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Good Housekeeping editor offers seal-of-approval design tips

Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping, joined Post staff writer Jura Koncius recently on an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt:

Q: I have a small house and too much stuff in general. De-cluttering is a constant project (and a fruitless one with a 1-year-old). I have always looked for smaller-scale furniture to fit the space, but it’s very hard to find smaller, functional pieces at a reasonable price. Can you recommend ways to use the space better?

A: Look for small but multipurpose pieces such as a pouf that can function as seating, an ottoman or even as a side or coffee table. Bonus: They’re kid-friendly and also work well in a playroom. We’ve seen great ones at Target, JCPenney, Pier 1, West Elm and Ikea – at reasonable prices.

Q: I hate mopping and consequently haven’t done it in my kitchen in an embarrassingly long time. I think my problem is that I can’t find a mop I like. Any suggestions on something that I might use? I tried Swiffer, but it doesn’t seem to clean up after two young boys and a drooling pug.

A: I just called our director of the home appliances and cleaning products for her recommendations. Carolyn Forte suggests a microfiber mop such as those from Libman or Rubbermaid, with on-board canisters where you mix your own cleaner so you can use your favorite cleaning product and make it as strong as you like. The microfiber pads are removable and washable.

Q: Problem: a north-facing bedroom with one window (for which we need to keep shades drawn most of the time for privacy). Furniture is a light cherry wood. Carpet is a nutmeg-brown color. Solution? I’m hoping you can suggest a lovely, luminous wall color (no greens) that will bring life to the room. And if it’s Benjamin Moore, all the better.

A: We love Ocean Breeze. (Benjamin Moore! We aim to please.) It’s a bright, friendly and soothing light blue, and it won’t go too cool with your northern light.

Q: My front porch is 22 feet 10 inches long by 6 feet wide and is stained concrete. Now that we have cleared away all the overgrown shrubs in front of the house, I need to fix up the porch. Currently I have two wooden rocking chairs and a porch swing on the porch. What can I do to make it inviting?

A: Try a pair of topiaries in planters on each side of the door. Choose low-maintenance boxwood, which is good in any light exposure. Have fun picking out some pretty planters that show off your personality. Add a bench with colorful cushions (ideally, weather-resistant) to make guests feel like they want to linger.

Q: What are some of the latest findings and tips from the Good Housekeeping Institute?

A: We just published (in our October issue) an interesting tip we discovered while we were in the process of testing vacuum cleaners: The new premium-plush, super-soft carpets are too dense for many vacuum cleaners to clean. We still recommend the carpeting (which is very popular) but caution that you may need to consider a new vacuum in your budget. Check the carpet company’s website for its recommended models.

Q: A few months back, you featured some paint colors that included Behr’s English Channel, which I loved. We plan to repaint our basement soon, which has an east-facing sliding glass door. There’s not a lot of natural light to speak of, even in the morning. I would really like to use English Channel blue, but I’m afraid it might be too dark in this case. What do you think? Would you recommend going with something lighter?

A: We’re concerned your room may end up a bit cavelike with only one source of light. But if you love the color (and, of course, we do!), why don’t you use it for accents and paint your walls in a slightly lighter, complementary color in the same palette? Try Behr’s Mysteria.

Q: I am looking for furniture – a love seat and a chair or two – for my living room. The catch is, I need them a little higher than average. I have a minor disability that makes sitting on low furniture very difficult. Does anyone carry this kind of stuff, or will I have to go custom?

A: A cost-effective way to meet your custom needs would be to choose a chair or sofa from a place like Ikea, where a common “hack” is to buy a piece of furniture you love and replace the legs, which easily screw in. Then you only need to have a carpenter make legs in the proper height.

Q: I’m redoing my brick fireplace as part of a large first-floor remodel. I will be replacing brick with stone and adding a mantel. The issue is the flat-screen TV. Above the fireplace is really the only spot in the room. (Previously, the room was a study with no TV.) Right now, fireplace is wood-burning, but we can convert to gas or electric. What are your thoughts on TVs above the fireplace, and what type of heat source is least damaging?

A: There should be no heat-damage concerns about placing a TV above your fireplace. (Think about all the valuable art that has hung in similar place through the ages.) And because you are pulling your whole fireplace apart, you have the opportunity to consider putting the connections directly into the wall, avoiding ugly wires in a place of prominence.

Q: We have a room that is paneled and want to have it painted. Do we need to sand first? Should we use an oil-based primer, or is water-based OK?

A: You will definitely need to sand before painting. If you choose to use water-based paint and the previous finish was oil-based, make sure it has been stripped completely. Otherwise, use oil.