Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Is an interior designer right for you? PART 2

In Part 2 of this article, I will explain about the different factors that play into whether hiring a designer is the right course of action for you.  This is particularly applicable to “service based” designers (see part one). 

Hiring a designer and expecting perfect results involves 5 main factors:
1.     Hiring the RIGHT designer 
2.     Trust
3.     Big picture 
4.     Communication 
5.     Patience

The effectiveness of hiring an interior designer for your project will be dependent on how compatible you are with the above conditions.  Below, I will elaborate on what each condition entails, and how it impacts the efficiency of a designer.

#1 Hiring the right designer
Unfortunately, the “right” designer will not just fall into your lap.  And they usually don't appear first on a Google search.  It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make proper effort to find the designer that fits their needs.  This means contacting multiple companies, being clear on the designers' approach, checking references, and reviewing portfolios.  The portfolio can be particularly critical, in that if a designer has a stream of consistently modern styles in their portfolio, and you prefer more rustic Pottery Barn style d├ęcor, they may not be very compatible with your style, and the collaboration process could turn out to be a struggle.  Some designers produce a diverse range of design styles, while others tend to stick to their particular niche.  Try to select a designer who has a portfolio that demonstrates their ability to accommodate different styles, if not exactly your personal style.  This may help with trust later on in the project, which brings me to #2.
*For more details on qualifying designers, see my article What is a qualified designer?

#2  Trust
Once you have hired a designer that you feel is qualified, the trust factor is essential.  As a rule, an interior designer cannot do their job unless you trust them.  It makes sense that one would choose to hire a designer because they do not trust themselves to make the right decision alone.  However, if you have trust issues in general, it may prove just as difficult to work with a designer as it would to work alone.  If you do not have “trust issues”, but are very analytical, that may prove to be a problem as well.  “Trust” may not be the issue per se, but I have found that analytical clients usually take at least 5 times as long to make a decision, drawing out their project and exhausting a designer’s patience.  Another trust related issue is micro-managing.  If you have difficulty trusting someone else to take the reigns, do not hire a designer to manage your project.  With my company, you always have the option to hire me hourly for design advice, rather than managing your project.  I have worked with several "analytical" clients personally, and I have yet to find one that I didn't like.  I respect their attention to detail and their concern about considering "all the options".  But, it CONSISTENTLY and ironically challenges the efficiency of the project.  When one is working independently to improve their home, it is good to research "all the options" before purchasing.  With an experienced designer, they already have a library of reliable high quality vendors and resources, often for every style, budget, and application.  They have insider access that allows a project to go smoothly and more expediently.  Trust that they know what they are doing (but see #4), and you will be fine.
Bottom line on this aspect---If you are not prepared to accept the professional help of your designer, whether it be a trust issue, over-analytical tendencies, being a control freak, or all of the above, you will probably not enjoy the designer experience.  You can't micro-manage a micro-manager.  If you meet the above description, hire a designer strictly as a consultant, or go without.

#3  Big Picture
A major advantage to hiring a designer is that they can visualize the finished result, or see the “big picture”.  The “big picture” for me is defined as the mental image of the complete design, which is based on my assessment of my client’s style and their project parameters.  For instance, when I recommend a sofa fabric to a client, it is not because I think it’s pretty (although that will factor in).  It is because that fabric is compatible with the “big picture”.  It will look right, and comply with all the job parameters.  I don’t expect all my clients to be able to visualize as easily as I do.  But I do appreciate when they can embrace the concept of the "big picture", and trust my ability to make it a reality.  I have found that when each piece of the design puzzle is debated, it results in a distorted and mediocre design.  This problem is usually consistent with clients with major analytical tendencies (see #2).

#4  Communication
Part of a designer’s job is to help people communicate their personal style and needs.  But sometimes it can be a bit of a guessing game.  If a customer is withdrawn and insecure about expressing their opinions, it can result in a design they are unhappy with.  Be as clear as you can on the first consultation about parameters and personal taste.  If you are not sure exactly what your “taste” is, look through magazines and online to find pictures of rooms that you love, and rooms that you dislike.  Save these and show them to your designer on consultation day.  This will help set a firm foundation, and allow the designer to propose solutions that you are happy with, the first time.  Like a therapist, the first job of the designer is to listen, so make sure you have something to say.  Otherwise, you may be disappointed with the results.

#5  Patience
A successful project is a result of thorough planning, which requires patience.  Designers are trained to start with the outlining of project parameters, collaborating to develop a design concept and space plan, and THEN select the finishes, fixtures, and equipment/furniture.  Customers often like to do the last part first.  It is important to take the proper steps in the order that your designer recommends.  Even though it may seem like it takes longer, it actually helps to keep things moving efficiently once a project is executed.  When things are rushed in the planning phase, it always results in issues and/or delays later on.  But the planning phase is not all that requires patience.  Designers are trained to recommend items that are higher in quality, which are usually not stocked.  So be prepared to wait.  If you are in a major hurry and feel more secure handling everything yourself, a designer can always help you develop your space plan and design theme, and even make recommendations on where to go for assistance on execution in as little as 2 hours.  But perfection comes at a price, always. If you are hiring a professional designer to coordinate your project and see to every detail, do not be surprised if your room takes several months to complete.  Between proper planning (1-2 months), ordering (2-4 months), and accessory delivery/installation (2 months), a re-furnishing project can easily take 6 months, assuming that nothing is backordered and selections are not debated.  This is the norm.  

Beautiful results CAN be achieved faster, but that requires three things:
A.     Being flexible on the quality level of furniture (lesser is easier to get faster)
B.     Being flexible with budget (expedited production and delivery may cost more)
C.     Giving your designer more authority, which will allow for faster selection time (Selection time can extend for months purely due to a client’s indecision)


Interior designers take on immense loads of stress and utilize years of experience (and education) to help our customers get the best results possible.  We work overtime and put thousands of miles on our cars in hopes of exceeding client expectations.  We work hard.  But before you put all your faith in simply hiring a designer, consider whether your expectations are realistic.  Be realistic about whether you CAN work with a designer.  If you are not sure, talk with a designer to determine which type of service will be most efficient for your preferences.  See my website for details on a variety of service types that I offer.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Is an interior designer right for you? PART 1

          Thanks to sources like Architectural Digest, Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV, and Houzz, millions of people all over the world are becoming aware of the benefits that can go along with hiring a professional interior designer.  But truthfully, hiring a designer does not guarantee perfect results.  Results on your project depend on a number of factors.  Before you start paying design fees, it is important to understand how a designer-client relationship works, and the different types of designers available.  In part one of this article, I will describe the 2 main types of designers.  In part two, I will review some of the different factors that determine whether hiring a designer is right for you.


  • SALES BASED-  In a perfect world, achieving "designer" results in your home would be free of charge.  But you have to admit, no service or product is ever truly free.  There are a significant number of "free" design services available, but they consistently go hand-in-hand with an obligation to purchase a product of some sort--usually furniture or home decor.  For example, large companies such as Ethan Allen and Bassett Furniture heavily advertise their complimentary design service.  I have consulted with several clients who report having used these companies and been disappointed.  Reason being the "designers" that came to their homes basically helped them select one or multiple furniture pieces, and after collecting payment immediately discontinued design assistance.  In other words, the design service is applicable only to the product they sell.  Other sources that tend to advertise "free design consultation" include window treatment companies and kitchen & bath companies.  Another important consideration is the actual credibility of such "designers".  Most times they are not employed based on their design qualifications, but on their sales experience.  Their level of design skill is irrelevant if they cannot consistently close sales and up-sell.  However, I should note that there are SOME design consultants/salespeople who are very customer service oriented.  I have a few friends and former colleagues who are sales based designers, and they are wonderful to collaborate with on a job from time to time.  Those special few are the ones you want to work with.  But in the end, no matter how nice they are, their job is ultimately to sell you their company's product.  If you are ready to buy, and are certain that the company in question carries the product/s you need at a price point you are comfortable with, this type of design service may be perfect for you.  If you want to figure out your options, determine the overall design plans, or need a project manager to see things through from start to finish, "Service based" may be a better way to go.
  • SERVICE BASED-  This type of designer will have a much wider range of services to offer.  A service based designer may be used in the planning phase, or assist you through an entire project depending on budget and the extent of work to be done.  A service based designer can be found through an "interior design firm".  Some firms have multiple interior designers and architects, and some are independent designers.  In most cases, these "firms" will offer non-biased advice on how to configure your space, and how to decorate it.  In other words, their assistance to you is not conditional upon your purchasing a certain product.  Some firms charge design fees only, while others will offer both services AND products.  These are usually the most expensive companies, but do tend to produce the best (and most unique) results.  Homeowners who contract with these high end firms are often those with significant budgets(200k+).  Naturally, higher budget projects will appear as such, due to greater access to the best resources in craftsmanship and style.  If you have a reasonable budget, but not necessarily money to burn, an independent designer may be the way to go.  Because they have less overhead, they have more flexibility with their rates.  However, it helps to keep in mind that like any company that is in demand, independent designers who charge higher rates are typically the most experienced, well received, and most worth the investment.  If a designer (large firm or independent) can pick and choose their clients, there is a reason.  That said, when selecting a designer, you absolutely do not want to go with the lowest bidder.  The design is the foundation of your project, so it is not advisable to cut corners on this phase.  My company is independent, but I do offer access to a wide array of high end manufacturers and custom home decor, so my customers can experience the best of both worlds--non biased advice, reasonable rates, and high end product (as budget allows).
Regardless of what type of designer best applies to your situation, some people are just not cut out to work with designers.  If you are contemplating hiring an interior designer, and have never used one before, Part 2 may prove very helpful.