As long as I live, I will have more questions than answers. In fact, I’ve built this column on my endless design and home improvement quandaries. I run my problems by experts, and report my findings to you.
Occasionally, however, the tables turn. Guilty by association, I become the sought-out expert.
Two weekends ago, for instance, I spoke at home and garden shows in Orlando and Denver. To create some buzz (excitement takes it too far), the home editor at The Denver Post asked if she could post a blog inviting readers to ask me their design dilemmas.
At first I thought, “Wait! I’m the one with the problems here! I’m the one stuck in a half-finished basement pulling my hair out because the plumbing isn’t to code. I’m the one developing a facial tic in the paint aisle trying to pick the perfect color. I’m the one eating Tums by the jar because company’s coming and a dead varmint has died in the attic and is stinking up the place.”
“Sure,” I said. What could I say?
And the questions streamed in. Soon I realized I had in fact muddled through and found answers to every design dilemma posed. I’m sharing some of the most universal problems here, along with my tips from the trenches.
Dear Marni: I downsized my home after my husband died and now I have this "monster" furniture in my living room. How do I decorate around it without making it look like the "little house that couldn't"? —Cindy
A: This is the little living room that could! That is, it could work, but you need to break up the furniture, even if it’s a matched set (gasp!). It’s okay, and might be better. Try using only some, not all the furniture. Put some in other rooms or in the garage temporarily. Don't feel obliged to arrange the pieces just as they were before. Think outside the box, literally. And keep accessories to a minimum, so you don’t overcrowd.
Dear Marni: We recently purchased a town home from an "experienced" general contractor. It looks as if he used his 10 percent overages from his other projects to finish the bathrooms. One particularly hideous part is in the master bathroom, where a patterned (mostly black) mosaic tile frames the mirror. The rest of the bathroom is light stone, and the counter top is in good shape. Any help would be greatly appreciated! —Marice
A: This is one of those if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them situations. What’s not working here is the black mosaic stone against all light background. Instead of ripping it out, which is expensive and wasteful, add more dark-value colors to the space. Paint the walls something strong in value. That will help balance and downplay the dark tones in the mosaic. Add a great area rug with the dark tone in it as well. You'll need to gun it with color. Good luck!
Dear Marni: I am newly divorced with a new (to me) house and new mortgage. I have furnished the essential rooms — living room, dining room, and master bedroom. My sister is coming for a visit and I would like to create a welcoming guest room in my empty 10 x 10 spare bedroom. Right now all that’s in the room are a dresser and rocking chair; neither has to stay. What’s the best way to furnish this room on a tight budget? What bed would you buy for a room this size? A daybed, futon, or hide-a-bed? —Peggy
A: I like the idea of a day bed or hide-a-bed; both can double as a sofa. If you add a trundle under the day bed you can sleep two. (I’ve seen some good-looking futons, but many seem a little first apartment-ish.) Besides a great sofa-by-day bed, also put in a small side table with a reading lamp and a clock, and window treatments that offer privacy and light control. Make room for guest’s clothes in a cleaned-out closet, or, if there’s room, keep the dresser. A chair is also welcome, and your rocker might rock. Enjoy your visit!
Dear Marni: We moved into our house six years ago. The previous owner’s dog, Mr. Butler, had his way all over the almost-white carpet. Now add two cats, a husband, two boys here part-time, and the carpet is a mess. My husband wants to put in a darker color carpet, which won’t show dirt. I would like hardwood floors, but he is afraid they will be too cold. Ideas? —Julie
A: Wood! Wood! Wood! Did I say wood? Wood floors are warm, durable, look great with any style decor, are easy to maintain, and you can layer them with rugs. You don’t mention price, but wood flooring will cost more. As a general rule, the least expensive hard floor covering (stone, wood, tile) will always cost more than the priciest carpet. However, wood floors can last 100 years or more, while carpeting lasts about seven on average.
Dear Marni: We ripped out the second kitchen in our house to make an office, but now have this big open space where the refrigerator used to be. I desperately need storage space for my work-related items as the desk can't hold it all. Any ideas for how to make this space look good and be functional? —Karen
A: You're lucky to already have this perfect storage niche. Build in shelving with some doors, or find an armoire to slide right in.
Dear Marni: What can a retired couple do to brighten up an outdated living room? We don't want to redecorate completely, since houses in our neighborhood are mostly scrapped when sold. We won't get back any money we put into the house, but we don't want to be stuck in the ’90s for the rest of the time we stay here. —Mrs. Maier
A: Paint. Nothing transforms and updates a room faster and cheaper than paint. But go with a real color, not something wimpy. Look online at Color Marketing Group’s 2012-2013 color forecast to see the in colors. This year’s great shades include tones of cabernet, deep turquoise and burnt almond. If you need furniture, invest frugally in flexible pieces you can take with you. On that background, add accessories that tie to the updated wall color: accent pillows, throws, and an area rug. Don't invest in anything permanent, like a new fireplace. That help?