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What can a design center do for you?

Five centers from Seattle to San Diego have new programs for home-furnishings shoppers

ONCE OPEN ONLY TO registered design professionals, interior design showrooms throughout the West have recently thrown wide their doors. Now they welcome the general public to come in, browse, and even buy.

What's in these design centers? Everything needed to finish floors and walls, and furnish and accessorize a home or office--including fabrics, furniture, fine art, flooring, lighting, wall coverings, carpeting, countertops, and kitchen and bath fixtures.

Design centers in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego each house as many as 220 showrooms where manufacturers display and sell products to interior designers and other design professionals.

Consumers have been clamoring for years to be let inside the centers so they could see for themselves the spectrum of what's available for their homes--and make purchases directly, without the extra expense of working through a design professional.

Showroom owners by and large have resisted, and it's hard to blame them. Theirs is essentially a wholesale business; they sell products at a net cost to design professionals, who buy the products to furnish their clients' homes and workplaces.

The design professionals act as retailers, scouting out products, educating their clients about what's available, helping them choose what's best, and making the final purchases. They then add on a markup of 25 to 50 percent or more as payment for their time and expertise.

The showrooms did not want to take on the role of servicing retail customers while still getting only wholesale prices on their goods in return.


Trying to balance the interests of all, managers at design centers around the West have come up with a solution they hope will benefit everybody--and increase business for design pros and showrooms at the same time (not a small concern in recessionary times).

The centers that we list have developed consumer-assistance programs at their showrooms and apply a discounted markup to consumer purchases. Each design center has a slightly different program, but they all include similar elements.

First, call in advance to check whether a program requires reservations. Most centers will have an information booth set up to help you when you arrive. Some centers require that you view a short orientation film on your first visit to help acquaint you with the building and how it operates.

After that you have several choices: you can walk the building on your own (although you will need help in making a purchase), you can take a free interior designer-led tour, or you can proceed to the consumer services area for a private consultation with an interior designer or designer referral service.

Depending on the size of the building, a guided tour might cover most of the showrooms or just a particular area. At Showplace & Galleria Design Centers in San Francisco, for example, tour areas rotate daily: one day's tour might focus on showrooms offering window and wall treatments; another's concentrates on those with fabric and upholstered goods.


All the centers have some form of buying service to help you if you decide to make a purchase from a showroom. In many cases, they either charge a 25 percent processing fee or give you merchandise at the net, or wholesale, cost plus half the typical designer markup. This means you'll get merchandise for considerably less than you would have paid if your interior designer had done the footwork.

Several of the centers also offer a design clinic or "designer desk." Here, for a fee that ranges from $50 in Seattle to $100 in San Francisco, you get to meet one-on-one for 2 hours with an interior designer and get specific advice about your own decorating or remodeling project. All the interior designers working in these programs have been selected on the basis of their qualifications, experience, and knowledge.

Consumers are encouraged to bring paint chips, carpet samples, photographs, and fabric swatches for a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves meeting. A Showplace Design Center representative calls these meetings "a low-risk way to try out a designer."

If you decide you would like to hire a designer to work with on a long-term basis, you'll find resources at the centers to help you with that, too. You can view portfolios of selected designers' completed projects or talk with a referral service that will help match you up with a compatible designer.

Hours that these centers are open to the public vary from afternoons only to daily, with an occasional evening.



Seattle Design Center, 5701 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle 98108; (800) 497-7997


Showplace & Galleria Design Centers, 2 Henry Adams St., San Francisco 94103; (800) 877-8522


Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, Calif. 90069; (310) 657-0800


Design Center South, 23811 Aliso Creek Rd., Laguna Niguel, Calif. 92656; (714) 643-2929


San Diego Design Center, 6455 Lusk Blvd., San Diego 92121; (619) 452-7332
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Colby, Anne
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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