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December 06, 2016
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Tastemaker: Turning a house into a home

Original art, antique stone sculptures, collectables and custom cabinetry are some of the appointments used while preserving the original architectural elements of the space to create this bright cheerful sanctuary.
Photo by Sharon Carroll

A conversation with interior designer Sharon Carroll by Jane Bollinger

Sharon Carroll is an interior designer.

She helps create personal living spaces that reflect the kinds of lives her clients want to enjoy in their homes. The job involves more than constructing functional spaces that meet the homeowners’ needs; Carroll also wants her clients fulfill their personal desires for finding fun activities and pleasurable pastimes to enjoy in their homes. Fun, enjoyment and pleasure are important words in Carroll’s working vocabulary.

In the life of any homeowner, a construction or remodeling project, or a makeover (whether large or small), is a big decision, and throughout the process, Carroll not only is the project planner and coordinator, the one who oversees a team of subcontractors, she’s also a listener and a hand-holder to her clients.

An interior designer is not the same as an interior decorator, who helps find and choose furniture and window treatments, make decisions about fabrics, colors and accessories. As Carroll explains the difference, “Designing is a systematic approach to a creative process. The end result interprets the occupants’ taste in an attractive, functional space.”

Many of Carroll’s clients are what we locals call “second homers,” but much of the advice she has to offer and the philosophy she advocates also offer a good foundation for “first homers,” who are taking on similar projects.

Recently we asked Carroll to share some of her philosophy about designing a living space.

What do you see as the goal when you take on a project for a client?

A: Obviously the primary goal is to get the project done right, and as close to on-time and on-budget as possible. But besides that, each person has a time of the year, or a season, or a couple of weeks or weekends when they can get away, when their work life or personal life is slower, less hectic. Quite often it ends up that part of my job is assisting that person to make plans for how to have fun, unwind, kick back and enjoy their personal time more fully in their home. Especially while the process is going on, I want them to let me worry about moving their project forward.

Q: What are some of the functions you help homeowners with?

Always in the planning phase, we sort out something they would really love to do, how they want to enjoy the fruits of their place. Amazingly, it’s usually something quite simple and really very attainable. Maybe they picture themselves playing board games at the kitchen table with their kids, or sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family, or sipping iced tea under the shade tree with a friend, or working in the herb garden, or sharing locally grown food and laughter with neighbors or friends, or working on that novel they’ve been writing, or just enjoying a glass of wine on the porch, or on a winter weekend enjoying an afternoon activity in the snow and then indulging in a hot toddy [to take off the chill], or even sitting at the computer working on a report that is due on Monday morning.

Q: Once the homeowner has identified this little scenario as you’ve just described, where do you go from there?

A: While moving the project forward, we keep that “little event” in mind and plan it to happen. These moments are the things that keep us going in our busy, hectic lives. I encourage my clients not to take these “little events” for granted. Too often a whole weekend or a whole month goes by, and we find we’ve gone from morning to night forgetting these things that nourish the spirit. Look around and appreciate your home, with all the challenges and time and money you have invested. The dividends are pleasure.

Q: What are the steps involved in a project of designing or redesigning a living space?

A: The most important part at the beginning is to plan the spaces to function easily, efficiently and enjoyably for how the homeowners live, and to set priorities, also to agree on a budget and get a monetary commitment in dollars. Setting a timeline is essential and working toward each milestone. And then there’s the] ordering, and taking deliveries; by the way, there can be surprises. It’s a process. You can’t shortchange or shortcut the process.

Q: What does a designer bring to this project?

A: Each client, each project requires a blending of form and function. [A designer needs a] strong working knowledge and relationships with capable, honest tradespeople in the area to pull together a cohesive working team to accomplishment (for the short term and long term) not simply a house but a home.

A designer has to be able to interpret, plan and complete how the clients want the home to look and function. She needs a sense of style and balance and an understanding of the use of color, materials and textures, plus the ability to pull a cohesive working team of professionals together who will turn a house into a home, not only for the short term, but also for the long term.

Ideally, as the occupants and functions of the home change over the years, a designer will have a long-term relationship to assist in the future.

Q: How does one choose a designer?

A: Besides the obvious, look at their portfolio to see their finished work as to their capabilities. Talk with the designer who did your friend’s home if you like it.

Ask what professional organizations they belong to and what organizations they have they been involved with as a volunteer or on a pro bono basis and for how long. What are their avocations and interests, their passions? These areas are what breathe life into the designer and, most importantly, your home.

As with any professional, choose someone you feel has the experience, depth of knowledge, skills and time in the profession to get the job done. Someone with whom you are comfortable working, in whom you have confidence in to see progress made, and someone who can create that spirit you look forward to upon arriving at your home.

[Sharon Carroll lives in Lake Ariel, PA and can be reached at 570/698-6620.]