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My client Rita had the sweetest antique love seat, with tufted arms and a feather cushion.  We recently recovered it in this gorgeous Stroheim and Romann cream colored fabric with coral velvet checks.  The welts and throw pillow are done in a contrasting pale mint green ribbed fabric by Kravet.  It matches the pillows on a new sofa we just had made.

In The San Francisco Chronicle article that was recently done on my design firm, I mentioned a sofa with a Cole Porter vibe.  This is the sofa.  It is covered in a pale mint green leopard print, has a single feather cushion, contrasting mint green pillows, and bronze tacks.

This is the type of sofa you want in a formal living room, not a family room.  I love to sit up straight because I know it improves your posture as well as your appearance.  A straight back sofa, such as this one, allows you to do that.  Sinking in is not an option and hurrah for better posture, especially at parties.

We left this antique chair alone, giving it only a new custom feather kidney pillow.  The lamp and end table are also part of the family’s antique collection.


Warm colors advance while cool colors recede.  The peachy colors were too warm for this smallish formal dining room and the window treatments were store bought, a common mistake made by homeowners.


To visually enlarge the space we had it repainted a pale, cool mint green which also links the space to the adjacent formal living room.  A wall of floor to ceiling custom draperies, sheers, and coordinating hardware provide a finished appearance and further enlarge the space visually with their vertical lines.

The pair of candlestick lamps on the sideboard are narrow enough to allow people to pass through without bumping into them with their elbows.  The mirror further enlarges the space.

The dark woods of the china hutch, table, chairs, and sideboard and the bronze lamps and fixture add warmth to the cool paint and fabric colors making it a comfortable, serene, yet deeply beautiful room.

A small spot of coral on the chair seats provides just the right amount of oomph in the center of the room.  The chair’s leopard print welt matches the main fabric on the sofa.

Some tips for working with a designer…

1.  It is crucial when working with a designer, that you find out how many years experience the designer’s workrooms have.  Her upholsterers, seamstresses, and installers should have at least 15 years experience.  I have seen elaborate mansions decorated (by other designers, not me) with the most dreadful curtains, pillows, slipcovers, bedding, and upholstery imaginable.

A more experienced workroom adds a little extra expense but not enough to consider going elsewhere.  Where the expense really adds up is in the fabric choices.  Good fabrics for draperies run $70 a yard and up although some perfectly fine choices can be found for under $50 a yard.  Upholstery fabrics run $90 a yard and up but again, less expensive choices can be found if you are willing to spend the time searching and know where to look.  Whether you choose wooden or woven blinds, or draperies, or valances think of custom window treatments as you would landscaping.  They are a necessary expense because they protect your flooring and furniture and make virtually any home look finished.

2.  People who have never worked with a designer are rightfully curious about the ways we charge for our time.  These methods vary from firm to firm.  Generally speaking, a firm will use a variety of billing methods.  In my firm we bill by the hour for consultative services such as flooring and paint selections, space planning, and finish schedules for new construction.  For furniture, we don’t bill by the hour.  I purchase the furniture at wholesale and sell at the suggested retail price which is called the cost plus method.  For window treatments, upholstery, and other custom fabrications we use both methods.  We bill cost plus for the materials plus several hours of “design time” in order to cover a portion of the time that goes into shopping for materials, creating the overall design, creating work orders, following up with the workrooms, and assisting the installer on installation day.  Custom fabrications are technical and time consuming.

3. Be up front with your designer.  If you have a budget, do share.  A good designer will take on a project based on its merit, not just dollar amounts.  But don’t misconstrue that to mean we don’t need to be compensated.  Design talent must be acknowledged and paid for.  If we were under priced, you most likely wouldn’t appreciate what you’ve purchased.  Telling us what price ranges you are looking for will save us both time and expense.

4. Have key decision makers involved in the design process.  If your spouse has definite opinions of what he or she wants the project to look like they need to be involved in the ongoing process.  It sets everyone on edge when after a full day is spent shopping and making all kinds of decisions based on price, aesthetics, and function, the absentee spouse says they don’t like something.

5. Set aside a budget for accessories.  Accessories and any fabrics you choose are the icing on your cupcake.

6. Most designers love their job and truly want to please you but unfortunately not all of them are style savvy. Find one who understands a myriad of styles and can translate the look you want.  If possible, provide inspirational pictures to communicate what style you are after.  Show him something you already have and love.  It could very well act as the visual spring board for your next project.  Educate your eye by visiting showcases and reading a variety of shelter magazines.  Don’t look to furniture stores for inspiration: they usually have cookie cutter style.  Instead, visit individual designer stores.  I personally love Nathan Turner’s store and Suzanne Rheinstein’s Hollyhock.

7. Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of personality.  If you don’t like a designer’s communication style, manners, or respect of your time and money, you might not be a good match.  Always get testimonials or recommendations.  Be prepared to interview and expect to pay an hours worth of time for it.