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The Secrets of Decorating, by the Book : Two Designers-Turned-Authors Demystify Their Profession

March 22, 1997|LYNN O'DELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Psst--want to know a designer secret? Such as the ratios that interior designers use to mix various-size patterns in the same room? Or the simple rule they follow to find the perfect spacing between furniture and artwork?

How about the answer to the eternal puzzler--why the paint you just put on the walls looks nothing like the paint chip you brought home?

Today's designers will tell you. And you don't even have to hire them to get the information. You can simply buy their books. Or booklets, as the case may be.

The advent of home computers and quick-copy centers has made it easy for interior designers to become tell-all writers. Laura Ridley and Eileen Klein are a pair of Orange County-based designers-turned-authors.

Ridley, who works out of Mission Viejo, didn't set out to write a book. She just wanted a pamphlet on accessorizing to give her clients. But the project blossomed into a 30-page booklet called "A Guide to Accessorizing Your Home."

For $10, the reader gets a quick course on the elements and principles of design and step-by-step directions for accessorizing. The booklet is chock-full of Ridley's hand-drawn illustrations, which are worth more than words on the difference between formal and informal balance, for example.

In Ridley's book, readers fall into several camps. They either like vertical lines (dramatic, dignified) or horizontal lines (relaxing, stable); floral or geometric patterns; pastels or bold colors; small or large-scale furnishings. Readers learn how to make the eye travel around the room, what to put on the cocktail table and how to group artwork over a sofa.

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Everybody told designer Eileen Klein that she ought to write a book, so she did.

Klein, whose Eileen and Associates design company is also based in Mission Viejo, did research in her spare time and drew on her clients' experiences. Then she sat down at her computer and started typing. The result was a spiral-bound, 70-page workbook: "A Guide to Discovering You Can Design Your Interior" ($19.95 plus shipping and handling).

Her book has sections on master planning, lighting, color, space planning and general information. And a bonus: She's willing to answer readers' questions over the phone.

Klein says she organized the book the way she would work for a client.

Survey sheets for each room ask for information ranging from the size of the living room windows and the number of electrical outlets to how much the room is used.

There's graph paper to plan each room, a list of architectural symbols to use, charts on average furniture sizes and clearances, and advice on buying carpet, fabric and furniture. Readers learn to turn those upholstered chairs upside-down to see how well they're made, for example, and bounce on that sofa before buying it.

"It's almost like I'm teaching a course," said Klein, who has taught at UCLA, USC and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.

"I didn't want the book to be too academic; I wanted it to be practical, and I wanted to be sure I gave enough information for the reader to see that yes, they can do this," Klein said.

But wait. If readers can do this on their own, they wouldn't need to hire interior designers, would they?

Neither Ridley nor Klein sees this as a career problem.

"There will always be do-it-yourselfers, no matter what you go into," Ridley said.

Klein cites education as the reason she wrote her book.

"I like to educate. I just feel knowledge is power. The more information people have from an expert, the better it is for everyone," said Klein, who sells her book at interior design seminars and home shows.

Even other designers don't see tell-all books as a threat, according to Carmen Olsson, president of the American Society of Interior Designers, Orange County.

"There have always been how-to books, and designers shouldn't feel threatened by them. The more educated clients are, the more they realize our qualifications," she said. "I don't see it as a threat, I see it as an asset."

Designers can still pick up work from do-it-yourselfers who run out of time or from those who make a mistake, Olsson said.

Besides, no one book can dictate exactly how things are supposed to work, she said.

"There are no absolutes. It's like having three children and giving them each the same book. They will all read it a different way," she said.

When Ridley started her booklet, there was nothing available to the public that dealt strictly with accessories, she said. Klein found most of the existing books on the subject of general interior design too flamboyant and void of practical information.

Neither of these books could be called slick, but both authors plan to issue revised and upgraded versions. The writing is informal. Klein speaks to her readers as she would in person. When she cautions readers not to get into a rut by having one color throughout the house, for example, she writes: "This will look like peat, repeat and ditto!"

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