Home Front

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
Washington Post Home Staff
Thursday, September 28, 2006; 11:00 AM

Every week, the Washington Post Home staff talks about various ways to improve your home. Find out about new trends, upcoming antiques shows and a variety of how-to help.

Ask Post staff writers Annie Groer and Jura Koncius about all things home related.

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You may also browse an archive of previous Home Front discussions.

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Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Good Morning everyone - First, thanks to all of you who stopped by to yak with us at last weekend's Capital Home & Remodeling Expo in Chantilly. We had a great time outlining coming design trends -- everything from eco-friendly green building to Boomer downsizing, and even doing a version of this chat, but in person. It was great fun and we hope to see you all there again next year.

Now, down to busines...Annie has a story in today's Home section about how confused we are when it comes to tipping people who do work at our homes -- plumbers/electricians, house cleaners, furniture delivery crew, window washer, remodeling subcontractors, food delivery, yard-care crew, house painters, gutter cleaners, trash collectors and letter carriers.

Send your opinions to Home@washpost.com - or weigh in today, and next week we'll tell you the result.

Now on to the good stuff.

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Alexandria, Va: My husband and I are having a new custom home built and it will be completed late next summer. I am thinking ahead about decor (we are starting with none!) and wondering what I can start doing now? My taste is Restoration Hardware but my budget is more JCPenney! It is more likely that we won't have $ for furniture and decor until after the house is completed since we're saving every penny to put toward it beforehand. We need to furnish a pretty large home.

Please share any advice if you've been there before!

Jen

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Congrats on the new home...Start with one or two of the most important rooms to you. For many people, that means creating a bedroom sanctuary -- great mattress, two end tables for reading lamps, nice bed linens. A second one would be a yummy bathroom -- doesn't have to be marble and spa tub/shower but some place where you'll be happy looking into the mirror first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

If you are cooks or entertain a lot, pay attention to the kitchen and family room next.

Many designers say you start each room with floor treatments -- hardwood, carpeting, an area rug..then move on to other things.

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Silver Spring, Md: My husband and I are about to re-do our basement in our 1920's Sears bungalow. The entry to the basement is from a staircase off the kitchen (and a separate entry from the backyard). Am I the only one who thinks it would be super cool to install a metal spiral staircase going down there? I feel like it would look cool, save room downstairs so the room looks more open, etc. Am I crazy?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear SS - You are not crazy, but think ahead to what's in your basement. Often it's where we stash stuff we only use occasionally, and a spiral staircase isn't the easiest thing to negotiate while shlepping stuff up and down.

If you can do all that through the outdoor entrance, just make sure the spiral is wide enough that you, other family members, kids, friends and pets won't feel claustrophic.

It's not for everyone.

But yes, it's very cool.

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Centreville, Va: Not something for the chat, but just a quick note: I enjoyed listening to your presentation at Saturday's Home & Remodeling Expo. Lots of great info, advice, and tips packed into an hour. When Annie's "problem" with keeping take-out containers was revealed, my husband whispered to me, "You should go up and give her a hug!" Annie, you are not alone! Lots of us have hard time giving up those containers, because they're so useful. Thanks for terrific articles in the Post and this wonderful chat!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks for the kind words...and, of course, I could kill Jura for outing me about my container habit. But I know we are not alone. There must me thousands of us out there.

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Silver Spring, Md: Hi there. I heard a four-lined poem the other day that I love and want to somehow display it in my son's room (he's 2 1/2). I saw vinyl letters online and wondered about that, but also thought I'd see if you had any other suggestions. Thanks!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear SS - If you know a calligrapher, or someone in your family is really handy with embroidery thread, you might want to go that route and make it a family heirloom to be passed down to future generations.

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Clifton, Va: I tip the pizza guy and chines delivery guy 20 percent. It depends on the level of service and attitude of the furniture delivery guys. If the painter is going to be there for a couple of days I stock the fridge with water and soda, buy them lunch and have a couple six packs of good beer when the job is done. My plumber, electrician and carpenter all make over a $100k a year. Tip please. My mechanic makes over $150k. And they need plumbers electricians and auto techs big time. Why go to college and make $40k working for a non profit.

You wonderful article in today's WP about the living room make over is going to cost $5k or more just for the Tv above the fireplace and hiding the wires. You need to provide a price for the designers complete redo.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks for the tipping input. And good point about pricing things out in HouseCalls. Sometimes designers live on a different economic planet than the rest of us.

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Ceiling pot rack in kitchen?: Are these still done? I have a 9 foot ceiling in my kitchen and would love to do one of those copper or iron racks to hang some pots and herbs from. Where should I try to buy one of these?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Pot rack - They are not out of style, particularly if storage is a problem. And they can be found all over. Target has one in iron and black chrome for about $50, Sur La Table has them starting under $200. Also try the website www.ironaccents.com, which has them in several styles.

Just make sure you hang it low enough to be able to reach the pots but no so low that the iron skillet smacks the tallest person in the house right in the skull.

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KB in Silver Spring, Md: I just want to let you all know about a couple of great internet finds: The first is Decorarugs.com. They have free shipping plus other occasional specials (free non-skid pads or extra matching rugs free) and a huge selection. I just received two and they are gorgeous. I had a question and they answered very quickly. The second is misterimporter.com. I bought a tufted leather ottoman - great price and also free shipping.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Ooohhh, love when you guys shop smartly and then share. Many thanks.

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four line poem: Paint the poem onto the wall! You could use stencils or even go freehand. When I was about four, my mother and I got back one summer from visiting my grandparents in London to find out that my father had painted a whole mural on my wall! There was a wonderful tree with an owl in it and near the roots was a fox just peering out of its burrow. It meant the world to me.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: thanks for that suggestion. The only problem is that it's not portable. But what a charming thing for Dad to have done.

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Eastern Market, Washington, DC: Annie and Jura,

This is not exactly a decorating comment, but it does have to do with the hearth and home. I have always found that, during the hot, humid Washington summers, flies tend to get into the house and the best way to keep them out of the kitchen and living room is to place a bucket of cow dung in the hallway.

Any experience with that?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Eastern - Actually, in my limited experience with cow dung, I've found that it actually attracts flies. And the smell is not quite what most of us would consider aromatherapy. Thanks so very much for sharing.

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Re: Pot Rack: I just saw one at Home Depot yesterday. Both HD and Lowes are adding some "decorative" furnishing type products to their offerings.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Good find. And you are quite right about upping the "decor" quotient at these DIY giants. First they sell you the lumber and sheet rock, then you come back and buy the accent pieces.

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Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear All - The fabulous Jura, who deserted me this morning , along with the entire Home Section staff, to check out the National Symphony Orchestra Decorator Show House -- it's the 34th annual -- is on the phone live from Ayrlawn in Potomac with a field report....

Dito Sevilla, grandson of the late owners, gave the Homettes a tour and was amazed at the transformation, which any of you can buy for a mere $3.6 million.

Keith Fritz's gorgeous light pearwood dining tables, all hand made in Indiana, in the dining room of Basha White, make you want to pitch out all the dark espresso/ebonized mahogany we've been seeing for years, says Jura.

David Mitchell, in his living room, has a fab fireplace idea for summer -- read next week's Home section to find out, says Jura, proceeding to torture us.

The house if filled with beautiful spaces and great ideas from top local decorators. Even stuff that costs a fortune can inspire us to do it more frugally. The paints are all by C2, and there is a color card that will be given out so you can create the same look at your home.

The house is open to the public from Oct. 8 to Nov. 5.

See our story next Thursday for details and photos.

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Clifton, Va: Pot racks lead to greasy and dust covered pots. It looks nice but if the pot rack is close to the cook top or stove the pots get covered with grease etc. Unless you never cook or have some to scrub the pots its not worth it.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks Clifton. Another point of view always appreciated.

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Anonymous: Silver Spring - I saw you both last Saturday at the Home and Remodeling Expo in Chantilly and I think you are even more diva-like in person.

Now for a question. I see all these giant refrigerators out there, but I need something really skinny for a condo. Help!!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Anonymous - Thanks. Two companies currently make slim-line fridges. Northland and Leibherr. Naturally, they are not inexpensive, but they look great. Locally, they can be ordered through Foremost Appliances in Chantilly, Va.

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Tips: I look at it this way. I want a good rappour with these people. I presume I'm going to keep having to have them in my house and it's important that I show it's appreciated. I always offer coffee or tea and I always tip. Nothing like showing willing. Quite frankly, it's a small amount of money that reaps great benefits in goodwill.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks for the "tip."

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Bowie, Md.: Say it ain't so! Storehouse is my favorite furniture chain. I hope it'll survive. Are they putting stuff on sale now or really waiting until after the sale of the company?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Bowie - It is a shame they are in trouble. Some things in the store may be marked down, so it's worth a trip (with a truck if you want a large piece of furniture.)

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Alexandria Va: Some info for the person building the custom house with little $ to furnish: Husband and I just bought a second home on the eastern shore. Our finances are pretty stretched as you might guess, but we have still managed to furnish and decorate, or at least get a pretty good start on it. My secret: thifts, yard sales, auctions. Before anyone turns up their nose, consider that many folks throw away or donate really really nice things in the DC area - there are many households here with a lot of money and a lot of nice things. Just be discriminating, don't expect that one visit will provide everything at once. Buy what you are not willing to get at a thrift (sheets, towels, etc) and dive for the goodies a thrift can give you, like a great condition wool hooked rug that fits your living area pefectly (Falls Church Goodwill)

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Good point. The great thing about Washington area thrift stores is that there are many military and diplomatic families here who often would rather leave things behind than haul them to their next posting.

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Arlington, Va: With the cooling of the housing market and still relatively low interest rates, do you think people are more or less likely to add additions to existing homes? Here in N Arlington, I see a LOT of additions to existing colonials, and a lot of older houses are being knocked down to build newer homes. I'm wondering if this is indicative of a past trend (since the planning/construction of these homes likely pre-dated the cooling housing market) or if this is a trend we'll be seeing for the next few years.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: It may well stick around because people who might have been willing to sell a too-small or amenity-challenged home may fear they'll not get enough for it and even though interest rates have risen, they are still low enough to make refinancing attractive and provide funds for expansion or remodeling. Just understand that variable-rate or interest-only second mortgages can be risky in this uncertain real estate market.

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Reston, Va: RE: Pot rack

I just got an awesome pot rack from overstock.com of all places, it's wall mounted and a must in a condominium, which I just moved into. It's handy, plus I really like the look of a working kitchen, which mine is.

A question about my new kitchen: I just had warm amber-colored Shaker style maple cabinets installed with black hammered iron knobs, a deep green solid surface counter, and a tin backsplash. Stainless appliances. What color would you recommend? Right now, the walls are a very pale yellow, and it's -OK-, but the kitchen has achieved kind of a mission style. Not much light, one kitchen window but northern exposure. Trying not to go green, as I worry about the clash with the counters, and brown tones seem to blend in with the cabinets.

Thanks!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Try a warm, richer yellow than what you've got now, like Behr's Honey Bird or the slightly more vivid Spiced Butternut.

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Tip the contractor???: I have trouble with contractors showing up on time or even at all. I have trouble getting contractors to complete the jobs that they start. From now on, I won't even hire someone unless I can withhold a considerable amount till the end (when everything is really finished...) Tip?? I feel like the helpless one here. I need the tip.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Great point. Everyone having major work done should withhold a chunk of the balance until the "punch list" is completely finished. There is nothing more annoying that spending a ton of money for a renovation and still need a bunch of minor things done.

In that situation, the client ends up feeling like the first wife who's been dumped by the contractor for a hot new babe.

Attention Contractors: Many of you are honorable, professional and finish the jobs you start. The rest of you...You know who you are.

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Silver Spring, Md: I second the comment about including prices for House Calls. A friend and I have a running joke about the "save space by getting a flatscreen tv" suggestion, which seems to be made by most of the designers featured. Well, duh, yes, that would save space--how about stretching yourself a little for the financially challenged among us?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks.. Will pass these comments onto the editor.

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Washington, DC: I am looking for fabrics to reupholster my sofa and two chairs. I haven't found anything I like at either G St or Hancock fabrics, and was wondering whether you had any suggestions (both higher and lower end) for where to look.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Try Discount Fabrics USA in Thurmont, Md. In leaf-turning season, it's a great day trip. 108 N. Carroll St. Thurmont.

301-271-2266 or www.discountfabricsusa.com They're open every day but Tuesdays. The great thing is that since computer monitors can distort colors, they will send you swatches for a small fee.

If you actually want to see samples, they have a small storefront in Falls Church at 308 Hillwood Ave. (Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5) 703-241-1555.

Good luck.

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Columbus, Ohio: To rack or not to rack: Own an older home in Columbus and kitchen space is definitely lacking. If the writer is in a similar situation, I highly recommend a pot rack and if they get used frequently as they do in my house, they won't collect dust and grease. .2 in the Buckeye state.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: thanks Ohio.

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Alexandria, Va: I'm in love with Christopher Hyland's "Damasco Blasone" silk, which features a large woven pattern on top of striped silk -- but I can't afford it's $500/yard price tag. Any substitution ideas or thoughts on manufacturers who produce products that are similar but more affordable? My room is pretty formal, but my budget is limited. Thanks for your help!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Alexandria - Oh, sigh....another case of Champagne taste on a beer budget. Annie just talked to John Gilbert, the interior design director at G Street Fabrics, who says, regetfully, that "you never get the same look" in a less expensive fabric, and the one you covet is an exclusive product.

Even if you go down significantly, you can still expect to pay several hundred per yard. He suggests checking out Stroheim and Romann and Highland Court fabrics to see if you can find a suitable substitute.

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Stripped Wood Table Leg: Hi Ladies,

I hope you can help with this.. I have a table that I purchased from the Bombay Company and the wood of the opening that the legs screws into is stripped, is there a way to fix this it's practically a new table... is there something I can purchase for it or will I need to take it to a furniture store.

Many Thanks

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: I'd call the Bombay Company and have this conversation with them. It shouldn't be falling apart this soon.

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Ohio: I've tested Sherwin Williams Retreat and Pewter Green on my master bedroom walls. Do you think PG is too dark for a bedroom? There are 3 large sets of windows which will have white trim, along with one whole wall of white built-ins (i.e., not too much wall space). I'm planning white bed linens and window treatments and camel-colored carpet.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Ohio -- Both are yummy colors and since you get a lot of light and are doing so much else with white, I'd give Pewter Green a shot (it's a deep olive, for the rest of you out there). But if you want to be sure, maybe get a sample pot or a quart of Retreat, which is the next lighter color, and start testing with that first.

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Greasy pots in pot rack: This person needs to run the fan above their stove more often -- and/or clean or change the filter in said fan.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: thanks. good tip.

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Custom Built Home: Annie,

Don't forget Craigslist for great furnishings and accessories. Also Upscale Resale in Merrifield and Rediscovered Furniture in Baltmore often have good pieces at reasonable prices. I'd like to say Amen to the person who recommended the local thrift stores. You can find some wonderful things in those in our area.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear CBA - Right you are.

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Adelphi, Md: Not a deco question, but am I the only one in the universe who happens to like having white walls? I find that I prefer to accessorize instead of having painted walls. And on another note, the house feels newly decorated and rejuvenated simply by having fragrance. For some reason the smell of fresh flowers, scented candles, incense, etc. does wonders.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Dear Adelphi - No, you are not alone. Lots of folks love stark white walls, particularly if they have lots of art. It's just that starting in the '80s, so much high design was white, white, white that the pendulum has swung back to rich color.

And yes, yummy smells are most relaxing and welcoming. Annie just bought an orchid plant at the farmer's market that smells like a gardenia.

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Fridge for small space: For the poster asking for suggestions about a fridge for a small space, check out the model LRBP1031 made by LG. I just purchased it and it is much more affordable than either of the two brands previously mentioned, and size wise fits into most tight spots. It's width - 24 inches - is perfect but it is big enough to fit plenty of items inside.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks for the heads up...it's going right into our resource file.

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Harrisburg, Pa: It seems like a lot of stores (Mastercraft, Storehouse) are experiencing problems and liquidating. Are there others? Is there any way we can take advantage of this? We need a lot of furniture and have been waiting for a good sale!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: During the dotcom bust, we discovered that auction houses were great sources not only of high end office furniture (great for a home office, and you'd be surprised how a great boardroom table could double as a dining table) but also of sofas, chairs, etc that were used in outer office.

try www.nationalauctionlist.com or www.rasmus.com They are still good sources of furnishings and even art.

Also, if you're willing to drive to Baltimore, check out C-Mart in Baltimore County. 1000 Joppa Farm Road, Joppatowne, Md. 410-538-6100. www.cmartdiscount.com. They are open 7 days a week and get stuff directly from the furniture showrooms in High Point, N.C. and merchants who are going out of business. Wait a couple of weeks because the next furniture market at High Point is mid-October. By early November, the stuff should be rolling in.

Ooops, we're out of time. Join us here next week.

And happy decorating.

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