good news is… its completely and unregrettably possible. I was a little intimidated at first too, not just by the xml but the whole framework at first. But honestly, just take some time and go at it. Head first. Ears pinned back. You’ll get the hang of it as you roll through the .phtml files. And if you have a pre-existing design, your kinda halfway there.. no need to re-define css styles and layout ideas. Cool?
Checkout this post here http://www.magentocommerce.com/boards/viewthread/215/
That’ll get you going. Then from there, just build your design back in. Think one piece at a time.
Plenty of help on the boards too..
Side note: I just realized you can subscribe to a thread in the top right corner of posts., yeah I know.. its been there but I just saw it.. just now. That’s iLL ! Nice move Varien.