Home Front: Wood Blinds (real and faux), Safer Lamp Cords, and Smoking Neighbors

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
Washington Post Home Staff
Thursday, May 22, 2008; 11:00 AM

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

Staff writers Annie Groer and Jura Koncius take on all things home related. Annie was online taking questions Thursday, May 22.

A transcript follows.

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


Annie Groer: Good morning all, and what a glorious A.M. it is. Am alone here as Jura and her family are en route to Tennessee for son Nico's final crew race (Go, Gonzaga!)

And though we're all getting ready for Memorial Day, your Home Section is looking ahead to July 4. Does anyone out there do a really fun Independence Day party. We want to do a story on entertaining for the most American of holidays.

Volunteer your ideas and stories by emailing Home@washpost.com.

Now let's decorate.


South Riding, Va.: Hi there,

We are trying to make our finished basement into an inviting space to relax, watch DVDs, play games, and do craft projects. I want to repaint, as it is currently a drab, olive-ish green, which I find rather depressing. We get a little natural light through a north and a west small basement window, and have fairly good recessed lighting overhead. The big color item in the room is the burgundy felt on the pool table. We've got a couple of futon couches, but they need new covers, so I'm open to figuring those out around the paint. Help!

What are your thoughts?

Annie Groer: My thoughts go to warm, cozy and very light -- which means a soft yellow (we're not talking Redskins Gold here). Check out the Sherwin Williams fandeck for Full Moon or Lemon Chiffon. Since the room is a play space, you want something sturdy for those futons...maybe a stripe or plaid that picks up the burgundy and cream, with another color or two for punch.


Charlottesville, Va.: Good morning, Annie and Jura!

I have a suggestion for one of your readers and a paint-color question for myself. To the woman who was complaining about birds waking her in the a.m.: instead of heavy drapes on the windows, try Mack's SafeSound soft foam earplugs (at drugstores). They're very comfortable and will allow her to sleep through the chirps.

For my paint question: My husband and I built a charming 10x10x10 outbuilding with a hip roof, nestled in the trees of our backyard. We stained the clapboards the color of soft bluish-gray slate. The roof is black. There are French doors and trim that now need painting. What color would you suggest? We are at our wit's end. Thanks a lot!

Annie Groer: Earplugs! Good, budget friendly idea. As for paint, my first instinct is white; my second is a red. Check out Behr's Licorice Stick or California Poppy.


Fireplace re-do: Ladies, I have a working brick fireplace in the living room of my mid-century rancher. The red brick has blackened from 50 years of use and I want to completely re-face it with Mexican-type tile. Is this something any contractor can do? Where do I start in making calls to find someone skilled at fireplaces? I live in Howard County, Md. if anyone wants to make a recommendation.

washingtonpost.com: Change of Hearth (Post Home Section, Dec. 20, 2007)

Annie Groer: It is something a good tile-setter can do...If there is someone in Howard County who has a pro to recommend, speak up, please.


Arlington, Va.: Hello,

I have a First Communion dress that my mother made in the 60s and my daughter just wore. I want to have it professionally cleaned and preserved for the next generation but am really nervous about giving it to a cleaner. Do you know of anyone that specializes in this and is trustworthy?

Thanks so much!

Annie Groer: What a lovely tradition. Parkway Cleaners at 8402 Conn. Ave (301)652-3377 specializes in wedding dresses, etc. They will clean it, wrap it in acid-free paper and put the whole thing in an acid-free box until you need to use it again.

Naturally, this process isn't cheap...it will run well over $100, but for a priceless heirloom, we often bite the bullet.


New York, N.Y.: Concerning 'focal point,' does a room have to have one?

Can it have more than one?

Is it possible for open space to function as a focal point?

Is it possible to use open space as a foil when decorating a room?

Annie Groer: A room should have a focal point - it could be as simple as a window with a great view, a unique piece of furniture, a great fireplace. Yes, there can be two, but it's a bit trickier in terms of the symmetry/asymmetry thing. An open space is simply that, space, so there should be something to direct the eye somewhere, even if it is up...meaning using tall accessories, hanging curtains at ceiling level or even painting the ceiling an arresting color.


Baltimore, Md.: Good morning ladies, Jura, I loved your article today, I have several of Mary's books! quick question: I recently received as a gift a hand-felted bowl in shades of blues and purples. It is about 12" diameter, about 5" deep. I would like to display it but am not sure what to fill it with to show off its colors. I know felted accessories are probably not "in" at least for summer, but it is quite pretty. Thank you!

washingtonpost.com: Flip-Flop Living (Post Home Section, May 22)

Annie Groer: Felted objects are really cool, but because they are floppy, you can't load them up with heavy things. I'd actually try putting yours on a table with nothing in it so the gorgeous colors can be seen. The other possibility, if you feel you must have something in it, would be those polished glass beads that go into vases. They will provide texture but still be see-through.


First Time Home Buyer: I really love these chats with Annie and Jura. Help! I am buying a brand new home and want to install wood or faux wood window blinds. I plan to use Home Depot and their measuring services - is this a good idea? Also, are wood blinds hard to maintain? Thanks!

Annie Groer: Congrats on the new digs. Now, do some price comparisons -- Home Depot, Lowe's, Next Day Blinds, etc. Your budget will determine whether you use faux or real wood. As for cleaning, a microfiber duster or cloth should do the trick. And yes, have them measured by the company. If they screw it up, they have to fix it. If you mis-measure, you're stuck.


State College, Pa.: This isn't really about decorating, but thought I'd try asking here. We recently bought a new house with a fireplace, which we've never had before. But every time we had a fire over the winter, the house reeked for weeks afterward. Sometimes we used traditional wood, other times those fire logs you can buy at the grocery store. Same result. Now we're not using the fireplace anymore, but every time it rains, we get a similar smell. Is this normal? Does the chimney need cleaning?

Annie Groer: Last question first....Yes, check to see that the damper is working properly and get that chimney inspected and cleaned. You may have a bird's nest (or, by now, smoked sparrows) up there, or something worse. I don't know if the house is brand new, or just new to you; if it's brand new, I'd call the developer. If it's an older home, an inspection is definitely in order. Make sure you are burning well-seasoned hardwood -- soft species like pine can coat the chimney interior with flammable creosote. Store-bought fake logs should not be causing the problem.


Richmond, Va.: On this morning's House Calls -- the armoire got put right in front of the heating register. That's gonna make a nice cold foyer. And holy cow, it that one ugly rug or what?

washingtonpost.com: House Calls: A Functional Foyer (Post Home Section, May 22)

Annie Groer: Ah, House Calls...One of the reasons we love this feature is that it either delights folks or ticks them off mightily.

Have at it, all.


House Calls: I love the solarium. It is so bright now. I love the splashes of color. Some of the prints aren't my taste, but the idea of using a printed fabric is great.

I loved last week's sheet chat. Some of the postings were hysterical. As someone who can sleep anywhere, I was ROTFL about the high thread count, slick sheets, and cool feel. It made my day.

washingtonpost.com: House Calls: A Solarium for All Seasons (Post Home Section, May 15)

Annie Groer: Like I said....we love House Calls. And if anyone still wants to vent about sheets or anything else, start typing.

Also in HomeFront today, if any of you need fabric, check out the sale at Haute in Middleburg. Gorgeous textiles and trim, low prices. What could be better? $2.50-a-gallon gas to get there.


Washington, D.C.: I just got a new wool rug for my living room. The store recommended getting a rug pad, but seeing as it's a pretty thick rug, it doesn't need the padding, and because it's anchored under a sofa, it doesn't need non-slip help. So is there something else a rug pad is good for? Does it help protect or preserve the rug in some way (how?)? I can't tell if the store is just trying to upsell me or if I really do need a rug pad. Thanks!

Annie Groer: In smaller rugs, pads do prevent slipping. For flat-weaves, a pad can extend the rug's life. If the backing of the rug is coarse, like a burlap or jute, it could scratch hardwood over time if there is heavy traffic.


Hamden Conn.: Have you installed bamboo floors? What are your thoughts?

Also, what would you paint a bedroom that gets not a lot of light. The walls are currently dark blue-gray, white molding and a grotty carpet (which I hope will be replaced with bamboo floors). Is an ivory-yellow a good idea, especially with a black painted wooden headboard?

Annie Groer: Ivory paint is good (and with a black headboard you might want to consider a few black/ivory toile accents).

Eco-decorators love bamboo because it is so renewable - it's a fast-growing grass, not a slow-growing tree. People who have it like it, but beware of dents from spike heels and scratches from pet claws and paws.


Chimney, again: House is new to us, was built in 1974. I'll look into getting the chimney inspected and cleaned (damper is working fine). Thanks!

Annie Groer: You're welcome.


RE: Faux Wood Window Blinds: As a Graber expert, I know that the company has both real and faux wood blinds. Graber Traditions Wood Blinds are fashioned from North American hardwoods, a sustainable and renewable resource! The Traditions Composite Blinds and Lake Forest Faux Wood Blinds offer stylish alternatives that resist moisture and warping - making them ideal for high humidity locations such as kitchens or master bathrooms. A local dealer can offer design expertise, superior service and quality products.

Annie Groer: Thanks for the commercial...though we should all know that 'sustainable' and 'renewable' are relative terms. Even a redwood that takes 100 years to mature is renewable.

One other point - faux wood is petroleum-based so the skyrocketing price of oil has a direct impact on the price of faux wood.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm noticing a lot of black furniture in catalogs and magazines. I have an idea for a guest room, which has the inevitable mish-mosh of hand-me-down furniture. A 40's-era china cabinet of non-descript wood (maple maybe) that I'm using to house a small TV and some books, an old oak rocking chair, and a console table that doubles as a dressing table, which is currently painted cream with gold accents. My idea -- a black and apple green color scheme, with all the furniture painted black. I'm afraid to apply that first brushstroke to the furniture, however. What do you think of my idea? Too much black? What about upholstery on the rocking chair? Walls are white at the moment, but that can change in the future. Thanks, and love this feature.

Annie Groer: The easiest way to go from mish-mosh to pulled-together is paint. So go for it. You'll need to do some sanding to prep the surfaces, and decide whether you want a matte or gloss finish. If possible, do the painting outdoors. Love the black and apple green combo, which can be picked up in curtains, pillows, etc. And if you're over white walls, go for a pale, pale green, such as Benjamin Moore's Sweet Honeydew Melon or the slight grayish Italian Ice Green.


Lamp cords: I was recently at my parents' house, and they have a lamp in the living room with a cord snaking across the floor. I watched my 70-year old mother trip over it twice and I think this is a broken hip waiting to happen. (Dad was raised on a ranch and always picks his feet up when he walks, so less of a problem for him!)

I brought this up and they seem resistant to moving the lamp... does anyone know of any type of product that could keep the cord flat on the floor? I think even something raised would be better than that cord. Thoughts?

Annie Groer: Yikes!!! If she tripped twice while you were there, you must move the lamp. This is no joke.

But since they seem resistant, try having it rewired with a 15-20-25 foot cord that runs along the baseboards clear around the room. You can conceal it inside a channel if it's too ugly. Some folks try to run cords under rugs, but this can be a fire hazard.


Washington, D.C.: I live in a rowhouse and my neighbors are chain smokers, so it's impossible to sit on the front porch. Would a ceiling fan keep the smoke from my porch? Would a box fan blowing the smoke back to the neighbors be too petulant?

Annie Groer: No opinion is humble on this chat. Equal voice to all.


Oak Park, Ill.: To the first-time home-buyer: When you order faux wood blinds, make sure they are going to be finished at each end of the individual slats in the same color as the faux wood -- otherwise, you'll get white plastic tips showing at each end, which doesn't look very good with the wood effect.

Annie Groer: Ah, Oak Park, great point. You all are so smart.


Tampa, Fla.: Love the wall color in today's House Calls. Any idea on what it's called? If not, is there a way to find out? Thanks, and your column is the highlight of my Thursday mornings!

Annie Groer: Alas, this is the original color of the space. The owner simply called it a Benjamin Moore yellow. At least you've got a brand to start with.


Falls Church, Va.: Re Chimney:

Get a stainless steel chimney cap, too, if lacking. Prevents all kinds of unpleasantness -- birds (chimney swifts are not called that for nothing), squirrels, even raccoons.

Annie Groer: As our grannies used to say, no outfit is complete without a hat.


Boston, Mass.: Good Morning Ladies,

My husband and I bought a townhouse 2 years ago and I have wanted to paint the kitchen cabinets since that time but I'm really dreading the daunting task of sanding, priming, then painting. Is it possible to just prime and paint? It looks like a fresh coat of polyurethane was put on them right before we bought the house. Does that work against me? Thanks.

Annie Groer: The polyurethane might work against you in terms of the paint adhering. If you don't want to do the nasty prep work, consider replacing just the doors and hardware.


Alexandria: What is a channel? "You can conceal it inside a channel if it's too ugly"

Annie Groer: Ah...It's a narrow piece of hollow molding that is open on one side. It comes curved and squared off. Sometimes you will see wall sconces with a skinny tube going down the wall to an outlet. To make it less visible, it will be painted the color of the wall, which looks way better than a wavy cord. Hope that helps. I live in a condo and the TV cable enters the apartment at the front door, which is about 38 feet from my TV. So the ugly, fat white cable is hidden under a baseboard channel painted the same color as the baseboard (which, if you're interested, is a rich Benjamin Moore purple called Grape Juice).


re: wood and faux wood blinds: You can confirm this information with sales people at the stores, but the one drawback with wood blinds is that they may warp in shape when exposed to moisture. Another aspect to consider when shopping for blinds is the weight (the lighter the blinds, the easier to carry and install)and the cost (blinds are not an investment. You can't transport your blinds from one house to another due to window dimensions possibly being different and the hassle).

Annie Groer: More good blind info.


Rockville: Annie: Do you agree that your fav color BM Palladian Blue would look great in a MBR where the master bath is painted BM Whythe Blue; or will the colors be too close? If so, please suggest a dreamy alternative (room windows face north so it's a little dark). Thanks and best wishes for a wonderful holiday weekend!

Annie Groer: To those of you unfamiliar with Palladian Blue, it's actually a kind of gray-green-blue, and it would be fab in a bedroom. Wythe Blue is darker enough for a good contrast. Just make sure the window trim is glossy white and that you have really good lighting in the bathroom.


Rockville, Md.: Hi,

I received an email that Behr paint is on sale this weekend. I need a paint recommendation for a basement recreation room. It has two tiny window wells that brings in nice sunlight. I am thinking a relaxing green or yellow. The room houses my craft stuff and other storage stuff.


Annie Groer: You all know what a bargain queen I am, and with reports that oil may climb to $400 a barrel, I can only suggest that any of you considering a major paint job buy your colors now because prices are tied directly to oil and to the cost of transporting the paint.

That said, I'd go for yellow rather than green and Behr has two really great light brights: Morning Sunlight and Social Butterfly.


Wall Color: In today's House Calls, it looks a lot like BM's Hawthorne Yellow - we used it in our living room and it is divine.

Annie Groer: Good eye...It's a great shade.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Can you recommend a front door color (I was thinking midnight blue) for a 1920's yellow brick row house?

Annie Groer: Check out Duron's Midnight Blue. Very fine color.


Centreville, Va: I am a first-time home owner of a townhouse. I have been asked by my home owner's association to place indoor window grilles/grids/panes on all of my double-hung windows on the front-side of the house. Went to Home Depot/Lowe's as well as specialized window shops, they are asking for the window manufacturer/serial # (which I can't seem to locate anywhere on my windows). I have a sample snap on wood window grid with pushpins that I have been taking along with me to these stores, but that hasn't helped.

Can you please tell me where else can I get these window grilles created? Some sort of millworks perhaps?

Annie Groer: First check with the homeowner's association. They might actually know the answer to this question, as well as where everyone else got these pop-in mullions (as they are called). If they want you to conform, they ought to give you some info.


to front porch sitter: How 'bout a trellis with ivy to block the cigarette smoke from wafting over to your porch?

Annie Groer: Good idea. Also there are cool roll-down screens.


re: Smokin' Neighbors: Have you tried talking to your neighbors about their smoking bothering you? I would hope your neighbors acknowledge that you want to enjoy relaxing on your porch just as much as they do.

Annie Groer: Also a good idea, but I can tell you from experience, smokers hate being told where they can and cannot light up, particularly if they are paying property taxes on the place in question.

I recently saw a pregnant woman smoking outside a medical building, and was tempted to suggest she also offer the fetus a couple of shots of vodka while she was about it. But somehow, I managed to shut my big mouth (and perhaps preserve my front teeth).


Alexandria, Va.: My bathroom has gray tile floors and a faux gray marble vanity top. Someday I will change this all, but for now I just want the walls to look white. I have painted them white; use white towels and white shower curtain but the walls still look gray -- a reflection, I guess, from the floor and vanity top. What can I do to make the white whiter?

Annie Groer: Try using stronger lighting with a little yellow in it. If all else fails, get a large mirror with a silver, gray or black frame.


Paint color in House Calls: Another thing to note is that colors photography differently than they actually look. I got a paint color out of a magazine that I just loved (it was listed in the back of the magazine) - the guy at the paint store showed me the swatch which was a lot greener than I was expecting. We decided to just match the color in the photo. That might be the best option for the woman who wants the BM yellow.

Annie Groer: Another good thought. And if you think magazine reproduction can be off, try newsprint.


Washington: My neighborhood has several houses with porch curtains-- heavy canvas, it looks like-- to provide extra privacy between porches.

Annie Groer: Good idea, but they tend to block light. Plastic matchstick shades might work, and so would a fan (specially made for outdoor use so you don't get electrocuted). Pointed it at the neighbor's porch to blow the smoke back their way. If you're really lucky, the breeze will extinguish their matches or lighters. Or trigger a really nasty porch war.


Carpet spot cleaner?: Can anyone recommend a a spray carpet cleaner you like, to clean up accidents? I have never had carpets before, and I'm moving into a place with very pale beige carpeting. I've got one cat and a baby and I want to be prepared to clean up a lot of spills and hairballs. Thanks!

Annie Groer: We've had a couple of pet-mess questions this morning and luckily, Miz Jura, our animal czarina, just called in from the road (looking for info on a Roanoke area outlet mall, of course). She suggests going to www.odormedic.com or www.urinegone.com for advice and products.


For neighbor of chain smokers: Don't feel bad about putting a fan out there to blow away the smoke! Get a big one!You have a right to use your own front porch. Our neighbors smoke on their deck next to ours and the smoke comes in our windows and slider! Good luck!

Annie Groer: Thanks for the fan-tastic tip.


Lamp Cord: Can the couple with the trailing lamp cord have an outlet installed in the floor? I have these in my current home for the first time, and I'm not sure what I ever did without them.

Annie Groer: They are a great solution, to be sure, as they are right next to the lamp. But if you live in an older place, with thick cement floors, it's a nightmare.


Annie Groer: Wow! So many questions, so little time. So until next week, happy Memorial Day and happy decorating.


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