Q. Can you give me some advice about purchasing and caring for fine European bed linens? And do I put a feather bed under the fitted sheet or on top?
A. Carmie Giuliano, owner of Square on The Circle, answers: The European bedding that you buy in this country is made for the export market and will fit our beds. That's not the case if you buy sheets in Italy or France. Over there, the sheets are sized for their beds. Their pillowcases are bigger than ours. The top sheets are about the same. The fitted sheets vary in depth. As for care, the critical issue is bleach. Never use bleach or detergent with bleach on European linens. A product called Linen Wash will remove stains gently. Otherwise, just use a mild detergent. A feather bed or a pillow top goes under the fitted sheet. But you must have a deep fitted sheet-about 17 inches-so you don't squash the feathers. Sferra is a brand of Italian sheets of very high quality workmanship and 406 thread count that makes 17-inch deep fitted sheets. I think they are the best.
Q. Is there a rule about size and height of furniture based on volume of the room?
A. Interior designer Kurt Lucas of JKL Design Group, Inc. answers: I try to create visual separation and harmony by using thirds. For example, your drapes should be two-thirds the height of the wall. Same goes for an armoire, tall secretary or even a faux tree. Upholstered pieces should be one-third the height of the room. Filler foliage and accessories can be one-third or two-thirds. You also need to take into account balance. If you have a tall cabinet on a wall, balance it with a tall tree, piece of art, or display case on the opposite wall or in the opposite corner. These are guidelines, not rules-90 percent of good design is guts. Don't listen to your neighbor or your mother-in-law. Just go for it. And if you want the support of a professional, ask a designer to come in for a two-hour home consultation. You'll end up with many ideas, and the consultation will save you money by helping you avoid costly mistakes.
Q. I have a small, squarish room with two windows on one wall and a closet on another. I want to make it into a den/study that's a personal retreat. How can I give the space some character and punch while keeping it cozy and comfortable?
A. Interior designer Kurt Sternberg of Sternberg Interiors Inc. answers: Contrary to popular belief, painting a room a rich color helps to make a small space feel larger. A dark color helps to erase the delineation between wall and ceiling, corner and corner. Paint the ceiling the same color and the effect will be further enhanced. I suggest warm tones-ochre, terra cotta, and deep moss green would be safe bets. Tangerine, apple green or barn red would increase the vibrancy. Don't match pieces and finishes, mix it up! If your floor is carpet or tile, add wood to the room to warm it up. Keep the scale of the furniture in check, using upholstered pieces that are comfortable but not bulky. Low arms on chairs and sofas will help. Blend upholstered pieces with the wall color. Bring in prints as accents for pillows and chair cushions. For windows, consider two-inch wood blinds. They come in many wood tones and painted finishes. They also offer great light and privacy control. And in a room without much architectural interest, blinds add quality and detail.
Q. I'm seeing a lot of Biedermeier furniture in magazines lately. Why is this style so popular and what does it go with?
A. Interior designer Gary Pike of Point West Designs answers: One of the reasons Biedermeier, which is the forerunner to the Arts & Crafts and modern movements, is so enduringly popular is that it appeals to both the masculine and feminine sensibilities. The style, which is original to 19th-century Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia, is known for its strong architectural presence and clean lines. Biedermeier has character to spare, and it works effectively in big, lofty spaces that need strong furniture. Biedermeier pieces are crafted of cherry, pear, birch, maple and are often enhanced by ebony trim, veneers, sculptural metal ornamentation, (griffins, swans, sphinxes) and a high French polish with a mirror-like shine. The style works well in traditional rooms, yet is also stunning in a modern setting that has lots of contemporary art. I would not put Biedermeier in a country scheme.