NEW YORK — ELIZABETH HOWARD, national president of the American Society of Interior Designers, understands that many of us live with limited decorating budgets, have an affinity for clutter, and a passion for collecting ``interesting little objects.'' Like most interior designers, this Honolulu professional loves ``big ticket'' decorating - splendid Hawaiian homes, luxurious clubs, or hotels like the Hana-Maui. But she also knows how to tame clutter and how to make the best of budget decorating.
Her own home is an example. ``Twelve years ago I bought an ordinary 1937 tract house with two bedrooms and one bathroom, and a view of Diamond Head from the deck.'' It works well for one person, and ``I love everything in it, especially those things that remind me of the 17 places I lived while I was growing up. My father was in the military, so we moved often.
``I love all those craft items and silly things that I have picked up in my travels and all those gifts from friends I have met along the way,'' she says. ``I like having them out where I can enjoy them all together.''
Recently, she felt the urge to do a little redecorating. So, she lightened the color of the carpet, reupholstered some of the chairs and sofas, and moved a lot of furniture around. Some pieces she moved to other rooms, where they suddenly looked new and different to her.
``Then,'' she says, ``I took everything off my shelves and tables and put the whole lot in the middle of the room, and started putting it back together in an entirely new way.''
By the time she finished, ``it all looked fresh ... and I had rediscovered a lot of old friends amongst my possessions. This little exercise in rearrangement costs no money, just a day of time to work things over and reassess them. I retire some things for awhile and even throw, or give some away. And of course I add new things from time to time.''
Our homes need change to be kept stimulating and interesting, she says. ``So why shouldn't we move things around and gather them together in new ways?''
Last year she decorated an $88,000 ``affordable'' starter house at the annual Parade of Homes sponsored by the Honolulu Board of Realtors. Since the rule of thumb is that a homeowner can spend between 5 and 10 percent of a home's purchase price for interior furnishings and decoration, her budget ran between $6,000 and $7,000, retail.
``I put that house together exactly like the move-in family might do it,'' she recalls. ``I went to retail stores, hardware stores, and shopped the Conran's mail-order catalog. I went to store sales where I found dining chairs for $39 each and close-out fabric for $1 a yard, and visited Salvation Army stores and went to swap meets.''
SHE turned a galvanized garbage can upside down to use for the base of the glass-topped dining table and hung up sheets of shiny aluminum Mylar on walls she couldn't afford to mirror.
``What I proved,'' she says, ``was that style doesn't have to be expensive. The job was a creative challenge to me, but the point I most wanted to make was that young families with limited funds have the option of engaging the counsel of a qualified interior designer, and then doing the shopping themselves. In this case, I acted as both the consultant designer and the budget-bound client.''
Many interior designers today, she emphasizes, have hourly or daily consultation fees which can provide people with a basic color scheme, a room layout plan, and general guidance on right scale and appropriateness of things to be purchased.
Hourly fees for this type advice usually range from $25 to $100 an hour, with a national average among interior designers being $70 per hour.
She advises people who opt for this consultation to do a lot of homework first - think through their life style needs and their likes and dislikes on color, pattern, and style.
``Once they have made all these determinations and have a concrete plan in hand,'' says Howard, most couples - or singles - can bring rooms together that have ``a really cohesive look.''
As president of the 28,000-member society, Howard attends conferences, markets, and meetings promoting the interests of interior designers. She is nurturing local-chapter projects that involve making homeless shelters more livable and attractive, and setting up programs in leadership training and management skills.
``I feel we have to give back to our organizations and to society as a matter of personal growth and education,'' she says.
``I also tell interior designers that volunteerism can translate into more and better business.''