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DECOR : Installment Plans Can Pay Off


Instant gratification is a kick sometimes, but decorating a little at a time on the installment plan is often the more realistic approach.

Besides spreading the cost over a longer period of time, the slow and easy method can minimize errors that occur when decisions are made hurriedly.

Although the temptation is to focus on decorating only when money and time become available, this approach often leads to a poor result. According to several decorators, a savvy way to proceed is to start with a detailed master plan and follow it through, step by step.

"Ideally, even if years will go by before the project is finished, there should be a written program for the entire space," says designer Gordon Micunis of Stamford, Conn. "Don't worry too much about where the items will be purchased or exactly what they will look like. The important thing at first is to know where everything will be placed."

If any alterations to the rooms are being contemplated, Micunis says that it is worthwhile to note them on paper early on.

New York decorator Joan Halperin also stresses the importance of jotting down the details of a decorating project.

"You need a furniture layout and a budget for each room," Halperin says. "The budget should cover structural changes, painting, window coverings and lighting, as well as the specific items of furniture and accessories to be purchased."

Plan and budget. Set ballpark figures on expenses and what sizes to look for, Halperin says. These prevent easy mistakes of buying something that looks good in the store, but won't fit into the room, and exceeding the budget on something that temporarily captures a person's fancy.

Creating a plan and sticking to it is all in a day's work for professionals. The same tasks aren't so easy for the non-professional.

Developing a realistic budget and plan requires some knowledge of what items and services cost and a good sense of personal tastes. Comparison shopping will add to a person's knowledge of costs and preferences.

"A good master plan is a great deal of work," Micunis says. "But the same basic plan will work over a very long period and can even be used for renovations so long as there are no lifestyle changes."

When it comes time to redecorate, quite often only reupholstery and repainting are needed.

After a master plan is in, the designers say, it is best to first focus on getting the room shell together. Doing repairs, making structural changes, refinishing the floor, painting and wallpapering are messy jobs that are most easily accomplished in an empty room.

Micunis says that about half of his clients decorate in installments mostly because of financial reasons. Others who are decorating with antiques may have to search for years to find the exact piece they are looking for.

While waiting for the perfect item to turn up, it's still possible to make a room comfortable and attractive on a budget.

To quickly fix up a Manhattan living room on a budget of $5,000, including labor, Halperin camouflaged the family's 15-year-old brown velvet sectional by slipcovering the pieces with an inexpensive striped fabric. She had window shades made up of heavyweight gauze that sells for about $10 per yard, and found a stylish, large sisal rug for about $1,500.

She also upgraded an $800 ready-made home entertainment cabinet by having it painted in two different colors. She then added lamps, potted plants and throw pillows to the room at very little expense.

The first thing Halperin says she would do to refine the room would be to add full-length side panels to the window treatment. Then she would reupholster the slipcovered sofas or buy new seating. Additional upgrades would include a finer rug and a bigger coffee table.

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