Elizabeth Mayhew, a contributing editor at NBC’s “Today” show and a monthly decorating columnist for The Washington Post, was the guest last week on The Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt:

Is there any low-cost furniture that can withstand the elements, or am I doomed to spend a fortune?

I guess it depends on how you want to care for your outdoor furniture. Are you willing to move it indoors during harsh winter months? If so, then you can probably get away with something that is less expensive. You can even try going to Ikea. So much depends on your decorating style. You want your outdoor furniture to be an extension of your indoor style.

How can you make an outdoor space feel cozy? It seems like my patio space is so spread out that it’s not very intimate, and I’m not sure I have enough money for more furniture.

You should try using large pots and outdoor lanterns to help delineate a smaller space. You can also use outdoor rugs (my favorites are from Dash and Albert, www.dashandalbert.com) to create a focal point and arrange furniture around them.

What is the best way to clean outdoor cushions? They don’t have any particular stains on them but are dirty from pollen, etc.

I would vacuum them to remove pollen. Make sure that the foam inside them is specifically made for outdoor use. (Water will just pour right though them.) If it is the right foam, then you can sponge them off with warm, soapy water, then rinse or hose them clean and air dry. If they have a particularly nasty spot, try using Formula 409 or another all-purpose cleaner. Just make sure you rinse it clean.

Do you have a favorite outdoor fabric? I see Sunbrella written about all the time.

Sunbrella definitely has a corner on the market. You can buy their fabrics from Ballard Designs (www.ballarddesigns.com) and www.outdoorfabrics.com. Two of my favorite collections are the Great Outdoors Collection from Holly Hunt and the Perennials Collection (www.perennialsfabrics.com). The bottom line is that more expensive outdoor fabrics feel less like outdoor fabrics. You can get something that is solution-dyed but feels like a velvet or a chenille.

We are considering a pergola to cover the small patio area off our dining room. Any suggestions? Are pergola kits worth considering? The pergola would need to attach to our house.

I love pergolas. I used to have one off my kitchen in my old house. The trouble was, our house was white and the pergola was wood. It always bothered me because I wanted to paint it white so that it was a natural extension of the house. My husband wouldn’t let me paint it because the upkeep is a nightmare, and if you have wisteria or other climbing vine, you have to remove it every few years to repaint.

I’ve seen outdoor kitchen spaces in magazines and love them, but I wouldn’t know where to start to create my own. Have you ever worked with a client on one?

I have not worked with a client on one, but I have been fortunate to see many great outdoor kitchens. I would first start by selecting the appliances, especially the grill. It really is no different from planning an indoor kitchen, with the exception that all surfaces need to be weatherproof.

I was wondering if you have any favorite whites for painting kitchen cabinets. The counters will be a honed white marble. I am looking for something that isn’t too stark. The trim in our house is Benjamin Moore’s White Dove. I love it, but I think it’s too white for an entire kitchen.

I might be the wrong person to answer this, because I like very clean whites. (I shy away from the creamy ones.) I usually use Benjamin Moore’s Decorator White for all of my trim and cabinetry. It’s very crisp and has more of a gray tone than a yellow tone. I also use Pratt and Lambert’s Seed Pearl, but usually on walls.

You have to be careful with white because it is very site-specific; the tone it takes is dependent on what is around it and what kind of natural and ambient light is in the kitchen. I suggest painting your cabinets a gray instead. Try Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl, or for a darker shade try Benjamin Moore’s Coventry Gray or Chelsea Gray. That is what I used on my kitchen cabinets.

I’d like to get a brightly colored front door that won’t need repainting. Preferably, the door would have some glass (maybe at the top, so we have privacy but still a little light getting through). We like Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big-box stores. What would you suggest?

Have you checked out Pella (www.pella.com)?

My master and guest bathrooms are small and have old vinyl flooring. I don’t have much money to replace them but would love to do a temporary update to hold me over until I do. Any ideas?

I am in the process of doing exactly what you need for a client. We are just ripping up the old vinyl and putting down wall-to-wall “vinyl sisal” called Bolon (www.bolon.com).

It comes in great weaves and colors, and is a fun alternative until the client can afford to replace it with either tile, marble or wood. It’s super easy to clean; just mop it with warm, soapy water.

I have fall colors (Benjamin Moore’s Showtime with one wall Benjamin Moore’s Fiery Opal) in my living room. I wanted a warm, toasty feel, but it’s bolder than I intended. I have stark white molding and crown molding along with a white built-in bookshelf and credenza. I was thinking I could paint the molding and built-in with a creamier white to warm the space up. Thoughts?

Painting the trim would definitely warm up your rooms. Stark white paint is like white icing — it highlights everything and makes the color it surrounds pop.

Try either Benjamin Moore’s White Dove or Linen White, or you can take a basic white and just add a bit of the wall color to it so that it has a more mellow cast.

Can you offer some suggestions for making a living room brighter? My living room furniture is dark, and even when lights are on it looks gloomy.

I would start by tackling the lighting. Every room needs at least three points of light, and for a living room, I suggest not using an overhead light. It is best to have a floor lamp and several table lamps. Then look into replacing all of your light bulbs.

New LED bulbs can have a dramatic effect. If you buy ones that have a clean white light, then your rooms will have a decidedly different look. If you are up for replacing furniture, then I would add in a piece of lucite, which always lightens a room. Personally, I would probably paint a piece of wood furniture white just to break up the brown. If that is out of the question, then at least get some white or colored throws or pillows to brighten the room.

Do you have a recommendation for what color or pattern of engineered stone to use for our kitchen counters? We are redoing our cabinets using Ikea high-gloss white. The kitchen walls are Restoration Hardware’s Silver Sage. We are thinking of bright white kitchen counters with a blue-gray vein but are wondering if that would be too much white.

I think a blue-gray vein would be nice, but you can also use pebble or concrete Caesarstone (on sale now at Ikea through September — a great deal!). Gray countertops might look fantastic and warm up all of that white.

I’m having trouble finding a 24-inch-wide metal washstand that will fit into my small bathroom. I’ve done extensive online research, but the ones I find are at least three inches too wide. I’d like to have a marble or engineered-stone top and know where I can find the top and sink. I’m thinking I may need to have the washstand fabricated. Any suggestions for either finding a 24-inch-wide one or where to get it fabricated?

I went through the same process. It’s hard to find smaller washstands for powder rooms. I ended up having to have one custom-made by Waterworks. It was not inexpensive and it had a very long lead time.

What do you think of the 17-pound stack of Restoration Hardware catalogues that everyone’s talking about?

They make great barbells! To be honest, I have them but have not even opened them. When I want something from Restoration Hardware, I just visit their site.

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