With the economy as it is, few clients can or want to eliminate everything they own and start a new interior design from scratch. Instead, as professionals, we need to teach them how to evaluate what they have, eliminating or relocating pieces as appropriate, and how to arrange the room for comfort and use.
Generally, each item of furniture will fall into one of three categories: items the clients like, items that are needed and items that are sentimental attachments. If any of the items fall outside of these categories, suggest that the clients get rid of it.
If the clients have items of questionable monetary value and no sentimental value, then giving them to any non-profit organization is a very good way to clear the space, recycle a product and enhance someone else's life circumstances. If the items have monetary value but no sentimental value, suggest they sell them to a friend, or at a garage sale, a booth at a flea market or through a consignment store. Another option, although the least preferred, is putting them in storage.
The real dilemma comes when things may or may not have monetary value, but definitely have sentimental value. These items may include Grandma's old trunk or the picture painted by a long-past relative. One option is to be creative with the item's use. Can you use that trunk for storage, then put a glass top on it to become a coffee table for the family room? Can it be refurbished and become the daughter's hope chest (don't forget the cedar!)? Can that big, old armoire or wardrobe be turned into an entertainment center, linen storage or a computer work station? Think about some of the individual needs clients have around their home and see if the pieces they have can be modified to fill requirements.
Another option is to loan the treasure to a friend or family member who can be trusted. This way it can be retrieved whenever needed, but it's also out of the clients' way for the time being. Storage may be an option, but it could have disastrous effects on the sentimental antiques. Storage lockers can be too damp, dry, hot or cold, or suffer from sudden changes of these conditions. In this case, the prize may not be worth much or even be usable when it is retrieved. Consider all options and pick the appropriate one for the situation.
Now let's turn to the items the clients like. These pieces usually are easy to deal with because they are enjoyed every time they are seen. What you may want to consider is how they work in any particular room and if they might work better for the clients elsewhere. For the answer to this question, analyze the room:
How is each space used?
Who uses the room? How many people use it at one time?
During what time of day is it used?
How often is the room used?
If used for entertaining, how often and by how many?
What kind of activities are done in this room?
After reviewing these questions for each room compare the answers to the functions of the pieces of furniture in question. Most of the time the right piece is in the right place. Sometimes you will come up with a new thought as to where a furniture item could go, and moving it there works even better than where it started out.
One of the most difficult challenges is dealing with items the clients need. Creating two sub-categories for this group might help sort out this problem. If a piece such as an entertainment center is needed and is attractive and presentable just the way it is, analyze it for use in the room in which it is located, leave it or move it accordingly and consider the matter done. If, however, the item is needed but isn't liked or needs replacement, it falls into the second sub-category and a new strategy must be devised.
In this case, you must first decide if the piece meets all of the functional needs. Does that entertainment center have enough storage for videotapes? Does the end table have enough tabletop for guests when they have coffee and dessert? Make a list of whatever feature or need is lacking.
Next decide on how the piece can be replaced with something better, more functional and better looking. Can the clients afford to buy a new one? Can they get what they want at a garage sale or flea market? Do they have friends with too much furniture who could loan them what is needed? What is available at local thrift and consignment shops? Be creative with resources and try to find a piece that fulfills the functional needs as defined.
Finally, when you have replaced the item, remember that the original now will be in the don't like and don't need category so help the clients get rid of it, or it will hang around cluttering up your design plan indefinitely.
Once the evaluation has been completed it is time to figure out the best location within the room for each piece of furniture.
Spend a little time charting the client's room and creating a floor plan. Although there are computer programs to do this, the fastest, easiest and most convenient way still seems to be by hand using quadrule graph paper available at any stationery supply store. This paper is ruled to create 1/4-inch square blocks.
You will use each block as if it were one square foot. Measure the room and draw it in scale on the paper. A five foot wall would be five blocks long. A three foot door would take up a space of three blocks. Indicate where and how big the widows are by putting a set of double lines along the appropriate walls. Doors and their door swings should be indicated by a single line hinged on the appropriate side and at a 90-degree angle from the wall. Frequently an arc connects the edge of the door to the wall on which it latches.
Locate electrical plugs by measuring along the walls and place them at the proper locations on the floor plan using a circle with two lines through it as a symbol. Switches are drawn on the appropriate walls using an uppercase S with a line through it. Don't make the symbols too large - no larger than one 1/4-inch block. You are only trying to show where the plugs and switches are located.
Heating ducts, fireplace hearths and any other architectural features that take up floor space and could have an impact on furniture placement also should be located on the plan.
With the floor plan charted, measure each piece of furniture to be placed in the room and chart it on a separate sheet of graph paper or on a piece of colored paper. By using different color paper for these templates the furniture pieces will stand out on the floor plan and give the client a better feel for the spatial relationships.
With all of this done, you now can move all of the furniture templates around while right in the clients' home. Doing this can save a lot of frustration, and can give your clients a visual perspective before any furniture actually is moved. Try lots of arrangements and keep in mind the following thoughts:
Arrange the largest seating pieces facing toward the major focal point in the room. This focal point could be a fireplace, picture window or collection of art pieces on the wall.
When placing sofas and chairs in a conversational area, remember that six to eight feet is the most comfortable distance for talking.
Major pathways used to get to the sofa or to a frequently used door are three to four feet wide.
Minor pathways can be two to three feet wide.
Try to keep major and minor pathways from passing through conversational areas or in front of television sets.
Keep at least 18 inches clear in front of sofas and chairs for easy access and leg room while seated.
Leave three feet in front of tables or pianos to pull out chairs and benches easily.
Make sure that anywhere a person may sit there is a tabletop within easy reach on which to set a coffee cup or plate. Sofa tables behind a couch do not count as it is too easy to spill on someone while reaching over.
If the room is very large, create smaller conversational areas with minor focal points after the major one is defined.
If the room is small, keep it uncluttered and it will feel larger.
With a little bit of time and planning, you can refresh the clients' furniture arrangement to work better, look better and provide the feeling of redecorating at a minimal cost. This always impresses the clients and generates a lot of credibility for your talents, which means they will trust you with more funds and larger projects.
Editor's Note: This is the second of a multi-part series in which Dudics-Dean explains the most important concepts decorators need to know to make each interior project a success.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.