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Ask PriscillaAsk Priscilla
Blending styles, downsizing, updating bathrooms

By Priscilla Kohutek

Q. How can I use a contemporary color scheme in a traditional living room?
A. The idea is to introduce new life into a traditional setting without dating it. It's easily doable. Select a sophisticated contemporary color scheme like soft yellow-green and rusty brown, brick red and sage green or Wedgwood blue and chocolate. Fabric patterns should be equally quiet: solids, stripes, two-toned paisleys and houndstooth checks, as well as patterns with two subtle shades of the same color.

Although I lean toward traditional fabrics, it's OK to bend the rules and bring in one or two accent pieces in contemporary patterns to add interest to the room. Anyway, today's contemporary is tomorrow's retro.

Q. I need help with my foyer. I'm so tired of the mirror-over-the-table look. What can I do that's different?
A. A picture is worth a thousand words - check out this totally novel approach for decorating a foyer and passageway at our Web site: http://sawoman.com/1108/askPriscilla.html. It's an ethnic look that's so easy to copy here in South Texas. A collection of terra-cotta pots, what could be simpler? Stacked decorative chests that can be duplicated at a local import shop. A textile for a wall hanging - also not a problem to replicate. It's amazing what creative new looks you can come up with when you think outside the box.

Q. What advice have you for an elderly couple who are downsizing into a two-room seniors' apartment?
Prioritize, prioritize - and need I say it again? Prioritize. Your decisions about what goes with you and what doesn't will be driven by lifestyle and the space available in your new home. Obviously, you can't move a whole house of stuff into two rooms, so you must make a list of must haves and can't-live-without items.

Must-haves are things that are functional: cozy easy chairs with an ottoman or recliners with a side table and good lighting, a table and chairs for dining or just having coffee or evening cocktails and snacks, audio-visual equipment such as a TV and a music system, a small refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee maker, maybe a toaster if that's your thing and a few dishes.

Can't-live-without items include books and bookshelves; a place for milady to put on makeup and style her hair; and a place to store clothes such as chests, dressers and trunks that double as coffee tables or extra seating; favorite photos and memorabilia.

Any way you look at it, you have a difficult transition ahead of you. I wish you the best of luck in your move and much happiness in your new home.

Ask PriscillaQ.We're remodeling a very small bathroom and have already installed a white cultured-marble tub and a redwood vanity to hold the sink. What should we do about the countertop? I'm thinking beige granite.What would be a good flooring - not too expensive? And what should I do about the white walls?
No to a beige granite countertop! Why introduce yet another material in such a small space? Finish what you've started with the bathtub and do a stylish white cultured marble countertop for the vanity with an integrated bowl for a clean, smart look.

Porcelain or ceramic tile flooring is hard to beat. It's an easy-care surface that's perfect for bathrooms. It comes in all sizes and looks that mimic all kids of natural materials, including marble, travertine, slate, granite and terra-cotta clay. Choose a neutral color that will go with different palettes as you change your décor over the years. Use the walls, window treatments, towels, rugs and accessories to establish your color scheme - primary/ main color on the walls, secondary and accent colors for fabrics and accessories. These elements are easy to replace when you vary color schemes; hard surfaces such as countertops, flooring, wall tiles and bathtubs aren't. I speak from experience. We've recently restored two 1980s bathrooms, and I can tell you it's a noisy, messy and expensive undertaking.

Which reminds me of something else I must say on the subject: When you choose fixtures and hard surfaces for bathrooms and kitchens, don't fall into the "trendy trap." Fad colors and styles will be outdated in five to 10 years. Stay true to the general architecture of your house, and select white or off-white fixtures - they are always safe and never go out of style.

Neutrals are not only various shades of beige! Just get that right out of your head. These days when we refer to neutrals, we actually mean any color that coordinates with a variety of other colors; i.e., grays, all kinds of browns from café au lait to chocolate, even primary colors. And what are Mother Nature's favorite background colors? Blue skies and green grass.

Q. I have inherited my grandmother's old home, and I love it. It has an enclosed porch surrounded by windows, which is a favorite place for my husband and me to relax. But it needs sprucing up. I'm thinking Country French or English cottage, except I don't know how to carry it off.
Too bad shabby chic is no longer chic. It covered so much territory and was such a nice fit with anything old. On the other hand, English cottage isn't too far from shabby chic - the Brits love shabby. It's a sign of wealth and position - everyone knows you can afford the very latest, so you don't have anything to prove. But I digress.

English cottage is characterized by wicker furniture and cheerful, if a bit faded, floral chintz fabrics; plump, feather-filled cushions; and large footstools. Add hanging baskets of flowers and ferns and ficus trees, which should weather well in a glass-enclosed porch if it gets warm sunshine. Add big bowls of blue hydrangeas, either real ones or good faux. If you need a floor covering, natural fibers like sisal and sea grass are perfect. Botanical and bird prints and ancestral photos are good wall decorations.

Country French is a bit heavier than English cottage and is typified by natural rustic wood and wrought iron features. The fabric of choice is toile, and the color palettes include soft, foamy greens, bright yellows and golds, rust, red and splashes of blues, pinks and lavender-purple.

Finishing touches include bowls and vases of flowers and roosters. Yes, roosters in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from doorstops to salt and pepper shakers and pitchers. Either one of these styles will give you a cozy and comfortable look. Which one goes best with the architecture of your old home? That's the deciding factor.

Ask PriscillaQ. How can I decorate a unisex bathroom for our two kids that will make them both happy? I don't want anything too busy and cartoonish, and I don't have a bundle of cash to spend on the project. Do you have some easy, inexpensive ideas for a bathroom that's shared by our daughter and our son?
A seaside theme is easy to achieve and fun for both boys and girls. What kid doesn't love the beach? Think seashells, sand castles, tropical fish, whales, starfish, octopuses, sea plants and coral and palm trees. Paint or stencil a thematic mural on the walls for an awesome effect. It's also a DIY project you can create yourself. Do the background color in a watery blue or green. It's always a good idea to involve the kids when you're decorating their spaces, so take them with you to choose stencils for the project.

If painting or stenciling a mural is too time-consuming for you, have the kids do artwork for the walls. Frame their work with inexpensive frames and glue on seashells. Continue to carry out the theme and colors in the shower curtain, tub mats, towels, rugs and accessories such as soap dishes and toothbrush holders.

If that theme doesn't turn them on, how about recreating a rain forest? Oh my, the possibilities are endless - think nature, and talk it over with them. You'll be surprised at what they come up with.

Q. What are the rules about layering area rugs on top of each other?
I wouldn't layer area rugs one on top of another. But, of course, you can layer an area rug over carpeting and room-sized rugs, which is usually what we mean when we talk about layering rugs. On the other hand, it's perfectly OK to overlap area rugs - usually Orientals look best treated this way. There aren't any rules about how to do this except that they should look as though they've been casually tossed around.

Until next time, happy decorating!

Priscilla Kohutek, internationally published home decorating columnist and author, draws from her own experience and the advice of experts to answer your questions. Send your queries to her via e-mail at Priscilla@askpriscilla.com, or mail them to SAN ANTONIO WOMAN, 8603 Botts Lane, San Antonio, TX 78217.