Albany Times Union

Do-it-yourself decorators were once models of stamina. They’d trek from store to store choosing paint and sit for hours thumbing through thick binders of wallpaper and fabric. They measured walls, assembled furniture-sized pieces of paper to move around the room and hauled samples to and from stores.

Although the best way to get a sense of how a room will look after a re-do is to see the actual color and feel the different textures, the Internet has made it much easier to narrow the field of choices from unfathomable to just a few.

Here’s a list of Web sites we found to be particularly helpful for people trying their hand at decorating. Some offer advice while others offer online services such as room planning. In addition to these, check Web sites for fabric, wallpaper, paint and furniture manufacturers.

• All Your Rooms is an online magazine produced by Georgia-Pacific, makers of such paper goods as Brawny towels, Angel Soft bathroom tissue and Dixie cups. Between the smattering of ads and coupons for G-P products, the site is loaded with decorating tips, divided by room. www.allyourrooms. com

• Do It offers advice on when and how to hire a designer, how-to projects, moderated forums, Q&As, tips and tricks, annual design trends and an online home center store where you’ll find everything from air filters to washing machine parts. Time magazine has named this site as "One of the Top 50 Sites in the World," plus it is repeatedly honored among the Best on the Web independent home improvement/home repair sites. www.doityourself .com.

• Home & Family has decorating ideas, projects, lessons, a glossary, bookstore, and information based on the Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Gallery. www.homeand

• is, according to Nielsen NetRatings, a top 10 Web property guide, used by one out of every five people on the Internet. is owned by The New York Times Company and covers more than 500 interior decorating areas. www.

• Rental Decorating Digest: Rental Living with Style is full of interior decorating ideas for your apartment, home, studio or dorm room, including organizing a room, tips, columns, budget decorating, style guides, wall decorating ideas, window treatments and gardening for renters. www.rental

• Decorating Studio answers just about any question you may have on decorating and trends with lots of how to advice and sources. www.

• Plan3D is online home design software where you can plan your landscape, remodel a room or decorate one room at a time and furnish it. You can also plan your whole house from cellar to attic in a three-dimensional schematic with shadows, textures of materials and blueprints complete with dimensions. The cost is $2.95 a month when you purchase a full-year subscription or $14.95 for one month.

• Feng Shui Crazy provides basics about the discipline, tips, advice from feng shui experts and authors. It’s an interesting site to view if you don’t go blind from the annoying flashing giveaway ad in the right hand rail. www.fengshuicrazy .com/interior-design- tips.php.

• Home Dec In-A-Sec provides a way to order window treatments (they’ll make the curtains for you) and sewing patterns from the McCall (Butterick and Vogue) Pattern Company, for people with little or no sewing ability and sewing tips. Swatches, patterns, trims and fabrics can be found at and

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This week, we’ll further discuss the nature of working with an interior designer, specifically the multiple ways in which interior designers work, and what you should expect when hiring one.

Do you give up control and relinquish your right to choose what you want when you work with an interior designer?
Most people fear that an interior designer will take over and design a project that is not of their choosing. In truth, that is up to the client. Some hire designers whose distinctive style is what they are looking for (for example, Mario Buatta, for his English chintzy prints). They might give them the key to their residence and go off to vacation in Europe for the duration of the project. Many people, however, want to be a part of the selection process, and opt to remain present, as well as on site during the actual installation. The professional designer can and should provide what is needed for both types of clients.

The first type of client requires a competent and professional reproduction of a style the designer has popularized. The second and more prevalent type of client requires the designer have an understanding of the client’s wants and needs, as well as their lifestyle, color preference and budget constraints. Through the use of visual aids such as floor plans and furniture arrangements to scale, fabric presentation boards and renderings, the client can "see" the space before proceeding to order it. A budget analysis prior to the placement of orders will detail the cost of the project as well.

If a person wishes to "go it alone" after the initial presentation is made, many designers will sign a release or agreement to that effect and are then compensated for their work. However, most clients, after they have approved the design concept, color schemes and budget, welcome the security in working with a professional through completion.

What should you expect from your interior designer?
Your designer should have the skills to provide you with all the design services you require. Ask about their credentials, check references, see examples of their work, visit their office and shop and most of all, see if your personalities are compatible. If you have a particular design style in mind, discuss this and see how the designer would approach it for your dwelling and lifestyle. Your designer should also present you with a contract detailing the scope of their work and the fee to do it, as well as an approximate time frame for completion. Before beginning a project, all of these items should be provided and approved.

Designers are most happy working with people who are realistic about time frame, pay promptly on request and offer positive reactions to ongoing work and final completion. They desire a positive relationship, for their future business depends on it and their need for artistic fruition can be satisfied in no other way.

Natalie Weinstein has been president of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates, a leading interior design firm, since 1973, and is president of the Natalie Weinstein Home Decorating Club, located in the St. James Vaudeville Theatre, 176 Second St., St. James. Call 631-862-6198, visit or e-mail [email protected] For design help and more in-depth information on how to implement your design project like the pros, visit

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February 23, 2006

Romancing the home

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Knight Ridder Newspapers

Romance isn’t just champagne and roses.

Romance is sinking into a plush sofa in front of a crackling fire. It’s lingering over breakfast in a room filled with floral fabrics and antiques. It’s settling into a comfy chair with a good book and some chamomile tea served in Grandma’s Haviland cup.

In the home, romance is all about comfort and connection. And that’s a feeling you don’t have to limit to Valentine’s Day.

Romantic style is hard to define, because it’s so wide-ranging, said Jacqueline deMontravel, editor of Romantic Homes magazine. It’s the casual appeal of Shabby Chic and the ageless elegance of French country, the eclectic appeal of a Paris flea market and the warmth of the Tuscan countryside.

"You can’t really pigeonhole it in one style. … It’s just really cozying up a space," she said.

Whatever the style, it’s a timeless look that continues to grow in popularity, interior designers say.

That might be because of the way a romantic room serves as an antidote to the bustle of our ever-more-hectic lives. It beckons us, urging us to relax and share in conversation or leisure activities with the people who are important to us, said Dan West, a Jackson Township interior designer. "That’s pretty romantic to me," he said.

Appeal to the senses

Central to romantic decorating is its appeal to the senses, deMontravel believes. So a romantic room might incorporate scented candles to pique the senses of sight and smell, fabrics that are soft to the touch, soothing music and a dish of chocolates or a glass of wine, she said.

A sense of antiquity adds to the charm, said Cindy Mihalic, an interior designer with Akron’s Chez-Del Home Furnishings & Interior Design. That’s not to say a room has to be filled with family heirlooms, but touches such as classic designs and Old World wall treatments add to the warmth that’s essential to romance.

Mihalic, for example, used a dramatic faux finish on the walls of a Brecksville, Ohio, guest room to give it the illusion of age. The finish incorporated the grayish-blue and bronze colors she used throughout the room to warm up what was once a stark space with white walls and a gray carpet.

The room’s centerpiece is an iron bed from Wesley Allen, with hand-painted gold and bronze leaves on the headboard. She also included an armchair covered in soft chenille, a backless daybed that hints of Hollywood glamour and a few of the homeowners’ antiques, including a glass-front bookcase, and old dresser and a side chair with a needlepoint back. Cording with heavy tassels winds around the bedposts, curled ribbons hold back the curtains and crystalline beads sparkle on the bed’s accent pillows.

The ribbons and tassels serve to soften the hard lines of the wood and iron, Mihalic explained, because softness is all part of the romantic allure.

Don’t overdo frills

But both Mihalic and Akron interior designer Linda Russell believes it’s important not to overdo the frills. Instead, Russell said they should be balanced with simpler elements, especially in a room that will be shared by members of both sexes.

Russell thinks that’s why so many men seemed to like the unabashedly romantic breakfast room she decorated for the Junior League of Akron’s Designer ShowHouse two years ago, despite the lace panels in the windows, floral curtains and tablecloth and chandelier draped in crystals.

She’d often find men standing and staring at the room, taking in the details. "They weren’t offended by the flowers. They weren’t offended by the chandelier," she said.

Elements such as flowers and beads may be common in romantic decorating, but there’s no rule that says a romantic room needs to be feminine at all, the designers said.

"I never think of romantic rooms as being prissy," West said. In fact, he said many of his clients are leaning toward cleaner lines and simpler forms that have all the sink-in comfort of a romantic room without fussy details.

Clean but cozy look

That clean yet cozy look is what West was aiming for when he decorated a 1930s bungalow in Canton. His client was a single man at the time, but the style has proved to be just as suitable for his new bride, West said.

West used a combination of Arts and Crafts and Neoclassical influences in decorating the adjoining living and dining rooms. The furniture is upholstered in plush, textural fabrics including boucle, chenille and frise; cashmere Roman shades pull up from the bottom of the windows to provide privacy and intimacy without shutting out sunlight; and classic furniture pieces such as a Lawson chair and an old chest lend timeless style.

A few steps away, the decor in the den pushes the romantic look all the way to sexy, with its charcoal-gray walls, zebra-stripe carpet and curvy, cushiony leather sofa. Polynesian and Asian decorations and a set of Moroccan bunching tables hint of adventure - exotic elements that add to the romantic allure.

There’s a wine rack, too, strategically placed at the entrance to the room.

"Couple of shots of that," West joked, "and you can fall in love with anybody."

Isn’t it romantic?

Want to add romance to your home? Here are some suggestions from Romantic Homes editor Jacqueline deMontravel and interior designers Dan West, Cindy Mihalic and Linda Russell:

_Think comfort - enveloping furniture, plush fabrics, soft lighting.

_Appeal to all the senses. Use lots of textures, maybe add some pink light bulbs for flattering lamplight, and have music or soothing sounds within earshot. Don’t forget flowers or some other source of fragrance, and something delicious to eat or drink.

_Soften hard edges and straight lines. For example, add slipcovers to dining chairs, frame a window with curtains or top a lamp with a luxurious silk shade.

_Bring in nature in the form of flowers or greenery. Floral motifs are a staple of romantic decorating, but their presence can be as dominating as yards of floral fabric or as understated as a few blooms in a vase.

_Add something old. Silver pieces, antiques and faux finishes have a comforting familiarity.

_Go a little wild. A bit of animal-print fabric or a few well-chosen mementos from trips abroad add an exotic allure.

_Light some candles. Instant romance.

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