Home Makeovers Are a Sea Breeze

Carolyn Wilson and daughter Elizabeth pull materials from Wilson's van-office.
Carolyn Wilson and daughter Elizabeth pull materials from Wilson's van-office. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2006

BETHANY BEACH, Del. Carolyn Wilson arrived for Beach Week 2006 not with a tote bag of bathing suits and sunscreen, but with a toolbox full of drills and picture hangers.

The Chevy Chase room-makeover specialist had come prepared to spend two days early this month sprucing up the seaside houses of three Washington-area clients. Pulling up in her custom-fitted van -- command center for her business, Design in a Day -- she moved furniture, picked paint colors, de-cluttered shelves and rehung mirrors, with a bit of baby-sitting, computer tinkering, scouring of grimy ceiling fan blades and shopping thrown in. When she left town, three houses had been made over in mere hours.

Wilson is part of a growing corps of redesigners -- a varied group of practitioners of the art of makeovers and home staging.

"Our industry has growing appeal because of HGTV and all the DIY programs," says Moona Whitice, spokeswoman for the Interior Redesign Industry Specialists organization ( http://www.weredesign.com/ ), a nonprofit group with 750 members. "People are buying bigger homes, and they don't know what to do with them. We are different from interior designers because if you have a ratty-tatty couch, most designers will want you to replace it with a new sofa with 10 pillows. We accept what you have and work around it and don't judge you." Members charge $50 to $200 an hour for their work.

Wilson is not an IRIS member, but she shares the group's sense of mission. She has had more than 700 clients across the Washington area in the past 11 years, and charges $100 an hour for her services. Inside her van are bins of fabric swatches, plate holders, lamp harps, drywall screws, picture hangers and patching compound. She brings catalogues, magazines and photos of her favorite houses to give clients ideas. If she shops for clients, she charges only for her time and retail cost. She may suggest a carpet, but usually it's up to you to go buy it yourself-- she's on to her next client.

"I have to be price-conscious in whatever I do," says Wilson, 54. "These are not $50,000 interiors. Most people have too much stuff. I go to their basements and attics and find pieces to add, and take others away."

In a typical four-hour makeover, she can rearrange at least one room, provide color consultations, accessorize, and rehang up to 15 paintings.

A fourth-generation Washingtonian who grew up in Northeast, Wilson has been giving design advice since age 5. "I cleaned and rearranged my girlfriend's room. I was never invited back."

Her parents heard her dragging furniture around her bedroom at night during her teenage years. She was accepted at the Parsons School of Design in New York but could not afford the tuition, so she switched gears and worked in the fashion and liquor industries for 20 years. But she was always buying and selling furniture and helping friends decorate. She trained her eye by reading shelter magazines and studying design books on the work of Parish-Hadley, Mark Hampton and Billy Baldwin. In 1987, she opened Hollinger's Antiques on P Street in Georgetown. "Every time I delivered a piece of furniture, I ended up rearranging the customer's home," says Wilson, who finally started Design in a Day in 1995 and never looked back.

The idea of Beach Week began when a client asked her to freshen up the look of a summer rental property. Her basic philosophy is the same by the beach or by the Beltway: "Good design is balance, proportion and function," says Wilson. But summer houses are, naturally, more dressed down and informal. "At a beach house, it's more relaxed and colors are brighter. You have to be practical when choosing floor coverings and fabrics because of the sand and water tracked in."

Wilson says decorating a house is like doing a puzzle. Most people have many things around the house that would coordinate well, she says. "You just have to put the pieces together."

Decor at the Shore

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