The Hartford Courant:
A Little Help From A Pro

It Can Save Money In The Long Run

By Nancy Schoeffler

Interior designer Richard Ott recalls that despite growing up with six brothers who reveled in taking cars apart and rebuilding engines, he had no interest in changing the oil in his car. Even so, it took him a long time before he could bring himself to pay someone else to do the job.

In the same vein, women typically feel they ought to know how to design their homes on their own, Ott says. They figure it should be part of their hard-wiring, and it makes them reluctant to turn to someone else for help.

In a presentation last week at DesignSourceCT in conjunction with the Junior League Show House, Ott and several other designers tackled the trepidation many people feel about working with a professional designer.

They offered pointers on how to make the collaboration work — and insights on how a pro can speed up the process, make many more resources available and avert costly mistakes.

Ott says the best collaborations occur when there is clear communication about expectations on the scope of a project, the timetable, the budget, how much the client wants to be involved and the end results.

The payoff, of course, is achieving “a look that you want that no one else has, and it works for you.”

Ott says he wants his clients to say: “I love this. I love coming home. This is where I want to be.”

Clear communication starts with a client assembling a binder of magazine photos, fabric swatches, artwork, pictures of dishes, even furniture details, such as the arm on a chair in a furniture ad, to give the designer an idea of likes and dislikes.

“I have to ask personal questions,” to understand how a client lives, the mood that client hopes to achieve, and “what it is I need to do to make this project work,” Ott says. He might even ask to look at a client’s underwear drawer.

A designer can sift through the tens of thousands of available fabric options far more quickly than someone unfamiliar with the market, and knows what lines will work best for different budgets, lifestyles and uses, depending, for example, on children, pets and allergies.

A designer will anticipate whether the scale of a pattern is suitable for a chair or sofa.

Other considerations include everything from correct seat heights and depths to how space is allocated and lighting effects.

In the same way one might plan a garden over a span of years, a designer can work with a client on a five-year plan, says interior designer Nancy Perkins, who manages the floor coverings department at DesignSourceCT.

Perkins says rugs can be designed for specific spaces — cut around a hearth, for example, or edged in a decorative border. A rug that is custom-designed is “the difference between a masterpiece and paint by number,” Perkins says.

Sheryl Baylis, owner of SBR Designs, a drapery work room at the design center, points out that she is not an interior designer but does most of her work in conjunction with designers.

“They’re knowledgeable. They understand the process,” Baylis says. In the long run, she says, they can save clients money and disappointment — avoiding, for example, a fabric that will not drape well.

Chrisann Dillon, a sales representative for Kravet and Lee Jofa fabrics, displayed some exquisite textiles, including such newer trends as large toiles, overscaled patterns and hand-embroidered linens and silks that she said “can really breathe life into a space.”

Some of the fabrics are very pricey, but as Ott pointed out, they could simply be used in pillow shams or a folding screen.

“That was a great suggestion, using a fabric just for fabulous pillows on the bed,” Nancy LaPerla of Glastonbury said after the event. She said she has worked with interior designers, but only piecemeal — for instance, getting professional help on coordinating a pair of chairs and a window treatment.

LaPerla also said she was struck by the idea of likening designing a home to planning and designing a garden over time. “I never really thought of it that way.”