Transcript: Thursday, April 13, 1 p.m. ET

Grad Guide 2006

Chad Alan
Chad Alan Designs
Thursday, April 13, 2006; 1:00 PM

Now that college is over and done with, it's time to find your own place. But how to avoid making your apartment look like everyone else's Ikea-inspired lair? Efficient, affordable and original touches are easier to find than you think, says designer Chad Alan, who takes your questions here.

Chad uses his decorating expertise to jazz up this efficiency apartment .

This discussion is part of a series created for The Post's Grad Guide , an interactive collection of stories, resources and information aimed at easing the transition of the Class of 2006.

The transcript follows below.


Washington, D.C.: I have a love seat that I would like to recover. I've had slip covers in the past that are cheap and don't stay on. Do you have any suggestions on whether it's worth it to recover the love seat?

Chad Alan: Ah! To reupholster or not:

It is no longer the cheapest route to purchase fabric and recover, compared to purchasing new, UNLESS you have sentimental attachments to the piece or it is an antique.

From my experience, you'll need around 12 yards of fabric and with labor and moving expenses for getting the piece to and from the workroom you can expect to pay around $1,500.

Sorry for the bad news, but labor and materials are no longer an inexpensive route.

Good Luck,



Washington, D.C.: Am I behind the times? I graduated from school over three years ago when it was still possible to find a house for less than $300,000. But isn't $358 for bookcases a bit much for someone making an entry-level salary?

Chad Alan: Yes, I do understand, but the bookcase is doing triple duty. It is the headboard/footboard, end tables, and bookcases.

The great thing about these pieces is the size. They are just the right dimensions for a twin size bed.

Is it a lot of money? Yes, but I think you'll have a rude awakening when you go to any furniture store. Prices have rocketed.

Tag sales are an option, but the chance of finding a matching pair, in the right size, and a color that works, is not in your favor.


Erie, Pa.: What do you think about a Spartan decor? What is your opinion on getting posters versus arty prints?

Chad Alan: Spartan Decor?

Well, if you only have one outfit, book, plate, CD, and shoe, I'd say go for it.

But, if you're more realistic and have as much stuff as most Americans do, you're going to need to have stuff, be it storage containers, armoires, footlockers, or ottomans that open up your space.

This doesn't mean that you can be messy.

Pick up your crap and put it where it belongs.

As far as posters, well unless it's a vintage one of Shawn Cassidy hanging over your bed, I'm going to say no.

If it's a poster print, then anyone can have it.

Go to the art store and buy a canvas, some cheap paints, and a 6-pack of beer, roll up your sleeve and go for it.

Hell, I've seen books where people are so damn lazy they let their cats do it.

However, I'm not condoning dipping Tiger in a bucket of Sherwin Williams, but get creative.


Washington, D.C.: Do batik, or tropically-inspired decorations and accessories really have much staying power?

Chad Alan: Bark cloth has been around, as well as batiks and other great fabrics, for a very long time.

I think in moderation, they can add a nice kick in the pants to any stuffy room.


Washington, D.C.: Chad: What is your favorite piece of furniture or accessory that you own, and where did you find it? I feel that the things at Pottery Barn aren't great because they have no personality. There are so many great things at the stores on Wisconsin. Ave, but they are very expensive. Where do you find great things?

Chad Alan: My most favorite possession is a massive Michele Taylor painting of a red table cloth that hangs over my bed. It's probably 5' x 6' and it makes me happy every time I look at it.

And yes, to anybody who is considering purchasing a whole living room from Pottery Barn, STOP!

Just like the poster print question, why would you want something that everyone else has?

Get your butt over to Goodwood on U street between 14th and 15th. Dan and Anna have great stuff and they price it very reasonably so they always have new stuff every week.


Springfield, Va.: I purchased my home about a year and a half ago and I need bookshelves. Does it make more sense to pay to have someone come out and do built-ins or should I just purchase freestanding shelves?

Chad Alan: If your going to be in the home for many years, and it's in a important room, and it's going to hold very heavy things like books, then yes, invest on some nice built-ins.

However, if the storage space is in the garage or basement, then Home Dumpster has some metal ones you assemble yourself with a few band-aids and a pint of vodka.

***** Important*****

Whichever way you go, make sure that the bookcase is securely fastened to the wall with a couple L-brackets, so small kids and pets don't topple them over.


RTP, NC: Garage sale queen here: The best place to buy art is at ART SCHOOLS! I used to live near a fairly famous art school and was always first in line for their annual (adult) student sale. I have original art all over my home (no icky posters) for which I paid as little as $10. Some of the artists are now well known and one sells his works for tens of thousands of dollars, and I have seven of his works that I paid no more than $60 for each.

Chad Alan: Hi There Garage Sale Queen,

First of all, great name. You are right, tons of starving students have masterpieces that they would love to trade for rent money.

Good tip!


Washington, D.C.: I live in a studio, and I don't want to invest in a couch since I will only be in D.C. a few months more. How can I make my space more welcoming to visitors without wasting money on furniture I have to ditch in six month's time? Is it worth it to invest in a really nice chair or should I just go with anything inflatable?

Chad Alan: Here is your solution:

You can't just sit on the floor for those months, so check out Craig's List on the net. You can find all kinds of things, and at the end of your stay here, put it back up for grabs on the list again.

Enjoy your time here in the city!


Bowie, Md.: I sure I'm going to disagree with most of this discussion.

If you are a recent grad, then you are probably making a probationary salary for about a year, after which time who knows if you'll still have your current job. Don't invest much in living space until you're a little better entrenched.

If you live in a rental complex of more than a couple of dozen units, someone is going to move out within the next two months and sell their furniture for dimes on the dollar.

Then buy your real stuff when you have money and are better anchored.

Chad Alan: Well aren't you the bearer of bad news.

I'm just a decorina schmuck trying to help a few guys out so they could have a presentable home.

Yes, they probably don't have the money, but there does come a time when reality does hit and crack-house-chic just doesn't fly.

Take my tips or not, but good luck with impressing your next date with a futon.


Washington, D.C.: I live in a studio in a high rise apartment. Is it standard practice to allow renters to paint their apartment?

Chad Alan: No, usually they frown on it, because most people are terrible painters.

But that just means that you have to get creative.


Chester, Pa. (soon: Alexandria?) : Looks like I'll be living in a pretty small apartment.

Who sells furniture with small footprints that aren't made for either the IKEA crowd or a Central Park West co-op?

Chad Alan: Good question,

Manufacturers are realizing that too many Americans can't fit into an airplane seat, or they have homes the size of Madison Square Garden, so they are scaling up the size of the furniture.

I'd say, shop for pieces that were built before the first McDonalds, in thrift shops and auction houses.


Arlington, Va.: I am trying to move away from posters in cheap frames, toward what at least looks like framed art. I have a print of Hokusai's "The Great Wave," which I love. But I went to a local custom framing store, and even with a 50 percent off discount, it would cost me $130 for the simplest frame (that doesn't look like junk). I've seen some rustic wood-looking custom frames online for about $80 without the price of glass, but I'm not sure how wise it is to buy a custom frame online. I am crafty but don't know what I could do to make this print look nice. Any ideas on what's the best way to have something framed in a classy way, without breaking the bank?

Chad Alan: Framing is the biggest racket since the bastard who set the price of popcorn at the movie theater.

I purchase all of my frames online from grapikdimensions.

There are others, but check to see if they have a money back guarantee, some do.


Washington, D.C.: Are "flea markets" in D.C. really the real thing, or are they basically outdoor venues to sell expensive furniture -- I am referring to Eastern Market.

Chad Alan: Yes

If you want a real flea market, you'll need to head out of town, but DON'T head east towards the ocean, because rusted out crap is really pricey there.

Head west towards the sounds of banjos.


Washington, D.C.: I was disappointed by the advice you provided on furnishing an apartment. Aside from the rare few of us recent college grads who will be earning $50,000, only kids who want to take on heavy debt or rely on "daddy moneybags" could afford to decorate their apartments as you suggested.

There is, however, a very good alternative:! I probably spent $300 total to outfit my one-bedroom apartment, and that covered a queen-size bed, a dresser, a bookshelf, a desk, a TV, a glass coffee table, plants, and other knicknacks. One guy was so inclined to get rid of his stuff that he gave me his two-year-old ski boots for free!. My advice to anyone trying to get started without taking on heavy expenses would be to look for quality used items. Good finds are to be had on Craig's List, yard sales, and flea markets.

Chad Alan: Gee, kinda harsh aren't you?

The Post set the concept and the budget, but I fully understand. is a great option, but it's sort of tough writing a few hundred words on one resource.

Also, a good bran cereal in the morning might help reduce crankiness.


Arlington, Va.: I can't help hating the living-room-centered-on-huge-screen-TV look. Isn't the point of a flat TV is to make it less central, and more easily covered?

Chad Alan: Unfortunately, the TV is going to be the focal point in almost any room now.

It sounds odd, but this is yet another effect of  9/11.

Before, we hid TVs and make things like art and fireplaces the focal point, but for that week during the disaster, we were all glued to the TV and became children of CNN.

Yes, the plasma TVs should be covered, but most of the husbands would rather cover their SUV, than their new flat screen.


Washington, D.C.: Recent grad here: I do think Target has good options on furniture (bookshelves, tables, and dressers, stuff like that) -- pretty decent design, really good prices, and it'll keep for a few years. I also found when I was looking for couches last summer that Value City in Bailey's Crossroads had some good options at reasonable prices.

Chad Alan: Target should give a massive promotion to the genius who created their marketing campaign!

They have done a great job getting products out in the market with style and taste for a decent price range.

Why the hell, Sears, Penny's, KMart,and Walmart haven't woken up and just beat the paste out of Jacqueline Smith and Martha Stuart, and that damn bouncing smiley face, I'll never know.


For the person in D.C. for only a few months: Check out Lots of people get rid of furniture and other stuff, and the condition of posting is that it be free.

A good alternative to

Chad Alan: You heard it people!

check out !


Washington, D.C.: I love the art schools idea! I'm dying to graduate from framed posters to ACTUAL art and I have very little money to spend on it. Can you or any of your readers suggest some art schools in the area that sell cheap art? Thank you! Corcoran College of Art and Design May be a place where new artists' work can be found.


Check out their star student, M. Todd Hodges!


Bethesda, Md.: People, use some creativity! I thought the ideas were great, and ripe for interpretation at any price range. However, I vehemently disagree that a twin sized bed is acceptable for any professional adult. Other than that, great job!

Chad Alan: Thanks, but unless you're into slumber parties, it's going to be tough fitting a full or queen size in a 10 x 10 studio.

However, if you are into slumber parties, let me know. I've got the best s'more recipe and a pair of jammies that I'm dying to show off!


Vienna, Va.: Chad, just a personal question: Are you a writer for the Post? Or a decorator? (It's not clear from the intro to the chat.) Thanks for being here!

Chad Alan: No, I'm not a writer, just a smart aleck interior designer who put several days work into this project for free.

I hope you can use some of my ideas!


Washington, D.C.: It's paint-girl again...what did you mean, "you must get creative?" HOW do I get creative with white walls, white metal cupboards, white blinds, and beige carpet? Help!

Chad Alan: Come in off the ledge paint girl!

It's going to be all right!

Creativity can come in many forms.

I once had to design a hoity toity show house in George town, but I couldn't paint the walls, so I went to Home Dumpster and purchased cream colored, cotton paint drop clothes.

Wash them to get the stiffening sizing out, then I painted them with cheap acrylic paints to look like draped fabric. I'm sure you've seen the wallpaper version, but mine looked good and I used heavy weight tacks at the top to hold it to the wall , which also helped with sound too.

Good luck and remember it's just paint and fabric, no need to dial 911.


Austin, Texas: Don't forget about thrift stores, consignment stores, and other secondhand-type places. You don't always have to get new stuff to get nice stuff. You have to look around at a lot of stores and sort through a fair amount of junk, but I furnished my apartment very nicely and cheaply with some great finds, especially at church/charity runs shops (not all secondhand stuff is worn-out junk at Goodwill). New is expensive. College towns especially are great for this type of market.

Chad Alan: Absolutely, but did you know that places like that are starting to put their "better" donations on Ebay to get more money?

What a rip-off!

When you go to those stores, you're on a treasure hunt for really great priced stuff.

Ebay is sort of knocking the wind out of the sails of us treasure hunters, though.

It's not fair!


Washington, D.C.: As a decorator, do people select you for your sense of humor or your designs, or both? How much do you interact with clients during a project?

Chad Alan: Nope, they select me for my devastatingly good looks and my uncanny ability to spell any woord.

I am always very hands on with all of my clients, and often I become friends with them.

Many designers insist on keeping a strong distance between themselves and the clients, but I disagree.

Their route does make things more simple, but when someone hands over their house keys and the codes to the alarm, it means that they trust me and I take that very seriously.

I have to get to know a new family very well, so that I can give them the absolute best work that I can.

I am in their most private spaces,and I want to make them feel as special as I possibly can in their home.

Great question!


Washington, D.C.: Hi, I'm enjoying the chat.

Where do you find your design inspirations? Where do you suggest looking to help inform our own ideas?


Chad Alan: Hi there,

I'm enjoying this too!

Hopefully I'm not too harsh on the skeptics, but sometimes we all need a spanking!

If you want to see inspiration, go check out a restaurant I just completed over on 14th and Rhode Island, NW. It's called Dakota Cowgirl, and I pulled inspiration for the "flaming tumbleweed" light fixtures from photos of tree branches at sunset in the Blackhills, the plywood sand dune barback is from Frank Gehrey's cardboard chair and the new Native American Musuem. The fabric wrapped panels of the half-naked cowboys came from a picture in Will's apartment near the TV on "Will and Grace", as well as the erotic drawings of Tom of Finland.

Now, the portrait of "The founding Mothers", which is Mount Rushmore, but Washington and the gang is substituted with Madonna, Cher, Midler, and Babs herself, came out of my twisted freaky little brain.

Thanks for the question.


FYI: I prefer Home Despot to Home Dumpster.

Chad Alan: Very nice! Either way it's impossible to find someone who knows what a hammer looks like.


Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: For people looking for art -- if possible, buy local artists' work. You can get to know them, and their work, and often they can help you get what you want and will work with you on the price.

Many restaurants and bars display local work. Tonic, in Mount Pleasant, currently has up photography from, for example, which is of D.C. and by a D.C.-based artist.

Chad Alan: You are right, and nice plug by the way.

Bars are a great place to find all kinds of things, as well as art!


Silver Spring, Md.: What is it with people harshing on ya?

Everything in you decorating guide can be done for cheaper with some inventiveness.

Which apparently most people lack because you make a living off of it.

Chad Alan: You are right, but I had a hard enough time trying to explain basic drapery construction in less than a 100 words.

Good for you if you are creative, but remember this article was targeted at post-grad guys who have never been in a craft store.

And yes, I do make money from people who either can't or don't have the time to furnish their homes, however I don't always get to redo everything. It's pretty common that I'm called in for a two hour advice consultation, or just to freshen up the room with new draperies.

The biggest problem with my job is trying to explain to clients why a room can't be redone in 48 hours with $1000.

Damn those Trading Spaces people and any crack-pot with a glue gun and delusions of taste!


RTP, N.C.: After 10 years or medical/graduate school (and now a medical resident making a whopping $40K/yr), I'm an expert on decorating cheap. Two words: GARAGE SALES! I've found fantastic finds, as people are always trying to get rid of decor items. Also, window treatments (hate that phrase) are incredibly expensive and overpriced. However, you can buy lovely twin flats at places like WalMart, Target, etc for as little are $3 each and make fantastic curtains. In fact, if you can sew a straight line, you can make lots of things (pillows, curtains, etc).

Chad Alan: A Doctor huh?

Are you single?


Ikea Central: Hello, Chad. Is it better to go new and Ikea or sturdy but used at a yard sale? I like -- as I would guess many in my materialistic generation do -- new things. But newer isn't always better, right? I've heard of Ikea bed frames breaking in half (from people in my circle of friends).

Chad Alan: Fess up!

It was you who broke the Ikea bed frame wasn't it!

Don't worry, you're not alone, and that's all I will confess to.

As for Ikea, I'm all for their cinnabuns, but I'm not a fan of those damn allen wrenches!

Ikea is new stuff, but the guy next door has the same one.

On the other hand, old stuff usually requires paint. So, I'd say, use both options and mix it up a bit.

Also, did you know that you can get a whole tray of cinnabuns for only $4?

What a deal!


Washington, D.C.: Thoughts on the best way to separate a fairly large studio into two spaces? I was thinking of doing glass blocks-is that too tacky and overdone?


Chad Alan: NO, NO, NO Glass blocks!

The 80's have ended.

Although you could probably get  a nice Molly Ringwald to stand in the middle of the room as your divider if you're looking for a Retro look!

However, I'd suggest floating a piece of furniture out into the room, like a loveseat with a sofa table behind it, or a bookcase, or even that bike that it taking up room somewhere else.


Alexandria, Va.: I just moved into a very small apartment in Old Town, and had to get creative with money and furniture -- first time living by myself is breaking my bank!

First of all, Target furniture pretty much sucks I think. It falls apart very quickly and if you buy online it's usually a huge shipping cost. has a great selection of moderately priced stuff and also ships for $2.95 -- no matter what.

Second, I have used a lot of inexpensive items to decorate my place. For example, I put beautiful piece of fabric in an inexpensive frame and hung it up. I found a lot of great buys at Marshalls, TJMaxx, and Ross too. It takes longer to look, but bargains are out there!

Chad Alan: Well folks,

We have one vote no for Target!

But remember, just like those damn talking fish from a couple years ago, one person's crap is another person's rewrapped Christmas gift.


Washington, D.C.: Chad: When you are redesigning a great Gtown home, and you decide that some fantastic piece of furniture just needs to go, where does it go? Is there a secret flea market on Q street with lots of $60 Stickley chairs?

Chad Alan: Stickley for $60?

You're funny.

First of all, it's mid-afternoon and cocktail hour doesn't start till 5, so put the bottle down and walk away.

Next, there is a place up on Wisconsin near the Cathedral, that does do consignment for nicer pieces. The longer the piece sits, the lower the price.

It's near the tiny Giant.

Go check it out, you never know what you'll find.


"a twin sized bed": Yes, good luck impressing your next date with that.

Chad Alan: Yeah, like if it's not the tiny bed, then it's the fact that you named the pesky mouse Thor.

I think Thor is a fine name, but maybe I'm missing the point.


Silver Spring, Md.: I have an alternative to the Television-centrics' rooms. We have a projector -- it's HD, and the picture is amazing. When we want to watch TV, we turn it on and get a 100 inch picture across one wall of our room, and when we turn it off, you can't even tell there's a TV in the room!

Chad Alan: Now just a minute!

I'm catching enough crap about a $200 bookcase, now you want to discuss projection TV's?

Are you trying to get me killed?


Dumfries, Va.: Do you take question for empty nester? who moved into a new home with not much storage space, also it is spacious with very high ceiling as well as one large window in a great room.

Chad Alan: Sure, what's the problem?


Washington, D.C.: I have a huge living room that does triple duty: a TV area, a separate reading nook, and a small workspace. The problem is that one of the walls is just ginormous, and currently, blank. I would love to do something really funky and unique, but have no idea what to do with space that large. I'm unsure about breaking it up, too, because the wall touches on all three "areas" mentioned above. Help, please!

Chad Alan: This is not a bad problem.

The first question would be, "Do you have any collections"?

Records, quilts, Barbie Dolls, hari-kari swards?

This wall is crying out for some personality!

Dig through your stuff and find ONE collection, not two or three, because less is more, and too much just looks like a mess.


Del Ray: Can you recommend a good place to have framing done that would fit within a twenty-something's budget? I am fair at framing things on my own, but by the time I buy the proper materials and do the job myself, I wonder if I really saved anything by skipping the framing shop.

Chad Alan: DO NOT go to Dupont Art and Framing on 19th and I.

They unapologetically THREW AWAY a one of a kind print of mine.

We are still battling over how much they should pay, and I'm soon going to sue them over it.


Chad Alan: Hi Everyone,

Well, if anyone is still listening.

I'm sorry but I've got to run to an appointment.

Please feel free to check out my website,

Thanks for listening,



Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company