A Grand Entrance

I consulted two different interior designers for help with my large entrance hall and the advice they gave me was so contradictory that now I’m more confused than ever. What to do?

Catherine C, New Rochelle

I assume you didn’t invite these two pros on the same occasion, right? I’m picturing unseemly pushing and arguing (“Put that table over there!” “No! It should go on this side!”)

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Interior designer Victoria Klein says your dilemma “gets to the heart of how to hire a designer.” Or, in your case, how not to — since decor is a matter of taste, you could consult 20 more designers and get 20 times as confused. Some people go with a particular pro for a signature look, Klein explains, “but most people want someone who has their interest at heart. It’s like hiring any expert, except in this case you’re going to be more intimately involved because it’s so personal. You have to really go with your gut.”

Klein suggests the best way to find the right match is by word-of-mouth recommendations. “Look for somebody with a sensibility that’s close to yours, somebody that you like and trust.” Then, as Nancy Reagan declared when redecorating the White House: Trust but verify. “Websites tell a great story,” Klein says. Look at portfolios. Do phone interviews. “Get references and follow up. Find somebody who can articulate what you want.” Also, she adds, the process should be enjoyable. “I see people wandering around the D & D Building in Manhattan, clients and their decorators, and everyone’s looking terribly unhappy — they look like such a mismatch. I think, why don’t these people hire someone they’ll enjoy spending time with?”

Speaking of spending — even a relatively small project like an entrance hall can be a costly business. Which is another reason to select wisely—the going hourly rate for an interior designer nowadays is between $150 and $250 (even more than what most therapists charge). “Decide if you want all new stuff or to integrate what you already own,” Klein says. Establish a budget (and keep something in reserve for inevitable extra expenses — legend has it that only three design makeovers in the history of the world have come in under budget). Discuss how bills will be calculated, and how much control you want over decision-making. Then get it all in writing.

You’ve already had one designer too many, Ms. C. But third time’s the charm.

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