Use your assets: Help with revamping rooms

If you're like many people, you've spent good money– and time– furnishing and decorating your home. You've got Aunt Bessie's old dresser in the bedroom, a futon from Under the Roof in the living room, and a couple of great framed prints hanging on the walls. But is it all working for you?

Kendra Frisbie and Caroline Cooley, owners as of October 1 of the new design business Relish, say there's always room for improvement. Given a day and $275 to $525 per room, the two say they can transform any space– using only what's already in the house.

"You don't have to pay an interior designer $20,000 to come up with something creative," says Frisbie. "People have chosen the things in their own home for a reason. Someone's look comes together over time; we help them."

But wait a second– isn't that basically paying someone to push your furniture around? And couldn't you do that yourself– for free?

Wendi Smith, owner of Enlightened Designs, says some people can, but many cannot. "There are people who can't put an outfit together, let alone their home," she explains. A graduate of the New York School of Interior Design, Smith says she thinks Relish is a "great idea," but wonders how much education in the field Frisbie and Cooley have. "Anybody can say 'I'm an interior designer," Smith points out. "What are they doing to the market?"

Frisbie acknowledges that neither she nor partner Cooley have nationally recognized certification, but says they have years of design experience between them. Frisbie worked in design in San Francisco (where she even made regular appearances on a home design television show) and Sydney, Australia, while Cooley beautified homes in Atlanta for several years before moving to Charlottesville.

And apparently there's big demand for this type of service; Relish isn't the only such company to have recently launched.

Sydney Marshall Elsass, who worked with a similar business in the Boston area, and Sarah Sargent, formerly the director of Second Street Gallery, started The One Day Decorators in August, and say they're filling a need.

Like Relish, The One Day Decorators charge a flat rate per room–their rate is $350– and adjust people's living spaces by reorganizing furniture and offering design suggestions for paint colors and upholstery and drapery fabrics. And Elsass and Sargent go a step further, performing "staging," in which they prepare a house for sale.

"Often people's 'stuff' gets in the way," explains Elsass. "We help people remove the clutter and allow potential buyers to see the house– not the personality of the current owners."

Both Elsass and Frisbie say their service is suitable for anyone from college students to longtime antique collectors.

"People get stuck with the way they've arranged things," says Frisbie. "It's hard for them to imagine things the way an outsider can."

Gretta Hurwitz agrees. One of Relish's first customers, she describes the duo as "two hip young women with great design sense."

Hurwitz and her husband, Shep, built their house off Barracks Road four years ago, with a great room adjacent to the kitchen. Hurwitz says they imagined spending the majority of their time in that space, and hoped it would prove perfect for parties.

The reality was a bit different, however. "We weren't using the space," she explains– until they discovered a postcard from Relish in their mailbox and made the call.

Frisbie and Cooley moved the Hurwitz's dining room table from the center of the room closer to the kitchen and created two cozier sitting areas to make the space "warmer and more usable," says Hurwitz.

Now, Frisbie and Cooley have moved on to the Hurwitzs' foyer and living and dining rooms. Tackling the upstairs bedrooms could be next, Hurwitz says. Though she did end up purchasing two new chairs and a sofa for the great room– as well as some accessories for her mantle– she says there was no pressure to do so.

And, she says, the whole process has been fun.

"I don't get my nails done and don't go to the spa," she says. "This is my treat."

Before Relish, Gretta Hurwitz says her great room was not living up to her expectations.

After Cooley and Frisbie worked their magic, the Hurwitzs' great room is "warmer and more usable."

Kendra Frisbie and Caroline Cooley do all the moving themselves. But don't worry about that Ming vase– they say they're well insured.