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.

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.

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.