Home Front

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
Washington Post Home Staff
Thursday, May 17, 2007; 11:00 AM

Every week, Annie Groer and Jura Koncius help you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? They're happy to whip out their paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself (or call-in-a-pro) advice. They can even help you cope with the eternal pets vs. furniture battle.

Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation between two longtime Washington Post Home writers and their readers about the best way to feather the nest. From bargain shopping to spot removal, antiques to armchairs, they invite all of you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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

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Annie Groer: Good morning all - Check out Jura's fab story on Mitchel Gold + Bob Williams furniture, for a brief history of the contemporary look that is such a part of our lives. And hit us with your decorating questions. We're ready.

Oh, yes, and since the wedding season is approaching, Jura wants to write about "green" nuptials, so if you are or know of a bride who's doing the carbon offset thing, wearing a bamboo fiber dress, etc. email her konciusj@washpost.com

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Alexandria, VA: This quote in today's housework article now has me depressed, Yitzhak Buxbaum writes that "dirt and disorder are usually an external manifestation of your inner condition." I am a reluctant housekeeper at best. I'm overwhelmed by the daunting tasks that is controlling clutter, destroying dustbunnies, and dispelling dirt, etc. However, I find solace in making my bathroom a spotless palace for peaceful reflections. It soothes my tortured, sloppy soul.

Annie Groer: Dear Alexandria - All of us struggle with cleaning, but don't be dismayed. Set aside a few minutes a day to "expand the territory" of your sparkling bathroom palace to, say, the kitchen. I've heard one organizer suggest putting on some rockin' music and for seven or eight minutes each night after dinner, get the whole family, to do a quickie chore - pick up dropped clothes, run a mop under the furinture, vacuum a room. While making coffee, for example, you can wipe off a fridge shelf.

Go for it.

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Enterprise, Ala: I have painted my living room red, We have black and cream furniture and a black and cream cowhide rug and black and white photos on the wall. I feel like we need another color, but what? And when I put in laminate floors - dark or light?

Annie Groer: Yummy red....I'd go dark on the floors and vivid on the accent color -- a poppy yellow, deep grannysmith green or rich peacock turquoise.

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Blue ceilings: Another reason blue ceilings are used on porches and in rooms is that because blue, like other cool colors, recedes, it makes the ceiling appear to be further away.

Jura Koncius: Oh yes! Why didn't we think of that...

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Washington, D.C.: Hello! I seem to remember some time back there was an article about two housekeeping books, one by Martha Stewart, and one by someone else. Cheryl M.? Was there a consesus on which is better? I'm looking for a thorough reference book for all-things housekeeping. Any suggestions?

Thanks!

Annie Groer: There was Martha Stewart's "Homekeeping" from last year and Cheryl Mendelson's "The Art and Science of Keeping House" written a few years earlier (a surprise best-seller with 700,000 copies sold and now in paperback). Cheryl's was more scholarly and a bit dryer, and very concerned with the Science part as well as the art. Martha's, surprisingly in black and white, has many more illustrations. If I had to choose one, I'd take Martha. It's got simple charts and is comprehensive without being daunting.

And since we're talking about cleaning, if any of you have helpful ideas for the woman who can get a handle on cleaning --- I'd suggest she hit the websites www.flylady.com and www.messies.com for Messies Anonymous -- do a good deed and help her out.

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Arlington, VA: Hello!

I am looking for some fun, funky, contemporary valances for some basement casement windows. Can you recommend any resources?

Thank you!

Jura Koncius: Valances don't usually come in funky fabrics. I think picking out a fabric you like and then having your neighborhood seamstress sew them would be the best bet - it's a real easy sewing job.

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Atlanta, Ga: I am buying a brick house, but the brick is not that pretty. I was thinking of painting the brick.... Maybe BM Monterery White with Hale Navy shutters and door?

Suggestions?

Jura Koncius: I'm having my house painted right now in BM Extreme White - and I'm trying to find a great door color. My house is partly white wood clapboard in the front and brick on the sides and back.

Painting your brick is a permanent decision - so make it carefully. Personally, I love whitewashed brick - it isn't as easycare though as natural brick.

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Alexandria, VA: What do you think are the best rooms to put up wallpaper? I'm going to get my entire house painted, but was thinking of perhaps adding wallpaper in certain areas for a little more visual interest.

Thanks.

Jura Koncius: Powder rooms and bathrooms, closets, guest rooms, hallways - that's what comes to mind.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi! Do you do House Calls on rentals? How about apartments/condos?

Annie Groer: Sure we do. And Terri Sapienza said she is happy to look at rentals. the only problem with rentals is that often the owners don't allow painting and certainly don't like structural changes. But give it a shot if your rental needs help.

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Silver Spring, MD: This isn't a decorating question but thought you might have some good ideas. Where can I get nice everyday dishes. I have 10+ yr old dishes from Dansk that I love- deep bowls, big mugs etc. Dansk is gone and I can't find anything comparable. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Jura Koncius: I loved Dansk also. You might try Williams Sonoma - I have some English bowls from them that are quite deep.

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Everyday dishes: Also look around on Beth, Bath & Beyond's site and check in store - they have a lot of brands, with good ranges in quality/price (especially on the website).

Jura Koncius: Thanks.

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Mt. Airy, Md We have roughly a 10x10 kitchen dining area and are having issues with finding the right table to fit the space. With our current square table, we have a chair on each end, which makes things tight. So for a family of five, when it comes to kitchen tables, which offers the best utilization of space-a round table or a larger square table that allows three chairs on each side? Thanks.

Jura Koncius: I would say go with a round table definitely.

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Enterprise, Ala: Thanks! Grannysmith green and tourquoise would not have occurred to me, and both are appealing choices! Will see which one the husband will like.

Jura Koncius: The crucial thing...

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Capitol Hill, Washington, DC : My husband and I spent a year in Africa and managed to bring back custom made beautiful mahogany furniture for our master bedroom. Picture a hand-carved four poster bed, armoires with woven doors, and a huge dresser. However, once in DC and out of its African context, the red-ness of the wood makes the furniture look a lot more 'mission' than we had expected it to. We want to emphasize the exotic nature of the pieces by keeping the room colorful but de-emphasize their redness. How's that for an advanced color question?

Annie Groer: One possibility is to give the furniture a darker stain, thus eliminating the problem altogther. If you dont' want to do that, try pale yellow slightly greenish-yellow wall paint to make it look more brown. Consider Benjamin Moore's Lemonade or Lemon Ice. And keep everything else, window treatments, bed linens, etc, in the white and very pale lemony range.

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Charlottesville, VA: I need help with a paint dilemma - I am usually decisive about color but am stumped on this one. I would like to paint my kitchen which has maple cabinets, red oak floors and soon a "stainless" formica countertop. The room is pretty dark and is also the only dining area in the house. I would love to paint it orange or maybe sage/olive green or maybe I don't know. Do you have any ideas?

Thanks!

Annie Groer: Hmmm, since the room is dark and the cabinets are maple, I'd avoid orange and go with a very light sage or green that would work with your "metallic" countertops. Check out Pittsburgh Paint's Tourch of Lime or Milkweed or the slightly yellowish Buttermint.

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To Enterprise: I vote for the rich peacock turquoise. I love cream, red & black color schemes, and have seen that combo with a little bit of turquoise thrown in on the accessories - a few vases and a throw pillow. Eye catching, but not overwhelming. I'm jealous! I might need to redo the LR now.

Annie Groer: Thanks. As we speak, I'm wearing glitzy turquoise earrings and a vintage rhinestone pin. You know where my heart is.

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N. Va.: I have two projects left to finish decorating my house: buying furniture (already picked out, but waiting for a sale) and painting the house. Which would you do first, or does it matter?

Jura Koncius: paint

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RE: small dining room: I just switched to a round table in my 9x13 dining room and love it! Don't miss my old rectangular table + 6 chairs one bit, and I have room in the dining area for a wall to wall buffet now. I also swapped out 2 chairs for 19-20" tall upholstered storage ottomans that come into the dining room for meals, and then get scooted to the living room afterwards for storage/seating! 6 year old loves it too, as it's not as "stuffy" as a regular chair.

Jura Koncius: Great thoughts. Thanks.

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Arlington, VA: We recently replaced 50 year old hollow core interior doors with solid pine doors.

Originally, I planned to paint them the same color as the trim (BM's vanilla ice cream). But now that they are here & installed (unfinished), I think it might look nice to stain them. Any thoughts or preferences? If you recommend staining them, what shade? Thanks!

Annie Groer: Stain, like paint, is a matter of taste. If you decor is tradtional, go a bit darkish. If it's modern, do something birch like. And if youre house is on two levels, you can paint the ones upstairs and stain the ones downstairs....

In the spirit of recycling, I hope you were able to find a good new home for those 50 doors.

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Everyday Dishes: I was surprised at the number of contemporary styles (quite Dansk-like) at World Market. That store always makes me happy. Maybe it's the funky world music...

Jura Koncius: I agree. It's so fun to go in there and discover something you didn't expect.

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washingtonpost.com: Task Masters: All the Dirt on Housekeeping, (Nov. 2, 2006)

Jura Koncius: Ah yes. Great story.

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Arlington, VA: I have a camelback style couch I am interested in recovering. First- I am interested in your feelings about microsuede. I am considering a vibrant lime green (the actual color of a lime) shade. -It may require sunglasses to look at.]

I also am debating slipcover vs. upholstery but I am worried the shape of my couch might prevent a slipcover from ever sitting properly and look wrinkled.

Annie Groer: Microsuede is a good choice because it is so durable, and the fabric somes in some amazing colors. I have a red microsuede chair and it's a knockout, so go with that lime.

And in your case, I'd say upholstery rather than slipcovers becuase the sofa shape will prove a bit prolematic with fabric this thick. Good luck.

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Arlington, VA: Hello,

I have an unusual issue - I need to find sofas/chairs that are suitable for someone who has had a hip replacement (high back, deep seat, seat height of at least 19.5 inches) but that can also be comfortable for someone who is very short. Can I mix traditional pieces (which typically meet the the hip requirements) with lower profile (lower seat heights) furnishings in the same room?

Annie Groer: Yes you can mix the two styles. And for the aging boomers among us, higher seats are not just a function of hip replacements. As we get older, it's just easier to get into and out of a higher seat. You can tie the two styles together with similar fabrics, pillows, etc. so it all looks of a piece.

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Lynnfield, Mass: Oh, no!!! Another paint question! I have finally convinced my very traditional mother to throw away (or at least recover)her old sofa in the family room. She does have a lovely newish navy blue leather love seat. What warm, cozy color would you suggest for the walls? (If it helps, there are several doorways, a fireplace and big window in this room.) Thanks. Adore these chats!

Jura Koncius: You didn't say what color the sofa would be recovered in. But in New England, a pale yellow on the walls would be very cozy!

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Chairs in Washington, DC: Hi! I think my home is looking a little too old grandma. Most of my furniture came from my grandma and I do like it but I would like something to mix in that is not very traditional. Anthropologie has some great traditional furniture with non traditional fabric but is out of my price range. I'd really like a cool graphic print on a traditional chair. Do you know how I can accomplish this look on a budget? Love you chat. Thanks!

Jura Koncius: Go to a fabric outlet like www.discountfabricsusa.com - it's in Thurmont, Md. if you want to visit. Find some fabric you really like and use it on chair seats, stools, ottomans to tart up grandma.

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Re: Capitol Hill and African mahogany furniture: Why not go for terra cotta? I have seen this done with similar furniture and it looks great especially with some animal prints like zebra and some wonderful masks as artwork.

Jura Koncius: Yes. You are totally right. A great look. Thanks.

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Northeast Washington, DC: My wife and I just bought a condo with two small bedrooms. We are going to knock out the wall between the two bedrooms to make one big bedroom. However, the wall also includes the closets. Having someone come out and hang a wall for new closets is expensive, so we were wondering if you or the chatters had economical ideas or solutions for how to make a closet-less room have a closet-like area. Thanks for the chats!

Jura Koncius: Sounds like you are knocking this wall down yourself! If so, good luck! It you want to create a closet in a room, there are products at places like Ikea or Container Store that are wardrobes/storage units. Some are made of canvas, others of wood. Any other ideas out there?

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Silver Spring, MD: We have a lovely, 80-year old red brick house, with original slate roof. However, I'm not a huge fan of the color of the shutters and trim. The shutters are a dark brown, while the trim is a slightly yellower than pale yellow. I think this is a relatively common color combination, but it just seems kind of meh to me. Any suggestions?

Annie Groer: Kind of eh to me, too. Think of shutters as exterior jewelry or accessories. You can do medium to dark green shutters with a sagey trim; navy, royal or grayish Wedgwood with a pale gray or pale yellow trim; even black shutters with white trim. And if you really want to have some fun, think about a crimson door with any of them.

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RE: Blue ceiling: Last week you ladies told me my wife was not crazy by wanting a blue ceiling in a taupe-walled dining room.

Well, she went a little darker than you suggested but it is still a very light blue and looks great, but here's the twist my wonderfully creative wife threw in.

The edges where the ceiling meet the wall are a little rough in places since we are talking about a 1910 row house, but we can't afford crown molding right now, so she taped two inches on the ceiling and two inches on the wall so it remained white while the walls became taupe and the ceiling a light blue. Now we have the optical illusion of trim or molding and it looks great!!

Just wanted to throw that idea out there in case anyone wants to steal!

Annie Groer: Give your creative wife a big hug for us. And do not call it stealing -- it's sharing. That's one of the things we love about this chat, playing nicely together.

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Chevy Chase, MD: I need help--I recently installed a granite countertop in my bathroom. I have stains/clouds around my electric tootbrush that I can't get rid of. I re-sealed it but still there and the surface has actually lost some of the shine. I used granite cleaner. Does polish do anything? Any other ideas?

Thanks.

Annie Groer: Oops. This probably happened because toothpaste has both whiteners and abrasives in it. I'd call the place that installed the counter and ask them what you might do. And in the future, put that toothbrush on a small saucer so it no longer comes in direct contact with the counter.

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RE: Knocking down condo wall: Did you consider the resale of the condo?? Marketing a one bedroom will be much harder than a two bedroom. Condos are already appreciating at a much slower rate than houses, so don't haphazardly knock out a very attractive line in the resell "Two-Bedroom Condo"

Annie Groer: Very good point. Now think of another.

As the owner of an open-air "no-bedroom" condo after removing mine and turning it into a dining room to get rid of chopped-up sightlines, I sleep in a Murphy bed and call the place an "urban loft." If you plan to stay there for five years or more, go for it. There are all kinds of cool industrial plastics and metals that can be used as a "wall" and give you back a hip two-bedroom when the time comes to sell.

Just another way

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Cluttersville, DC: Any strategies for de-cluttering my apartment. I share a 4 bedroom with three other twenty somethings, so we have a lot of clutter in our common spaces. I also have a ton of clutter in my bedroom. I can't help it, my Mom is the same way. I was born a pack rat.

What are your tips for de-cluttering my life?

Jura Koncius: You are NOT alone. First, I would call a Clutter Crisis Meeting of your apartment. Get everyone to admit they are sick of the mess and agree to set up systems to control clutter in your common spaces. Do you have enough trash cans? Put all books and magazines in one place. Get kitchen counters free of stuff by putting it in cabinets or putting out baskets or bins to catch items. In the fron hallway,or just outside the front door, get a little chest or table with four drawers so everyone can have a drawer for their keys, mail etc. For your own bedroom, put everything on your bed and then sort it. THrow out as much as you can and make shopping bags to give to charity or recycle. DO NOT BUY MORE THINGS.

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Silver Spring, MD: Do you or your readers have any recommendations for a good sewing machine repair shop in the Silver Spring area? I just inherited a sewing machine and I think it needs a good cleaning. Thanks!

Jura Koncius: This one we will toss out to the crowd out there. Any takers?

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NE Closet Dilemma: When I lived in my 100+ year old Philly condo, it had no closets, so I bought a free standing "organizer" system from Ikea--stacked the drawer unit frames about 7 feet (guessing), with drawers on the bottom and a rod across the top, then attached to and middle rung rods to the frame and then to the wall. I hung a curtain panels from a ceiling mounted track system, to enclose the whole thing. You could do some cool Elfa system stuff in the open, much nicer than my jerry-rigged system, and then use floating panels to conceal the new "closet".

One piece of advice I learned recently re: tearing out walls: if the room doesn't have a a closet, you might have trouble if/when you ever resell your condo, listing it as a bedroom.

Annie Groer: Thanks for the tips. Yes, according to real estate agents, a room, to be called a bedroom, must have a window and a closet. But as I told the previous poster, "walls" can be made of sliding panels of really nifty industrial materials mounted on ceiling-level hardware.

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Arlington, VA: Not 50 doors LOL. 50 year old doors that were completely falling apart.

Annie Groer: Ah...duh

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Washington, DC: To Alexandria - I am a formerly messy peron whose house is now almost always organized. The two keys? Number one: I got rid of LOTS of stuff - old clothes, odd gifts, extra kitchen utensils, old soaps/lotions - and about onece a month I drop more stuff off at Goodwill. Number 2: Baskets. They make clean up easy and make everything look neat. Besides all the common uses (like for holding magazines or coralling bathroom products), I keep a larger one in my closet where I fold and store the "lightly worn" sweaters, etc. that I only wore for an hour to run to the store or something, that I used to leave over the backs of chairs or on the bed rather than put away with the completely clean clothes. Good luck!

Jura Koncius: Love the "lightly worn" basket. Most people have hooks on the backs of their doors which get loaded with pants and shirts! ANother thing - get underbed storage boxes - they come in plastic with wheels on them for out of season clothes or extra stuff. Target or Container Store or Kmart.

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Washington, DC: According to real estate rules, to be marketed as a "bedroom," a room MUST have a closet (and a window), so legally, the they could not even sell the condo as a "one-bedroom" unless it had a closet. I'd think twice about removing the closets.

Jura Koncius: Good point!

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Atlanta, Ga: If you could only paint the interior of your house one color, what would it be?

Jura Koncius: Linen White by Benjamin Moore

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remote control blinds: As a comment, wanted to say that I just had remote control blinds installed on my cathedral high window. Works great and now I do not have two hours a day of sunlight on my TV screen. Out of the area so no need to give installer. Was $300 (includes install) for a 2foot wide/5 feet high window.

Jura Koncius: Thanks

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Knocking out wall with closets...: I know we're always supposed to 'live in the now' with our homes, but for resale value, I would think twice about not putting in a closet in the room. If I were looking at houses and a nice big room didn't have a closet, I wouldn't buy the home.

Jura Koncius: I do believe in LIVE IN THE NOW too. But we don't want to go against code...

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Dining Room Tables Redux: I couldn't participate in last week's chat, but wanted to tell you about my dining room table. The top a 54 inches square sheet of glass. It sits on a hand-crafted wrought iron pedestal. It's my favorite piece of furniture ever. Ever. Love your chats!!

Jura Koncius: Oh thanks.

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long storage ottoman: I have been looking for a long storage ottoman where I can stash blankets or my daughter's toys but still provide seating in our tv/play room. Would the poster who changed to a round table share where she found one? Anyone else? The only one I have seen is from Crate and Barrel, and it is a little too fancy and expensive for my purposes.

Annie Groer: okay....www.homedecorators.com has a 16 by 28 inch brown uphsoltered ottoman for $119. The site has a number of other options. And you can think of getting several square ones that can fit togther as a coffee table or be used separately for seating/storage.

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Sewing Machine Repair: We live in Silver Spring and ended up heading to Rockville to get my old Singer featherweight re-jiggered. They did a great job (not cheap, but it's a Singer featherweight). The place is Sewing Machines and Vacuums Unlimited Inc. (http://www.sewingandvacuums.com/index.html), and it's right on Rockville Pike.

Annie Groer: thanks.

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Fairfax Station, VA: Sometime back there was a question on where to find bedspreads - the old fashioned kind that reach down to the floor. JCPenney's has many to choose from in all price ranges - both catalog, stores (outlet in Potomac Mills) and online. Many are sale priced right now. I found a beautiful Chris Madden silk patchwork king size for less then $100.

Jura Koncius: That's a great tip. Chris Madden's things are usually very stylish.

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Columbia, MD: Hi ladies! I've been on a quest for a duvet cover for months. I agreed to painting the bedroom beige and off-white (Behr Dusk and Swiss Coffee) on the grounds that I could get a really colorful duvet cover. I would really like a nice saturated blue to contrast w/ the warm walls and dark brown furniture. I've looked in dept stores, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ikea, and even JoAnn Fabrics (I'm willing to make it myself!). But everything blue is either too icy light blue or boring navy. I'd like a nice pattern too. I really like Restoration Hardware's azure paisley, but my boyfriend doesn't like paisley, and I worry that the white would be too white. A friend who sews says that blues are out of fashion right now, so it's hard to even find fabrics. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!!

Jura Koncius: Blues are never REALLY out of fashion but I agree that navy seems to he the IN blue right now. Williams-Sonoma Home has beautiful blue and white things. Have you tried Garnet Hill or JCPenney? Also Bloomingdale's often has designs that nobody else does in private label.

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Reston, VA: Need paint guru advice. I just painted a small sunroom in Behr Butter Touch, which is a warm yellow (think south of France). I have used this color in past living rooms and loved it, but just realized that I had much more natural light in those homes. Room and whole condo is NW facing, and this room gets the most afternoon sun. Can I use something to tone down the color, without having to prime and repaint all over again? What do you think of the Ralph Lauren pearlescent glaze?

Annie Groer: Love the pearlescent glazes but a shiny finish may not actually tone it down. On the other hand, it could look stupendous. I'd test French Pale Gold or the slightly lighter Pallidium Silver on one, not so prominent wall.

I'm anxious to know how it works, so keep me posted.

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For Clutter Management: For the common spaces, one way is to set a deadline for common spaces. Everything that remains in the common space by a certain deadline gets tossed, no questions asked. The problem with this situation is that there is collective ownership over a lot of the stuff and no one really wants it, but no one feels empowered to throw it away. Setting a deadline and forcing people to take affirmative action for what they WANT can help to break the crisis. (This is also a good strategy for shared refrigerators!)

Annie Groer: Good tip. Also you can have a clutter party, where evryone gets a vote and majority rules.

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Takoma Park, MD:"DO NOT BUY MORE THINGS."

This is the greatest decorating tip ever and so cheap and simple.

You ladies are the best!!

Annie Groer: Ah, were it so easy, but you are right.

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Live in the now: Hip Hip Hooray for live in the now. Tear it down, put in the free standing closets, and smile every time you walk in your house. When it comes time to resell, you might have to wait, but the right person will walk in and see what they like. My house is definitely not a typical mom/dad/2 kids and a dog house, but then again, why should it be. Different people out there like different things, you just might have to market it the right way and be patient.

Jura Koncius: I like your attitude.

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RE: Storage ottomans: I got a nice topstitched brown faux leather storage ottoman at Target, believe it or not, I think it was $79. Not the swankiest piece I own, but functional and attractive and comfy. They have some pretty nice upholstered pieces, too, ranging up to $250 I think. Mine is about 19" x 36, stores lots of Barbies, etc. Opted for the faux leather b/c it's super easy to clean. I happened on a great mushroom velvet tufted storage ottoman at Marshalls, for $99. Much heavier construction, thicker padding. Key for me: hinged safety lids, not the kind that lift off, and not too expensive, since they're mostly for my daughter and dog's stuff!

Jura Koncius: thanks

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Philadelphia, Pa: We recently bought a vacation house in Florida, 50's ranch, very common design. We'd like to give its exterior a more coastal, Old Florida look. Here's our question, do ranch-style houses look best when "tastefully" re-done, i.e. black shutters and subdued colors, or do brighter colors and more exuberence make them stand out (in a good way) from their more staid neighbors?

Annie Groer: Hey, it's Florida, it's a vacation retreat, you're a Northern Snowbird. Go tropical. I don't know where you're moving, but hit the local historical society, which will have photos of home exteriors of yesteryear. And hit a couple of the retro and vintage shops and the libraries for books and postcards. Folks who own and inhabits these places often live in funky, restored houses.

I say embrace your inner turqoise and pink palette. And if you can find an antique aluminum screen dooor with an egret or pelican on the grille, grab it.

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Jura Koncius: I think Anne put in a plea, but if anyone of you know of anyone having a GREEN wedding or aspects of GREEN in their upcoming wedding - please email me at konciusj@washpost.com.

Thanks! I'm off to Philadelphia now to the Stotesbury Cup.

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