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Matchstick roll-up shades, a spray-painted red coffee table, and a single wall of color (blue is as versatile and neutral as beige or gray) that creates a focus turn the room into a cheerful, cozy, and coherent space. A silk pillow in a darker shade of blue helps to unify the room (and prevents the sofa from looking like a big, white whale). A large sea-grass rug keeps the furniture from floating aimlessly.
Frances Janisch

Q. How do I remove soot stains on a brick fireplace?
Tracy Dressen
Lakeville, Minnesota

A. Because of the porous nature of bricks, they soak up soot like a sponge. If you have the right cleaner and a bit of time, however, you can get rid of the buildup without having to call in a professional. Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), offers these cleaning instructions:

Fill a spray bottle with water and spray the brick until it is saturated. Then scrub with a natural bristle brush to loosen the stain. Next, spray the brick again using a specialized cleaner like Rutland Brick & Stone Cleaner for Fireplace ($20, Scrub again with the brush. Repeat the entire process until the stain is gone. Then blot any remaining liquid with a cloth. (Note: To make sure you don’t alter the appearance of the bricks, test a concealed area first.)

Keep the bricks clean by figuring out what is causing the smoke to escape into your home and not out of the chimney. (Examples could be a damper that isn’t fully opened or a fire that is too large for your fireplace.) Head to to look for symptoms under “Homeowner Resources” or to find a professional chimney inspector. ―Kristin Appenbrink

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