Ask the Experts

By staff January 1, 2003

Q. I want to use an animal skin print for a room accent. How much accent is too much, and must all of the "skins" belong to the same animal or is it okay to mix zebra and leopard?

Robb & Stucky interior designer Howard Firth pounces on this one: You're right to stay with accents instead of doing a large sofa in an animal print. Your expenses will be less, but you'll still achieve high impact. Think about a sisal area rug banded in an animal skin print. You'll want the band to be at least six inches wide. You might cover the loose cushion of an occasional chair. Consider accent pillows, a throw, a hassock, or organize a quartet of animal paintings to hang on a wall. Here's something I used successfully in a designer showhouse-I made a patchwork quilt of many kinds of animal prints. You could do it with pillows, too.

You can certainly mix your animal skins but I think it's best to stay within the same color range. Giraffe, cheetah, leopard and tiger all work together in a brown-beige scheme. I wouldn't bring in zebra because then you're introducing black and white, which is a different palette. Save that for another room. Don't forget some jungle- or safari-themed items such as a tray, candlesticks, bookends, a lamp or table top sculptures. The trick is not to go overboard. A few good quality things in scale and balance with your existing furniture and ceiling height are better than lots of small things.

Q. We recently purchased a home that has vaulted and beamed ceilings and combines dining, family and living room into one with light brown floor tiles and walls painted in the yellow range. The kitchen, by comparison, has a white tile floor with black diamond separators. The cabinets are white laminate and the countertops are black solid surface. The kitchen doesn't match the rest of the house. What color should I paint the kitchen walls? What about cabinets? And that floor?

Interior designer Shirley Seidman-Ferraro to the rescue: I look upon color as the great common denominator; the glue that binds your scheme together and a relatively inexpensive way to achieve a cohesive flow despite the difference between the flooring in the kitchen and rest of the space. You have a couple things working in your favor, believe it or not. First, white flooring with black dots is considered a neutral that will easily accept any other color you want to introduce around it. If the yellow walls that already exist elsewhere in your home can be used in the kitchen, do it. Then, you're pulling elements together. Second, the white cabinets are again a plus, very easy to work around. Try a rug or runner in your kitchen that carries colors from the rest of your rooms. Use art as another unifier to create a design statement or to establish a specific ambience.

Q. I have a dark wood grandfather clock, not particularly old or expensive. But it keeps accurate time and I like the shape. However, it's not right with my Florida beachy look. Is it a sin to paint such a piece of furniture white or another pale color? If so, what kind of paint, dull or high shine?

Interior designer Susan Fudge says: Instead of getting rid of the clock or putting it in the closet to collect dust, I say go for it! Using paint to incorporate special touches in your home is what makes a home personal and gives it character. Since the clock serves a function, that's all the more reason to revamp it into something spectacular. You have more color choices than just white. Size up your room and choose a color that you want to repeat in the room for added impact. A flat paint will give the clock a romantic, antique, beachy, cottage-like look. If you prefer something more modern go for a high-gloss finish. You might consider a special painting technique like crackle finish or distressed. Paint is a marvelous and inexpensive way to transform tired furniture into what's new and unique. You can do it.

Q. Since moving to this part of Florida I've fallen in love with lime green. I'm thinking of doing my modern dining room in that color. Should it be walls and ceiling, too? What about trim, and what are some shades for my upholstered chairs and window treatment that play off against the citrus shade? My table is glass and rectangular. Bold is fine with me.

Interior designer Marilyn Morgan offers this: Lime green suggests both serenity and good humor, and although it is a cool color, lime's closeness to yellow adds warmth and vitality. It's popular, so accessories and complementary linens are plentiful. If you want to project a calm atmosphere, add gray to the lime and combine it with soft beige or yellow-tan. Drapes (on a maple pole) could be gentle blue tinted with gray to the same intensity as the lime. Use gray-blue in the area rug. Mix with lots of dark green leaf plants. This cool, harmonious scheme is an especially good choice if your dining room faces west.

More difficult to execute (but so interesting) is to combine a clear shade of lime for the walls and draperies and do the chairs in subtle tones of red-orange and blue-violet. Depending on the saturation of these colors, the mood can be energetic and lively or sophisticated and elegant.

Finally, for a fresh young look, combine the lime green walls with white drapes on white wood poles. White chair fabric with a good deal of texture works. A dark green area rug anchors the scheme. Do the ceiling and trim white, to which you'll add a little yellow. Using different whites gives you a subtle play of color. Add more texture with white raffia, grass, matchstick or natural gauze shades. When painting the ceiling and trim the same color as the wall, tint two shades lighter than the walls.

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