Know More About The Rules of Colorful Decorating

Designer Celerie Kemble finds the playful side of sophisticated colors in a Manhattan apartment that’s refined enough for the urbane parents but rambunctious enough for high-energy kids.

KATHLEEN HACKETT: Four school-age children live in this New York City apartment. Who would have thought?

CELERIE KEMBLE: They have wonderfully stylish parents, whose aesthetic is an ideal combination of assured and devil-may-care. They want their kids to live in a home that telegraphs what’s important to them: art, humor, playfulness, beauty, comfort, confidence. The intention is for this house to last a lifetime — and to get better with age. My colleague Caroline Irvin and I chose colors, textiles and furnishings with a high degree of detail and patina. It all sustains wear and tear in such a way that scuffs, dings and smudges don’t look like flaws, they look like they’ve been there all along. “Crisp and new” is difficult to maintain, even if there are only grown-ups living in a house.

So it wouldn’t faze the owners if a toddler left handprints on the dining room walls?

Ah, the dining room. It does have a gravitational pull. The walls have seven or more coats of lacquer on them — I lost count. They’re like mirrors, and what child isn’t fascinated with his or her reflection? We landed on that claret shade after trying several other colors, from a Billy Baldwin–esque egg yolk to a stuffed-animal brown. The red wine walls are flattering, warm and lively. You’re meant to feel like all of the best conversations happen here. But so do children’s chess games and homework.

I wish I had been in the room during the color discussion with your clients.

The wife wanted the spaces to be pretty but not fussy, good-looking but not arrogant. She loves an ambience that has flair as well as soul. The color schemes reflect that.

The entry hall certainly announces that this home is anything but stuffy.

The wallpaper is blooming with the clients’ favorite plants — royal poinciana, acacias, orchids, geraniums, kumquats — hand-painted on faint sky-blue tea paper. It’s as if a mad botanist lives here! It’s a sophisticated yet playful solution for an interior room. Every day begins and ends with a stroll through a lovely garden.

Some rooms feel breezy, others cocooned. How did you work out the transitions?

I usually steer toward light colors and use bold ones as accents. But this time, several rooms — the study, the dining and family rooms and a boy’s bedroom — called out for deeper shades to project a feeling of warmth and envelopment. That said, all of the rooms are designed around comfort and graciousness. There are shared colors throughout, but the real connection is an ethos: spaces that are casual and generous.

The living room sofas look relaxed, but they’re white! Are they really kid-friendly?

They are covered in a mohair velvet the color of vapor. The fabric is easy to spot-clean and can stand up to tons of abuse, which was key because so much entertaining happens here. It’s a wonderfully welcoming room, not least because the walls look like the inside of a conch shell and give off a pretty glow. Warm cocoas and cream — the buttery shade of mashed potatoes — are so deeply satisfying that everyone feels at home.

There’s no shortage of seating choices. Why so many chairs?

The house is full of people all the time! The wife has that enviable mix of humor and grace that makes it easy to stop by. She had a real desire for the space to seem pretty without veering toward the saccharine, which is why most of the seating — and the other furnishings in the room — is rounded or even serpentine. There’s not a chair you’d be afraid to sit in for fear of ruining it or being uncomfortable. In this home, you are at ease setting your drink down and eating out of your hand, or a napkin or off a great plate. It’s all acceptable.

Learn More About The Essential Guide to Choosing Flooring in Every Room

The floors in your house take a lot of abuse. Dirty shoes pile up in the entryway, muddy paws scamper through each hallway, and even chair legs scrape across your dining room on a daily basis.

So, if you’re considering new flooring, you’ll need to think about how you use each room before you make any decisions. Hardwood or carpeting might be great for one room, but the same isn’t always true across the hall. Here are some things to keep in mind:


Protect your mudroom — and ultimately the rest of your house — by putting down easy-to-clean flooring that will also catch dirt. Interior designer Julia Buckingham suggests porcelain or ceramic tiles, since they’re durable and low-maintenance. Simply sweep or vacuum them to clean up debris, and tackle bigger messes with a mop or Swiffer. A dark-colored sisal or sea grass rug over the tile can help trap (and hide) the dirt, she adds. Just beware: Tile can crack if you drop something on it, so caution is necessary. And white grout can become discolored if it’s not properly cleaned — but luckily, dark grout is pretty trendy right now.


Go for something that will be soft underfoot so kids can sit, lay, and play. “I suggest a low, tightly woven — almost industrial — loop or cut area rug or wall-to-wall carpet,” says Carolyn Forte, director of the Home Appliances and Cleaning Products lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Look for something in an easy-to-clean fiber like polypropylene or nylon.” Buckingham also recommends the carpet tiles from Flor, which can be arranged in all sorts of sizes and patterns. “You build with individual tiles that can be easily cleaned or replaced,” she says.


People put a lot of stock into having hardwood flooring throughout the house, but the truth is, it’s not the comfiest on bare feet in the morning. If you’re redoing your room, Forte says you should go for a premium plush, super-soft carpet. If you already have hardwood, you can still create that cozy vibe: “I love the look and feel of a gorgeous alpaca or silk-and-wool rug over hardwood flooring in the bedroom to create a luxurious retreat,” says Buckingham.


“There are lots of beautiful, low-pile carpets and rugs in interesting patterns and colors,” says Forte, who points out that these sorts of carpets hold up better to high traffic than plush ones. And good news: An office chair should be able to roll around without one of those unsightly plastic mats. Buckingham also suggests hardwood flooring with a flat-weave rug, which will be welcoming and still stand up to a chair with rolling wheels.


Hardwood flooring is your best bet — and you can get creative with inlays or even a fun herringbone pattern. “A quick sweeping and vacuuming paired with an occasional mopping will keep it clean,” says Buckingham, who adds that you should always ask the installer for care instructions because various woods may have different specifications. And don’t worry about a little bit of aging: “Wood is like wine — it gets better over the years and develops a beautiful patina.”


Hardwood wins here, too, and wear can add character over time. “The wood can always be refinished if necessary,” says Buckingham. You can also consider a dense area rug for under the table. They’re durable and easy to clean when spills happen — and you know they will.

“Bamboo flooring or tiles hold up well if you have pets running around pets,” says Buckingham. Area rugs layered on top can easily be cleaned of pet hair and stains — and are easily replaced if necessary. Wall-to-wall carpeting can be more of a headache, but don’t rule it out if you love it. “It’s best to choose a cut pile versus loop carpet, so your pet’s nails don’t snag the loops and cause the carpet to wear faster,” she adds. Opt for a stain-resistant carpet and also be mindful of your color choice. If you have a pup or cat that sheds, consider choosing a hue that coordinates with his fur.


Almost every expert will agree that the bathroom is no place for wall-to-wall carpet. “There’s too much moisture and opportunities for spills with cosmetics and toiletries,” says Forte. “It can get nasty and difficult to clean. And water trapped under the carpet can lead to mold.” If you recoil at chill underfoot, look into heated tile, which can cost up to $200 for a radiant floor mat or around $1,000 for a professional installation.


Look beyond light and dark woods and consider a grey hardwood flooring option. “Grey has been the new neutral in interior design and I believe you will see more of this hue in flooring as well,” says Buckingham. Forte says she’s also been seeing more cork flooring and vinyl designed to look like real wood. All of these options are super durable, so they’ll last well into the next few trend cycles.

Smarter Ways to Make the Most of a Garage

Your garage might be a scary, junk-filled spot that you’d rather forget about. But, you’re missing out on some prime room real estate there. To up its appeal — and its utility — consider these ideas.

1. Paint It a Cheerful Color

Designer Annie Selke turned her mundane garage into a reflection of her. “Why feel like a cave dweller,” she says. “You can have a girly garage.” She applied stripes to the walls with leftover paint from the other rooms in her house.

2. Fake a Mudroom

If you spend more time coming through the garage than your front door, set up a central spot to store shoes and hang coats. For her garage “mudroom,” Toni at A Bowl Full of Lemons built a wall organizer, added wall and shoe baskets, and accessorized with a large wall clock.

3. Don’t Forget About the Floors

Your floors don’t have to be a dull gray. Experiment with patterns or different hues, like A Beautiful Mess’s Elsie Larson did in this space.

4. Turn It Into a Craft Studio

This may not work for most people, but blogger Rachel Mae Smith didn’t own a car, so she created a crafting retreat out of the run-down garage joining her San Francisco apartment.

5. And Remember to Look Up

Since floor space is, well, for the cars mostly, install overhead storage. Jen of I Heart Organizing built custom upper cabinets that are 4-feet deep to stash large storage bins and other miscellaneous items. To style the space, she added beadboard panels, painted the doors blue, and installed pendant lighting.

6. Set Up a Garden Station

No garden shed? Ashli of Mini Manor reserved a small spot in her garage for a mini gardening command center.

Painting Secrets the Pros Won’t Tell You

Professional painters are fast, efficient, and have mastered techniques that produce top-notch results while making it all look easy. Each painter has slightly different methods and preferences, but the pros all know the trade secrets, including these 13 tips.


You have to start with a perfectly smooth surface to end up with perfectly painted walls or woodwork. One pro says that sander would be a more fitting job title than painter since he spends so much time pushing sandpaper. Sanding levels outs spackle or joint-compound patches and flattens ridges around nail holes. Sanding also removes burrs and rough spots in your trim.

Sand the walls from the baseboard to the ceiling with fine grit sanding paper on a sanding pole. Then sand horizontally along the baseboard and ceiling. Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sanding pole or the head can flip over and damage the wall. Sand woodwork with a sanding sponge to get into crevices.


Before the pros paint walls, they fill holes and patch cracks with joint compound. But if you paint directly over it, the compound will suck the moisture out of the paint, giving it a flat, dull look (a problem called “flashing”). Those spots will look noticeably different than the rest of the wall. To avoid that, pros prime the walls before painting.

Instead of using white primer, pros usually have it tinted gray or a color that’s similar to the finish paint. Tinted primer does a better job of covering the existing paint color than plain primer, so your finish coat will be more vibrant and may require fewer coats. This is especially true with colors like red or orange, which could require three or more coats without a primer.
Popular Mechanics

Nothing is more discouraging when you’ve finished painting than to peel tape off the woodwork and discover the paint bled through. To avoid the pain-in-the-neck chore of scraping off the paint, do a thorough job of adhering the tape before you start. “Apply tape over the wood, then run a putty knife over the top to press down the tape for a good seal,” a painter with more than 16 years of experience says. “That’ll stop any paint bleeds.”

Use the blue painter’s tape instead of masking tape. Masking tape can leave behind a sticky residue that’s hard to clean off. Plus, paint can cause the tape to buckle or get wavy, which lets paint run underneath it. Painter’s tape can be left on for days (some up to two weeks) and still peel off cleanly. And it stops paint bleed without buckling.


The secret to a finish that’s free of lap and brush marks is mixing a paint extender (also called a paint conditioner), such as Floetrol, into the paint. This does two things. First, it slows down the paint drying time, giving you a longer window to overlap just-painted areas without getting ugly lap marks that happen when you paint over dried paint and darken the color. Second, paint extender levels out the paint so brush strokes are virtually eliminated (or at least much less obvious). Pros use extenders when painting drywall, woodwork, cabinets, and doors. Manufacturer’s directions tell you how much extender to add per gallon of paint.
Popular Mechanics


The problem with painting along the edge of textured ceilings is that it’s almost impossible to get a straight line along the top of the wall without getting paint on the ceiling bumps. Pros have a simple solution. They run a screwdriver along the perimeter of the ceiling to scrape off the texture. “This lets you cut in without getting paint on the ceiling texture,” one of our pros says. “The screwdriver creates a tiny ridge in the ceiling, so the tips of your paint bristles naturally go into it. And you’ll never even notice the missing texture.”


Pros don’t use bed sheets as drop cloths, and neither should you. Thin sheets won’t stop splatters and spills from seeping through to your flooring. And while plastic can contain spills, the paint stays wet for a long time. That wet paint can (and usually does) find the bottom of your shoes and get tracked through the house.

Use what the pros use — canvas drop cloths. They’re not slippery and they absorb splatters (but still wipe up large spills or they can bleed through). “Unless you’re painting a ceiling, you don’t need a jumbo-size cloth that fills the entire room,” a pro says. “A canvas cloth that’s just a few feet wide and runs the length of the wall is ideal for protecting your floor, and it’s easy to move.”


It might seem easy to do all the corners and trim in a room, then go back to roll the walls, but don’t. Pros get a seamless look by cutting in one wall, then immediately rolling it before starting the next. This allows the brushed and the rolled paint to blend together better.

Cover your paint bucket, tray, or container with a damp towel when switching between brushing and rolling to keep your paint and tools from drying out when not in use.


Don’t bother taping windows when painting sashes — it takes a long time and paint usually ends up on the glass anyway. Go ahead and let paint get on the glass. Once it’s dry, simply scrape it off with a razor blade. The paint peels off in seconds. “Just be careful to not break the paint bond between the wood and the glass,” a pro cautions. “Otherwise, moisture can get on the wood and cause rot.”


The same color of paint can vary between cans. “That difference can be glaringly obvious if you pop open a new gallon halfway through a wall,” a retired painter warns. To ensure color consistency from start to finish, pros mix their cans of paint in a 5 gallon bucket (a process called “boxing”).

Some pros then paint directly out of the bucket. This eliminates the need to pour paint into a roller tray, though the heavy bucket is harder to move.


Whether you buy cheap or expensive roller covers, washing them before their first use gets rid of the fuzz that inevitably comes off once you start painting. Wash them with water and a little bit of liquid soap, and run your hands up and down the covers to pull off any loose fibers (a practice called “preconditioning covers”). You can start using the roller covers right away — you don’t need to let them dry.


Paint won’t bond to greasy or filthy surfaces, like kitchen walls above a stove, mudrooms where kids kick off their muddy boots and scuff the walls, or the areas around light switches that get swatted at with dirty hands. “I always use a degreaser to clean grimy or greasy surfaces,” a pro says. “It cuts through almost anything you have on walls for better paint adhesion.”

Be sure to read the label and follow directions — this stuff is potent. Rubber gloves and eye protection are required.


Pros take a “load and go” approach to painting. They load the bottom 1 1/2 inches of their brushes with paint, tap each side against the inside of their container to knock off the heavy drips, and then start painting. By contrast, homeowners often take a “load and dump” approach of dragging the loaded brush along the sides of their container and wiping off most of the paint. “It doesn’t do you any good to dunk your brush in paint, then immediately wipe it all off,” a 16-year veteran painter says.


When your brush is loaded with paint, it’s easy to create runs by applying too much paint in corners or along trim. To avoid that, start brushing about 1/2 inch away from the cut-in area to apply the paint. As the brush unloads, move over and slowly drag the brush along the trim or corner. Let the bristles gently push the paint against the cut-in area where the walls meet. You may have to do this a couple of times to get complete coverage, but it’ll avoid excess paint along woodwork and in corners.

Top 8 Essential Things to Know Before You Hire a Contractor

Contractor Stephen Fanuka shares what he wishes his clients knew before—and after— hiring him.

1. Don’t expect perfection — expect quality.

The most unrealistic expectation a client can have is that the job will be perfect. There’s no such thing. Painting and tiling and brickwork aren’t done by machine. They’re done by craftsmen — who, yes, are human.

2. Your contractor is making judgments from the moment he steps in your home.

This is like a first date — the first time a contractor meets a client, we size up who they are, how they conduct themselves. What’s their personality like? Are they hot-tempered? Dismissive of your suggestions? If they deal with you this way right off the bat, there probably won’t be a second date.

3. … but they know you’re making judgments, too.

Clients want to be sure you are responsible and fully involved. They want us to be attentive, direct, honest, courteous. In other words: We should be someone they won’t mind seeing every day for six months or longer.

4. Good negotiators can get a better price.

Get more than one bid. Start with the highest-end contractor, the best-stuff-money-can-buy guy. Ask him for a detailed proposal. Take that proposal and copy it, leaving out the costs. Pass it out to subsequent contractors you interview and ask them to fill in the costs. This will give you a good idea of what the job is worth. But be cautious: The lowest bid isn’t usually the best.

5. Safety is your responsibility, too.

Do a simple gut check: Do you want this guy in your home for the next year? Find out if your contractor is licensed. Ask them to show you the license. Make sure they carry liability insurance, so if one of their guys falls off a ladder and breaks his neck, you’re not sued. Likewise, if they cause any damage to your property, you won’t have to pay for it.

6. Feel free to hire subcontractors — but don’t go over your contractor’s head.

Contractors are like agents, always looking for fresh talent. Let’s say you happen to know a terrific painter who’ll do you a favor on price. Most contractors won’t mind that kind of limited subcontracting, especially if you throw a small managerial fee their way.

7. Be nice to the crew.

One simple thing clients can do to make my life easier: Allow the crew to use your bathroom. You’d be surprised how many clients ask us to go to the nearest gas station or diner. Make the work environment comfortable. If it’s 97 degrees, we’re remodeling an attic, and the client won’t let us turn on the AC — that’s cruel. Also, maintain an air of diplomacy and good cheer. Wait 15 minutes before you discuss anything that’s really upsetting you.

8. Pay attention to the warning signs.

Is the contractor usually late? Do you make several calls before he gets back to you? Does he delegate the job to one of his crew? Is he careless about keeping the job clean? Know when to draw the line. This is your home after all, not a construction site.