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Originally published Saturday, June 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Lifestyles of the hip and young: Decor guidance a must, not a luxury

You're settled in, working a real job, making adult decisions — but you know you can't do everything alone. A new parent needs a will...

Special to The Seattle Times

You're settled in, working a real job, making adult decisions — but you know you can't do everything alone.

A new parent needs a will, so he calls an attorney. An up-and-coming wage-earner needs to manage income and investments, so she calls a financial planner. And a family needs a home, so they call a real-estate agent.

Would they call an interior designer to furnish that home?

Turns out, a lot of younger adults would — for a lot of reasons.

"My young clients are very sophisticated and sharp," said Seattle interior designer Faith Sheridan. "In their careers, they've gotten used to the concept of working with a professional, so the concept of coming to a designer makes sense to them."

As does the concept of saving time. Sheridan, of Faith Sheridan Interior Design, said most of her clients are busy, young professionals.

Expert analysis

"Because of our training, we can come in and size up a room very quickly," she said. "We see scale, understand the relationship of light in the room, traffic patterns, how the room is going to be used. A lot of younger clients have told me, 'If we take this on ourselves, it'll never happen.' "

Case in point: Dan Rathman.

Rathman, 42, bought a home in Magnolia last fall. Built in 1925 and completely redone, it had exactly what he wanted — character, moldings and updated paint. But then he had to fill it.

"I stumbled along thinking I could decorate it myself, but I lost my confidence," Rathman said. "I did buy a couch, and then I got worried I was going to ruin this nice house."

He also wasn't making much progress. He would look for furniture on the weekends but was having trouble "pulling the trigger" and buying anything.

"I didn't want to live in an unfinished house for a long time," he said. "I wanted to do this right. I wanted to do this efficiently."

Gauging client's needs

A friend mentioned the Seattle Design Center, where Rathman looked at portfolios and interviewed two interior designers. He selected Sheridan because he understood her.

"Designers talk in design terms, and all of it doesn't make sense," he said. "But [Sheridan] said that because I have a lot of curved archways and doors, and the fireplace had a curve, it was obvious that we should use oval coffee tables and rounded side tables. That made sense.."

Another bonus: Sheridan understood him.

"She had a good sense of my house," Rathman said. "Even though I was having trouble describing it, she could make sense of it."

So Rathman, who is a manufacturing specialist for a biotech company, hired Sheridan to design his living room and master bedroom. He's hoping to keep his budget around $20,000.

As with any professional service, there is a price. But Sheridan said her younger clients, in particular, consider interior design an investment, figuring they're buying well-made furniture they'll have for years.

Home is fashionable

Young clients today are more attuned to high quality and good design, said Kipepeo Brown, director of marketing for Seattle Design Center. Reality TV has put the "in" in interior design, and all sorts of media bombard us with images of design and decorating.

"Home is a fashionable thing to do," Brown said. "Fashion, which we're all a part of, is very connected to home design. It's a connection of fashion, colors and freshness."

With every fashion, though, come fashion victims. And often, a cry for help.

Sheridan said she's fielded calls from people who suddenly realize they've bought the wrong sofa.

Share your thoughts

Have you worked with, or are you working with, a designer? Share your decorating experiences and tips with us at homegarden@seattletimes.com

"A lot of times they'll buy a color that looked fabulous in the store environment, but at home they're in shock," she said. "They realize they have to make adjustments to make the sofa work, change other things, paint. It's just not going to fit. It's so much nicer to know that it's going to work."

Which is why, designers say, the best time to work with an interior designer is before you need one.

Luckily, Rathman said, he had bought only a couple of pieces before enlisting Sheridan's professional help. So, she added new furnishings and offered new angles for existing ones.

"I thought I couldn't do much with my couch in the living room," he said. "She wanted to move the couch away from the wall, and I thought she was crazy. But as soon as I did it, it made sense. It's just something that never would have occurred to me."

This is part of an occasional series on working with an interior designer.

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