Monday Memes 21 (Black)

Years ago, when I moved to Cleveland, for a short time I managed an indie coffee shop – LONG before the meteoric rise of Peet’s and Starbucks and Caribou and the like. The coffee shop  was called Arabica and it was in a trendy-cool little mall called Coventryard (yes, it IS spelled that way). The year was probably like 1984 or 1985 – I was in my mid-twenties, a fresh-faced farm boy from Shelby, Ohio, now living in Cleveland – a HUGE city compared to where I had come from. Anyway, for about six months, I managed this coffee house and it was here that I met my first openly gay man (Wade) and my first self-proclaimed bisexual man (Douglas). I adored them instantly and we became fast friends…

Wade and Douglas were a colorful pair – at one time they had been lovers (briefly) but – in a moment of sincere love for one another and logical thinking – decided they would be better best friends than boyfriends (plus Douglas had that whole “bi” thing happening). Anyway, they were great to me, nurturing and patient, loving and paternal, and helped me really get comfortable with my own sexuality.

They had a zillion ridiculous stories but this is one of my favorites:

One day, without any preface, Douglas looks at me and says, “Wade and I wore all black for six months. I mean, black EVERYTHING – shirts, shoes, pants, socks, underwear, everything. I even bought some black condoms.” (Remarkably, there was a condom store in our trendy little neighborhood called, appropriately enough, “Condom-nation”).

I was intrigued.

wearing black

“Why?” I asked, seeking to gain some enlightenment or understanding that the experience had imparted to Wade and Douglas. “Why? Why all black for six months?”

Without missing a beat, Wade – who was standing behind the counter with us, making an iced coffee, sashayed past me and announced, “Just to see if we could do it.”


That was it – a 180 day trial of endurance, just to see if they could “do it.” I asked what happened on the the 181st day.

“Nothing,” said Douglas. “I just started wearing other colors of clothes again.”

At the time it made me smile, and it still does. I guess this story popped into my head recently because I ran across these memes. all relating to black, wearing black or seeking out black. As a designer, my life is full of color and yet I still find myself oddly and irresistibly drawn to black. Maybe Douglas and Wade had some insight they never shared with me…


I think about those days from time to time, and wonder what ever became of those two. I had heard that Wade passed away in the early 90’s, a casualty of HIV; I saw Douglas once, a few years after our work experience together, walking hand in hand with a knock-out woman at our local “high-end” mall. I didn’t speak, and I kinda’ regret that.

I hope those two somehow know/knew what a positive and important impact they had on my life and personal development. And how – in addition to everything else – they instilled in me a love and respect for black. Not brown, not orange, not navy blue – black will ALWAYS be black.

Coming Soon

In the coming weeks, I will be embarking on the next chapter of my life, a chapter of great expectations, high hopes and (hopefully/finally) some small measure of financial reward and security. I long ago gave up on the hope of ever being “rich” – now I hope to have “enough,” with maybe – just maybe – a little left over to put aside for a rainy day. I am excited and anxious, nervous and euphoric. The possibility of finally doing the something I love with the someone I love makes me almost giddy. I will definitely keep you posted…

tryIn anticipation of the “new launch,” I have been seeking out inspirational memes, or – as I like to call them – hotline messages from The Universe. These images resonate with me very strongly, especially the image below – I cannot remember the last time I tried something “for the first time.” 

first time

Wish me luck – I’d appreciate it!!! I will definitely keep you posted as my new adventure develops and unfolds. It.Will.Be.Awesome!

Really? Now, Already?

You know that trite adage – “When one door closes, another opens?” Well, in my life, doors AND windows are flying open. I have so much happening right now it is hard to keep everything straight. My “pocket file cabinet” is nearly at capacity…

still to do

I mean:

1. I have four more days till my brick and mortar storefront closes. There are utilities to be terminated (thanks, Scott!), “arrangements” to be made, debts to be collected, debts to be paid – all of it. Ugh.

2. My recent promotion at “my day job” is going well but the expectations of my immediate supervisor are proving to be greater than I had imagined. It will all work out (and I do love that job) but there ARE only 24 hours in every day.

3. My goal of continuing to do interior design after the storefront closed seemed questionable; I have two design jobs “in process” but worried about gaining more. Turns out, now I have two MORE on the line, and maybe another prospect after that. Sweet.

4. I spoke with Pop-pop tonight and he had a good day today. For that, I thank The Universe (and respectfully ask for many more – and consecutive, please!)

5. My Beloved MSW continues to be the best hub-bub a gay could ask for (love you, Sweetie!) I will admit, though, that arranging one full-time job, two “part-time” jobs and classes for school – all with ONE car – takes some coordination and calendar effort but, hey – better than just sitting home doing nothing, right?

So, yeah – today is looking much brighter than the preceding 2-3 days, and I am glad. I do hope my life returns to some sort of normal rhythm soon – and listen, it can be a rhythm traveling at the speed of sound but I would like the “peaks and valleys” to all level out a bit. Universe? You still listening? Thanks in advance!

Oh yeah, that’s right…

Today, alone at work, I had a major epiphany – and gave myself a mental “High Five!”

high fiveYou see, this happened today: As I was working on a project for one of my design clients, it suddenly clicked for me that I WAS indeed a “professional” interior designer – here’s why…

For more than fifteen years, I worked in a number of showrooms in our regional design center, a “trade-only” facility with products and resources available only thru interior designers and architects. That experience was, in fact, one of the main reasons I pursued a career as a professional interior designer. I not only loved the products and the process but – no offense to any interior designer that may be reading this post – many times I felt I WAS the designer on many projects… Designers would come into the various showrooms where I worked, throw me a floor plan or a paint chip, give me a rough idea of what they wanted and then went to lunch while I “schemed” a room with textiles and wallpapers, or “space-planned” their projects with a furniture lay-out. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it, and it was to my advantage, commission-wise, to be “helpful” to the designers. They made out, I learned and made money, it was good for all of us. Anyway…

During the financial boom of the late 90’s, there was a tony gated community constructed here in Cleveland named after a fruit – I’ll call it Tangerine Trail (not its real name, but close). The houses were all big and new, covered in painted barn board with diagonal siding designs, faux Palladian-style windows and great big “great rooms.” Every designer who was anybody here in Cleveland boasted of the number of houses/clients they had in Tangerine Trail. It created a sort of social caste system for them.

Lo and behold, now these twenty-something years later, I am doing a house in Tangerine Trail – re-doing it, actually, taking down all the barn board and leather-texture wallpaper so loved when the house was new, designed by one of my design forefathers in luscious shades of taupe, taupe and more taupe. It is a project I have been working on for a while – the couple that own the house are super nice and fun, which makes my job easier for sure. But for as long as I have worked with them, it never “connected” with me that I – little old me, humble decorator – was now doing one of the “prestige houses” done (quite probably) by one of the designers I had helped those many long years ago… It almost feels like I have done this house twice now – that “vintage Donghia” wallpaper we are removing looks vaguely familiar… So, yeah. High Five, Tim buddy. Twenty-five years later, you have arrived…  😉

I Beg Pardon, Your Higness…

I understand why interior design gets a bad rap. Sometimes, we design folk can be arrogant bitches – not only to clients but to each other, too…

Today I was shopping an “off-price home goods store” for a project on a very tight budget – a model, really, for a (primarily) senior living facility. A very upscale, very tony, senior living facility (just because they are upscale doesn’t mean their budget is, LOL!) Anyway, as I wheel my cart around the corner, looking for a dozen “faux lemons” for the kitchen, I hear this:

“Oh, doing some shopping for the store? (meaning the retail store I co-own with a partner).” I recognized the voice – it was a fellow Cleveland interior designer whom I have known for probably fifteen years or more. We have always been friends and I was actually excited to see him.

“No,” I laughed. “I’d never buy anything here for the store, silly; I am actually doing some accessory shopping for a model we are doing…” He cut me off mid-sentence.

“A model? Ewww. I don’t DO models.” I sensed disdain in his tone, some I-am-better-than-that attitude as he spoke. “Oh yeah. Me? Models? Never. NEV. URR. EVER.”

I thought to myself, “Oh, is that so, Your Highness?” I wanted to say something really cutting and nasty back…

dark-blue-regal-armchair-ThroneInstead, I simply said this: “Really? Gosh, I guess I just love design too much. Dollhouse or doghouse, heck, I’ll design anything. I love it.

He simply looked at me, aghast, then uttered his parting shot: “Well, good luck with that.” And with that curt response, he left to join his friends…

I won’t lie – his remarks kinda’ “stung” in the moment. I felt like chasing after him with my dozen faux lemons to remind him that:

1. He went to the same college for design that I did (Dean’s List every quarter here, BTW – and a 4.1 GPA!) .

2. What’s with all the attitude? He was shopping in the SAME store I was shopping in – oh, yeah, but “Not for a model.”

3. While he is successful, I don’t think any of his clients are flying him to Belize to “do” their summer homes.

The interior design process is still, I fear, generally regarded as an expensive and intimidating experience. And while it can be both – intimidating and expensive – there are a LOT of really great, hard-working interior designers out there – like me! – who are not only affordable and pleasant to work with, we also strive to make the process enjoyable for clients and attack every project as if were going to be our best one ever.

I apologize to anyone that has ever been design “snubbed” by some attitude-iny (is that a word?) interior designer. It is an awful feeling; I know firsthand.

Get in touch with me. Dollhouse, dog house or your house, we will have fun! PROMISE!!!

no attitudes

How Much Does One Minute Cost?

Unless you are fortunate enough to be a trust fund baby, or have the last name Rockefeller, Kennedy, Hilton or – shudder – Kardashian, I think most of us have, at one time or another, wondered what our time was worth. Maybe it was that blank on a job application – “Expected Starting Rate” – or maybe when a friend jokingly asked, “What would it cost me for you to blah, blah, blah…” Those answers are generally “minimum wage” and “Oh, nothing – you can buy me lunch sometime” but in my line of work, I question all the time what I am worth. For interior designers, time IS money.

TIM 2See, interior designers typically sell a service – not so much tangible goods. Oh sure, we sell sofas and curtains and knick-knacks, all of it, but we rarely make much off those items. Thanks to the internet, anyone can buy anything, so smart designers charge for their skill and expertise – meaning, we charge for our time. But we cannot simply charge just the time we spend with clients…

Some of that “billable” time was spent years ago in school, learning the basics. Some of that time was spent in training, as a junior designer or firm associate. A lot of that time is spent researching products for specific jobs or applications, making sure buildings meet “codes” and fabrics are “flame-retardant enough.” Some of that time is spent chasing the non-existent (e.g., an acrylic night stand with a wood top that light ups and isn’t “too big”). And a BIG chunk of that time is spent with clients, trying to decode what they are saying and deciphering what they really want, after we listen to a list of all the things they don’t want.

Time. It just all takes time. And like most designers, I frequently ask myself just what is my time really worth? How much a day, an hour, a minute? What dollar amount equals my time investment? I remembering reading once that for every hour a designer actually spends with a client, no less than 4-6 hours of unseen work and research/preparation take place to make that hour “happen.”

TIM 4What should I charge for my time? I am asking myself that question again as a project recently went into the toilet after more than ten months of effort. Yeah, ten months – like longer than it takes to “make a baby human.” The project was suspended due to a completely unpredictable and unanticipated event but, regardless, here I sit with my business partner, ten months later, with nothing to show for our efforts. (We have, however, made a few really great friends along the way!) How would we even bill the clients for our time? What does ten months of work – designing, presenting, waiting, revamping, re-presenting, waiting – revamping, scrambling, waiting – cost? I don’t think anyone could pay for it, even if we could set a value.

TIM 5So, yeah, here we are again, at a place we have been many times before, lavished with praise and appreciation but sitting with empty wallets. It is discouraging to say the least. And no matter how much clients love us, and are sincere and apologetic and “…hope we can understand,” all that good will don’t pay the rent. If I miss a doctor’s appointment, I have to pay for it anyway. If I forget a dentist visit, I get billed for it. If I reserve a movie then forget to pick it up, I still get charged – and it gets rented to someone else that same night! So, again, I ask…

How much IS my time worth?

What NOT To Say To An Interior Designer

I had another one again in the store today. All designers have met one – or more – of those “potential clients.” The conversation started innocently enough then took a horrible turn:

Me: Some standard greeting, small talk and pleasantries.

Her: “You all do interior design, right?”

Me: “Yes, we do. We do primarily residen… (she cuts me off with)”

Her: “Good. You know, I have been looking just FOREVER for…”

At which point, I shut down.

It doesn’t even matter WHAT she was looking for – a hot pink, king size, four poster Hello Kitty bed, a three-tiered brass corner table that is kinda’ Art Deco or that ONE lamp for her guest bedroom – you know the one – she’ll “…know it when she sees it.” Here is the ugly truth – if you have been looking just forever:

“WHATEVER IS IS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR DOES NOT EXIST. PERIOD. SO STOP LOOKING AND DON’T WASTE MY TIME OR YOURS.”flying unicornThen, sadly, as if her intro to the story were not turn off enough, she added insult to injury and “sealed the deal” with this additional remark:

Her: “I have looked and looked on the internet and I just cannot find what I want anywhere.”woman at a computerListen, I get it. We all “want what we want.” But (as pointed out in a number of previous posts), interior designers are not wizards or genies. We cannot close our eyes and “wish” your desires into existence. I mean, I want a transporter like they have in Star Trek movies. I want a car that flies, and I want a flying dragon. Sorry for me – all are no goes…dragon

So PLEASE – DO tell your interior designer what you want (and don’t want) and then, respect his or her professionalism and experience when they tell you that what you are seeking simply does not exist. I literally told the woman in the store today that I would be happy to take her money but it would be for nothing… She seemed disappointed with my honesty. Thing is, I guess I would rather be perceived as “lazy” than known as the “guy that took my money and didn’t deliver.” Thanks for listening…

Help Me Decide?

I must confess – as a professional interior designer, I hear ONE question/comment more often than any other: “I don’t know. Please, help me decide…” I mean, that is definitely part of my job (helping you decide) but I sometimes wonder why I give clients any options at all, if they are simply going to tell me, “You decide.” I’m flattered, but c’mon…

runesWhen the question is something as simple as, “Which do you like better, the green fabric or the blue fabric?” you MUST have some preference, some small attraction to one color more than the other. I’m not asking you to decide FOREVER between two colors; I am merely asking you which one of the colors innately appeals to you more. It’s OK to like one more than the other.

I did not “create” color – I merely present them. So don’t worry about “my feelings” or my “ego.” In my role as designer, I like to think of myself as a facilitator rather than a dictator. My job is to help you create the interior YOU want and will love, not the one I will want and love. Make sense?

Ouija BoardMaybe it’s arrogant for me to suggest that I have some more developed level of taste, or a more innate sense of style – fact is, I do. I am formally-educated in the discipline of design and have nearly three decades of experience working in the field.  That isn’t to say, however, that you don’t have any taste or any style. For me, it’s like this – I can ballroom dance, but I will never be on Dancin’ With The Stars. Those guys do that (dance) for a living. I respect their training, their talent and their commitment to their craft. That said, if they asked me if I wanted to do a Quick Step routine or an Argentinian Tango, I’d be able to pick one (the tango, for God’s sake, the tango!)

small-crystal-ball3So please, everyone – work WITH me. Be my design dance partner. Tell me what you want. I always joke that I am an “evil” interior designer, the “Crusher of Dreams.” If you ask for the impossible, I have no problem telling you that. However, when you ask for nothing, you are actually short-changing yourself. I will take the one or two crumbs I can get from you and create an interior I think you will like. Most of the time, I am pretty successful at it. But just imagine how much greater it (your space) could/would be if we combine my talent and skills with your wants, hopes and desires. Tell me what you want, what you like, what you wish for. THAT is when the design magic happens. Let’s begin the dance.

World Domination

In an effort to continue to motivate myself and grow my business, I have found myself thinking a lot about this lately…

WorldDomination (1)I realize it is a lofty goal – why set a goal if not “lofty?” – but I do hope plan on continuing to grow our interior design business, hopefully to the point that we can not only hire a person/s to man our retail store but maybe even help us do design as well. A little “junior designer.”

So far, this year is shaping up to be our best year, design-wise, since we opened. The retail portion of our business? Now that is another story all together. But I am still optimistic that the retail side of our business will bounce back after this miserable flippin’ winter – and I know our design business will continue to grow. We are not only talented designers but also nice guys. We charge fairly and reasonably, and our referral business is (finally!) starting to kick in. Whew!

Who says nice guys always finish last?

Interior designer vs. Mind reader

I am owner/partner in a reasonably-successful interior design practice. I love what I do – MOST days. Some days, though, I feel like chucking it all in and going to get a “good factory job with benefits.” Not even kidding here…

I think a lot of my frustration comes from client expectations of what interior designers can do. I must, perhaps with a bit of smug arrogance, confess that talented designers can do ALMOST anything. But, we need our clients to partner with us – we are on YOUR side. We are on the same team. We share  a common goal – to create a pleasing, beautiful and functional interior that fulfills your every desire. That said, we will never reach that goal if you do not tell us everything. And by everything, I mean everything. We are not psychics.

The Mind Reader“I sense that you want wall to wall carpeting, and a baby grand piano and a steam shower. And you don’t like waterbeds, or yellow – am I correct?”

Many times, the design process is delayed by our clients’ inability or unwillingness to share clear desires and specific information. So what – you have 147 Precious Moment figurines – it is not my job to judge. You want a “special drawer” to store your vintage Swatch Watch collection? No problem. You have a firm dollar figure ( BUDGET)? Well, what the heck IS it?

The Great Karnak“I’m thinking of a number between $100 and $100,000 dollars – is THAT what you want to spend for your new powder room?”

Listen, I totally get it. Everyone – myself included – wants the MOST for the very LEAST. That’s just smart. But let me ask you this: Would you go to a doctor, tell him you had a broken bone and then ask him to fix it WITHOUT telling him which one it is? Of course not! Yet when clients withhold budget guidelines from interior designers, we are forced to “shoot in the dark.” We must have some idea of the dollars you “hope” or “can only” spend. If you have done your homework – interviewed us, vetted us personally and our work professionally – and if we as designers have done our job – talked through your project to get a thorough understanding of your goals, shown examples of past work and/or provided references –  then you must trust us and commit to achieve the best possible results. That means sharing.

I am a good guy. You know it. Dozens of past clients have confirmed it. My public record and portfolio support your decision – I am the one. So why in the name of Heaven would you be reticent to share your budget amount?

ouija board“Tell me, mystic Ouija Board, will they spend $125 a yard on fabric? Can they imagine a wallpaper sold by the linear yard? Is $1800 too much for a pair of lamps for the master bedroom – they said spare no expense…”

Working with an interior designer is a very personal and (it should be a) very rewarding experience. Help us help YOU achieve your dream room, house, boat, plane – whatever.  Let us know your hopes and dreams for your space – and the money you have to spend. We will do our very best to get you as much of that dream as your budget allows.

But be realistic in your expectations. I am reminded of a story that helps illustrate this point…

Years ago, I met my very first professional party planner/event “specialist.” Her name was Barbra (like Streisand – no extra “A”), she dressed like Maude and had a very solemn and stern face. She was coordinating a very large fundraising event for a charity I was involved with at the time and, the evening of the event, I stood in awe of the staff, food, decorations – all if it. I was compelled to compliment her on her skills. Then I meekly asked if she had ever fielded a request she could not fulfill.

Without even a hint of a smile, she turned to me and said very slowly and matter-of-factly,

“Tim, darling – if you want belly dancers juggling fire while straddling elephants, I can make that a reality for you. It will cost you, but I can make it happen. You just need the budget, and I need to know it.”

Same with interior designers. We can make dreams reality but not without knowing up front how big we can dream… Let’s dream together.