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By Cindi Myers

    How can you get the most value for your money when you hire an interior designer?
    Hiring the right professional is the first step toward saving time, money and aggravation on your decorating project. But how do you find the best designer for you? You may choose a designer who has worked for a friend, or whose work you have seen displayed in a showcase home, or you may decide to interview several designers listed in your local phone book. Many professional designers are members of the American Society of Interior Designers. State and local chapters of ASID can refer you to their members.
    However you make your selection, it's important to choose a designer whose tastes are compatible with your own, and with whom you feel comfortable. Some designers specialize in certain decorating styles. If you like Country French and your designer favors Scandinavian, you may be less than happy with the results of the collaboration. And if your designer tries to impress you with a vocabulary of technical words, you might be better off finding someone who communicates in plain English.
    Once you've decided on a certain designer, it's important to let her or him know what you hope to achieve from your decorating project. For instance, do you want a romantic bedroom, or are you seeking to maximize space in a small room? Perhaps you're trying to lighten a dark room, or you want to display a prized collection to the best advantage.
    Of course, it's important to remember designers aren't miracle workers. They can't reproduce a $5000 room on a $500 budget, or keep children from tracking mud across a white carpet. But they are trained problem solvers, and the better you define the problem, the quicker they can create a solution.The designer also needs to know how the room will be used.
    A busy family room calls for a different decorating strategy than a seldom-used formal living room. It's not really enough to say, "This is the master bedroom." It's much more helpful to know that, "This is the room where we spend most of our time. We like to watch TV or read in bed. I sometimes bring work home from the office and do it here." Now your designer knows she needs to incorporate a place for a television, good light for reading, and a work space.
A good professional will try to determine your goals, and the functions of various rooms before work begins. But if you've already given thought to these questions, and have the answers ready, you'll save time for the designer and for yourself. And since many designers charge by the hour, you may save money too.
    Another time and money-saving technique is to list your design questions on paper. Refer to the list when you meet with your designer. Writing things down helps clarify your thoughts and prevents you from forgetting important questions.
    Magazines and books can be a good source of inspiration for you and a help to your designer. Collect pictures of rooms you like. You may not know a valance from a swag, but you can point to a magazine photo and say, "I want my windows to look like this."
    Involving your designer in the earliest stages of a project can be a real money saver. A professional can look at a floor plan for a yet-to-be constructed house or addition and spot potential problems involving traffic flow or furniture placement. Your eight-foot sofa may not fit in a room with a door in every wall, or you may discover too late that you can't close the door to the laundry room if the dryer is open.
    Hiring a designer is the first step in avoiding costly decorating mistakes. Choosing the right professional and supplying her with as much information as possible are the keys to getting the most for your money.

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