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Settlin' In

Usually it takes more than a moving van to make a house a home. If creating those comfy zones seems daunting, consider the efficient strategies of interior designers.

May 18, 1996|MARESA ARCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You've just bought your dream home.

OK, so maybe it's more of a designer's nightmare.

The kitchen needs to be gutted, and the '60s gold-shag carpet clashes with your steel-blue sectional. Or maybe the house is fine but your thrift-store furniture doesn't fill it out. In all these cases, the question is:

Where do you begin?

Each home is unique, but there are strategies interior designers use to make a house a home as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Let's take a situation in which the home is fine, but the new owners have little or no furniture. Needed immediately are places to sleep and eat.

"As long as you have a bed and a counter top or table to eat meals, you can wait on everything else until you really know what you want," says Elaine Hankin, an interior designer in Huntington Beach.

Experts say other first purchases should include a refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer.

"You want to get your major appliances," Hankin says. Otherwise, she says, you'll be placing a lot of takeout food orders and visiting the cleaners more than once a week.

Privacy is important and is inexpensive to achieve if you attack it layer by layer. Install the basic window coverings--such as shades, mini-blinds or sheers--and, as your budget allows, add the final treatments. "Start off with shades and add soft fabrics that can be removed later for shutters," says Betty Hyde of Ultimate Designs Interiors in Laguna Niguel.

Now that the house has the bare necessities, it's time to purchase furniture.

Which rooms get outfitted first?

Traditionally, the public areas--living room, dining room and entryway--are the first to become showcases. But, says interior designer Mary Swift of Laguna Hills, "spend your money where you spend the most time. If that's the living room, great, but maybe it's the family room."

Swift recommends that when choosing living room furniture, buy the best quality you can afford with an eye on how the piece can be used in another room in the future.

By buying pieces with durable fabrics, good construction and classic styling, they can be reused as the owner's needs change. "When the next home is bought, the living room couch will be used in the family room," Swift says. "But that works only if you are not caught up in the latest trend that will go out of style in a few years. Instead, opt for classic pieces in good woods."

A trendy look can still be achieved with accessories and accent colors, she says.

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Let's say you already have fine furniture, but your new home needs a cosmetic update. In that case, Hyde says, a good place to start is by painting the walls and replacing the old carpet.

The next step depends on the size of the family. "If it's a young couple without children, I would start [decorating] in the room where they are going to entertain their guests, so they can have friends over to see their new house," Hyde said.

If there are children, the kitchen and bathrooms may be tackled next because everyone spends a lot of time in these rooms, she says. "It just seems to be a trend lately that people are really into well-thought-out kitchens and luxurious bathrooms."

In families with older children, the emphasis may be on parental retreats, Swift says.

"Master bedroom suites are very popular these days. There is usually a retreat area with a couch and comfy chairs for parents to escape to. For families without children, the bedroom is not usually as elaborate because they have the whole house to themselves," she says.

Another situation a new homeowner may faced is the complete remodel: a dwelling in need of a major overhaul in nearly every room. Such a situation can be overwhelming, but experts agree the best way to get started is to establish a plan of attack.

"Take stock and start with a list of what needs to be done," Swift says.

Hankin suggests that, if the guts of the house--lighting, electricity, plumbing--need an overhaul, they be tackled before move-in day. "Get the dirty stuff done in the public spaces first, then move on to the cosmetic aspects like carpeting, wallpaper and paint."

Landscaping can also create a mess, Swift says. "If possible, get the landscaping done before you move in."

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