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INTERIORS : Starting Over Versus Sprucing Up


Familiar rooms can make a home feel comfortable, but sometimes a major redo is in order.

A small face lift is rarely enough, for example, when you move out on your roommates and into your very own place; get married; move to a much larger or a much smaller place, or move to another part of the country.

It's also not enough if you're bored with what you have where you are--or if you're switching styles, say from traditional to contemporary.

"After a decade or more, many people find a total change of pace a fun thing to do," says Nina Hughes, an interior designer in New York. "It's a little like having a second honeymoon."

But not everyone is willing, or able, to sweep out everything and start with a broom-clean space. Many household items acquired over the years have sentimental value. Others are expensive to replace.

"Redoing a place in a brand-new style is great if you can afford it, and if you know what you want," says interior designer Connie Beale. "But most people have things they like that they don't want to throw out. They are happier starting slowly in a new direction and getting to a new look over time."

Beale, who lives in Connecticut, is among them.

"I have moved three times in the last 10 years," she says, "and the houses all ended up looking different--but not wildly different--because I have my favorites.

"I even used the same fabric in a different color in two houses. I like elements of just about every style, but my preferences usually include intricate geometric patterns such as paisley, crafts and folk art--quirky things you can tell people have made with their own hands."

Hughes takes a more radical approach. Moving to a new place was the catalyst for four major changes. She and her husband went from what she calls "just-married modern," with simple wicker pieces in their first New York apartment, to French and Italian Deco in their current place. In between, they enjoyed a traditional English ambience and a severely modern apartment in the international style.

"Each place had its own logic and dictated what kind of furnishings would go best," Hughes says. "The piano has been the only constant."

For the novice, Hughes says, it's easier to work on one room at a time.

"If you do a little here and a little there, you never get a real sense of completion, and it's very frustrating," she says. "By finishing a room, you at least know that you have achieved something, even if a great deal more remains to be done in the house."

With different personal philosophies about continuity and change, the two designers agree that basic renovations should be done all at once.

"I have learned the hard way to take care of these necessities first," Beale says, "even before thinking about the decorating. I have painted the walls and then discovered there was a leak."

For a total overhaul, Hughes suggests a three-stage plan: structural changes and system upgrades; decor in important public spaces such as the entryway, living room and dining area, and decor in bedrooms and other private spaces.

"Moving walls and changing mechanical or electrical systems will make a huge mess," she says, "and you want to get it over with as fast as possible."

Changes in kitchen and bath are among the most complicated jobs and need to be done in one fell swoop.

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