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Archive for the ‘Working With a Designer’ Category

So, you’ve found an image you like on Houzz, Ava Living, or any of the thousands of other websites or blogs dedicated to interior design, and you decide you’d like to have a room (or chair or even paint color) just like the one in the picture.  You leave a message for the designer asking where they got it, or what paint color it is, what contractor they used, etc. – and either get no response, or the designer won’t or can’t tell you.  Or tells you to hire them and they’ll be happy to help you with your project and sourcing something similar.

What’s going on?  Especially on a site like Houzz that seems to be dedicated at least in part to helping do-it-yourselfers source and create their own designs?  I mean, how dare those designers not just answer a simple question like this?  Or want to be paid for the information no less?

Well, there are a few likely reasons you may not get an answer to your question (or the details you are seeking), as follows.

1.  We don’t remember.

Yes, it’s highly likely it’s just that simple.

There can be literally thousands of products and decisions involved in a single design project (even a single room), and we simply can’t remember everything for every project we ever do.  No one can remember all the details even in a current project, never mind something finished years ago.

Yes, a good designer certainly keeps records, but the time involved to look up a detail from an old project whose records may even be offsite in storage or otherwise archived simply isn’t usually worth the sometimes considerable effort, particularly when we know we’ll never see a penny of income for doing so.

It also actually costs us money and time to look things like this up, both outright in paying staff to do it, or simply in opportunity cost because it’s time that could otherwise be billed to a paying client or marketing to find new ones in order to access information like that.  And especially if we happen to be on a tight deadline right when you ask, well, paying clients simply always come first.

2.  Custom-made, or otherwise one of a kind

Much of what a professional interior designer does is custom designed specifically for the project shown, and thus not available anywhere anyways.  Ditto with even paint colors – they are often custom blended for that particular project, and thus can’t be purchased anywhere but through that designer (and maybe not even then).

Or maybe it’s an antique or other one-of-a-kind piece for which a duplicate also doesn’t exist anywhere or could never be easily found.  Or we know it’s been discontinued.

3.  To-the-trade only

Many more of the resources we use are only available “to the trade”, meaning only to professional designers.  So, just like with anything fully custom-designed, even if we were to tell you where we got it and exactly what it is, you wouldn’t have access to be able to buy it on your own anyway.

4.  Mismatched expectations/poor outcomes, and/or liability

If we share names of contractors or vendors with non-clients, and someone has a bad experience with them, it can reflect poorly on us – through no fault of our own – and may also raise concerns about liability and/or negatively impact our own working relationships with these people.

One or another of these problems has happened to virtually every designer (I know it certainly has to me), and no one is eager to repeat the experience.  Trying to help people out like this can and does backfire, and it makes us very wary of what resources we share, and with whom.

Many of the sources we use work either exclusively or primarily with designers, and expect a certain level of design knowledge of the client, which the average DIYer lacks.  This mismatch of expectations can lead to a poor outcome, or at least disappointment on the part of the client who doesn’t fully understand what they’ve gotten themselves into or how to explain what they envision so they actually get it – or how to get it fixed if something goes wrong or it just doesn’t turn out like they’re expecting.  It can also frustrate and upset the vendor or contractor, and these are people we like to keep happy, not annoy, because we want to be able to work with them again ourselves.

As professional designers, when we are involved, we mediate and even control that process and are far more able (for many reasons) to make sure that the final result matches the design intention, that errors get corrected, etc. – and this is true whether it’s a contractor remodeling a whole house or a workroom just making one window treatment.  (Please also refer to my post entitled “Reason 465 to Hire an Interior Designer: Better Contractors and More Leverage With Them“, which details why we’re better able to do this than you are.)

5.  We know it’s way, way outside your budget

Particularly on sites like Houzz, we often have an idea of the budget you may have, because you’ve either said so straight out, or it’s reflected in your comments on other discussions, or your ideabooks, etc.  When someone is looking to somehow furnish an entire room (or God forbid, a whole house) for $10,000, for example, and we know that the table or cabinet or one similar to the one you’re asking about will easily cost double or triple that or more by itself, what’s the point?

We’re not going to tell you right out that you can’t afford it, of course, but we are also not going to go out of our way to look up the specifics for you, either, when we already know there’s not a prayer on earth you’ll actually be willing or able to buy it, from us or anyone else.

6.  Someone else paid for it and owns it, and deserves privacy

In all cases, someone else paid for that design and every component you’re asking about, and deserves some protection against other people copying it, especially for free.  They certainly deserve particular protection against the actual designer they hired giving it away to someone else.  The designer may also have absolutely no legal right to share the information because of contractual terms with the client involved, and could potentially face legal action for doing so.

How would you feel if you had been the client to commission a design and paid good money for it – and then realized your designer was giving it or parts of it away for free to others?  Or knew that people you know or might meet might query the designer about how much you paid for everything and where you got it – and get the answers?

7.  It’s proprietary information

Frankly, the sources and vendors we use are a major part of our stock-in-trade, along with our design tips and tricks.  Quite simply, why would we give away for free much of the proprietary information and resources with which we make our living?  With which we are able to distinguish ourselves and the value of what we in particular do from other designers?

We are professionals who are in business to make money, just like everyone else in any other business anywhere, and yes, part of being able to do that very much involves protecting the majority of our sources.

One of the best reasons to hire a designer in the first place is that we maintain vast lists of resources, and know which ones to draw on for which purposes.  It takes years and years, and constant, unending research, to find the best resources, contractors, etc., to build the list we draw on, to keep it current, and to develop and maintain the personal and professional relationships that lead to the best outcomes.  I personally have literally thousands of listings just in my address book, compiled over several decades, and at least several thousand more bookmarked online and recorded, filed, or referenced in other places including a large library.  That resource base is of absolutely incalculable value to me.

When you hire us, you get the benefit of that vast storehouse of talent and materials – in combination, of course, with the our training and skill and ability to source just the right things in each situation and orchestrate a coherent whole that uniquely fills your personal requirements.

We certainly don’t mind sharing a few things, and a few general pointers.  Part of what we do does involve educating our clients, and an educated general populace can also produce better clients as well as raise the overall level of design and appreciation for good design in the world.  It benefits everyone when we do share some of what we know, and most of us enjoy doing so anyways.  I certainly do.

But you know, please don’t ask us to give away the farm, or to go particularly out of our way to help you when you have no intention of ever paying us for anything – or to violate our contractual agreements with others.

You wouldn’t give away the trade secrets of how you do whatever you do professionally, would you?  Or provide all or a substantive amount of your services for free?

Or honestly expect your doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, gardener, dog groomer, or car mechanic to work for free, or to provide parts or training in how to do it yourself, especially for nothing?

Designers everywhere thank you for understanding why we won’t do it either 😉

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If you’re ready to create the uniquely beautiful and functional home of your dreams, or even to just redo a single room, please drop me a note via the Contact link on this site and we can discuss your needs, and how my experience and vast resource base can help.

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House in Hawaii, The Wiseman Group and architect Ricardo Legoretta
photo – Matthew Millman

I was just reading an article in Fast Company about why generalizing is often better than specializing in the job market, despite the push we’ve seen for decades to specialize, and it got me thinking of one of my pet peeves in the interior design world.

Today, most business consultants who work with interior designers are advising us to specialize for marketing reasons, often in a particular style or look, or targeting a particular demographic, which I think is a huge mistake.  Clients also often look for designers who do the particular style they want to the exclusion of everything else, thereby likely ruling out a tremendous number of other highly competent designers who might actually do an even better job for them.

Oftentimes designers who only work in one style are basically repeating what they themselves prefer, which is fine if that’s what you really want, but if you want a really creative, and truly customized design, you want someone who has the ability to bring as broad a set of resources and skills to the table as possible – and the interest in doing so.  It takes a little more work to keep up on a wider range of resources, to be sure, and not all designers really want to be bothered.

Apartment on Nob Hill, The Wiseman Group
photo – Tim Street-Porter

Speaking from experience as someone who has worked for and learned a great deal from a very gifted designer who nevertheless tends to stick to a similar aesthetic for all projects, it can also get really boring to a creative mind that gets fired up by a range of options and the process of really digging in and solving the specific problems each individual client has in a unique way, not applying the same solution to them all.  Working in aesthetics other than those towards which one is personally inclined is a key way to keep the creative fires stoked, in what is fundamentally a creative discipline, and to keep that saw sharp.

The thing is, the fundamentals of the interior design, and the design process itself, are largely the same regardless of style, and a good designer who wants to create truly personalized solutions will deliberately cultivate the ability to work comfortably in a wide range of aesthetics.

The Wiseman Group
photo – Matthew Millman

What really matters most is the ability to truly listen to the client, and then to translate the client’s desires into tangible reality, and that entails a skill set that is completely independent of the style or color scheme selected.  Scale is scale, balance is balance, etc., whether you are dealing with a modern building or a traditional one, and if someone is really good with color, they should be able to produce a wonderful color scheme in any hue in the rainbow.

Anyone can learn to repeat the same basic thing over and over again, but a big part of the point of hiring an interior designer is to have a customized solution that is unique to you and your own particular needs and style, and of course the architectural realities of your own home or office.

The reality is that not every designer can actually do it – or wants to be bothered.

Seeing projects that all look similar in someone’s portfolio raises the question about how versatile that designer really is.  When you see a range of project styles that are all well done, you know you’re dealing with someone who has the ability to really customize as needed, and likely has a wider range of resources to bring to bear on the project as well.  It takes more work to keep up on that range, but that also means the designer is clearly exposing herself to a wide range of options on a regular and ongoing basis – which can only mean good things for clients.

One of the world’s greatest designers, the Paul Vincent Wiseman of The Wiseman Group, who has long been one of my most revered design heroes, regularly demonstrates his ability to work brilliantly in virtually any style, as the contrasting photos above of his work attest.  The first two projects shown, both frequently published and among my favorites of his work, could not be more different – the first, an apartment in an historic landmark building on top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill; the second, a vacation home in Hawaii built by one of the foremost modernist architects of our time.  The third, equally distinct from the first two, is an estate in the Napa Valley with a 20th century design aesthetic with midcentury touches in a house built in a somewhat Spanish colonial style.

This is really what it means to be a great designer, in my opinion.  You know just by looking at the range of his projects that Wiseman has both listened to and actually heard what his clients have said they wanted – and then delivered.  Many of his clients have done multiple projects with him that span a wide range of styles, and he has to be able to handle that range, or frankly, he’d lose those clients to someone else when they want a different aesthetic in a new home.  You know without asking that he could do anything asked of him, even if he hasn’t shown an example of that style or project type in his portfolio.  Whether you like these particular examples or not, and regardless of your preference for these color schemes or others, these projects share the qualities of being perfectly scaled and designed for their respective spaces and environments, and every detail contributes harmoniously to the whole.

When you get into things like green design, aging-in-place/accessible/universal design, commercial design, or design for special functions like doctors’ offices or jails, then you do indeed get into a greater need for specialization and often additional training beyond that which is usually taught in design school.   When dealing with nonresidential environments, building codes tend to play a larger role than they do in private homes, and the more specialized the function of the space, the more specialized the code and other technical issues.

Aging-in-place, etc. is becoming the big buzz word these days, and there is clearly growing demand, but I’ve encountered very few designers who have actually got the necessary training, or who otherwise show they’ve learned what they actually need to know to work with this specialized and growing market effectively, dealing with both the architectural requirements down to the selection of fabrics, colors, and furniture styles that are best for this market or subsets of it.  With a few exceptions, most I’ve seen only understand part of the requirements.  Strangely, most people who are Certified Aging in Place Specialists (a designation I hold, as one of only about four such certified interior designers in Northern CA) aren’t even designers, and while they could certain tell you where to put grab bars and how to build a ramp, and maybe do the work to install them, many couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag and integrate accessibility features into an overall beautiful aesthetic that doesn’t scream “institution” or “add-on” at you because they are simply not trained as designers.

For the vast majority of interior designers, however, and certainly within residential design or commercial design as broad overall categories, the ability to generalize and work in a wider range of styles is truly an asset, and the mark of a really proficient creative person – and one who is truly more interested in giving clients what they want than imposing a particular style upon them. Whether your project is a large estate or a single small room, wouldn’t you really rather know that this is your designer’s honest focus?

It is, of course, essential that your designer fully understand the code issues that are involved in whatever type of project you have, but at the end of the day, the way most people interface with their space demands the ability to produce the creative vision, and to make the technical matters disappear and to function seamlessly behind the scenes, supporting the overall desired function and aesthetic of the space.

If the designer is properly conversant with residential codes, she will be able to deal with them whether it’s a modern building or an older one, and the same for the commercial designer int he world of office buildings.  Some designers know both, but not all.  Don’t assume; ask what types of projects they have done and/or are trained to do.  Just because there isn’t an example in her portfolio of exactly the type of space your project entails doesn’t mean she isn’t trained to handle it and can’t still do an excellent job.  (Beware if the designer doesn’t know that there are huge code differences, however!  And that they may need to use different contractors for different job types.)

It takes staying on top of continuing education whether it is required for local certification or not to maintain one’s knowledge of the technical side of things (and doing that is vastly more important in the end than any alphabet soup of professional designations a designer may or may not choose to obtain – and almost all of them are entirely optional and not required in any way by the vast majority of states and countries), but it is critically important not to forget the creative side of things, either, and to select a designer who shows she has the ability to do what a range of work, and to think outside the box.

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Louis Tenenbaum has written a very nice article  about the basic strategy for aging in place remodeling, discussing the important considerations.  I wrote a short response on his blog, then decided to take a more comprehensive look here on my own.

In addition to the main points inherent specifically with aging in place, Louis has hit on a couple of things I rarely see spoken about, namely the challenges inherent in figuring out what a client wants and needs, as well as their aesthetic preferences, and translating it all into something workable – and the design team’s role in helping the client envision what is coming from a medical point of view.

One thing that really surprises me is how seldom anyone involved in universal design and aging in place ever thinks to include an interior designer on the team.  Most interior designers really have no idea what they are doing with respect to aging in place, etc., but all really good ones certainly know how to figure out a client’s aesthetics at minimum and translate them – and how to work with a team of architect, contractor, and other consultants to create a comprehensive whole.

A few undertake additional training to learn about this specialized area of design, but exceedingly few go the extra mile to obtain the Certified Aging in Place Specialist credential that verifies the designer really understands the needs of this population.

What good interior designers in general do, however (even those without such specialized training), perhaps more than any other party to the design team, is translate all of the needs and desires to a workable daily interface that also meets all of the client’s aesthetic requirements, both interfacing with the structure itself, and in selecting the most appropriate finishes and furnishings, and all other interior elements.  The best designers know how to get past what is not said or is poorly articulated to ferret out the real needs and desires and to translate it all into what is actually wanted and needed, both functionally and aesthetically.

A good interior designer adds far more value to this whole undertaking than most people have a clue about, both in this arena and in working with any other kind of client as well.

(more…)

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For designers and clients alike.

Clients, if you’ve ever wondered why designers sometimes tell you they can’t tell you what they charge when you ask that early on, this is at least part of the answer.  You don’t want a one-size-fits-all answer anyways.  The designer you’re thinking of hiring absolutely must spend enough time getting to know you and what your needs, wishes, budget, etc. are to be able to give you a fully informed answer.  Most designers are willing to tailor a plan to meet your needs and budget, so don’t shop just on price.  The designer/client relationship is a very intimate and complex one that offers tremendous value, and that can’t be easily reduced to a simple, pat answer to “How much do you charge?”, just as Fabienne explains below.
-Wendy

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NEVER Answer The ONE Question Prospects Always Ask (If You Want Clients)

One of the best things to do to quickly establish credibility, get massive exposure, and attract new clients, is speaking. Hands down. Whether you organize your own seminars on a regular basis to continually fill the pipeline (the way I did for years), or get booked for talks to “pre-formed” groups like associations, it works like a charm?provided you give very good info.

If you deliver the talk properly, there is always a group of people at the end of your talk who rush up to the podium to chat with you. Some will tell you how much they enjoyed the talk, some will be e-zine readers who have wanted to meet you for years, some will want free advice or to “pick your brain.” But, there is one question you will almost always get and it comes in two parts. The first part is the good part; “I am interested in working with you.” The second one is the tricky part; “What do you charge?”

There is ONE fundamental problem with answering the second part of that question. If you answer it right there on the spot, you will most always lose that client on the spot. Here is why.

When making a purchasing decision, if they are only focused on price, there is not any room for VALUE or RESULTS. And I believe people buy in three ways: by emotion, by results, and by value (what they are paying for what they are getting). If you do not get the value part right, you might as well not even bother. They will always go into sticker shock.

The solution? Do not give them your rates on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation to be held at a later date where you can fully describe the value they will be getting from working with you. I call mine the “get-acquainted session,” you may call yours a free-consultation, whatever. The important thing is that is where the magic happens. That is where you can find out more about them, get to the root of their problems, describe solutions, and they sell themselves into your services, based on value.

Now, by the way, this situation does not just happen at the end of a speaking gig. If you have got a kick-butt elevator speech that makes them say, “Wow, that is exactly what I need, I want to work with you,” then you will also get the question at networking events, at the cocktail hour of your friend’s wedding, or simply when someone contacts you by email or phone. The answer is always the same though. Invite them for a get-acquainted session.

Your Assignment:

Never give your rates cold. You will almost always lose the sale right there on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation. Here is what I recommend that my clients say to their own prospects:

“I actually offer several different programs, depending on how quickly you want to get results, and of course, on your budget level. What I usually recommend is that we set up a get-acquainted session. Not only do you want to find out more about me, my programs, etc., but I want to find out more about you and your situation to see if you are going to be the right fit for my programs as well. Shall we set that up?”

Done. The prospect almost always lets out a sigh of relief (it is almost as though they did not REALLY want your rates after all) and then you are all set. Now, you are ready to close the sale. Easy.

Now, if closing the sale 97-98% of the time is not a reality for you yet, then we have got to change that ASAP. My own formula, step-by-step process AND closing the sale script is all laid out and available to you, in a turnkey, easy to implement one foot in front of the other process. The Client Attraction Home Study System includes everything you need to know to fill your practice quickly and close the sale consistently; no matter how long you have been in business. All the tools, scripts, templates, and examples are handed to you on a silver platter. So, you do step one of the system, and when you are done with that, you move on to step two, and so on. So easy. That is why my customers have gotten such great results from it. You can get yours at www.TheClientAttractionSystem.com.

© 2010 Client Attraction LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Want to use this article on your website or your own ezine?
No problem! But here is what you MUST include:Fabienne Fredrickson, The Client Attraction Mentor, is founder of the Client Attraction System , the proven step-by-step program that shows you exactly how to attract more clients, in record time…guaranteed. To get your F.R.E.E. Audio CD by mail and receive her weekly marketing & success mindset articles on attracting more high-paying clients and dramatically increasing your income, visit www.ClientAttraction.com.

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Lately I’ve been pondering how to communicate the value of what professional interior designers bring to a design project that no one else can, and like many other designers, coming up a bit short on a good explanation, although it’s something we designers certainly all know intuitively.  Conveying that to the public is a different matter, however.  The following articles explain it better than any I’ve seen elsewhere.  Stanley Abercrombie is one of the most influential design writers of our time, for many years the editor of Interior Design magazine, one of the industry’s most important professional journals.  In a profession sadly lacking in philosphical underpinnings such as architecture has, he’s also written one of the most thoughtful (and indeed only) books on the subject with the appropriate title of  A Philosophy of Interior Design.

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The value of interior design, 1994. (interior design as an artform) (Editorial)

Article from:Interior Design Article date:January 1, 1994 Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

Please don’t think I plan to make a habit of this, but just this once I want to take more than the usual space for an editorial statement. On this page in October, comments titled “It’s the Design” urged designers to value–and to charge for–their design expertise. Some of you agreed with my comments (for example, see Marvin Affrime’s letter in our forum section); some of you didn’t agree; and the following expansion of those thoughts will also, inevitably, be controversial. That’s fine. But I feel passionately about the danger of something important being lost if designers continue disguising their profession as just another business.

Interior design is a business, we recognize, and a demanding one; the forum instituted exactly two years ago and dedicated solely to business and professional news and opinion, demonstrates that recognition. But, for most of us, the business aspect of interior design is not its chief attraction. What drew most designers to their profession is the fact that interior design is an art.

It is not a fine art, but an applied art. It cannot luxuriate in its independence as can painting and sculpture, forming itself without regard to any but aesthetic demands. It is, instead, a hardworking art, with serious and sometimes mundane problems to solve. And just as there are a great many buildings that never achieve the status of architecture, there are a great many interiors that never achieve the level of art. But there are many that do, and, at their best, interior designers are artists. Although the artistic element is difficult to separate from interior design’s more practical elements, it must not be denied that it often exists and can add an important extra value to our work. Granted, a designer who idealistically focuses solely on art may have trouble finding any opportunity to practice the art; still, it seems undeniable that in today’s difficult economy, the art of interior design is undervalued. Talking recently with the impressively articulate principal of one of our Giant firms, I was told that the firm’s emphasis now, in its efforts to get new work, is on economic benefits for clients. Similarly, a fine designer in California told me a couple of months ago that he never mentions appearance or design in making a presentation these days, but that instead he promises to produce a more efficient plan than his competitors. And one firm that used to call itself “architects” is emphasizing its technological savvy by now calling itself “cybertects.” If the work of these firms sometimes transcends problem solving and becomes art, they’re certainly not bragging about it. One likely reason is that in interior design, the element of art is inseparable from more practical elements.

It arises, in fact, from the thoughtful accommodation of very practical needs, not from any impulse or motive that is extraneous to such accommodation. As architect W. R. Lethaby wrote in Form and Civilization, “Art is not a special sauce applied to ordinary cooking; it is the cooking itself if it is good.”

Another reason for ignoring the element of art in interior design is that the value of art is notoriously difficult to measure. The essence of art is intangible. It cannot be quantified as a number of square feet or pounds or yards; consequently, it is difficult to value in terms of dollars. It is true that the number of hours taken to achieve a work of art can be recorded, but such records rarely include the value of previous experience. Whistler, accused of excessive pricing for one of his paintings, was asked, “For two days’ labor, you ask two hundred guineas?” He replied, “No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.” Which reminds us that, if it is both an art and a business, interior design is also a craft.

Technique and experience count a lot in this field, just as they do in the finest of fine arts. Whistler had more than a painter’s vision; he also had the technical expertise to effectively manifest that vision. Such expertise is not achieved by the novice or the housewife-with-flair or the guy-who-can-get-you-a-good-deal. It is achieved through the increasingly rigorous education that our profession requires and through the subsequent practical application of that education. Like the surgeon or lawyer, the interior designer must be both educated and practiced. Like them, the designer deserves appropriate compensation.

But Whistler’s vision was his main asset. Beyond skill and competence, there remains the special but hard-to-measure value-added element of art, and only the designer’s education, practice and vision can combine to produce that element. The designer does more than plan; the designer designs [emphasis added]. I believe it is the difficulty of determining appropriate compensation that has led to attempts by many interior designers to measure their art in inappropriate ways. Sometimes, by ignoring their art altogether, they underestimate their own value; at other times, by confusing their art with the more mundane functions of their practice from which their art arises, they overestimate that art. Art, for example, does not necessarily solve social problems.

I do not mean that interior design cannot address and sometimes solve such problems; in some cases, it must do so. But the aspect of interior design that is aesthetic does not solve them; it does something quite different.

In the early 1950s, designer George Nelson, speaking to the American Institute of Architects, expressed it this way: “…nothing is less consequential in the creation of a work of art than good intentions.”

And a couple of years later, lecturing in Vienna, Alvar Aalto made a similar point: “Form is a mystery,” he said, “which eludes definition but makes us feel good in a way quite unlike social aid.” [emphasis mine]

If art is amoral, then, and “quite unlike social aid,” what is it that art can do for us? How is it that it “makes us feel good?”

Art heightens the quality of our lives. Walter Pater, in the last paragraph of The Renaissance, his book of just more than a century ago, observed that “Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing, except the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” This view has been criticized as proposing “art for art’s sake,” but, at least in this passage, Pater is clearly proposing art for the sake of the quality of our lives and of our clients’ lives. It is this heightened quality that interior designers as artists can offer and that no one in related fields–not space planners, nor realtors, nor developers, nor construction cost analysts, nor facility managers–can. These people perform useful functions; interior designers can perform them too; but interior designers can bring something more to a project. It is this heightened quality, this civilizing of our living places and working places, this art that designers not only must continue to offer but also, I believe, must emphasize. Despite the difficulties in isolating, measuring and evaluating the artistic element of interior design, that element must be recognized [emphasis mine], and even be bragged about, for it cannot be appreciated and will not be properly rewarded unless it is recognized. A question designers should ask their clients and their potential clients to ask themselves is this: What are you going to be seeing in your new space? Assuming that your newly planned environment is going to be efficient, well organized and supportive of increased productivity, is it also going to be interesting, uplifting, enriching–or even bearable–to look at and to be in day after day, year after year?

Art is worth paying for because, in these days of social discontent and random violence, in these days of homelessness, drugs, guns and plaque, when our urban environments are becoming increasingly brutalized, we increasingly need both physical and mental refuge from that brutalization. We need the solace of interiors that are not only intelligently functional but also intelligently artful. In these days more than ever, the art of interior design is worth paying for, because a heightened quality of life is worth paying for.

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It’s the design. (design profession)

Article from:Interior Design Article date: October 1, 1993

Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

It is commonplace these days to hear architects and interior designers describe job meetings at which they are surrounded by various representatives of the client’s interests: lawyers, developers, real estate brokers, strategic planners, programmers, construction managers, project managers, facility managers. Every one of this new crop of experts demands and gets reasonable time for performing a function; every one demands and gets reasonable pay for doing it. Only the designer is expected to turn out overnight miracles, and it naturally follows that work done quickly comes cheap.

Today’s designer, it seems to this former designer, will not be paid what he’s worth without conveying a clear idea of that worth, not by competing with all those lawyers, brokers and managers, but by proudly providing the services the designer alone can provide; not by presenting the profession in some new guise but in the old and honest way; not by pretending to do work that necessarily saves the client money; but by doing work that is worth the client’s money. That client must somehow, gently, tactfully, but firmly be made aware that:

1. The primary function of a designer is to provide design (and that design includes not just decorating but an interrelated network of problem solving) [emphasis added].

2. Good design requires the time and effort of highly educated professionals.

3. Such time and effort deserve fair compensation.

Not every prospective client really needs design services, perhaps, but those who do should be prepared to pay for them. The current abhorrent practice of clients demanding severe cuts in designers’ fees cannot be expected to end until those clients are reminded of what those fees are purchasing. In these economically troubled times, the design profession does not need to be reshaped; it needs to be reasserted.

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Thanks to Vicente Wolf for raising the issue of why designers ourselves tend to undervalue what we do.

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(Please note:  This video may not run smoothly for some reason; you may have to restart it several times where it leaves off in order to view the whole thing, but make sure you watch it all, including the testing processes.)

Glass tables can be wonderful additions to many rooms in the house, and are particularly popular as coffee tables, end tables, and dining tables. They are stylish, help small rooms look larger, and can help reflect light that will help brighten any space.

But they do have one major downside, that people should be aware of, and that is that they can also provide a significant hazard for everyone in the house, but particularly for children and the elderly. Sharp edges can cause cuts and bruises when people bump into them, and particularly for the elderly, whose vision is not what it was when they are younger, they can just be more difficult to see, and thus harder to avoid bumping into. As we age, our skin gets thinner, so elderly skin is more likely to tear easily on a squared edge, too, than on one that is more rounded. Much is already made of these particular issues in aging-in-place and universal design circles.

However – and even more importantly – glass tables of all sizes and designs can also shatter, especially if someone falls on them, and severe injuries and even death may result, as the above video shows.

Even young, able-bodied adults are not immune from this risk, as both this video describes and the one blow shows graphically.

Although this second video starts out humorously, and looking like a commercial or a joke, the injuries the woman shown has likely sustained could well threaten her life, as well as disfigure her forever. The chances that the glass may penetrate her abdomen or chest, or sever a carotid artery or femoral artery (among other possibilities) are high, any of which injuries could cause her to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. She may well have also sustained a severe neck and/or back injury from this fall, fractures, and could need reconstructive plastic surgery to repair her face. This sort of trip and fall is not at all an unlikely occurrence in many homes, either, particularly as anyone who has ever had children or pets will attest.

Children are also particularly susceptible to such injuries, when they run around and jump on the furniture. Consumer Reports and the Providence Journal reported on one such tragic case of an 11 year old dying from a severe puncture wound to her leg that caused her to bleed to death.

According to Consumer Reports, “Each year an estimated 20,000 people, most of them children, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from glass furniture. In an average year, three children die”.

Pets can also cause the same kind of damage to glass furniture, and sustain the same kinds of injuries, especially if they are large and/or rowdy.

So, does this mean you should get rid of all glass tables, or never use them?

No, it just means you have to do a little homework when first buying them, and be sure that the glass is tempered/safety glass, not the more typical annealed glass used in most furniture.

Tempered glass (also known as safety glass), which is what your car windows, shower doors, and storm doors are made of, shatters into many small pebble-like pieces when it breaks, none of which are likely to cause life-threatening injuries, most of which have very few sharp edges. Annealed glass, however (which is what most home windows are made of, and almost all glass furniture parts), breaks into slabs and slices of glass of varying sizes, some quite large, with edges that are as sharp as knives, and which will quickly and easily penetrate all soft tissue, and even bone, if the force applied is sufficient. The first video above shows the difference graphically in a testing situation.

Because there are no safety standards or codes that apply to the type of glass used in tables yet (although they are now under development), it’s up to you the consumer (or your designer) to ensure that safety glass is used or specified, in order to ensure maximum safety, especially in areas of the home that have a lot of traffic, although it’s best to ensure the use of safety glass wherever glass is used in furniture in the home.

Some tables are made entirely of glass, and it may not be possible to get them in tempered glass, or they may be made in a way that makes replacing the glass portions impractical or impossible, so you will then have to decide what’s most important to you, taking into consideration where the piece will live, who will use it, the amount of traffic that will pass near it, etc.

Some manufacturers already use tempered glass as a matter of course, but far from all, so you will have to ask before you buy. If it’s just a glass top or insert, and you cannot custom order the piece with tempered glass (or you already have the piece), you can always have a replacement made of tempered glass yourself by a local glass shop. You could also have a replacement top fabricated from another material, including wood or stone, if that works with the piece and your space, and the look appeals to you, but then you will lose the visual appeal and other qualities of the glass, if that’s what you really want.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that everyone in your home and to whom you entrust the care of your children 0r elderly relatives, including babysitters and other caretakers, is trained in basic first aid, just on general principles. I don’t know enough about the case in Rhode Island, but depending upon the location of the puncture wound that bled uncontrollably as reported, it’s very possible that prompt first aid including direct pressure on the wound, arterial pressure, or even a tourniquet if necessary and possible based on the location of the wound, may have saved her life.

So, don’t let this post scare you out of using glass tables, because they are wonderful in the right settings, and totally appropriate. Just take reasonable precautions to ensure safety when selecting them – and enjoy your furniture for years to come.

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Canned Foods (Consumer Reports)

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports

Almost everyone knows by now that many of the refillable water bottles we love are lined with an epoxy-based material that contains carcinogenic chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). Public outcry has resulted in several manufacturers now offering bottles with alternative, non-epoxy-based linings.

What is not quite so well known, however, is that the linings of most food and beverage cans are also this same type of epoxy resin that also contain BPA. This is the chemical that is responsible for the vastly longer shelf lives of canned foods in this day and age, which is why it’s become so ubiquitous.

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of canned foods for its presence, and found that even organic foods, and those made by manufacturers who make a concerted effort to avoid the epoxy resins still have significant levels of BPA in the food samples tested. Only one manufacturer, Eden, has so far managed to find a source of cans that was even willing to address the problem and attempt to make cans without BPA.

Despite being packed in cans made by the Ball Corp. with the oleo-based material previously known as “corn enamel”, which was common in food can linings prior to the 60s, testing still found measurable levels of BPA in Eden’s foods (although vastly below those found in other brands), suggesting that there may be multiple sources of exposure to the chemical in the food chain, not just in the cans.

You can read the rest of the whole article about this, and learn about the FDA’s new assessments of what a safe level of BPA exposure may be on the Consumer Reports blog.

So should you clean out your kitchen cabinets, throw away all of your canned foods, and never buy any more? In the ideal world, perhaps yes, but we all know that we don’t live in one. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals in the world, though, even found in dust and water samples from all over the world, so at this point, it’s completely unavoidable in the environment, and it would be a reasonable assumption that this is one of the additional sources Consumer Reports speculates about. Eliminating BPA from food can linings may help, but until that happens, you can at least dramatically decrease your exposure to it by avoiding canned food wherever possible.

So what does this have to do with interior design?

Kitchen Storage

Kristi Stratton, CountryLiving.com

Well, clearly kitchens are where food is stored and prepared, and most are now designed with as much storage space as possible for both housewares and packaged foods. You may find, however, that as you reduce your reliance on canned goods and other processed foods, that you may need different types of storage, and it may need to be configured somewhat differently. Many things can be packaged in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic or cans, but both glass and ceramics tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier than cans and plastic containers, and of course will break if dropped, so you’ll need to pay careful attention to how your storage is laid out so that they are easily – and safely – accessible. Increased refrigeration space may be required as well, in order to accomm0date a wider range of fresh produce and other foods.

It may be that you won’t actually even need as much space, though, because the shorter shelf lives of fresh foods and those that come in jars instead of cans means you’ll probably be shopping more often, but for smaller quantities. Or perhaps you’ll start buying in bulk and doing your own canning and preserving.

Well Stocked Pantry with Preserved Foods

Library of Congress via TheSustainableKitchen.com

You’ll be chopping up more things, so ensuring adequate preparation space that suits your needs and ideally allows you to work while seated as well as standing will be useful.

You may need or want additional cooktop burners or additional and innovative cooking sources like the marvelous new steam or combination steam/convection ovens. Steaming is one of the best possible ways to prepare food, locking in both nutrients and moisture, and these ovens make it so incredibly convenient that you wouldn’t believe it.

Miele Steam Oven

Miele Steam Oven

And because it’s healthier for both you and the environment, avoiding canned foods and learning to make your own fresh, more healthful meals from scratch, you’ll also be being much more green. True sustainable design doesn’t end with the cabinets and other finishes used; it translates through to how the space is used, how waste is removed, and much, much more.

So, if you’re designing a new kitchen, you’ll need to take these changing food preparation habits into account, and communicate your desires to your designer, so that the space can be optimized for food preparation patterns that are less common today than they used to be, and with which you yourself may not yet be as familiar with the requirements of and ways to optimize.

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Furniture Today reports about a London man who has suffered severe skin rashes and burns shown to result from the anti-mold chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF in his Chinese-made sofa, and was awarded a four-figure settlement for his claim.

According to further stories in the London Times, DMF is a common ingredient added to sofas and chairs by Chinese manufacturers Linkwise and Eurosofa, particularly leather ones, to help protect them from humid conditions.  Several other manufacturers are also being investigated.

DMF is packaged in little packets like the silica dessicants you are already familiar with that are often packaged with delicate goods, but these are inserted inside the seat cushions and between the leather and the cushion, so you won’t see any sign of them.

Unfortunately, DMF can evaporate when exposed to warm conditions, and soak through clothing to reach the skin resulting in some potentially very serious reactions.  Because gases are a very rare cause of skin rashes, it took a while to figure out what was going on, but a study in Sweden has  conclusively proven the connection.  Similar problems have also surfaced in France, Finland, Poland, and Sweden.  Apparently there have been thousands of similar injuries.

There have also been reports of similar reactions caused by some shoes as well.

As a result of these problems, the European Commission has now banned DMF and demanded a recall of all products containing DMF by May 1, 2009 and notification of affected consumers.  Unfortunately, not all retailers have complied, so there may still be thousands of these sofas and chairs out there, so please beware if you are purchasing inexpensive furniture, as much of it is made in China and may well contain this chemical.

If you have purchased new upholstered furniture in the past couple of years and have been experiencing any kind of problems with skin or respiratory irritation since then, this may well be the cause of it.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence that DMF been banned in the US, and it’s a good bet it’s present in furnishings sold here as well.  For starters, I’ve located suppliers of it in the US, and I’ve also found websites showing a furniture company by the same name in North Carolina and shipping information to a warehouse in Canada from Link Wise in China.  Because I also know that there’s a ton of Chinese-made furniture in our country, it would be a reasonable conclusion that this same contamination may well be found throughout the United States and Canada.

Please note that this is a chemical added by the furniture manufacturers, and is not used in the leather tanning process itself, so it should not be an issue for the vast majority of leather products, particularly high quality goods.

So how do you protect yourself?

First of all, don’t panic, even if you’ve recently bought leather furniture.  Call the store and ask where it was manufactured, especially if you’re experiencing any new and/or persistent respiratory or skin symptoms you haven’t found any other cause for.

If you’re just now looking to buy, start by asking questions in the stores or of the designer who is showing you the products about where the furniture was manufactured, and about any chemicals used in the process.  You may not be able to get an answer, but it’s worth trying – and if you can’t get an answer, do consider passing on that item, because the odds are high that it will indeed be from China, especially if you’re buying from a lower end store.  Likewise, if you think the furniture seems particularly well-priced or inexpensive, keep a very high index of suspicion, unless the store or your designer can assure you that it was manufactured elsewhere.

If you’re working with a designer, he or she should be willing to ask the showroom for you and get back to you if she doesn’t already know the answer.

If any furniture salesperson asks you about allergies or chemical sensitivities, run like the wind, because there have been reports of unscrupulous salespeople and shops still trying to sell this stuff even where it’s been banned.

And always buy quality goods – the very best you can possibly afford, even if you have to purchase it one item at a time over a period of time in order to be able to afford better quality.  You really do get what you pay for with furniture, in so many ways.  In the end, high quality furnishings will last and look beautiful for decades, while cheaper stuff will fall apart and look shabby quickly and have to be replaced much more frequently, often at greater overall cost in the long run.  In later blog posts, I’ll cover how to tell good furniture from the rest, both upholstered and casegoods.

Also, given all of the reports of various other contaminated products coming out of China these days, including drywall used in many new homes, I hate to say it, but it might be a good idea to be extremely cautious indeed about learning the origins of anything you purchase, and to possibly just say no to Chinese products altogether.  Yes, you can get a lot for your money with cheap, mass-produced Chinese furniture, which accounts for a huge percentage of the mass market furniture sold in the US, but between these kinds of health risks and the negative impact on our own economy, and given that there’s a lot of top quality product out there coming from the US itself and other countries that do not have these problems (and is much, much greener/more sustainable in many ways), are the risks really worth it?

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There’s a lot of confusion out in the world about what the difference is between interior designers and interior decorators. Although in most states there is no legal distinction, and anyone can call themselves either a decorator or a designer – and practice their craft – within the profession, we do use the terms to mean different things, which amount to a difference in scope of work and expertise. In reality, many people use the terms interchangeably still, though, even in the profession, particularly among older designers, but many younger/newer designers will be very offended if you call them a decorator, because of the difference in scope of work and education.

One of the better, more concise definitions of the distinction I’ve come across yet comes from CCIDC, as follows:

“Interior Decorator

An “Interior Decorator” is someone who primarily deals with colors, finishes, and furniture and typically stays within the residential boundary of interiors. Typically they might charge a fee for their creative services such as laying out the furniture in a room, or putting together different colors and finishes in order to create several palettes from which the client can choose. In most cases a decorator will charge a “mark-up” on all the products they sell to you. This mark-up can vary wildly, anywhere from 20% to 50% in some cases. Most decorators are reluctant to prepare a formal contract or letter of agreement spelling out what the services are that they are going to provide, and how much they are going to charge.

Interior Designer

An “Interior Designer” is someone who can complete an interior design project from start to finish, including preparing construction documents for bidding and permitting, as well as supervising the construction and installation of the work. This person in essence becomes your agent to deal with local building codes and building departments, and licensed contractors. They have the expertise to handle all of these different players, whereas you may not, or may not have the time or inclination.

Interior designers cover all types of projects from commercial (offices, medical facilities, retail shops, restaurants, hotels, retirement and nursing facilities, to name a few) to residential. Typically an interior designer has a lot of education and experience, as well as possibly having sat for one or more examinations in order to test their competency and to attain state recognition of their profession.

Again, just because someone uses the title “Interior Designer”, it doesn’t mean they are any more qualified than an “Interior Decorator”, or any one who chooses to use either title irrespective of their qualifications or experience, which may be none at all.”

Interior designers do it all

I should add that interior designers also do all the same work that decorators do – this is definitely not an “either/or” proposition. Furniture, finishes, etc. are all integral parts of a quality interior design. It’s just that designers can do so much more, including manage the entire project, coordinating the work of all other design and construction professionals such as architects, contractors, lighting designers, landscape designers, and many specialty trades.

The very best interior design jobs happen when the designer is either hired first or at the same time as the architect and contractor, because then you get the input from all sides from the beginning, and you end up with a much more cohesive project than you would if you just hired a designer or decorator once the architect was finished.

What will it cost?

Interior designers typically charge an hourly fee (at least for residential design), often in addition to a product markup, which also varies, but will typically be around 30-35% in most places. Hourly fees will vary more widely, depending on geographical location, the amount of experience a designer has, etc., but you can expect them to start around $125 per hour (at least on the coasts) and go up from there, topping out around $400 per hour or more for some of the most prominent. Prices are probably somewhat less in more inland states. Decorators usually charge much less – and rightly so, since they are also doing much less, and typically know a lot less.

It’s very rare to see a flat fee any more, because every project is so different that it’s very difficult for even the most experienced designers to accurately estimate how long it will take or what will be involved, since there are often unexpected surprises, so the entire industry has moved away from this pricing structure.

(update October 2012)  We are actually now starting to see a move back towards flat fees (often now called “value based fees”), as we learn that this is what many clients prefer.  The hourly and other models still prevail at this time, however.

 

Do they have to be licensed?

CCIDC goes on to claim that the best way to ensure you’re hiring someone competent is to hire a CID, which is a CA certified interior designer, which obviously only applies in CA. Some other states have various different rules, but the majority do not regulate the profession in any way, except at most for restricting the use of a specific title such as *certified* interior designer. (Please see the NoDesignLegislation blog if you want to know more about these issues.)

However, since certification is entirely optional, and the vast majority of designers are not certified, you would be limiting your selection options tremendously to only select from this limited pool.

And since certification has nothing whatsoever to do with creativity in any state at all, and isn’t even tested for anywhere, it’s no gauge at all of the quality of the work a person does – only their ability to pass a test, really.

In fact, many of the nation’s top designers (some of whom call themselves decorators) do not hold any form of certification or any other credential, do not belong to any of the major design organizations, etc. Conversely, some of the absolute worst (or at least mediocre) design work I’ve seen comes from designers who do hold these designations or related credentials from one of a variety of professional organizations.

The reality is that great design knows no educational or legal bounds. Great designers exist across the spectrum, as to poor ones.

So how do I find a good designer?

The very best way to find a decorator or designer is really through word of mouth – and trusting your own eyes as to what you like and don’t like. Ask your friends whose homes and offices you like who they used, then check the designer’s website, call to request an interview and to look at their portfolio if they don’t have a website (and many designers still don’t). Alternatively, you can look through design magazines, find designers through local decorator’s showcases, or just do a Google search for designers in your area. If you know what style you are interested in, that can help narrow your search further.

Make sure this person does work you like, and that you feel comfortable with them, because an interior design project can be a very long and involved affair second only to marriage in intimacy, in some ways. This person is going to end up knowing a whole lot about you in order to do a great job for you and to see it through to completion, and you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time together, so you absolutely must be able to trust them and feel at ease around them. Ask a lot of questions about how they work, what you can expect, how they bill, what their contract terms are, etc.

In your interview, also ask them about their education, experience, and background. Formal training may be an asset – or it may not, but it certainly won’t hurt. Again, many of the world’s top designers have little to no formal training (including the designer tapped to do the Obama White House, Michael S. Smith!), so a degree is simply no guarantee that this person will be any better than anyone else. But this can be a very technical field indeed, so some indication that your prospective designer keeps up on what’s new is important, even if it’s not required for anything – so ask about how they do keep current. You want to know that they at least take some classes to keep up on changes in the building codes, if nothing else, but you also want to know that they know what the latest products and technologies are, and are able to source products that you yourself cannot, since that is a lot of the best reason to hire a designer in the first place.


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One of the many ways an interior designer can save you money is by ensuring that the design for your home or office is completed and that all details are hammered out and all materials are selected before you start to make purchases, do construction, etc. It is always cheaper to make changes and iron out details on paper before you start actually making changes, purchases, etc. – often by quite a lot.

Particularly when undertaking a complex project such as a kitchen or bathroom remodel, there can be literally hundreds of decisions that must be made, many of which depend on decisions made before that, and most people who have never been through it before really have no idea how involved this can get.  Even a single chair may potentially have as many as five or six  or even more fabrics, trims, and/or finishes involved; the complexity increases exponentially when you move beyond that into a full scale redesign or remodel of an entire space.

It ought to go without saying, then, that it’s best to wait until the design is complete before you undertake activities like demolition, installation, or purchasing anything, for the same reason – not to mention keeping your designer sane and happy.

One of the most difficult situations to work with is when clients get in such a hurry that they think they are speeding things up by hiring a contractor and starting demolition before they’ve hammered out all of the details of what’s going to replace what’s already there, or if they run out and select the paint colors and paint the whole interior on their own before we finish deciding on the furniture and fabrics and other finishes.  In reality, the exact opposite is true, and this sort of thing is just going about the whole remodeling and design thing rather bass ackwards.

What ends up happening is that the design usually has to be completely reworked in order to accommodate these hasty actions, which invariably will cost you at least double what it would have cost to just put the brakes on and go about things in an orderly fashion in the first place, not to mention taking a whole lot more time.

Yes, I can probably find some way to cobble something together that will work with the pea green, orange, and turquoise paint scheme you’ve just put up, at least sort of, but it will take many more hours of time in showrooms, sifting through fabrics, in order to find it than it would have to start with the basic scheme and all soft goods, and then to select complementary paint colors, or have it custom blended to match exactly.  Paint is easy, but it’s dramatically more time consuming to match fabrics or rugs to paint than vice versa, and it limits options tremendously.  When any kind of construction is involved, the potential problems just multiply way beyond this.

And all of that extra time involved to work around what’s already been done out of order will cost you money.

Since most designers now charge on an hourly basis, this isn’t the end of the world for us, since we’ll just keep on billing you to redo the job until it’s finished. It’s annoying for everyone, though, because it compromises our ability to do a really stellar job for you at a reasonable price, and may well cause your job to go over budget, which everyone hates. And we hate, hate, hate having the design screwed up this way, with clients often ending up with something less than they would have had otherwise, all while paying more for it. Jumping the gun like this is usually a lose/lose proposition all the way around, for all of these reasons. We don’t like having to bill you to redo a design – or losing the chance to do the best possible job for you – and I have yet to hear of a client who actually likes having to pay for it.

If you want to make changes midstream, or to start construction on one part while something else is still in progress, or to incorporate elements you did not initially include such as those new antique rugs you picked up in India, that’s certainly your prerogative as the client, but do at least run your thoughts and any product selections by your designer before you do take any action to find out what impact on the overall project such changes will have.

If your project also happens to be a charity project or something else that the designer has for some reason elected to do for you pro bono, however, and you put the cart before the horse, you have now also just thoroughly ticked off your designer as well as cost her a lot of money, which is not exactly going to get her to want to go out of her way to keep on working on your project, or to do others for you at another time.

I have no problem reworking a design if what I come up with initially isn’t quite right and we need to tweak it or even start all over again in order to ensure it’s exactly what is right for that job and that client. That’s part and parcel of the whole process. But when I’ve worked my tail off to create something wonderful for a client – especially when it’s a freebie – only to find that they’ve just now changed the whole ballgame by putting the cart before the horse, then that does not make me a very happy camper at all.  And I know that you aren’t likely to be as happy with the end result as you would have been otherwise.  Stuff happens, and unexpected obstacles crop up that force design changes often enough as is.

So, yes, I know you’re champing at the bit to just do something you can see once you decide to undertake a design project, but do yourself a favor, and rein yourself in until you’ve got the whole design finalized, at least on paper.  Your pocketbook will thank you, your money will go further, and you’ll be much happier with the end result.

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remodelling-buyers-market

If you’ve put remodelling and redecorating plans on hold because of the economy and thinking you can’t afford to do it right now, it’s definitely time to rethink that position, for a variety of reasons.

If you’re like many people, you’re likely spending more time at home these days instead of out and about, eating out, going to theater and concerts, travelling, etc. So why not be sure the space you’re spending all this additional time in is your dream place to be?

Unlike the money you spend on vacations and the like, which brings fleeting joy, the money you invest into your home may pay back when it comes time to sell, but just as importantly (or even more so), it will also reward you psychically and emotionally every single day you live there by making your home even more comfortable for every day living. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to come home at the end of each day and feel that thrill of being in a space that you love and that nurtures you no matter what else is going on in your world? To have a home that you actually don’t even want to leave?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, if you don’t want to or really can’t afford to – even just a fresh coat of paint, some new throw pillows, a new painting or area rug, or moving the artwork or furniture you already have around to different locations can give you a facelift and needed boost. New lighting, new fixtures, and new hardware for your doors and cabinetry are other inexpensive upgrades that can pack a lot of punch.

Don’t know quite what to do, and can’t afford to hire a designer to do the whole thing? Most will consult on an hourly basis to give you any needed advice that can help you avoid expensive mistakes, and to get you pointed in the right direction to complete the job yourself.

However, if you can possibly come up with the cash, now is very definitely the time to go ahead those more major remodelling projects you’ve been putting off, or to remodel a home you’d hoped to sell but now find you have to remain in.

(more…)

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With the recent rash of interior design magazines closing, most notably Domino, there is a huge void left, particularly in the arena of promoting design ideas to the masses, and appealing to a wider range of budgetary needs.  Various bloggers are trying to fill the holes, and to find the best possible ways to do so.  There is a lot of uncertainty everywhere these days, and the future of even other magazines may be in question.

So let me ask you, dear readers, what would you most like to see me posting about on this blog?  Are there gaps in even what you find on the myriad of other design blogs?  What information about interior design are you interested to read about?

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In his excellent Aging in Place Guide blog, which I have been following for some time because of my strong interest in universal and accessible design and aging in place, Louis Tenenbaum brought up the issue of the “sideways” pressure those of us in this position often feel coming from siblings who may be either more or less involved in the care of the parents. We’re all familiar with the concept of the upwards and downwards pressure of the three generations, but these sideways pressures don’t get much press, if any.

There’s still another aspect to this sideways pressure that Louis didn’t mention. Something that’s never talked about is what happens when the siblings themselves become in need of care, and become as much a part of the issues that we have to deal with as the aging parents, when neither of them are available to help with the care of the other. We expect to eventually have to take care of our parents, to have to worry about where they’ll live as they age, to possibly have to move them into assisted living or new, more accessible homes as they get older and sicker, but how often do we think about those potential needs for our siblings – or even ourselves?

I’ve been shoved headlong into this whole issue within the past two months in a way I never expected to have to face (or at least far younger than I ever dreamed we’d face it) – and of course, none of us do anticipate this sort of thing.

My father is undergoing radiation for cancer in Kansas, and his status is deteriorating, so we are absolutely going to have to do something about his present living arrangements. I’ve always done all the legwork to help him when he’s been sick over the past few years, and frankly resented that my brother didn’t do more – some of the sideways pressure Louis was talking about, only in reverse, but something that people face all the time. One sibling is usually the one doing most of the work while the other is less involved for any of a number of possible reasons, and this often results in tremendous family tensions, anger, guilt, and so on.

On Christmas day of 2008, however, I was suddenly thrust into the position of both having to take care of Dad – and my 50 year old brother, who has become critically ill in Pennsylvania as a result of ongoing complications of some surgery he had last year. He nearly died, and the extent and nature of his present illness and injuries mean that he’s not only facing a very long and difficult recovery, and is completely incapacitated now – but that he will very possibly not be able to return to his own home because it is completely and totally inaccessible.

And I’m here in California, suddenly trying to deal with both of them – with virtually no support from either – and certainly no assistance with the logistics.

Both of them are understandably deeply worried about the other, but neither of them are able to do a darned thing about it – and I’m pulled in three separate directions every day because of course I still have my own life and issues to deal with, as well as those of my partner.

The very fact of a still-young brother being as sick as he is highlights all the more the need for universal design at all stages of life, but particularly as we move into our middle years and on, because absolutely anything could happen – and very likely will at some point. Really, it’s critical to consider at all ages, because you simply never know when disaster may strike, but we do expect more debilitating illnesses and injuries as people age – and we have more people age 40 and up today than we’ve ever had at any time in the history of the world.

I’ve known the odds of something happening for decades, between my former career as a paramedic, and a stint selling life and disability insurance. S*** is going to happen in the majority of people’s lives at some point, end of story, or they are going to be touched by it one way or another. Not one of us is going to escape at least being touched by illness and disability at least in a family member or friend, if not our own selves.

When you come face to face with it actually happening in your own life in a catastrophic way like this, though, that brings it all home in a very different way than seeing the effects on patients or clients, or reading about it in actuarial charts or textbooks or blog posts. It moves from the conceptual into reality in a way that will make your head spin.

There is a chance that my brother will not be able to return home to his present house because of the nature and extent of his injuries, and the potential outcome he may be facing. I’m praying this won’t be the case, and with luck it won’t, but I’m bracing for it because it’s certainly not impossible. We would be able to do some modifications, but others simply won’t be possible without major reworking of the building and additions and/or extensive engineering as well as landscaping because of the size and layout of the house, so it will probably be a waste of time and money to do the little bit in this particular situation. In all likelihood, the best, easiest, and most economical course of action if things go in the direction they very well may in the course of his illness will be for him to move to a new home that would be more accessible to start with.

Can you even begin to imagine how traumatic it would be to be seriously ill, in the hospital and rehab for months, fighting for you life and even limbs – and then not even be able to return home to your own home? To have to go through the trauma of finding a new home, packing and moving, etc., especially when you are at your least physical and emotional ability to cope with the already substantial pressures of buying, selling, and moving that even fully healthy and mobile people go through? To know that you’re going to have to leave it to others to do all the legwork, packing, etc., because you won’t even be able to get to most of your own stuff? To realize that you may simply never be able to access the places you love in a home you are attached to ever again? That you literally can’t ever go home again?

Can you even imagine the pressure that you would face, even as just a family member who has a loved one go through this? Not just the emotional worry about your loved one’s health, but all the myriad of changes and decisions you’ll have to make to help them – learning how to navigate the health care system, as well as find resources to help once they come home, and likely have to figure out how to find a designer, architect, and contractor to help with housing modifications, as well as possibly a realtor, movers, etc.

I at least have the advantage of having both a strong medical background, as well as a strong design background with a particular interest in universal and accessible design, which I’ve been studying for years, and an ocean liner’s worth of resources to draw upon – but let me tell you, I still have a lot to deal with, because it’s a whole different ballgame with the personal involvement.

If you don’t already have this kind of broad background, trust me, you’ll be on a roller coaster ride to a crash course in a whole lot of things you never even thought about before, and never wanted to know about – at a pace you never imagined. And it will be all the harder because you’ll also be dealing with your own emotions and possibly even depression over your concern for your loved ones, exhaustion from their care and advocacy for them, travel, etc., and all the more so if you’ve got your own physical issues to contend with as well, which many of us do. You will absolutely have to have the help of social services people and designers and architects to even begin to be able to navigate the whole thing and filter through all of the endless details and things to consider and attend to in order to get your loved one healthy as possible again, and eventually settled back into a healthy and functional home of their own. No matter how much you know, you cannot navigate a complex situation like this by yourself.

You expect this to face these issues with parents, but not with otherwise strong and healthy younger siblings or other relatives – yet the reality is that the odds of being hit with some disabling condition at some point in life that lasts three months or longer before reaching the age of 65 are as high as 44% – and the chance that these same people will remain disabled for five years or more after the onset of the disability reach almost 60%. Here’s a great chart that shows the disability probabilities by age.

And if it’s not one of your siblings facing disability, in addition to your parents and/or children, it’s going to be you – and the others will be the ones having to deal with all of these issues for you instead. This is really inevitable in life, so we may as well all just plan for it. There’s just no point sticking our heads in the sand and hoping we’ll never have to face these kinds of issues.

A “disability” that may affect your use of your home and ability to care for your own self may be as “simple” as breaking your leg – how many of us go through things like that? Have you ever tried to take a shower with your leg in a cast in your present home? To get food prepared and onto a table while using crutches? To get up and down the stairs, do laundry, grocery shopping, put away the groceries, or clean? It’s hard enough for the couple of months you have to deal with it with a simple fracture – but what if you knew that was how things were going to remain for always? What do you do then?

Disability isn’t necessarily something catastrophic like a major stroke or paraplegia or even blindness, which is about all most people think of when they think of the term “disability”. Even the day-to-day injuries incurred by normally healthy and active people can result in their homes becoming serious barriers to their use, enjoyment, and even safety, even if they are expected to eventually recover from the problem.

And even if we ourselves are healthy and our homes provide no obstacles to us at present, how many of us have friends or relatives who would find barriers in our own homes, and thus be unable to even visit us? Or how many of us would have to move if we suddenly had to take in a disabled or elderly relative?

This is why I make the best efforts I can to incorporate as many universal design principals as possible into every project I design. We absolutely must all take these potential eventualities into consideration when buying a new home, renting a new apartment, and in designing any spaces we occupy. We must demand that builders build for these eventualities, especially since we are at a point in history where more people than ever are reaching the age where disability is more likely than ever.

Believe me, it is far easier to plan in advance, and be sure that your living space is usable for people across all age and ability ranges (or can at least be easily adapted) before a need arises than to have to worry about how to deal with it once a crisis is in your face.

And if you never do need these features? Terrific! They will still enhance your enjoyment of your home in myriad other ways, and can be easily designed by a competent designer so that they won’t even be remotely noticeable as anything unusual. Universal design is just plain good design – period. It makes navigating around the house easier for everyone, even the fully “temporarily able-bodied”. I hope we get to a point where we don’t even need the term any more, because the principles will just become so ingrained in design professionals as just the way things ought to be done, and in the public as just what they ought to have every right to expect everywhere in the built environment.

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Nowadays more than ever in most of our lifetimes, we need to be sure that the money we invest in our homes is well-spent, and that we get the most bang for our buck.  Maybe you’ve put off moving because of the economy, or you’ve decided to downscale your remodeling plans.  Or maybe you’re just digging in and nesting, and looking for a way to spruce up the old homestead so you can comfortably get a few more years in there – or perhaps because you feel like a facelift for the place is just the right nurturing thing to do for yourself right now.

Even in the best of times, I am often asked what remodelling projects are most likely to deliver the most payback when it comes to resale, and whether or not they will get their money out of a project, but now more than ever, it’s on people’s minds.  This is a complex question, because so many factors are involved, and it’s different in different parts of the country.  Here’s a handy website on which you can check the odds of a payback and an estimate of remodelling cost vs value for various types of projects – by area of the country.

Keep in mind that unless you’re planning to move in the next year or so, these payback figures will decrease over time, and will probably not yield a whole lot of advantage several years down the road, at least not as much.  If you think you’re going to stay put for a few years, then I recommend that you not worry as much about resale values, and focus more on making sure you create a space that really suits your own present needs and preferences.  If you are planning to stay there for the rest of your life, resale payback really becomes a completelymoot point, and you should absolutely make sure you do whatever works for you, and don’t worry at all about what someone else might want later.

In both of these latter situations, you may want or need to plan the project out in stages, if money is tight.  A good interior designer can be invaluable in helping prioritize and plan for any remodel, but particularly if you’re going to do it in phases.

So, what’s your next project going to be?  And how can I assist you in creating the home of your dreams?

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Updated 1/14/08, reposted and edited from my very obscure personal blog at http://wendyannh.blogspot.com a couple of years ago.

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Below is a repost of a comment I sent on the Xtraordinary Living blog this evening, in response to someone’s upset remarks that she was going to look elsewhere for a cheaper kitchen remodelling contractor other than Home Expo, since she thought they were acting superior and trying to con her into something very expensive when they told her their lowest end kitchen remodel would start around $50,000.

If this is your design/image, let me know so I can provide proper attribution.

Clive Christian

Unfortunately, the figures you were quoted are just gross estimates that probably have nothing to do with reality. In point of fact, that’s really probably a *low* estimate of the lower end of the range of kitchen remodels nowadays.

It’s not about someone copping an attitude; that’s just the reality. Kitchens that cost $200,000 and up aren’t all that uncommon nowadays, to be perfectly frank – and something like the one shown above could easily reach that level or even considerably more.

Even “inexpensive” cabinetry (like Ikea) and countertops are pretty expensive, and no matter what you choose, redoing a kitchen is a very labor intensive job, especially if you do anything other than replace the exact same cabinetry layout. Particularly if any sort of plumbing or electrical work is involved, or hidden damage is encountered, you will see $50,000 in the rearview mirror very quickly. There are certain minimum labor costs no matter what products you choose.

Between the labor and the cabinets, that’s where the bulk of the expense of a kitchen remodel is, but there are still a zillion other details that go into it that all add up pretty high, even with lower end materials.

You can certainly try to control the labor costs by finding a less expensive contractor, but do remember that you quite often get exactly what you are paying for.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to control the amount of work required for a given design, only the cost of the cabinetry and other materials, and much of what they carry at Home Depot/Expo is definitely at the low end of what’s out there cabinetry-wise.

Remember, too, that you definitely get what you pay for in terms of durability and functionality. If the cabinet doors are falling off their hinges in the showroom, as I’ve observed with most kitchens at Home Depot/Expo, they will definitely not fare any better in your kitchen over time, especially if you have a family and kids.

Depending on what’s involved in fitting it into your existing space, it may turn out to actually be cheaper to go with a higher end line, possibly even custom, that can be ordered to fit much more precisely than with a lower end line that may end up requiring much more labor to get everything to fit halfway decently.

And if you end up with a contractor who isn’t as efficient as he might be, or as skilled, that will drive your costs up as well, and very quickly. Be very wary of low bids and choosing a contractor based solely on price, because such lowball estimates often don’t even include much of what needs to be done, and the price goes through the roof once they get started.

Speaking of customer service, places that give quotes like this really aren’t giving good service, either, in a way, because there are far too many variables that go into the cost of something like a kitchen remodel to be able to give a figure that’s anywhere remotely near accurate before the final plans are drawn up and everything specified and specifically bid out.

Don’t even think of shopping for products or contractors until you’ve got a full set of plans drawn up, if you want the process to go as smoothly as possible, and to realize the most economical remodel possible that gives you what you most want and need, with as little headache as possible. A good interior designer or kitchen designer can be worth their weight in gold in this process – ideally an independent one, not one who works for a particular store, because they can provide many more options because they aren’t locked into particular products like store employees are, and are typically far better trained as well. You will net out far more savings than additional costs in the end. (Of course, the same holds true for remodeling the rest of your home or office as well.)

The complexity of this field is just not to be believed, and you can literally double the cost of a kitchen just by which inserts you choose for whatever cabinetry line you decide on, as just one example of the myriad places you can get caught unaware in this process and drive the costs through the roof. Just the choice of one edge detail vs another on the countertop can greatly increase those prices, and not make a huge difference in the look or the functionality. Dozens of choices later, even with minor increases for each, and you’ll have bitten off much, much more than you ever expected financially if you don’t have an organized plan and a guide through the maze. I’m professionally trained in kitchen design as well as general interior design, and it’s still a seriously complex undertaking to remodel one, even a simple remodel.

The best way to find a good designer is through a personal referral from a friend or acquaintance who’s had their kitchen or home done recently, if you like what the designer did. Alternatively, you can find interior designers or kitchen designers near you through a good Google search, which will also lead you to the designers’ websites, so you can evaluate the work they do before even contacting them, to see if their style appeals to you. Several professional associations such as ASID and NKBA also offer referral services, but the options are severely limited if you go this route, and many of the very best designers don’t even belong to any of these organizations, so cast your net wider if you want the best selection of people who may be right for your own project. Ask about their experience and education and check references, by all means, but don’t limit yourself to designers with letters after their names, since those absolutely do not necessarily correlate with quality work or knowledge.

And if you live in California, check out the Contractors’ State Licensing Board website at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/contractored/google.asp for a wealth of information on how to go about hiring a contractor, what to look for, and what to avoid. This is actually an excellent general resource for anyone regardless of where they live, with the caveat that you need to look up the specific laws and regulations in your own area.

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We all admire the gorgeous spreads by famous designers in the various shelter magazines, but many people think that working with a designer is out of reach for them, and only for the rich and famous.  In reality, that’s only part of the story, and a good interior designer can help people at almost any budget level, whether you want a complete remodel from top to bottom, or just some advice on what colors to use.  Many very good designers are perfectly willing to consult on an hourly basis just to help give you some tips, get you started, or help evaluate what you’ve already started and point you in the right direction.

There are many benefits to working with a designer, other than a fabulous end result, and they start with how a good designer can actually save you a lot of time and money in the process of getting there, regardless of what your budget is.

What, you ask?  How can hiring a designer save me money?  Aren’t they all really expensive?

Well, yes, fees can indeed be high, if that’s all you’re looking at – but when you consider the degree of expertise, experience, and professionalism a professional designer brings to the table, along with the creativity and eye and ability to make it all happen efficiently,  and end up giving you exactly the space you’ve been dreaming about, that will truly make your heart sing, and the mistakes that are avoided, all while meeting extensive building code requirements, most people think it all balances out and is actually much less expensive in the end.

If you look around, too, and ask people whose taste you admire who they used, and research well online as well as in shelter magazines, you’ll find plenty of excellent interior designers who offer a wide range of fee structures.  Even if you can’t afford the stars, there will still always be someone else who is just right for you who can bring it all in at a cost you’re willing to pay.

First and foremost, a designer has an extensive network and range of resources available, most of which only work with “the trade”, and therefore which clients would never have any access to start with.  This not only means that you will end up with something truly unique, but also that a lot of time will be saved because the designer already knows where to get most of the kinds of things you will likely want in your home or office.  S/he will have already done all of the research you’d spend weeks or months doing, sussing out the best products and tradespeople, developing relationships with suppliers that typically result in better pricing and service, etc., so that her time can be devoted to customizing a solution for you, and getting your project completed far more quickly and efficiently than the average client could ever do.

Time, as we all know, is money, so a designer’s bringing in top workmen and craftspeople who are up on the latest techniques, tools, and materials will also save money by saving time, often allowing work to progress much more quickly and simultaneously than it might with older or less efficient techniques and tools.

Because a professional designer will approach the project in a methodical way, starting by measuring your space and creating a floorplan before going shopping, as well as any pieces you already own that you plan to keep, she will also already know in advance exactly what size and type of pieces will fit and work in your space, and will have a comprehensive overall plan, which she will have developed with your input and gotten your approval on.  This narrows the options dramatically, and allows her to focus like a laser only on those items, and not to get distracted by the vast range of other choices out there.  It also enables her to customize pieces that may have other dimensions than what is needed, which most high end manufacturers do all the time, so that they are exactly right for you.

How many times have you gone furniture shopping and gotten excited about a new couch or rug, only to get it home and realize it’s just too big, or the wrong color?  And then you usually have to just live unhappily with it, or get rid of it and start all over again, both of which end up costing you psychic energy as well as additional money.  Or you find something you love, but then it starts to fall apart or look shabby in a year or so, or worse, in as little as a few months?  Or the new lamp you bought still just doesn’t give you enough light to read by, and you don’t know how to fix the situation?  Because a professional interior designer thoroughly understands the requirements of the space, and how to scale things appropriately for both your own body as well as your space, and has extensive knowledge of fabrics, finishes, proper furniture construction, lighting design, building codes, construction, flooring, space planning, color, etc., etc., these kinds of errors are dramatically less likely to happen.  It gets done right, the first time.

High quality, well-made goods and workmanship may certainly cost more initially, but in the long run, they will definitely save you money because you won’t have to replace them anywhere near as often – if ever.  Really good furniture will last a lifetime, for example, and often multiple lifetimes, so it’s entirely possible that your children and even your grandchildren will still be using it, and it’s a good bet you’ll still love it years down the road yourself.  When you look at the long term costs of owning anything, including repair, cleaning, and replacement costs, these are what is called the “life cycle costs”.  The less often you have to replace something, the less expensive it is in the long run, regardless of the up front costs.

This is another major place the designer can save you money, because she will understand the life cycle cost tradeoffs for each option, and be able to help you understand what the cost savings – or increase – might be for each possible choice.  And as a side benefit, this is also a much more green approach.

Also, you are probably an expert in your own field, and can most likely make a lot more money continuing to work at whatever it is that you do instead of trying to deal first hand with all of the hundreds or thousands of little details a successful design project entails.  Your work is probably a lot more fun for you than sorting through technical specs and detail drawings of bathroom fittings and cabinetry, or spending endless hours on the phone and in email following up on hundreds of details with potentially dozens of sources.

Hiring an expert to design your home or office can take a big load off of your shoulders, both in terms of time and energy, and will leverage both.  Basically, we do all the legwork and bring it to you, which frees you up to do whatever else you do best or would prefer to be doing with your time, whether it’s closing another deal, taking a trip, or just spending more time at home with your family relaxing or playing.  Now how cool is that?

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Long before I became a designer myself, I believed that ASID membership was an indicator of quality and professionalism, and that one should only hire ASID designers. I grew up on the client side, and also around the professional side of the industry, with a father and uncle who were in the business, and was spoonfed this point of view for decades.

Then I went to design school myself, and joined ASID as a student member, and let’s just say that my opinion of the organization and its value to anyone, consumer or designer alike, took a serious nosedive for a lot of reasons. Continuing on as an allied member at the request of a former employer, I’m afraid to say that I’ve only come to see an even darker side and more reasons why such membership is not of value to either designers or the general public, and have thus let my membership lapse.

In reality, ASID membership is only one way to demonstrate one’s qualifications to practice interior design – and it’s a pretty iffy one at that. Contrary to popular belief, and the hype that ASID aggressively promotes, entry standards for organizational membership are actually quite low, and in absolutely no way say anything about how good the designer actually is.

A very high percentage of current professional ASID members don’t have the educational background themselves that they are now touting as the prerequisite for being considered a “professional” and trying to foist off on everyone else as a minimum standard. Several years ago, when the entry requirements were changed, they grandfathered in everyone who was already a member who wanted to remain a member, pretty much based solely on how long they’d been in practice.

To join ASID at this point, all you have to do is have a couple of years of design education, fill out a form, and send in a large check along with a copy of your transcript to prove you put in some time – and to keep sending them big checks every year. There are no references required, no other validation of skills and qualifications.

To even be a full professional member, all you have to add is passing the NCIDQ, a certification test that has been widely challenged as not even validly testing the material it purports to test for, and which has a very high failure rate, at least in part because it simply does not test for much of relevance to most designers. Most of what the NCIDQ tests for relates to commercial design matters that most residential designers will never need to know – and the reality is that most ASID members are primarily residential designers. Until this year, 2008, there wasn’t even any requirement for supervised work experience to qualify to take this exam, so there have been no controls at all on the nature of the experience one has to have – or the quality of the work produced – in order to be eligible.

As we all know, any other form of certification, licensing, building codes, etc. also represents a lowest common denominator, and the reality is that the very best practitioners in every field have standards that far exceed the minimums set by professional organizations or even state licensing boards. Many of the very best practitioners eschew membership in these organizations for many reasons, including the fact that they fully recognize that membership in them is actually completely meaningless.

Yes, the most that membership in ASID proves is that the member meets a minimum standard – and in many cases, it doesn’t even prove that much! This is hardly any kind of proof of excellence that a consumer ought to rely on!

What’s more, if my experience in two different schools is any indication, the schools don’t even teach most of the material the NCIDQ purports to test for! If you want to learn how to be a good designer, you’ve got to be a real self-starter and do a lot of individual research and investigation, on an ongoing basis, reading voraciously on your own, going to CEU classes whether you’re required to or not for professional designations, asking lots and lots of questions of vendors, contractors, and other professional resources. No degree can possibly prepare a person fully to practice in this profession – it’s sweat equity that builds the qualifications, just being out there in the trenches. Formal education can certainly be a good thing and add a lot, but it also often tends to seriously stifle creativity. Thus, it’s certainly no panacea and should not be a sole prerequisite for selecting a designer – nor should seeking one with professional designations that rely on such backgrounds. No list of initials following a person’s name can possibly indicate their dedication to excellence and ongoing learning, or their taste, creativity, or ability to pull off whatever a client needs to have done – but careful interviewing of the prospective designer will certainly bring all of that out, as will checking their references and looking at their work.

In reality, there are many superb interior designers who you won’t find if you try to look them up through ASID, even if they are actually members, but you will certainly find them published in all the major magazines, creating the best rooms in local showhouses, working for the biggest and wealthiest clients – and through word of mouth when speaking with other clients who know good design and good designers when they see them.

What’s more, even if a designer is a member, you may not find them on the ASID website.  While I was a member, they didn’t even bother to list me (or a number of other allied members whom I know) in their “find a designer” sections, so so much for the value of membership to the individual designer as a marketing tool.

Since you won’t even find a lot of these people who do still meet these standards even by looking at their website, whether they are actually members or not, do your own research, and find the best designer for you by other means so that you will have the widest possible selection.

It would be inadvisable to hire any designer you don’t already know something about without fully investigating their portfolio and references, asking what they do to stay up to date, and seeing if you just plain get along with them – the very same investigative process any well-informed consumer would follow when selecting any kind of professional or tradesperson to do work for them.

According to recent estimates, only about 10% of the ASID membership at most holds professional status in the organization – and that represents at most approximately 3% of all interior designers in the country. Design schools are graduating many, many more designers every year, though, and that’s not even counting the thousands who come to the industry through myriad other backgrounds that qualify them just as fully, if not more so, and clearly, most of them are not joining ASID. Even if you do decide to hire an ASID designer, you should still check them out thoroughly, so why limit your options so much?

The truth is that quality will show, with or without membership in organizations like ASID, and a client who decides to limit himself to ASID designers only may well miss out on finding the perfect designer for himself, just by looking at an extremely artificially-narrowed field of choices.

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I like belonging to professional organizations mainly because of the networking and educational opportunities. While I am highly opposed to any sort of mandatory licensing of interior designers, I do still very much believe in increasing our knowledge base so that we can do the very best job we can for our clients. If nothing else, there are so many new products and product categories coming out every day that we’ve got to have *some* way of staying abreast of new developments just so we can always offer the cutting edge to our clients.

I do think that having some kind of initials after one’s name does lend a certain air of “legitimacy” that *some* clients seek, but the longer I am in this business, the more I realize how little that really matters to most prospective and existing clients.

More importantly, I’ve also realized how little those initials actually mean in terms of “proof” of competency of any sort.

Many of the very best designers I know and know of would never qualify for membership in these organizations – and at the same time, I hate to say it, but some of the absolute *worst* design work I’ve seen has been done by ASID professional members. It seems as if there is almost an inverse relationship in many cases between the presence of letters after a designer’s name and the quality of his or her work.

I’ve also noticed that many of the people who tend to be most actively involved in the leadership of these organizations in particular are generally not the best designers around. The *really* best ones are clearly far too busy doing what they do to be bothered with meetings and all of the petty politics and so on that the organizations also bring with them.

Being a good designer requires a mix of technical knowledge and creativity. Anyone with a brain can learn the technical material just by reading books and various industry publications, or on the job (lord knows that almost nothing of what I know was taught to me in school), but the creativity that really gives one an edge and defines what an interior designer is at core cannot be taught and is innate. Education can foster it and bring it out further, but it cannot instill it where there is no fundamental underlying facility.

In a well-run professional organization that is truly responsive to the actual needs and preferences of the majority of its membership base, these groups can also be very powerful proponents of a profession, and do a lot of good.

However, when a small percentage of the leadership and membership decides that they speak for a majority and stand for a position that will actually *harm* the majority of their own membership base, as ASID is doing, then that organization has outlived its usefulness and should be shot and put out of its misery. It most assuredly should not be allowed to create legislation or internal policies that will adversely affect the lives – and livelihoods – of thousands of people the way it is trying to do nationwide without giving them all a direct say, especially if it is going to use their dues money to fund these initiatives.

Once an organization has gone out of control and is running amok wreaking havoc on the very constituency it ought to (and claims to) be serving, it completely loses all legitimacy and credibility.

So why do I continue to belong to one of these groups that is out of control when I obviously have so little respect for it? Mainly because my boss basically made it a requirement of my employment, but also because I’m somewhat of a Pollyanna at heart, and am still (almost undoubtedly naively) hopeful that I can help the organization “see the light” and correct course to be what it used to be and *ought* to be – a real resource for its membership.

Addendum:  This is why I let my membership in ASID lapse, because I can no longer support an organization that has been so bent on passing legislation that will put so many people out of business, and so restrict entry into the profession by new people.  They’ve been at this for 30 years, with little success, because there’s no merit in the position.  Such laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in several states, and yet they persist in spending millions of dollars of members’ dues that could be much better put to other purposes such as educating the public about the value that professional designers bring to the table.  I’m eligible to qualify for membership at the professional level, but it’s just wrong to do this.

I do continue to attend continuing education event sponsored by my local chapter, as that ongoing education is very important in this field, and they provide many excellent classes.  But it’s obtainable without belonging to such organizations, and responsible, professional designers take advantage of it wherever they can, even when they have no obligation to for sustaining a credential or designation.

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