Q&A: Jennifer Boles on how to create a timeless home

Jennifer Boles
Oct 04, 2018

Jennifer Boles started The Peak of Chic in 2008. She was one of the first design bloggers and has long been known as a serious student of design history. She is a contributing editor to House Beautiful and Veranda. Her latest book which is being published this month is "Inspired Design: The 100 Most Important Interior Designers of the Past 100 Years."

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.

Jennifer Boles started The Peak of Chic in 2008. She was one of the first design bloggers and has long been known as a serious student of design history. She is a contributing editor to House Beautiful and Veranda. Her latest book which is being published this month is "Inspired Design: The 100 Most Important Interior Designers of the Past 100 Years." She has so much knowledge about decorators and decorating - ask her your questions now. Let's chat.

Thank you for having me today on Home Front!

We have five different types of flooring in our downstairs rooms: Hardwood in the foyer, white carpeting in the living room and dining room, Pergo in the kitchen, and tile covered by a carpet remnant in the den (all of this was done by the previous owners). We'd like to put in hardwood throughout, but may not be able to do it all at once because of cost. Is it a bad idea to do it room by room? Will the flooring vary too much? Thanks for the chat.

I completely understand about having to tackle projects room by room.  I would suggest trying to do the floors of the "public" rooms at the same time, such as the foyer, living, and dining rooms. That way, you can ensure continuity.   Then, you can tackle the den and kitchen floors later. 

My house has woodwork from the early 1960s that I believe is a maple or birch stained a reddish color (it's a typical 1960s color). The woodwork is in incredible condition. Would you suggest keeping the woodwork the same, painting it, or staining it a new color? There is quite a bit of it throughout the house as none of it is painted. Thanks!

Unless you like the reddish color, I would either paint the woodwork or stain it a different shade.  I know that some purists cringe at the thought of painting woodwork (especially if it is in good condition), but I find paint preferable to that reddish stain. (I can picture that color in my mind now.)  Also, there are other interesting treatments, like stripping it and waxing it to give it some patina. I'm not sure of the full range of treatments, but I am certain a wood refinisher could advise you.

Since you follow design history, what design directions do you think we will be going in in the next few years>?

I think it's time for classic, traditional cotton fabrics to make a comeback.  When people think of chintz, they think of floral prints, but there are so many other patterns that were once used on chintz, like swags or even small geometric prints. I also hope that people start collecting again, whether it is art, furniture, or ceramics. I don't know if these two wishes will come true, but I hope they do.

How did you come up with the 100 designers on your list?

It was a very lengthy process.  My editor and I spent a great deal of time discussing which designers should make the list. We chose designers based on how significant their contributions were to design. Perhaps they changed the course of design or created a new style, like Jean-Michel Frank or Michael Taylor.

I want to stress that I have great respect for all designers.  Their job is not an easy one, and they are all important to me.

We recently bought a house in desperate need of updating. Before we tackle other projects, we want to paint interior of the house. Do you have any suggestions for what color we should paint the ceilings and closets? Also, we would like to paint a neutral color in the house until we make further decorating decisions. What are your favorite neutral colors? Thanks so much!

I am a color person myself, but I do think that neutrals are easy to live with.  If I were to paint a room a neutral color, I would probably go with white. I really like the Benjamin Moore whites, such as Decorator's White, Linen White, and White Dove.  Linen White is a creamy off-white, which is nice.  I would paint the ceilings and closets white as well.

Hi Jura, I'm choosing the paint color for my new west-facing bedroom and would really like your opinion. My last bedroom was a top floor with skylights and lots of natural light, and I chose Ben Moore Catalina Blue. My new bedroom is west-facing and ground level, much less sunny. I'm considering Palladian Blue, or a slightly grey-tone blue. I've asked before and Will Taylor replied - I'd really appreciate Jura's thoughts on blues that might work. Thank you!

Well it's not surprise to anyone that I vote for Palladian Blue by Benjamin Moore - it's my all time favorite color. It sometimes looks, blue, green, bluish-green, grayish-green or bluish gray. I think it's a bright cheerful color.

Since paint colors come and go, do you think gray is on its way out? Is white really the safest color to paint your walls in terms of looking fresh and not trendy?

Gray has been a very hot color now for a number of years.  While I don't think it is on its way out, I do think people are starting to tire of it just a bit. White is, of course, a very safe choice. However, I would love to see people use more color in their homes. I think that chocolate brown is a classic color that always looks chic and never trendy.  I love all shades of blue, and again, I don't think blues ever go out of style.  A sophisticated shade of shell pink looks great in bedrooms and bathrooms.

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I love antiques but too much brown furniture in a room does look bad. Do you think though that the people will ever want brown dining room tables and chairs again - they are going for nothing at auction.

Tell me about it! I have a brown wood dining table, and it would likely go for nothing at auction.  I love antiques, and I think that most rooms can benefit from at least one piece of antique or vintage furniture. They give personality to a room.

I am encouraging people to consider giving their brown wood furniture some kind of interesting painted finish. Of course, don't do it if your antique is worth a lot.  But, if it is not, what about finding someone to give it a faux tortoiseshell finish?  Remember, Dorothy Draper and Syrie Maugham thought nothing of tweaking brown wood furniture to their needs.

Perhaps you have some solutions for storing shoes in an elegant accessible but not too visible way for those of us who don't have room-sized closets.

I wish I could give you an answer, because I am looking for the very same thing. My closet is a pass-through from my bedroom to bathroom, so I am trying to make my closet look as elegant as possible.

Is a solution out there?  I don't know, but I continue to search for it.

What are your personal favorite white paint colors?

As I mentioned in a previous answer, I am partial to Benjamin Moore Decorator's White, Linen White, and White Dove.  All three are attractive, not too white, and easy to work with.

We have hardwood in most of the first floor except for a tile entry and laminate kitchen. I'd like to redo the kitchen but worry about extending the hardwood. I know how hard I use my kitchen. Knives drop, food spills, grease splatters. It just seems that hardwood would show wear easier.

I redid my kitchen last year, and I used Marmoleum for the flooring.  It is real linoleum (not laminate), and it looks great. It comes in all kinds of colors, and you can also choose Marmoleum tiles. I think black and white checkerboard linoleum is so classic.

Also, it is environmentally friendly.  And, it's very durable. I get compliments on my kitchen floor all of the time.

Reupholstering is so expensive. Do you think in most cases it's worth it? Do you have a line of well priced upholstery you like?

If the piece of furniture is in good shape and sturdy, then I would definitely advise recovering it. A lot of the furniture produced decades ago was made very well and is holding up beautifully. I inherited my parents' Baker sofa, which they bought in 1971. It has been recovered many times through the years, and today, it is in my living room.

Lately, I have been very impressed with the quality of Hickory Chair and Highland House furniture.

What pieces do you think are timeless in a home? Would love to know your thoughts.

Antiques never go out of style, in my opinion. They are timeless, but I do admit that sometimes you have to update the environment around them to make them look fresh. So, perhaps it means hanging a modern painting above an antique commode or recovering an antique French chair, for example, is a fresh-looking fabric.

A sofa should never look trendy. You should buy the best quality you can afford and plan to live with it for a long time.

Something else that is timeless in a home? A library of books!

Where can one buy kitchen and kitchen door curtains?

This is tricky. I think it could be tough to find pre-made ones that are the right dimensions for your kitchen. I would advise having them custom made. I know that could be expensive, but at least you will get exactly what you want.

Also, you could save money by buying the fabric on a discount fabric website. Those sites usually let you buy swatches of the material so that you can see it before you buy yardage.

We just bought our first home (yay!). While the bathroom is in great condition, I don't love the style of the medicine cabinet door. Do you know if it's possible to replace just the door front without having to install an entirely new medicine cabinet? Are there other options for updating the look? (It's got a raised framed edge, so it's not a simple flat surface.)

Congratulations on being a new homeowner! How exciting.

I have never seen replacement fronts for medicine cabinets, but that's not to say they aren't available. Perhaps a handyman could make some kind of front and then attach it to the body of the cabinet? That's what I would do.

If you could hire a designer who is no longer with us to do your house, who would it be?

There are so many! Albert Hadley is a favorite of mine, so he might be my #1 choice. Also, Billy Baldwin was amazing. Then again, I'm crazy for the work of Dorothy Draper, Rose Cumming, and Syrie Maugham.

Perhaps I would give each of them a room to design.

Does silver really have to be polished all the time? I like the look of it but I'm not willing to put in the polishing time to make it shine all the time.

I prefer a polished look, but I usually only polish prior to the pieces being used.  Trying polishing your silver while watching TV. It makes the process much easier.

For medical reasons, we are switching out the king bed for two extra long twins, that we will separate to make it easier to change linens. What kind of side table (s) and headboards do you suggest? I found it difficult to find good looking twin headboards. Currently have a dresser and armoire in cherry wood in French style.

You could put one bedside table between the two beds to conserve space. I would suggest getting a table that has a drawer or two so that you can hide glasses and such.  If you go with one table, buy one that is not too narrow or too wide.

I prefer upholstered headboards, and I believe many retailers, such as Ballard, sell them in a variety of options and fabrics.

Thanks for your response to my paint question. Are the whites you recommend for the ceiling also? Does the ceiling white need to match the trim and wall white color? Thanks.

Many paint brands offer a basic ceiling white. I used something like that in my condo for my ceilings. (It was ten years ago, so I can't remember which brand I used.) I don't think the ceiling shade needs to match the walls or trim.  However, it might be nice if you used the same ceiling white throughout your entire house.

We have a vaulted wood ceiling that is close to a warm Mission Cherry color (think 1982!) and I wonder what you would recommend to complement it when we replace the flooring. A light color carpet would not stand up to a household that includes 3 teenage boys and a dog. I am thinking wood or tile. Painting the ceiling is apparently not an option. The ceiling covers our "great room" area that includes the living room, dining area, kitchen, and entryway. The kitchen is on the list of do-overs and will likely be the typical white with grey stone countertops when it is done.The house is a split foyer so the design challenges are abundant. Thank you for your help!

Whether you do wood or carpet, I would suggest choosing a shade that contrasts the ceiling rather than picking a shade that is similar to the Mission Cherry color.

Have you thought about using sisal on the floor?  They make sisal now that is waterproof.  Sisal can be very neutral looking, and it won't compete with everything else in the room.

Thanks Jennifer. I look forward to spending time with your new book. Meanwhile, next week we will be talking about vintage furniture with Anna Brockway, co founder and president of Chairish. Until then -  enjoy your weekend.

What a fun chat today. I hope that I helped some of you with your design questions. Thank you for spending the last hour with me!

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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