Answers to 10 Popular Decorating Questions

As you can imagine, I get asked design questions all the time.  There are those that stand out because they are asked most often.  Believe me, there are more than 10, but let’s just get started with these.

1. I have an open plan in my home but want to change colors, where do I start and stop them?

It’s usually best to stick to one color in an open plan, but I totally understand where you are coming from wanting to add another color.  Basically, if you want to do this, you will have to find an inside or outside corner or another architectural element that is a defining line, like a fireplace, a built-in cabinet, a column built into the wall, etc.  Then, either paint all the walls in one space a color, with definite defining lines at either end, or, paint an accent wall that helps to combine both spaces. 

Designer Questions 1I have also added color blocks to large wall spaces to bring in another color without getting rid of the surrounding color that ties all of the rooms together. Use this technique behind one or several pictures to add color and make them stand out, or to create a background for a light colored sofa.

2. I have an old sofa that I bought for my first home.  It’s worn out but I still love the shape and it’s comfortable.  Is it worth it to reupholster?

Absolutely.  This is one thing I like to persuade people to do. Hang on to the items you love; refurbish them, recover them, take care of them.  Providing the frame is still sturdy, a good upholsterer can tell you what it would take to fluff the pillows and replace the fabric. What could be better than keeping the sofa you love and making it look new again?

One more thought about this.  Have you considered reupholstering the piece yourself? I’ve watched a reupholstering class before and thought it would be fascinating to try.  There are all sorts of books out there to help you get through your project step by step. It would save some dollars and give you a new skill!!

3. My coffee table is getting worn and dated looking.  What would be a new idea to give my family room some style?

There are lots of options as stand- ins for coffee tables, it just depends on how open minded you are. For instance, you could certainly use one large ottoman, or four small ones that appear as one but can be moved around the room as needed.

Designer Questions 2Trunks are a nice change to a coffee table. Try something in wicker or an antique steamer trunk. This trunk has a printed faux leather look and would make a great side table too. 

Have you seen the collectible cases used as coffee tables? Or how about an old dining table with the legs trimmed down? This gives you a huge coffee table for dining while watching TV or for spreading out a project.

How about a bench as a coffee table? It gives you the long narrow shape you may need and it functions like an ottoman would.  You might need a couple of sturdy trays if you want to serve beverages.

Designer Questions 3For a rustic look, how about a wooden palette that’s sanded, stained and finished?  Add large industrial wheels for a modern twist. Add a glass top for a smooth useable surface. Visit this site to see more table ideas like this. 

Matt and I have used large garden pots as a base with a glass top and it worked quite well.  Make sure to weigh down the pot for stability and use gummy stick on tabs to hold the glass in place.

How about using old shutters or old doors as the top?  Add legs and a piece of glass to get that smooth top surface if needed.

Designer Questions 4Love this use of old crates. It’s a step above the palette coffee table because it is closer to the right height and it adds the whole element of storage and display! Super cool. Go to DIY Vintage Chic to learn how to make one.

 4. I just bought a home with parquet floors and they look out dated.  What can I do to revive them short of ripping out all the flooring and starting over.

Actually, wood floors are really in demand today, and I think people have overlooked the beauty of a parquet floor. If they aren’t in good shape, you could save them by having them sanded and refinished. A light stain would really show off the patterns, or if you prefer to hide them, try a dark walnut or even a black stain.

Designer Questions 5Here’s a photo of a parquet floor done in a checkerboard pattern. For more information on this painted design, check out the Mom 4 Real website.

5. What are the best night stand lamps?

First and foremost, if you are reading in bed, you want a lamp to be placed so the light source is about at your shoulder when you are in “reading” position. If you are simply using the light for getting around the room, as with placement anywhere in your home, just make sure the actual light bulb isn’t visible because it creates too much glare.

Next, you want to consider the style of your bedroom when selecting lamps. Choose something that supports your style and design.

Your options are many; you could try table lamps, floor lamps, even wall mounted sconces can be nice light in the bedroom. The advantage of either a floor lamp or a sconce is that you gain ample space on your night stand if a table lamp isn’t used.

Designer Questions 6

Also, it’s true that often night stand lamps are selected to match one another. This is a traditional solution and will always look classic. Check out these two lamps to see if they’d be right for your bedroom! 

However, symmetry isn’t necessary.  A table lamp on one side and a floor lamp on the other can work if they have similar qualities, as in same metal, same color shade, etc. Or, if only one person needs the lamp for reading, how about using just one light? A single floor lamp would give you a more modern look with an asymetrical arrangement.  

6. You’ve taught us how to accessorize a china cabinet, how about a coffee table?

Designer Questions 7Coffee tables are quite different from china cabinets. Cabinets are for storage and display, where a coffee table is generally functional, so you don’t want to clutter it up with too many accessories. Even so, you can accessorize in the center of a coffee table and still leave room for coasters and beverages. The accessories are well placed on this coffee table, and the table itself is a work of art!

I think books are a natural.  We’ve all heard of the “coffee table books” and they are still a great idea because they can be great conversation starters. Or, add a couple short piles of books you’ve recently read or plan on reading so they are at your fingertips. They too can start a conversation or be immediately available to remind you that it’s time to relax and read a while.

Books can be used as a base for other accessories. For this, I’d add things that have a story and support the look you are creating in your living or family room.  For instance, if your living room is more formal, choose more formal accessories like a glass vase of flowers, a silver box, or china collectibles.  For a casual room perhaps wooden candlesticks, beach pebbles or a collection of match books would look nice.

You can’t go wrong with some sort of dish full of your favorite candy or mints!

Designer Questions 8Just remember that there needs to be an arrangement for all of the items. Don’t simply set everything in the middle. Take some time to adjust where the book piles are sitting.  A more formal room might need to have three stacks of books running down the middle of the table.  A casual room could have the three stacks grouped in a triangle of sorts. I found a variety of coffee table layout options at this site.  

Lay the items out and take a photo of them with your phone and then take look at them. Is the arrangement interesting? Is it full but not messy looking? Does it look appropriate with the rest of your accessories? Answer yes to all of these and you’ve done it!

7. I want my exterior to have curb appeal, what should I do that won’t cost an arm and a leg?

I think curb appeal comes when a home looks like the people inside really care about it. The exterior needs to be neat and well kept. The house colors are best when they fit the style of home but have a bit of personality.  For instance, a different shutter color or something dramatic as a front door color that draws your attention.

Designer Questions 9Things that are unusual can also help to create curb appeal. Add a few details to your home’s trim like an attic vent or brackets around your soffit. Try adding window boxes, or a trellis or arbor full of climbing roses. Could you put in a stone or brick walk? Could you have the best looking mailbox on the street? Even a pair of pretty door wreaths can make a nice statement as in the home pictured. Remember, it’s all in the details.

Don’t forget that your landscaping is a big part of your curb appeal as well. Everything needs to be trimmed and well sized for the size and shape of your home. Are your flowers in colors that accent your home’s colors?

A good way to get ideas is to travel around your neighborhood looking for the best house you can find, one that you would say has real curb appeal.  What is it about the house that attracts you? Figure it out and try to add that to your home.

8. I have wood trim throughout my home but am wondering if I could paint it?

This is a tough one to answer. First of all, wow, what a job you are undertaking! You might want to do this one is stages as painting a whole house of trim can be exhausting. Although it’s much more cost effective to do it yourself, you could also have a contractor do it for you and save your weekends for fun!

Designer Questions 10I think it’s best to think about it this way. If you have an older home with large baseboards and window trim, you could be lowering the value of your home by painting that trim. It could be a great selling point when it comes time to move on. Plus, if it is nicked or worn in any way, paint will only accentuate the imperfections. If you aren’t planning to move in the near future, stained woodwork can make a home look dated and dark, so if you are wanting to lighten up, it’s your home, go for it!

However, if you live in a home with that 50’s modern narrow molding, I think it’s a no brainer to go right ahead and paint over it. Or, you might even want to consider changing out the old moldings for something with some substance and a few curves to it.

Check out for more ideas.

9. Can I paint my kitchen cabinets?

If you are considering painting your kitchen cabinets, you are either tired of the old wood color or the cabinets are in bad shape and in need of repair. If either of these is the case, then I think painting them makes sense. However, do your research when it comes to painting cabinets. The kitchen is a very busy place and it takes a lot of abuse from spills to scratches and nicks. You certainly want your paint job to stand the test of time and it will depend on the quality of preparation you do before painting and well as the painting itself and then how you plan on protecting your painted finish.

You may even want to consider a distressed look, paint plus a glaze or paint plus a stain to really give your new kitchen a specialized look. Again, it’s all about the research and practice beforehand.

10. What should I do to dress up my windows?

This question is so vast and open ended, it’s nearly impossible to answer, but it is asked all the time. So, let’s talk about how to decide what is right for your windows.

 Start with function first. Do you need privacy or light control for your windows? Consider then, the level of privacy. Sheer fabrics offer obscured images while a wooden slat blind provides complete privacy. A blind can offer all sorts of light control, and room darkening fabrics will black out all light. Where do your needs fit in the spectrum?

The functional part of the equation can be fixed as a first layer to your window décor. The design style can be the second layer. Depending on how formal or traditional your rooms are versus being casual and maybe more contemporary will drive what additions you make to your first layer. A traditional or formal room might have more involved draperies, cornice boards, valances, swags and jabots, etc. A room that is casual or contemporary has less fussy additions and sometimes the functional elements simply stand alone.

Designer Questions 11Browse the internet, magazines and bookstores for photos of window coverings that appeal to you and apply them to your own spaces. This pretty drapery comes in a variety of different color combinations.

This is just the beginning of the list of questions that I get asked on a daily basis. Maybe we need to do another top 10 list divided by room, style, budget… Hahaha, it’s a list that goes on and on!



  1. Jai Shannon says

    my tastes run more southern spain, morocco, Tuscany, mexico, and old English library. how can I decorate my home without it looking like a pier ! imports store. by the way, I hate white, pastals, and neon colors

    • Shari Hiller says

      Jai, if you decorate to please yourself, and you feel good about it, it doesn’t look like a Pier 1 Imports store, it reflects you. Stop worrying about it and decorate to please you!

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