Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

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Iris Interiors

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Weather Forecast

It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

DEFT DECORATING: “What I love about this job is that I never know who will be on the other side of the door when I ring the bell. I’m honored that people let me come into their lives for a period of time.” Anne Battle, owner of Rooms For Improvement, enjoys helping clients create a new look for their surroundings.

Decorating Tips, Ideas, and Decisions Offered by Rooms For Improvement

Is your pad sad? Are your digs drab?

Now that spring is here, a new look may be in order for rooms that are a little tired, rugs worn from kids’ feet and pets’ paws, and furniture, if not frayed, perhaps forlorn. Not to worry, help is at hand!

As owner of Rooms For Improvement, Anne Battle has been helping clients create a new look in their homes for the past four years. Even before, when she was owner, with Marcy Kahn and Shelley Roe, of Birds of A Feather, the gift and furniture shop in Kingston, she helped customers with furniture placement and color ideas.

And even before that. When she founded Familyborn, the Mildred Morgan Center for Birth and Women’s Health in 1978, she was very much involved in ensuring that the rooms were colorful and comforting, as well as functional. As she says, “I went from birthing babies to decorating rooms!

Great Sources

“I tell people right away that I am not a typical decorator; I’ve had no formal training,” explains Ms. Battle. “But I think I have a great eye, and I also am really good at working very quickly and within all different budgets. I have great sources, and I know where to find things.”

Ms. Battle takes on all types of projects — from one room to an entire mansion. Old houses, new houses, apartments and condos — she likes them all. As she points out, “People realize they can call me for even the smallest project. I really like the small jobs, too; they are just as challenging as the big ones.

“I work a lot with existing furniture,” she continues. “Maybe one room isn’t working. We can take one piece of furniture and move it from one room to another. This can make a big difference in how a room looks. Or I can help people decide where to hang pictures or get artwork if they need it. I represent artist Fay Sciarra from Lawrenceville.”

If new furniture is appropriate, Ms. Battle is able to find it quickly. “My idea of fun is to go into a warehouse with thousands of pieces of furniture and light fixtures and pick out a perfect piece for the client in record time. I like instant gratification! I can usually finish an entire house in a week.”

Or less. Consider the story of Princeton resident Karen Loomis. “I called Anne Battle on a Monday morning, and she said she could see me that afternoon. I was starting over, and all I had was a rug in the living room, a mattress for my bedroom, and my daughter’s bedroom furniture. The rest of the house was completely empty.

“Two days later, the house was completely furnished. It’s like a showcase, and I didn’t pay full price for anything. Anne came up with all these wonderful finds, and I saved so much money. I was totally amazed at the transformation that took place so quickly. And I was so impressed with Anne.”

Pure Pleasure

Finding just the right piece of furniture, art, window treatment, fabric, etc. is pure pleasure for Ms. Battle. “For one project, I was able to get a chandelier from the Carlisle Hotel in New York when it was under renovation. We placed it in the dining room which had a cathedral ceiling, which was painted a beautiful washed blue. At night every single crystal on the chandelier sparkled, and it looked like stars all across the ceiling.”

A Princeton native, Ms. Battle says she inherited her decorating skills from her mother, Mildred Morgan, and she has always liked to arrange and re-arrange rooms.” I learned it all from my mother. She was always re-doing a room. She’d say, ‘Anne, we need to repaint the living room and rearrange the furniture. I always helped her, and I also loved to rearrange my own room and change the colors, etc.”

She adds that when she married and had her own home, this proclivity continued. “My husband is such a good sport. He’d never know when he came home from work if he’d find that a wall was taken down!”

“And when we had Birds of A Feather, we’d spend all day rearranging the rooms in the store. Shelley would paint, and Marcy and I would haul furniture. No need to go to a gym for a workout!”

The transition from Birds of A Feather into Rooms For Improvement has gone very smoothly, she reports. “I am so encouraged. I am thrilled. Clients are from all over — Princeton, of course, also West Windsor, South Brunswick, and even Jersey City and New York.”

Customers’ needs cover a wide range as well. Some want help eliminating clutter, when there’s just too much of everything. “I’ve worked with people who were overwhelmed by moving and had not unpacked their boxes. I helped them with that and made their living space livable.”

Clutter Control

If clutter is a big issue, Ms. Battle brings in clutter control expert Janet Baxendale to oversee the sorting and discarding.

Another project included finding the right room arrangement for two people, one of whom was blind. “It was important to make everything comfortable and accessible for him, and pleasing and attractive for his wife,” explains Ms. Battle.

“I also helped a woman who was living in a retirement village with her elderly mother and her mother’s helper. She had given her large bedroom to her mother and the aide, and she was sleeping in her study. We turned the study into a lovely bedroom. Your bedroom should be a haven, a peaceful place away from the stresses of the day.

“She called me afterward and said, ‘Not only did you take a sad-looking pad and make it beautiful, you brought happiness to my soul!’”

Such comments are wonderful to hear, notes Ms. Battle. “My biggest pleasure is meeting people and knowing I have helped them.”

Ms. Battle finds that people are tending to spend more time in their homes today. Whether a lingering result of September 11 or because of the current uncertain economy, they are staying put. “They want to enjoy their homes with family and friends. Your home should be safe, warm, and happy. Home is a place where people have a connection.”

One Room

She adds that clients often call her to help with one room and then decide to include another area of the house too. When she takes on a project, it is important to determine the client’s life-style, she points out.

“Do people have kids, pets? Are they formal, informal? Do they entertain? How do they want a room used? If necessary, we’ll pick out all the furniture around the cats!”

Ms. Battle says that she especially enjoys including an element of surprise into her designs. For example, “If there is a large empty space, I like to put interesting things on the walls, such as an iron gate, shutters, a hooked rug. Something unexpected. I think one of my specialties is being able to find unique pieces and creating an element of surprise.”

Ms. Battle meets with a prospective client for a two-hour initial consultation, when she assesses the job. “That is $185, and that may be all that is needed,” she explains. “If the project continues, it is $40 an hour.

“Chemistry with the client is so important,” she adds. “It’s crucial to have a good working relationship. I ask people to be very honest and tell me if they hate something I have chosen. A decorator has to have a thick skin!’”

She must also have a sense of the client’s personality and taste, she notes, and especially, a decorator must have a vision. “You must be able to envision how the whole room will look. Another thing, you must learn to respect everyone’s different style and be genuinely happy working in a style that is different from your own.

“Overall, I’m a believer in that if you have a vision, you create it and make it happen, whatever it is. Whether it’s the establishment of a birthing center, raising a teenage boy, or decorating a room, nothing should hold you back.

“When someone picks up the phone and says, ‘I need help; can you come?’ Off I go!”

Hours are by appointment. (609) 924-2867.

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