Tips from Today’s Top Design Experts

Author: Alecia Pirulis


Before starting a remodeling or interior design project, read this valuable advice from today’s top designers.

Mary Ellen Badger, founder and president of Design Trilogy Inc., suggests spending the time to gather your ideas for remodeling or updating your home before you call a designer to help you. Work out any basic disagreements between you and your partner before calling in the professionals.

“Recognize the difference between real-life design and HGTV. Real-life design takes time and more money than is shown on television–be realistic about your expectations,” Badger recommends.

“Invest in good-quality major pieces of furniture. Bargain shop for the fun things and small items, but remember that good furniture will hold up to the wear and tear of active living.”

Badger cautions against creating multiple focal points in a room. “The eye gets confused and has no place to rest,” she states.

Thinking of asking friends and family to pick items out for you? Don’t do it, says Badger. “Chances are they will choose something they like, which may or may not work in your house.”

Finally, you don’t have to finish everything in your house at once. Start with the basics – good furniture, a good color scheme – and then add to it slowly as you can afford it. Be able to have room for the sudden finds that interest you on a trip or shopping jaunt.

Pebbles Glenn, a residential interior designer in Atlanta who owns her own firm called Design Matters, suggests doing your homework. “Research and clip things you see and like from articles, books, and television. Keep a small spiral notebook handy in case you come across something fabulous to remember.”

Glenn recommends knowing the general dimensions of your space and keeping them with you. If you come across a wonderful find while out and about, you’ll have the measurements on hand to determine if the item will work in your space.

Save money by recycling, Glenn suggests. “Its amazing how different an existing chair can look by getting it reupholstered and changing the design just a bit. You can change the matting or framing on old family photos to make them look like wonderful artwork and place them in a different area in your house to be enjoyed by all!”

Glenn says you shouldn’t be afraid to express yourself. “Your home is your sacred space and should be enjoyed within all facets of your life.”

“Don’t buy anything unless you know you love it,” Glenn states. “If you have any doubts, then there is something else that should go in that particular space.”

Finally, she says, don’t be scared to use a designer. “We are here to assist you in turning your house into your dream home — your beloved space.”

Kim Haire, who has been an interior designer for nearly 10 years, started her own full-service interior design firm in Atlanta in 2000. She believes that style is not only about a well-dressed home, but also about creating comfortable spaces for real living.

“Cut back on stress,” Haire recommends. “Designing a house can feel overwhelming. Pick one room and finish decorating it completely. This will give you a space in your home that you can go in and relax and enjoy.”

Haire suggests choosing upholstery fabrics that are practical for your lifestyle. “Chocolate brown is great for hiding dirt, but not a child’s milk spills!”

Also, be sure to use area rugs that are the proper size. “Undersized rugs can make a room look like you skimped. I like to at least have the front legs of furniture on the rug.”

According to Haire, it is important to shop around. “Don’t buy everything from one store. Especially when buying retail, get different pieces from different stores–this will give your home a custom design look.”

Thinking of using wooden blinds or shutters? Haire suggests considering your options. “Try to avoid them in living rooms and dining rooms, especially. There are many other options that will allow your rooms to feel more open to the outdoors.”

Her final tip: “Don’t use artificial plants! Go for the real thing or none at all.”

Jessie Danielle La Falce owns the firm Jessie Danielle Design and specializes in residential and hospitality interiors. She advises homeowners to invest in the best quality finishes their budget will allow. “Demand the best for your dollar, even if it means sacrificing square footage to focus on a smaller space.”

La Falce also recommends including your ceilings in your design. “There are tons of options: paint, textured wallpaper, upholstery, gold and silver leaf, mirror, wood planks, bead board, coffers, pressed tin squares, glass mosaic tile, wood beams, etc. Let your imagination run wild.”

Also, consider function. “Design from the perspective of how you want your space to function and fulfill you emotionally,” La Falce says. “Envision and write down what the room would ideally feel like for you once its completed, going through magazines and books to highlight elements you love, even if they’re not home-related–like a beach scene.”

La Falce advises homeowners to be realistic. “Don’t be lulled into a false sense of reality by watching design shows on TV. The quick projects they do for a thousand bucks cost five times that when you factor in the cost of labor. And they didn’t find that fabulous gilded mirror in a dumpster or at a flea market for $5, either.”

You don’t have to compete with anyone, La Falce says, or try to reach some design ideal. “Don’t rely on the Joneses for design advice. Those days are over. Your home is your sanctuary, so make it yours.”

But, La Falce warns, don’t forget about the other members of your household. “Whether we realize it or not, we all have needs when it comes to our living environments. Consider the needs of the entire family when tackling a design project and keep this mantra in mind: The family that decorates together stays together!”

Brian Patterson has 18 years experience in architectural/interior design and is the owner of Brian Patterson Designs Inc. Patterson recommends thinking outside the box. “Give yourself the freedom to be unusual or creative. First, think in terms of your lifestyle, and what type of living spaces you enjoy. Then work towards creating them. For example, don’t be afraid to turn your seldom-used dining room into a lounge, or your formal living room into a study.”

Patterson suggests creating interesting and unexpected details. Incorporate mosaic-tile accents into your tiled floors and walls, for instance. Upholster your traditional sofa or chair with a modern fabric, or replace the hardware on your nondescript cabinets with something vintage. “Never underestimate the design impact of unpredictable details,” he says.

Further, remember that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Appropriate scale, proportion, color, composition and balance will create a beautiful result for any project. “Instead of incorporating all of your favorite elements into a single space if they are not appropriately scaled or complementary, select one or two key pieces and use them throughout your home so they will shine,” Patterson says.

Patterson recommends going into a home project with a long-term plan for your home. “While a great room addition on the first floor may be nice for today, perhaps a second-story addition with future space for additional bedrooms may be a better long-term plan,” he says.

Also, Patterson says, a budget must be in place. “Most homeowners do not have the luxury of completing their houses all at once. Prioritize the areas of focus and budget accordingly.”

Patterson recommends getting to know your design professionals. “Interview your designer and contractor, and inquire about their experience with projects like yours. If you are renovating, ask if they specialize in renovations. Inquire if they have completed projects in your area and call past clients.”

Kathleen Pyrce, who holds degrees in theater design, theology and interior design, is owner of Pyrce Williams Design Inc. She suggests going big: “Evaluate the largest samples you can get before making a final decision. Purchase a 12-yard of fabric you like or a quart of paint you are considering. Look at them up close and from a distance in the morning and in the evening. Live with them for a few days and then you will make a choice that you will be happy to live with for a long time.”

What makes a great accessory? Anything you like, says Pyrce. “Try seeing objects as shapes, textures, and colors rather than simply accessories. Consider these when grouping objects together.”

Also, Pyrce says, some empty space is okay. “Don’t cover every bit of wall space or tabletop with stuff. Negative or empty space is a good thing. Remember, if everything is important, then nothing is important. Give your things room to breathe and remember that an empty wall is okay.”

As for art, Pyrce recommends anchoring it to something. “Don’t let a piece of art float alone on a wall. Art, unless it is enormous, should connect with something, like another art piece or a piece of furniture.”

Muriel Sackey, is the founder her own firm, sakInteriors Inc. What intrigues her most about design is how a mix of colors, textures, shapes and proportions can be used to create a room that is detailed, serene and sophisticated.

“Keep everything simple and classic,” Sackey says. “Have a clear concept that reflects your personality, taste, and preference before you begin the project.”

Sackey recommends combining furniture of different heights and sizes to create visual interest in a room. But, she warns, “Avoid placing tall or weighty pieces along the same wall. Have one unexpected piece of furniture and build around that.”

Also, she says, it is fine to combine old and new or high- and low-cost furniture pieces.

As for what not to do, Sackey says, “Don’t try to combine different styles in a room or do everything in the same level of richness. Also, don’t design around a design fad or a color trend for the season.”

Tonya Scott started Belocchio Interiors, a DEI company. Tonya specializes in creating memorable-yet-livable residential interiors. She recommends, “Make sure your home has a soul and isn’t just a show house.”

Scott recommends avoiding clutter. “One of the biggest mistakes is failure to edit yourself,” she says. Also, “Let a designer help create a clear vision for you of what you are trying to accomplish.”

Think timeless, Scott suggests. “Don’t fall victim to every design fad. Stay true to your style and use trendy elements in small and inexpensive ways, such as with accessories and throw pillows.”

She also recommends looking up. “Paint your ceiling with color. The ceiling is usually ignored and can truly finish your space.”

But, Scott concludes, don’t think too much about the dos and don’ts. “Have fun with the design process and let your designer guide you.”

Pattie Trumbull is realizing her lifelong dream of becoming an interior decorator through her company, Design Inspirations Inc. Trumbull recommends hiring a designer or decorator. “Be prepared for the first meeting by having a budget in mind. Communication is the key to a successful relationship.”

Trumbull says to keep the things you love and work them into your new look. Also, she says, “Don’t hang artwork high on a wall unless it is part of a grouping or anchored by a piece of furniture or a fireplace mantel.”

Finally, she says, “Don’t go with a trend unless you absolutely love it. Stay true to yourself and you’ll be a lot happier in your environment.”

— Article Courtesy of Home Improvement Magazine