valley dispatch correspondent

I have been getting a lot of e-mails from people who are eager to start making changes in their home, but they just have no idea where to begin. Between the costs and all the options available it is no wonder that most people get overwhelmed and just end up living with what they have.

I think a bigger part of the problem though is that people just assume that they should be able to go to a few furniture stores, make stops at Home Goods and Sherwin Williams on the way home and put together a space that looks like it should be in Better Homes and Gardens.

The reality is that even designers do not tackle designing a room in this way. It is a process that involves a little bit of research and a lot of information from the client. Long before a designer even gets to details like color scheme and furniture layout, she will talk to the client about their budget, time frame, functionality of the space and whether they are ready to buy right now. So if you want to approach your next project like a designer, here are the things you need to consider first.

The most important part of the project is the budget. Every single decision you make is related to how much you are willing to invest in your room. Most people tell me that they do not have a budget. But they do. It is the figure in your head that you do not want to spend above. The bottom line is you absolutely cannot start a project without a budget. Everyone involved in making decisions for the project needs to agree on the budget, too. By establishing a budget, you always know how much you have left at all times and can make better decisions.

The second part is to determine your time frame. Do you have two weeks to finish the project or three months? By establishing a time frame you can determine if you can buy custom-order pieces or if you need to purchase items that are in stock. This will also help you decide where you want to shop, as not all furniture stores can accommodate short time frames.

Third, decide how you want to use the room. Do you entertain and need extra seating? You also should consider the activities that you do in the room. Do you read? Do you play board games? Do you watch TV? Do you have pets?

Pets and kids are two big considerations. You cannot choose fabrics with a loose weave if you have pets as claws can get caught and snag the fabric. You should also consider cleanability — can you wipe off the sofa with water and soap or do you have to use a dry clean only product? Once you have determined how you want to use the room, you should have a better idea of the kind of items you are looking for.

Lastly, are you ready to buy right now or in the next three months? If you can buy now, start planning and shopping and commit to that timeframe. If not, do not start the project. The furniture industry is a fashion business and new products are introduced several times a year. This means slow moving fabrics and furniture styles are also phased out. If you start shopping more than three months before you are ready to make a decision, you run the risk of your furniture or fabric being discontinued. Then you have to start over. Not fun.

Next time we will continue this discussion with more tips on how to get your project started.

Julie Chrissis is a professional home stager and interior decorator based in Nashua and Malden, Mass. She can reached at