Working in the Philadelphia interior design community for the past 10 years, I’ve had many a conversation with other interior designers about the “dream client”. Big budgets don’t necessarily mean a great client. I have had small, one-room jobs and consultations where I walked away loving the experience. I wanted to create the top five things that all clients should know before they start working with an interior professional. I actually came up with six. I hope all my design friends use this to help them create valued and productive relationships with their clients.
1| Yes, I Do Know What I’m Talking About
I have spent over 10 years studying interiors, creating interiors, working with other design professionals, contractors, vendors and basically speaking and working within the language of interior design. I create and work with construction drawings. I know properties and life-cycles of product and when I don’t know something my job is to research it.
Clients pay me for my expertise and that is what I give everyday, from my first consultation until my last billing hour. I’m not making things up! Designers (especially those who have degrees in interior design) have a very large breadth of knowledge that is then perfected in the field. The longer in the business the more we know. Period.
With that said, remember that as a client, you control the billing. The more trust you put into your designer the more money you save. You need to make sure you trust your designer. So:
- Do research before you hire and make sure they have a process in place, contracts, and a portfolio that shows a mix of work.
- Are they affiliated” Are they involved in the interior design community, and do they continue their education”
- Do they have references” Can you actually call those references”
Great designers evolve over time and working with an organized professional who respects the process of owning and running a successful business is relevant to your final satisfaction with your design and experience.
Dream clients respect that the interior designer knows more than they do about interiors but aren’t afraid to question reasoning or choices and make thoughtful suggestions to help the project run smoothly. Saying “I don’t like that” is not productive. Tell your designer why you don’t like something and explain what you were envisioning. Your designer should take this into consideration and be able to explain why your suggestion could or could not work in the context of your project and then make the adjustments accordingly.
2| It’s Not My Style – It’s Your Style
And that’s the truth. Hands down. I am a conduit of your vision. What I bring to the table is the expertise to put it all together in a way that you envision, be it that picture in a magazine that influenced you or that feeling you got at the hotel on your last vacation. The feelings and visuals you communicate help me create the vision in your head and (hopefully) surpass your expectations. I get more creative based on your excitement and vision for the possibilities of your space.
Even if a client hands over the reigns of a project there is still the process of communication of what the client expects – traditional, beach, transitional, modern, and what visually that means to that particular person.
Dream clients research before they meet for the first time with their designer. They create a visual portfolio of things that inspire them, be it magazine pictures, photos of great vacations spots, art, or products. They also have an idea of budget, which brings me to the next point.
The standard response I get when I ask a client what their budget is, “I don’t know what things cost!” Do you know what a car costs” They start at $2,000 (used) to infinity. This is also what design can cost. Unless you set the parameters your designer is working in a product vacuum. During a consultation, your designer is processing all the ideas and plans you are describing and then asking questions in return about your family’s lifestyle. Sometimes this may sound like conversation, but your designer is getting to know how you relate to your home. Everyone has a price that their willing to pay. Be truthful with your interior professional and in return they can be honest if your expectations outweigh the reality.
Dream clients do financial research before they begin the process of renovating or designing their home. They know the value of their home. They know the current real estate comps in their neighborhood. They have an expectation of their future within the home. And they know what they are willing to spend on a project.
4| Paying On Time
If a client wants something right away, they need to pay for it right away! We want your orders. We even love your orders. And we want nothing more than to place your orders. But we are unable to place orders with vendors without a payment. Just like a furniture store, a website, or any other professional service expects payment at time of order or service, so do interior designers. Your sign off for your furniture should spell out your terms, warranties and expectations. Formal contracts and sign offs are a good sign of an interior professional. Things to remember:
- Delayed payment = delayed service.
- Product cannot be ordered without payment and if you need the item right away you are going to have to pay for the rush fee (if that is even possible).
- Product cannot be ordered without a sign off, so don’t forget the paperwork!
- Sub-contractors are on schedules that they will not hold up. Money talks and gets them to your job faster.
- Products can only remain on hold for a limited time. If payment is not received as promised, you may loose the product.
Dream clients pay on time. And if you have any issues with an invoice, pick up the phone and give us a call. We have no problem talking you through a bill and explaining charges. If we make a mistake, we will be sure to give you a credit.
5| Understanding The Global Economy
A monsoon in India affects the production of the silk for your drapes. An earthquake in China will affect your dining room table from shipping – indefinitely. A winter storm along the East Coast will delay your custom made sofa. The global economy has transformed the way EVERYONE does business, especially when it comes to the manufacturing of goods. No one wants to complete your project more than your interior designer. The longer it takes to get the products, the less profit we make. Time is money. It’s a basic rule of business.
The majority of today’s furniture comes from outside of the United States. Even is the product says “Made in America” there is a 95 percent chance that portions of that product came from another country. Even your old time standards like Henredon, Century, and Baker make portions of their products outside of the U.S.
The global economy means anyone can buy the product. So if the manufacturer had 75 chairs in stock on Monday it doesn’t mean those chairs will be in stock on Tuesday (see No. 4 – Paying On Time). The term “back-order” is subjective. A back-order date is not definite.
Dream clients understand that interior designers do not control the environment or the vendors. Just know, we are constantly following up on your products and most of those times you won’t even see it on a bill. It’s just part of what we have to do.
6| Nothing Is Ever Perfect
My sanity mantra in this business is “This is not brain surgery! This is not brain surgery!” In other words, if you don’t get your sofa on time no one is going to die.
Coordinating thousands and thousands of dollars of “stuff” is a daunting task that good interior professionals perfect over their careers. And if something can go wrong it will go wrong. Our job is to try to minimize all the wrongs and when there is a wrong, we work to correct it. This correction, very rarely, happens overnight. This is because we need to deal with the manufacturers on warranty and process issues.
No one ever wants to pay for the mistake and manufacturers like to point fingers at the freight companies and vice versa. So as designers we have to fight the good fight. We become the annoying middleman fighting on your behalf. Good designers should keep you up to date on the process of your orders on a regular a basis and let you know where things stand.
Dream clients roll with punches. They are open to the possibility of compromise and monetary concession and understand that perfection, a quality we all may strive for, is almost never possible.