Annie Elliott says her brother came up with the name for her home-design business and blog, Bossy Color: “That says a lot about our relationship, doesn’t it?” She founded the company in 2004 after earning a graduate degree in art history from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The blog soon followed when she started hearing the same design questions from clients over and over. “I figured if three people are wrestling with this, there must be more out there,” she says.
Elliott’s “Dear Abby”-style blog was born. She collects questions from design-stumped readers and offers advice. Her blog has been mentioned in the Washington Post and the Seattle Times, but Elliott says many of her readers come from Google searches. “People all over the world seem to be perplexed by accent walls,” she says.
Elliott lives in a 1910 Woodley Park rowhouse with her husband, twin daughters, and cats. She grew up in upstate New York but moved to DC after graduate school to take a job at the Corcoran. “As for my age,” she says, “let’s just say that I’ve taught my daughters to tell people that I’m 26.”
We caught up with the perpetual 26-year-old to pick her brain about home design and some of her biggest decorating challenges. Read on to find out how to make a small space look bigger, where to glean design inspiration in Washington, and, of course, what to do about those darn accent walls.Length of your love affair with home design:
“I’ve always been sensitive to my environment. When I was a little kid, I’d ride my bike to the next town over to buy wallpaper for my dollhouse. It was nuts. I just re-wallpapered that dollhouse for my daughters, actually. You can just print it out from the Internet now—no physical exertion required.”
Five words to describe your design aesthetic:
“Unfussy, color-conscious, strategic, personalized, happy.”
Five words to describe the decor in your home:
“Waiting for cats to die—they shred everything! Just kidding, that’s mean. How about: Art-centric, colorful, mix-y, cheery, kid-friendly.”
Most common reader question—and your best answer:
“A surprising number of people write to bossy blog about exterior paint colors. In a recent blog post, the writer mentioned that her husband had walked out on her several months earlier, and she was starting a new life by moving to a different part of the country and into a house she hadn’t seen in person. I was happy with the two options I gave her—tame yellow and bossy dark pink—but what I really loved were the comments from other readers. ‘Hang in there, what a cad, good for you . . . ’—all these positive notes from people she’d never met. The writer was grateful for both the advice and the support. It was quite touching.”
Biggest design disaster you’ve confronted with a client:
“I had a bait-and-switch fabric situation: A manufacturer sent fabric that was of noticeably poorer quality than the swatch. After two rounds of trying to get the original fabric, we chose a new pattern. Then the showroom assured us that they had enough in stock, but in the end they didn’t. Finally, I asked for a refund, and you know what? They wouldn’t do it. They’re still holding a credit on my account until I place my next order. I was furious. This week—eight months (!!) after we started—fabric from a new manufacturer is going on the chairs. The client has been such a trooper. She deserves a medal.”
Magazine to glean the best design inspiration:
“I like Elle Décor, and I love Dwell, but I get frustrated when I can’t locate the funky industrial materials or find workers to implement the ideas in the magazine.”
Best neighborhood to glean design inspiration in Washington:
“I think 14th Street, Northwest, is a fantastic design corridor. Mitchell Gold and Vastu are great for furniture as are Miss Pixie’s and Good Wood if you like vintage shopping. Timothy Paul has gorgeous rugs and a separate bedding shop. Go Mama Go! is great for small accessories.”
Three tips for making a small space look bigger:
“1) Brighten. Make sure you have enough ambient light from floor and table lamps, especially in the corners of the room. 2) Lighten. Use light colors on the walls, trim, and ceiling. It doesn’t have to be the same color—you could use very light blue on the walls, creamy white on trim, and off-white on the ceiling, for example—but the space will seem larger if none of the colors is too dark. 3) Scale back. The furniture must be appropriately scaled: no overstuffed chairs or sectionals. And nix a large coffee table in favor of several small side tables.”
Three landlord-friendly ways to decorate and personalize an apartment:
“I’ve actually blogged about this before, but here’s the short of it. First, no color is more depressing than ‘rental-unit cream.’ Definitely ask your landlord if you can paint a room or two (walls only). Choose a super-light color: Mistakes don’t show as much, and it’ll be easier to paint over when you leave. Even a light color can have a dramatic impact.
“Second, liberate one ‘good’ piece of furniture from your parents’ house—a dresser, a desk, a coffee table—or buy something unique from a secondhand shop. No matter how much Ikea and Target furniture surrounds it, this special piece will distinguish your apartment from everyone else’s.
“Buy a multi-colored rug from Anthropologie or Rugman.com. Not too big—five-by-seven feet is a versatile size. That will personalize your space while giving you many colors to draw from. Plus, you’ll always find a place for a rug this size.”
Best and worst current design trend:
“I’m all for a continued emphasis on all things ‘green’ or ‘sustainable.’ I also love the growing attention to patterns and colors from other countries, such as India and Africa. Wallpaper is back, too, which is fantastic.
“As for unfortunate design trends, I have to say ‘Hollywood Regency’ or ‘Hollywood Glamour.’ You know, the shiny nickel finishes, mirrored chests, white rugs and furniture. Every time I think the look is over, I see it somewhere and cringe. It’s so not user-friendly. It’s hard for me to appreciate a look if I can’t imagine living with it.”
Last home item you splurged on—and how much it cost:
“I fell in love with a hand-blocked fabric from Galbraith & Paul, so I had a headboard made out of it for our bedroom. I think the fabric, labor, and installation came to about $1,700. It was definitely a splurge.”
Best place to score secondhand home goods:
“You must go to Good Wood, which sells refurbished furniture. How often do you see a junky piece and say to yourself, ‘Oh, that would be so great if I refinish it, and if I get new knobs, and if I fix that leg, and if if if . . . ’ Good Wood has done all of that for you—everything is in take-home condition. It doesn’t hurt that the owners are lovely and the prices are extremely reasonable.”
Best investment to make in a home:
“Investing in a new kitchen is always a good idea, but you don’t need to go overboard. New cabinets—even low-budget ones—a sensible layout, and decent appliances can be enough. Built-in bookshelves are a great investment, but they must be high quality. Bad shelving can really cheapen a room.”
When to do an accent wall and how to pick a color:
“I have a love/hate relationship with the accent wall. I even wrote a brief post about it here. When used wisely, they can be an effective way to define a space or make a room more interesting. Here are a few tips: First, make sure an accent wall is the way to go. Are you trying to define a particular area, or are you just out of ideas to make the room more snazzy? If it’s the latter, think twice. You can add interest by bringing in accent colors in other ways—through pillows or lamps, for example. Second, choose the right wall. Don’t use a wall that has too many windows or doors as your accent wall. Go for a nice, clean rectangular wall for the accent color instead. Third, remember that ‘accent wall’ doesn’t have to equal ‘bright color,’ such as red or orange. A more sophisticated approach is to use the same color a few shades darker. For example, if three walls are light grey-green, the accent wall could be a stronger olive green. Or you could use colors that are the same value (intensity) but different hues—three walls taupe and the accent wall grey.”
Favorite local designer:
“I’m a huge fan of Theo Adamstein and Olivia Demetriou. They’re so good they don’t need a ‘signature look;’ they do the right thing and design thoughtfully for the client and the space. It looks like they have fun with their projects, too.”
Favorite local design blog, besides your own:
“I’m so excited that Apartment Therapy finally has a DC reporter (who happens to be sharp as a tack). My Notting Hill also is a favorite.”
On deck for the Blogger Beat is a special The Real World: DC blogger showdown! We’ve got bloggers from both sides of the debate to talk about what they love and hate about the MTV reality show, where to spot and avoid the cast, and their predictions for the DC season. Stay tuned!
Have a favorite blogger you’d like to hear from? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.