Singles Team Up With Decorators
When it comes to their homes – and many other pursuits domestic – women seem to be throwing out the old “sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” approach to settling down. No longer is “first comes love, then comes marriage” the standard order of business. More and more, single women are taking the route of first comes a house, then comes a designer. And if Mr. Right comes along, that’s OK, too. “If you’re waiting to get married to decorate your place, you may be waiting a long time,” says Sara Ruffin Costello, creative director at Domino, a style magazine catering to 25- to 45-year-olds. Costello and other style watchers say singles are becoming a growing part of the interior design market. Some of the new clients are successful professional men and women who have the money to create a beautiful home but not the time. In many other cases, middle-age divorcees and widows are turning to designers to help them create condos or empty-nest homes that reflect their style and taste. Designer Jeri Sitaro estimates that about one-third of her clients are divorced or widowed professionals in their 40s and 50s. But younger never-marrieds also are turning to professional designers for help. Danette Guay was 37 when she bought a half-acre lot in the Wesleyan Hills neighborhood of Middletown, Conn., and decided to build her dream house. Handy with a hammer and a power drill, Guay already had renovated and sold several condominiums. But the house was a bit more than this busy health-care professional felt comfortable tackling alone. Guay’s real estate agent introduced her to interior designer Sharon McCormick of Fairchild House Interiors in Durham, Conn. From the beginning – presenting the home’s exterior color and landscape schemes to the neighborhood association – McCormick and Guay controlled construction of the 1,600-square-foot house from the ground up. Guay purchased plans for the three-bedroom contemporary on the Internet, and McCormick modified the design to meet her client’s lifestyle. Guay loves to entertain, so a large, open living/dining area greets visitors who enter through the front door. Hardwood floors are covered with coordinated, but not matching, area rugs and an oversized sectional offers views of the television and the gas fireplace. Unlike the rest of the home, where Guay chose earth tones, the kitchen, at the rear of the house, is decorated with a lot of blue. A slider opens to the deck, which runs along the length of the rear wall, offering a view of the yard and the neighborhood below. A dabbler in real estate investment, Guay approached the project with an eye toward comfort and resale value. She included two bedrooms on the first floor and created a master suite in the second-floor loft, making the home suitable for a family if she ever decides to sell. While there are many ways to contract with a designer, Guay chose to pay McCormick on an hourly basis and use her primarily as a sounding board for her own ideas and purchases. Guay spent hours with lighting designers and shopping at fabric stores and ready-made furniture retailers. “Custom furniture was not in my budget,” Guay says. She found much of her artwork at Marshalls and Target. On Saturdays, Guay would go to McCormick’s office, and the two would confer. Most of the time, McCormick says, Guay’s choices were just perfect. Starting with a designer added very little to the cost of the home, Guay says, because most of the features, including paint colors, flooring materials, bathroom tile, kitchen surfaces and cabinets, had to go into the house anyway. Starting with what she likes, Guay says, saves the time and expense of redecorating. “This is such a personal project and such a big one to do all by yourself,” says McCormick, who has worked mostly with couples. She says she enjoyed working with Guay because nobody had to compromise. When she started the house, Guay says she looked at it as another one of the temporary relationships in her life – find a nice place, spend time getting to know it and molding it to her taste, then let it go. But with the house, she’s fallen in love. “I’m a real homebody now,” says Guay, now 40, standing in her romantic bedroom which adjoins a master bathroom decorated to resemble an Asian spa. Rebecca Ellsley, a 35-year-old single designer and real estate agent who bought her first house 10 years ago and now lives alone in a 3,000-square-foot log cabin, says having a nice house can have a downside in the dating game. Some men are intimidated by women with well-decorated homes, she says. “People want you to be successful, but not too successful.” But hiring a designer and settling into a beautiful environment does not necessarily preclude the possibility of eventually turning a space for one into a place for two. Several years ago, designer Rosemarie DelPiano designed a large condo for a young single professional woman who moved to Connecticut from New York City. The woman recommended DelPiano to a neighbor, a young man who had recently moved into the same complex. A few years later, DelPiano’s clients got married and moved into the woman’s condo. The man liked his space so much that he asked DelPiano to re-create the feel of his old bachelor condo in the basement of his new wife’s condo. A little more than a year ago, the couple bought a home and combined the furniture from both condos under the new roof. With the real estate market still solid, albeit somewhat softer in most areas, experts say creating a well-designed home carries little risk for singles. In most cases, a well-decorated home or condo is easy to sell at a profit. “My home is an extension of me,” says Costello, of Domino magazine. “You’d be a fool to wait around. What’s the point?”
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