It's nothing out of the ordinary for an interior designer to wander through the local antique shops in search of some rare and precious piece of period furniture for their clients. Mario Buatta, Mark Hampton, John Saladino -- all those hotshot New York designers do it all the time.
But can you picture Mario Buatta going out on a Saturday morning to cruise the yard sales for you?
Hardly. But Eleanor Lassiter and Madeline Gordon would.
"We're big on yard sales," Ms. Gordon says with a laugh.
And let's say some truly wonderful antique came covered with layers of thick paint. How many decorators would put on the gloves and refinish it themselves, just to save you some cash?
"This was $10," Mrs. Lassiter says, pointing to a late Victorian golden oak buffet.
"It was orange and black when I got it and I was embarrassed -- you know how sometimes something's so ugly you're embarrassed to bring it into the house? -- but I knew I was going to like it when it was finished."
It's all in the eyes, Ms. Gordon adds, laughing. "You have to be able to see a diamond in the rough."
They are sisters who have found an untapped niche in the world of interior design that is -- given the state of the economy -- right on time. They call themselves E & M Interior Organizers and they specialize in helping people make the best use of what they already have.
"A lot of it is just arranging," Ms. Gordon says. "Most times people don't know how to arrange. That's usually the problem. You know, the pictures are up near the ceiling and they just don't know where to put the furniture. People might know how to choose, their taste is OK, but they don't know how to deal with things once they've brought them home.
"It's really just using what you have in a different way and seeing it in a different way," she continues. "We might take something from the bedroom and put it in the living room."
They might find some treasure in the attic or basement that just needs to be refinished to have a whole new life. "We can make Dad's old furniture look like something else," Ms. Gordon says.
And when they think something new is needed and their client doesn't have time to shop or doesn't know what to buy, they'll go looking for it. And, more than likely, they say, they'll find that missing piece of furniture at some out-of-the-way place where prices for antiques are still reasonable or through wholesale outlets where they can get things at low cost.
"We have all our little discount places that we go," Ms. Gordon adds.
Mrs. Lassiter's home is a testament to their philosophy. On a tour she points out one thing after another -- all antiques -- that she has found and refinished: part of an ornate oak mantle now turned into a wall shelf, an early radio refinished and reborn as art deco sculpture, Oriental sculpture found in secondhand shops, a Mission oak rocker, an oak armoire outfitted with shelves and turned into an entertainment center.
"We started with finding things at yard sales and redoing them," Ms. Gordon says. "A lot of our friends liked what we were doing and said, 'If you see such-and-such, can you buy it for us.' And that's how it started. One piece at a time."
"Then other friends started saying 'Can you help me with this? Can you help me with that?' And we would do it. We found ourselves working all the time for nothing. So we said, well, let's do some of this for money. So that's how we got started."
Their ability with design and color comes naturally they say, born of an interest they can trace back to childhood when they played together, arranging and rearranging their playhouse on their parents' North Carolina tobacco farm. As teen-agers they started working with their parents' furniture, then later with their own.
"I like to change things around a lot when I get bored," Mrs. Lassiter says. "And now all of our friends feel that way. When they get bored or depressed, they'll call us up and say, 'I think you need to come and change things around in my house.' It makes you feel better sometimes if you just change things."
The sisters both have other full-time jobs. Ms. Gordon works for the Maryland Department of Human Resources and Mrs. Lassiter works for a large accounting firm downtown. They do their
design work on Saturdays and Sundays.
They also do custom curtains and window treatments and arrangements of silk or dried flowers and give advice for holiday decorating and parties. (A lot of laughter comes free with their design services -- these are two very funny women.)
E & M Interior Organizers can be reached at 597-8715 or 298-2929.
Starting this week, Linda Lowe Morris's HomeStyle column will appear every Sunday in the Living section of The Sun.