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May We Help You?

Finding that interior decorators are out of your budget? Try an in-store designer to help you make your ideas a reality."

An interior designer can save you time and help you avoid costly mistakes. Which is why designers often say that any fee you pay for their services pays for itself.

While that can be true, designers in Washington generally charge $100 to $350 an hour—the average is $125 to $150—and some high-end designers won’t work with budgets of less than $100,000.

“Designers are pretty much luxury items,” says Dee Thornton of Houseworks Interiors in Alexandria. “Not every budget can afford that.”

If you want decorating advice, there’s an alternative: in-store designers. Many furniture shops offer design help for free; others charge a retainer of $250 to $1,200, but you usually get the money back on a purchase.

At Ethan Allen, for example, store designers can not only help pick furniture but select paint, rugs, drapes, and other finishing touches. A designer will go to your home to look at the space and take measurements. The service is free.

Some stores that don’t offer full interior design can help you visualize furnishings before you buy. At BoConcept, for example, an AutoCad-based “Furnish” program helps figure out a floor plan.

You have to like the furniture and accessories at whatever store you choose. Most designers just pull from their store’s inventory and vendors, although some—including Apartment Zero, Urban Country, and Bloomingdale’s—are willing to shop outside the store, mainly at the Washington Design Center, for pieces they don’t carry.

Some “designers” are salespeople versed only in the store’s products, or shop owners who have an eye for style but no formal training—and who will go to the homes of good customers.

But many in-store designers have the same training as independent designers—and, often, years in the business. Each of the Kellogg Collection’s three designers has at least 20 yeats of experience.

Some experts suggest working with a decorator who has gone through the rigorous process of getting certified by the National Council of Interior Design Qualification—and many store designers, like independents, have. But long-time designers often don’t bother to take the exam.

With any designer, it’s a good idea to check the person’s portfolio and to call customer references. And to choose someone you like and get along with.

“There’s not a lot of difference between the free and paid-for advice,” says Cheryl Ransone, a designer at Apartment Zero. Ransone does say that in-store designers may not be able to help with major remodeling that involves tearing down walls or installing lighting. “What you’re getting is guidance but not hard-core decision-making on technical stuff. But in many cases that’s all people need. They know what they want; they just don’t know how to get there. They need someone to say, ‘That’s good.’ ”

These are some retailers that offer full-service design: Decorators can visit your home and work on everything from floor to ceiling. If you have another favorite furniture store, you might ask about design help.

Traditional and Transitional

Baker, 3330 M St., Georgetown; 202-342-7080; Five sales associates. Designers offer free consultations, room planning, and home visits for Baker products only.

Bloomingdale’s, Tysons Corner Center, 703-556-4600. (No design services at White Flint location.) One designer on staff. Free in-store consults; home visits require a one-year contract that costs $750.

Colony House, 1700 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-524-1700; Five interior designers; $500 retainer per room. If you buy $5,000 worth of furniture within 90 days, $250 is refunded.

Danker Furniture, 1211 S. Fern St., Arlington, 703-416-0200; 1582 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-881-6010; Dulles Town Center, 571-323-6000; danker-fur Some 14 designers; half are certified. Retainer fee varies—it might be $500 for a $5,000 project—but is applied to purchases made within two months. There’s a $75 or $200 hourly rate for other design help, such as shopping for antiques or choosing paint.

Ethan Allen, 8520-A Leesburg Pike, Vienna, 703-356-6405; 2900 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-971-4504; 1800 E. Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-984-4360; Some 20 designers on staff. Design services are free.

Kellogg Collection, 3424 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-363-6879; 10241 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, 301-897-9102; 1353 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean, 703-506-0850; Three designers; portfolios are available at all three stores. There’s a $250 fee with purchase for custom design, which includes home consultations and store appointments to go over the design. The Immediate Interiors service, for $250 with purchase, will furnish a room quickly with what’s in stock.

Kreiss Collection, 5215 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-537-7333; Three designers. After two rooms, there is a minimum retainer of $5,000 that can be applied toward merchandise.

McLean Furniture Gallery, 8500 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-280-8210; Three designers on staff. There is a $300 retainer that can be applied to purchases.

Urban Country, 7801 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-0500; Four designers; three are licensed. The store offers three packages: a $625 five-hour contract to design one or more spaces; a $1,250 ten-hour service for two or more spaces; and a $225 appointment to fill in a room with accessories. Fees do not include the cost of items. Those who sign up for the ten-hour or accessories package get a discount on purchases.

Mostly Modern

1028 33rd St., Georgetown; 202-337-0810; Four designers on staff; one is licensed. Minimum retainer of $500 can be credited toward a purchase.

Anora Home,
5252 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-363-3033; Three consultants. Retainer fee of $1,000 a room can go toward merchandise.

Apartment Zero, 406 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-4067; Three designers. Designer portfolios are online. Retainer of $1,000 plus $125 an hour after first eight hours. Customers receive a 10-percent discount on furniture.

Artefacto, 3333 M St., Georgetown; 202-338-3337; One certified designer and two architects on staff. No fee for an in-store session to create a two-dimensional floor plan. For a one-room consultation, there’s a $1,000 fee; $800 is applied toward a purchase. To get a home visit and a three-dimensional rendering for one room, the cost is $2,000, $1,600 of which can go toward merchandise.

3303 Cady’s Alley, Georgetown; 202-338-0193; Three designers. Retainer is applied toward purchase; retainer for a total remodeling project is $2,000.

Maurice Villency, 7016 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-396-0100; Eight designers; six are licensed and certified. Customers pay a retainer that varies but the fee is applied toward a purchase.

Roche-Bobois, 5301 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-686-5667; Four designers; two are licensed and certified. Retainer of $1,000 per room is applied toward purchase.

Skynear and Company, 2122 18th St., Adams Morgan; 202-797-7160; Three design associates. A two-hour in-home consultation costs $250. Customers who buy $3,000 in furnishings get half of the fee applied toward purchase; spend $5,000 or more and get it all back. For $99, the store can bring and place accessories in a home; buy $500 in merchandise and get half the fee back, buy $1,000 or more and get the entire fee back.

Theodore’s, 2233 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-2300; Five designers; three are licensed and certified. A retainer, which varies by project, is applied toward purchase.