A welcome site

Dear Debbie: We have a spare bedroom that is home to a college-age young man who isn't home much, and now doubles as our guest room. I'd like to decorate it so that it works for both. Any ideas? — Louisa

Dear Louisa: There is plenty of scope for designing a wonderfully welcoming bedroom that will receive accolades from your son and guests. One timeless combination that I'd suggest is stripes and plaids. Both these patterns take on very different moods depending on their color mix. This bedroom is sophisticated and comfortable with its smoky gray tones and soft white bedding. The striated wallpaper adds texture and focus to the wall behind the bed. There are many wallpaper patterns that incorporate stripes. Variable widths in multiple colors would be young and fun for a child's room; fat stripes are modern and dramatic. So you have lots of leeway there.

Although the walls are on the dark side, the maple hardwood floor and light round bedside tables are fresh and modern, and keep the room from feeling too heavy.

Using a basic grounding palette on the walls gives you the freedom to experiment with your accessories — it's easy to adjust the ambiance with a shot of color in the blanket and pillows, picture frames and carpet. Personal collections and memorabilia should be kept to a minimum and can be stored away until your son returns. Leave space on the night stands and in the closet for guests to unpack their gear. It is a thoughtful touch to place an item or two in your guest room that connects directly to the visitor. A framed picture of you all together, a favorite bouquet of flowers or bath soap, or a bedtime snack will let your company know that they are welcome.

Dear Debbie: I read your column on mosaic tile and want to tile a bathroom countertop, which is a horrible shade of orange Formica. Will this work? — Heather


Dear Heather: Yes, this is a great solution for transforming your countertop. The key is preparation. Formica and laminates are solid, slippery surfaces that won't hold on to paint or tile glue. Wash the counter with a strong detergent such as TSP to dull the surface, and a bit of sanding wouldn't hurt either. Then apply a high-adhesion primer that is designed to cover slippery surfaces, which include high-gloss paint, oil paint and laminates. Let dry overnight, and then you are ready to apply your mosaic design. Remember to seal the grout.

Dear Debbie: I watched one of your "Facelift" episodes where you did a countertop that looked like water. It's an awesome idea I want to try. Can you please tell me the product you used? — Patty

Dear Patty: This was a very cool basement facelift where we incorporated a palette of blue and creamy stone colors, soft textures, a silver water wall and a faux-stone bar to produce a seductive and soothing adult playroom.

The sides of the bar were decorated with small pieces of wood (kindling) glued onto fiberboard, then painted to look like stone. The glassy smooth top is a sheet of plexiglass cut to fit, which you can buy tinted. Alternately, paint the countertop blue, and then install clear plexiglass. To see before and after photos of this fabulous, funky space, please visit and click on "Sonia's Basement."

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please e-mail your questions to

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