#cheap interior design
Getting the Pros’ Advice on Redoing a Room
Updated June 3, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET
Affordable interior-design advice comes in many shapes and sizes these days. You can get customized professional input on your home decor with just a trip to a furniture store, an email exchange or a half-hour phone call with a designer.
We went to five sources for advice on how to improve a small bedroom short on natural light and furnished with a hodgepodge of items. We asked each service how to optimize our space, upgrade the furniture and choose a paint color to replace the too-bright yellow we have now.
The best advice came from the people who make their money by giving advice rather than by selling furniture. They were willing to steer us to the best deals and give money-saving tips like buying a nice headboard instead of a whole bed frame.
Our first meeting was with Mexx Mansfield, a New York designer. Her background is in interior styling, including setting up showrooms, so she specializes in helping you make the most of the good stuff you already have as well as advising you on things to buy. She spent four and a half hours with us for $350.
She warned us that she likes to move things around and soon after she arrived our bed was on the opposite wall from where it had been and the rest of the furniture was in the hallway. She took an end table from our den to use as a nightstand and topped it with a reading lamp from our living room. She brought together artwork from other rooms to hang on the wall facing the bed to help the art make more of an impact. Then she tucked a mediocre armoire in a corner at an angle to play it down and free up floor space.
The arrangement was more user friendly and drew one’s eye to our best stuff. She encouraged us to reorganize our closet to create more storage space so we wouldn’t need to buy more storage pieces.
Next, we tried Interior Design Service Online, a service that collects photos and information about your room from you and sends you a plan for redesigning it. We paid $250 upfront via Paypal, and within a few hours we were emailed a questionnaire about the room, our style and what we wanted to accomplish, along with instructions for photographing, measuring and diagramming the room. Doing all of that ate up two hours. The instructions told us to mail it all in, but we were allowed to email it.
Two weeks later we received a 39-page spiral-bound booklet in the mail. It included a floor plan to relocate the bed to a different wall so we could upgrade from a full to a queen-size bed.It had two pages addressing the room’s problems and several more pages with suggestions for beds, nightstands, lamps and accessories with photos, prices and web addresses where to buy specific items.
The company suggested some stores that were new to us and the prices were about right. But all the furniture the book showed was very boxy and practical. We would have liked a few less safe suggestions. Also, the layout’s proportions seemed off, showing room for a chest in front of the bed where there didn’t seem to be room.
Call A Designer is a service in which designers dole out advice by phone for $1.60 a minute. We emailed a questionnaire and some photos prior to our appointment. During the call, the designer gave us advice about what kind of furniture to buy. She also gave us a list of a dozen stores—some for specific items and others for their general look—most of which were new to us.
She also suggested several paint colors that might work with our accessories. We liked that she threw in some colors that were counterintuitive for us, like a chocolaty tan that we would have written off as too dark for a low-light room but that she thought would contrast well with our colorful accessories. She said that when we were ready to shop she could get on the phone with us while we surfed the Web. Or we could email photos of furniture and paint samples for feedback. We were surprised how much information she packed into 40 minutes.
Decorating Den is a national franchise that sends a local decorator to your home for a free consultation, but don’t expect much from it. The designers make their money shopping for their clients so they want jobs where they can refurnish a room from top to bottom. When the designer looked at the room, she was tight-lipped about what she would do with it. She told us she would come up with three floor plans, but she’d need a budget of at least $2,500 for the whole room. She suggested a technique we didn’t quite understand for muting the bright yellow paint. The consultation took 15 minutes.
Finally, we went to an Ethan Allen design center, a large furniture showroom staffed with design consultants who can help you put a room together, with Ethan Allen furniture of course. The point is that the consultants know the merchandise and are able to pull items from the showroom to tailor your room to your taste. Instead we got cookie-cutter advice involving four pieces of furniture costing more than $4,000 together.
Our initial meeting was promising. The consultant seemed to get our eclectic, urban style and our need for things to fit a small space. We provided photos and measurements and set a date to come back for his ideas.
Alas, when we showed up he was out and had passed our file along to a colleague. She came up with two floor plans, but we were concerned the furniture seemed crowded. She showed us a bed, dresser and nightstands that were in the showroom together, mixed with a beige paint for the walls that she called a good standby.
In the end, we were happy for the various layouts and hands-on help in positioning furniture that got us away from putting everything against the wall. It helped us to literally think more out of the small box that is our bedroom.
Not-So-Extreme Room Makeover
We asked five services to help us improve a small bedroom in need of a redesign.