Working with an Interior Designer Expectations by Capella Kincheloe Interior Design phoenix

The only reason that interior design relationships sour is because of unfulfilled expectations.  Really, it is the only reason that any relationship hits bumps - friendships, family, romantic relationships - all strife is caused by unfulfilled expectations.

As Buddha teaches, if you release your expectations you also release frustration, unhappiness, discontent, anger.  If you expect nothing, then you will never be disappointed.  If your happiness is tied to the outcome or the process and it doesn't turn out as expected, you suffer.

Simple, but terribly difficult.  Especially in something so personal as a home.  This post is extremely timely and ever so personal to me right now because I recently saw first-hand in my own business how different my clients expectations were from my own.  I keep replaying conversations in my head, wondering how I could have set up their expectations better, how I could have communicated the situation better,  if there were signs in their words and behaviors that I should have read better.  This is where interior designers joke about being a part-time psychiatrist.  Because what clients say and do is not always what they expect.

As the client, it is important to be very clear on your expectations so your designer can focus on designing your space and not trying to decode your message and meanings.  Here are some examples:

You say: Red is my favorite color, I'd like to incorporate it in my living room. You mean: I want my walls, carpet, sofa, and curtains to be red.  Your designer hears: She wants a red sofa or upholstered chair.

You say: I have $75,000 to spend.  You mean: I have $150,000 to spend but don't want my designer to spend it all.  Your designer hears: They want to spend around $75,000.  

You say: I'd like to have a place to store my surf boards.  You mean: It is non-negotiable to have a place to store my surf boards.  Your designer hears: Let's see if there is a feasible place to store the boards, maybe we can fit it in maybe not.

You can see in the examples above that the clients expectations are different from the designer's expectations because of vague communication.  So in the first example, the designer may show the client a red sofa and the client tells the designer, I'd like a little more red, so the designer adds in a red chair and the client is still not happy and feels like the designer doesn't understand or listen.

In the second example, the designer is showing the client's items within their budget, but they are unhappy because it is not at the quality they imagine - because to them, their budget is $150,000 and their designer shouldn't be showing them such cheap furniture.

In the third example, the designer doesn't see the surf board storage as important as the client does.  The client is sure to be disappointed, frustrated, or angry if the designer doesn't find a place for those damn surf boards.

As humans, we all expect something.  To a client, spending $5000 on a dining table may be reasonable, but spending more than $50 on a lamp is crazy.  Then that client expects the designer to know or understand the client's money expectations.  A client may have expectations that trying to get it done by Christmas means that it'll be done by Christmas.  The designer expects that the client sees trying as an attempt to get it done but it's likely not going to be done.

Oh so easy for the project to make either the designer or client unhappy because of unmet expectations.  So we know and see some of the traps that can occur, what can be done about it?

Be clear, crystal clear on what your expectations are and what you want.  Sometimes we feel a little icky for asking for exactly what we want.  It can feel demanding or you could be concerned for the other parties feelings.  But it'll be so much better for the relationship and the project if you are clear about your expectations always, beginning, middle, and the end.  Do not be vague.

Be reasonable, if your expectation is that your designer will complete your living room remodel in 4 weeks - let her know and then listen when she tells you that the remodel that you are expecting cannot be completed in that time frame.

Be decisive, make a decision quickly and stick to it.  If you wait too long in communication with your designer, memories fade and new expectations arise.

And if you are up-for-it and more highly evolved that the rest of us, you can be Buddha-like and simply release all expectations.


Style Wars Designer vs Client.  Photo by DTTSP Do Interior Designers design for my style?

One of the biggest reasons people are unsure about hiring a designer is being pushed into a style they do not feel is “them”.   Design is a collaboration and as a designer, you must find the balance between the client’s opinions and your professional opinion.  As a client, you must value the designer's professional opinion and remember that there is a reason you have hired them.   If you are working with or considering working with a decorator, I highly recommend reading the article, "Why Hire a Decorator" by Elle Decor in which the quotes in this post were taken.  This article is now part of my new client packet.  I get great satisfaction hearing a client tell me they never would have selected that countertop or that paint color, but they love it and wouldn’t want it any other way.

"For my house in Vermont," Drew Katz remembers, "Ernie (De La Torre) proposed a ceiling fixture that was like an eight-foot motorized zeppelin. It was shaped like a dragon, with a tongue that goes in and out, and I thought, 'I don't know about this.' But it's turned out to be everyone's favorite piece, including my own."

I get doubtful looks and have to continually reassure clients of the process and explain to them the reasons why (when let's be honest, what I really want to say is, "Because I said so.")  This is part of the job, because we see the end result in our mind that clients don't see as easily.

"I had some trouble," says (client) Siri, "especially at the beginning, understanding what Suzanne (Rheinstein)was trying to do. It's easy to reject an idea if you've never seen it before."

Before you hire a decorator look at their portfolio and see if you like what they've done in the past.  Designer's have a sort of design signature - styles, products, materials, that they gravitate towards.  In the simplest terms, designer's select things that we like and we're not all the same.  If you enjoy the work they have done previously then you'll probably be a good fit.  So, if a friend whose house you would never choose to live in yourself, gives you a glowing recommendation for her decorator, it is a good idea to look elsewhere for a designer whose style you love.

"Alexa (Hampton) is an artist. She has a palette and a vision. If you're going to spend a lot of time trying to change that vision, you've lost what you're buying."

Designer's want you to be thrilled with the completed project.  So the right designer will collaborate with you and get to know you in a way that you may not know yourself.  They will learn how you live and translate that into a customized design.  The right decorator will elevate your style and give you the house you didn't know you could have if you're open to the process.

With all this talk about being open to the process, you also shouldn't be a doormat.  Even if you want to give your designer carte blanche, be sure to fully explain your lifestyle, what you like and don't and be very clear as to what you are looking for.  Designer's are trained to look at the whole picture for you - lifestyle, taste, budget and by detailing this in the beginning the process will move smoother.

If you truly hate something, tell your designer, but if you are just apprehensive - put the trust in your designer.

If you have definite preferences, talk to your designer - do you prefer a super cushy extra down sofa?  Tell her.  Do you have warm memories of your grandmother's floral wallpaper?  Maybe you think of the detention room in your high school every time you see grey walls.  By expressing these thoughts you open the dialog and further the possibilities, which will bring you closer to getting the house you've dreamed of.  But be open to new possibilities, because perhaps that designer will do amazing things you've never dreamed of with grey walls - banishing your nefarious time in high school to the past.

Final thought - Design is a collaboration and relies on communication.

Tell me, are you afraid of being pushed into a style that is not "you'?