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Ask Eileen


Q We just expanded our home, adding a family room to the back of the house. The room is open to the kitchen, and we enjoy having a large space where we can get together with friends and relatives. But because there are no longer windows in the kitchen, the space seems a little dark. How can we brighten things up?

A Lighter finishes and reflective surfaces will make a big difference in your kitchen. If the cabinetry is dark wood, consider painting it white or cream. Choose a semi-gloss finish for additional sheen and scrubbabilty. A mirrored backsplash is a simple, inexpensive way to bring light into a room (with the added benefit of giving the hostess a quick way to check her hair and makeup as guests arrive).

You also can boost the level of artificial illumination by adding pot lights in the ceiling, task lighting under the cabinets or pendants above an island or table. Finally, pare back the treatments on the windows in the family room so more natural light will pass through your addition and into the kitchen.

Q The ceilings in our home are only 8 feet high. How can we make the space look more grand?

A There are a number of ways you can fool the eye. The quickest and least expensive is to paint the walls and ceilings in the same pale color. Light colors enlarge a room—and because the walls and ceilings are the same shade the eye doesn’t stop at the ceiling line.

If you want to dress up the room, ceiling-to-floor curtains will elongate the space, especially if you choose a fabric in a vertical stripe. That rule applies to striped wallpaper, as well. Crown molding also gives a room a stately, more substantial feeling.

Q We’re gutting our old bathroom. We want to make certain the new space doesn’t look dated before its time. So what are some elements of bathroom design with staying power?

A First and foremost, I’d invest in white fixtures. They’re crisp, they’re neutral, they’re timeless. (If you’ve ever tried to decorate around green fixtures dating back to the 1950s, you know what I mean.)

Select stone and tile in white, black or tan, again avoiding colors associated with any given time. Avoid strong colors that likely will go down the style drain after a few years. Instead, introduce trendy colors with towels and accessories, then change them when you become smitten by the next hot hue.

Consider classic elements that don’t go out of style: Subway tiles, clawfoot slipper tubs and exposed shower hardware, like the one shown here from California Faucets.

Some trends—such as installing two sinks and stationing the toilet in a private water closet—are likely to stick around simply because they make life more pleasant. Vessel sinks are beautiful but they might not stand the test of time because they are difficult to keep clean.

Q We love our dog Spot. And Spot loves to lounge on the sofa with us, but we don’t have the heart to kick him off. Now it’s time for a new couch. Do you have any suggestions for a sofa that will keep everybody happy?

A Because we’re fond of both animals and party animals, we’re sold on custom slipcovers. The white twill slipcovers on our sectional sofa have been washed at least a dozen times and come up sparkling.

A caveat: Fitted slipcovers require some muscle to take off and, especially, to put back on. (At our house, we call it “putting the girdle on the elephant.”) Newer slipcovers, outfitted with arms that can be removed separately, are much easier to manage.

You also might consider getting Spot his very own machine-washable blanket. Spread it on the sofa at snuggle time and encourage him to relax there.

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