Can You Avoid Costly Design Mistakes?

I recently had a meeting with an experienced interior designer, Juanita Sicurella-Strassfield.  I wanted to know how to guide my clients when they start to project their home decorating expenses. During the buying process, it is important to have an idea of how much it will cost to maintain, clean, and decorate your home. The choices you make will impact both short and long term expenses, as well as your environment. I make sure my clients are informed and I try to help them avoid costly mistakes that can be difficult to live with. Here’s my Q & A with Juanita:

How long should homeowners expect major design items to last before having to be replaced?

Window treatments don’t usually “take” the same abuse as upholstery; the average life span of a window treatment can be more than 10 years.  Most stay up longer. In addition to purchasing good quality products, it is the care and use or ABUSE that home furnishings are subjected to that factor in to their longevity.  For example, if case goods, tables, wood chairs, chests, etc. are exposed to sun day after day with no blinds or sheer draperies to shield them, they will fade, crack, and dry out. This will affect everything from upholstery to rugs. I’ve seen rugs that have faded where the sun has been streaming in from windows. While that may sound crazy, I had a client who left a side table in front of a window.  The table had a small placemat. When she went to move the table to another place in the room and took the placement off the table she noticed that the table had faded and small cracks appeared.  The underside of the placemat was untouched by damage. The amount of sun damage you see is costly. You wouldn’t think of going outside without sunscreen, so why would anyone subject their furnishings to the same effects. Good quality furniture can last for decades, although pets that lounge on your furniture all day can also affect its longevity.  I adored my dog and accepted the fact that if she was laying on the sofa it would show signs of wear.  That’s life.

When choosing fabric for window treatment and furniture, how does the longevity of the fabric relate to the cost?

That’s an interesting question.  There are some great fabric options out there that are geared specifically to heavy usage.  Fabrics that last longer typically cost more but not always. For upholstered pieces, fabrics that are geared to “heavy” usage can cost more. The exception would be silks. They are typically expensive, but are subject to staining and low abrasion.  If you love them. then you accept the qualities they have because of their inherent beauty.  There are treatments that can be applied to fabrics after market for stain protection–it’s like an insurance policy.  Again, another expense.

While window treatments do not have people sitting on them, they are hanging in the windows all day, every day, subjected to the sun. This affects longevity.  We use different types of lining depending on the room location and type of fabric.  For silks, we use lining and interlining.  Interlining is a heavy flannel that is sewn in between the lining and face fabric; silk in this case.  The interlining protects the fabric and adds depth.  A cheap, flimsy fabric is not going to last long.

Should homeowners take into account how long they think they will be in a home when designing?

Absolutely! If a home owner plans on living 20 to 30 years in a home, then planning into the future and taking the time to execute the plan can be a very good thing.  Oftentimes “instant” décor results in “ooh, I wish I thought that out” or “I’m sorry I did that”.  It is in the design process where home owners learn a bit about themselves and in turn have the opportunity to express themselves.

For the short-term homeowner – averaging about 5 years – all plans and purchases for the current space need to be carefully considered.  We would not want to purchase pieces “just for the current space”, we want flexibility.  For example, take a sectional sofa with a chaise; this may not work in another home/apartment.  I’d pass on that and suggest a flexible sectional with an ottoman instead. This can be used in a couple of different settings.

What should home owners think about when it comes to children and their design and fabric options?

Great question!  I’m working with a young couple now and we’ve discussed window treatment options for their family room and kitchen.  There are very young children in the home.  The mom questioned the how easy it was to clean the type of treatment that she really liked…..well that particular treatment would not withstand little fingers with peanut butter or crayons.  So I suggested a product that was safe (no cords) and easy to keep clean.  It could be wiped down with a soft damp cloth!  It’s practical and looks lovely….and the cats won’t have strings to pull on either.  Safety  is also a big consideration.

What should home owners think about when it comes to pets and their design and fabric options?

With respect to upholstered pieces, there are now fabrics that will withstand better than others. All this information is available from the manufacturer.  But remember animals have oils in their hair or fur and typically that is a problem.  If your pooch or kitty finds a favorite spot and settles on it every day, those oils will work their way in to a fabric.  It may not be pretty, but there are blankets that are meant to be put on a sofa so Fifi or Fido can lounge without fear of ruining a sofa.  Just whisk away the blanket when company pops in.

What are the differences in the cost to clean commonly used fabrics?

When it comes to cleaning fabrics, call a reputable professional!  When purchasing new upholstery, ask about a fabric protection plan.  Upholstery can be treated at the factory and comes with a warranty or guarantee. That company will service the piece when an accident happens.  This is a very common ”insurance policy” and can save you from future misery.  As for draperies; most often they can be cleaned, again, by a professional in your home.  The price for cleaning jobs is relative to the number and types of pieces, and fabric type may be a factor as well.

Americans are living longer and baby-boomers represent a huge part of the population. Has this impacted interior design trends?

Every generation affects trends. However, since people are living longer we are creating spaces that “grow” along with its inhabitants.  I’ve worked with clients who, after the children have grown, want a fresh, clean, streamlined new look. With respect to the home or apartment,  they want it to adapt to their abilities as they age.  That is an entire discussion in itself.  Lighting for changing eyesight, grip bars in the bathrooms, ergonomic handles, stair treads, the list is morphing every day.

If you have more questions for Juanita, give her a call at 914-462-1505. Website:


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