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You want to remodel; you want to repaint; but you could use some advice. How do you get design help when you’re on a tight budget?

There are many possibilities but expect to spend serious time doing research for your project.

Go online to look at dream houses.

Among the Web sites that get high reviews is Houzz, created by a couple who were remodeling their home and struggling to go through stacks of magazines and torn-out pages to make choices. Their Web site is a great place to find the style of kitchen or bath you want or the right color for the living room walls. Another favorite of homeowners is Pinterest that allows you to collect whole notebooks of rooms that you wish belonged to you.

Start getting quotes on the job you want done.

For example, before redoing the bathroom, talk to remodelers right away to find out what different versions of the room may cost. The most cost-efficient way to remodel, of course, is by keeping the same footprint for the bathroom and changing the surfaces and/or cabinets. But then again, maybe you want to remove a bathtub or expand a shower.

If you have a limited budget, you probably want quotes from businesses that offer full-service design, building and remodeling. You can show these contractors photos of some ideas you have in mind. Then they can tell you what works and what doesn’t. Often with larger jobs, remodelers will bring in a designer to do a consultation before starting the project.

The time you spend screening contractors is time well-spent. It will pay big dividends and help you avoid remodeling nightmares. Be sure to consult Rosie’s Consumer Guide on Choosing a Contractor

When you buy furnishings, there are low-cost and even free ways to get advice from the experts.

La-Z-Boy will send a design consultant to your home to do measurements and compare fabrics and colors in a room once you’ve visited the store and committed to buy furniture with them.

Crate & Barrel will send a furniture expert to your home for free. Store personnel suggest that you email photos of your room and the dimensions when you set up your design appointment so that they can decide what might work. They will also do measurements when they come to the house.

West Elm offers free one-hour consultations in your home with a stylist. Or you can hire a designer for a three-hour in-house session for $129 or an unlimited session in your home with a senior designer for $499. The $499 will go toward an order of $5,000 or more.

Pottery Barn offers free designer services at your house if you come to the store to talk to them first and bring in photos of what you want to do.

Ethan Allen offers free in-home designer visits as well.

If you’re repainting and worried about colors, you may be able to get low-cost consultations in your home to discuss not just colors but also the type of paint to use inside and outside your home.

Some Sherwin-Williams stores, for example, offer an in-home color consultation for $95 and will give you a $45 gift card that can go toward paint. Dunn-Edwards will send a color consultant to your home for a one-hour visit for $100.

The Pittsburgh Paints Web site will let you upload a photo of your room or house and “paint” it with various colors to see how the repainting will turn out.

The company also has a test you can take to find your favorite family of colors.

Painting contractors may offer a free or low-cost one-hour meeting with a designer in your home if you have committed to hire them.

Paint companies will also sell small samples of paint at low cost that you can try out at your house. You’ll want to paint three or four large squares on multiple walls to get a better idea of what will work and what won’t. Do it over several days to find out how the colors change at night and in sunlight. Be advised, however, that when you actually paint that room, the color will change all over again. All the more reason, perhaps, to get professional help.

What if you’re willing to spend a little more to get a decorator’s help in planning your job? What do professional designers cost and will it be worth the expense?

For larger jobs, designers and architects can be paid a percentage of what the total job costs. But sometimes interior decorators are paid by an hourly rate that can range from $75 to $300 an hour, says Barbara Kaplan, a Phoenix designer. The amount varies depending on the total cost of the project and the designer’s level of experience. For a first visit, a professional designer shouldn’t charge anything at all.

“Every designer works differently and you need to interview them to find one that you’re comfortable with,” she says. “Be honest with a designer about what you want to spend. Then things will turn out better.”

Tony Sutton, owner of Est Est in Scottsdale, a firm that has designed many custom homes, cautions young buyers not to make a lot of impulse purchases just because something is on sale. “That bad mistake is something you might have to live with for a long time. It’s like taking a plunger and pushing all that money down a toilet.”

A designer can tell you things that most people don’t know about. For example, he says, “If you have a golden retriever, you don’t want to buy white oak hardwood flooring. It’s too soft and it will be marred by scratches in no time. You want to choose hickory or pecan because they’re a lot harder. A decorator can tell you something like that.”

If a designer’s price is too high for your smaller job, he or she may also help find you someone else who can do the job for less cost. Sutton prefers a fixed fee rather than doing a job for a percentage of the total cost.


 Photo Credits:  Bedroom (Top) and Kitchen (Bottom) – Est Est Interior Design


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