The gift of interior design won’t burden your recipient with an item that gathers dust or needs to be returned; a dining room makeover by designer Melanie Whittington.


Want to skip a trip to the mall this holiday season? In lieu of a rug your mother might return or a tchotchke that will just clutter up your brother’s office, give the gift of expert advice.

Donna Lang, author of “A Gift for Giving: Making the Most of the Present,” said the gift of time with an interior designer will not burden your recipient with an item that gathers dust or needs to be returned.

“Instead of weighing them down with a bottle of perfume or sweater, give them something they will remember for a long time,” said Lang, a New Jersey-based interior designer since 1975. “The beauty of this is that it is a gift that gives and gives and gives every time you walk into the room.”

Leslie Ehrmann, the Washington Metro Chapter administrator for the American Society of Interior Designers, said many designers offer hourly consultations.

“When people are looking to make some improvement but need advice and don’t know where to go, they often wrongly assume that designers are only interested in a large, full-scale project.”

Even time to hang a collection of photographs or artwork, Lang said, is a perfect present because experts finish the task quickly and with a level of skill many people do not have. She suggests contacting a local framing store to see whether they offer hanging service with an hourly rate.

“I know if I try to hang photos myself, I measure and remeasure, and I hit my thumb and give up. The experts can hang 27 pieces an hour.”

Time with a personal organizer, landscape design expert or handyman would also make a thoughtful gift, Lang said.

“Think to yourself, what would you like? What would be really helpful for you? That would make a great gift,” Lang said.

If you’re looking for a designer, Ehrmann said to check the American Society of Interior Design’s online listings at, where you can sort by the type of project and search in your immediate area. She suggests calling the designer you are interested in working with to ask about their services and rates. Beyond the hourly consultations, some interior designers offer color consultations, single-room makeovers, shopping lists and more.

Those with larger budgets can also consider package plans. Melanie Whittington, founder of the Arlington, Va.-based Whittington Design Studio, began offering “room service” packages in 2010. For $1,850, Whittington and her team will provide a two-hour consultation, a custom presentation, a rendered furniture layout and more. The package also includes project management — coordinating vendors, placing orders and scheduling installations. Whittington also offers a pared-down design plan to help clients coordinate two rooms in an open floor plan for $1,000.

“We’ve done room service projects as gifts about 10 times,” Whittington said. “It’s great because it’s often overwhelming to put those rooms together on your own. It’s kind of like getting your feet wet with design, because it’s on a smaller scale. You still get custom design but with a lower commitment.”

Brit Lippert, co-owner of Frederick, Md.-based The Better Half Consultants, said her company’s consultation packages are often bought as gifts. Lippert said she and business partner Liz Velisek have offered design and organization services for five years, and began creating tiered design packages nine months ago to appeal to people with budgets large and small.

For the cost-conscious, Lippert and Velisek will create a simple color palette board for $80, while a mid-level package will include a product list and layout for $300. Their most expensive package includes a full installation for $400 plus the cost of the furniture and accessories.

“We had a husband call a few weeks ago to get a design board for his wife,” Lippert said. “She had been talking about redoing their family room since they had moved into their home. It’s a unique gift they can use in their home. Clients use our services to get started on projects they have been waiting to do but never got around to.”

When asked what home-improvement gift Lippert would like to receive, the answer was easy. “To have a handyman come for an hour or two would be great. ... It’s certainly high up on my list of cool gifts.”

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