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Posts Tagged ‘custom design’

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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I just found out that I was quoted several times earlier this year about high end finishes and luxury amenities in Coldwell Banker’s prestigious “Coldwell Banker Previews International Portfolio: Exceptional Gold Coast Florida Residences”, Volume 2, 2009, in an article entitled “Finishing Touches Tell the Story” by Camilla McLaughlin.

“People just don’t want that run of the mill thing anymore. Everything is custom designed,” says Wendy Hoechstetter, an interior designer in the Bay area [sic]. Fabric that cost $580 a yard, custom furniture, even entire rooms brought over from Europe are not unusual.”

“One of the strongest trends is wallpaper, which is back in vogue. Large punchy patterns, often an up-to-date interpretation of a classic such as paisley, or fabrics such as silk or grass cloth, create dramatic focal points on a single wall. Elsewhere, whimsical patterns or luxurious materials turn small spaces such as powder rooms into jewel boxes.

“We’re seeing wall coverings made out of every material you can imagine—bamboo, mica, all kinds of metals.You name it, they’re putting it in walls,” says Hoechstetter.”

There is a lot of other good information on luxury home materials and designs in this article, as well as in other articles in the publication, so do take a look at the whole thing.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to link directly to the article, which is in PDF format, without linking to the boring, picture-less HTML version, but if you’d like to see it, you can either email me and ask me to send you a copy, or you can go to this Google search page, and click on the middle item, vapidly entitled “Layout1”, as shown below:

Google Listing

If the search page disappears or messes up somehow, just Google “Camilla McLaughlin” and “Wendy Hoechstetter”.

If I can figure out how to post it here on my blog, I’ll eventually get it up.

I am also expecting to be quoted in another article either Monday October 19th or 26th in the New York Times online and likely another website called Cyberhomes.com, about window treatments. Keep an eye out for the piece! I’ll post an alert and links when it comes out.

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