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Home Front

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
Washington Post Home Staff
Thursday, December 13, 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 (orcall-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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Jura Koncius: Hey everyone!! Did you see our editor's column today about ReGifting - Page 2 of the HOME section. Belle Elving's WHAT GIVES discusses the pros and cons of regifting. How do you guys all feel about this issue? And has anyone found a fab gift you can give to many people on your list?

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Ellicott City, Md.: We live in a 45-year-old split level that doesn't get a lot of light. I want to brighten up the l.r. and foyer with an apricoty/goldish/yellow color paint but don't want to end up with a garish gold. What do you think of BM's golden mist, amber waves or roasted sesame? Do you have any other suggestions? Also, we want to replace the three exterior doors, all of which are wooden doors with nine panes of glass on top. We want to gain security but not decrease the amount of light. I've seen art deco type doors with a large section of glass in the door, and the type that have an oval decorated piece of glass in the center. What would you recommend for our 45-year-old brick split?

Annie Groer: Even with some added light, all three colors are pretty dark. Go one or two shades lighter than Amber Waves with Wheatfield or Cream...As for doors. check out www.hardwoodandbevel.com, a Hagerstown, Md. company that has a number of selections.

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Falls Church, Va.: This is a gift question vaguely disguised as a decorating question. My sister has a traditional-style home (think Colonial Williamsburg) and would love to receive some good quality placemats in hunter green or burgundy. I've looked everywhere, and most on the market are more "West Elm" than Williamsburg. Can you or any of the chatters help me out? Time is running out! Thanks.

Jura Koncius: Dear Falls Church. A great question as many of our readers have traditional homes! I went to www.williamsburgmarketplace.com - the Website of the Mother Ship itself - and found several placemats you might like. Also I called Abrielle, a swell linen shop in Foxhall Square, 3301 New Mexico Ave. N.W., and Ann told me they had several things in dark green or burgundy in the range of $10 to $15 apiece for mats or napkins.

Foxhall Square is very festive for the holidays - don't just go there when you have a doctor's appointment!

Any other ideas out there?

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Rockville, Md.: My spouse and I have been looking for a piece of art for three years. It's going to be hung over a buffet piece in our living room, and we want it to be the focal point of our space. Our LR is earthtones (as is the rest of our home), but the one painting we like has pinks and turquoise - very Chagall. It's so hard to find art that we both like, is it okay to go completely against the color scheme when it comes to art? If I have it framed and matted in a color from our rug and furniture, could it work? There is a little amber color in the painting we could pick up on in the mat.

Annie Groer: The answer is yes, if you both like the work, by all means, buy it. And good thinking on the frame/mat combo, to help integrate it into the room. So much better than buying a painting because it matches the sofa.

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IN LOVE........: HELP - I am in LOVE (or lust) for the line of sofas at Crate and Barrel - ROCHELLE.

I DREAM about this couch at night, I love the color HYDRA, but please help. Is this a color and a couch that I will still love after at least five years? Orwill I be totally lovesick after three years?!!

Jura Koncius: I love Rochelle!! It has a modern look and a Retro look all rolled into one. Save your money. Start a piggy bank.

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Washington, D.C.: Picture Displays: What's the best way to get as many pictures up on the walls/shelves without overdoing it?

Jura Koncius: Plan it out in advance on a piece of graph paper - see how much is TOO much before you drill the holes. Or arrange your prints, plates, whatever on your patio or on a big floor space so you can eyeball what the arrangement will look like. Look at decorating magazines for interesting wall arrangements.

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Williamsburg, Va.: I am in need of suggestions for something to put over the mantel of a stone fireplace, much like what was done in one of the earlier decorating solutions. However, I think it was the November 29 issue and it is not available on the site; how do I get to that issue?

Annie Groer: Our fab colleague Janet Bennett is on the case.

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Follow-up on daybed: After your advice, we have decided to use a loveseat. We already have it somewhere else in our home and it is comfortable. The smaller size will allow us to be more creative with the remaining furniture placement. Thanks so much!!!

Jura Koncius: Fab.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, We are interested in doing a home energy audit for our home. I've been doing web searches for info but am having trouble figuring out how much a home energy audit typically costs and how to find a good company. We know there's a lot to do to increase our energy efficiency but need some help identifying the priorities.

Jura Koncius: Call your local energy provider - sometimes they will do free energy audits or have names to suggest. Also, check with the American Society of Home Inspectors www.ASHI.org.

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Crystal City, Va.: Happy holidays, ladies! I never understood people asking your advice on paint colors without you seeing the room, but now I find myself desperate for advice! Our master BR, which isn't huge, needs paint. It has a big east-facing window, and the connected bath is a deep terra cotta color. I've struggled for months to find bedding my husband and I agree on, and we finally found a medium tan tone-on-tone, hotel-style set. Carpet is standard light beige.

So what color? He has always wanted an earthy green, I'm assuming it would have to be on the dark side to go with the adjoining bath (as opposed to any kind of pastel). But I'm open to anything at this point. BM colors preferred!!

Annie Groer: Think about an olive green, like Sherwin-Williams Oakmoss or Artichoke. You also might want to consider a strong sage, like S-W's Clary Sage. It will work nicely with terra-cotta and your linens.

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Rockville, Md.: Annie and Jura - Love the chats and the articles, but one small quibble I have is with the House Calls articles. While I love to read them, I wonder if the decorators who put them together are just a bit out of touch. Last week's suggestions came to about $10,000 for one pretty small room, this week's to about $6,000 for an even smaller room. While there are people out there who can afford spending that much on one room, I don't think they are the ones asking the Post for suggestions. They already have decorators. The room changes that they are proposing look wonderful but couldn't they try and do it for maybe $1,000 or $2,000?

Jura Koncius: We are getting a lot of emails like this. We will pass your thoughts along.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Ladies - I love your post! I've gotten great ideas and am usually happy with my choices (merlot color in the dining room; turned an unused front closet into a bar, philipsburg blue from PB in the bedroom) but my family room choice has me stumped. It is in the walk-out part of the basement (sliding doors) and one long wall is a brick fireplace (which, following your suggestions, I did not paint). The walls are paneled and were painted white. I painted stripes following the paneling, and left the indented parts white so it's a pinstripe sort of look. I used Sherwin Williams Ancestral Gold and Wheat Grass. I had painted a few stripes and liked both colors. However, we're not so pleased with the result. My hubby thinks it's from the '70s, and I don't know what exactly I don't like about it. I'm leaving it for now because I know sometimes a color will grow on you. But I'm wondering if I did something wrong; maybe leaving the white stripe? I also painted the insides of the low, built-in bookcases merlot, which I really like, but the paint chipped a little when I put things back in there. I was gentle, I swear! Then I read in last week's post that you recommended painting just the back of the Jadeite cupboard, not the shelves...

Annie Groer: If the stripes look off, repaint the wall solid. Somethings things that we think ought to work, don't.

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washingtonpost.com: You can now find that House Calls on the site!

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Colonial Decorating: I have a lot of luck with colonial styles and fabrics at Country Curtains (countrycurtains.com).

Jura Koncius: Yes. Terrific idea. Thanks.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I like the House Calls article today. I have a very similar living room so I found the article useful. I have a question for you - if you had a dressing room painted Appalachian Green by BM, what color would you paint your bedroom? Thanks.

Annie Groer: Thanks. It really is a nice makeover. As for you, try Benjamin Moore's Knob Hill Sage or the peculiarly named Jack and the Beanstalk.

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Traditional Table Linens: Williams-Sonoma actually has some lovely table linens.

Annie Groer: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello ladies. Love this chat. I just purchased and moved into a 30-year-old townhome and the entire place is in need of updating. I am starting from scratch with regard to furniture purchases and decorating. I'm having trouble getting started in my living room and dining room areas (the kitchen is in between these two rooms). How should I begin? Decide wall color? Buy a sofa? Purchase area rugs? Let my framed art dictate? I am going to replace carpet with wood flooring and purchase an electric fireplace for the living room so I'll have a focal point, but beyond that, I need help. I know what I like when I see it, but I'm overwhelmed by all of the choices. Plus, I'm dealing with a rather small living room and a dining room that is big enough to be a combo dining/family room. Thanks!

Jura Koncius: Many designers say starting with a floor covering is a good way to go. If you know you will have wood floors, figure out if you want the look of multi-hued Oriental rugs, solids or a contemporary look with one or two colors. Do you like modern or traditional or mix? Wall color should probably come after you have picked out your upholstery and curtains.

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Regifting: I will happily regift, but only to people that I -know- are happy with it as well. My mother regifts me every birthday and Christmas by "shopping" from her jewelry box. Works for me!

Annie Groer: Works for me, too. Are you listening, Mom?

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Hyattsville, Md.: Good morning--Regifting: Very acceptable to re-gift. Perfectly good gifts shouldn't go to waste or make more waste for the world. I'd like to know that someone was using my gift rather than it going in the trash. But if it was a close family member or friend, I'd hope they'd tell me so I could return it and get them something they really would enjoy.

Now for my question. How do you paint rooms with sloped ceilings with dormers extending from the sloped wall? Paint the ceiling and adjoining slope a different color from the dormer walls and the other three walls? Paint the entire room -- ceiling and all the same color and maybe have an accent wall?

Annie Groer: Thanks for the regift thoughts. As for sloped roofs, paint it all one color. Accent wall is a good option.

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Regifting: It all comes down to intent. If you are regifting because the gift was awful or useless, that's inappropriate (unless it's really a non-gift for that awful in-law). But I think it's totally appropriate to regift a wonderful present that duplicates something you already have, or that doesn't match your stuff, but would go perfectly with Aunt Carol's living room, etc.

Jura Koncius: Yes. I agree with you. Also sometimes you receive a brand new polo shirt or tie from a relative that is the wrong size or the wrong color and you don't know where to return it. If it's brand new, why shouldn't you pass it along?

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Artwork: If you like the art, repaint the living room!

Annie Groer: Great idea.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hi, Annie and Jura---I recently installed new curtains in front of the doors leading to our patio; they required a double rod. I love the look of the window treatments when closed, but when the two layers are pushed aside, the heavy-looking curtain-rod hardware is unattractive, especially the center support. Where can I find more streamlined hardware, or what else would you suggest? Thanks a lot!

Jura Koncius: I know just what you mean Charlottesville. I have the same arrangement in my tiny family room. What we did was buy wood curtain rod hardware and painted it the same color as the walls, which in this case are white.

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Rochelle, Va.: We have a tiny powder room on our first floor. It is currently painted a pale gray lavender with a white sink, mirror and commode. The trim is white as well. This is okay but the surrounding rooms are all in slivered pecan paint for the walls and the furniture is a browney red and khaki. I would love for the powder room to be more in line with the rest of the home. What would you suggest?

Annie Groer: Paint the powder room walls the same color as in the rest of the house.

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Reston, Va.: For Rockville art-lover: Think museums. They have wonderful works of art sitting side by side, in disparate colors, frames, etc. An art teacher told me a similar thing ages ago, about matching art work to decor: think of all the colors in nature that manage to co-exist well without matching!

A question re: window coverings. I have a bank of west-facing windows that currently have beige mini-blinds, the no-cord kind. Love the convenience, hate beige. I like blinds because the privacy/light balance can be customized, unlike curtains or roman shades which are all or nothing. But, I don't have the money to replace them with similar cordless, high-quality shades. Do you think I can spray paint them white, carefully?

Thanks!

Jura Koncius: We called Next Day Blinds. The answer to spray painting your blinds is you probably don't want to do it. When you spray paint them, the paint will gunk up the mechanism and they probably won't operate properly after that. Save your money for the color blinds you want.

By the way, white off white are the two most popular colors.

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Another Split Level Q: We bought a split level last spring and would like to redo the upstairs floors in January (I think the carpet is original from early '80s). My hubby would like to do hardwood floors (or maybe Pergo, since we have two dogs who destroyed the hardwoods at our last house only months after we had them refinished). While I like hardwood, I don't think it is right for a split level, and don't think it would increase the value at all. I think people expect and want carpet in a split level. What do you think? We aren't planning to sell for a few years (especially with the current market!) but I don't want to have to redo the floors again before we move. Thanks!!

Annie Groer: I lived in a '57 split level with fabulous hardwood floors and they were original to the house. If people "expect" carpeting, put it in the bedrooms where it feels yummy underfoot. I would go with Pergo if you like the look and don't want dog damage. There is no telling what buyers will want in five years.

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Annapolis, Md.: What do you think of Valspar's AT Woodlawn Colonial Gray? Trim would be Valspar's Eddie Bauer Almond Oil. Trim color must stay as Almond Oil. Room is an office/den in basement with a good sized window that lets in a good amount of light. Carpet is "beigish" with various green, reds, browns in it as well. Adjoining living room is Behr Witchazel.

Annie Groer: I think you did well.

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Regifting: I regift via Craigslist. Sounds heartless? If someone out there wants it, I would rather they have it than it collect dust in my house.

Annie Groer: Good thinking...Do you sell or give away on Craigslist?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Annie and Jura. Thanks for the chat, it's the highlight of my week! I have guests coming for the holidays - do you have quick and simple suggestions for freshening up the guest room to make their stay more comfy? I''m still shopping for gifts, so I'm on a budget! Thanks!

Jura Koncius: Yes we certainly can. First of all, take everything off the bed including the mattress pad and wash and iron it if appropriate. Give the room a really thorough cleaning and vacuuming. Dust every book. Polish the furniture with lemon oil. Buy a nice holiday plant like an amaryllis or cyclamen in red and put it in the room. Set up a lugagge rack or clear space in the drawers. Clean out the closet and buy a new set of attractive hangers for it it Ikea or Container Store. Put a stack of new magazines or fun books in there, a fragrant candle, and a small tray holding a water bottle and a bowl of chocolates. Put a small wrapped gift in the room for your guest. They will feel SOOO special! Think of it as a hotel room!

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Annapolis, Md.: Ladies, a kitchen question. To update or do a full remodel? Built in the '60s, my kitchen still has the original yellow laminate countertops, and what I can only guess are balsa wood cabinets. Any improvement would be worthwhile, but my dilemma is should I spend my current $25K budget on just updating, or is it worth it to splurge on a more modern open layout, knocking down the wall to the dining room. I come to you, since the design firm I hired (after assuring me they could accommodate the overhaul approach within my budget) came back at $32K for their labor and admin costs alone - no materials. I'm guessing that with cabinets, countertop, floor, door, windows, overhead lights and appliances, the total would probably reach around $40K, at best. Unfortunately, the new layout will require more than simply removing the wall. The baseboard radiator load will need to be redistributed, in addition, exterior door and window relocation will need to be included to allow this new design. FYI, the house will be on the market in the next two to three years, so it's not a forever home.

Am I not being realistic with my $25K budget? Is the bait and hook a typical ploy with these firms, or is their overhead really that ridiculous? I can't believe they were so off the mark. Do other readers have any suggestions/opinions?

Also, if I can sneak in a second question. What are your thoughts on painting exterior brick? I'm originally from New Orleans, and it's quite common there, but so far I haven't seen anything other than red brick here in Maryland.

Annie Groer: Without knowing specifics about the size of the kitchen, etc. I would say that $25k for materials, labor, demolition and structural fixes sounds extremely optimistic. For starters, get another one or two estimates, talk to neighbors, etc.

And I'd love for other chatters to weigh in on the extent and cost of their kitchen makeovers.

As for painting exterior brick, you can do it, but know that it's pretty much forever. If you plan to resell, I'd refrain. If not, go for it.

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Jura Koncius: Has anyone been to great farmer's markets or outdoor holiday markets in the area? We hear the DOWNTOWN HOLIDAY MARKET in downtown DC is great. Get more information at www.downtowndc.org. It's open from noon to 8 p.m. daily on F Street between 7th and 8th Sts. down near Penn Quarter. There are 40 vendors with jewelry, knits, foods, photography, art, etc. Eastern Market and the adjoining flea market is another wonderful place to find great stuff - like Tibetan slippers made from yak wool...

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To 30-yr-old townhouse re-doer: May I suggest a consult with a decorator or resign student before you plunge into a significant remodel/redecorate? There are people who will work on a day or half-day rate, There's the whole work with what you have tack and there are many organizers who also offer decor advice. I used a decorator with a furniture store for this purpose and got a lot of compliments on her ideas. I am using a community college design student now whose work I saw displayed in the hallway I passed through. There is high-end and low-end help, but the average non-professional isn't up to this alone. Save $$ by avoid errors and regrets and have fewer do-overs.

Jura Koncius: Well said. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Our seven-year-old daughter would like to get a loft bed for her very small bedroom. Makes sense to us since it will give her room for a desk and reading spot underneath. Can you or any of your readers chime in on whether the cheaper versions (Ikea comes to mind) are safe and durable? We don't have a big budget for this, but certainly I want to make sure she is safe and comfortable.

On this subject, I would love to see a Home section makeover that focuses on inexpensively retrofitting a city rowhouse to fit a growing family. May I volunteer our family? Thanks!

Annie Groer: We're posting your question for info on loft bed arrangements and ideas for other sources. And if you send room dimentsions, photo and contact info to makeover@washpost.com, we'll check out your daughter's room.

Also, email me directly at groera@washpost.com with a description of your whole house and contact info.

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Culpeper, Va,: On various occasions, we have been given small figures. I would like to display them in a glass-front curio cabinet to minimize dusting. I would prefer to get a wood (not mdf) end table in contemporary, modern or Shaker style. I haven't found this and am considering a barrister bookcase instead. Any ideas?

Jura Koncius: Yes, the barrister bookcase is a great idea. Sometimes you can find these at antique malls or flea markets.

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Clifton, Va.: Dogs destroy Pergo too and it can't be refinished like real hardwood floors.The scratches in Pergo cant be sanded or buffed out.Get a Dremel tool and keep your dog's nails trimmed down so they don't scratch the floor.

Annie Groer: Ah, doggie pedicure..thanks.

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RE: I love Rochelle!!: I, too, fell in love with the Rochelle sofa. At the store it looked more blue, but at home it looks more greenish. I still like the sofa, but I'm no longer in love. Maybe it was just infatuation. I'm thinking about having someone make a tailored slipcover in a neutral fabric, and I'll paint my walls the blue that I still crave. Crate& Barrel will give you a swatch to take home if you ask. I should have done that.

Jura Koncius: Buyer beware!! Rochelle - you are too enchanting.

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Cleveland, Ohio: For Washington DC with small living room and larger dining room - use the living room as the dining room!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Clever Cleveland...Lots of people do this and it works beautifully. It means when you're entertaining, guests are right by the kitchen in lounge mode and then everyone adjourns to the L/R to dine.

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Re: Energy Audit: Try the Energy Star Web site at www.energystar.gov. They have a section on Home energy efficiency, which includes info about do-it-yourself audits as well as links to certified auditors.

Jura Koncius: Thanks so much.

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Room Redos: I've been watching the emails complaining about the high budgets with dismay. I agree that some of the redos have been expensive but come on, refurnishing an entire room for $1000-2000?!?!? The budget for today's redo was completely reasonable! Sure, a room can be nicely redone for less money by rearranging furniture and accessorizing but not if you want to purchase furniture.

Jura Koncius: Yeah.

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Falls Church, Va,: What is happening to Go Mama Go???

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: As many of you know, Noi Chudnoff, the founding mother of Go Mama Go! died last month at age 59, leaving behind one of the great pioneering shops of this comeback stretch of 14th St.(1809 14th to be exact.) Fortunately, her husband and business partner, Jonathan Chudnoff, has taken a leave from his law job to run the shop. So support the family and 'hood and check it out.

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Richmond, Va.: What is a good place to find great wrapping paper?

Jura Koncius: I really love Sally Foster paper myself. You can still get some at www.sallyfoster.com if you neighborhood school sale is over for the year. It is really thick paper and comes in wonderful patterns and colors. It can wrap heavy things without ripping. That being said, if you want a holiday treat, go to the Caspari store in Charlottesville. 100 West Main St., Charlottesville, Va. 434-817-7880. It is full of Caspari's amazing products, including its very high quality wrapping paper, gift bags and tags. Many are artist designed. Going to Charlottesville to shop over the holidays is a really fabulous experience since it has a walking mall in the center of town with great small boutiques and shops and a real feeling of a small-town Christmas. I want to go there NOW!!!. Any other small towns to suggest if you want to get into the Christmas spirit and get some shopping done.!!!

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Regifting: I would not regift. I would pass the unwanted item along to someone else who would use it, but I would not do that as a replacement for a present I picked out myself.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Thanks...

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re: Kitchen Redo: I did an average sized kitchen - new maple cabinets (with tall upper cabinets, crown molding and nice extras like a slanted upper corner cabinet, lazy susan lower corner cabinet, and pull-out drawer cabinet), silestone countertops, sink, faucet, appliances for about $15K a few years ago. No walls moved, though. Talk to a few people.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: Excellent!!! Want to share the name of your contractor?

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Washington, D.C.: Regifting: Why not have a regifting party. Invite a couple of girlfriends over for post-holiday potluck and tell everyone to bring a gift with more or less the same value. Wrap them nicely. Make sure the giver of each re-gift is not present. Or make it a condition for attendance; everyone recycles each other's gifts.

Jura Koncius: What a fab idea!! Just today, I gave Annie a REGIFTED item - A beautiful royal blue and black and GLITTER sparkly top that I bought in rare moment of friskiness. But it isn't really ME!!! Annie and I are shamelessly giving each other REGIFTED items for Christmas. We Regift and we are PROUD of it. Also it's the ecological thing to do!

Annie wants me to know that one of my gifts this year is BRAND NEW from a store in NY. OH OH...

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Bethesda, Md.: Help -- my windows need treatments, but I'm not sure what to get for our condo. We're surrounded by beautiful, mature trees, so I don't want to cover that, but want a tiny bit of cover for privacy.

Any advice?

Jura Koncius: Treating your windows is a delicate issue, especially if you are surrounded by beautiful views. Why not get those lightweight accordion shades - Duettes they are call at my house - that fold up into a small 1/2 inch stack at the top when not in use?

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RE: House Calls: I love House Calls! I get ideas for furniture arrangement, placement of artwork, types of artwork. Today's makeover looks great. I would not be able to make a room look "complete" without getting ideas from these types of makeovers. It's hard to decide how much stuff to put in a room, so I often have too little or not enough. Seeing a makeover like this helps me make those choices.

I also love that the designer drew the cat in the picture.

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: True. It's why we love it, too. And the cat is adorable.

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Hardwoods for split level: My 1968 split-level has hardwood throughout the main living level. They had been mostly covered up by carpet for 40 years, but were gorgeous when we ripped the carpet out. I can't imagine hardwood would be inappropriate anywhere.

Jura Koncius: I'm with you.

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Washington, D.C.: How much money should I spend on my cleaning lady's gift?

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: If she is a regular and does a good job, then give her the price of one cleaning, inside a holiday card. Cash would be nicer than a check in this instance.

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washingtonpost.com: Here's a link to Annie's story on Go Mama Go -- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/08/AR2007110802485.html

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Reston, Va.: Hi, Annie. Great story today on tipping! Here's a question, unrelated to the holidays: What's the rule about tipping your hair stylist if he/she is the owner of the salon? Any thoughts? Thanks!

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius: I have this very dilemma, as my stylist owns the shop. Opinion is divided, but I subscribe to the old school that you do not tip the owner. However, at holiday time, I always give him a really nice gift worth about $50...good Champagne, a cashmere muffler (bought on sale in July, perhaps), a book or two on a subject I know he cares about.

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Completely stumped: I usually don't have much trouble with paint colors, so maybe this is due to all the other selections we have made for our bathroom remodel. The master bath will be 5'x 11' with a pocket door into master bedroom (reds and golds, kind of Moroccan inspired). The tile will be a light taupy-white, cabinets are dark finished (java), fixtures are brushed nickel.

Where should I go with the paint? I'd fall back to my standard chocolate-milky color, but that's all over the main living areas. I can't even come up with a base color to look at shades of. Yellows? (I'm not a fan of yellow rooms). Greens don't seem to work. Blues? I don't think that would go either. Ahhh!

Jura Koncius: What about a mustardy color to go with the Moroccan theme? Concord Ivory by Benjamin Moore?

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Wrapping paper: The container store has a GREAT selection. You can get different patterns that coordinate with matching ribbons. No matter what color scheme you want to use - red and white, red and green, pink and silver - they have paper in those colors. And they group things together nicely to help you pick things out.

Jura Koncius: Yes. It is true that they display everything together to make it easier to match things up. You can spend a fortune in there...

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Annapolis, Md.: One of your recent discussions focused on washing crystal glassware in a porcelain sink. I have a white rack (not a mat) made to fit inside a sink. It is raised so the glasses never touch the porcelain bottom of the sink. It is also very easy to keep clean. Mine is white and I have had it in the sink for about three years. It still looks like new, and I never have broken or chpped glassware.

Annie Groer: This works because your rack is probably coated...But I'd still be very careful.

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For kitchen question. To update or do a full remodel?: Go to Home Depot and look at the Kraftmaid cabinets. Shop for your granite/silestone/whatever. They design and install. I did a kitchen last year on a budget and it looks wonderful.

Jura Koncius: Good advice.

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RE: kitchen contractor: I got the cabinets through Home Depot and used Roberts Construction in Virginia.

Jura Koncius: Thanks.

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Tipping question - hope I'm not too late!: Annie - thanks for the tipping article! Even with the guidance, though, I have a question. We get bi-weekly maid service, for which we pay $120 but we always leave a $20 tip on top of that. Should we still be tipping extra at Christmas? I don't want to be Scrooge-y, but I don't want to overspend, either. Also, the service is through a company so it's not always the same people who come.

Annie Groer: Hmmmmm....The real problem is that it's a different crew each time and you tip each time. Consider yourself absolved but if you're having one last cleaning before the holidays, add a box of sweets or something homemade (probably in twos since most cleaners work in pairs for these companies).

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Alexandria, Va.: I need some art for my bedroom. I really like those paintings on thick canvas that don't need to be framed and are fairly inexpensive(they have them at Bed, Bath and World Market), but haven't seen anyhting I think is appropriate for my bedroom (I loved this one of wine bottles, but it didn't feel right in a bedroom). At any rate, any suggestions on where else to look?

Annie Groer: Try www.art.com....there is a wide selection there that will be more appropriate than wine bottles. Also, think about a tapestry, a piece of fabric, etc. You can buy inexpensive pre-made frames and staple fun textiles to it.

Very Ikea...

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi ladies,

Need some help choosing a rug for our office. We have beautiful oak floors and painted the room a warm yellow. We're going for peaceful, conducive to work atmosphere. Also, the room is fairly small.

Any suggestions?

Jura Koncius: Look at West Elm. They have a great brown rug with a big ivory circle around the edge. It's 8-foot square and made of wool. $399. It's called Stone Rug. www.westelm.com.

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Charlotte, North Carolina: In 2000, we redid our kitchen for about $12,000. That included new Corian countertops, refaced cabinets with new doors and drawers, new sink and faucet, and new cooktop/oven/hood. Replacing the cabinets, the boxes of which were in good shape, was estimated at $12,000, so we didn't do that. The cooktop/oven/hood were original, dating from 1963 (the hood was copper, the cooktop and oven pink). Sometimes you just have to have new stuff.

Annie Groer: Thanks for the figures. Prices may be lower in North Carolina than here, but your priorities about what mattered to you and what was less important are really helpful.

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Re: House calls: Who are all these people who think you can completely redo a room for $1,000 or $2,000? Good sofas alone can cost nearly that much. I don't think that the House Calls articles are too expensive, not when the designers are culling pieces from places like Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn rather than really high-end stores. Frankly, we have spent that much to redo rooms, and no, we do not have enough money to hire a designer. We just have done it piece by piece over the years. If you invest in a nicer rug or couch, it really pays off long term.

Jura Koncius: Thanks for sharing your opinion.

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RE: Home Depot Kitchen: Make sure to watch out for promotions. I got something like 10 percent off my cabinets and countertops by watching their promotions page.

Jura Koncius: Thanks.

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Bethesda windows: The poster might want to check out solar shades -- oddly, the darker the color, the less the view is obscured. I just ordered some, but have not installed yet.

Annie Groer: Thanks for the heads-up. When they finally go up, give us a report, please.

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Girl's loft bed: My friend bought one for his son five years ago from Ikea. His son is now a teenager and the bed is still holding fast. They have different models and you can usually tell if they are strong enough.

Jura Koncius: Wow!

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Columbia, Md.: We're going to be moving to a new apartment soon and the colors are very different. We've always had whites with blacks and grays and occasionally some burgundy. The new apartment has marble in the bathroom that is a deep red/brown color with cream. All of our towels are black or bright orange so I'm thinking they'll probably clash. Any ideas for colors that will go with the new bathroom; we prefer a more modern color palette.

Jura Koncius: Red is actually great looking with chocolate brown or khaki.

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Bethesda, Md.: I hate vertical blinds. They are so ugly and never move properly. Are curtains the best alternative for sliding doors? Do you have any guidance on what kind of materials might work better for a sliding door curtain? I imagine I'd want to avoid extraneous valances and drapes that can't be pushed aside to open the door. Also, when picking curtains, how should they match the room? I have a silver sage-ish wall color, cream carpet and tan-colored sofas in my walk out basement. Cream seems like the logical choice for a curtain color, but I'd love to do something with more edge to it to make the room richer rather than lighter.

Annie Groer: You are right about eliminating all the frou-frou like valences. Use a long rod and big rings for ease of sliding out of the way of the doors. For edge, think about a vertically-striped fabric in sage, red and cream or just totally red, pumpkin or even cocoa colored curtains.

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Crystal City, Va.: Happy Holidays!! I just had a hall bath remodeled right down to the door and light switches. I may have gone overboard on my paint choice, Behr's Pear. Love the lift it gives me when I go into the room, but it seems a little wild for the beige tumbled marble tile, white fixtures and brushed nickel hardware.

Jura Koncius: Love Pear. Good for you!

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Who are all these people who think you can completely redo a room for $1,000 or $2,000? : Exactly. If you want a cheap redo, watch "Design on a Dime" and see what you can get for that. It's not great.

Jura Koncius: I agree. You can only do so much with a hot glue gun and a staple gun.

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Stafford, Va..: We moved to this area from Hawaii just over a year ago and love our knotty pine kitchen cabinets and adjacent family room paneled accent wall. We installed knotty pine flooring. too. My question is what to use to replace the old formica kitchen counter tops. We want to retain the rustic country kitchen look.

P.S. I can't wait until the Thursday HOME section arrives each week!

Annie Groer: You can go with NEW Formica, which comes in a variety of cool patterns, including those that mimic stone in a very rustic way.

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Fab Gift: My spouse and I are thousands of miles from many family members. We were planning to send something from Harry and David's but balked at the prices. So we decided to make our own "fancy baskets" instead, filled with homemade treats. Cookies, etc. for some, healthy snacks (dried fruit, etc) for others, all homemade. Total cost was fairly low ($15-20 to ship, the baskets/tins and ingredients). Given a choice, I'd rather receive a homemade goodie basket than yet another Heritage Farms summer sausage kit. People have been raving. We may do this every year!

Annie Groer: What a lovely idea. And if you've included something really special like a family-recipe cookie, or your signature salsa, you may even want to share the recipe. I don't even want to think about the chemistry-lab lineup of preservatives in those sausages.

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Old Town Alexandria: I just purchased a condo in Old Town (1950s brick building). I painted the open living/dining room in BM Blue Heron. Any suggestions for the connected kitchen (open to the living/dining room). The kitchen cabinets are currently a maple color, but I am thinking of painting them white.

Many thanks for your assistance.

Annie Groer: Yummy color, quite dark steely blue. Have some fun and paint the kitchen the lighter Harlequin Blue or Sunrise.

It will look great, espeically with white cabinetry. Very Delft-like.

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Jura Koncius: Wow. People are singing carols in the office.. How festive. And it's time to say goodbye for today. Annie and I have to go shopping now. Next week, the 20th, will be our last chat of the year. We will take off the 27th and then be back on Thursday Jan. 3. 2008. Gulp. Meanwhile, next week, let's chat again about regifting, regular gifting, shopping and entertaining as December 25 gets closer. Ciao and thanks for tuning in.

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