Today I’m writing about two topics instead of my usual one. I hope the first inspires you and the second saves you from costly disappointment.

In my neighborhood, there are two houses with noticeably simple but noticeably appealing curb appeal. Both landscapes have water-wise intentions. The first front yard consists of five maple trees, a few boulders, and black bark. Other than a path to the front door, that’s all there is — and it looks beautiful. Clean, manicured, and executed with restraint and impeccable judgment.

A large portion of the other house’s lawn was replaced with red lava rock. The lawn and rock have graceful shapes, and in the middle of the rock, stands a maple tree. A boxwood hedge hugs the front and side of the house and, again, that’s all there is.

Besides being focused and uncluttered, the key to the success of this simple design is the choice of rock. Its size is small (comparable to a quarter or less) so the homeowner didn’t just choose larger rock for quick and easy coverage. Larger rock can look out of scale and out of place, like a dried up fly-fishing stream in Jackson Hole instead of a residential neighborhood in wine country. The color of the red rock also works to the best advantage. It subtly integrates with the landscape and, from a distance, looks like earth or bark.

Compliments to my neighbors. Now for the cautions. I recently met two new clients who coincidentally had the same complaint. They had purchased product and hired services from two companies based on their websites, which were filled with impressive photographs of spectacular home improvement projects.

Both clients had assumed that these companies were responsible for the design and installation of these projects. But this was not the case. The professional photographs had been supplied by the manufacturers of the products that the companies were selling. There’s nothing wrong with this but prospective customers should be aware of the origin of website or showroom photographs before expecting their own projects to yield the same beautiful results. They may or may not happen.

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This situation reminds me of a column I wrote some time ago, “Who to hire.” It boils down to the scope and quality of the job. There are Class A general engineer contractors, Class B building contractors, and specialty contractors (or subcontractors) who also have classifications. A handyman does not have to be licensed.

Titles also apply to interior designers. There are specialty certifications and architectural interior designers. And, although the terms are often interchanged, designers and decorators are different. Designers have invested in accredited institutions and passed proficiency exams to earn degrees. Designers design and decorate. Decorators are not designers and, in fact, cannot legally call themselves such. There are no educational or experience requirements associated with the title decorator.

The point of caution is to know who you are hiring and who you are purchasing from in order to get the results you expect.

Patti L. Cowger is a Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net. Her column, Demystifying Design, appears every other Saturday.

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