When Cynthia Zimmerman began carving out a career path for herself, it was strictly business. During her 20s, she managed a dating service and a chiropractor’s office, putting her business degree to work in the process.

Zimmerman, who describes herself as left-brained — inclined to think sequentially, logically — began responding more to her creative inclinations around the time she turned 30.

“I had a paradigm shift after my son, Seth, was born,” says Zimmerman, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a designer for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League Showhouse. She jokes that she probably was inspired to choose her new career while breast-feeding or performing some other maternal function.

“I wanted to do something more creative,” says Zimmerman, who designs residential and light commercial interiors. “I did not want to boss people around for the rest of my life.”

She knew her business background would be useful in operating a design office and budgeting for client projects.

With that firm foundation, she decided to study design at Hood College in Maryland, where she was living.

Today, designing is about 20 percent of what Zimmerman does, she says. It keeps her motivated to do the remaining 80 percent — the business side of things.

Zimmerman says taking items that prompt clients to recall an event, a phase of their lives or special person and arranging them in just the right way is one of her strong suits. When done well, such arrangements take a home from a place that simply looks great to one made more special because it reflects the people who live in it, she says.

When homeowners attempt this balance themselves, often there are too many pieces and the room looks cluttered, she says. There are some tips to keep in mind when trying to design a space.

Using pieces at various times of the year, for example, helps to prevent eyes from being overloaded, she says. In addition, each piece is perceived as a more valuable element of the design scheme.

Personal treasures and inherited pieces are great, but contemporary pieces should be incorporated into a design scheme, says Zimmerman.

“I always want clients to have something from today,” she says. But Zimmerman is also a fan of mixing more classic mid-century modern pieces.

Rooms also should be designed with functionality in mind, she says. While most people arrange furniture along walls, Zimmerman says “having pieces in the center of the room is fine.”

One of the biggest challenges to achieving exactly what a homeowner envisions is today’s tight economy, says Zimmerman, whose firm is Zimmerman Interiors.

“The last few years have been tough for people,” she says. “If you can’t have it now, prioritize.”

Buy pieces incrementally, she says. Design a master plan and build the living en- vironment as it becomes affordable. The key is to buy pieces that are timeless and can last.

“People need to buy furnishings that are going to stand the test of time, ” she says. “Work the trends in by adding small, bold strokes” such as with bright colors or bold patterns, which are both on trend right now.

If a do-it-yourself job is too much and a designer is needed, Zimmerman says it’s important to interview several candidates for the job to ensure a good match.