If a new look is on your holiday list

Special to The Times

LABOR DAY may still lie ahead, but for anyone hoping to spruce up the home before Thanksgiving, the calendar is screaming something else entirely: Get moving.

Interior designers in Southern California say savvy clients have already come calling -- some as early as July -- to ensure that their kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms will have been transformed from construction zone to showpiece by the time the gravy boat lands on the turkey table.

“People don’t start to get nervous until the kids go back to school,” says Los Angeles-based interior designer Mark Cutler. “Depending on what your project entails, we need anywhere from a six- to a 16-week lead time. If you’re looking for a Christmas installation, if we’re up and running at full steam by October, you’re probably going to be fine.”

But want all work finished by Thanksgiving? Better start making those calls, and don’t be surprised if your options are limited.


A rule of thumb: If you want custom draperies, furniture, cabinets or flooring, you should get your orders in by early September, at the latest. To be absolutely sure all work is wrapped up on time and to your satisfaction, major renovations on complicated spaces such as kitchens or bathrooms should have started in June or July.

Even do-it-yourselfers willing to work with off-the-shelf products from catalogs or big-box stores such as Crate & Barrel or Expo Design Center should begin now. Something as seemingly simple as ordering carpeting from a home improvement center can take twice as long during the holiday redecorating season; some subcontractors who measure rooms and install the product see their schedules start to back up in October. Ditto subcontractors for other redecorating services.

And by November?

“I’m looking for things I can buy off showroom floors, period,” Cutler says.


Lana Olmstead of Cheaper Than a Wife, a firm that designs interiors for coastal Orange County residences and decorates homes for Christmas, says the coming month is best. “The kids are at school,” Olmstead says, “and clients have time to sit down and plan.”

Santa Monica-based interior designer Kathryn M. Ireland, known for her breezy, layered elegance, says early planning ends up being a client’s best friend.

“If we started right now, anything is possible, frankly,” she says. “I could renovate your whole house.”

Many designers say they are only as good as their vendors, which is why Jennifer Bevan Interiors in South Pasadena sets today as its deadline for accepting pre-holiday jobs.

“We have nothing but the best work rooms that we have been working with for 20 years, and they are the ones who set the pace,” says Denise Ranalli, head designer for the firm. She says the legions of pros who paint, plumb, make cabinets or install new lighting largely determine if a project will be completed by the holidays.

“If a tradesman is booked up and your client needs drapes yesterday, you’re in trouble,” Cutler says. “We send end-of-summer gifts to our vendors.” Bottles of wine and tequila go to drapery makers, upholsterers and other artisans who keep his projects on schedule. Toys go to their children.

For procrastinators, the good news is that there’s always hope -- as long as you’re willing to pay. Carpet installation and sales specialist Robert Rickun of Carpet Design in Los Angeles says his turn-around time is usually four to six weeks, but ...

“This is Hollywood, and if it exists, we can make it happen,” Rickun says. “People here are always willing to pay for what they want.”


One client insisted that a custom-made, hand-tied wool carpet be delivered to her home in time for a holiday party, scheduled for just a few weeks later. Rickun had it air-freighted from the Czech Republic at a cost almost equal to the price of the carpet.

After Labor Day, some designers work 16-hour days to satisfy their best clients.

“I’m one of those people if you want something tomorrow, I can do it for you,” Ireland says, adding with a laugh, “but no good deed goes unpunished.” If you don’t plan now, she says, “you will pay rush fees across the board.”

Jay Jeffers of the Jeffers Design Group in L.A. and San Francisco says he doesn’t charge customers a premium for rush service, but many of the manufacturers he uses do. “We end up having to pass those 15% to 25% differences in cost to them when a job is last-minute,” he says.

Instead of rushing on an overly ambitious project, Ireland suggests focusing on the living and dining rooms.

“August and September is a great time to have new slipcovers made for your couches and chairs,” Ireland says. Her lead time on new drapery or upholstery projects is about 12 weeks. “Though you can always do projects quickly if you’re in a pinch, fabric and labor is so expensive, you don’t want to do a rush job.”

Ranalli suggests simple changes, such as painting a room or changing the pillows to “spruce up the color.”

Even easier: Cutler suggests cleaning walls, floors and furniture, from top to bottom. “You’ll be amazed at how this simple act will make everything feel fresh and new.” And it’s much easier than ripping out your kitchen.



Jake Klein can be reached at