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Ask Priscilla
Updating holiday tables,
the how-to of British Colonial style, choosing paint colors and finishes

By Priscilla Kohutek

Q. I need some new and different ideas for holiday tables. Can you help?

A. Do the unexpected. Skip the pump-kins and dead leaves this Thanksgiving, and build your theme with color and texture. For impact, do the table in garnet-colored everything. A velvet runner draped across the table serves as place mats for red-clay plates and stemmed garnet glassware. Place olive green napkins on the plates, and top them off with garnet velvet roses.

Accessorize with garnet candles and fresh fall flowers in a garnet vase. Redundancy intended; the monochromatic garnet color scheme is rich and dramatic.

To give your Christmas table a different treatment, do a festive two-toned contemporary theme — the embellishments are easy and inexpensive craft projects. Use a white damask tablecloth as the base for this tablescape. If you have mirrored place mats, that’s a good thing. But if you don’t, they are very simple to mimic. Just cover any firm mat with Reynolds Wrap. Mats don’t even have to match — different shapes make the table more interesting. Squirt them all with spray snow. Make the surface uneven, leaving small areas clear of snow for the full effect of the “mirror.”

Roll white dinner napkins and tie with green ribbon and curl the streamers. Place them in the center of the table and drip the streamers over the edge of the table.

Now for the centerpiece. You’ll need bleached white twigs, which can usually be found at craft stores. Arrange them in any kind of vase — color and material don’t matter because we’re going to cover it up. Decorate the twigs with small white pearlized Christmas balls, tied on with green ribbon bows. Wrap the vase with green tissue paper, secured with curled white ribbon.

Place a favor, wrapped up in shiny green paper, on green crockery plates. I found some unbelievable candles shaped like little presents that were perfect for both plate decorations and favors. If you don’t happen to have green dishes, improvise. White works, too. Or you can forgo crockery altogether and use your fine china. The look will be somewhat different, but that’s OK.

Tip: When you’re working with a round table, position the centerpiece off to one side as though it’s just another place setting. That prevents overcrowding the center of the table.

Q. My wife wants to remove the bathtub from the kids’ bathroom and do a big walk-in shower. I think one bathtub is necessary for resale purposes. We have a whirlpool tub in the master. Does that count?

A.
You are right in thinking that a house should have at least one bathtub. However, assuming that the whirlpool tub in the master bath doesn’t have to be turned on to hold water, you already have that one required bathtub. According to the real estate expert with whom I conferred, a walk-in shower in the other bathroom would be quite OK.

Q. I live in a small condo and love the British Colonial look, but I’m confused about what is appropriate to carry out the style. Can you help?
           
A.
Having lived in three former British colonies, I’m well acquainted with this theme. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects and a current trend — the global influence on today’s decorating.

British Colonial style is a hot new look that’s all the buzz! It allows you to travel the world from your own home and harkens back to bygone days of romance and adventure — a time when new beginnings made anything possible. Many decorators say that to successfully achieve the look, one must do the homework to understand the lifestyle of the colonists. So here’s a little background to get you started.

The colonists brought very little furniture with them, saving luggage space for china, silver, fine linens and personal items. But they brought their furniture designs and customs. Furniture and rugs were purchased and/or custom-made upon arrival at their destinations. Therefore, British Colonial style varied from colony to colony, depending upon the materials that were available and the sometimes-fanciful interpretation by the local craftsmen. However, there was a commonality in the materials used, such as cane, wicker, teak and mahogany.

Most accessories were chosen locally, as well. Since the British Empire stretched from Asia to India and from India across Africa to the West Indies, accessories gave the colonial homes very different looks. Theoretically, one should be able to tell the locations by observing the contents of the homes.

Antique British Colonial furniture is in high demand and is pricey. Several furniture manufacturers, such as Maitland-Smith, make antique reproductions, which also do not come cheaply. My advice is to go slowly. Purchase expensive wood pieces as the budget permits. In the meantime, fill in with less expensive wicker and cane furniture.
           
On the bright side, a wide variety of ethnic accessories, which you will need to carry out the look, are readily available — some at very affordable prices. Animal-print fabrics, a globe that looks old plus botanical prints and lots of green plants are de rigueur. Handmade ethnic textiles were, and still are, often used as wall hangings in colonial-styled homes.
           
Animal heads and skins were freely used for decoration in the African colonies, but this isn't popular these days, so we improvise with faux skins and photos of animals. Tribal masks and spears were favored as well, and reasonable facsimiles can be found at import stores such as World Market. In Asian colonies such as Hong Kong and Singapore, you would find Oriental screens and perhaps a collection of Chinese Canton blue and white porcelain plates mounted on the walls.
           
Maps and family portrait photos were very popular. Shop the antique stores for old maps and sepia photos — some of them will be in their original frames. Group them together in wall arrangements, or intersperse them with other items.

To view examples of British Colonial style with Asian influence, order my book, The Guide to Home Decorating Indian Style, at www.askpriscilla.com.

Q. We’re building a very formal, traditional new home, and I don’t know what to do about the woodwork and trim. Should it be painted or stained? Can you
do both?
           
A.
There are pros and cons about both stained and painted woodwork. Stained woodwork requires a better quality of wood with a nice grain and is therefore more expensive. However, it is more durable and less likely to show dings from normal wear and tear and so requires less maintenance.
           
Woodwork painted the same color throughout the house provides continuity and has a formal look. However, in some very formal homes, you will see a paneled library with woodwork stained to match the paneling.
           
Occasionally, you can find houses with painted woodwork on one floor and stained on the second floor. Otherwise, mixing painted and stained from one room to another looks erratic — like you couldn’t make up your mind. In the end, though, the decision is strictly a personal choice. Whatever makes you happy is right for your home.

Q. Is there some rule about how much bathtub should show below the shower curtain? I have ours at floor length, but it doesn’t look right. We have 10-foot ceilings, and the shower curtain is 72 inches long.
           
A.
My guess is that the overall look isn’t right because the proportions are off — too much space from the top of the shower curtain to the ceiling (about 4 feet) so the bottom part of the room looks heavy. The shower rod probably needs to be raised. I can’t think of any rules about how much of the tub should show, but obviously you don’t want the shower curtain to have that “knee-high” look.
           
This is something you have to eyeball. Take the shower curtain down and fold it into a manageable width. Get someone to hold it up for you and try different heights until it looks right.

Q. What color should I paint my small living room for a contemporary look? Should I do an accent wall, and if so, which one? I have a mustard-yellow leather sofa with chrome legs and a matching chair. Do I need throw pillows, too?
           
A.
An accent wall can have a choppy effect in a small room. Paint the whole room in a color such as Pennywise (Sherwin-Williams 6349). It’s sort of a gentle rusty shade. Do the trim in something like Décor White (Sherwin-Williams 7559), which is soft and slightly creamy. Of course, you can choose any brand of paint — just stop by a Sherwin-Williams store and pick up color cards to get an idea of the shades I’m referring to.
           
Throw pillows are optional, but a splash of geometric pattern is good for a contemporary style. Look for a fabric that brings in the wall and trim colors. Alternately, add a geometric design in a large throw rug.
           
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 Ask Priscilla® via e-mail at Priscilla@askpriscilla.com, or mail them to SAN ANTONIO WOMAN, 8603 Botts Lane, San Antonio, TX 78217.