Designer helps budget-conscious young couples

Many young couples with limited decorating budgets will approach a professional interior designer apologetically, or most often, not at all.

Yet Robert D. Martin, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, who recently moved his office from Manhattan to Williamsburg, Va., says he welcomes such budget-conscious newcomers. He usually finds them to be intelligent, straightforward, and eager to learn.

He feels strongly that young people should not be afraid to seek professional help in the early stages of putting their homes together - before they make costly mistakes or fill rooms with cheap furniture they will eventually regret having.

He delineates here two instances of young couples who have come to him for help in resolving their decorating quandaries. In each instance he has consulted with them at his studio, visited their homes, and then developed total design concepts for the spaces under consideration. Once he has laid out a long-range plan with color chips, fabrics, and carpet swatches, he helps the couple see what jobs they can manage by themselves, and what shopping they can do both with him and without him. He tells them where they can get things done reasonably and how they can get interesting effects that don't cost a lot of money. He shows them how they can stretch the decorating job over several years, following a fundamental decorating plan that provides a sense of order and continuity.

Lee and Paula Powell were able to buy a small, ranch-style house on the perimeter of Williamsburg. With wedding gift money they had already purchased for their living room a traditional camelback sofa and two armless chairs, and one of their families had given them a small spinet piano and a little dropleaf side table. But they didn't want a ''typical'' 18th-century Williamsburg look.

They came to Mr. Martin with $2,000 and asked if he could tie together what they already had, give them a plan, and help them make additional purchases. He agreed to work with them, setting a design fee of $600 that would be a credit against any purchases the couple made. Both parties signed a contract agreeing to the terms.

The first purchase was a big 48-inch-square coffee table lacquered a deep blue-green. It cost $500, but became an important piece for tying all the elements together. He then placed the two armless slipper chairs, covered in shrimp pink, across the table from the sofa, and spent $600 for a wing chair covered in flamestitch fabric, to flank the sofa and to complete the conversation group. Then the Powells chose a large 36-by-54-inch abstract painting for $300 that sounds a distinctly bright and contemporary note.

The decorator then gave them a chip of sea-foam green paint, and the couple painted their own living and dining room walls. Mr. Martin made the living room's one window a focal point by extending its height from floor to ceiling with curtains and cream-colored silk valance and draperies, which turned back to reveal chintz lining in the same deep blue-green color as the coffee table. The dining room window was treated the same. The entry was divided from the main room with manufactured wood grille panels in a cross-hatch pattern.

Two modern brass pharmacy lamps at $150 each were purchased to place at each end of the sofa. The Powells' budget was used up, but they had an effect they liked and a plan for the future. Already they have added another $1,000 to carpet the living and dining room with the same sea-foam green that is on the walls, and to buy fabric to cover the seats of the dining chairs. They know what they will be adding next, when more funds are on hand.

Haydn and Sherri DuBay recently bought a dilapidated four-room house in Virginia Beach, Va., just a block and half from the beach, but in a very depressed area of town. They paid $5,000 for the house and land and will someday build a four-unit condominium in its place.

Once they decided to fix up the little house and live in it a few years, they came to Mr. Martin with $5,000 in hand and all their possessions in the middle of the floor, asking his help in getting it all together.

In this case, his initial plan included taking down partitions to create one large, open, flexible space that would serve as living-dining-kitchen areas. The couple did this work themselves and did all their own wood scraping and wall and woodwork painting. They also laid a new kitchen floor. Again Mr. Martin provided the chip for the camel-colored paint and sold them the matching camel-colored acrylic wall-to-wall carpeting and a small Oriental area rug.

Since Virginia Beach is a seaside resort area, Mr. Martin and the DuBays held to a basic color scheme of whites, beiges, and camels, accented by pale pastels. The couple brought to their new living room a big country French pine armoire, one small sofa, four dining chairs, and a brass bench covered in brown velvet. The decorator helped them find a dining table, and advised them to invest $900 in a handsome coffee table with a pine plinth base and a four-inch slab of fossilstone for its top. ''It centered the room and gave it character and strength,'' Mr. Martin explained, ''so was worth every cent.'' He also purchased for them two swivel tub chairs at $750 each, and two pedestals that house their stereo speakers and display pieces of Mrs. DuBay's collection of Lladro porcelain figurines.

Again the designer advised that they extend and unify the windows by hanging slatted wooded blinds from ceiling to floor. The DuBays have already saved enough additional money to install new kitchen cabinets, and are about to tackle bedrooms with paint and wallpaper.

With each couple, Mr. Martin says, much of his contribution was in organizing what people already had, adding those items that they most urgently needed, and then making it all work together as a scheme. Both couples like the results and will continue to carry out the overall plans they have been given by Mr. Martin.

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