Does Your Entryway Make the Best First Impression?

Your entryway is the first impression of your home’s interior. It is the first thing that guests see and it sets their overall impression.

Take a look at the before and after photos above from one of my recent residential interior design projects. The project revamped the main level, including the foyer. We didn’t change how the space is used, but we completely changed the look.

With a built-in bench with shoe storage, millwork, and hooks for their belongings, the entryway is now a cleaner and more organized space. The entryway now gives the impression of an upgraded home.

This was an investment that is likely to pay them back when they sell the home in a few years. The upgraded entryway creates a positive first impression for potential buyers.

If you can’t do an all-in makeover, invest in a couple of small projects that upgrade your home’s interior. It will help the value of your home and definitely bring happiness to you.

When Paint Makes the Room


Sometimes its the little things that make a big impact. I just heard from this client that the paint colors I recommended to finish off this room a year ago are complete and she is thrilled!

Working with this client has been a family affair. First this client’s husband and dad gifted an interior design design consult to her mom.

Her parents had just moved to Round Hill, Virginia to be closer to them and had a lot of artwork they didn’t know where to hang because all the pieces were bought specifically for the layout of their old house. I did the consult and they hung the pics where I suggested.

Fast forward a a year or so, and her dad again purchased a paint consult for his wife’s birthday. Again we got the results they wanted.

That same year they purchased one for my client, who just had moved to Lovettsville, Virginia. I helped them with the arrangement of the items in the room and recommended plaint colors, It took them almost a year, but her husband finally painted the colors!

The His and Hers Bathroom

This master bath…yikes! When you first walked in, no…as soon as you opened the door, BEFORE you even entered…your eyes saw nothing but this immensely over-sized raised and sunken and jetted bathtub!

It had 4 12”x12” columns and 12” surround and 22” high. You had to climb up 2 steps just to step down into the sunken tub.


Original set up of the master bathroom.

It was supposed to be grandeur, but it wasn’t.

After your initial shock from the giant bathtub that sat 3’ from the entry, you will notice, builder grade his and her granite vanities flanking the bathtub on opposite sides of the room.

Hidden behind the giant bathtub, was an open half-circle shower. This was tiled in 3” square natural stone from shower floor and up the wall 7’ high. It didn’t have a door, or a curtain, thus being an open shower.

It also had 2 shower heads that sprayed further than the “invisible” door. The tile stopped inside the shower, so the walls that were just on the outside of the shower were just drywall.


The original open half-circle shower has problems with design and function.

Did I also mention that the shower sprayed further than the shower? Even when it didn’t, our movement caused splashing outside the shower. So it was no surprise to us when our home inspector said the baseboard was rotten and needed replacement.

This master bath was in my house. I came up with the design for the bath before we moved into the house while we were still in Virginia. The design came to me as most of my other ideas do, it just pops in my head, after hours of  contemplation.

I start staring at the space, well, technically, at the picture(s). I keep in mind the needs and wants and budget of the client, in this case myself and my husband. I also kept in mind that this isn’t our forever home and will want to have a good return on it in a couple of years. I imagine a blank slate pretty much.

I know I am keeping the vanity cabinets but exchanging the tops. I know a stand alone tub needs to have a place. I know the shower needs doors. I think about the rest of the house, and the style it is and more importantly, the styles it isn’t.

After draft after draft in my head, I doodle on my white board. I love doodling designs on my white board! It’s a creative process that makes me happy!

The issue I was having is the big giant space that the big giant tub left behind. If I placed a soaking tub, which most average 30”x 69-72”, in the big giant space that the big giant tub left, then it would feel like an afterthought, not to mention no sense of real privacy.

I could put the average size soaking tub where the shower is, but then I would have to move the shower to the center build a 4 walls of glass, or 4 walls of something. I’d need to figure out how to be fancy and have the shower head come from the ceiling, which will mean moving plumbing.

One design decision always affects another decision and that decision will affect another decision. I scratched that idea quickly. Plus my tub would have felt squished to me.

So back again to the big giant space for the now normal size tub. Literally, I went back to the drawing board.

I knew I wanted my average size soaking tub to be next to a bubble tile wall. I had seen a bubble tile many years ago and had always wanted to incorporate it some how, but my husband wasn’t so keen on the bubble look. So now I can see my average size soaking tub next to my bubble wall, with a stand alone faucet.

But I don’t have a wall to put my bubble tile and average size soaking tub unless I build one. Oh, and there goes the floodgates. Now I have floating wall in the middle where the big giant space is that was left from removing the big giant tub. One side will have bubbles for me, and the other side will have bricks for him.


Her side features a bubble tile wall and an average size soaking tub.

As I was shopping for shower tile, I found reclaimed wood mosaic. THAT WAS IT! My husband’s side of the floating wall in the big giant space left from that big giant tub will have this gorgeous reclaimed wood mosaic!

Against his wall he will have a white bench, a couple of hooks, a shelf and a mirror. A nod to a gentleman’s locker room. His closet is next to his vanity, so everything for him will be right there on HIS side.


His side of the bathroom features a reclaimed wood mosaic wall and finishes that are a nod to a gentleman’s locker room.

The dilemma for the shower, was if we had one door in the middle, it would run into the floating wall. If we scooted it down to one side or the other, then the other would have an awkward entry and exit.

If I put a sliding door, again, the other person would have an awkward exit. Wait, what if I had 2 doors? Each one opening from the proper side. I spoke with the glass shower man and he said he could do that! So we did that!

The vanities evolved from being white quartz to custom made-in-place cement tops. The bling(s) i.e., lights, faucets,floors etc. fell into place once the floor plan was decided.


The new vanities feature custom made-in-place cement tops.

What was the point of this blog post? LOL, I guess to show that it takes a while for a design to come about to it’s final form. Not only is there a long thought process for the look, but plenty of math for measuring spaces and forms, to order the right amount of tile without too much overage, to calculate how much light will project from the ceiling lamp and for budgeting.

Many hours of research to find the right pieces that come in within your time frame, and within budget. Then hopefully the contractor will tell you all your design plans are feasible and we don’t have to compromise on anything.

Then we can begin.


Witnessing the Amazing People of Houston

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The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in and around Houston, Texas is unbelievable. And, it’s right in my backyard.

Since I was driving, I couldn’t take a lot of pictures of the affected neighborhoods, but the devastation is just incredible. In one of these pictures you’ll notice the letter C in red painted on the house. It’s notify rescuers that the house is CLEAR of people. If there were people inside it would have a let H for HOME.

The people in one neighbourhood I visited are just starting to return because there was still water in their house 10 days after the storm blew through.

Many families have endured a lot, but everyone I spoke still had a sense of humor. Conversations often included quips and bad puns. Funny and not funny.

They teared up when they spoke with passion about their neighbors and families. They were tired but were finding the energy to keep going. They are strong.

They are determined to bring their neighbourhood back again. Most dream of making it even better. Each one talked of a silver lining. I was blessed by witnessing their strength and determination and outlook.

I have been amazed by the generosity of people near and far, strangers that supported each other in time of need. With Irma and Maria, I’m almost certain we will see more unification and less division. We will work together toward the same goal, putting aside differences. I haven’t been here in Texas long, but I want to sincerely say thank you to everyone that has helped.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt. 

Before and After: Making a Kitchen Functional and Attractive

When I walked into this kitchen for the first time, I didn’t hate it. It seemed pretty spacious, with many cabinets and a good amount of counterspace.

The problems with this kitchen really became apparent with use. First, there was the matter of the cooktop on the island. When using the cooktop, you would get what I can only describe as a fun house effect.

The dining room was enclosed with a regular hinged door as entry from the kitchen. On the other side of the dining room was an eat-in kitchen that had large floor-to-ceiling windows and a skylight.  Standing at the cooktop, one eye saw the eat-in kitchen was spacious and the other eye would see a wall that was only 3 feet away. The visual effect literally made me feel nauseous because my depth perception was being played upon!

My interior design plan to fix this unpleasant effect was to opened up the walls and move the cooktop about a foot to the left. It is now centered with the sink and the floor-to-ceiling windows. No more fun house effect!

The refrigerator was also problematic. It was at the end of the kitchen and the door was partially blocked by the island! Who would put a fridge somewhere where you can’t open it?

The refrigerator was nestled in the end counter, with upper cabinets next to it. To get more space in the kitchen and be kind to the budget, I moved the refrigerator to the other side of the kitchen. A peninsula was used instead of an island, which provided plenty of counter space.

I also worked to streamline the wall where the fridge was located. I replaced the regular hinged door that led to the laundry, pantry, bonus room, and garage with a swing door for easy mobility.

Some upper cabinets were removed and I designed cabinets that recess into the laundry room. The cabinets float on top of the washer and dryer and are accessible from both the kitchen side and laundry side. The cabinets look more like a wall than cabinets and match the cabinetry in the eat-in kitchen.

Robbing Space

This kitchen has been robbed! It’s been robbed of space.

Look carefully at the first picture. There is a patio door which swings inward towards the seating area. The wall juts out about 3″, then has a brick fireplace surround that again juts out about 4-6″, if you measure at the mantle. Thennnnnn, the hearth, which not only juts out even further about 11″ but is also about 8″ high. That’s a total of 19″ that is coming out to meet the door that swings towards it.

On the other side, you can see a beautiful large island maybe 3′ away caddy corner from the door, but only about 1′ away from the door’s walking path. With the stools, however, you’re right on the walking path of people coming in and out. Every finish is coming towards each other like a perfect storm.

Now imagine, having a table there with the brick fireplace, while entertaining your family and friends with a cookout. Can you imagine the flow of traffic? You’ll also be limited at the size and shape of the kitchen table.

However, just by removing the bricks and using a flat surround and lowering the hearth so that it’s flushed to the floor, you gain that 19″ back and then some. You ‘re now able to move your larger kitchen table closer to the fireplace.

Replacing the single hinge door with a sliding door would also give a better flow for traffic. Even just reversing the swing of the door would be helpful.

Sometimes it’s not the square footage or the furniture that makes a room feel crowded. It could be the way the space was designed. And the resolution could be as simple as reversing a door.

april circle before fireplaceapril circle after fireplace with colton

Distress Call: Reviving Tired Furniture In More Ways than Chalk

Do-it-yourselfers flocked to the chalk paint fountain of youth 20 years ago when Annie Sloan’s new revolutionary paints nixed the need for priming and catapulted the average painter’s abilities to new heights. The shabby chic look became so prevalent that oceans of distressed furniture in every shade of white and grey fill not just the specialty boutiques now, but mainstream furniture stores.

Like all trends, this one is evolving, according to some boutique owners. New products on the market offering alternative benefits to chalk paint are making more vintage style finishes easier to achieve. People can create a multitude of looks on their own so much easier.

“People are looking for something else.” says Joanne Cembrook, owner of Shabby Cottage Home Decor in Hamilton, Va. “With chalk paint you’re limited because you can’t do anything to it other than distress it. People are just over that. I feel like we’re moving away from that by what I’m hearing from people,” she says.

She prefers a newer paint line by HGTV’s Cash and Cari host Cari Cucksey that adheres the same as chalk-based paints and can be easily painted over or given a quick wipe-off wash or stain on top. The RePurpose Chromacolor paints don’t need a wax sealing, like traditional chalk-based paints, but can take an optional matte polyurethane, which can also be painted over later. “It’s very versatile,” she says, pointing to the variety of 25 colors the line comes in, catering to a demand to move away from strictly neutrals. “Grey is still in but people have had enough of it.” Cembrook says. “People are starting to bring in a lot more color. They’re adding accent colors like greens or oranges.” Red is always a big seller, too, she says.

It’s not uncommon for the handiness and ease of chalk style paints to “create the temptation to refresh every old piece of tired furniture with a coat of Paris Grey chalk paint,” says Denise Nolan, owner of Repurposed and Refined of Frederick, Md. “But what happens when you want those pieces to return to their natural wood state?” Because of the wax finish, it has to be completely stripped. And if you’ve used chalk style paints before you know the wax finish can be the most time-consuming part. Think of all the sanding required.

“I always joke that whoever can come up with the thing that strips all that wax will make a small fortune,” says Nolan. She has been painting furniture with distressed finishes since before it became popular. She sticks with time-tested paints like Sloan’s, as well as milk paints — which of course, are as old as King Tut — because she finds enough versatility in them. Other products like Artisan Enhancements can be mixed with them to create finishes like crackling, beach sand textures and metallic or pearl finishes.

Demand is still heavy for the vintage distressed pieces but she does see a lot of people preferring to add more natural wood back in to their decor mix, she says. “A lot of people went a little far with paint, painting everything in their house. I think people are starting to learn how to balance it,” she observes. “We are getting a lot of requests for the natural look. A lot of people are falling back in love with English pine.”

Amy Riedel, reverently dubbed Chief of All That is Paint by her coworkers at Lucketts vintage store in Leesburg, Va., sees the shabby chic look slowly waning among store patrons. “It’s not selling any more.” And it’s being replaced by more refined Italian or French Provincial styles, which are just that much easier to achieve now.


More people are braving DIY projects and can see the positive results of their labor with relative ease, thanks to what’s on the market now, she says. Lucketts uses almost exclusively Amy Howard at Home paints that include products like Toscana milk paints, Cracked Patina and gold and silver gilding paints that create an aged finish.

She runs a variety of classes on how to use the Amy Howard paint finishes. “We’re steering away from that overly-sanded shabby chic look to more high-end Italian style of faux finish antique look,” she says. “I think that with so many different options now to get a finished product with texture and dimension, the shabby look can be a little contrived. It can be more difficult to pass it off without it looking overdone.”

Demand is still high for people doing their own refinishing, she says. A lot of students are surprised at the level of finish they’re able to do. “People are becoming more brave and there are more products that make it easy for them to do,” she says. “People are starting to see that there are different choices out there that aren’t the shabby chic look.”

“It’s hard to figure out trends and where people are headed because of the mix of styles and tastes,” Nolan says, “It depends on the market and your client base. To me furniture and design is just like the US — it’s just a big melting pot. There’ll be a trend but then people end up sticking to their own tastes.”

New York Meets Virginia: An Interior Design Remix


Douglas and Jane Jacobs moved to their stately brick colonial in Leesburg, Va., from New York along with their two cats and a beagle last year. But they began working with Dinna Eckstein, owner of Audrey Kate Design and Staging long before they left New York.

In fact, they never met with Eckstein in person until after much of the design work was done. The house was beautiful but needed an update. They opted for a partial makeover that included fresh gray paint throughout most of the house, rich, velvet curtains and new furniture to be mixed with many of their favorite possessions they’ve collected from around the world.

Here’s how Eckstein brought it all together:

dsc_7946The master suite, which Jane said is her favorite room, was a vibrant yellow. A color she and Douglas really liked and wanted to keep. They agreed to bring the yellow down to a lighter shade and Eckstein tied it in with a large tufted headboard, dark wood Cabot bedroom suite accented by light wood top drawers. And, taking center stage as you enter the room, is a striking settee in a gray and white filigree pattern, flanked by soft gray and yellow paisley curtains. Coordinating bedding West Elm.

“I don’t normally like dark wood because it looks ponderous, Jane said of the bedroom furniture, “but for a big room they really look …”

“…luminous,” Eckstein adds.

Speaking of dark wood, the matching black entertainment consoles facing the mile-long L-shaped midnight blue Lay-Z-Boy couch are the perfect backdrop for the family room, where the Jacobs spend most of their time. A light gray herringbone patterned indoor-outdoor rug from Maison Warehouse of Sterling, Va., sits at the foot of the couch. The curtains in this room are meant to block the sun since they use it as a media room.

Eckstein couldn’t wait until the arched mirror came in. That took its place over the fireplace and opened up the two-story room even further.

dsc_7925With much background research on the Jacobs’ personalities, likes and dislikes, AKDS has filled their home with furnishings that fit their lifestyle. This is the fun part: With the exception of two large twin contemporary paintings Eckstein found at a local consignment shop — which now hang in the two-story foyer — the Jacobs’ own collectible artwork is accented throughout the house. From Douglas’s favored musical wall clock from Fortunoff of New York to Monet prints from France, needlepoint acquired from Liberty of London and original pieces from artist friends, Eckstein chose strategic places for these pieces and others so their walls highlight their favorite memories AND pull in the new colors of the house.


dsc_7911Eckstein also commissioned a local craftsman, Bruce Smallwood of Smallwood Woodworking, to build a custom dining table that would compliment the couple’s Bernhardt china cabinet, and paired the finished product with a set of contemporary champagne colored chairs.

The Jacobses say they are pleased with the outcome. Some things they had to see before they could envision the plan Eckstein had all along. “I wasn’t sure about the (foyer) paintings, but when I saw them up, I said whoa! That looks good,” Douglas mused. He says of Eckstein, “Dinna has an excellent sense of knowing the style we wanted for our house.”

As Douglas added in his review on her Houzz site, “She asked all the right questions regarding our tastes and made sure that her recommendations were not outlining or too conservative. There was a lot of back and forth as the house was furnished and she was able to discern our likes and dislikes. She had many suggestions, but just as importantly, she listened to our ideas and was able to direct our choices while blending with her knowledge. In the end, the house looks wonderful and uniquely ours.”

Like Magic: Sightlines the Secret Ingredient in Staging


Staging a home has a lot in common with the Magic Kingdom. Who knew?

It’s no walk in the park, but it can be magical when it’s done right. If you think about it – and I did the last time I visited Mickey this summer – the layout of the Disney park utilizes what are called sightlines in a very clever way. I try to do the same when I stage a home going on the market.

A sight line, or visual axis, is an unobstructed line of sight between the observer and a stage, arena, object, or another room, for example. Sight lines are a particularly important consideration in theater and stadium design, road junction layout and urban planning. It is just as important when merchandising your home.

On my vacation to Walt Disney World I took the Keys to the Kingdom tour, an in-depth look at how the park works. One of the subjects we discussed was sightlines – and sometimes the lack thereof – to create illusions and also to direct the traffic. They do on a much grander scale what I try to do when I stage a house.

disneyAt the Magic Kingdom, if you stood in the epicenter of the park, near that giant castle Cinderella gets to live in, you can look in each direction and see a different “land.” The park is designed in a hub-and-spoke or wagon wheel-style grid. There are five spokes that venture off to different lands. Four of the five spokes have a tall marker that you can see from the hub, which not only entices the tourists toward them, but explains which land you are entering. The castle is seen from the hub of the wheel in one direction, leading into Fantasyland, for example. When you face the castle, to the right there is a spoke. At the end of that spoke you see beaming to the sky the Space Orbiter and you know you are entering Tomorrowland. To the left of the castle you will see Colonial architecture and you know you’ve entered Frontierland, and so on. The one spoke without a marker? Well, that’s Adventureland, and if it had a marker it wouldn’t be much of an adventure would it? You enter wondering what is in store.

When I stage a house to sell, I won’t place a Space Orbiter in the next room. Nor will I leave the sight line void of anything, leaving potential buyers wondering what is up next. I will, however, place artwork, consoles, or other types of furniture and accessories in strategic places to pull them through. Once in the room, I use certain pieces and colors to create a feeling or connection with the potential buyer (more on that in a future article).


There are countless other examples of Disney’s genius use of sightlines. Like this: From the Crystal Palace restaurant, which is technically in Adventureland, you can still see Main Street U.S.A. and the castle. So awnings are placed outside the window to block the view of the castle and Main Street so people forget that it’s just a show. From the outside, it just looks like its part of the design of the exterior, but it really has a function besides shade. They do so much slight of hand to give you the best of the show. And that’s what Disney calls it – a show. From the moment you get to the front of the park they play lively music, then you go trough the tunnel and that music disappears. It gets darker and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. As you continue through, the music changes and grows louder as you approach the other side like a curtain raising in the theater.  Finally, you arrive at Main Street U.S.A. SHOWTIME!

Some may not think it’s that important to use sightlines in staging a home. After all, they are going to walk through the whole house anyway, right? It becomes important if the seller wants to boost the likelihood of selling the home.


I consider what I do as merchandising, I merchandise the house to lead a viewer throughout the rooms. I hope I create a connection for potential buyers to give them a sense of urgency to buy. Part of the way I merchandise is the use of the sightlines I create. Leading them from room to room by giving them a hint of what comes next. Sometimes the sightline is through a window. I am known to use a lot of red geraniums as my focal point to the outside, or maybe a fire pit in the colder months, visible from more than one room in the home. Why? When buyers see an exterior sitting area, the mind accepts it as part of the square footage of the house – it’s perceived square footage.

This kind of merchandising can make the difference between a sale and a longer time on the market. Take a look at your home and find your sightlines. You may not look at it the same way again.

And if you go to the Magic Kingdom, you may have a whole new perspective of the Space Orbiter.

Holiday Decor: Your Home May Sell Better With Less


As soon as October hits, we see Halloween and even Christmas decorations emerge on store shelves. And the boxes begin to come down from our own storage shelves to take their place on our dining room tables, foyers and front porches. The holiday luge track has entered warp speed.

Except, wait! If your house is on the market, rules change for that ghoulish Halloween display you planned for your front yard or the staircase banister vanishing under Christmas garland. The message from realtors is “less is more.”

What you want is subtlety that will enhance your home but still feature its best bones.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1: Choose wisely. Opt for decorations that aren’t going to distract potential buyers from your house. You’re not selling your tabletop decor, you are marketing your home.

If you’re inclined to decorate by leaving christmas plates out on your table for the season you might want to skip that this year. You don’t want prospective buyers to see them and miss other parts of your house.

2. Tone it down. Resist the urge to sprinkle your home with colored lights or holiday tchotchkes. Decorate so that you can still see the mantle. Enhance with some greenery or a touch of holly, but don’t cover your home’s beautiful features with it. And if you have kids, you don’t want to deprive them of carving a pumpkin or decorating a Christmas tree, but keep it simple and moderate.


3. Pull decorations entirely when staging. Realtor Vicki Noufal of Platinum Group Real Estate ( says if she has a listing over the holidays she prefers to have a home staged for marketing purposes without any holiday decor. Otherwise if it doesn’t sell over the holidays, photos would need to be retaken at a cost. “Nobody wants to see Christmas trees in January.”

Showings are a different story, she says. Go ahead and bring the holiday decorations out again but keep your countertops, fireplace and floors exposed. “You want to make sure things aren’t blocked,” she advises. “Keep decor to a minimum and keep architectural features visible,” she advises. “It’s OK to decorate but I think it’s just being mindful of how it will present.”

It’s sometimes hard to know how much is too much. “Maybe have a professional come to help, and keep it to the appropriate amount,” she advises. “It can be magical as long as it’s done tastefully.”

It bears mentioning that each realtor and each house is different. Some homes can carry more. Some less. Take one of the historic homes in Waterford, Va., for example. Smaller, quaint rooms only need a touch of a birch limb or a hot cider mug on a fireplace mantle. Larger, new builds with more spacious rooms don’t already come with a cozy, old-world feel but you can go ahead and erect a full-blown Christmas tree with all the trimmings. Still, keep it simple.

“The use of some fresh greens and white lights can do a lot to cheer up a spot,” says Long and Foster agent Janet Emma Garbe of Middleburg, Va., ( But she agrees not to overdo it. “I try to stay away from large, gaudy ribbons and bows.”

So what else can you do? “Live pine trees in planters on the front porch with some white lights bring some festive holiday cheer without being overbearing,” she suggests, as do  magnolia wreaths, lots of pine accents and cranberries.



4. Consider others’ beliefs. Sellers might also want to resist the temptation to bring out a nativity, a menorah, Pentacles, or any other religious symbols. “Try to avoid leaning too far in any direction related to a religion or particular belief system,” Garbe advises. It may be harder for buyers to envision themselves in your home if they have a different belief. “Create a festive atmosphere that anyone could relate to,” she says. “Who doesn’t love an elf? Just make it festive.”

5. Don’t forget safety. Be careful of things that are sentimental to you or fragile. And if holiday lights are used, keep wires off the floors.

6. Revisit. Take a picture of what you’ve arranged and look at it after a couple of hours and go back and adjust.

It’s important to remember, it’s only for this year. Limit yourself to a tasteful holiday and don’t overdecorate. Keep in mind you’re still merchandising your house and prospective buyers need to see the character and bones of your house. Next year you can decorate as much as you want!