If you're in the market for furniture, and you're shopping without measurements and photos of your rooms, you are setting yourself up to fail rather than succeed. Truly valuable helpers ask questions. The more information you provide about your rooms, the more relevant you'll find our questions. When you shop, bring the measurements of the rooms you intend to furnish with you. Measure the widths, lengths, and heights of the rooms, including the widths, and heights, of the windows, and the widths of the doorways as well.

Take photographs! Walk a grid pattern along the lengths and widths of the room. Make sure the photos include bulkheads where they exist, or any other odd structural elements. Don't forget to photograph up and down the staircases...they are often overlooked. A well appointed staircase can add considerably to a home's decor. Finally, if you have a collection of pictures of rooms which inspire you, either cut from assorted magazines, or in books, be sure to bring them along.  

Design is a visual medium; unlike say music, or mathematics. When you describe your room to someone, you may think the room you've described -- the one you see in your mind's eye -- is the same room they see in their mind's eye. They probably imagine something, but it won't be the same room. I can't avoid imagining rooms when they are described to me, but they are never the same as the actual rooms. Good design is contextual. So measure, take pictures. 

Here's a typical scenario. Helping this couple is all but impossible.

After asking them, ''How big is your room?" 

The man says, "I think it's about twelve by twenty, with a couple of doorways, and a window about five feet by... 'what would you say honey?"  This is hardly definite, and not reliable either.

Especially when, honey says unhelpfully, "Are you sure...I think the room is way bigger."

This is not a way to spend hundreds of dollars. If we know the length of a wall is 120'' say, we know, if this couple decides on a standard full size sofa, which is 84'' wide, there will be no room for a pair of end tables. Yes the sofa will fit...but a demi-sofa which is 72'' wide, will leave enough room on each side for 22'' wide end tables.

If I had a dollar for every question I've asked about colour over the years, which was answered, "Well, its kind of taupy...if you know what I mean?", or "Whiteish with a little pink in it", I'd display the dollars in a giant jar by the front door of the store, just to make the point. Peculiarly some people find questions nosy! And complain about the help they didn't get when the sofa turned out to be a "little long!"

So bring those measurements and photographs...and those pictures of that fabulous bed and breakfast you stayed in...when next you go shopping for furniture and decor.