Decorating & Design - Design Lesson

Design lesson: Brush up on your design etiquette

Kimberley Seldon

These tips from Kimberley Seldon will make your dream renovations run smoothly.

You've fallen in love with English country style or with flea market finds artfully displayed in a Paris apartment. But then there's that mod London flat that caught your eye, and a romantic Thai teak headboard you saw in the stack of design magazines by your bed. How can you realize your style aspirations and maintain your sanity? Decorating a home is a complicated, time-consuming process, so surrounding yourself with a professional team is the best way to ensure you end up with the results you envision. To nurture the relationship between you and your designer, here are some insights into what I call "designiquette."

1 It takes a team -- don't go it alone Recently, I was hired after a project was initiated and was dismayed to learn that the plan for one of the large home's four bedrooms included no windows and its ensuite could only be entered through a closet. While I'm not suggesting this is a typical experience of working with other important trades, I am saying that a large renovation project should be initiated with a complete team that includes a designer, architect and contractor. Each professional brings a unique perspective, and their roles are not interchangeable. A client benefits most when these experts work harmoniously toward a common vision, so foster cohesiveness through ongoing team communication.

2 Be clear about your expectations State objectives, like the desired timeline, and a description of your likes and dislikes at the outset of the project. Determine a reasonable budget and share that information with your designer. If you have $10,000 to spend, say so. That way, the designer can recommend appropriate strategies to maximize your spending power. It's best to avoid spreading limited resources over several rooms, as one finished room will be much more satisfying than three rooms that are only just started.

3 Charging for professional services Designers aren't paid for their time but for their expertise. Expertise is quantified in increments of time -- in other words, we charge by the hour or set a project fee based on an estimate of time. A contract should spell out fees in detail. Many firms charge a range of fees: one for the senior designer, another for junior designers and a third for administration. Besides upfront work, like meeting on-site, producing drawings and selecting fabrics, allow for "behind-the-scenes" work. For example, a client once questioned being billed 15 minutes to receive fabric for her sofa, determine it was wrong, arrange the return and shipment of the correct fabric, phone the upholsterer, and notify the homeowner. When I asked, "Would it have been preferable to have had the fabric sent directly to the upholsterer and ended up with the wrong one on your sofa?" she understood perfectly. That brings me to my next point: trust.


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