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During the real estate boom, staging and cosmetic touch-ups were often all it took to launch buyers on a desperate race to make an offer before they ended up in a price-escalating, multiple-offer showdown. Now that calmer conditions exist for buyers, superficial or fashion-based make-overs may not be enough to trigger an offer. They may even turn buyers off a property.

Sellers, who may be anything but calm, must squeeze out every drop of buyer-oriented value in their house or condominium if they want to generate an offer.

When buyers have time to view a property more than once and to compare it with other listings in the area and in a price range that meets their "want & need" list, quality becomes one of the deciding factors.

Experienced real estate brokers and salespeople may understand what a listed a property needs to boost buyer interest, but they are not the professionals to call on to improve functionality and quality.

Registered Interior Designers complete strict education and internship requirements set out by provincial accreditation organizations, which usually provide "Find an Interior Designer" access for consumers. For instance, in Ontario, it's ARIDO if you would like to find an interior designer near you.

Contrary to impressions fostered by television and magazines, interior designers are not just into "pretty." They are trained to see the flaws in a property and value potential, and to translate their clients' needs and wants into the best solution within a budget and time frame.

Fast Forward to 2009, an annual collection preview hosted by Toronto's Designers Walk offered an excellent opportunity to learn what consumers may not understand about what designers do and what they know. Here are a few tidbits which may encourage you to do your own research into the value an interior designer may add to your home:

  • Ochre and golds define the Spring '09 pallet, but there's much more. It's sheen not shiny in fabrics, with glass and crystal the main glitter factor. As financial belts tighten, what happens to decorating? "An update or a lift, there's always a budget for accessorizing or adding a colour punch or a new pallet, or one chair, a feature wall, a wall hanging, a table runner, pillows..." said Margaret Dietsch, Director of Sales-Canada, The Robert Allen Group. Take the penthouse virtual tour with internationally-renowned designer Larry Laslo and you'll see Robert Allen's 2009 collection in action and receive practical design suggestions about sheers, crystals and "dropped meatballs."
  • One showroom host, Suzanne Brown & Associates, presented one of the firm's exclusive lines which uses an innovative production approach that trademarks it as "affordable and in stock." Brown stresses that since styles change, expect to change: "Everyone goes for the same old thing. You can be innovative in different ways, expressive on a budget. Good design is always affordable, and well worth it." Tip: Charcoal is replacing chocolate.
  • Telio, an importer of high-fashion fabrics, wallpapers and interior furnishings, presented Christope Guillemot of Perennial Outdoor Fabrics, who explained the sustainable design principles behind outdoor furniture. The Canadian Tire approach to disposable lawn furniture must give way to long-term thinking about patio living. Durable, stain-proof fabrics, teak frames and designs which are "evolving rather than revolutionary" are the key. By using certified plantation trees, which are harvested and replanted, and a state-of-the-art factory, which recycles wastewater to "better than before" levels, his company ensures the longevity of the furniture and the environment. This "last a lifetime" approach to outdoor furniture does not cost them business but builds a clientele also interested in lasting quality and reducing waste.

    Nothing illustrates the knowledge that goes behind creating beauty like upholstery. In a continuing education program, Fabric 101, high-end upholster Steve Mittman reviewed tips and concepts that guarantee a professional job:

    1. Silk, silk velvet and natural leather are among the fabrics that should be used for clients who appreciate imperfections and wrinkles that do not detract from beauty, but create it. [small bullet] Mohair should be railroaded, or run the width of the piece since seams always appear irregular.
    2. Chenille with a pile must be backed to prevent migration with use.
    3. Vertically repeating patterns may require more length in an upholstery project, but caution should be used with horizontally repeating fabrics where the repeat is half the width. For instance, with a 27 inch pattern and a 30 inch chair cushion, there's no satisfactory solution. Mittman cautions: "Cutting fabric for upholstery is more art than science, and so, hard to learn, but it is always a compromise between the designer's intent and the piece of furniture."

"Designers think about function before the rest of the story," said Ray Staples of Ray Staples Interiors, a provocative guest on City TV and an acclaimed designer. "Designers can help people realize they are starting at the wrong end."

Staples explains that consumers ask 'What colour should I paint my livingroom?' when the problem that should be addressed is the out-dated couch, an odd ceiling, worn-out fabric or another significant, quality-undermining deficiency.

Staples also stresses that consumers should not confuse television with their lives. "On TV, we have to think instantaneously. The first thing we see—for example, the doorway—is a problem, but the viewer asks about curtains. I say 'That's hardly the least of your worries.' What they expect now—what we're doing with all the [design] shows—is convince people we can do it overnight, in 24 hours. That's not reality, that's television.

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