Designer Josh Hildreth joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat.
Q: My parents are downsizing and asked me whether I want anything. How do I tell them their style isn’t really my style?
A: I bet if you look at your parents’ things with an open mind, you can find something to love. Using things that belong to your family offers a beautiful way to tell stories to children or friends about your life.
Consider an old, fussy chair. You can strip down the varnished mahogany to a natural waxed finish and choose a crisp natural linen to give it life. China cabinets can be repurposed into bookcases. Be open to thinking about new finishes. I took a breakfront that belonged to my mother and lined the back of it with a textured grass cloth. With lamps, just changing the shade or swapping out the base can add some zest.
Q: I have a small collection of African and Afro-Caribbean art and carvings that are very sentimental to me. However, my house is Southern transitional (for lack of a better description). My family doesn’t share my love of these pieces. Any suggestions on how I could blend them in?
A: Think about sorting objects from your collection into groups of three. Look for contrasts or similarities in texture and color as you draw things together. Consider coffee tables for low objects or even slender tall ones. Bookshelves are also a good place to display things.
Q: What is the best paint color to use in a room if you have a lot of collections (i.e., stuff)?
A: I find that tightly organized contemporary collections (black-and-white photographs, or multiple paintings by the same artist) usually look best against a neutral color. However, I love how in the 19th century, museums showed eclectic mixes of paintings that spanned centuries against rich greens or earthy reds. My living room is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Marble White, and the walls are hung with contemporary art and photography. My library is painted in a Farrow & Ball red, and the walls are covered with a mix of little pictures both old and new that include oil paintings, works on paper, paintings on glass and sculpture. The red creates a beautiful envelope for a wacky jumble of things. Many visitors say our tiny library is their favorite room in the house.
Q: What’s the best way to accessorize a coffee table?
A: Coffee tables should be fun. Choose beautiful coffee-table books about things you are interested in. Buy books about places you have traveled to or about your hobbies, such as sailing or gardening. I like to use vintage wooden boxes to hide things like remote controls. Low objects, such as alabaster or earthenware bowls, are also beautiful. Make sure that you use beautiful coasters to keep your coffee table in nice condition. Coffee tables are also a great place to put an orchid. Depending on the style of the room, you could select a modern ceramic container or antique cachepot.
Q: I want carpet that’s not sisal in my living room. What else is reasonably priced and stylish?
A: The good news — and perhaps the bad news — is that you have lots of options. There are many broadloom carpets that can be cut down and bound but that have the look of a high-end rug. A budget-savvy way to do this is to research the higher-end carpet shops in your area and see whether they have a remnant in the size you need. Some of my favorite broadloom carpets look as if they might be solid-field Tibetan carpets. Vintage rugs can also be a great option, depending on the look of your home. Some of my favorite styles of vintage rugs are Moroccans, Oushaks and Samarkands. Consider websites such as One Kings Lane and Chairish for interesting rugs.
Q: My 9-year-old son collects nutcrackers. We have maybe a dozen on his dresser, but the rest get put in the attic. Do you have suggestions on how to display them without feeling overwhelmed?
A: Places like Ikea and Crate & Barrel have affordable shelving units that are free-standing or that can be attached to the wall. Why not give him a place to display his collection that also encourages him to read? Mixing books into the shelves would be a terrific way for him to express his interests.