My husband and I had been living in our house in DC’s Columbia Heights two weeks when interior designer Celeste Davis arrived for a two-hour consultation. We were already desperate for help.
Before we moved, Eric and I had offered almost all of our furniture on Craigslist for free to anyone who would pick it up. The ad went live at 8:50 am on a Tuesday. By 9:30 that morning, everything was claimed—even our stained sofa and an Ikea armoire that had seen better days.
We were excited to cast off our old stuff and start from scratch. But our clean slate quickly started to seem overwhelming. We had bare white walls, no furniture, and lots of decisions to be made on furnishings, paint, window treatments, rugs, art, and more. Eric was itching to check things off of our to-do list and eager for a comfortable place to sit. I worried about making hasty purchases we’d regret. Professional help seemed the answer.
We couldn’t afford an interior designer’s full services, but some designers offer one-time consultations, for a few hundred dollars, that give you advice to get started. I thought this might help speed up our decorating, settle disagreements, and prevent expensive mistakes—though I wondered how much you could accomplish in a two-hour meeting.
I set up appointments with three designers who work in the style we like—a mix of contemporary and mid-century-modern furniture with a neutral palette. I chose them by looking at their Web sites—two have online portfolios—and by talking with them on the phone. All three seemed smart, friendly, and fun. If you’re going to bring someone into your home, I figured, it might as well be someone you like.
Two of the designers waived their fees because I was writing an article. We decided to focus on the first floor of our house, which has an open floor plan for the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
Celeste Davis, the first designer, brought her associate, Yvette Freeman, along to our appointment. We started by looking through pictures Eric and I had pulled from magazines and the Internet to give them a sense of our taste. We talked about how we plan to use the space—having friends over, lounging with books and magazines, and not making the TV the focal point.
Davis and Freeman got down to business, working their way around the first floor with specific suggestions: paint the shoe molding white, replace the light fixture by the door, stain the stair railing very dark. I trailed them with a notebook, scribbling as quickly as I could.
Davis told us what kind of furniture to put where, then gave us dimensions and suggestions on where to shop—And Beige in DC’s Adams Morgan for accessories, YLighting.com for a front-hall light, Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market for a bench. She was very decisive, which Eric and I appreciated because we’re prone to hemming and hawing.
The designers weighed in on questions where Eric and I disagreed. He wanted to build a low shelf on our living-room wall and cover the rest of the wall with stone veneer that would make it look like a real stone wall. I wanted more shelves for our books, but Davis and Freeman liked Eric’s idea.
I had told Davis over the phone that we were thinking about painting the room a deep taupe. Eric wondered if a dark shade would make the room feel closed in, but Davis explained that dark colors make walls seem to recede, so the reverse is true.
She and Freeman pulled out a color wheel and helped us choose five shades of taupe they thought might work. They told us to get sample pots and try the paint on a couple of walls. By the time they left, we had eight pages of notes and a clear vision for the room.
We ran into trouble when we tried to buy paint samples. None of the five colors came in sample pots, and the next-smallest size was a quart. It seemed wasteful to buy that much paint, so instead I picked samples that were reasonably close. (I later came across a Web site, MyPerfectColor.com, that sells samples of any Benjamin Moore color.)