Ask Alice

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist
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The Independent Online

Q. We are planning an outdoor dinner party to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. We're going to hire or buy a gazebo, and I would love your tips on decorating this.
Pamela Forbes, e-mail

A. First, go to a good ethnic deli and buy a huge quantity of thyme. Scatter it all over the floor of the gazebo – it will look and smell divine throughout the evening (just make sure that granny doesn't set fire to it with her fags!). I would suggest that you invest in some beautiful lighting, avoiding too many candles, as they can be a fire risk. Take a look at One Red Sky (, which sells a string of 40 clear chandelier-like crystals, more than three metres in total, for only £29. Three or four of these would produce a lovely effect. You could also visit Greenfingers (, which sells 20 dragonfly or butterfly lights for £24, all with 10 metres of cable (warning: don't allow these ones to get damp). If you're not worried about fire risks, another lovely idea is to create a little pathway to the gazebo by placing tea lights in small, white paper bags, available from all good sweetie shops. These will glow with a soft, golden light, marking the way to the evening's festivities in a romantic way.

Q. I've got quite a small bedroom and I am looking for a pretty chest of drawers which doesn't take up too much space – most of the ones I've seen are very bulky. Can you suggest anything?
Mara Anderson, Brixton

A. The Clifton Ivory half-moon chest of drawers from Laura Ashley (0871 230 2301; is just the thing. Its bowed front gives it a slender appearance, it's got four drawers, and its antiqued ivory patina gives it a nicely subtle aged look. At £600, it's not cheap, but if you wanted to find another curved example, it might be best to start looking in local junk shops – most furniture shops sell mainly square-shaped chests of drawers.

Q. I am having difficulty choosing paint colours for the outside of my house. I would like to have something a bit braver than the standard white window frames and coloured door, but I'm not sure which way to go.
Geoffrey Haines, Clapton

A. My current personal favourite is a classy mix of black window frames with a sage-green front door. But it depends on your preferences. Look at other eye-catching schemes, noting down colours that you feel work well together. When you've collected a few ideas, why not experiment with some of the great design software that's available? There are plenty of packages to choose from, and most allow you to scan an image of your house or room into the programme for you to work on. Colour reproduction is not perfect on a screen, but you should be able to get enough of an idea. One programme that I can recommend is Design Workshop Classic, for Windows and Mac systems (, £46.03). It's great for interiors, too, and features real-time walk-throughs, light and shadow effects, and other useful tools.

Design dilemma? E-mail