Sometimes good fabric just turns bad. Maybe that botanical print, which looked so luscious online, is overpowering the bedroom. Or the textured finish planned for the living room ends up looking like stripes.
"Flaws are why people hire us," said McLean designer Barbara Hawthorn.
But not all problems require professional help, and Hawthorn offered some tips to help guide home decorators.
Ordering fabric online is risky, Hawthorn said, because computer monitors are calibrated differently and may not accurately reflect the fabric's real appearance. Even replicating a look from a photo is tough because of differing ceiling heights, scale and dimensions.
"You need to see fabrics in person, though photos can help you visualize a pattern repeat over a large surface," Hawthorn said.
Once cut fabric is home, however, be flexible if it does not work the way it was planned. "Don't put it on the sofa. [Instead] try the chairs or buy slipcovers."
Even wall paint can be tricky. Tints can look different depending on surrounding hues and the shifting quality of light in a room. Hawthorn advises clients to brush samples on walls and observe for a few days.
For an easy fix if colors are not just right, add rosy filters to track lighting or change the color temperature of the bulbs.
Other ideas include using screens to hide unbalanced features or cover them with wood, fabric, mirrors or wallpaper. Window treatments draw attention away from imbalanced or off-center windows. Fabric and wood valances can hide uneven casings.
While simple trompe l'oeil solutions with lighting and paint can mask some design flaws, others require a Gordian-knot approach.
Bethesda designer Camille Saum thought she'd met her match when she butted heads with a square, 12-by-12-foot support column smack-dab in the middle of a living/dining area renovation.
Her solution: build a custom china cabinet around it, hiding the eyesore under a layer of wallboard. "No one even knew it was there," she said.
She drew on the same inspiration for her '30s-era Washington condo. "I converted the formal dining room to a den, so I had no place to put my china," she said.
Saum designed a built-in china cabinet in the foyer by clipping an adjacent bedroom closet, hanging double, glass-pane doors and adding lighting to display her collectibles.
Still pondering where to eat with no dining room, she designed a restaurant-style leather banquette for an awkwardly shaped living room corner, using her comfy Lexus SUV leather seats as a guide.
Not to be outdone by the old radiator in her elegantly appointed powder room, she concealed it with marble to match the new floors and walls. Custom slits invite the heat to pass through.
"I've often looked at spaces and wondered, 'How am I going to solve this?' " Saum said. "But I digest it, dream about it and do it."