Home Designer Challenge

Designer Challenge

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Finding a professional to decorate your home doesn’t have to be difficult

int5.jpgYou’ve fallen for 1930s French furniture, or shabby chic flea market finds, but everyone you know is raving about contemporary looks. Are they right? Is your style out of date? Outfitting your home should be easier than this. A professional designer can help you by providing a comprehensive plan, accessing furnishings unavailable at retail levels, custom-designing furniture, coordinating deliveries and finding subcontractors.

We asked the help of Hurwitz-Mintz interior designer Marie Arena and Lynne Uhalt of Bremmerman Designs to show us how to make the most out of the collaborative process.

Similar sensibilities

One of the most important things to remember when choosing an interior designer? Be sure your design styles match. Why hire a designer that is stylistically opposite than you? If your room is inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, you wouldn’t want someone who specializes in midcentury modern.

Lynne Uhalt of Bremmerman Designs agrees that this is key. “Most decorators have a defined style, such as contemporary, eclectic, traditional, etcetera.”

Marie Arena of Hurwitz-Mintz also insists that “it’s important to look for compatibility, experience and qualifications.” Be aware of whether the designer you met listened to you, answered your questions and asked you questions.

Hire learning
There are several ways to go about looking for and hiring an interior designer, but Uhalt insists that good ol’ word of mouth is always the best way, along with “publications that have included their work.”

Arena suggests selecting from referrals and always checking a designer’s history and background. “Hurwitz-Mintz has served the area for over 80 years,” she says, so you know they have a solid reputation.

Money issues

Budgets are always tricky when you’re toying with home renovation or design, so both Arena and Uhalt insist that making your budget clear, upfront, is the best way to get what you want for the money.

“State the amount you plan to invest in this room or project,” Arena says. “Explain what you will expect from your investment [time, products, services] be open and flexible but also stay focused.” Arena also suggests dividing the project into stages of priority to make it easier to stick to your budget.

There are many ways to cut corners with a designer when you’re on a budget, whether it be on flooring, window treatments or, as Uhalt suggests, “sometimes [your budget] can be worked out with less expensive fabrics.” It’s as simple as that. Set it in stone and you’ll stick to it.

Getting Started
A little clueless about where to start once this whole process gets under way? Don’t worry. It’s not as painful as you think.

Uhalt suggests starting with a simple question: “What do you want to accomplish? We at Bremmerman Designs try to emphasize quality— perhaps purchase that one special antique and build your collection around it over time, or maybe it is a fabulous print or art collection.” No matter what, Uhalt insists, it is always about sticking to the budget and getting what you want to accomplish, whether it be curtains, rugs, and furniture … each job is unique and different.”

Arena insists that to be successful you need a plan. Coming into Hurwitz-Mintz, she says, will help even the most helpless client. “Visit the showroom; if you have pictures of what you like, bring them in and the same with paint colors. Talk, plan, share ideas.” Again, she maintains that establishing priorities is key. “Divide the plan into stages: One, purchase major/anchor pieces like a sofa and a chair; two, choose drapery, bedding and rugs; lastly comes the accents, art, lamps and accessories.” See, when you break it down, it doesn’t seem so hard to get started after all.

What are the benefits?

After all is said and done, what is the real benefit of hiring a professional designer as opposed to doing it yourself?

Uhalt has an interesting take on the idea, saying, “We have made all the mistakes, so when you hire a professional designer, you eliminate making mistakes and bad decisions yourself. We have a wealth of resources and years of experience.”

In answering that question, Arena agrees. Plain and simple, “knowledge and experience,” she says. “[Our] designers are trained and experienced with scale, balance, proportion, texture, color and style. We have access to more products and ideas than can be displayed on any showroom floor.”

Word of mouth
A current or former client should be able to give a good overview of what it’s like to work with his or her designer.

New Orleans Living Magazine
Our monthly Interiors section is a fantastic resource for finding a design professional to help with your projects. Don’t assume you can’t afford the services of people just because you’ve seen them in the magazine. They want your business. If you see a room you love, give the designer a call and conduct a phone interview to determine if you’re compatible.

Professional associations
For a national list of regulatory bodies overseeing design pros, visit the American Society of Interior Designers at www.asid.org. It’s the largest professional association for interior designers in the United States, and they make it easy to select the interior designer that’s right for you.

A retailer

If you have a favorite retailer—a store whose style appeals to you—ask the owner for a referral to the designer. The same with a restaurant or club you might like the style of. It’s a great way to get a designer with the kind of style you want.

“Enjoy your project and be open to new ideas,” says Arena. “You and your designer are a team! Plan, create and enjoy your home.”

The DO’s and DON’Ts of choosing an interior designer

DO be clear about your expectations, objectives and timeline; give a detailed description of your lifestyle. Your designer or decorator should ask about those issues.

DO have a reasonable budget in mind. If you have $10,000 to spend, say so. That way the designer can recommend strategies to maximize your spending power.

DO ask for references from former clients. Then ask those clients about issues that are important to you: Was the designer able to meet the budget and deadline? Did he/she listen to the client’s needs and anticipate pitfalls? Did the process meet or exceed expectations?

DO determine the designer’s strategy in the event that something goes wrong—and trust us, things go wrong. The sofa you’ve waited two months for arrives in the wrong color or damaged. What happens then? A professional should deal with mistakes swiftly to minimize the client’s stress.

DO review company policies. A contract should outline fees in detail. Many firms charge a range: One fee for the senior designer, another for junior designers and often a third for administrative services. The contract should also spell out the procedure if the relationship ends early.

DON’T abuse the relationship by second-guessing. You’ve hired this person for his or her expertise, so have confidence in your designer’s ability to make sound decisions.

DON’T assume things will go perfectly. If you’ve ever waited for a repairman, only to be disappointed because he never turned up, you’ll understand. Decorating a home is a demanding, time-consuming and complicated process. Working with a designer is one way to eliminate many— but not all—frustrations.

DON’T
be afraid to ask for a concise list of hours worked and a breakdown of what’s accomplished each week or month. If you feel there’s a discrepancy, bring it to the designer’s attention immediately

Since there’s no matchmaking service for clients and designers, just how are you supposed to find a pro?