What is your style? Traditional? Modern? Sleek and sophisticated, warm and cozy, something in between? Perhaps you are not even sure.
When it comes to interior decorating, the choices can be daunting. Fabric, furniture, colors, carpet, window treatments, accessories — how to select the best choices for your life-style, taste, and of course, budget.
Increasing numbers of homeowners are opting for professional help. More women work out of the house today and often have little time, inclination, or expertise to expend energy and effort into coming up with a design scheme for their home.
“People don’t want to make a major and expensive mistake, or perhaps they want a different look in their home, but don’t know how to do it,” notes Iris Houlihan of Iris Interiors LLC. A certified interior decorator, accredited home stager, and professional organizer, Ms. Houlihan enjoys helping clients achieve everything from a complete design change in their living space, to a color consultation about paint, to a re-design or rearrangement of existing furniture and accessories to add new interest. The results can bring new life and energy to a room or rooms, creating even more enjoyment in one’s home.
Vocations can take unusual turns, and Ms. Houlihan’s ultimate career in design is just such an example. Born in Germany, she came to the United States and attended Virginia Tech University, earning a degree in biochemistry. She later worked in the pharmaceutical industry in marketing and project management.
“I was always very visual and very interested in decorating,” she says. “As a girl, I moved the furniture around in my room, and reorganized everything. Later, I also enjoyed helping my friends decorate their homes.”
When she married, she and her husband moved to Hillsborough, and she took great pleasure in decorating their house. “I loved to work in design. I could always see beyond the existing contents of the house. Our first house definitely needed work, which was good for me. I wanted to add my own touch, and I liked having a challenge.”
A self-described “Type A” personality and multi-tasker, Ms. Houlihan was able to balance the many components of her life. These involved working in the pharmaceutical industry, running the household (which included three children and numerous dogs and cats), as well as continuing her decorating work as a hobby, and taking design classes.
“I believe if you really want to do something, it’s not work,” she explains.
She was pleased when the family moved to their next home, which was new construction, providing an empty canvas for her decorating talents. She welcomed the opportunity to decorate the new home in her own style and design.
It became clear that decorating was her true calling, and she started part-time, then opened her own decorating business full-time a year ago. It has been a resounding success.
Her experience in the corporate world has helped her new undertaking, she adds. “My marketing experience proved very useful in running my new business, as was my general business background. Also, my husband encouraged me. I think he was glad that I could concentrate on other design work beside repainting our guest room every year!”
Ms. Houlihan decided to enter the decorating field gradually, first by becoming a professional stager. “I started staging houses that were for sale. With staging, you do what the house needs to appeal to the widest range of potential buyers. It goes beyond cleaning and de-cluttering; it helps potential buyers imagine themselves living in the house.”
Therefore, she points out, it is important to de-personalize the setting; neutralize and balance paint, carpet, furniture, etc. “We will rearrange, remove, and reduce the furnishings and decor in your home so that it will appeal to the most buyers and show the house at its best.
“90 percent of people search on line for a house,” she adds. “So, it’s important to have pictures that will appeal to these potential buyers. I like the staging. It’s about transforming the space, and it doesn’t take as long as the interior decorating projects.”
Interior decorating and re-design (or mini make-overs) are a big part of her business, however, and she helps clients throughout central New Jersey and beyond.
As a certified interior decorator, Ms. Houlihan does everything from one room to an entire house. “It is very important that the house reflect the client’s personality and taste,” she points out. “The budget is the beginning, and if someone is flexible, we can do more with less money. It doesn’t have to be about spending a lot of money. Amazing looks are created by layering, mixing, and adding texture and color.”
First, Ms. Houlihan helps to define the client’s taste and life-style. Do they entertain, cook? Are they formal, informal? Are there children, pets?
“Some clients have very specific ideas, but don’t know how to execute them,” she explains. “Others don’t always know what they want, just that they want something different. I definitely need to come and ‘meet’ the house. I’ll ask clients to tell me what they like or don’t like. Is there anything that they want to keep?
“It’s important to know how they use the room. The goal is always to make it beautiful, but functional. I also like to include some little unexpected designs that create interest.””
Ms. Houlihan notes a number of interesting trends in design today, including darker, richer colors. “We see dark brown, even black walls in rooms. Dark, dramatically-lit interiors with paint colors of navy, black, brown, and red are trends. You can also choose to have neutral colors but more vibrant accents. Keep the walls neutral, then decorate and accessorize with color. Tone-on-tone is also popular, especially with lighter colors — pale blue, yellow, etc.”
In addition, she continues, “There is more and more of a trend to modern. Transitional was the favorite for a while but now there is more interest in modern, and also, an eclectic look. This allows you to keep what you have but then add something new. You don’t have to have matched sets. You can break up a set and put one piece in a different room.”
Creative New Ways
This type of rearranging of furniture and accessories is often the focus of a re-design project, another favorite part of Ms. Houlihan’s work.
“It’s a bit like staging. You take whatever the homeowner has and use it in creative new ways. Bringing things from one room into another, for example. Sometimes, it can be hard for people to see outside of existing rooms; then I can help.”
Ms. Houlihan enjoys working on all sizes and types of projects, and all budgets. Costs are based on the scope and complexity of the job, and can be hourly or flat fees. The time frame can range from one day to months.
She also points out that some clients like to plan a project over time. “We have to know how much money they are comfortable spending. I can start a job and continue it over time. Someone might say, “I can spend $10,000 over three years, but let’s start with a certain amount now.
“I love what I do,” she says, with a smile. “I am getting more and more calls and many referrals. There has been great word-of-mouth, and I am very grateful to my clients. I am so happy to be able to help them realize their dream of what their house can be. I look forward to the opportunity to help them do something different and make their house even more comfortable and beautiful for them.”
Ms. Houlihan’s hours are by appointment, including evenings and weekends. (908) 265-7688. Website: www.iris-interiors.com.