Interior designer Erin Gates founded her blog Elements of Style in 2007. She published her first book in 2014 and has just written her second: "Elements of Family Style: Elegant Spaces for Everyday Life," with advice for how to live with open-plan kitchens, turn nurseries into big boy and girl rooms, and choose durable fabrics.
Gates joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
How do you balance wanting your house to feel "done" vs. finding the right/unique pieces for your space?
I always advise clients to take their time when creating a home, but I understand the need to want it to feel "done." I like to get the main pieces settled quickly so you can live in the house comfortably (for example, it helps to have a sofa and coffee table in the living room or dining table and chairs in the dining room) and then really take your time picking the finishing touches and accents such as wallcoverings, rugs, accessories and art. Wait until you feel strongly about something - be it a pillow or a piece of art - because if you really love it, you will not tire of it. If you're just buying stuff to "fill" a space, you will end up replacing it and spending twice the money.
How do you integrate kids' and adults' needs and styles in one (small) apartment? I want my home to feel like it's also my kids' home and that they belong there. But I also don't want the whole place to feel like it's one big playroom.
When it comes to integrating kids into an adult space you can still be proud of, it's all about storage. We always suggest either ample bookcases or built-ins with lower cabinets to store toys. Also, storage ottomans or benches that can do double duty - such as seating or a coffee table that also can help you put items away. I love to use a lot of attractive big baskets instead of plastic bins to store toys. Look for some with lids (they may be listed as "hampers" online, but they are great for medium-to- larger toys). And thankfully, when it comes to kids' tables and chairs or play kitchens, there are so many attractive options beyond brightly colored plastic that you can probably find items that match your decor.
I'm moving into my first apartment this weekend, and I need some advice on how to make the space work. It's a basement apartment with one window. It's not sunny, but it's not exactly a cave, either. I want to make it light and bright - what should I prioritize? I have a full bed and want to buy more stuff.
With a basement apartment with one window, I'd really focus on keeping things light and bright! Maybe accent the bed wall with a removable wallpaper in a fun pattern? Add a pair of pretty white linen drapes to frame the window and accent the height of the room. Ground it with a nice, light-tone rug that will cozy it up! And make sure you have great lighting options - bedside lamps or plug-in sconces and overhead if you have it, or a floor lamp if not. Having ample light in a darker space is crucial.
What are your best tips for transitioning a nursery into a "big kid" room? I want our nursery to be appropriate for a baby but also able to transition over time without having to replace everything.
It's helps to start from a smart place, so design a nursery that can easily transition - nothing permanent that is too babyish, such as wallpaper, a rug or window treatments. When doing a nursery, I like to keep these pieces age-neutral so they can evolve with the child. Swap the crib for a bed or daybed, update the wall art to something "older," add some more attractive storage for the toys that will accumulate, and you're good to go. A larger but effective project is to change the wall colour to something a little bolder and less babyish, too.
I'm shopping for family room furniture, and I like sleeker mid-century pieces. I don't want to re-upholster our genuine mid-century modern furniture because I don't want to stress about my kids spilling anything on a $1,000 sofa, so I'm looking online. How do you know whether online furniture is well-made?
This is tricky, because shopping for furniture online is a gamble, and it can be very expensive to return something as large as a sofa. If a piece is upholstered, research its material and how it was made. Kiln-dried, hardwood frames are the best for sofas and chairs. Spring-down cushions will stay much loftier and fresh-looking as opposed to a foam cushion wrapped in down. If these details are not available online, call and ask. I know Roger + Chris makes furniture this way in North Carolina, but because it sells only online, it charges much less than other big-name brands. Also, make sure you try to use indoor/outdoor or performance-graded fabrics to ease your worry over the kids - they stand up to so much more and are so easy to clean.
I want to re-purpose an antique chair and update it for my bedroom. It's a 24-by-26-by-40-inch piece, so it's not huge. I'm considering reupholstering and want something soft and somewhat neutral. Should I go with a print or solid to make it modern but not out of step with the vintage feel of the chair?
You can really go either way, but I always love a vintage chair upholstered in solid velvet. These days, there's even indoor/outdoor velvet that can stand up to a lot of abuse and not leave you worried about spills or accidents. Velvet always looks classic and will let the antique frame and shape shine. If you want a little pattern, I'd look for a woven fabric with a smaller-scale geometric pattern. That way, it's still classic and neutral but adds a little interest beyond a solid.
We have a 7-month-old and a pretty traditionally styled home (think Kazak rug and brown leather Chesterfield sofa). Right now, we just throw a blanket on our living room area rug, where he kicks around and plays with his toys, and put it away when he's done, but we know he'll need a bigger and softer floor space as he starts learning to crawl and walk. Do you have any recommendations for attractive play mats, gates or other solutions that blend into our style enough to stay in the room sometimes but also can easily fold up and tuck away?
I totally understand this issue. There are some play mats these days that are one solid piece of foam or rubber, are rug size, and can be rolled up instead of being in 20 different puzzle pieces! Pottery Barn Kids just came out with some very cute, neutral ones. I also like Little Nomad. For gates, I just look for the most inconspicuous white gate I can find - but there are some really amazing custom wood baby gates that I have seen in client homes too, if you want to invest in something custom.
What is the best way to remove scuff marks and dings on painted walls?
Magic Eraser works for scratch marks. For dings, you'll have to get some patching product and fill the ding slightly, sand down to smooth and then touch up with your wall colour.
I am looking to replace the carpet and bamboo flooring in my open-concept kitchen/family room and replace it with hardwood. Should I do a light or dark finish? P.S. we also have a golden retriever.
If you have a golden, you have lots of hair. I would go with a lighter floor, maybe something in the white oak variety with a super-pale grey or "limed" kind of stain or treatment on it. We've been using this style a lot in family homes because they are very forgiving when it comes to dirt, pet claws and fur.
What are your top three shopping tips for kitchen cabinets for a mid-range, not high-end, kitchen renovation?
I'd advise going to some local cabinetry shops and feeling the quality of their panels and hinges. Mid-range means you will be looking at overlay doors, not inset cabinets, so pay attention to the way the doors are joined - that they look and feel solid and align evenly and symmetrically. I'd stick with a simple, clean and classic Shaker style door in white or grey if you want to be safe.
Our dogs sleep next to our beds, and our bedroom smells like dog. Any suggestions for dog beds and sofas that are easy to clean? Also, any ideas for easy-to-clean-sofa covers? We tried the ones from Plow and Hearth, but they aren't heavy duty enough.
Look for dog beds with covers that zip off easily and are made of washable fabric. There are a lot of great places to get cute beds, too. Search "designer dog beds" or "custom dog beds" on Etsy. I also love beds from Waggo. For sofa covers, my mom loves Dr. Foster & Smith and Orvis.
Is there a good formula to use when choosing the correct size rug for a living room and bedroom? I feel like I'm always showing too much or too little floor.
Make sure at least two legs of each main piece of furniture are on the rug in a living room. In a dining room, make sure the chairs are still on the rug when pulled out to sit down. And in a bedroom, you should have 2-to-3 feet of rug on each side of the bed and extending past the foot.
I now have a guest room because the child has moved out. I'm painting it a pale green, and the bed I'm getting from a family member is a white metal frame with a bit of brass. I'm also getting a dark wood dresser with a mirror. I'm thinking of using more substantial colour and fabric linens on the bed, maybe in navy, and a more delicate lamp on the dresser. How do I make light pieces work with heavier pieces?
With a pale green wall, I'd probably leave the bed white and brass and maybe replace the hardware on the dresser with brass if it isn't already. Then add a white or light lamp to the dresser (white shade). For the bedding and rug, you can totally use navy and white or a darker taupe and white as well. If you can find a pillow for the bed that mixes pale green and the darker colour, it'll really bring everything together.
I absolutely love to pick out new throw pillows to update my sofa, but I need to change up my game a bit. For a wide teal sofa, do you recommend pairs? How do I build out a colour palette, and should I mix and match patterns?
For a wide sofa (I'm assuming longer than 86 inches long), I always do two pairs of pillows - one solid or solid with a border/trim and then a more organic pattern in front (floral, paisley, block print). Sometimes I'll add a lumbar in the middle.