Avoiding the costly 'oops'

Design: When redecorating, there are steps to take to prevent expensive errors.

May 02, 1999|By Ellen Seligman Schofield | Ellen Seligman Schofield,Special to the Sun

A Baltimore judge once said to her interior designer -- perhaps only half in jest -- that the tough legal decisions in her profession were often easier than decorating ones.

For many people, that feeling of trepidation is familiar. People worry that their choice of sofa, wallpaper or paint color may turn out to be a costly mistake.

"People are afraid they'll finish a project, stand back and say, 'Oh my God, what have I done?' " says Cynthia Crane Moylan, a designer with Home Depot in Owings Mills.

Expensive errors can convince people to get serious about hiring a designer. But some uncertainty may still linger. You don't want to waste even more money paying someone and not getting what you want. What can you do to prepare?

"Do your homework," advises Andrea Hyde, president of the Maryland chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. "Think about your needs before the designer arrives."

She advises a thorough self-assessment, addressing such items as how you entertain and what rooms you use most often.

"Get input from everyone in the family, including kids," she says. "Determine exactly what you wish to accomplish in each room and write it down. Designers can't read your mind."

Hyde emphasizes the importance of showing magazine photographs of looks you love -- perhaps a favorite chair or a pleasing color scheme. Include a floor plan if available and any rough sketches you have, such as a furniture layout you like or an unusual window treatment. These visual aids will help paint a picture of your preferences.

Crofton-based Susan Germain, owner of a Decorating Den franchise, feels it's equally important for clients to show their designer pictures of what they don't like -- furniture that is too sleek for their taste or rooms they consider overly cluttered.

Coupled with a prioritized written wish list, the magazine pictures will give you and your designer a running start.

Now you're ready to talk as both client and partner in this new venture.

"You have to understand how personal this relationship is going to be," says Merry Highby of Merry Highby Interior Design in Guilford. "You have to first like the person you're working with. Chemistry is very important."

As a project progresses, your designer may end up knowing more about you than your friends do. Highby emphasizes that you have to feel comfortable talking to him or her about personal issues, including finances and lifestyle.

"I'm very much one of those people who wants my home to be me," says one of Highby's clients, Joanne Schill, a Baltimore area resident. "I've worked both with and without a designer. The tricky part of do-it-yourself is you can make expensive mistakes."

Schill recalled looking at a little swatch of fabric and thinking it was right, then seeing yards of it upholstered on her Martha Washington chair and knowing it was wrong. "There you had it -- a bad mistake," she says.

Issues often arise around money. "People don't want to discuss the dreaded m-word," says Stiles Colwill of Stiles T. Colwill Interiors in Greenspring Valley. "People say they don't have a budget. The truth is that it doesn't matter who they are or how rich or poor they are. Everybody has a budget."

That translates into a comfort level about how much money you want to spend on an item or service. It's not necessarily the same as what you can afford to spend.

"Don't be shy about discussing money issues. It's not insulting," Hyde says. Ask lots of questions. Is a retainer required? What's the hourly fee? Is there a payment schedule?

"Once everything is clear, be sure and have a contract in writing," Hyde says.

A designer needs a client's feedback to do the best possible job, but many clients experience discomfort about being "impolite."

"I just want not to hurt feelings," says Schill, "but sometimes you end up pleasing the designer more than yourself. In the past I've felt awkward about telling designers I don't like their ideas because usually they've spent so much time on the project. But that's not right, either."

Designers generally advise people not to worry about sounding rude. "You have to give feedback," says Germain. "You have to speak up if you don't like an idea. Clients don't always realize that communication goes both ways."

Interior design is problem-solving, and there is usually no single solution. The best solution for one client may not be the best for another. The goal is to find the best one for you and your family. "I'd rather have the client be more open than have her think that all of a sudden, the designer is going to pull the one and only perfect solution out of the air," Hyde says.

She suggests having all decision makers present at the first meeting with the designer. This is the time to list critical dates such as a son's wedding or a daughter's bat mitzvah and ensure that your deadlines can be met.

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