Ask the Experts

By staff February 1, 2002

Q. I want to do a neutral room, but I don't want it to be boring. Guidelines, please?

A. Gary Pike of Point West Designs answers: A neutral setting is perfect for people who want a soothing environment. And it works if you have a fabulous water view and don't want your decor to compete. But a neutral palette should never be boring. Texture is critical, and I also like to introduce metallics into my projects for warmth and flair. I'm doing a neutral room for a client now that's in the palette of chocolate, copper and ivory. For furniture I'm mixing rattan, wood, and chrome pieces and Barcelona chairs with lots of textural woven baskets. The table base in the room is a huge woven basket with a glass top. I could bring in leather in chairs or a sofa. In a neutral room, pay attention to the floor and the window treatments and make sure they contrast with the upholstered furniture. Think sisal, bamboo or a highly textured area carpet. In another neutral room I'm working on, the color palette is praline, camel, caramel-exceptionally rich and comforting. I'm using glass and bamboo furniture with simple Asian accents. For necessary splashes of color we picked out four framed paintings (that we're hanging in a row) that have orange and a watery turquoise in them. The art and the Gulf view are all the color that the room needs, but they are strongly supported by lots of texture in the fabric for the upholstery and windows. Always remember that neutral isn't just one or two colors, it's a broad range of shades with certain colors. The more subtle gradations of color and the more textures you use, the more engaging the space.

Q. I'm going to repaint (or hire a professional to paint) the interior walls of my fairly new home. What do I need to know?

A. Ed Pantera of H.I.S. Painting Services answers: The surfaces of the walls, doors and trim need to be clean, and any cracks or holes should to be filled. Then decide between latex acrylic and oil-based paints. The latter is fast becoming a dinosaur because of fumes, long drying time and the environmental concerns of disposing of the paint thinner necessary for clean-up. But oil-based paints have density and adhesion properties that still make them what I recommend for baseboards, crown molding and doors. I prefer oil-based, semi-gloss paint for those surfaces. Some latex paints are almost as good; and all of them are getting better because states such as California are phasing out oil-based paints completely.

For the walls, latex acrylic (water-based) is fine. Choose a flat paint if you are neat and live alone. Rooms that see a lot of activity with kids and pets should have two coats of an eggshell or satin finish. This finish is not shiny, but you can still wipe it down when dirty. Semi-gloss is fine for kitchens and baths and for all trim. High gloss is rarely used except in specialty treatments.

Always buy top-of-the-line paint products, because you do get what you pay for. I tend to buy the best lines of Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and Porter paints. If you hire an experienced painter (do get references and check them) expect to pay between $28-$40 an hour, not including paint. And here's a tip for the do-it-yourself painter. If you are making a drastic color change you'll need one coat of primer and two coats of paint. Have the primer tinted the same color as the paint and you'll get better coverage.

Q. I am intrigued by reverse-painted glass stemware and plates. Can I actually use them or are they just for show?

A. Vanessa Winter of Sela Miles answers: In Victorian times, when hostesses set elaborate tables, reverse-painted glass was part of the scheme. And now this gracious practice has returned.

Reverse painting is the process of painting on the backside of a clear surface, doing the highlights (like fish scales and eyelashes) first and the background last-reversing the normal process.

Objects done in this manner might seem expensive, but not when you consider there are about 17 steps to making an object, and it takes an artist about six hours to complete the painting of a plate. And every one is an original. When you buy reverse-painted glass stemware and plates, be sure the glass itself is of good quality, heavy and nice to the touch. You want your fine pieces to last and be enjoyed by many generations.

If the reverse-painted glass objects you buy are not usable, the label will say so. If your reverse- painted glassware is meant to be used (at Sela Miles, ours is) it should be dishwasher-safe. However, if there are bits of decoupage paper within the painted design, the objects should be hand washed in mild sudsy water and thoroughly dried. Once dried they can be stacked just like ordinary dishes.

These plates and platters are meant to be displayed like fine art on the wall in groupings or on plate racks. The last place I'd display them is in a traditional hutch because it's boring. If you have glass-front kitchen cabinets, it's a nice idea to display one or two plates on stands and stack the rest. I always hang my big platters on the wall and take them down when I have a dinner party and need them.

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