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A Decorating Guide for the Beginner

You've moved into a new home and need to decorate. Learn how to get started.

By Bob Masullo
Sacramento Bee

Although not formally trained as an interior decorator, Eileen Cannon Paulin has long been fascinated by the subject.

Her career includes stints as editor of Romantic Homes magazine and as associate publisher of Victorian Homes magazine, and she frequently appears on decorating shows on HGTV and the Discovery Channel. She now runs her own company, Red Lips 4 Courage Communications, a publishing service that specializes in works by, about and for women.

Her first book, The Serene Home, has been followed by the just-published Decorating for the First Time (Sterling/ Chapelle, $19.95).

From her Southern California home where she lives with her husband and two children, Paulin recently discussed her new book.

Question: How does decorating for the first time differ from later decorating projects?

Answer: There's more to do. Decorating is something you learn as you go, as you make mistakes. There are some pretty big dollar decisions that have to be made by first-timers, most of whom don't have much money. So there really is a need to do basic research. Just learning the terms takes a lot of time.

Q: In Decorating for the First Time, you say there are no hard-and-fast rules. But are there any guidelines?

A: Avoid doing anything on impulse. Take advice from others but follow your own heart. And consider how long you're going to live in a place. If it's a short time, buy inexpensive. If it will be a long time, buy quality.

Q: Should a first-timer hire an interior decorator?

A: In most cases, yes. But you should get one who will work with you as a partner and let you do some of the work yourself. Most first-timers think a decorator will be too expensive. But a decorator often can save you money because of the designer discounts they get.

Even more importantly, they can help you avoid making costly mistakes. And, finally, they have contacts with quality workmen, people you probably would never hear of on your own.

Q: If a person doesn't have strong feelings for styles or colors, how does he or she go about making up his or her mind?

A: The best way is to curl up on a sofa with as many magazines as possible and tear out pictures of what you like. Also, keep a notebook. As you go through stores or visit other people's homes, write down what you like and what you don't like. If you do both, you eventually will see a trend.

Q: What is the most important thing for a first-time decorator to keep in mind?

A: Color. Not just paint on the wall, although that's very important, but in fabrics, on furniture, on floors, around windows. Color has an incredible effect one's moods.

Q: What was your own first-time decorating experience like?

A: It was in a small house in Southern California that had been terribly decorated by the previous owner. We were newlyweds and didn't have much money. So we bought what we could afford. We made some good purchases, some antiques that are still with us 22 years later. By the time we sold the house, it was adorable.

Q: Any mistakes?

A: Oh, yes. I made a few impulse purchases of poorly constructed furniture. And I had a semi-major disaster with crown molding. I didn't know how to put it up and after trying several ways became frustrated and just tacked it on flat. A friend came in, took one look and burst out laughing. "What were you thinking?" she said.

Q: What's your recommended reading list for first-time decorators?

A: Besides my current book? Well, a lot of magazines. Sunset, Southern Living, Dwell, Country Home are all good.

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