Q: After years of living with my late mother-in-law's dark, Middle European antiques, we are moving to a Florida condominium, and my husband has agreed to give up his "inheritance," except for a few of the largest and oddest -- like a cabinet inlaid with mother-of-pearl and an ornate crystal chandelier. I'd wanted our Florida home to be more casual. What can I do?
A: You can have your casualness and your antiques, too, if you create the right background. That tends to mean light, uncluttered and cool-looking, especially in Florida, where you need visual air conditioning along with the real thing.
The apartment sitting room we show here is in New York City, but the designers, Edward Zajac and Richard Callahan, have filled it with an eclectic mix of ideas -- including, ta-dum! -- a mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet and a fairly elaborate chandelier.
What takes the formal edge off is the background: Walls are covered in a mini-geometric paper, then outlined in borders; windows are "dressed" only in blue paint; floors have been bleached and left bare for coolth underfoot.
Another critical ingredient: what isn't there. Mr. Zajac and Mr. Callahan have used but a few carefully chosen accessories. Unclutter is the opposite of "cozy"; it looks inherently fresh. In this simplified setting, even the ornate mother-of-pearl antique doesn't look overwrought.
Q: I have a little problem that I can see is going to grow unless I do something. I've just gotten married again, and my husband, who has moved into my house with me and my three young children, doesn't know which end of a hammer to hit with. He thinks it's a joke and keeps shrugging that he's "a city boy who knocked on the radiator for the superintendent" whenever anything went wrong. That's not funny in an old house that needs constant attention. I know. I've lived here for eight years. -- Is there a handyman book you can recommend so I can give him a gentle hint?
A: Yes. And it's one that will make your about-to-be-educated spouse laugh as he goes about learning how to hold that hammer. It's called "The Walls Around Us," just out from Villard Books, and it's written by a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon, David Owen. Mr. Owen works his way -- with great good humor and good sense, too -- from the top of the house to the bottom, along the way explaining how things go wrong and what to do about it. Slip a copy of "The Walls Around Us" under your new hubby's pillow. For $21, you may save your marriage as well as your house.
Q: Our dining room is only half a story above the street and people can look right in as they walk by, especially at night. I hate to close in the windows. What else can you suggest?
A: Put sheer curtains on the windows between side draperies, and have a short standing screen covered to match the draperies. It should be about eye level when you sit down for dinner so it's above the eye level of passersby outside. The sheers will let the daylight in; the screen will ensure your privacy by candlelight.