TLC's John Gidding on updating wallpaper, flooring and more

Architect John Gidding of TLC's "Trading Spaces" joined staff writer Jura Koncius recently for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt. 

Q: We had wallpaper installed in our entryway, along the staircase wall and in our upper hallway some 30 years ago when we bought our house. The installer did an excellent job, and it still looks nice, but it's really time to update it. Can we have new wallpaper installed over the old, or is it best to have someone strip it and start over? We are ages 68 and 70, so this will not be a do-it-yourself job.

A: You can absolutely wallpaper over old wallpaper. It's a time-honored tradition, after all. You want to make sure the old wallpaper is in good shape, as any deterioration or flocking will show through. But if it's in relatively good shape, the pros have their methods of layering new wallpaper on top of the old.

Q: I'm really loving the variety of wallpapers out there and want to incorporate one into my home. Do you suggest a smaller space such as a powder room to start? With a really bold pattern and color, any advice?

A: I love exuberant expressions in small rooms. Powder rooms are a good place to start. I wouldn't go super busy with the pattern unless you've found a pattern you're in love with (in which case, pull the trigger). A calm but colorful pattern will bring in energy without overpowering the small space. Make sure you look at removable vinyl wallpapers; they've come a long way and are easy to install yourself.

Q: What do you recommend for lighting a large room with a cathedral ceiling (with skylights) when the ceiling isn't wired (except for two ugly can lights over the fireplace)? Two electricians have refused to wire it, because there's no attic over the cathedral ceiling.

A: Swagged pendants never hurt anyone! You can gussy the wires up with chains, but the idea is a simple one. You just need to position a cluster of pendants where they're most needed or position multiple pendants around the large room. The key is to pick the fixtures that make the most sense. I find with swagged pendants, the simpler the better. And most crucially: Put them on dimmers.

Q: I want to replace my burgundy wall-to-wall carpet. I dislike the color but the carpet is in pretty good shape. Assuming I change it within a year, what would be the best move for reselling? I want hardwood floors. Hubby wants wall-to-wall.

A: The best move for reselling is, time and again, hardwood flooring. The least successful move for selling is wall-to-wall carpeting. It's a matter of wanting "new," which is hard to feel when the floors are anything but a hard surface.

Q: What color is best for wood flooring that won't fade? Our home is a split foyer and we are planning on putting in hardwood flooring up and down the steps and continuing it in the public areas of the house and maybe the bedrooms. But the sliding glass door in the rear of the house faces west and gets fantastic sunlight, and the front gets eastern sunlight. I am planning on oak flooring with a maple stain. I fear that a darker stain would fade where the sliding glass door is located.

A: A lot of the engineered hardwood flooring is fade-resistant, so you should talk with your provider to find the best product if you go engineered. If you're going with staining oak, I'd choose a light color - both to avoid fading and because I'm a fan of blond oak floors in well-lit rooms.

Q: My house has a spare room that my husband and I use primarily for watching TV and movies. A couch sits along one wall, and a wall-mounted TV is on the other. My problem is with lighting this space. Currently, there are floor lamps on either end of the couch. Anywhere we put a lamp, it creates a reflection in the TV screen for someone on the couch. But turning off all the lights makes the room too dark. I've thought about putting rope lights behind the TV to light the wall. How do you recommend lighting a media room?

A: I always recommend installing dimmable lamps, because they can be a catchall solution. I've never regretted installing a dimmer anywhere, and they especially make sense in media rooms. But screen glare is a real thing, and although I've seen rope lights behind TVs, they can be distracting and a little too atmospheric. You might want to try a floor or wall lamp with a gooseneck, avoiding the level of the sofa. Another solution could be floor-level orbs at the corners and behind the sofa. (Again, on dimmers.)


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