Ask Eileen

Do you have decorating or design dilemmas? Let Delaware Today’s home editor help.

Q Friends call me the black thumb because I can’t keep my potted palms alive for more than a few months. I’ve considered artificial plants, yet I much prefer the look of the real deal. How can I keep my plants alive and well?
A Don’t be too hard on yourself. It can be difficult to keep palms and other trees alive indoors because they don’t get as much light as they would outside. You can get the look of a real palm or evergreen topiary without the maintenance by using preserved plants. They look as they did when they were growing, yet require no care—and no one will be able to tell your preserved plants from the real deal.

Q I want to turn a small finished space in my attic into a study that can do double duty as a guestroom. My dilemma is the steep, sloping ceilings. How can I make the space look fabulous and function well?
A The first step should be to paint. Pick a light, neutral tone that will make the space look large and cheerful. Avoid a stark white, which could make the room look sterile. Consider cream, silver, sandy beige, palest blue and the pure light green of a cucumber slice.
By painting both the walls and the ceiling the same color, the room will appear more spacious—and you will be spared the task of taping off each section.
Your next challenge is to keep your guests—and yourself—from banging their heads on the lower sections of the sloping wall.
There are at least two solutions that make sense and prevent bruising. The first is to line the walls with bookshelves. That will enable you to equip your study, supply reading materials for your guests and make good use of previously wasted space.
The second option is to transform that space into closets for holiday decorations, off-season clothes and the stuff your spouse has been after you to toss.
Then, depending on how much room you have, bring in a desk, a daybed and other furnishings. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Q I’m looking for durable yet fun carpet for my small home office. It’s a slightly funky, eclectic space and I’d like to keep that vibe.
A Here’s a tip I got from a friend who lives in a cool condo that includes a lounge where she kicks back and listens to music. She created her own rug with modular, mix-and-match carpet tiles manufactured from recycled and reclaimed materials by FLOR. (Customers also can send back their old carpet tiles to be recycled.)
My friend created her patchwork pattern by combining six different solid colors. Starting this month, you can walk on sunshine. FLOR has just rolled out four 1960s inspired sun patterns based on the work of iconic textile designer Alexander Girard. Each six-tile rug measures 3-by-5 feet and costs $159.99.

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The window boxes are rotting off our house. Can you recommend replacements that will hold up?
A There are a variety of materials that will stand up to the elements. Options include wrought iron and aluminum window boxes, with or without liners, that look as if they might have been transported from a Paris apartment or an English cottage. There also are vinyl and Fiberglass boxes that simulate the appearance of wood, with the added benefit of never needing painting.
If you have your heart set on the genuine item, choose a wood that resists rot and warping. Vixen Hill, based in Chester County, Pennsylvania, manufactures made-to-measure window boxes from western cedar in nine stained or painted finishes.

Do you have a question about decorating? Ask home and garden editor Eileen Smith Dallabrida. Submit questions to Ask Eileen at

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