Design Dilemmas: Live Chat

Do you have a design dilemma? Help is on the way! Submit your questions for DC designers Liz Levin and Sally Steponkusand they'll write back with ideas and advice during a live chat on Wednesday, September 9 at 11 AM.

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, September 9 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.

Submit your design questions in advance now, and check back on September 9 at 11 am to see them answered.

Do you have any suggestions on where to find affordable (but stylish) area rugs?

Sally:  I should let Liz answer this because I’m probably taking her answer but whenever anyone asks me this, I think about the fantastic looking rug Liz bought for her Nursery from Chiasso (  It’s really good quality, was unbelievably soft and had an interesting pattern and great colors, plus they’ll send you samples!  Depending on the size I’m looking for, I often go to carpet stores to see if they have any remnants that fit and could be bound to make a nice area rug.  Often you get a nicely discounted price and a big look for a small amount.  I’m also fond of rugs from Company C (, although I’ve never bought one – just have looked at the website.  Also, Dash & Albert rugs are great, especially the indoor/outdoor ones that you can wash – good for Kitchen/Breakfast Room (

Liz: When budget reigns, I’ve sourced affordable rugs for my clients from catalogs and remnants. For catalogs, I like Williams-Sonoma Home and the occasional find from Chiasso. Remnant carpet is great for cutting into custom sized area rugs. I often send clients to Carpet Palace on Wisconsin in Bethesda. Ask for Ali- they cut and bind on site and have tons of remnants rolled at the back of the store. Georgetown Carpet also has nice remnants to cut and bind as well.

Takoma Park
I'm thinking about getting Flor carpet tiles for my living room, but I can't decide if a regular rug would be better. What do you think?

Sally: I’ve never purchased Flor carpets before have had had two clients do so:  one client had a tiny Nursery and it was colorful, cheap and fun and she could create her own “pattern” with the rug tiles.  It was cute, but not so soft.  I have a current client who has a dog who had cancer and has only 3 legs now…  long story short – I think the roughness and sturdiness of the Flor product makes it easier for him to walk so he won’t slip on the hard wood – but I think any rug would help with that.  If budget isn’t a big issue, I’d go with a regular area rug, they are prettier and not so puzzle-y looking.

Liz: I love the concept of Flor and it is so tempting and can work in some applications. I’ve found the adhesive to be a bit of a pain but have heard clients work it out in smaller applications like a kitchen runner or playroom. I find area rugs to be better. And if you can get a nice remnant as mentioned above, the price is really reasonable.

College Park
Hi! Thanks for doing this chat! Here's my question: How far from the floor should a curtain fall? Or does it depend on the window height? My windows end just a couple feet above the floor and I'm trying to figure out how to hang my curtains. Also, any advice on how high to place the curtain rod? Thanks!

Sally: I love this window treatment question, I wish more people would ask it and not make a mistake!  I think all drapery panels should hit the floor and break – but no puddle.  So the panel should break like a pant hemmed to the right length on your foot.  The curtain rod should be mounted really as high as it can, but if you have a huge amount of space between the top of the window molding and the crown molding or ceiling, I’d split the difference, so if it’s 12” in between, maybe mount at 6” above the window molding.

Liz: Where drapery panels hit the floor is a bit of a personal preference. I always prefer my panels to just break at the floor, like a nicely tailored pair of pants. That works for most settings. A more traditional or formal approach is to have them ‘puddle’ on the floor; where there is more fabric pooling on the ground. Some people like this look in dining rooms or formal living rooms. I tend to do a more modern, clean lined look so just breaking at the floor looks best to me.  What I think looks like a mistake, are short panels that only go to the sill- to me that looks like you ran out of fabric and is a little country kitchen for my taste.

As for hanging the hardware, a general rule of thumb is to mount the hardware (rod) 2/3 the distance up from the window frame to the base of the crown or to the ceiling. I like to visually stretch the window by mounting the hardware above the frame, which accentuates height and the verticality of the drapery panel.

Washington, DC
My bathroom is old and worn down. It has white tile and a white sink, and it doesn't have a ventilation system (which means bath mats don't dry out well so we use towels down on the floor). My landlord doesn't plan to update it any time soon. Are there any touches I can add to make my bathroom a more pleasant place?

Sally: One of my bathrooms isn’t all that exciting either – lots of white…  so I wallpapered (of course), but I don’t recommend that since your bath isn’t properly ventilated.  In that case, I’d just find cool towels and shower curtains, maybe spend a little more than you would normally.  You could go through Leontine Linens ( if you really want to splurge and do traditional, monogrammed ones, or you can also always look at places like World Market, Restoration Hardware, even Target for coordinating bath accessories and towels and shower curtains.  Don’t forget old Martha Stewart at Macy’s and Target too – and there’s almost always a sale on!

Liz: No ventilation is tough. I had a bathroom like that when I lived in an old row house in Dupont years ago. A cheery color on the wall would brighten it up for sure. I also think, if space allows, that a wall mounted towel warmer (check out Frontgate catalog) would help dry out your towels in a damp space and be a luxurious spa touch. I guess also to stock up on Tilex to keep mildew to a minimum and buy a couple extra sets of plushy towels so that the dampness doesn’t mildew and leave an odor. Those ‘bathmats’ made of teak might dry out faster than a mat too. And I love this room fragrance at Blue Mercury that is cucumber and has those sticks in a jar of oil. Fresh scents; soft, abundant and warm towels all sound pleasant to me!

Arlington VA
I just painted my living room Sherwin Williams Fleur de Sel and had new baseboards that came pre-primed installed. I love how this stark white looks against the wall color. Would BM Decorator's White approximate that look or do you have another recommendation? Thanks! Michele

Sally: Hi Michele-Dec White is a nice, bright, stark white which for some people is great, for others it’s a little too harsh and cold.  A slightly softer option would be my “go to” trim color:  Dove White.

Liz: BM Decorator’s white would surely give you that crisp contrast. My go-to trim color is Dove White by Benjamin Moore, but it is a bit warmer. BM’s Chantilly Lace is super bright white too, I’ve used it in renovated bathrooms with new bright white tile.

Bethesda, MD
Hi Sally! I am looking for tips and guidlines on how to display framed photos (family pics) as well as how to make bookshelves look nice. Any "rules" as to how to stack books or suggestions about incorporate other items on the shelves?
Sally: There are no hard & fast rules for how your bookcase should be accessorized, but I like to group books in stacks w/ spines facing out as well as the traditional vertical stacking of books, and then you can put small accessories, framed photos, tchotchkies, if you will, on top of the horizontally arranged books.  I also love to lean picture frames against the stacks.  Don’t forget:  anything can look great framed, not just photos – you can frame invitations, drawings, anything that’s meaningful to you.  For family photos, if you have large ones that you’d like hung on a wall, I’d make sure to relegate them to a back hallway or a 2nd floor hall or bedroom – they tend to look a little too personal on a main level.  As far as arranging framed photos on a surface, I do like large groupings of different shapes and sizes, but usually I like to make sure they have one common thread, like all the photos could be black and white, or all the frames have a bit of gold on them, etc.  Make sure you vary the shapes and sizes and always use an odd number – things always look better in arrangements in an odd number – just like flowers – for some reason 3 always looks better than 4.
Annapolis, MD
I'm looking to update my family room. However, I have two small children. What pieces can you recommend that are stylish, yet very kid-friendly? Erica Leach

Liz: Designing for families with kids and pets has become my specialty! I’m actually launching a new venture September 21st, called Nesting, that is a collection of home furnishings designed around this exact topic. You absolutely can live stylishly with young children. I have an almost 2 year old myself. For my design clients, and new Nesting collection, we pre-treat all of our fabrics with hi-tech stain resistance. Visit on 9/21 to learn more and read about design tips and tricks of the trade for living with kids and pets. In the meantime, ultrasuede is a great first line of defense for a sofa that many retailers offer. You also want to make sure it has a kiln-dried hardwood frame, for sturdiness, and 8 way hand-tied springs for longevity. I love a down wrapped cushion for comfort too. Your choice in upholstery fabric, however, will make your furniture either easy or hard to maintain with kids. If you already have furniture and need to protect it, try calling Fiber-Seal. They offer a great service to protect your furniture and then for 18 mos after treatment, will come spot clean stains in your home. If you need new furniture, visit Nesting online, because pre-treating your fabrics before you make the furniture, gives you protection down to the fiber, not just the surface. This is the best line of defense in stain prevention we’ve found.

A coffee table with round edges prevents heads from knocking sharp corners and a dark colored rug hides stains and everyday dirt. I use a Bissel Spot Bot for hands-free steam cleaning of doggie accidents and food spills. Nesting will be your source for feathering your own nest- design blog, custom furnishings designed for families and online design services. Check us out September 21st!

Sally: Hi Erica!  I think an easy way to update a Family Room is to make it even cozier and more vibrant than you have it – maybe substituting a large ottoman for a traditional coffee table would be a fun, comfy choice and always swapping out old pillows for new ones is a way that’s not too expensive that can update the room.  Add a brightly colored throw (that can be machine-washed!) or hang some of the kids’ art in an arrangement.  Take several of their finger paintings, etc. and frame all in same style frame (pine or white ones from Ikea are cheap, clean and sleek and look more expensive than they are, and often come w/ a mat).  You can have them hanging for 6 months or so, then swap out the art for newer pieces that the kids have worked on.  Enjoy! 

Bethesda, MD
I have a guest room in my basement, which is a pretty nice size – but has no windows. How do I give the room the "appearance" of having an outside view, or attempt to lighten it up a bit more? Paint color is very pretty in there – kind of like a rich gold color. Thanks!

Sally: I’d probably mount a drapery panels with a closed Roman shade (grass shades are great – look at woven woods from Hunter Douglas (  somewhere on the wall that you feel like “should” have a window or where it makes sense to pretend there’s one.  Mount a drapery rod up high, have the panels hit the floor and break and then mount a grass shade under the panels, so it looks like it’s totally covering a window.  Hope that makes sense!

Liz: To give the illusion of a window, you could mount a wall of drapery on a ripple fold track behind the bed that spans the width of the entire wall. It will add softness and the feel of window treatments. I light sheer linen or wool sheer would be lovely, and the ripple fold track mounts on the ceiling maximizing height. In my former home office, there was one tiny window, so on the main wall I hung a 5'x3' stretched canvas of a photo of water with rocks going out to the horizon. It gave the illusion of a view and the large scale made a big statement in an otherwise boring basement room. I liked the play on proportion: small room, giant picture.


Any suggestions on where to find affordable art?

Sally: My associate, Heather, brought the website http://www.20× to my attention.  They have some really cool stuff at great prices.  Also, I’d shop on where there are lots of artists who sell their original work.  I personally try to pick up original art when I travel – even a watercolor painted on the sidewalk, if the style is good, will look wonderful beautifully framed.  I bought a watercolor detail of a tile design outside of the Alhambra Palace in Seville, Spain and had it framed in a really cool, graphic gold frame that echoed its geometric nature and it’s one of my favorite pieces.  I also frame any artwork that friends will do for me.  I’m lucky to have some talented pals!

Liz: Check out local art and design schools to see if they have any shows coming up. Student art is often innovative and inexpensive. You can look online for prints of original art, giclee prints are high quality; often limited edition reproductions of original art. I also like framing non-art- wallpaper, things I've collected traveling mixed with photographic art. Flea markets are good sources too. New framing of a flea find will elevate the ordinary.

Columbia Heights
Do you have any favorite paint colors for a master bedroom? I'm thinking either blue or creamy yellow. Thanks!
Liz: I LOVE Benjamin Moore's Palladian Blue, which is the color of my master suite. It's a soft, spa blue that I have used a lot with success.
My husband and I just added built-in bookshelves in our living room. We love them, but aren't sure how to fill/decorate them. He says he's seen pictures in design magazines where the books are stacked sideways on the shelves. So he tried it on some of our shelves. It looks kind of messy to me. Any advice?

Liz: Stacking sideways works, and it can either be done with all the books on their sides in alternating groupings of 2 and 3 stacks of books per shelf- depending on the size. Or, you can mix vertical and horizontal stacks of books and place decorative items on the short sideways stacks and mingle picture frames of a unified theme amongst the books. Mimicking a magazine photo can help you get the rhythm of the stacking pattern. Editing what you display can help too- less is more in some cases. Some bookcases that is 🙂

That's all the time Sally and Liz have for us today! For more inspiration, check out our recent Great Home Design Package. Thanks for reading!