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Originally published Friday, March 8, 2013 at 8:01 PM

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For your first piece of grown-up furniture ...

Veranda magazine’s editor helps answer reader questions.

The Washington Post

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Dara Caponigro, editor-in-chief of Veranda magazine, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on the Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: All the furniture I have is family hand-me-downs or Ikea pieces chosen for practical reasons. I have about $1,000 that I’d like to spend on a nice piece of furniture. But I’m having trouble making a decision. I don’t particularly like anything I have and could really replace anything. Do you have suggestions on how to decide where to start in buying nice furniture that I can keep for many years?

A: This is music to my ears! I am so glad you are thinking this way! I always say, “Buy less but buy better.” I would start with a good-quality sofa that has a classic shape. A Bridgewater sofa, for example, can go with lots of different styles. I’m afraid you might need to pay a little more than $1,000 for a good-quality sofa, but it sounds like you are on the right path.

Q: We have new sliding glass doors in our family room. There is very little wall space on either side (virtually none on the latch side). What would you suggest for drapes/curtains/blinds? They open up to a screened porch, so privacy isn’t a big issue. Colors are a beige/gray on walls, a cream sofa, two brown leather chairs and an area rug with a wine background.

A: If privacy isn’t an issue, I would leave them bare. If you must have something, I would do a blind with an outside mount running the length of the doors. Hang it at least 8 inches above the top of the door.

Q: Our boys are starting school soon and will need a place to do homework. Our living room is really the only space with room. Do you have any suggestions on how to make things look cohesive and deliberate, rather than slapped together and jumbled?

A: The most important thing to do is provide storage for putting things away when homework is done. Baskets are always nice. We have a story coming out by designer James Huniford; in the living room, he placed one long table against the wall and added multiple chairs so the children can sit next to each other to do their homework. He had shelves made above the table and fitted them with baskets for notebooks, markers, etc. The solution was really practical but also stylish.

Q: I’m a bit obsessed with “Downton Abbey.” I just love the look of the interiors on the show. Clearly, I don’t live in an English manor house and I don’t really want the full-blown Edwardian look, but I would love to be able to include some similar decorative elements in my home. I started with putting some tulips in a crystal vase, which looks lovely. Any thoughts on this?

A: “Downton Abbey” is so inspiring! Don’t you love the fashion, too? I would go to as many tag sales and flea markets as possible. Crystal, silver, beautiful dishes and worn rugs are all things to look for. Buy things slowly and you will have a wonderful array of collected items.

Q: I have a collection of Belgian chocolate molds that I’d love to display, but they’re pretty heavy and I’m afraid to hang them on the wall. My one idea is to mount a couple of decorative shelves (that would have a lip) and just sort of lean them against the wall. Think that would work?

A: Assuming they have beautiful shapes, it sounds like they would be more dramatic hanging on the wall. It might be worth getting a licensed handyman to take a look.

Q: I have a ceiling fan in a small (11- by 14-foot) room that I am using as a guest bedroom and home office. I hate the dark fan because it’s so modern and massive, and the rest of the room is light, comfy and casual. What would you recommend I use to replace the fan?

A: If the ceilings are about 8 feet tall, look for a flush-mount fixture. If they are higher, you can get a more decorative chandelier. Your instincts sound right about getting rid of the ceiling fan.

Q: Our home was built in 1917, and the living room has a fireplace on one wall and a rather large opening to the foyer on the opposite wall. We’ve made the fireplace the focal point, with a sofa and lounge chairs opposite one another. How should an area rug be placed in this arrangement?

A: I would try to find an area rug that is big enough so that your sofa and chairs fit on it. I would run the rug so that the long part is parallel to the fireplace.

Q: My house was built in the mid-1980s, and the family room has dark beams that outline the walls and different faces of the cathedral ceiling. The walls and ceiling are painted white. I would like to repaint using a neutral color and would like advice on what to do about the beams. Should I remove them altogether or try to paint them? Should the cathedral ceiling be painted the same color as the walls or left white?

A: I don’t think you should remove the beams. Don’t they give the space character? Maybe paint them a color that complements the walls and ceiling. If you are keeping and painting the beams, I’d suggest painting the walls and ceiling the same color.