Once upon a time, questions of style may have seemed simple matters - a preference for plain over plaid, a pleat instead of a frill.
No more, insists Judy George, founder, chairman, and chief executive of Domain Inc., a Boston-based home furnishings company. Ms. George says it's time for consumers to wake up and face the fact that "style is yearning."
When choosing a piece of furniture, shoppers are really involved in a lifelong search for "what feels right," she asserts.
That's why the sales staff at Domain's 23 units train with George's system of "intuitive home design."
The basis of George's system is a simple 20-question survey designed to zero in on a consumer's personality and world view, which, George says, connect with certain kinds of surroundings.
Based on their answers, potential customers are divided into four basic groups:
* Visionaries. They (she includes herself in this group) see their homes as sanctuaries. They seek order, harmony, a touch of luxury.
* Artisans. These folks love simplicity and may want a homey, familial look.
* Idealists. They prefer a smooth, uncluttered look.
* Adventurers. They resist conformity and are likely to be attracted to homes with a whimsical, eclectic, amusing atmosphere.
Once a salesperson understands a customer's basic world view, George says, helping that person put together the right furnishings becomes easier.
But for George, this system extends beyond furniture. She believes that a deeper understanding of real needs - a clearer sense of the feeling of "rightness" that consumers try to satisfy as they make purchases - can help in other phases of life.
That's why she's hoping to expand her business to include a line of inspirational videotapes that develop her ideas about intuitive decisionmaking.
She's also written a book, due this fall, of ideas for home decorating.
According to George, women tend to rely naturally on this intuitive sense of "rightness" when making decisions.
That's why she considers understanding that process essential to the sale of home furnishings.
Her biggest surprise when she began to work in the field was to find that the vast majority of home-furnishing purchases are made by women, and yet, says George, the industry "never learned to talk to them, much less to service them."