows?

I like a bold single color pattern on this kind of chair. Then multi colored sofa pillows that include the chair color can pull together the room

I read about traditional design in books and magazines, but haven’t really found a definition of what that is. I also hear design referred to as “transitional.” Can you define traditional and transitional design? Do you really have to choose a style you like to have a cohesive home?

Traditional to me now means a timeless design. Rather you prefer English, Bohemian, Mid Century, just a look that will not appear dated in several years.

Modern polypropylene rugs are available in intriguing colors and designs. I've just discovered that some are designed for indoor only use, others for indoor-outdoor use. I'm thinking of using an indoor-outdoor one in a basement which experiences occasional light seepage. I gather that the main difference between indoor only rugs and indoor-outdoor rugs is the backing: cotton or jute (both of which will rot when wet) on the indoor rugs, latex or synthetic rubber on the indoor-outdoor rugs. Is there anything else I should know about these rugs before trying this?

You really need a rug that is only for full exposure outdoors. They will handle the wet/dry without problems.

We have a gorgeous mid-century style kitchen table (oval hardwood top, black legs with brass caps). We've been using (faux) ghost chairs, but I'm over them. Assuming both would work with our kitchen design (because we're about to renovate), would you recommend: mid-century chairs, or a bistro-type chair (that woven look). Stick with one era/theme, or mix it up? We're in a traditional home but looking to make it more modern inside.

I would suggest a mid-century chair. This will emphasize the "modern." It you mix periods I am afraid you will end up with a table that just looks old. I would look at some of the Eames molded plastic chairs in colors. 

Hi Todd, I live in an older DC home but my taste is definitely more modern. When my grandma passed away, she left me her china and silverware. I’m not loving the china pattern; it’s a bit too traditional for me. Any advice on how to incorporate family heirlooms while keeping my style intact? I don’t want to get rid of it. Can I display just a couple pieces? Help!

I would only use several pieces. What I have done is pull a color from the antique pattern, most patterns have green. Then get a bold solid color green plate to use with the rest of the china.

I'm having a baby in a few months - yay! Right now my husband and I are discussing the nursery. We'd like to make the room muffle noise as much as possible, as we live on a busy street. What are some materials we could use in the decor that are easy to keep clean, but will absorb sound?

Anything soft will absorb sound. What about an indoor/outdoor rug? Easy to clean. Draperies at this point will also not get in the way. Depending on your style, you can use baffles on the ceiling to trap sound. There is a design now that looks like clouds.

I'm toying with the idea of covering an existing oak floor with ceramic tile (or even thin brick pavers) set without grouting or adhesive. The advantage of no grouting and adhesive is that I can easily take up the tile later and use it elsewhere when I tire of the new tiled look. Also, the original oak flooring is still in good shape, and I don't want to damage it if the time comes to remove the tile. What else should I be considering?

You need to look carefully about how much movement there is in the wood floor. Usually a wood floor flexes. The tile does not and will be loose. 

Hello. I live in central Pennsylvania. We've received 20 inches of rain this summer (highest on record), and my house just reeks. The AC has been on constantly and the house smells damp and musty. We had the rugs cleaned, but that hasn't helped. Towels don't dry between showers, everything just feels icky. How can I get my house to smell fresh and clean again?

It seems like a dehumidifier would be a good start. Open the windows and doors for a day. Then I would look at some scented candles to help clean the air until things dry out. 

I saw Jura's question about reupholstering a guest room chair in her house or replacing it. What are your thoughts on that? When do you decide if a chair can be saved or should be replaced?

You need to start with the structure of the chair. Does the expense of recovering make “cents” with how well the chair is built? If the chair is not well built, buy new.


For the chatter who wanted to place loose ceramic tile over a hardwood floor (so it could be taken up later): look into Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT). I just had this installed in my kitchen. It's "click" flooring, no adhesive or grout required, and I picked a style that looks like slate.

Thanks for your insight.

A "traditional" room often has drapery that comes down from the top of the window (or above) to at least to the window sill if not the floor. My generation that came of age in the Vietnam War focused on energy efficiency during the 1970s and 1980s. We learned that window coverings cut drafts, warm the house at night by retaining heat and cool the house in summer days by shading the rooms, and were therefore a sign of good citizenship. Since then we have also learned that cutting down the leakage of light from the house at night helps keep our night sky dark. So why are window coverings become so unfashionable? The younger generation doesn't seem to care about full draperies and in the decor mags I often see draperies that are only decoration and are not actually functional. What happened?

I feel that having natural light has become a stronger need than draperies. Also, windows now have coatings to cut down on the heat and cold exchange. What makes you comfortable is your decision. Draperies are great to finish a room and add style, color, and pattern. 

Any advice for setting up a very small apartment for entertaining? Nothing fancy, just casual dinner parties and board game nights without everyone sitting in each other's laps. It's a kitchen and two rooms, all separate. Right now we have a living/dining room with a sofa on one wall, coffee table, and dining table and chairs on the other side. I can't even figure out how to add living room chairs without constantly banging into everything!

Scale is the first thing to review. Does the sofa fit the space that you have? What about a drop leaf dining table that can be enlarged when needed? Use some folding chairs for the people that show up late. 

Good morning! Our colonial home has a front traditional formal living room. It has served as a playroom for my boys for several years but they are slowly aging out of it. I'm not sure what to transition it to. We don't want a traditional formal living room but as pace that we really use. We already have a large family room open to the kitchen where we spend most of our time on this level, and we also have an office too. The basement has a rec room suitable for video games and kid hanging-out. We entertain and often linger at the dining room table after dinner over wine...maybe this room can retain some small playroom element while becoming a seating room we transition to at that time? Ideas or advice?

Having a space for before and after dinner was one of the original uses for the "parlor." A cocktail before dinner and coffee after dinner are great uses. The room does not have to be formal. Make it comfortable and welcoming. 

Thanks for the great variety of questions. I think we touched on everything from construction, space planning, and functional issues. 

Thanks Todd. Lots of fans of traditional decorating out  there. Many questions today. Next week I will have Wayne Archer of SearsPartsDirect.com talking about DIY help for appliances and other issues with your fridges, stoves and dishwashers. Until then, enjoy summer. There is still plenty of it left.

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

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