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Insider Interiors : Decorators Advise That Style Doesn't Require Money


"Most of us, according to our means, imprint our personality upon our surroundings. It is a human and beneficial thing to do, for it is this tendency that has led to the creation of many rooms which give happiness. It is nearly always the personal that inspires and delights us. There may be only a knife-edge difference between a room that is alive and one that has no soul."

Cecil Beaton

It is this elusive "alive" element that is at once the most important and sometimes the most difficult to attain in home design. To achieve this, some people turn over house and soul to an interior designer.

In the pared-down economies of the '90s, designing on a budget receives a high priority. Designers work with budgets, and some will just charge consulting fees and assist with purchases. Other ways to save include setting up a plan and decorating one room at a time. And, you can shop wholesale stores with a designer who usually charges the wholesale cost plus a percentage.

To find a good designer, you can usually rely on word-of-mouth from friends. Shop around, interview designers, find out their pricing structures and ask to see some examples of their jobs.

If, however, an interior designer is out of the question, how do you begin on your own?

One of the easiest ways is to read magazines and clip pictures of favorite rooms. Knowing what you want is the best way to save money and time. Whether you like a Martha Stewart or an HG look, there are ways to achieve it through judicious use of paint, fabric, carpeting and accessories.

When buying for your house, ask: Is it stylish, comfortable, practical and worth the money?

Money never did buy style, and some of the worst-looking homes are the over-decorated ones that scream, "Look at me. I'm rich!" Real style is an attitude and an innate taste.

If the basic element of good design is there, the purchase will give pleasure through the years. Sometimes the secret is in taking an already acquired object and using it in bright new ways through paint or through changing the purpose of it, like taking ornate corbels and turning them into sconces. Seeing possibilities in second-hand stores is a talent that can be cultivated.

Dana Eggerts of Creative Design Consultants in Costa Mesa says there are several inexpensive decorating steps consumers can take.

"To get a Metropolitan Home look, decorate with a stack of books and a collection of candlesticks. A classic Cape Cod look can be accomplished by using a pine or wicker trunk as a cocktail table and adding a glass top," Eggerts said.

She also suggested getting flagstones, stacking them in a pattern, siliconing them together and adding a glass top for a contemporary look.

"I feel a cocktail table really makes a statement in a room. You can take an old dining room table and cut it down or even buy a door, paint it and add legs. Or buy glass blocks, arrange them artistically and add a glass top. Artwork can be expensive, but you can create a personal look by hanging a collection of family photos separately framed with a clock or shelf of collectibles."

Eggerts also suggested using stencils to add an interesting design on the walls and ceiling, because they are inexpensive and easy to do. Pillows can be made out of fabric remnants or hand-painted to coordinate with the rest of the house. Buying a neutral-colored couch and changing the look of the room through changing the colors and fabrics of the pillows is easy and affordable.

"During a recession, design tends to go back to traditional," Eggerts said. "Traditional is cheaper than contemporary, and there is now so much out there to choose from.

"If you can afford it, wood floors and throw rugs are actually better in the long run. Remember that the flooring and the walls take up the largest part of every room. Good colors there can change the whole environment."

Designer Kay Evans of Newport Beach suggested thinking about the joys of fabric. "Let you imagination run wild. Buy a bin of it and use it to create shower curtains, drapes or a door for a small area.

"If you use Velcro with it, you can take a fabric and Velcro it to the ceiling to create an easy room divider, or use it to line drawers, baskets, linen shelves or even cover an ugly, functional bulletin board with fabric to coordinate with a child's room decor. Fabric can be used in place of wallpaper to give texture to a room," she said.

Wallpapers also can look like crown moldings or even a crackled, wood finish.

Designers suggest that simply moving the furniture can create a new look. Take items from one room and put them in another, slipcover couches and chairs or buy inexpensive lamp shades and add lace, ribbon or gimp to create a design.

For affordable one-of-a-kind items, haunt flea markets and consignment shops such as the Newport Harbor Museum's and the Assistance League's. They have estate items at reasonable prices, and a percentage goes to the charities.

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