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Ask The Decorator

Thom Sweeney is founder and owner of Thom Sweeney Interiors, an award-winning full-service interior design studio specializing in contract design and residential business. With a well-trained and careful eye for quality, craftsmanship, and statement-making furnishings & textiles, Thom is recognized for his bold and elegant, yet timeless and classic styled designs.

Q. What can I do to make my living room look more up to date without spending a fortune? JP, Ship Bottom

A. Paint. New pillows for the sofa. A new large piece of art. Area rug. These have one thing in common: They will inject new color and life into the room…and that’s much less expensive than replacing furniture.

Q. How do you feel about window treatments at the shore? Marcy, Harvey Cedars

A. The days of “over the top” window treatments are gone. The swags and jabots and traverse drapes have given way to simpler topper treatments such as cornices or valances.

They still give you the opportunity to add much needed color to the room, but in a less fussy way. And, with pleated shades tucked up under them, you can let in the sun during the day, and have all the privacy you need at night. And thank God they have come up with viable replacements for those clattering nightmares called vertical blinds! Of course, if you can afford them, you can’t beat Plantation shutters at the shore. They allow you to control light at all times of the day, and they add a resort like look to any room. They’ve developed less expensive versions with the resin shutters, which won’t warp and are great for bathrooms.

Q. I’m terrified of color. What’s the latest beige color out there? Monica, Manahawkin

A. Monica, Monica, Monica. When I give my next seminar on “Decoraophobia” I will be sure to send you a personal invitation. Decoraphobia is what I call “The fear of failing while decorating.” Understandably, you want everyone who walks into your home to faint over how well you’ve decorated it. While at the same time you don’t want to offend anyone with your choice of colors that you may secretly like. So your answer to the problem is to GO NEUTRAL. In other words: Death By Beige! Beige is considered a safe haven for people with your illness. But there’s so much more to life than Beige. There are so many more neutrals out there. Currently grays have supplanted beiges to a large extent, and they are great when paired with pops of yellow or navy and crisp whites.

So get daring, Monica. Shop for some color injection. Paint an accent wall a zany color that you love (that goes with the other three beige walls!) And spring for some geometric pillows with some rich color. You’re on you way to a cure, and you don’t even know it!

Q. I’ve always been intimidated about calling an Interior Designer to help me with my home, because I was always afraid I couldn’t afford one. How do you generally work? SM, Holgate

A. Every project is different. But here’s the good news: You don’t owe anyone ANYTHING before you know the price! And most designers can’t price a job until they know the extent of work involve. So, as part of OUR normal business practice, we include a complimentary one hour meeting in our office to evaluate the scope of the project. For example, if you are just interested in purchasing furniture or accessories or floor treatment where there is little or no design time involved, there would be no design fee or contract. However in the case of new construction or whole house re-do, contracts will generally be involved. They serve to spell out the responsibilities and expectations of both the client and the designer, as well as the compensation and terms of payment. Just like retailers do, designers have mark-ups on casegoods, upholstery and accessories. I can’t speak for other designers, but we are always willing to divulge our mark up with our clients. Interior Design isn’t serious like brain surgery, but nonetheless you should ask your designer about their experience, as you would a surgeon before surgery. Ask “How many times have you done this kind of project before? May I see similar projects that you have done and talk with the owners? How do you generally work?” After you hear the answers to those questions, as well as a review of their work, and feel comfortable with the chemistry (most designers aren’t the stuffed shirts that they have been made out to be), you should be able to make a considered decision.

Q. My house never looks finished. I know the type of accessories I’m looking for, but if I don’t happen to come across them on line, or at stores like Home Goods, where do I find just the right prints, pillows, pieces of sculpture or unique table top accessories to complete my look?” BK Loveladies

A. My advice to you is to take some pictures of the rooms that you want to complete and bring them to a qualified designer. Share your thoughts about what you are looking for, and listen to the ideas that they would have for the space. Most design firms will have sources at their fingertips including catalogs of prints, sculpture, pillows, floral arrangements and table top accessories they use for clients, many of which are available TO THE TRADE ONLY (meaning that you can’t buy them directly online, and that they are only available through Interior Designers or Retailers. So OUR answer is that we offer new clients a complimentary, one hour appointment in our showroom where we can evaluate your particular needs (that’s where the pictures come in handy). Then you can sit down, pour over the catalogs in comfort, make your decisions, place an order and dazzle your friends when the “perfect accessories” arrive, generally in 2 to 4 weeks. PS. We even have the catalog which includes many of the accessories that are seen on the popular TV show, “ Fixer-Upper.’

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