Many people shy away from hiring an interior designer because they think the entire house must be done at once and the project will cost too much.
Not so, says Shirley Goff, a designer in Miami Beach, Fla.
"Most designers today -- especially in this economy -- are very happy to do one room at a time if that's what the client wants," she said.
One of Ms. Goff's clients -- Pauline Winick, executive vice president of the Miami Heat basketball team -- is a good example. Ms. Goff has been working on Ms. Winick's four-bedroom, two-bath home since 1985.
Ms. Goff works in stages, stopping when Ms. Winick cries, "Take a break, Shirley!"
"I'd run out of money, or the kids needed braces, and so we'd just stop for a while," said Ms. Winick, a powerhouse who works 70 to 80 hours a week and relaxes by taking a tap-dancing class.
"I knew I couldn't do this house by myself," she said. "I don't have time to shop nor the talent to decorate. I needed the kind of person who would work with me in increments. I said to Shirley, 'You and I are going to be good friends because this job is going to take a while.' "
Because she wanted her south Dade County house to be comfortable for family living, Ms. Winick concentrated on other rooms and left her bedroom and bath for last. Since she got divorced in 1977, Ms. Winick and her children (Margot, 22, and Graham, 18) "have been a team."
"I'd always encouraged my kids to bring their friends home; I thought the family room and kitchen should be done first," she said. "This part of the house gets a lot of use."
The family room is smack in the middle of the house and is the first room visitors see. This space was dreary with a dark brown paneled ceiling and worn carpet, while the adjacent kitchen "had cornered the market on avocado green and harvest gold," Ms. Winick said.
Ms. Goff decided to go light and bright in both areas. White ceramic tile replaced the carpet in the family room and the worn vinyl in the kitchen. The family room's beam ceiling and walls were painted white, and a sofa, love seat and armchair in sassy red Italian leather were arranged on an area rug before the angled fireplace.
The formal dining and living rooms, on the other side of the kitchen, were given an elegant treatment. Because "Pauline would have a problem doing dinner for four, but easily entertains 50 to 100 guests," Ms. Goff designed a wall unit behind carved glass panels for easy buffet serving. Large windows overlooking the pool and patio were treated to "draperies" of handmade silky strings and tassel tie-backs.
Twin living room sofas are upholstered in easy-care pale blue ultrasuede.
When she began designing the master bedroom/bath suite at last, Ms. Goff listened to her client's "want list." Ms. Winick wanted an elegant, comfortable space, similar to the luxury hotels she has enjoyed on her European travels.
Ms. Winick spent $29,000 on her bedroom, $16,000 of which went for the built-in ash wall unit that fills the wall opposite the bed (housing the entertainment equipment) and continues on other walls as bookcases, storage and a concealed desk. A dresser in matching ash has angled sides to free the doorways to the closet and bath.
The master bath was a $10,000 addition, with $5,000 of the budget spent on marble alone. The long, mirrored vanity has two sinks, with French porcelain faucets labeled "chaud" and "froid" because "hot" and "cold" would have been too mundane for such an elegant setting.
"It's the Taj Mahal of bathrooms," Ms. Winick said.
Now that she has a luxurious place of her own, Ms. Winick no longer takes work to bed.
"I decided that this would be my retreat, my sane harbor," she said. "If my friends are lucky, they can visit me in my retreat."