Carol Sheridan is an expert in designing spaces for life transitions. Her firm, Contemplated Spaces in Germantown, Maryland, helps with empty nesting, starting over, having a baby, retiring, blending families and relocating. Sheridan joined staff writer Jura Koncius recently on The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Last year, I inherited my father's house and furnishings. He has several pieces of mid-century modern furniture, including Danish rosewood, that I'd like to sell. I found a company that buys and sells furniture. Should I use them? What's the best way to handle this?
A: I'm sorry to hear about your dad. However, you are in luck that mid-century furniture is in great demand now. There's an app called LETGO which is very popular as well as estate sale companies. As for the company you found, if there are plenty of good reviews I'd give it a try.
I rely a lot on reviews. There are so many resources out there, you can't know enough about them all. I also rely on local consumer affairs offices, especially if the client needs to make a large investment. You want to know how many unresolved complaints the company has before investing.
Q: Are vignettes still a thing? Should you curate your displays on bookshelves and coffee tables? How do you look at your space with a new perspective?
A: Vignettes will never go out of style, as they often show the history of your travels or collections. You can also move the vignette from a coffee table to a book shelf to a nightstand to get a fresh look.
Q: What are your favorite tips for a high-end look on a budget?
A: Use neutral furniture and add interest with small amounts of bright color. Find a look you like and copy it. Imitation is the greatest compliment!
Q: My husband has a tendency to hoard. Any ideas for helping him to purge?
A: This is honestly one of the biggest challenges as we get older because needing to lighten up is almost a certainty. Approaching it from the most positive angle possible is helpful. You will need to find an agreeable way to preserve the memory but part with the item. As you may have heard, Marie Kondo has a wonderful book called "Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." Try reading and discussing it together. I also find setting a date and time to start and work on this project regularly helps. Take small steps, but you have to take the first step.
Q: I've recently downsized from a 5,800-square-foot Victorian house to a 1,600-square-foot condo in preparation for a move to Tel Aviv. I can't figure out what to do with the corner near the guest bath, where the washer and dryer would traditionally go. Is there a neat way to cover up the two open sides? Perhaps drapes, hung from the ceiling? I'd like to use it for shelving and storage.
A: There's wonderful drapery hardware that you can hang from the ceiling to cover the open space with fabric.
Q: I plan to spend a year overseas and then move to the West Coast. Naturally, I'm downsizing like crazy. Should I store all my stuff here or store it on the opposite coast? Would it be better to have one big firm do both the moving and the storing, or should I parcel it out among several storage units and moving companies? Would this be a good situation to use a self-packing service, like Pods?
A: Sounds like quite an adventure. I'm a big fan of Pods, even if you hire help to pack them. Their size is manageable, if you need to get into it, rearrange it or look for something. I would store now and move later. Make sure to keep it all together and document everything with photos and lists.
Q: As our baby enters, we want to downsize to give him space to grow and play. However, it is difficult to find time to dedicate to this project. Do you have any advice on how best to make time to declutter and downsize, especially when you only have 5-10 minutes a day to yourself?
A: You are a perfect candidate for a professional organizer. You can explain your needs and let them do what you don't have time for. You could also find someone who has experience raising children, so they understand the safety concerns.
Q: After parting ways with someone after 10 years, how do you make changes to start over without leaving and throwing everything away?
A: I try to be mindfully optimistic with my clients. What was the good that came of this time? A good barometer to use: Does the item bring you joy or pain? You can make furnishings look new with new pillows and throws in a different color scheme, if you want to keep it.
Q: The original lock hardware on my wood entry door is no longer working. We've been told by a locksmith there is no way to replace it without getting a new door. I want to keep my door, but the hardware is on the verge of breaking. Who would you go to for a second opinion? If I do have to buy a new door, where would you recommend I start? I'm willing to spend a lot to get a quality wood door to replace my original.
A: A very good carpenter might be able to fill the hole and place the lock lower or higher, if you are attached to the door. The door would need to then be painted and not have a stained finish. But you might find the perfect new door if you look. A good builder supply company will have an array for you to choose from. You can also enlist the help of a designer.
Q: I bought a Pottery Barn ottoman on Craigslist, but the leather needs a bit of attention. The care instructions say to take it to a professional. Any suggestions?
A: I would try a good saddle soap, but baby wipes are very good for this type of thing since they are gentle and not harsh.
Q: I am trying to find a rug for a family room with elementary-age children. Any suggestions as to where I should look?
A: I love outdoor rugs for children. They have gotten softer over the years. Frontgate has a nice variety of well-priced rugs.
Q: I am looking for a declutterer that will post my items online that are worth re-selling. Any ideas?
A: There are E-bay stores. Check your area to find one. You can bring your items into the store and they will sell them for you.
Q: Can you direct me to source for a small, slip-covered club chair? I would like to put a linen covered chair in our guest bedroom. I will have to order on the web.
A: An estate sale is a great place to find small furnishings to slipcover. I find older furniture is generally smaller. In terms of online options, I've had success with Grandin Road for smaller-scale chairs.
Q: When my husband's parents decided to downsize, they sent their items to a local salesroom in England. I've wished I had the same option, now that I'm faced with my parents' furniture and our unused wedding presents from 30 years ago. I am uncomfortable with having people come to our home and would like a middleperson as a buffer. Any ideas?
A: Everyone would like to realize come cash from their belongings, but it can also be very advantageous to donate items to a charity. I had a client who received a tremendous tax write-off by donating her custom furniture. I am partial to donate to Habitat for Humanity and to AMVETS, but there are so many good causes. Wider Circle and upscale Resale are also possibilities.
Q: It will be about six years before we're ready to sell, but I'm trying to work on decluttering our furnishings now. I have multiple generations of bric-a-brac and have no idea if it's worth anything. Are there companies that can actually evaluate 50- to 70-year-old stuff?
A: You can take to an antique or vintage shop and see if the items are valuable. There are also good search engines online. You can scan a photo and it will look for you. It is time-consuming, though, and you may want to ask for outside help.
Q: I have to travel to help my parents get ready to move from a 3,500-square-foot home into a senior living facility. What's your advice for what they should/could get started with before I get there?
A: Look online and see if there are floor-plan options and discuss with your parents how much space they need. If they can help, they could send you photos and dimensions of the things they love most.
Q: What should you do with old flowered china that looks very granny?
A: I like to hang pretty china in groups on a wall. You can plan a room around it — in a guest room, perhaps.
Q: What do you advise as the priority when downsizing: the space, or your needs and wants?
A: First evaluate your needs. Then determine how much of it you actually use. If you bring too much, it will be overwhelming and hard to eliminate.
Q: Our first baby will be born in about two months and we're also trying to buy a house. While I would love to have more space, I'm worried that it will be an excuse to acquire too much stuff. Any tips for transitioning into a larger space and not filling it?
A: Be VERY selective, and remember to think long-term and multiple uses.