September 2009

READY, SET, DECORATE: You Might Need a Designer If...

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

While decorating a home comes naturally to some, for others it is a daunting task. The truth is, most of us can use a little professional help. Whether you need a complete plan or just a little hand-holding along the way, engaging the services of a professional designer is a wise investment toward your ultimate enjoyment of your home.

Why hire a designer?
A good designer can help with many decisions that will make the difference not only in the look of your home but in its functionality. “Contrary to common belief, we do more than just select pretty fabrics and pillows,” said Anna Ruby of J Banks Design. “We are about providing visionary direction on the functional and logical use of space. Providing our expertise on the health and wellness of where we live, work and play through creative interior design is what we do.”

Area designers agree that their main function is to save the homeowner from costly mistakes. “Many times, we are contracted to help ‘fix’ the selections made by a novice,” said Ruby. “Using a designer from the beginning of a project saves money in the long-run by alleviating mistakes that are often made when people try to do it themselves.”

According to Patty Small of House of Design, some common mistakes include paint colors, fabric choices, and furniture size. “Designers often pick up on things that might not work right, starting with the floor plan,” she said. Other selections include flooring, countertops and lighting. “Just picking out the right lighting is a job in itself and can make a big difference,” she added.
“Design mistakes can be very expensive in terms of time and money and in the overall happiness with the final result,” said Debbie Slovin of Décor and More. “Interior designers provide a blend of training, talent and years of experience that produce successful results.”

How to find a designer
One of the best ways to find a designer is to find a room that you like (in a friend’s house, a model home, a design studio, furniture showroom…) and find out who designed it. You might also ask for recommendations from friends and acquaintances, inquire in retail decorating outlets, or search the yellow pages. Another excellent source is a referral service such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

Next, you should interview the designer. He or she should come to your home for a walk-through. This is a good time to discuss ideas and see how well you communicate.

How to get the look you want
Everyone wants their home to be stylish and reflect their personality. Getting the look you want is mostly a matter of clear communication, which is going to require some homework on your part. Small recommends collecting pictures from magazines of looks you like. “Even if there is just one detail on a page that you like, cut it out,” she said. “It helps us get a visual of your vision.”

You might also collect samples of paint colors or swatches of fabrics that appeal to you. The more clues you give your designer, the better the chance of achieving a look that is uniquely yours.

“Clients often don’t know where to start,” said Slovin. “I ask them about lifestyle and hobbies, favorite artwork in the home, a favorite pillow or maybe a dish. ‘Show me something you love.’ I then ask why they love it. This becomes the inspiration for the new design.”

For clients who are either building a new home, renovating an older home, or simply re-doing a room or two in an existing home, John Kilmer of Beverly Hall Home Furnishings and Interior Designs recommends an interior design plan. “Our goal in working with each client is to minimize costly design mistakes by listening to the wishes and desires of the client and asking the pertinent questions that will result in a successful design project,” he said. “Likes, dislikes, existing pieces that need to be incorporated into the project as well as budget requirements are all covered in detail between the design consultant and the client. The end result is a working game plan that includes actual floor planning and furniture layout, recommended furniture selections, paint and fabric color plans for the project, and finally the drapery/bedding and finishing accessory plans—all aspects brought together to provide the client a home of their dreams!”

Working within your budget
When working with a designer, it is vitally important to discuss your budget. After all, everybody has one. If you have been hesitant to hire a designer for fear that the cost will be prohibitive, worry no more. Good designers know how to help you get the look you want without breaking the bank.

“Designers can help make decisions that are both cost effective and aesthetically pleasing,” said Ruby. “If you can’t do a complete transformation, decorative throw pillows and lighting (lamps, a new dining room fixture, sconces, etc.) go a long way to help give a fresh look. Because of their affordability and ability to be easily stored, throw pillows are easy to change each season. For summer, using pastels, linens or vivid colors can create a fun ambiance that is appropriate for the season. In winter, try using warm colors such as terracotta, brown, burgundy and/or taupe in rich textures such as velvet or even fur!”

Although she is not an interior designer, Bennie Stafford, of Discount Fabric and Design Consign knows firsthand the difference soft goods can make. “If you just get a couple of pillows made, maybe a table skirt or put up a valence—BINGO! You have a fresh new look. It’s even quicker and less expensive if you buy a couple of consignment items.”

Kilmer suggests adding a fresh new paint color, a new rug, drapery panels or maybe new bed treatments. “Simply changing your accessories or adding a new pair of lamps or more colorful pillows to a room will also give you that feeling of change. And all of this can be done with a minimal investment,” he said.

Slovin recommends a little creative rearranging. “You will be amazed at how moving existing items around your home can create a new and exciting look.” (She often uses this talent to stage homes that are up for sale.)

Small agreed. “An outsider can give a different perspective. Just because a chair has always been in the bedroom doesn’t mean it can’t be moved to the living room,” she said.

How designers charge
When engaging the services of a designer, it is wise to sign a contract that clearly states what services will be provided and how you will be charged. Designers have different ways of working and various fee structures, which might include a flat fee, hourly fee, percentage of purchases or a combination. Be sure to ask what expenses you will be billed for during the project. Will you be charged for phone calls, shopping trips, or in-home consultations? Are purchases marked up or discounted? Be sure you are clear on exactly how you’ll be charged, when deposits will be required, how you’ll be billed, what you can expect and when the work should be complete. If you’re working with a tight budget, you may want to consider starting small, using a designer for a short time on an hourly basis for a specific project.

Taking the leap of faith
Once you have committed to working with a designer, you are one step closer to living your dreams. But it is a journey, nonetheless, and you must trust the process. Remember that your designer can visualize the finished look, whereas you may only be seeing the pieces of the puzzle. Working with a designer should be a pleasant experience, and the result will be many years of lasting pleasure and pride in your home.

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