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Two-Hour Makeovers
Comments () | Published August 1, 2009

Soon we had six colors on four walls and weren’t sure if any were right. We started to think a nice beige would be better. And I still wasn’t sold on the stone wall. Where would we store all our books? Davis’s plan for the room was so specific that I worried changing one thing would throw off the whole.

Still, she and Freeman gave us great ideas and answered lots of questions. The two-hour consultation was well worth the $250 they charge.

With Liz Levin, our second designer, the consultation felt more like a brainstorming session. Levin also brought along an associate designer, Heather Safferstone. We spent time discussing an overall direction for the room, and ideas emerged as we talked. Eric couldn’t make it.

Levin suggested painting the room a light taupe from Benjamin Moore called Manchester Tan. She said it looks great just about anywhere. I thought it might be too plain, so Levin suggested painting accent walls in the living and dining areas Mink, a dramatic chocolate brown.

She sided with me on the question of bookshelves versus stone veneer and said we could put the stone on the wall under our breakfast bar instead—a compromise we never would have thought of. We also talked about covering the whole back wall with floor-to-ceiling sheer curtains. Maybe we’ll revisit that when we have more money.

For the powder room, Safferstone recommended wallpaper from Cole & Son that looks like a birch forest. It’s gorgeous, and we’re debating the splurge—about $800 for our tiny powder room.

Most of Levin’s advice took the form of options rather than instructions: If we want a textured look for the windows, go for natural grass shades; if we want a sleek modern feel, order solar shades. She brought a picture of a cool cowhide rug for the living room but said a solid wool would also look good and wouldn’t cost as much.

This approach made her suggestions more flexible, and I felt I’d be able to pick and choose elements of her plan. But it also meant we’d have to make the final call.

Levin’s most intriguing idea was to build a half-height wall near the front door. It would create an entryway to separate the door from the living room and could have drawers or cubbies for storage. Eric and I loved the concept; one of our complaints about the house was that the door opens into the living room and there’s no front-hall closet.

The vision that emerged from our session—accent walls, linen drapes, and a white-leather chaise—felt sleeker and more formal than Davis’s plan, which was warmer and more mod. That may be because Eric wasn’t there; his style is more casual than mine.

Levin charges $300 for two hours with her, $250 for two hours with Safferstone, and $500 for two hours with both designers. Their approach seemed best for someone who is fairly confident in his or her own design abilities but wants help generating ideas.

During our session with Emily Bishop, the third designer, I had to stop myself from saying: “The other designers said . . . .” At first I thought she might be the tiebreaker on questions where Davis and Levin had different opinions. But Bishop had her own vision, and we really liked plan C.

Bishop teaches a continuing-education class at the Corcoran, and she did a lot of design coaching with us. “Everything in here needs to relate in some small aspect to the rest of the room,” she said when I raised the idea of painting our handrail dark brown—a color that doesn’t show up elsewhere in the room.

She steered us away from anything that would make the room look deliberately decorated rather than effortlessly chic. Instead of accent walls, for example, she thought we should paint the whole space one color.

Bishop liked the lightest taupe we had on the wall, a Benjamin Moore color called Pismo Dunes that’s much darker than Levin’s Manchester Tan but lighter than the shades Davis suggested. But Bishop also threw in a wild card: a grayish/bluish/greenish color called Sea Haze that she said was subtle enough to treat as a neutral.

On the stone-wall-versus-bookshelves question, she convinced Eric to skip the stone and instead do a wall of bookshelves with closed cabinets on the bottom. What sold Eric was her idea for a honed slate ledge on top of the cabinets. She suggested extending the bookshelves through the dining area—an idea I love.

Bishop charges $500, which includes two hours at your house plus an hour of her time to put together a packet that summarizes her recommendations and includes photographs and a list of places to shop. The pictures helped me understand what kind of rug and barstools she was describing. I already knew about many of the furniture stores on her list, but it was nice to have her suggestions for tile, counters, and lighting.

If Davis seemed best for people who want a designer to make all the decisions and Levin was better for more confident clients, Bishop fell somewhere in between. She covered lots of details—though not quite as many as Davis—but also spent time teaching us how to make decisions ourselves.

After our appointment with Bishop, Eric and I were on our own again. We had lots of ideas and answers to questions such as whether to paint the underside of our soffit the same color as the walls (no) and what kind of backsplash to order for the kitchen (gray subway tiles). But we didn’t have as much clarity as I’d hoped for.

All the designers agreed on certain things: the size of our rugs, putting our lights on dimmers, not placing a bar cart in the small space next to our back door. But they also disagreed, especially on the window treatments and floor plan.

We accomplished a lot in each of our two-hour sessions, yet new questions came up. I often thought about bringing a designer back for a follow-up. Having their validation made it easier to take risks, such as buying vintage wood dining chairs to go with our glass-and-steel table. (We did, and it looks fantastic.) I could get hooked on interior-design help—it gives you the confidence to make unorthodox choices.

If I were to do it over, I would wait a little longer before bringing in a designer and use that time to talk more with Eric about the look we wanted. The consultations were most helpful when we had a clear vision and specific questions.

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Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 08/01/2009 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles