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When my girlfriend called to ask if she should go with slate or hardwood flooring, I told her it depends on her budget. But when she asked if she should paint her walls linen white or vanilla ice-cream white, I told her it was time to consult an interior designer.

After making the move from a one-bedroom condo to a home with four floors, she had questions but no plan.

Those of us who opt for do-it-yourself design want to save money, but sometimes this approach ends up costing more. A professional can ensure we're making the best choices for our lifestyle, our home's resale value and our budget.

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While fees range from $150 to $250 plus an hour, there are many talented young designers who are looking to build their portfolios and client base, and quote rates at a fraction of that price. The Interior Designers of Canada website is an excellent resource for designers at all stages of their career.

Another option is to work with a junior designer at a well-known firm. My girlfriend chose this option and paid $85 an hour, for five hours in total. She also asked for a tiered pricing system, from "rolling up her sleeves" to "hands off," so she could see what was offered at various price points.

If you want a hybrid of the two, a company like Good Space Design Group, based in Vancouver, is a smart option. It offers a less expensive alternative to a full-service design firm with its "design in a box" service. You receive fabric recommendations, a lighting plan and "paint-by-numbers" design instruction, all wrapped up in a pretty little package.

You might also find designers in some of your favourite stores who will visit your home and provide suggestions. In some cases their consultation fee is waived if you purchase items from their store.

The long-term value of professional guidance far outweighs the initial costs. Plus, you'll never have to second-guess linen versus vanilla ice cream for your walls.



Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the Globe's personal finance site.

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