Friday, June 25, 2010

PDQuick! Taking the Guesswork Out of Hanging Artwork and Choosing Wall Color

PDQuick Tip:  When hanging artwork, whether it's a single item or a grouping, save your walls from numerous unnecessary nail holes and yourself from unnecessary frustration.  Using wrapping paper, art paper or any other large piece of paper, trace the outlines of the item(s) you wish to hang and cut them out.  If you are hanging a group of art pieces, arrange the cut-out paper pieces on the floor until you are satisfied with the arrangement.  Then, use painter's tape (which won't damage your walls or your paint finish) to hang the grouping on the wall so that you can determine the most suitable height for the arrangement.  Once you've done that, mark the top mid-point of each piece with a pencil and then hang your artwork with confidence.

As an additional pointer, I'd suggest that when making your paper templates, you don't use newspaper or any other type of paper that could transfer ink or other unwanted color to the wall surface.

In a similar vein, when selecting paint colors for the walls, I like to create portable "sample boards" that can be moved throughout the room. Most of us will have a general idea of the color family we'd like for our walls, but the real torment comes when trying to select from literally dozens or even hundreds of varying shades from that color family.  Once those choices have been narrowed down to a handful, most people start painting portions of their walls with the sample colors until presented with an ever-more-confusing melange of slightly varying colors.  That's where the sample boards come in, and I've found them to be a lifesaver. 

When creating sample boards, try to use a good size (at least 18" x 18") piece of sheetrock for your sample, as the closer to the actual wall surface you go with the sample, the closer the paint color will be to the finished product on your wall.  Prime and paint the sample board just as you would the walls (which likely means two coats of paint) and then let dry.  That's it! 

The beauty of using sample boards is at least threefold:  1) In the (unlikely) event that you change your mind about painting the walls, you won't have to re-paint your sample brushstrokes;  2) the boards are portable, which means you can move them all around the room and observe the impact of daylight and room lighting on the paint color from all angles; and 3) when you've made your final paint selection, you can cut off a smaller piece of the applicable sample board and bring it with you when you go shopping with your "room in a bag" (see my earlier article from April 9, 2010).

Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Functional Beauty: Unexpected Touches of Elegance

There's a famous quote by English architect and designer William Morris that goes, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful".  This sentiment has long informed my decorating style, as well as the choices and advice I provide to my interior design clients, especially when it comes to decorating the "utilitarian" areas of their living spaces.  In fact, I believe in taking Morris one step further by striving to ensure that nothing useful in the home lacks for beauty. This article will focus on two such oft-neglected areas of the home, the laundry room and the bathroom, and will provide some ideas that will hopefully inspire you to take the next steps in achieving what I like to call "functional beauty".

When I moved into my first apartment as a single woman, I remember being confronted with ugly utilitarian bi-fold doors that camouflaged the laundry area (it was nothing so grand as a laundry "room").  I was disappointed.  After all, doing laundry is enough of a chore without the uninspiring surroundings.  Still, I learned to live with the functional if unattractive feature for two primary reasons:   1) I knew that as a renter my options were limited; and 2) I knew that my presence in that apartment was temporary.

However, I had a different mindset when my husband and I moved into our first house.  This time, when I saw
the same type of ugly modular bi-fold doors closing off the washer and dryer in my new laundry room as had "graced" my former apartment, I knew that I had an opportunity to make that room my own, and that's exactly what I did.  Out came the ugly particle board doors and in their place we installed beautiful French bi-fold doors (see photos to the left and below).  These particular doors came unfinished, but with a new coat of paint, some lovely fabric to line the windows, and elegant crystal doorknobs, they became a functional AND beautiful element to what could have been a dull and dreary workspace.  As you'll note, the fabric lining I chose for the doors matches the window valance and the wallpaper in the room.  This not only gives the room a cohesive designer look, but also ensures that the small room is not crowded by a cacophany of mixed patterns.  In a similar vein, this room has white bead-board wainscoting.  The wainscoting serves the dual purpose of not only protecting the walls against dings from wayward laundry baskets and clothes hangers, but also adds some visual white space that allows the eye a place to "rest" so that the pattern in the room does not become visually overwhelming.

It's somewhat unusual to find French bi-fold doors in today's decor, but they make a really nice architectural feature and are surprisingly versatile. 
For example, in addition to their use in a laundry room like this one, consider using a single bi-fold door for a standard size closet, or double doors (as pictured here) for wider closet openings.  Or, if you're feeling creative, French bi-fold doors make a lovely room divider (or even freestanding headboard) as well.  Just hinge a couple of pairs together, paint in a color that complements your existing decor, and line with a fabric you like and you're good to go.  Or, if you prefer to forgo the fabric so as to let in more light (in the case of a room divider), then just paint the frames and mullions, or combine paint with frosted-glass window panes.  There are plenty of do-it-yourself window frosting and etching kits available from which you can choose.

The laundry room is just one of the utilitarian areas in your home that all too often is either ignored entirely or decorated with a lack of imagination.  Another area is the bathroom.  But as you will now see, that doesn't have to be the case.

For instance, the bathroom in the picture to the left is very functional but still reflects the elegant taste of the homeowner (as well as her love of long soaks in the tub).  The architectural features of the space, including paneled wainscoting, large windows, marble floors and shower stall, and gas fireplace installed right on the tub deck, all lay the foundation for the luxurious design.

But what especially sets this bathroom apart are the decoratively functional details that are
used in unusual ways.  For instance, a gorgeous Oriental area rug in muted tones (as in the picture to the right) serves as an exceptional and interesting alternative to the standard bath mat.  You'd be surprised how rugged these types of rugs actually are, but remember that they are routinely used in foyers as a place where guests wipe their wet and muddy shoes.  If a rug is tough enough to withstand such rough use, it's certainly tough enough for your bathroom floor.

Likewise, be aware that when it comes to choosing vanities and cabinetry for your bathroom, you are not limited to what is available in the bathroom department of your local home store.  Think outside the box.

The cabinetry in this bathroom (including the vanity pictured left and the armoire pictured above) is actually "semi-custom", meaning it was assembled from modular parts to my chosen design.  Elements such as raised and recessed panels, fluted pilasters that mirror those of the fireplace mantel, carved rosettes and bun feet give these pieces the look of fine furniture.  Additionally, these particular items were selected from the kitchen cabinetry collection of a local home improvement store, an added benefit of which is that the countertops are higher than is standard with bathroom cabinetry.  This bathroom originally had a built-in closet, but the homeowner elected to remove the closet and go with a storage armoire instead.  The armoire takes up less floor space (and is actually a more efficient use of space) and also serves as a beautiful piece of furniture.

Finally, the lighting in this bathroom is anything but typical and is a far cry from the "broadway marquee"
bulbs that often grace the average American bathroom.  The crystal chandelier over the tub, atypical gold-finished sconces attached directly to the oversized mirror, and art lighting are all on dimmer switches, allowing for variations in mood and impact.  Overall, the effect is an elegantly appointed bathroom whose lighting is more typical of that seen in high-end living rooms and bedrooms.

Other decorative elements that add high style to this bathroom include:

  • Architectural elements and onlays on the fireplace surround;
  • Rich chocolate-brown wall color that contrasts nicely with the ivory of the room's fixtures, architectural panels, and gold frames of the artwork;
  • Silk window treatments;
  • Gold-framed oil paintings (also a nice choice for laundry rooms and kitchens!);
  • Elegant silk drapery panel with tassel tieback on the glass shower enclosure;
  • Candles and candleholders on the fireplace mantel; and
  • Throw pillows on the tub deck.


  • If you do elect to have a crystal chandelier (or any other light fixture) above your tub, be sure to check local building codes for safety requirements.
  • Silk is tougher than you might think.  The silk window treatments in the bathroom featured above have been in place for about four years now and are still going strong.  I would recommend, however, that if you do choose to use silk in your bathroom that you first be sure that you have adequate ventilation (to prevent damage from excessive moisture) and that the silk is not exposed to excessive direct sunlight (especially late-day sun).
  • Pillows on the tub deck are a great way to soften the otherwise hard surfaces of a bathroom and add a homey touch.  If you're anything like me, you like to take long baths in the winter but not so much in the summer.  If you elect to use pillows around your tub, I'd suggest using them only during the summer months so that they don't get in your way during bath "season".  The pillows featured above are made from a paisley chintz, but there is a wide variety of "outdoor" fabric available these days from manufacturers like Sunbrella that is resistant to moisture and mildew.
  • Even if you have a glass shower enclosure and don't really "need" a shower curtain, consider putting a curtain on the outside of the enclosure to soften the hard lines and angles.  The curtain would be strictly decorative, but don't worry too much about whether or not the fabric is washable.  After all, you would be hanging the curtain on the outside of the stall and so it will be protected from direct contact with water (I'd recommend using curtain rings to hang the curtain from a swing-arm curtain rod attached directly to the wall).
  • If you elect to go with a non-conventional area rug in your bathroom (such as the Oriental style pictured above), just be sure you include a non-skid pad underneath for safety's sake.
  • Kitchens are another area that can be all too cold and uninviting.  Try warming your kitchen up by using select pieces of furniture placed strategically in combination with your more traditional cabinetry.  For instance, a client of mine has an antique maple bureau in her kitchen that houses her table linens and accessories, as well as an old painted armoire that stores her dishes.  The look is inviting and makes the kitchen's decor more in line with that of the rest of the home.
  • If your kitchen is large enough and well-ventilated, consider using an elegant and unusual fabric to cover the chair seats of your dining table.  You will eventually need to re-cover, but this is usually an easy and inexpensive task that you can do yourself.  In the meantime, the unusual and unexpected choice will look rich and scrumptious.
  • I love crystal chandeliers and try to use them wherever possible.  If the ceiling height allows, try using a petite chandelier in your powder room.  Or, you could even hang one over the crib in your baby's room!  (Believe me, she (or he!) will thank you later.)


I've always been of the mindset that there is no reason why every room in your house can't reflect your personal taste and decorating vision.  Remember that functional doesn't have to mean boring.  Try "thinking outside the box", taking some of the tips I've suggested here and applying them to your own lifestyle.  You'll be amazed what you can do.

Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

PDQuick! Salvaging Your Sofa

PDQuick Tip:  Sofas and upholstered chairs can be very expensive to replace or to reupholster.  One way of avoiding such high cost while breathing new life into tired and worn fabric is through the use of slipcovers.  We've all seen the one-size-fits-all types of elasticated slipcovers available in home stores and these can do a good job for the money, but a nice alternative to both these mass-market covers and the expense of reupholstery is to have a custom slipcover made specially for your furniture (or, if you are especially handy with a sewing machine, sewing one yourself).  Not only will such a covering fit your furniture perfectly (and will, in fact, look like upholstery); if your sofa has loose cushions you will also be able to have them slipcovered individually, which is a much neater look and looks less rumpled than the store-bought varieties.

Additional Tips and Suggestions: 
  • Cutting the fabric for the main body of a slipcover (whether for a sofa or a chair) is an art form in itself, but if you can find someone who knows how to do it well, it is well worth the money.   In the past, I have used an older gentleman who was recommended to me by a nearby fabric wholesaler.  You can probably find your own resource through similar means or through an upholsterer. 
  • In my experience, the cost for labor to have a custom slipcover made has typically been about $150.00 (and you will, of course, need to add in the cost of fabric as well).  Your total cost for a sofa slipcover (depending on the fabric you choose) can be in the range of $300.00 to $500.00.  If your sofa is well-made and has "good bones", you might consider it worth the cost for sprucing up this way and thereby buying yourself several more good years of use. 
  • If you don't want to go to the expense of having a slipcover made for the entire sofa or chair and your furniture has loose seat and/or back cushions, an alternative is to just slipcover the cushions themselves.  This look can be very sophisticated or even shabby chic and is a good idea for a decorating change-of-pace even if your existing cushions are in good shape.  One of the benefits to covering only the cushions (besides the cost savings on the fabric) is that if you have basic sewing skills, you can make simple "box cushion" slipcovers yourself and save additional labor costs.  What makes this an even easier sewing project is the fact that you will already have a cushion (and therefore a pattern) to work with and will be spared the additional effort of cutting a cushion and covering it with batting.
  • If the furniture you are covering is expected to get normal or heavy use, you should be sure to select fabric that is washable.  One of the other great benefits of slipcovers is that when soiled they can be removed and tossed in the washing machine.
  • To avoid future problems with "shrinkage" when you wash your slipcover, bring your fabric to a dry cleaner before cutting to have the fabric washed (and shrunk) and professionally ironed.  This will probably cost you about $70.00 in additional expense, but is well worth it.  A typical sofa with cushions can require about 15-20 yards of fabric, which is way too much fabric to wash in your own machine (and probably too much for the machines at the laundromat as well).  [NOTE:  Once the slipcover is made and the sections of fabric are in smaller pieces, you won't have any problem washing in your home machine.]
  • As an additional point, if you find that the foam cushions on your furniture need replacing as well, consider having new upholstery-grade foam cut.  Again, the cost is not minimal (e.g., a 24" x 80" piece of high-density upholstery foam will cost about $85.00 to $100.00) but it is a small fraction of what a new sofa would cost you.  Just remember that upholstery for use with "heavy-use" furniture should always be high-density.  You should also be sure to cover the foam in dacron wrap, which is rather inexpensive and will "soften" the sharp corners of the foam and make it more comfortable for sitting.  All of these materials are available at any upholstery supply store or in some cases at fabric stores.
  • Even if your sofa is still in good shape, one way to ensure that you protect your investment is to invest in a yearly professional upholstery cleaning.  You can find such services in the Yellow Pages or online.  Just be sure you go with a reputable company (check with the Better Business Bureau or ask friends or neighbors to recommend someone).
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton