When Erika Hush began to decorate her first home, she was sure about two things: She had $3,000 to spend and she wanted a leather sofa.
"Money was my biggest constraint," the 23-year-old telecommunication manager says. "I wanted to put up wallpaper and have new furnishings that looked classy, but were also budget-conscious."
A wallpaper saleswoman referred Ms. Hush to a Columbia designer named Harriett Stanley, owner of a company called Uniquely Yours.
Ms. Hush called Mrs. Stanley and the two women clicked.
"She didn't think my amount of money was below her," Ms. Hush says. "Some people wouldn't come out and talk to me for that amount."
Says Mrs. Stanley, "We walked through her town house and I told her to prioritize which rooms she wanted to concentrate on first. I told her she could do other rooms later when she had the money.
"She picked the den and she wanted it to serve as guest room, den and part-office."
After agreeing on an hourly wage of $65 for Mrs. Stanley, the two women got to work. The largest expense was clearly going to be the leather sofa bed, says Mrs. Stanley. She custom-ordered a smaller-than-usual sofa, sized to fit the proportions of a town house. The black leather sofa cost about $1,800.
Then they chose paint for the walls -- a blend of carroty colors. The job cost $50 for labor, plus the cost of the paint.
"Harriett did textured painting on the walls using a rust background. It sounds weird, but you don't really notice how different the colors are -- you just know they work," Ms. Hush says.
Mrs. Stanley convinced Ms. Hush that second-hand furniture offered a far wider variety of styles and choices for a person on her budget. Once Mrs. Stanley received permission, she scoured the antique furniture markets. Enter a second-hand lady's desk, refinished for Ms. Hush's den.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Stanley found an antique linen storage cabinet for the bathroom -- a room in which there was a lot of unused space.
In addition, Ms. Hush chose a comforter for her bedroom that echoes the carroty colors of the den. And using a sea sponge, Mrs. Stanley painted the bedroom walls a goldenrod color that echoes colors in the bed spread.
"Even though each room is different, the colors bring harmony to the house," says Ms. Hush. And she got a good start on decorating her home -- and stayed within her budget.
A SOPHISTICATED PALETTE
Continuity was one woman's top priority when she began redecorating four rooms on the first floor of her Owings Mills home.
"You can stand in the foyer and see all rooms -- so I knew the decor needed to flow from one to the next," she says.
In addition, she liked the notion of having a grand decorating strategy. "I wanted one person to create a master plan. Even if I couldn't afford to do all four rooms at first, I wanted to know where I was going."
Susan Sunderland, a designer at Louis Mazor Inc. in Mount Washington, likes to think of herself as a translator between concept and reality; customer and contractor. If a client says, "I like blue, I like antique books and I entertain a lot," she helps transform those unrelated statements into a workable concept for a room.
And as far as this client and designer were concerned, these two philosophies were a match.
As in many client-designer relationships, word of mouth played a part in getting the two together: The homeowner saw another home designed by Ms. Sunderland and decided to give her a call.
The Owings Mills resident came to the introductory interview armed with magazine photos of rooms she loved and rooms she hated.
From a designer's point of view, photos play an important role in the initial meeting, giving the designer a glimpse of preferences a client may not be able to articulate -- "a real point of reference," says Ms. Sunderland. For example, these photos told her that this client wanted sophistication, but not stiff formality. And that she loved blending textures.
Before beginning, designer and client walked through the house and discussed lifestyle: The woman and her husband work full time as a teacher and a businessman, respectively. They also have two young sons.
"I didn't want to be a slave to the house and I didn't want to have to be after my children all the time," the woman says. The method of payment, they decided, would be one fee for the entire job.
When beginning the design process they discussed continuity and flow, as well as color and style of each room.
The kitchen already was a blend of white and mauve, and, while mauve highlights are fine, the woman didn't want the color to dominate every room.
The end result? The four rooms are done mostly in beige with touches of black. Mauve splashes are used as accents throughout the first floor. Contrasting fabric textures offer interest and distinction to the sophisticated decor.
The round, two-story foyer has a white wood floor and an elaborate molding about 8 feet from the floor that draws the eye upward.
The living room is furnished with an overstuffed, skirted beige sofa that contrasts with a far more linear love seat, in a beige fabric of a contrasting texture. The carpet is two carpets, combined in a pattern created by designer and client: The taupe and beige leopard center is set off by a black border decorated with flowers. The coffee table is a crackled wood with a marble top; the black of a baby grand is repeated by the black in the carpet.
Perhaps the words "surprising versatility" best describe the study. Her husband needed to use the room to entertain clients, the woman says. She wanted to be able to watch TV or to use the computer here, and her two sons like to play computer games as well.
Mrs. Sunderland called one of her specialties into play: designing built-in accoutrements. A built-in entertainment center houses a television and a computer and printer -- each of which can be hidden behind a roll-top desk while the other is in use.
COMFORTABLE FOR ENTERTAINING
A Sparks resident wanted to decorate her new home. And she wanted it to be just right.
She knew it might take a long while to get every chair, carpet and window treatment in place -- and she was willing to wait.
But she also had definite ideas about what she and her husband wanted, so choosing just the right designer was very important to her.
"I was looking for someone whose taste I admired and with whom I could work and who would lead me to what I wanted," she says. "Sometimes you are positive about what you like or dislike but when it comes down to choosing, a second valued opinion is really needed."
Enter Arleen Dvorine, of Dvorine Associates of Baltimore, who shared the woman's view of what role an interior designer can play.
"A good designer can read into what the client is trying to express and then conform the job to their desires, and of course, include her expertise and guide the client in the right direction," says Ms. Dvorine.
Although her firm participates in all kinds of projects, Dvorine and Associates often is involved from the very beginning stages of home design, she says.
"We work with the architect in the conceptual stages, so we are forming the background, the backdrop."
Fees vary with size and scope of each job, but a good estimate would be less than 5 percent of the total cost of the home, she says. Costs of furnishings are separate. In this particular job, the two women settled on a mixed method of payment based on design fee, hourly cost of the staff members' time and a commission on items bought.
The Sparks resident interviewed two other designers but chose Ms. Dvorine for her sense of style, she says.
"I thought the others could do a very substantial and good job for me, but I thought Arleen could do a fabulous job."
There were a few things that this home owner absolutely knew: There would be no green. There would be no glass tables. Most rooms would have shutters, and there already were several tiled floors.
"I did end up with one glass table," she says and laughs. "But it was right, and Arleen proved it was right."
The women scoured showrooms in New York City together, searching for antiques and modern pieces. They pored over catalogs of furnishings and window treatments and swatches of fabrics. And they compared photos and design sketches.
The result, says the homeowner, was a house designed for comfortable and convenient entertainment. The kitchen is light and airy -- easy to use as an impromptu gathering spot for family and close friends.
The living room is small because she felt the days of entertaining only in a formal front room are over. Done in mostly white with pale accents, the room is furnished with a mixture of Chinese art objects and antiques, as well as modern pieces.
"I think it's beautiful," she says. "I love it."