Thursday, June 10, 2010

Communication is Decor at Sellers' Custom Decorating

I once worked as a driver/personal assistant for an interior decorator who wore big sunglasses and made me wear a suit. My responsibilities included being by her side at all times, (except for the restroom, of course) and driving her to places like furniture stores, restaurants and movie theatres. The job was fairly easy, and I sometimes wonder if I was working for her or dating her.

Regardless, I always had the feeling that my experience in this industry was not a typical one. So this week, I interviewed interior decorator, Christene Constantin, to get a real look inside the world of drapery and design.

“It’s a very physical job,” says Mrs. Constantin. “People think it’s so glamorous, but it involves knowing how to use a drill.”

Mrs. Constantin and her husband, Richard, are the owners of Sellers’ Custom Decorating in Kaplan. The business produces custom bedding accessories and window treatments, and has a storefront with a bridal registry. Merchandise includes artwork, lamps, jewelry, rugs, handbags, candles, glassware, books and other products for the home.

“When we purchased the business in 1997, we only offered custom drapery and interior decorating,” says Mrs. Constantin. “But after a while I decided that it would be more beneficial for the customer if I stocked a few items to help them accessorize their home.”

In addition to providing direction on paint color, and picture and furniture placement, Sellers’ Custom Decorating (SCD) can design and produce the window treatment of your dreams. They offer shades, blinds, curtains, valances, side panels, tiebacks and other drapery products.

“Not all of our customers want drapery,” says Mrs. Constantin. “Some just want direction on decorating techniques.”

Mrs. Constantin has a degree in Interior Merchandising from the University of Louisiana. While in college, she did an internship at Sellers’, which at the time was owned by the David family. She began a full time position with them as an interior decorator shortly after graduating, and eventually purchased the business in 1997.

“Sellers’ was originally opened by Lorena Sellers in 1953,” says Mrs. Constantin. “I decided to keep the name when Richard and I purchased the business because of its excellent reputation.”

SCD has two on-site seamstresses, Stella Meaux and Joanne Breaux. They work out of both their home, and the store in order to keep the channels of communication open with Constantin and customers.

“Custom drapery and bedding is very personal for the client,” says Mrs. Constantin. “In order to maintain quality, its important that I have a close relationship with the seamstresses. Stella and Joanne have many years of experience and are very skillful.”

According to Mrs. Constantin, the most challenging part of her business is the economy because decorating and custom products are luxuries. The best part of her job is working with the public.

“I’ve become friends with so many of my customers,” says Constantin. “When I go to their home for work, most of our time is spent visiting.”

I interviewed Constantin at a round table filled with handled books of fabric swatches, wallpaper and trim. She educated me on the different window treatments, like shades. There are roller shades, roman shades, pleated shades, and bamboo and grass cloth shades.

I learned that a valance is the treatment over the window and that a drape can be a curtain, but a curtain isn’t always a drape. At least that’s what I understood at the time, which puzzled me and sent me into brain nap mode. So by the time Constantin started talking about the universe of trim, I was thinking about my first job in decorating when all I did was chauffer (or maybe date) my boss.

“Before I visit a home, I speak to the customer to get a sense of their needs and taste,” said Constantin. “Then I select some of these books of fabric swatches and trim based on color and design.”

I try to work a small job at each interview, and was fortunate to be able to sew a line of thread across some fabric on a classic Singer. It’s the vintage Harley Davidson of sewing machines, and using it made me feel like Martha Stewart on a road trip with a biker gang.

But truth be told, the best part of my interview was speaking with Constantin, Meaux and Breaux. Meaux had been stung by a wasp and received remedy advice from her colleagues (baking soda paste or tobacco). During their conversation, they updated each other on projects and the store.

Communication is vital in running a successful business, which is why the small tight knit community of Sellers’ Custom Decorating is a model for quality control, customer service and teamwork. My short time there was way more educational on the world of design than my job chauffeuring (or dating) a decorator who wore big sunglasses.

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