Home & Design

Villa Nova’s HANA Fabric Collection in indigo.

Wallpaper samples from the HANA Collection by Villa Nova.

Expert Advice Designer Q&A

Area pros dish on the ways working with an interior designer can help solve even the most vexing decorating dilemmas

Expert Advice Designer Q&A

Describe how a project reached a boiling point and you came to the rescue.   

“Recently, we were brought in after a new custom-build project stalled because the clients were unsure of the selections the builder—who they felt had not grasped their taste and vision—was making. We were challenged with translating what they wanted and making selections quickly to keep the project on schedule. We were able to speed up the process using sources the builder did not know. In the end, we gave the owners exactly what they wanted.” —Barbara Hawthorn, Barbara Hawthorn Interiors

What was the most challenging collection you’ve organized for a client and how did you display it?   

“My clients had a collection of artifacts from an archaeological dig on their property prior to construction. I was intrigued—but to my dismay, the artifacts turned out to be shards—file boxes of buttons and other bits. I discarded everything except some blue-and-white pottery pieces, old keys, primitive buttons and tools. I had the pieces dry-mounted and framed and added photography of the site. A gallery wall now tells the property’s story.” —Marlene Dennis, Marlene Dennis Design

What’s the secret to creating timeless décor?   

“Very few timeless rooms are created by following trends. It is better to start with the needs of the space and the things you love; that combination will produce a home you never tire of. Layers are necessary for timeless décor: furniture that blends, captivates and is never jarring; color and pattern that create a lovely composition; and textures and contrast, which bring a sense of balance.” —Skip Sroka, ASID, Sroka Design Inc. 

Why is working with an interior designer more affordable than not?   

“Working with a designer can ensure you get it right the first time, and get pieces that you’ll want to keep for the long haul." —Carmel Greer, AIA, LEED AP, District Design

How does color influence the way a space makes you feel and why is it so important?   

“We talk about colors being warm or cold, dramatic or calming, because each color triggers a subjective response—especially when you’re experiencing it for the first time. Color is the foundation upon which other elements of an orchestrated space are decided and built.” —Lori Duval, J&L Interiors

"Color is very effective in delivering the mood of a space, and can transform your environment. It's important because it has the ability to create ambiance and set a tone. It's truly an essential element of effective interior design." —Vicky Lal, Vicky Lal Interior Design

How do you avoid sensory overload when choosing fabrics and wall coverings?   

“I usually choose a signature fabric or wallpaper with elements that allow me to pull out colors and coordinating textures, and develop options for furnishings and accessories from there. Once I find a key pattern and color, I am halfway there. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the design process.” —Katalin Farnady, Allied ASID, Farnady Interiors

What is your favorite way to jumpstart a project/find inspiration?   

“I get a sense of my clients’ likes, dislikes, wants and needs. This usually gives us a good starting point. But my favorite thing is when I find something that my clients have a connection to—artwork that reminds them of their recent travels, a color palette that conjures a wonderful memory or a pattern that reflects their culture.” —Charles Almonte, AIA, ASID, Charles Almonte Architecture | Interior Design

How can a client and designer best establish open channels of communication?   

Effective and frequent communication and collaboration between client and designer is THE focal point of the design process. On day one, my clients and I agree on all style preferences, processes and expectations to ensure no surprises—cost- or design-wise. Great communication allows for an exquisite design!” Rachel James, Rachel James Interiors

"Open communication is vital to ensure all parties consistently agree, and this happens through meetings (on site or at the firm), email and phone conversation. Direct and honest discussions are imperative concerning the client’s budget and services being rendered by the designer and firm. An understanding of these subjects will result in a happy client." —Sun Lee, Washingtonian Interiors

What is a common misconception about working with a designer?    

“That a designer will impose his or her own style versus interpreting the client’s vision. Typically, designers use one of two methods: They interpret the client’s taste or offer their own signature look. The former means the client’s style is the creative focus. The latter focuses on the designer’s style—which is great if the homeowner has hired them for that look." —Paula Grace Halewski, Allied ASID, Paula Grace Designs

How do you help clients visualize what a finished space will look like?    

“We start by asking clients how theywant to experience the space. Is it used mostly at night or during the day? By kids or adults? Should it feel cozy and moody or bright and airy? What feelings should the room encourage in the people who use it? The answers to those questions influence our recommendations and choices." —Kirsten Anthony Kaplan, Haus Interior Design

How do you help clients edit their furniture and art?   

“In one case, a client had so much pottery we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. We built 11 pedestals so they could exhibit 11 pieces at a time, then rotate the rest. The client loved the idea and said it was like constantly having new pieces, or like seeing old friends again.” —Jamie Merida, Bountiful Interiors

What is your biggest pet peeve about design-related reality shows?   

“I think design shows often depict a false reality in terms of the work that goes into a design project. I’ve had clients say they used a show like ‘Property Brothers’ to come up with a realistic budget—and it was $10,000 less than it would be in our area. Also, the timeframes are unrealistic and clients are taken aback by how long a project actually takes.” —Paola McDonald, Olamar Interiors

How do you ensure everything is scaled properly?
"Ensuring proper scaling in a room is somewhat intuitive. Measuring each item carefully is the first task. Then the goal is to mix things up to create a blend of pieces with a little “tension” in the arrangement." —Susan Gulick, Susan Gulick Interiors

You may also like:

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Modern History
Mike Johnson updates a Chevy Chase farmhouse to reflect the fresh style of its new owners
Farmhouse Fresh
Designer Kirsten Kaplan transforms an 1885 home in Harford County with easy elegance and a touch of Americana
HOME&DESIGN, published bi-monthly by Homestyles Media Inc., is the premier magazine of architecture and fine interiors for the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia region.

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The H&D Portfolio of 100 Top Designers spotlights the superior work of selected architects, interior designers and landscape architects in major regions of the US.

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