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posted: 5/23/2014 12:01 AM

Let the family room's purpose drive its design

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The Washington Post

Raji Radhakrishnan, founding and principal designer at Raji RM & Associates, was the guest recently on Post staff writer Jura Koncius' Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q. My family room consists of wood furniture, a dark leather sofa and a blue-cream Persian rug. The walls are gray-blue. The room looks dark because of all the brown furniture. Where should I start? I want a warm and sophisticated look.

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A. Start by figuring out how and for what purposes you want to use this room. Then take inventory of which pieces need to stay and which can go. Go to Pinterest to check out some rooms based on the functionality of the space, like family hangout room or TV room, and you'll find plenty of inspiration to get started. You'll have to come up with a functional seating plan, but you can always be inspired by beautiful images.

Q. I have a square-shaped kitchen, where everyone manages to congregate in the same corner. A square kitchen doesn't allow for an island, and all the countertops are full of what should be in a pantry. I thought of opening the wall to the dining room/living room space, but I worry that all those lovely children's' noises could upset the salvation of my cooking space. Do I need a designer or an architect to help me plan, or would a contractor be a practical alternative?

A. Definitely hire a designer. Kitchens are first and foremost about function and next about aesthetics, so it really helps to have someone who has designed a kitchen before. But do check out kitchen photos for ideas on Pinterest, Houzz, etc. This will give you a sense of direction, and if you spend enough time researching solutions and get inspired, you may just want to tackle the kitchen yourself with a trusted contractor.

Q. We have a nice home, some Ravi Varma paintings, Tanjore paintings, jaipur paintings and carpets, some Thai prints and many beautiful objects. We would like to hang them in the living room, the dining room and in hallways. What kind of colors should we choose for the walls?

A. A shade of white is always my preference. Try Benjamin Moore's Linen White, one of my favorites. White walls allow the art to pop and allow you to change works whenever you like. A sandalwood tone will also work beautifully for traditional Indian paintings. Old Prairie and Tapestry Beige from Benjamin Moore are also good.

Q. I am redesigning my living room and received a quote for a custom window seat pad. I was shocked at the $1,500 price tag. Where do you suggest I look for a more reasonable quote?

A. You may want to try a free-standing bench with a cushion; check Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and West Elm. Also, try your local upholsterer. They can usually build something custom for a reasonable price, but note that all custom work, depending on the quality and how complicated the design is, does get pricey.

Q. We've lived in our house a year now, and I don't really feel like we've achieved that warm homey feel. We don't have a lot of room for shelves, so I don't have a good spot to put those items that help personalize a space. My interior design radar is pretty nonexistent, and my spouse is pretty ambivalent, so any suggestions on what to focus on to better achieve that "Ah, I love my house," feeling?

A. Start with a warm rug underfoot and some nice window treatments, and even if you don't have shelves, treat the coffee and end/side tables as places to keep some of your personal favorites, including books, vases and any other decor pieces you like. A pretty throw over a sofa adds a wonderful layer, also.

Q. We would like to turn our garage into a functional room for exercise, painting and maybe even watching TV. I'm trying to figure out how finished this extra space needs to be for comfort and utility, without actually making it a livable space (as no one would sleep in there).

A: You are first going to need some kind of air-conditioning. If the floors are concrete, you can have them painted in epoxy with some non-slip powder added to it. Don't forget lighting. And if the walls are painted, then voila! You have a functional space.

Q. What is a good paint color for a bedroom? I'm starting from scratch. What are some simple bedroom decorating ideas?

A. If you use the bedroom mostly for shut-eye, you may want to go with something dark. An eggplant color will look gorgeous. If you are like many who use the bedroom for reading, working and many other things, something fresh and light would be good. Farrow & Ball's Ponting is a nice shade of white with a soft hint of pink and will work well with different colors of the sheets, etc. Decorating the bedroom starts with a great bed, of course, which then needs level side tables, each with its own lamp easily accessible from the bed. An overhead chandelier is useful when you have a switch by the door to flick on when entering a dark room. A bench by the foot of the bed and a club chair to sink into before going to bed would be nice to have if you have the space.

Q. Do you have some good online sources to share for the great accessories you use in your projects? Or do you go to local flea markets?

A. My favorite accessories (and furniture) tend to be vintage -- so flea markets, online sites like One Kings Lane, 1stdibs (Saturday Sales) and eBay are all excellent places to shop. I often use vintage pieces in my projects because they are unique, and you can often get pretty good deals. I also like Made Goods, Jonathan Adler, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Target, etc. These places do surprise me every now and then.

Q. I just bought a house with lots of windows and a completely open floor plan. Any recommendations for a gray color that would work throughout the space?

A. Gray Owl, Classic Gray and Wish from Benjamin Moore are all beautiful grays. You could also try these colors to succeed each other through the transition of spaces, because they are all so close in color tone they will blend well yet give a subtle change and light reflection, which will keep the space from looking too static.

Q. I'm looking for a modern chandelier or pendant for my condo bedroom. My furniture is white lacquer with a brown velvet bed. I've been looking at a Restoration Hardware Sputnik fixture or thinking something crystal or an aluminum or chrome artichoke shape. Do you think one of these would be better, or do you have suggestions where to look?

A. You should definitely try the vintage lights on eBay or One Kings Lane. They are original and 10 times better than newer ones. I do like Lindsey Adelman's DIY suspension chandelier (www.lindseyadelman.com), too, which is so cool. Also try Circa Lighting.

Q. I love the photo murals that you do. Can you explain the process?

A. Thank you! They are all photographs I've taken either during travels or visits to local museums. I PhotoShop (and crop) many to get the exact lighting, colors, etc., that I want and then have them blown up to the size needed. They are installed just like wallpaper.

Q. What is your favorite part about working on a show house?

A. Oh, the reveal and all the friends you make, with visitors and colleagues especially.

Q. How did you decide you wanted to do the Kips Bay Decorator Show House? Did you choose the room or did they assign it to you? Do you think it was worth the time and effort do a New York show house?

A. I've wanted to do Kips Bay ever since I first learned about it! The quality of work and the freedom with which designers can work there is incredible. It's absolutely worth the time and effort, and I hope to do one again soon! From many portfolios that are submitted each year, they first choose the designers, who are then invited to visit the location and pick their top three choices for rooms and spaces. I think then it's just a lottery to find out exactly which room each gets.

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