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DIY Interior Design: A Trend for the Future?

With so many television shows teaching viewers how-to tips and techniques for home renovations, it’s no surprise that more people are turning to do-it-yourself interior design tools. Using free web software, in-store demonstrations, and even magazine clippings, DIY neophytes are embracing their creativity and pinching their pennies when it comes to changing up their living spaces.

It’s a trend that professional interior designers both admire and debate. While DIY projects allow individuals to unleash their imagination in new ways, some projects are simply too large or complex to be undertaken without professional guidance.

Michele Boggs, an interior design instructor at The Art Institute of Indianapolis and owner of MB Designs, believes that while popular DIY shows make for great TV, they can present unrealistic views of the design industry. “These outlets tend to make people believe design is easy and that anyone can do it,” she states.

She relates the story of her college professor, who noted that while anyone could "decorate,” design was the result of talent and education. But today’s economic climate is forcing many to forego trained designers in an attempt to get the biggest decorating bang for the buck.

“People who haven't been able to sell their houses are staying in their homes, just re-doing them. They are able to save money and sometimes receive quick results by doing the work themselves,” says Boggs. And many of these people are turning to online sites for guidance and inspiration.

Icovia, Ladies Home Journal Arrange-a-Room, and Google SketchUp are some of the popular destinations for DIY interior designers. Boggs is particularly impressed with Google SketchUp, a free downloadable program that allows anyone to create and view interior spaces in 3D. “I had one client actually design their basement, before they hired me and put it in Google SketchUp,” she states. “(The client) hired me to help with the selections, but they handled the construction part of the project. Their basement ended up very nice and they wanted to handle the project themselves to save money.” She cites this collaboration as a great example of mixing DIY and professional services to create a well designed finished product.

Major retailers have noted the DIY movement and adjusted in-store programming and website applications to offer more hands-on options. “Stores such as Pottery Barn are cashing in on the DIY trend. They offer decorating classes, advertise these events, and allow people to come into their stores and teach them how to decorate tables for entertaining. It’s brilliant marketing,” notes Boggs. Home Depot’s Home Improver Club also teaches a number of DIY courses. And Lowe’s offers Build and Grow clinics to start even junior DIY-ers on the path to creative greatness.

Michael Hampton, Principal of Michael Hampton Design in Washington, D.C., believes that the attention DIY shows and programs have brought to interior design has been extremely positive. “I have really noticed over the last decade that good design has become more accessible to the public with stores like Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, and Williams Sonoma Home, to name a few, [that] have created this almost perfect image of what home can be.”

But he cautions that the pristine homes shown in magazines and on TV are often the work of professional interior designers. “Most people don’t realize how much work and planning goes into designing a house and its interiors. It is easy for it to look like it was seemingly effortless and easy to achieve (on TV),” he states.

Although Hampton believes it’s a bonus that good design has become more accessible and affordable, he urges caution when turning to a computer program or 3-hour course as the backbone to a home decorating project. “Computer programs for DIY-ers are very limiting and barely touch upon all that is involved. One has to think of the scale of furniture, the quality of light, the architecture, and so many other things a computer program just can’t do,” he emphasizes. “A computer, no matter how sophisticated, cannot replace the human eye.”

It’s a belief shared by Scott Fazzini, Domicidal Maniac interior designer. Fazzini, a 2002 interior design graduate from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, has seen an increase in the number of clients bringing more information into initial meetings -- everything from magazine clippings to textiles, paint samples, and floor plans. He attributes the DIY revolution to a can-do attitude that’s been inspired by tough economic times and the easy accessibility of interior design related media.

While Fazzini finds many of the DIY computer programs to be rather time consuming, he believes they can produce fine results when used in conjunction with a trained professional. “A good interior designer will help to understand your space and to manipulate it if and when necessary. There are so many secondary factors to take into account when designing a room such as color, textures, materials, lighting, and efficiency,” he states. These are elements that cannot always be adequately represented or considered by a computer program.

He adds that if money is the issue in considering the DIY route, consumers may find that a professional designer is able to provide solutions that fit within a tight budget. “When you hire a good, honest, and thoughtful interior designer he or she will inform you of the most vital places where you should spend more time and money, and also inform you of the areas where you might be able to do something on your own and save some money.”

The Art Institute of Indianapolis instructor Michele Boggs backs up Fazzini’s notion regarding DIY cost-effectiveness, especially for people who want to express their creativity. But she emphasizes that it’s important to hire a trained and licensed professional when possible. “When clients handle their own design projects, designers give up control and that can cause many problems. A designer will make sure things are going right and if something happens, we are there to fix any issue.”

She also mentions that DIY is not for everyone. Projects can be much more difficult or take far more time than anticipated to complete. “Be aware of unrealistic time frames that the television shows give. And be careful when taking on big projects. In the long run, it could cost more if you don't hire a professional.”

Learn more about DIY design on these websites

Ladies Home Journal Arrange-a-Room
Google SketchUp
This Old House

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