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Fear-buster #3: Apprentice yourself to a master

Nothing is scarier than the unknown, and most amateur decorators don't know exactly how to go about creating the changes they want. I certainly don't. What I do know is that I can benefit from the years of training and experience that I don't have simply by following the method of a designer I admire. For example, I love Christopher Lowell's Seven-Layer system, which you can learn in detail from his books and television demonstrations. But even the following highly abridged version can ease your fear of tackling a room makeover:

1. Start by painting the walls and ceiling.

2. Install wall-to-wall flooring.

3. Buy upholstered furniture in solid, safe colors.

4. Add accent rugs and pillows.

5. Add non-upholstered workhorse furniture (side tables, etc.).

6. Accessories a-go-go! Photos, books, lava lamps, whatever!

7. Use plants and lighting to create depth and lushness.

You can get more details on the specifics online or in a bookstore, but this list tends to get my clients started all by itself. One reason is that it helps address perhaps the most overwhelming fear of all—going broke.

Fear-buster #4: Minimize spending risks

Compounding the visceral dread of taking on large, poorly understood tasks is the mother of all fears: creating a money pit so colossal that to finish your children's rooms, you'd have to sell the children. This fear isn't unrealistic, but here's a quick, eight-word solution: If it's expensive, it's got to be neutral.

A trained designer may decide to buy that shocking fuchsia credenza, but beginners can greatly reduce their financial risk—and its paralyzing effects—by choosing expensive design elements, like big furniture and flooring, in classic designs and go-with-everything colors. Boring? By themselves, perhaps. But they'll blend with design changes from minimalist to wild and crazy—changes you can make using relatively cheap items like wallpaper or paint or pillows.

At this very moment, think of one thing, one tiny thing, you could do to change a space about which you typically explain and complain. Imitate the visuals of a designer you admire, or mimic processes like the Seven-Layer system. If you spend money, keep your risks to a minimum. Now—now—before you put this magazine down, take a step toward doing that tiny thing: It really is half the task. I'll even join you. It's so much easier to zip to the hardware store for paint chips since I put those bicycles away.

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