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posted: 11/10/2017 8:00 AM

Getting a California look on the East coast -- or anywhere

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The Washington Post

Los Angeles designer, artist and product creator Justina Blakeney joined staff writer Jura Koncius recently on The Washington Post's Home Front online chat.

Q. I am a broke college student living in a tiny apartment with some other girls. We want to decorate nicely so that we can have guests, but we are all poor. What are easy ways to decorate that can help us transition into adulthood while looking like a class act?

A. When people are living together, I think it's important to have a cohesive vision. Get on the same page about color palettes and the vibe you want, and collectively pull images for inspiration. One easy and affordable update you can make is to use textiles. I find vintage textiles on eBay and Etsy. You can use them to cover a sofa that may not be in tiptop shape or to make pillow coverings. You can hang them on walls and behind beds. I especially love suzanis from Uzbekistan for this purpose. I'd also add plants and use area rugs and lighting to help elevate and delineate spaces.

Q. What are easy ways I can incorporate feng shui into my home?

A. Don't store things on the floor (especially under beds, sofas, etc.). I also like the command position, which is positioning your desk so that it faces the door. It's supposed to make you feel in command and safe. Lastly, make sure your home has good flow. Doors should be able to swing open fully, and there should be no clogged pipes or drains.

Q. I love using live plants in decor, but you might as well nickname me "P.K." (Plant Killer). Any recommendations for larger plants I can't easily murder? And care tips?

A. One thing I've learned about plants in general (but especially larger plants and indoor trees, such as fiddle-leaf figs) is that they don't like to be moved around. Often when we bring plants home and they don't seem happy, we move them to a different spot. All this moving can traumatize a plant. So the next time do some research, find a good spot, and let the plant live there for a couple of months and acclimate. It may lose leaves at first, but that is normal. Some easy-care plants I love are the ZZ plant and the sansevieria. They do well in low light and with minimal waterings. They can get large, too, although not big and treelike.

Q. My home is dark and lacks access to direct sunlight. Do you have any suggestions for making it brighter and airier?

A. Mirrors are a great tool for amplifying the natural light in your home. Try hanging them opposite windows. Also check your window coverings and the windows themselves. If a home lacks natural light, try sheer (or a lightly colored) window covering. If you live high up and your windows haven't been washed in a while (from the outside), that can greatly affect the amount of light coming in. If you own your own home, you can add windows or skylights to it, though you may want to get an estimate. It might be cheaper than you think. We added two windows for about $1,500, and it completely changed the way our home looks and feels.

Q. I love your new fabrics. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. I spend a lot of time "collecting" inspiration. I take tons of photos when I'm traveling -- and that could mean walking to my neighborhood cafe or going to Morocco! I catalog my photos on my phone by subject: plants, flowers, patterns, etc. That way, when I sit down to draw or paint my fabrics, I have a good jumping-off place.

Q. How can East Coasters achieve the West Coast look? How can we loosen up like you Californians do?

A. I think you can easily get a laid-back California vibe in your home (anywhere in the world, for that matter) by harnessing as much of the natural light in your home as possible and by adding lots of plants and items made of natural materials, such as rattan. Tropical wallpapers and midcentury modern touches can help, too. It feels very retro Los Angeles!

Q. I need to paint a bedroom that has turquoise furniture. What wall color would pair well with it? The bedding is a turquoise, green and mustard-yellow paisley print.

A. I would say it depends on how you want to feel in the room. Is this your bedroom or a guest bedroom? Do you want it to feel calming? Maybe then go with an analogous color for the walls, perhaps something in the light aqua family. If you want to energize the room, I'd go with a complementary color, such as a terra-cotta hue.