The Queen Emma condominium unit above was designed and executed by INspiration, whose design team coordinated the look of the one-bedroom, one-bath units for the comfort of individuals or couples. The unit won an award from the Building Industry Assocation of Hawaii Parade of Homes.

House calls

Furniture store consultants can help you
update your living room's look and uncover
the beauty that you never realized existed

By Ruby Mata-Viti

New year, new attitude, same old living-room arrangement. If it's true that our surroundings reflect who we are, this could be the year to update your home to reflect who you have become.

Some hold back for financial reasons, thinking it will be too costly to rejuvenate their home style. Yet that chartreuse wall-to-wall shag carpet which worked so well for the disco mom and pop of the '70s doesn't quite make the grade in 2003, even if retro is in.

Others simply hide behind their subscriptions to Metropolitan Home and Elle Decor and won't face the truth; within their being lurks an interior design putz.

You know who you are, and you are not alone. Furniture and home improvement stores have tapped into such human frailty and can help with consultations, some done in your home, most for free and with no pressure to buy their products.

Balk if you must, but you are, as always, in control. The rewards far outweigh any aversion to inviting a furniture salesperson into your home.

"I like to work with what people have," said Karene Yanagida-Hamai, a home funishings consultant at Homeworld, who doesn't just stick with products the Aiea store carries. "I'll mention items I've seen elsewhere if I know that's what would work," she said. If she has the clients' confidence, she knows she will get referrals.

Diane Wiggins, for instance, is pleased with the work Yanagida-Hamai has done on her Foster Towers condominium. "I know she has my best interests at heart; I chose some of the most expensive things in the store but she said, 'No, it won't work.' "

The cost of refurnishing two bedrooms, a living room and dining room was $16,500. Wiggins said friends were amazed by the result. Other Foster Towers residents now seek Yanagida-Hamai out at Homeworld.

The interior design for the model homes at top and left were done by a design team including Laure Hilden of C.S. Wo. The homes are in the Schuler Homes Watercolors development in Makakilo. Hilden carried a Hawaiian retro feeling throughout the home, including a boy's bedroom which had custom shelves made from a surfboard cut in half lengthwise and hung with L-brackets. "We suggest fun things like that for clients; you're only limited by your imagination." Red was used in the sofa upholstery to pick up the color of the anthuriums in the drapery. "We could have used teal or peacock blue as well, we tried to stay away from white because we were trying to portray an active family."

Yanagida-Hamai said simple solutions that don't require dipping into the budget, such as moving a couch from a short-width wall to a longer one and shifting an area rug toward the center of the room, which she had done recently for a client, can make a room feel more spacious.

Other slight changes, such as moving furniture away from the walls by angling them, can also make a world of difference. "It's hard to get people to change; they like their furniture flush against the wall," she said. But placing furniture on the diagonal tends to give a room impact, add to the feeling of spaciousness and requires less pieces.

The service is free. She is paid on commission from furniture purchases.

DESIGN CONSULTANTS such as Yanagida-Hamai start by examining a client's lifestyle. They need to know whether there are kids at home, their ages, types of pets, and how rooms are used. Be prepared to offer that information when you walk into stores.

Yanagida-Hamai even looks at car color for clues to a client's personality. "If they own a white car, things in the home are usually white, or they'll like neutral shades. If they have a red car, they're more open to color and suggestions." Green is an earthy color popular with environmentalists, who incidentally tend to have lots of plants in their homes.

INspiration offers free consultations to those who bring a floor plan into the store, said Joett Colgan, a designer and marketing and public relations representative of INspiration. With the plans, sales personnel are able to use computer programs, making an on-site visit unnecessary.

Many times the customers are going into a new home and don't want to take anything old with them; they want to start from scratch. A salesperson can provide a starting plan, again using measurements and computer programs.

Home Depot offers in-store consultations for bathrooms and kitchens for a $100 fee, which is applied toward a minimum purchase of goods or services. Charlotte Savea, kitchen and bath design center supervisor, said clients choose cabinets and countertop materials in advance, then consultants design their ideal kitchen and/or bathroom. An advantage to working with their design team is installers are licensed and bonded, she added.

The antique masks are the same size but one placed higher gives dimension, adds interest and provides movement for the eye.

TALKING TO A salesperson doesn't equal commitment to purchasing, said Yanagida-Hamai. You might find something similar to what she suggests at another store that is closer to your optimum price range.

Laure Hilden, a design consultant with C.S. Wo, said clients sometimes call before visiting the store to ask for in-home advice. It definitely helps to go into the home, said Hilden. Such visits give her a feel for what they want to keep or replace, and why they want to get rid of certain items. Then, "we walk through the store with them throughout the different galleries and get a feeling for what they like; either they'll love something right away or hate it right away."

Although the consultants would love to make a sale of their store's offerings, they are more interested in sharing their expertise. "Even if they don't buy anything now, they'll remember," Hilden said. "They're more likely to come back when they're ready. Word of mouth is everything in a small place like Hawaii."

She helps devise a master plan that prioritizes design wants and needs. "What you do in the kitchen now might affect what you use in the dining room later."

As a design tip, Hilden suggests taking pictures of furnished rooms. "What happens is they get so used to their own space, they don't see it the way others see it." They're more likely to spot crooked wall hangings or a couch not placed quite right from this objective point of view.

She also suggests starting idea files for each room to bring to the design consultant. If you start pulling pages out from magazines, collecting things you like, whether color, fabric or furniture, she said, it will dawn on you one morning as you wake up the way you want your living space to be.

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