Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.
Do you have a design dilemma? Help is on the way! Submit your questions for DC designers Liz Levin (web site) and Sally Steponkus (web site) and they'll write back with ideas and advice during a live chat on Wednesday, July 29th at 11 am.
Levin got her start as an in-store designer at Vastu, a furniture store near DC's Logan Circle. She launched her own design firm in 2004, and has made a name for herself with modern yet comfortable interiors.
Steponkus is known for putting an updated twist on traditional styles. In this year's DC Design House, she used cheery yellow accents and geometric patterns in the sitting room. Steponkus opened her design firm in 2001, at age 24. The 29th also happens to be her birthday.
Submit your design questions in advance now, and check back on July 29 at 11 am to see them answered.
Liz: Alright fellow Washingtonians, this was a real treat to answer all of your burning design questions- I wish you all the success in your decorating endeavors! (insert personal plug here) For more info on my work visit us at www.lizlevininteriors.com
Sally: Thanks, DC, for writing in! Had such fun answering your fantastic questions! If you’d like to see more of my work, please visit: www.steponkus.com
Liz: When I think of dorm decorating, my mind goes to posters, plastic crates and lots of clutter in tight quarters. You’ll need to rid yourself of all of the above! I would say first look at your space, and if it is a small space like a studio apartment, it’s worth it to design a super functional floor plan and invest in attractive storage- be it a built-in or decorative storage baskets uniting your collections of media, books and other things laying around.
Often missing in dorm living, are interesting throw pillows, which can energize the most boring sofa. Pick a color scheme and mix patterns in the same color family and toss in odd numbers- 3 pillows is a good place to start. A nice throw in your new color scheme will add cozy pulled-togetherness as will a pair of matching lamps lending symmetry. A framed mirror works in lieu of posters and is less costly than a lot of artwork. That said, if you can find interesting art at a flea or are willing to invest piece by piece – that certainly elevates a space; and art can move with you to your next place!
Even if you cannot afford expensive furniture, you can pull together items that are united by a neutral palette, that looks sophisticated and allows you to mix and move things around as you mature into bigger or different living spaces.
Sally: Since you didn’t mention what room this is, I sort of imagine it being in a hallway where you don’t know what to do about furniture arrangement, etc. I often like to use a console table that is somewhat narrow (max 20” deep usually but it depends on the width of your space, of course) with one or two good sized lamps on top (depends on if you are OK with asymmetry or not), a mirror hanging above (ONLY if you’re reflecting a piece of art or a nice window, etc… when choosing a mirror – the most important thing to consider is what you’re reflecting…) and accessories on top that reflect you. If this space is at the entry of your home or in a hallway, it’s also nice to sometimes throw a funky bench underneath as extra seating, or if the console has stretchers or is a full-bodied piece of furniture like a chest, if you could flank it with a pair of interesting chairs, as this can make for a very inviting, interesting and functional space. You may also want to use a cool, old tray or platter as a catch-all for keys, cell phone, and all of the stuff that you dump out of your purse at the end of the day and have no time to put it away but don’t want to just chuck it somewhere and leave it out. You can consolidate your items there so they won’t look messy or out of place. Sometimes I like to put big wicker baskets under a front hall console that you can use for quick storage for kids’ mittens, boots, umbrellas, etc. Another tip for having this entry hall area is to really show some fun color or pattern that embodies YOU (you can always wallpaper one wall! I did in my front hall – see Washingtonian August 2009, page 133!) and set the tone or style for the rest of the home. You could showcase a collection of some sort: shells, little boxes, tchotchkies, etc. and give your guest a quick overview of you, your style and your home.
Liz: Either a large scale piece of artwork that is proportional to the space, or I often group a collection of items linked by frame, color or style and stagger them. Another impactful option is to buy inexpensive white wooden Ikea frames- 30” or so square or rectangular -and make a grid on your wall. Pick a theme like abstract photography or some graphic image in each one. In a condo I worked on, where the living room had a huge wall up to a loft, I used 9 open square boxes from West Elm and we left them empty as this interesting geometric wall installation. Drew the eye up and was the right scale for the space!
Liz: Try a light yellow paint with the grey and add yellow and bright white towels and accessories. That color combo is hot right now and Sally did a lovely show house in that scheme for more inspiration! White lacquer, daffodil yellow pattern on the shower curtain, fresh white towels.. pretty and clean!
Sally: I agree w/ Liz… yellow is the perfect compliment to gray. I used Dayroom Yellow by Farrow & Ball for the ceiling of the room, whose walls were painted Mouse’s Back, a very striking grey – take a look here on my photographer’s website.
They’re also on my site, but I can’t link you to a specific shot… site is www.steponkus.com As far as bath rug & all of that is concerned, Restoration Hardware has lovely white bath towels, rugs, shower curtains, and accessories that are white with a piping of yellow. I believe they also have it in a gray color called Ash.
Liz: I am going to go back to the "grid" approach on this one. Go to Ikea or find inexpensive white wood frames for your postcards and tile them on your wall for one big graphic installation- gives greater impact than scattering them about in smaller groupings.
Sally: Congrats on your semester in Europe! I lived in Rome for my 2nd semester of Junior year. If I were you, I’d get some inexpensive white or light wood frames at Ikea that are pre-matted for those sizes and then hang them in a huge collection, maybe over a sofa, or in an entry hall – a big group of them will make a bold statement. You can hang them symmetrically, maybe 3 across and 3 down, OR in a random arrangement, that’s a little more organic.
Liz: Ah-ha I just solved this problem for myself! I just ordered this desk from CB2 that looks like a drafting table but with two nifty drawers for small items. Love the white, love the wood edging and metal drawers- modern, clean and great price!
Sally: I’d go for something white and sort of open & airy like the Cadman workstation from West Elm. It has both a large writing table type space as well as an area for storage.
Liz: I nice seagrass or sisal rug would add neutral texture and warmth to compliment your furniture yet not compete with your busy floral pattern. These natural rugs come in many patterns. Sally and I are both a fan of the "Pueblo" pattern sisal rug of large diamonds. Basketweave is a perennial favorite too!
Sally: Chiasso has a lot of fun, patterned rugs that would work with a print on your wing chair and solid brown sofa. You want to be careful of scale – pattern on pattern is fine, but make sure the scale of the pattern on the rug is either significantly larger or smaller so as not to compete with the floral. One nice way to avoid patterns clashing is to select something that is graphic/geometric and regular in nature – i.e. a design with a trellis pattern like this from Ballard Designs.
Jonathan Adler also has wonderful (but pricier) rugs in wild graphic patterns.
Liz: My best advice, especially in this economy, would be to apply for a couple internships with designers or showrooms that can teach you the ropes and give you experience quickly doing hands on work. Ask to be shown how the business operates and to attend client meetings, if they'll let you, in exchange for your more administrative help. I also enjoyed the continuing education courses at the Corcoran in their Interior Design Program. You can take one at a time in areas of color or space planning. Personally, I learned mostly by doing, I had wonderful internships and employers that gave me a lot of creative freedom.
Sally: I started working at the Design Center at age 19, in the memo room of the Robert Allen showroom. I learned so much from the people who run the memo library that I was able to work on their sales floor every vacation that I was home during college and I was able to even intern with a local showroom near my college in Connecticut. Frankly, it’s all about connections at first (my cousin is the VP of Robert Allen), but then I just kept working & working, studying the history of fabrics, interiors and decorative arts so that I grew to have a very good vocabulary in the trade. I worked for 8 months on the Robert Allen sales floor learning the showroom side of the business when a designer hired me and I worked for her for 2 years. I worked part time with other designers, shopping for them, etc. while establishing my own business. If I were you, I’d get an internship at either a showroom or for a designer (I’m looking for an intern for this fall!) and then see where that takes you. And if you can go to any lectures, presentations, etc. that could introduce you to more people in the design field, the better! GOOD LUCK TO YOU!
Liz: My advice would be to ask around and find contractors and designers that people have worked with successfully. There are a lot of bad stories out there. Once you have a short list, invite a few over to go over your project and ask for a proposal or bid. Then you can compare apples to apples. Cost varies widely, and $40K can go quickly. I easily dropped that in two small bathrooms trying to be conservative! Kitchens alone are costly and I would recommend finding a kitchen designer specifically as there are special issues to address in that area that Kitchen Designers know best.
Sally: Yes – I think it’s worth going w/ an architect to get this right. Always better than relying on a contractor to design the space. OR hire a designer who is experienced in renovations (let me know if you need a rec- I don’t do Kitchens really but know someone great locally who does!)
Liz: I think this piece is interesting from Crate & Barrel because you can use it in several different configurations.
It is open storage which is more airy than a heavy cabinet, but you'll need to organize your photos in coordinated albums and negatives in decorative storage boxes. You can pick up your colors in the storage boxes- red or light blue.
Check out the many options at Exposures Catalog.
Sally: I have all of my photos in choc brown West Elm fabric covered boxes on the bottom shelf of my bookcase… they look neat and tidy, are super for storage and create an interesting visual layer to the bookshelf that mostly has books, art, photos and tchotchkies on it.
Liz: Wow that is a lot of dark finishes in one small space! What about adding a shower curtain in a more feminine pattern. I like this shower curtain from Crate & Barrel which brings in a brighter blue that you could pick up on the walls in a lighter shade and add in lots of fresh white towels and sink accessories.
You could also try wallpaper in a chocolate and white damask or more curvy pattern. I think you need to balance out the masculine solid finishes with lighter more feminine wall color and fabrics.
Sally: Hi Laura… well, Liz and I will probably have the same answer to this question: WALLPAPER! Since the bathroom is a small space, you can easily find a vinyl wallpaper (vinyl or wipeable is best in bathrooms and YES it is OK to hang paper in bathrooms) that has a light background that is maybe a light taupe or grey, whichever suits both the counter top and slate in shower area, and that has a pattern on top that brings in those darker colors in small amounts, with maybe an additional color. This way you can add a color or a pattern that is more “feminine” or you feel like represents you more. Something organic like stylized flowers or curvilinear vines, etc. will soften the hard, dark edges of the rest of the bath. This one doesn’t introduce another color but the pattern might work with the slate and browns.
Here is one that has a white background but brings all the neutrals together.
This paper would be LOVELY and girly!
Sally: Dear Stylish Male in the City: first, PAINT is cheap and fast, buy a good quality sofa and good lamps, a neutral rug and everything else you can buy readymade that brings in more color and pattern, that can be changed every couple of years ‘til if you get sick of them or ‘til you find something you love that has colors you want to commit to. Good luck!
Liz: Amen, Sally! I concur Mr. SMC. For inspiration, troll around 14th & U, go into my former haunt Vastu and swing around to And Beige for accessories and stylish yet comfortably masculine design ideas. Good Wood on U has great finds too! All three of those places have great people to work with. Mitchell Gold on 14th is not an indie store, but has good sales and solid style too.
Liz: Congratulations on your engagement! Isn't registering fun with the gun? I personally LOVE a white bed. I don't think it looks too hospital room if the rest of your room is working. I like layering textures in white and off white- delicious. An all white bed also allows for some killer Euro Shams and pretty quilt or spread folded at the foot of the bed. Pick up your accent color in the pillows and continue with bedside lamps- maybe curvy ceramic ones. I love pale aqua blue wall color in a bedroom. I've said it a million times Palladian Blue is my fave! (Benjamin Moore) Serene and restful. Have a great wedding!
Sally: Congrats on your nuptials! I think if you can’t agree on a paint color and bedding scheme, maybe just paint the walls a neutral beige (like Ben Moore HC-81 Manchester Tan, eggshell finish for walls, 2 coats please) and then ANY bedding you get will look good. If you think you’re really fickle, maybe buy a set of bedding that’s on sale or really inexpensive… like from Macy’s (Martha Stewart’s stuff is GREAT and they’ve always got a sale on and coupons in the paper). The other option would be to spend a good chunk, but divide it in two buy 2 sets: one for spring/summer and one for fall/winter, so you don’t get sick of them. Hope this helps!
Liz: I have not seen the flight recliner in person. But, I see online it is a very nifty concept! I don't think the price is outrageous. A similar non-reclining chair from our custom vendors with designer fabric is about $1,300.
Sally: I’ve never seen this in person and frankly, I think the proportions are weird (leg base seems odd to me), and I definitely don’t think it’s worth $2800 unless it’s the most comfortable thing you’ve ever sat in (and you’d have to be the judge of that!)
Liz: Try Ylightling.com or Illuminations here in town.
Sally: Let’s see… mod light fixture… so many options. Depends on your budget. If you don’t want to spend much, try CB2, Crate & Barrel or Room & Board, if you want to up it a little, I love Circa Lighting (www.circalighting.com) or even find an old lantern at a garage sale and flea market and take it to Artisan Lamp in Cleveland Park on CT Ave to be fixed up, rewired and even repainted.
Sally: My favorite dark one is Farrow & Ball’s Mouse’s Back (see answer earlier about gray/yellow), for a medium gray, I also love Sag Harbor Gray HC-95 from Ben Moore, which I just used for my boyfriend’s Living Room. For light gray, I like Ben Moore’s Coventry Gray #HC-169.
Liz: I know what Sally will say on this one Miss Mouse Back Gray (nice medium gray). A great color. Benjamin Moore has Coventry gray which is light and I love the blue hue in their Wickam grey also on the lighter side.
Sally: I’m all for white towels, pretty much all of the time, as they’re always classic. but to bring in other colors, I’m ALL ABOUT the monogram!!! Restoration Hardware has a super line that’s fine and they’ve got plenty of choices of piping and embroidery colors but if you can REALLY splurge, check out Leontine Linens – they have tons of colors for embroidery, monogramming, piping, etc.
if you’ve purchased towels where they don’t do monogramming, take them to get embroidered… my local monogrammer is Debbie Whyte at Whyte House Monograms… www.whytehousemonograms.com (be sure to call or email for an appointment)
Liz: What is going on with all of these dark slate and black granite bathrooms? I think as we said with the previous dark but too masculine bathroom is you need to find a wallpaper or shower curtain that ties those colors together and can add a new accent color to pull from and white to brighten. And P.S. to all the builders out there, black granite shows everything and is tough to live with. You could consider changing the countertop to a lighter stone which isn't terribly costly. More than a shower curtain of course, but we're throwing out ideas here!
Sally: This is a TOUGH question. Well, even though you can’t use fabric in the room, I really think you should still pay attention to and treat the windows. My best suggestion would be white wood blinds… they’re good for privacy, blocking some light and also are timeless so they’ll be classic. For the floor, I would have a faux painter come in and paint the design of a rug, something with a pattern and maybe a border to simulate the color and warmth and presence of a rug.
Liz: I agree with Sally here on the floor painting. A border or interesting design or even white washing would be fun. I would also add that woven grass shades are a lovely and warm fabric-free option. They add something natural into the room and come in lovely warm tones. I'm a big fan of the grass shades- they work in modern and traditional settings easily. See the board I did for Denise in the current issue of Washingtonian where there is an example.