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…  😉

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…

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.

Radiant Orchid

So a LOT of fuss has been made recently about Radiant Orchid – Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2014. Everyone wants to know how interior designers (meaning me!) plan to use it.

radiant_orchid-e1386247142119As a professional interior designer, I have to admit (somewhat shamefully) that I am not too crazy for this color. At all. It is a little too “pinky” for me. But it does provide great inspiration for beautiful interiors. I mean, going with the broader term of orchid as a starting point…

I’d anchor a room with some fabulous rug like this one –

rug

Then add some ridiculously chic, sculptural sofa – maybe one like this –

sectionalAnd with a sofa with that much personality, we’d need a couple lounge chairs that could “hold their own” in the space –

chairsI might have to “tweak” the color on that sectional a bit. Next? Art of course! Something not too subtle –

artToo much? Well, if I were going for “too much,” I’d finish the room with this chandelier –

chandelier

chandelier detailNow THIS chandelier is radiant! Orchid? Well, maybe a bit more purple, actually, but radiant nonetheless. I hope you all find your own way with Radiant Orchid – if you need any help, you know where to find me…

I Miss The Old Days…

Today, my business partner and I attended the annual Fall Market Day at our city’s design centre (Yes, it is “sen-trah” – fancy, right?) Between the two of us, we worked in the building for a combined total of over thirty years and worked at six different showrooms; in fact, for two of the showrooms in the building we “over-lapped”/worked at the same showroom at different times (the design centre is very incestuous, LOL!)

ODCThe Ohio Design Centre is a tony shopping center for interior designers and architects. Formerly to-the-trade only (meaning “regular folks” couldn’t shop there), about a year ago the building opened to the public.

While the building will ALWAYS hold a certain cachet for me, I must admit, I was a little saddened by my trip there today…

It wasn’t the building itself, or the event or the experience that made me sad, it was the realization that time passes unknowingly and, periodically, I am faced with examples of how that happens. Like when one of the showroom owners – a former boss – shared with me how two of his children are in college, the other two have already graduated college and his one daughter is getting married in December. See, the thing is, I remember all those kids as “tweens” and the struggle he was having as his first child was going off to college. Jeesh…

silhouettesOr maybe it was when my partner and I entered the showroom we both managed at different times in the past  – now a hollow, barren space used for vignette displays so it isn’t “empty” as you walk down the hallway. We kinda’ laughed with one another as we walked the warren of now mostly-empty rooms, and called out the names of all the employees that had worked at desks in all those rooms in the past…

empty showroomThe image above is not the actual space but it looks very much like that. Empty. Cold. Sad…

I understand that time is always advancing and things change but today was a bit disheartening for me. The day/event aside, it made my heart heavy to see the building where I spent one third of my adult life so empty, not bustling and full of life as I remember it being. It also didn’t help that I saw few familiar faces today in the hallways, but it makes sense; I started working in that building when I was 28 – I am now 55. The designers and architects that used the building in my youth are now probably retired or gone. I mean, if I am 55, some of my old friends are now definitely older friends, probably in their late 60’s to mid/late 70’s. Sigh…

My therapist always counsels me to identify my emotions, connect with/embrace them, honor them and then move forward. Today my visit made me mostly sad, but I was also happy to see more than a handful of familiar faces, and a few old friends. The passage of time is not good or bad – it just “is.”

I will admit – all that New Age spirituality aside – I sure do miss Victor, Mick, Laura, Jeff and the gang at the old (long-closed) carpet showroom – they ALWAYS threw one HELL of a theme party for the center every year that began at 4PM and often ran till well past 2AM. Now, THOSE were the days indeed…

Hollywood-Theme-Party

 

How To Work With an Interior Designer

I love my job – I really do. But I often think that clients assume interior designers possess some sort of paranormal abilities beyond our innate color sense and our desire for only the finest of everything. I think clients believe we can somehow magically “divine” their level of taste and style – heck, even their favorite color!

iamreadingyourmindAt our initial meeting with potential design clients, my business partner and I typically spend an hour or two just visiting with them, getting a feel for their taste level and trying to get a gauge on their expectations, desires and – most importantly – budget. You cannot believe how many times we go through a conversation like this:

Me: “So, if you had to describe your design style in one word, would you say you are traditional, transitional or contemporary?”

Potential client: “I don’t know – that’s what I need you for…”

Me: “Well, would you rather live with The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family or with one of the Modern Families?”

PC: “I don’t like any of those shows.”

Aurgh. And if that type of potential client is challenging, these guys are even worse:

Me: “You seem to have a lot of clean-lined furniture already; would you say you like modern things?”

PC (who has a room full of Crate and Barrel-ish furniture): “Sigh – I don’t know. I guess you could say I am sorta’ Arts and Crafts with a little Art Deco thrown in – I like it all.”

Me: “So then it’s safe to say you have more eclectic taste?”

PC: “No, I definitely do NOT like anything too Shabby Chic-y.” 

What the heck? At this point, I usually shove a pen in my eye so I have en excuse to leave the meeting. I mean, I get it. People hire me – hire interior designers – because we are educated in design, have often trained in several disciplines as a result and just (generally) have the oh-so-elusive “good taste.” And that is OK. But sometimes I feel like clients expect some sort of mystical intervention when they hire us – I mean, we have to have something to work with, right?

No one would go to a doctor and have this conversation:

Doctor: “So, tell me why you are here today. Do you have a specific pain? Nausea? Headaches – anything?”

Patient: “I just don’t feel right.”

Doctor: “Well, can you share some of your symptoms with me?”

Patient: “I don’t know. That’s why I came here. Make me better”

In a way, interior designers ARE a lot like doctors – we can “diagnose” what’s wrong with a room, suggest a “course of treatment” and “prescribe the medicine or therapy that will make everything better.” But, please – you gotta’ at least meet us in the middle. Do not FEAR us – we are on “your side.” Again, to use the doctor analogy, you would never NOT tell a doctor you were suffering from blinding headaches for fear he would be mad, am I right? No. Like doctors, interior designers need all the info you have UP FRONT so we can work effectively and efficiently to help you realize your dream spaces. Sometimes it is as simple as just telling us your favorite color…

Mind reader cartoonSo please, continue to use interior designers – I love the work! – but help us help you. We can help you enjoy your homes and offices more. We can make your environment great. It may sound a bit arrogant but it’s true:  Interior designers make the world a more beautiful place. We do – but we need your help and input to do it.

Think of us as your best friend, but with taste. Tell us everything, step back and leave the rest to us… We’ll make you happy. Promise.