Dream catchers

Texture — in the chair and ottoman, as well as in the pillows, drapery panels and wallpaper — makes this space designed by Lisa J. Lieberthal of Lisa Joy Designs in Trumbull warm and inviting.—Lisa Joy Design photo

Are you thinking of renovating a room in your home that feels stale or outdated? Or maybe you want to make your office space at work more comfortable, stylish or functional. Or perhaps you just signed a contract on a new home, restaurant or office building and you are staring at a blank canvas and don’t know where to start.

Here, three Fairfield County interior designers share their work, their advice on what to consider when hiring a designer, fun do-it-yourself tips, and some unexpected on-the-job stories that will make you smile. Read on and dream on.

Dark colors don’t have to be oppressive. They can be cozy and calming, and can create a very luxe mood, according to Carey Karlan, owner of Darien-based Last Detail Interior Design. ‘This deep charcoal bedroom is punctuated with golds, white trim, and reflective surfaces on the bedside tables and benches,’ she explains.—Paul Johnson photo

Choosing wisely
Every day we wake up and start making decisions. Some can be made quickly while others require a more thoughtful approach. When it comes to a huge investment like your home or business, it’s well worth the time and effort to decide carefully how you want it to feel, look and function. Hiring an interior designer can up the odds that you’ll get the desired outcome — if you choose the designer that’s right for you.

“After reviewing designer portfolios and getting referrals from friends, learn everything you can about the fee structure, budget expectations, timeline, method of presentation and follow-through, and how problems are handled,” suggests 20-year interior design veteran Carey Karlan, owner of Darien-based Last Detail Interior Design (careykarlan.com). “Beyond that, rely on your gut feeling.”

Lisa J. Lieberthal of Lisa Joy Designs (lisajoydesignsllc.com) in Trumbull, who has been in the business for more than 25 years, agrees that referrals are the way to go. “The other important quality to look for is listening skills,” she adds. “I remember years ago hearing people say, ‘My designer did a good job but they didn’t listen. It looks nice but it isn’t me.’ I think that’s a big deal. My job is to listen to the client, find their personality, and bring it out.”

Karlan concurs: “My specialty is giving the client the best possible version of the look they want. It’s not about the ‘Carey Karlan’ look.”

Neutral fabrics and furnishings combine with metallics — wallpaper, lighting fixtures and mirror — to add drama and elegance to a dining room designed by Kelly Sohigian, owner of kellydesigns in Fairfield.—kellydesigns photo

“Also, be aware of designers who immediately start talking money,” Lieberthal adds. “I once got a callback from a client who said, ‘You are the only one who did not ask me about a retainer or money right away.’ Make sure the designer is listening to you first. Also make sure they work with vendors who allow returns. Designing a home means trying out different looks and deciding what doesn’t work. I only work with vendors who allow returns.”

Why use a designer?
There are many reasons why people hire a designer. Some may be looking for luxury or style while others are more concerned with function or problem-solving. And others simply do not have the time.

“Many of my clients are too busy to shop and look for what they want,” says Kelly Sohigian, owner of kellydesigns (kellydesignsofCT.com) in Fairfield. For example, one of her clients was moving from New York City to Fairfield with nothing, so she had to furnish the entire home within budget and on deadline to get it move-in ready. “I love layering my client’s personality throughout the design to reflect his or her life, as well as mixing styles and textures to keep a room interesting,” explains Sohigian, who has a background in fashion and real estate and also offers home staging services.

Before and after: Lisa J. Lieberthal of Lisa Joy Designs in Trumbull transformed an old, outdated chair (above) into a showstopper (below left) that added glamour to a client’s home.—Lisa Joy Designs photo

Then there are couples who have different tastes and the designer works as a kind of arbitrator to find a solution that works for both parties. “There is always conflict between style and practicality!” Karlan observes. “Men want recliners, designers forbid them, and the negotiations begin.”

And then there are those unexpected projects, like the time Lieberthal received an emergency phone call from the owner of a funeral home in which there had been a fire. The designer had to show the client fabric swatches and photos of light fixtures literally over a body that the client was preparing for a funeral. “You just do your job,” Lieberthal says. “It’s your business to take care of your client!” Incidentally, since that first meeting, the client has hired Lieberthal for many subsequent interior design projects.

The biggest advantages to working with an interior designer are that they keep up with the newest offerings by attending trade shows, and they have exclusive access to vendors and showrooms that are not open to the public.


DIY tips
Not everyone can afford an interior designer, however. If you want to try out some ideas on your own, Sohigian suggests taking the size of the room or space into consideration, finding ideas and inspiration on houzz.com and other sites, and thoughtfully creating a plan rather than randomly buying pieces. “Paint and light fixtures are two very easy ways to give any room a facelift. Darker paint can bring the walls in to make the room feel cozy, and vice versa,” she adds.

Karlan agrees. “Paint is a powerhouse of possibility!” She also recommends getting rid of clutter and things that don’t work. Take a picture of the room and look at it dispassionately. Looking at a room through the unforgiving lens of a camera helps you see it clearly. Art is also important. Try to collect a series that you can group together.” She also suggests using big plants and trees as fillers, which, she says, can be purchased inexpensively at grocery stores.

Lieberthal concludes, “You can’t be in this field if you don’t love what you do, and if you don’t know how to read people and care about them, because you are helping them express themselves. And that’s the joy … when you give a client what they asked for and they are happy.”