Working with a decorator

By: Janice Clements

Heather of Aurora writes, "We are moving north from a small home into a much larger one.  Right now we have very little furniture and after all of the expenses, I'm not sure we can afford a decorator, but I really don't know how to do this myself.  Do you have any suggestions on how we can get started and how we manage it all?"   

Congratulations on your new home Heather!  It sounds like you have a very exciting but large job ahead of you.  Regardless of how thrilling it can seem from a distance, the notion of appropriately furnishing a single room, never mind an entire house is for most people, a daunting one.     

While I understand you may be concerned that hiring a decorator is too expensive of an option at this time, I would argue that given the nature of your question, not hiring one may result in costly mistakes and time wasted as you work to pull together your new home. 

There are many details involved in furnishing a house and the options are endless but done properly, it can be a fun experience with minimal headaches.

Give serious consideration to hiring an expert to at least create floor plans for those rooms you’ll be furnishing.  A simple, scaled plan showing furniture placement and dimensions is an intelligent and reasonable investment relative to the cost of new furnishings.

It would be a waste of time and money to purchase items without giving an appropriate amount of thought to where the furnishings will fit best and to whether or not they are the optimal size for the space. 

Too often I am hired to trouble-shoot for a client having difficulty completing a room layout because they have purchased furniture that's too large.  A good floor plan will provide you with a thorough shopping list of items required for each room, along with the optimal sizes of furniture you should purchase.     

An experienced decorator will be able to give you an estimate for how much of their time is involved in planning your home so you can get an idea of the costs.  Unless you specify as such, you are not beholden to purchase anything through the decorator. 

Many decorators are willing to provide only consultative services, giving you the option of purchasing your items at retail.  That said, decorators and designers have access to furnishings and fabrics you may not be able to purchase in a store, so depending on your budget, being able to access these items might be of interest to you.

I think that people get frightened by the stubborn, difficult designer-caricatures they see on TV, but know that you don't have to hire those professionals.  You have the freedom to find someone who works well with your personality and is as flexible as you need them to be.  Focus on finding someone to partner with you, perhaps someone who can give you guidance on how and where to find furnishings yourself so you can reduce billable hours.

Whether you decide to work with a decorator or not, try to focus your investment on the main pieces in the room – built-ins, sofas, upholstered chairs, dining table and chairs.  Aim to spend less on the sundry items like throw pillows, lamps and potentially even area rugs, unless they are items you love so much that you’re willing to manipulate your budget to buy them.

If you decide to furnish your home over time, prioritize your purchases based on room functionality and frequency of use.  Focus on the kitchen, bedrooms and any common area such as the family room first. 

Should you decide that hiring a decorator is really not for you, consider shopping at a store that includes some design services in the cost of the furniture purchase, but know that furniture bought through that store will likely be more expensive than what you might buy at a regular retail store.  You will end up spending more on the item, but at least you'll receive much needed guidance from a professional.

When managing such a large scale project with potentially large financial impact, I feel strongly that the services of a decorator whether for minimal planning work or for more involved shopping assistance, should be part of the overall furniture budget for your home. 

Like any other major investment, the advice of an expert can make the difference between an efficient and well-run project and a headache-spurring cycle of returned purchases and ill-fitting furnishings. 



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