ask the designer

Where to Find...

Architects, big sheets, small ovens, cat-friendly fabrics.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sandra Fairbank
December 2, 2007

I am moving to a condo with extremely limited kitchen space and hope to have a gas wall oven installed because I love cooking with a gas broiler. Are there any such ovens under 30 inches on the market?

Donald Hollis in Barnstable

I understand your dilemma. Electric broilers are hard to get used to - and most require that you keep the oven door ajar. However, electric ovens have more even heat and hold a consistent temperature better than gas ovens, so gas ovens are somewhat out of vogue. However, Frigidaire, GE, Magic Chef, and Maytag all make 24-inch gas ovens with broilers. They range from $500 to $1,000, come in white, black, and stainless steel, and are widely available.

I live in a Victorian with big double-hung windows and don't know what to do about curtains. I want something unusual but can't afford to go the custom route, and catalog curtains always seem generic.

Lauren S. in Watertown

A friend who is a set designer always uses large linen or cotton rectangular tablecloths as curtains. They are long enough to start at the top of a Victorian window and puddle on the floor, wide enough to cover the window as a single panel, and don't look at all generic. Garnet Hill (, Schweitzer (, and Matouk ( all sell beautiful, high-quality cloths. My theater friend sometimes lines them for a more formal look, but they will work unlined as well. Linens 'n Things (, which has stores in Needham, Dedham, Watertown, and other area locations, sells medium-size curtain rings with clips. You slip the rings onto curtain rods and attach the clips to your tablecloth curtains. If ironing the tablecloths doesn't get all the wrinkles out, take a cue from our set designer and rent a portable steamer. The steam makes them hang beautifully, and your friends will wonder where you got those gorgeous and expensive window coverings.

I have an Olympic-sized queen bed, and I've had a difficult time obtaining sheets. I have some Egyptian cotton ordered via the Internet, but the quality is just OK. I'd prefer high-quality percale sheets. Can you advise?

Ann Dunnigan via e-mail

After many years as an interior designer, I had to go online to learn that an "Olympic-sized queen" is 66 inches by 80 inches, 6 inches wider than a standard queen bed. Both Matouk ( and Sferra Linens ( make high thread-count sheets that have a beautifully soft "hand," a term designers use to describe the feel of a fabric. Matouk will make custom sizes, and their products are sold at Linens on the Hill in Boston (617- 227-1255) and Quintessentials in Mashpee (508-428-9393). Sferra is available at Bonsoir in Wellesley (781-416-2800) and The Cottage on Monument Square in Concord (978-369-2000). Sferra also sells fabric by the yard. You could have a workroom make the sheets for you, or, if you are a seamstress, you could make them yourself.

I have a small cottage on a river. I want to put on a second floor, where I could situate the living area, kitchen, and deck to take advantage of the views. I'd also like to add insulation and replace the vinyl siding with wood shingles. I'd like the services of a good architect, but I'm not sure how to go about finding one.

Maggie Keefe in Westport

One place to start looking for an architect is at, the Boston Society of Architects' website. Its "find an architect" feature lists architects certified by the American Institute of Architects and will link you to websites where you can learn more about them and view some of their projects. Select three or four whose work appeals to you. Ask them to visit your cottage and make a proposal for design services. You can also ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, but don't hire anyone without going to see some of their projects and checking with their clients about their experiences.

Do you have suggestions on fabrics for slipcovers where there's a cat in the house? Am I limited to indoor-outdoor fabrics? Are there any that are washable?

Beverly Mulcahy in Lincoln

Indoor-outdoor textiles aren't necessary. Avoid fabrics with loops or nubby textures, which are highly susceptible to destruction by feline claws. Select a fabric with a tight weave; a washable cotton-polyester is a good choice. The slipcovers then could be washed in an industrial-sized washing machine or dry-cleaned. Another good choice is Ultrasuede, a textile made from polyester microfibers that resembles suede. Its nonwoven construction makes it pet-friendly. It resists abrasion, pilling, and stains and cleans up easily with warm water and a mild detergent. You can buy genuine Ultrasuede, a registered trademark name, at Showroom Collezione in Boston (617-482-4805) or through a design professional at Kravet in the Boston Design Center (617-338-4615).

I'd like to do something festive for my holiday table, but I never seem to have creative ideas.

Beth B. in Cambridge

Here's where cruising the Internet can be your friend. (When I ask the young designers in our office for an interesting couch or chair, they go to their computers and always come up with creative solutions.) I've found three sites with great ideas: (the design store at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), (the website for wonderful garden stores in California), and MOMA sells a multicolored glass circle that can serve as hot plate or cutting board. It makes a festive centerpiece and costs less than $30. Add Aino drinking glasses from MOMA, Henry Dean Jack votive candles from The Gardener, and place mats from Crate and Barrel to pick up the colors in your centerpiece and elsewhere.

Sandra Fairbank is a partner with her husband, architect Toby Fairbank, in Fairbank Design of Cambridge.

Need help with design? E-mail questions to or mail them to The Boston Globe Magazine/Ask the Designer, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.

Tablecloths can be hung as curtains with simple ring-clips. Tablecloths can be hung as curtains with simple ring-clips. (Photo by Dave Henderson)

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