- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Adrianne Hamilton's living room didn't feel quite right, but the Falls Church woman couldn't put her finger on the problem.
"I wanted it to be more cozy and inviting but didn't know how to achieve that," Mrs. Hamilton says.
That's when decorator Stefani McNair entered the picture and Mrs. Hamilton's living room. Mrs. McNair does on-the-spot decorating she tells her clients what a room needs, be it a chair, rearranged furniture, a painted wall or a houseplant.
Hiring a decorator to give on-the-spot advice and ideas on an hourly basis can be a good alternative to do-it-yourself efforts based on the advice of magazines and television shows or an often costly full-scale interior-design makeover.
On-the-spot decorating is simple, often small-scale and not very costly, Mrs. McNair says.
"Most of my clients have modest homes, very little time to decorate on their own, and they don't want to commit to a full interior-design effort," she says.
Mrs. McNair, who has a couple of years under her belt as a decorator but no formal decorating education, charges up to $200 for the initial visit and $50 an hour for a follow-up visit. According to Janet Crowder, owner of Two Lions Antiques and Interiors on Capitol Hill, decorators and designers charge anywhere from about $50 to $500 an hour for decorating advice and actual decorating, depending on their experience.
Ms. Crowder,, who aside owning an antiques store, has worked as a decorator and appraiser for 27 years and has clients in the Hamptons, Manhattan and the District, charges $350 an hour.
"My typical client is someone who is brilliant in their job but chaotic on the home front," Ms. Crowder says. "They ask me to 'do that magic thing you do.'"
The magic thing in Mrs. Hamilton's case was merely rearranging the living room and dining room furniture.
"She had couches and chairs lined up against the wall, which is a very common mistake people make," Mrs. McNair says. "We tend to think that pushing furniture up against the wall will make the room look bigger, but it just looks awkward."
Ms. Crowder agrees and says she refers to this phenomenon as the "great furniture lineup."
Instead, decorators advocate creating a cozy conversation area in the living room an area that doesn't have any foot traffic and in which people can comfortably engage in conversation without having to twist and turn.
Also, decorators recommend creating a focal point, around which the conversation-area pieces are placed. The focal point should be of visual interest and anchor the space.
In Mrs. Hamilton's case, Mrs. McNair used a common living room focal point, the fireplace.

Before a decorator can come in and do "magic" on a room, or rooms, certain things should be considered:
The owner has to decide how much he or she wants to spend on new items (or whether to use existing furniture and decorative items), which pieces to let go and which items to showcase more prominently.
"It's also important to ask yourself what you want out of room," Ms. Crowder says. "For example, do you need to seat two or ten people? Are you going to socialize a lot, or do you want the room to be private and quiet?"
As far as the style or feel of the room, Ms. Crowder often asks clients to rip pages out of magazines to give her an idea "anything that speaks to you," she says.
"It can be anything, a sunset or a ski lodge or an actual home. I just need to get an idea of what you like," she says.
Getting a sense of what the client likes is important because a decorator doesn't ever want to "impose" his or her own style, Ms. Crowder says.
"It should be an environment that feels like [the clients] own," she says. "The best compliment I can get is when a client says, 'This is what I would've done if I'd known to.'"
Once the decorator has a good understanding of what the client wants but doesn't know how to achieve it's time to go to work.
The cheapest and easiest change is the furniture rearrangement that was done in Mrs. Hamilton's living room.

Another fairly cheap but dramatic change is adding color to white walls, Ms. Crowder says.
"White walls can create a very sophisticated and contemporary look, but it takes expensive furnishing to pull it off," Mrs. McNair says. "I think color on the walls is more forgiving."
Many people want a decorator to help them pick a color because an untrained eye may not be able to determine from looking at a small color swatch how the color will look covering an entire wall.
The same holds true for patterned upholstery. It looks one way up close and another way from farther away.
A common mistake homeowners make in deciding on rugs is picking tan or beige, thinking that it is "neutral."
"Beige is not a neutral color," Ms. Crowder says. "You wouldn't wear beige shoes to everything, would you?"
Instead, decorators often recommend a darker-colored rug or carpet.
"A darker color helps anchor the furniture," Mrs. McNair says. "Beige makes it look like the furniture is floating in the room."
Another quick, easy and relatively cheap decorating change is adding slipcovers to couches and chairs. Adding a slipcover to a couch may cost less than $100. Adding houseplants and a spotlight is another $100-or-less decorating tip.

Matching and coordinating colors and patterns are important aspects of making a room work, Ms. Crowder says, but they're not everything.
Proportions (such as the size of a frame in relation to the artwork it's holding) and shapes and structures (such as shape of a chest of drawers in relation to the shape and style of the mirror hanging above it) are also important.
In the end, good decorating creates balance and harmony, even if the items that make up a room are disparate in style, age and color.
"You can make your grandmother's furniture look good next to an Italian leather sofa if you do it right," Ms. Crowder says.
In fact, Ms. Crowder advocates using eclectic design and items to avoid a predictable and boring look, which she calls "the two lamps, two tables syndrome."
"If everything is symmetric and matches perfectly, it gets boring," she says.
While a lot of decorating can be done on the spot in one or two hours, a completed design of a room might take much longer, Mrs. McNair says.
"Rooms kind of evolve. You keep changing and tweaking to get it just right," she says.
An on-the-spot decorating consultation can point the client in the right direction.
"I thought it was two hours well spent," Mrs. Hamilton says. "It's instant gratification when you see the change…. Of course, there's still more to do, but now I have a plan."

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