News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: My Notting Hill

This week, we get handy home-design tips from My Notting Hill blogger Michele Ginnerty.

Blogger Michele Ginnerty in her Arlington home. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Michele Ginnerty’s blog, My Notting Hill, started in January 2008 as part of a New Year’s resolution. She was looking for an outlet for her thoughts and insights on interior design, and a blog seemed to make sense. “I think my family and friends were secretly hoping I’d buy less design magazines, but it didn’t have that effect,” she says.

For the past 14 years, Ginnerty has run a management-consulting firm, so blogging is a new hobby. It’s also a way, she says, to exercise her creative side. On her blog, which is named for her favorite London neighborhood, Ginnerty posts photos of patterns, designs, and rooms that inspire her. When traveling for business, she tries to make time to visit local home-decor shops and eclectic neighborhoods. She’s even been known to enlist family members to do scouting for her.

We caught up with this wife and mother of two—“My family has put up with a lot of design projects and changes over the years,” she says—to pick her mind about design challenges. How to make a small room look bigger? Tips for landlord-friendly apartment decor? Where to find good secondhand home items? Read on for her answers.

Favorite decor style:
“Transitional—a mix of contemporary and traditional.”

Magazine with the best design ideas:
House Beautiful for its consistent quality and fresh content. The editor, Stephen Drucker, has transformed that magazine in the last few years.”

Favorite home-design TV show:
“Sarah Richardson’s Design Inc. on HGTV. I love the fact that they show you the backstory of the design process along with the finished product.”

Best place to glean design inspiration in Washington:
“I know I should probably choose a museum, but I’d say take a walk though a neighborhood in Georgetown and pop into the many design stores on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. You’ll head home with at least one new idea.”

Three tips for making a small space look bigger:
“First, flowing color. For a small house with rooms in sightline of each other, choose a color palette that flows. Avoid chopping up your spaces with jarring or abrupt color changes. That goes for trim, too: A trim color that’s a sharp contrast to the wall color will also break up the space. In small bedrooms, I like to paint the trim, doors, and closets the same color to help them blend and keep your eye moving.

“Second, mirrors, glass, and Lucite are your friends. A well-placed mirror can reflect light and add depth to a room—just be sure you like what the mirror is reflecting. Consider glass or Lucite coffee or side tables, as they won’t take up a lot of visual space. Even a mirrored tray on wood furniture or a mirror placed at the back of your fireplace in spring and summer can have a space-enlarging effect.

“Finally, edit your space. Less is more. Avoid filling a small room with a lot of small pieces of furniture. Ask, ‘What is the focal point of this room?’ If you have a lot of things competing for your attention, it can make the room feel crowded.”

Three landlord-friendly ways to decorate an apartment:
“Usually landlords don’t want you to paint. If that’s the case, use large pieces of art to combat the typical beige walls. An inexpensive solution is to buy very large canvases and paint them the color you love. You might even be able to get by with the $5 sample pots sold at paint stores. A second option is to attach fabric to the walls with double-sided sticky tape or run your curtain rods the length of the wall so the fabric can bring in the color you want. Sheets in a color or pattern you like are an inexpensive way to do this. Add detail with trim or a contrasting strip of fabric. To change the look of the floors, consider modular floor tiles. What’s great about them is that when you move to a new place you can make the rug smaller by removing tiles, or if your new place is larger you can just purchase more.”

Best and worst design trends right now:
“The best trend is painted floors—solid colors or with pattern. Floors can be painted to look modern or traditional and are an economical way to transform a room. The worst new trend is needlepoint accent pillows in retro ’70s colors. During this recession, anything reminiscent of the ’70s—colors such as avocado and harvest gold and motifs with mushrooms and frogs—should be avoided!”

Last home item you splurged on:
“An energy-efficient, counter-depth Blomberg refrigerator. It was $2,400. I love that it’s flush with my countertops. Plus, I don’t have food going bad because it got lost in the back of the fridge.”

Where to splurge on home decor:
“For a small splurge, I’d recommend any of the Random Harvest stores. You’ll find a mix of upholstered furniture and case pieces along with an affordable range of accent pieces. Their inventory turns over frequently, too, so within a few months you should find something that catches your eye and meets your functional needs.”

Best place to score secondhand home goods:
“This can be hit or miss. For the largest selection, I’d say Upscale Resale in Falls Church; for unique, high-quality pieces, go to Gallery St. Elmo in Bethesda. I’ve found six pieces from these two stores in the last few years. Both reduce the price the longer an item stays. My other recommendation is estate sales, especially on the last day. Last month, I found a steel-and-brass neoclassical coffee table for $5. The glass is gone, and it’s going to need some clean up, but brand-new it would cost $400 to $1,500.”

Simplest way to green a home:
“After changing your light bulbs, buy only organic cleaning products. I’m a big fan of using baking soda and water as a scrubbing agent. I love the fact that while you’re cleaning, you’re not breathing in all those fumes.”

Best investment to make in a home:
“This is a boring answer, but a new roof (when it’s needed) and good landscaping can really boost curb appeal.”

Favorite accent color:
“For me, it’s blue. It’s so versatile. From a pale sea-glass blue to a deep, rich indigo, it can create a lot of different effects. I find blue to be both relaxing and inspiring.”

Favorite local designer:

“Sally Steponkus. I loved her upstairs den at the DC Design House and her dining room at last year’s National Symphony Orchestra design event. Sally’s eye for color is wonderful, and her designs are fresh but classic enough to stand the test of time.”

Favorite local design blog besides your own:
“Two are better than one, so let me recommend Architect Design and Bossy Color. The latter offers valuable and practical advice on color and overcoming challenges to room layouts.”

Next week we chat with food blogger and freelance writer Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence. We find out her favorite cookbook and ingredients plus the craziest thing she’s ever done in the name of reporting. Check back on Wednesday for the interview!

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