WELCOME to my Blog, a page which I hope to develop into a pastiche of musings, advice and stories about life as an antiques dealer, a reckless and impulsive remodeler and a cancer survivor. Over the years, I've undertaken many remodeling, craft and decorating projects. I want to share my experiences to ensure that you don't make the same mistakes I've made and perhaps give blog readers some helpful tips to avoid my methods. My motto is "Don't Do It The Way I Do!"

As the owner of Finials Antiques for Home & Garden in Washington, DC, I also hope to help readers see design and decorating possibilities just about everywhere. Finally, as a mother of three children, a cancer survivor and a woman who has years of experience in political issues-advocacy, (I may be deluding myself) but I think I have something to say. I will occasionally post about whatever topics come to mind. Please check back often. I hope you'll be amused by my stories and will follow my blog.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Maybe it was the 20 inches of white snow piling up outside, and maybe it was cabin fever, but the eggshell walls in my house were really closing in. I was restless, so at the height of the storm, I drove to my friend Lise’s house for a cup of coffee in front of the fire.

Lise was obviously feeling confined too–I walked in while she was poring over a file of pages ripped from home decorating magazines. For a while, we looked at the pictures, thought about daring makeovers and stared at the snow.  Then my eye caught a photo of a large bathroom–the walls were striped in bold hot pink and white.

“That’s it,” I thought.  Regardless of the staggering number of projects mounting up in my house, despite my allegiance to neutral walls, I knew I needed this.  I needed relief from the gray skies and cold weather.  I yearned for color–bright, bold color–and it couldn’t wait.  I too needed  pink striped walls.

Pink was my teenage daughter’s favorite color, but even she was skeptical when I walked in, shook off the snow, and announced that I was going to paint the hallway in giant, 10-inch wide pink and white stripes. My kids are fairly used to my eccentric tendency to jump into a project and then, just as recklessly, abandon the idea.  They knew I only really finished things for customers.
But this time they knew something was different, the kids were actually intrigued, and my more adventurous friends were egging me on.  We were trapped by snow.  I had to try it (besides, a couple of gallons of white paint could easily obliterate all evidence of my poor judgment).

The next morning, when the snow stopped falling, I slogged through the icy streets to the paint store, picked the perfect pink, bought some blue, easy-release painters tape, and a gallon of bright white pearl latex paint. At home, it was instantly clear that the “Peony Petal Pink” should have been named “Bazooka Bubblegum.”

Lise came by and we tried mixing in other colors–too purple–too light–too deep. Finally, surrounded by peanut butter jars and coffee cans filled with our test colors, we hit on the formula–lots of bubblegum pink, a little periwinkle blue, some white, a touch of red and just a dash of raw umber.  It was perfect–sophisticated and daring.  It was also the same color my younger son was begging me to dye his hair.

My approach was haphazard at best.  First I rolled white paint over all the walls, then grabbed a tape measure and set about figuring the width of the stripes and how many I’d need.  Although I’m the daughter of an astrophysicist, I consider myself severely math-challenged.  I wasn’t sure where to start and where to end.  Should I include the doorways in my measurements?  How should I handle the corners?  My solution was to jump on in and take my chances.  Fortunately, it worked, but I did learn a few things that could make this project go very smoothly for even the most inexperienced painter.

Of course, pink and white isn’t to everyone’s taste.  Contrasting colors aren’t even required. Subtle shades of white or cream can work. Even the same color, alternating the stripes from flat paint to semi-gloss or gloss, will give a distinctive effect.  Go through the paint chip book at your local paint store for ideas.

Even though I always ignore this cardinal rule of do-it-yourself projects, preparation is key. Clear out the room, make sure the walls are clean, and have all your supplies (ruler, pencil, tape, paint and brushes) ready. Let the base coat dry, pick a corner, pluck the cat off the stepladder and jump on in.

Measure the length of each wall  (including the doors and windows), add them up, divide by the width of your planned stripes (10 for 10-inch stripes, etc.), and you’ll have a rough idea of how many stripes you’ll end up with. 

I decided that I didn’t want all-white corners, so I started by wrapping the first pink stripe about three inches around the first corner.  With a level or a chalk line, pencil in a vertical line from ceiling to floor. Apply the masking tape and with a small roller or pad painter, smooth on the color.  After about twenty minutes, you can add another coat, peel the tape and get a sense of what you’ve gotten yourself into. By then of course, it’s too late. You’re committed and you have to see it through.

Once you’ve got one done, you can approach the rest of the room with some patience and care. Mark off the entire room (just be sure to measure each stripe carefully–I got distracted and set the making tape on the wrong sides of the pencil lines, resulting in a stripe that was nearly 14 inches wide).   Don’t worry if your measurements are a little off.  My stripes are varying widths, but they’re all pretty close (within 3/4 of an inch or so).    I didn’t want a stripe in the exact middle of each wall (too planned for my random eye), so I adjusted as I went.  A little bit of asymmetry will give your wall some interest so your result won’t be as regular as wallpaper.  When you get to the last wall, adjust again as you go so you’re not left with a final stripe that’s much bigger or smaller than the rest.

Roll the stripes carefully; two coats about 20 minutes apart is usually enough, and pull the tape off while the paint is still a little wet.  You can also “seal” the tape to the wall by rolling over it with your base color.  After it dries, roll  two coats of stripe color.  This will give you the sharpest line.

Even if it’s uneven and beyond your touch-up ability, take heart.  As my cousin Andy used to say about do-it-yourself art projects, “if you mess up a little, don’t worry. It’s folk art!” Only a few of your dearest friends will examine your work that closely and they’re honor-bound so say something nice.  Only your kids will loudly point out the flaws.  The point is to take a chance, have fun, try something new, and don’t fall off the ladder.  If you can accomplish all that, a crooked stripe or two is nothing.

A simple snowstorm can inspire an entirely new direction in style. The color of a car, the shape of a sofa, a glimpse of the old wallpaper under the paint you’re stripping, can send you veering off into uncharted creative waters. The truth is, if you’re open and a bit adventurous, you’ll develop an artist’s eye and cultivate a flexibility that will keep you and your surroundings fresh.

My pink and white wall is a dramatic departure from my typical color scheme. It makes me smile.  It reminds me of being stuck at home during a blizzard while I perched atop a ladder and the kids made snowmen and drank hot chocolate in front of the fire.

Reactions have been mixed. Some people shake their heads. Others are really complimentary; still others wonder how long it will be until I’m bored and try something else.  But everyone has noticed and after years of living with safe colors, I’m happy with my new-found status as a bold color person.  Maybe next I’ll paint the kitchen a nice shade of electric purple–the same color as my daughter dyed her hair in ninth grade might be nice.