Answers to your home-improvement questions

Pointers from a professional DIYer on succulents, cabinets and more


Designer and blogger Monica Mangin, host of "The Weekender," a home-renovation Web series by Lowe's, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I am interested in succulents, and I noticed that you use them a lot in decorating. Why are they among your favorites? Are there some that are cheaper and more durable than others? What kind of pots are best to use with succulents?

A: I like them for a few reasons. First, they're affordable, and second, they're so darn cute. They're also easy to keep alive. In my own home, I just put one ice cube in each once a week to water them — it doesn't get easier than that. I have found that the firmer, aloe varieties are more durable than others. You can get creative with your pots — plant them in mugs or in cool pottery — but what matters most is the soil. You want to use succulent soil and add rocks for drainage. That's the key to happy succulents.

Q: My kitchen cabinets are dated (1980s) but still in really good shape. It seems wasteful to rip out perfectly good cabinets when what they really need is just a facelift. Is just replacing the doors and drawer covers an option? How would I go about doing this?

A: I think so many people are in your shoes. I have already done two kitchen makeovers this year, and for both we reused the cabinets because they were in perfect condition, just kind of ugly. I would recommend that instead of removing the doors, you consider painting them. There is a new Valspar Cabinet Enamel paint that I love. It gives you the look of a factory finish, but it's really easy to use. With new paint and hardware, you could totally change the look of your kitchen.

Q: I love my roomy kitchen/dining area, but having the cooking mess within feet of the table puts a crimp in my enjoyment when friends gather for dinner. I've tried going with a cold sandwich and salad menu, but that gets old. Any suggestions?

A: That's a tricky one. The first thing I'd say is that your friends probably won't mind your mess, especially if you're feeding them. I love getting my friends involved in the cooking at my house, so maybe that's an option, too. One tip is to clean up as you go. I'm a messy cook, so this is tricky for me. If you have a high-quality, low-volume dishwasher, your dishes can be cleaning while you're eating (without all the background noise).

Q: Is it OK to have two focal points in a room? We have a corner fireplace and a large gold mirror that create a focal-point wall. The couch sits at the opposite end of the room, and we were thinking of installing floor-to-ceiling bookcases to flank the couch. Or would that confuse things?

A: I am a big proponent of breaking design "rules" and doing what you love. The bookshelves sound great and could be a nice addition to the space. Perhaps try to keep a unifying color between the two focal points to tie them together. Because you have a gold mirror, maybe add some gold accessories to the built-ins so it feels cohesive.

Q: I will be moving into a typical beige apartment. I really love white, so I plan to paint the walls and ceilings white. Can I get away with leaving the trim beige? That would save me a lot of time.

A: White is a great idea to brighten up any space. You can definitely keep the beige trim as is. Painting trim is a big job. One idea to consider is adding an accent wall or area using peel-and-stick temporary wallpaper. It's my go-to solution for renters looking to add some personality to their space.

Q: My house has a formal living room and dining room, which we seldom use. We want to completely redo them but have no idea where to start. Where can we go to get some help figuring out how to turn these rooms into useful spaces?

A: So many people are in your shoes, especially with the formal dining room. It can feel like wasted space. Look at your life and ask yourself what kind of things you do at home and what kind of space would help you do those things even better. If you have family living with you, brainstorm together. Do you love game nights? Do you want a cozy place to read? Do you love plants? Exercise? Once you have a goal for the space, then hit up Pinterest to get inspired. I'd say don't feel boxed in by tradition. Create rooms that are just right for you and what you love to spend time doing.

Q: I see a lot of articles on how to refinish outdoor patio furniture but nothing on how to strip and repaint metal furniture, such as the legs on a coffee table. Most finishes have some depth, and it seems like a coat of spray paint wouldn't do that. How would one achieve that finish?

A: My trick for achieving a realistic yet faux metallic finish is to combine spray paints. You're totally right that using one spray paint won't give you the depth you're looking for. To make the wooden base of a console table look as if it has a metallic finish, I combined three metallic spray paints and layered them together until I had the depth and style I wanted. No one would ever know that it was a DIY trick and not vintage, metal legs.


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