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Make room for a fresh perspective


Too much makeup can obscure a person's looks - or, worse yet, draw the eye to flaws instead of attributes. An elegant meal can go awry with too many heavy dishes and rich sauces, or too few colors or textures on a plate. Often, the most perfectly planned spring garden blooms into a chaotic mess.

The point is that the elements for a graceful, charming end product may be ours, whether we are orchestrating an evening out, a dinner party or a garden. But we may have some difficulty putting them all together.

To find a good example, walk through your home or apartment and take a look around with fresh eyes. Most likely, there is a room that suffers from a lack of focus, an impeded flow or a general sensory overload; a room that could use redecorating help.

Oakland Mills resident Jill Hildenbrand, 57, said, "I'm a collector. I had a wall full of pictures, and a sofa table full of pictures. I had lots of what I'd call 'tchotchkes' all over the place."

She turned to Redesigning Women, a Columbia interior redesign business owned by Karen Lynn Gray.

"I liked what I had," Hildenbrand said. "It didn't necessarily need replacing. But after she [Gray] rearranged things, it was like walking into a brand-new house. It was dramatic."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing was the largest component of spending, and spending, in particular, on house furnishings and equipment showed a 10 percent rise in 2004. Is it possible that Americans are buying new furnishings, when, with a little help, we could be perfectly happy with what we have?

Redesigning Women operates on the premise that it is preferable to work with what people have. The cost of the service is generally in the $300 to $400 range, depending on the size of the room.

"That's about the cost of a good chair," said Gray.

Gray, 52, acknowledges that she has always liked to rearrange furniture and frequently does so with her own pieces. A graduate of Oberlin College with a degree in biology, Gray first pursued a career as a writer. When she began to be bothered by carpal tunnel syndrome, she decided to take a course through the Interior Redesign Industry Specialists and pursue another path.

Gray's process with clients involves going to their homes and getting to know them.

"The things people have reflect their personalities," she said. "I have yet to be in someone's house that doesn't have beautiful things."

Gray's goals are to make a room look, as well as function, better. "I first ask clients what it is they like about the room, and what don't they like," she said. "What kind of feeling do they want to create? What things are important to them, and which ones don't really matter? And what do they want the function of the room to be?"

"I make no value judgments," said Gray.

Hildenbrand, who describes her style as "eclectic," agreed.

"I got no sense that there was something not appropriate [in my room]," Hildenbrand said. "But you have to leave when she [Gray] comes to do the work. Otherwise, you'd be tempted to put your 2 cents' worth in. When you come back, there are things that are not there, but you suddenly don't miss them."

Gray emphasizes that hers is not a clutter-removal, reorganizing service, but a decorating service. She prefers to complete her work in one day - in a two- to four-hour period when clients are not present - for the reason Hildenbrand states and for two others.

"Sometimes, you have to finish an idea to see if it works, and clients may be uncomfortable when you first move something from a place it's been for years and years," Gray said. "The tendency is to say, 'That's not going to work,' before an idea is even finished. Also, the finished idea may not turn out to be the final idea. You have to play with it a little."

Some clients come to Gray assuming they will need new furniture and end up genuinely surprised that they do not. "The real advantage is, I bring a fresh perspective," Gray said.

Gray asks permission to walk through the rest of a client's space, to pull items for the room she is redoing, if necessary. "If I take a chair," she said, "I don't just leave the gap in that room."

There is potential for a gentle ripple effect of redesign throughout a client's home.

"If a client doesn't like the result, I will put it all back the way it was at no charge," said Gray. "But that has never happened."

The enthusiasm clients show for their old-new rooms is extremely gratifying to Gray. "Sometimes it doesn't take much to make a really big difference," she said. "You just have to look at things in creative ways."


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of?

If there is, Janet Gilbert, our neighbors reporter, wants to know about it. Janet brings a wealth of writing experience and knowledge of Howard County to her position.

E-mail Janet at janetgilbertsun@verizon.net, or call 410-313-8276.

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