How do I know what I want?

You love the red wallpaper in one friend's house, the pale gray walls in another.  You've fallen for polished antiques -- and also for black leather sofas.  In fact, if you're like most people, it's hard to choose colors and furnishings for your own home, and trickier still to put your tastes into words.

That's why so many designers suggest letting pictures speak for you.  It's a technique that helps clarify your own style.  If you're unsure how to confront six rooms of blank walls and bare windows, mine design magazines for photographs, creating two files:  rooms you hate, rooms you love.  They speak volumes at your first meeting with a designer.

Because designers often ask new clients for a picture file, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Cut up several months' worth of design magazines.  "Don't forget decorating books,"  and you can "Borrow the expensive ones from friends or the library and make color photocopies of the pages you want."

Stick a Post-It note to each tear sheet and write down what strikes you in the picture.  "It might be a detail, like a table or a trimming," or it might be "the overall feeling of the room."

Don't neglect the file of pictures you dislike:  it clues a designer in to things she should avoid.

If you and your spouse have different tastes, one of you should make the picture file, but both should discuss it with the designer.  We can always find a common ground, that's our job!  Remember, this is just a gathering of ideas, not things we'll copy.

Don't expect your favorite pictures to look similar.  A client's picks at first seem unrelated until a designer elicits the common denominators.  These common denominators typically reveal strong preferences for particular details, colors, and moods.

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