- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

nterior designer Cathy Whitt helped a pair of local newlyweds at odds with a design flaw in their home keep marital harmony.

District residents Virginia Howard and Chuck Wolfe hired Ms. Whitt, owner of District-based Decor & You, to work around some stuffy wallpaper that was driving a wedge between them.

“The husband didn’t want to replace it. The wife despised it,” Ms. Whitt says of the wallpaper, which features a series of large rectangles surrounding an assortment of palm trees, palazzos, urns and birds.

The District designer introduced an elegant set of draperies into the room and brokered the peace between the two.

“They ended up loving it,” she says.

Plenty of homeowners run into similar snafus. Either they bought a home with a major design flaw or they want to hit the “erase” button on a design motif they attempted themselves. Such mistakes aren’t fatal to a home’s interior, but a shrewd eye might be needed to eliminate them or make them moot.

“Wallpaper is a really common one,” Ms. Whitt says of design snafus she sees. “It tends to be personal when people put them up. The new homeowner tends not to like what’s there.”

Draperies often offer the best solution, “wonderful fabrics that resonate with the wallpaper,” she explains.

Should the homeowner prefer not to engage the wallpaper, he or she can paint over it, she says. Try it on a small, hidden part of the wallpaper to be sure it looks presentable, making sure to spackle and prime the areas in question, she says.

Ms. Whitt also sees older homes around the District in which aqua or pink tiles greet the feet of homeowners entering the bathroom. In those situations, the previously maligned wallpaper can be a saving grace.

Wallpaper with wide pink and white stripes can be the perfect accent for pink tile, she says.

Susan Schemm, a principal designer with Design Scheme Interiors, based in the District and Baltimore, says new homeowners often don’t realize they’re inheriting some big design mistakes.

“When they first glance at the house, they absolutely love it,” Ms. Schemm says, “but the person who lived there before had their furnishings, their style, in it.”

Without those flourishes, the home’s true colors appear, she says. It’s up to professionals such as Ms. Schemm to make it look as if everything that’s there came to be on purpose.

Sometimes their work requires sleight of hand, not unlike a magician making the audience look where he or she wants it to look, not at the trick itself. If the homeowner hates the tile in the bathroom, add an accent piece that draws attention away from it, she says.

“If you shift the attention, most of the time they’re pleased with that,” she says of her clients.

This method holds true in the kitchen, where the homeowner may have inherited ugly hardware on the cabinets from the last owner. Swapping out the knobs and hinges can be costly, so Ms. Schemm often adds a piece to draw attention away from them.

“Instead of replacing them, we may purchase a faucet that accents that finish, like brass,” she says, adding that a kitchen vase also could work the same trick. “It makes [the hardware] stand out less, as if it’s there on purpose.”

Sherry Ways, fellow principal designer with Design Scheme Interiors, says a color scheme that initially looks like a mistake could be just what the homeowner ultimately wants.

Ms. Ways suggests homeowners who are repainting over poor colors create a test patch of the new hue. Live with the color for a while, she says, not only to get used to it, but to see how the light reacts to it at different times of the day.

Though homeowners often run into design mistakes when they move into their new houses, they often can point the finger at themselves for their troubles.

Bethesda-based interior designer Christina Haire helps homeowners dig themselves out of the holes they can dig for themselves. It could be a project the homeowner began but didn’t know how to finish, or Mrs. Haire may step in after another designer failed to see a project through to the end.

“They weren’t happy with the direction they were going in, so we have to pull it all together and make it work,” Mrs. Haire says.

Often, a project needs a fresh coat of paint to pull together disparate items.

“You can transform a space by painting a really good color where there’s a neutral color,” Mrs. Haire says. “It gives you a backdrop for everything else you’re trying to do.”

Mrs. Haire is helping a client who has a sofa that won’t work with the room where it sits. She’s draping it with a slipcover to better enhance the room.

Other quick home solutions include adding colorful pillows or an upholstered ottoman to the mix.

Dolly Howarth, owner of Arlington-based Howarth Designs, says a new homeowner may plan on gutting the kitchen at some point but often doesn’t have the budget to do so immediately.

Instead, replacing stodgy kitchen cabinet panels or using faux finishes can make dark wood look more modern.

“It gives you a completely new look,” Ms. Howarth says.

Glossy metallic faux finishes can help transform a dated basement ceiling and bring in more light via reflection. The homeowner also could use the existing ceiling tracks if the basement features a drop ceiling. Changing out the rectangular tiles for square ones can revamp the room.

In a perfect world, every homeowner would have enough cash to hire contractors to break though any design flaws, but a little ingenuity can create credible solutions.

“You can give [your home] an update you can live with for several years,” Ms. Howarth says.

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