Secrets to a Better Design


Art and design are in Pam Heinen Haag’s blood. Her mother is a fine artist who paints beautiful canvases in her studio and who worked in interior design for a time before Pam was born. Surprisingly, Pam didn’t initially pursue a career in the arts; after college (where she studied political science), she found herself working for Wyse Advertising.

“I had just gotten married and had moved in with my husband, and every day, I couldn’t wait to get home and paint things, tile things, make it look good,” she said. “I completely transformed our house – learned how to dye carpets, sew slipcovers, etc. — and my friends took notice and started asking me to help them.”

When she and her husband moved to Brazil, Pam had no green card to work, so she immersed herself in the language, culture, and sophisticated design of the country. She decorated their apartment in Sao Paulo and her expatriate friends asked for her design advice on their homes.

Reflecting on Her Beginnings

Two years later, Pam and her husband found themselves back home in Cleveland and she got a job at Reflections Interior Design in Cleveland Heights. The owner at the time, Reita Bayman, mentored Pam.

“She took me under her wing and trained me,” Pam said. “She taught me everything she knew.”  

Pam and her husband’s next international move landed them in Sydney, Australia, this time with their very young son along for the journey. As in Brazil, she had no green card to work, so she decided to go to school and get a degree in decorative arts. Another globe trot landed the family back in Cleveland (where Pam worked at Reflections once more) before they jetted off to Beijing for nine months.

When they returned home once more, Pam decided to take all she’d learned and start her own interior design company working with mostly residential clients.

The Process

While some designers have a particular aesthetic or style, Pam tends to let her clients drive the design process. Much of her business comes from referral clients who appreciate good design but don’t know how to do it themselves. Typically, she asks her clients to go online, check out photos on Houzz, clip articles from Architectural Digest and other magazines, as well as pin items on Pinterest for her to get an idea of their style tastes.

“I seldom clash aesthetically with a client,” Pam says. “I like all different kinds of designs; I’ve done everything from historic stuff to contemporary and everything in between. I appreciate the challenge of working in all of these various design styles.”

When working with clients, one of the toughest parts of the process is usually choosing paint colors.

“Color can be tricky,” Pam explains. “It truly can change due to the environment or what it’s placed next to.”

A chance meeting at a yoga class introduced Pam to a new friend … and an exciting new tool that would help streamline the paint selection process for her clients.

Paint Color Tricks of the Trade and Other Interior Design Secrets

“When I first met Jamie Peltz (the owner of SureSwatch) and learned about her business, I thought, ‘That is a really clever product!’” Pam said. It wasn’t long before she started using SureSwatch in her own business.

Pam usually selects two to three color options for her clients and either brings them some SureSwatches or recommends they purchase them and have their painter paint them with the different color choices. They’re then instructed to try the colors in various locations at various times of day and night.

“They need to see the color choices all over,” Pam says, “in dark corners, in light-filled corners, high, low, in adjoining rooms, at night, on a cloudy day, on a sunny day …” It’s her tried-and-true way to make the best color selection.

In addition to SureSwatch, Pam has learned many different tricks of the interior design trade when it comes to picking paint colors.

“If you paint four walls and a ceiling the same color, the color will reflect against itself and intensify,” she explains, “so when I choose a color for this purpose, I’ll take it a shade if not two shades lighter so it’s not stronger than I want it to be.”

For homeowners who may be hesitant to hire a designer, Pam understands their desire to try to save money while decorating. However, she offers them this advice: “In the end, a designer can actually save you money because they can save you from costly mistakes.”

For more interior design secrets, be sure to follow the SureSwatch blog!

Find SureSwatch at Home Depot, Walmart, and Ace Hardware.

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