Show and tell

You can pick up your house in 20 minutes, especially if company is on its way. But can you decorate it in 20 minutes?

You can find out during next weekend's "Ask a Designer" event at the Maryland Home and Garden Show at the fairgrounds in Timonium, where two dozen interior designers will give you a slice of their time — for free.

"You can't get anything completely done, but you can get somebody headed in the right direction," said Jo Ann Drehoff of Decorating Studio in Baldwin, one of the volunteer decorators.

"We won't be able to get your whole house done," said Holly Frye-Atcherson, president of the American Society of Interior Designers' Maryland chapter and owner of Interiors by Design in Annapolis. "But we can look at two major areas."

Come prepared, the designers agreed. The more information they have about the room or the space for which you need advice, the more help they can provide.

For example, clients can bring photos, fabric swatches — perhaps the armcover of a chair, paint samples, floor plan drawings to scale that show the placement of windows and doors and the dimensions of furniture in the room. Bring pictures of adjoining rooms as well, so the designers can get a sense of the room's context.

Pictures from magazines of rooms and design elements that you like can also help, said Frye-Atcherson. "And bring another pile of magazine pictures of things you absolutely hate. That's helpful for me," she said. "Then I know that is a direction we absolutely don't want to go."

Also come with a budget in mind. "Even if I am not going to be spending any of your money, I don't want to suggest things that might be outside your budget," said Frye-Atcherson.

"The more they are prepared, the better their consultation will be," said Laura Kimball, of LCK Interiors in Perry Hall, who is organizing the program. There will be two designers available throughout the show, which begins Friday and runs through next Sunday.

Twenty minutes doesn't sound like much time. But designers often do consults that are just an hour, for which the going price might be as little as $100.

"We can get a lot done in an hour," said Drehoff. "But if they decide they need a master plan, we would take all the measurements and lots of notes and come back with drawings. That is a little more elaborate."

Interior designers have two particular advantages over homeowners.

"We understand color and lighting and how they reflect in a space," said Kimball. "It is difficult for the average person to work with a 1-inch paint sample and determine what that will do for an entire space." Color and lighting, she said, are the elements of a room that homeowners most often get wrong.

In addition, designers have access to so many more products than a homeowner finds in a standard showroom.

"You don't realize all that you have to choose from," said Frye-Atcherson. "Having been exposed to so much, things come to my mind that the layperson doesn't even know exist."

Often, interior designers don't add elements to a home; they take things away.

"People don't realize how much 'stuff' affects their lives," said Kimball. "Especially clutter. Sometimes I just tell them, 'Look, we're getting rid of a third of this stuff,' and that's priceless."

But a designer isn't going to tell a client to ditch a family heirloom or a favorite piece of art or the sofa they just purchased.

"We're not going to tell you to get rid of a favorite piece. We know ways that it can stay there and we can improve on it," said Drehoff.

"We don't impose our taste on a client. We work within their taste. And sometimes we try to stretch it."

Frye-Atcherson said she has had clients who were downsizing and needed her advice on what to get rid of, and how to make the things they are keeping work in a smaller space.

Many of her clients, Kimball said, know how they want to feel in a room or a space. They just don't know how to make it happen.

"We may not get everything done in 20 minutes," she said. "But we can give you an idea of what it is interior designers do."

5 design tips

Thinking of doing it yourself? Here is some professional advice on how to decorate that space.

Decide how the space will be used "Maybe the space for the dining room is large, and it should be the living room instead," says Laura Kimball of LCK Interiors.

Go for clean lines It is much easier to mix styles than most homeowners think, but the trend is toward "cleaner lines" and a "cleaner" look. "You don't see a lot of heavy, curvy furniture," says Jo Ann Drehoff of Decorating Studio. "I think it is the economy and the greening movement and younger people. But that doesn't mean you can't mix in Queen Anne or a traditional piece."

Focus on size Scale is often a problem for homeowners. The furniture might be too big for the space, or the art might be too small for the furniture. Consider the placement of the larger pieces first, Kimball says. And when purchasing larger pieces, measure door openings and take note of how the stairs turn. "You have to get it in the room before you can place it," says Holly Frye-Atcherson, president of the American Society of Interior Designers' Maryland chapter and owner of Interiors by Design.

Don't ignore the windows Window treatments appear to be the biggest decorating challenge for homeowners. "I have clients who can do everything themselves but don't have a clue how to treat the windows," says Kimball. Window treatments are a big investment, and homeowners expect them to last years. Interior designers can be of particular help here.

Wait to chose color Paint color? Make that the last choice. Paint is the cheapest element in the room, it is the easiest element to change and it can be mixed in any color. And there are more choices than white or off-white. "The color on the wall can make the whole environment more inviting," says Drehoff.

—Susan Reimer

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