Design Lesson

Design lesson: Brush up on your design etiquette

Design lesson: Brush up on your design etiquette Author: Style At Home

Design Lesson

Design lesson: Brush up on your design etiquette

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.

4 Building trust: it's a two-way street Like any intimate relationship (yes, intimate -- we know your sleeping, travel, shopping and partying habits!), this partnership requires trust. The client requires assurance that all project details are well in hand and the designer intends to fulfill her promises. The designer requires the authority to manage the project, including trades and suppliers, as her experience deems wise. Open communication is critical to everyone's comfort, so speak up the moment you feel something is amiss. It's likely there's a simple explanation. On the other hand, if your concerns are not earnestly addressed, you should look for another designer. Trust is also fostered by drawing up a comprehensive contract, in which all project details -- from billing structure to trade policies, supplier guarantees to work ethics, design discounts to dispute resolution practices -- are spelled out. If you're not clear on any aspect of the contract, ask more questions and get clarification in writing.

5 designers are not marriage counsellors Here comes the disagreement: She wants wood floors, but he wants stone. Two pairs of eyes fix on you, daring you not to side with the other person. The successful completion of any design project calls for continued compromise. Try to cultivate collaboration right from the beginning by reaching some decisions with your spouse in advance of the design-build process. One way for couples to reach agreement is to compare inspiration photos -- images of rooms or ideas that each loves. Review the photos and determine common denominators. Perhaps you both like dark wood, pale colours and colour photography. Couples who ease through a renovation project are flexible, allowing a number of "wins" for each person.

6 Keep your perspective -- and your sense of humour Early in my career, some clients asked me to squat on the floor, peer through a magnifying glass and explain to them why the grout lines in the marble floor were not "perfect." I told them that stone is a natural product with subtle differences apparent on each tile, and the process of hand-laying stones often results in subtle variances along the grout line. When I suggested that most of my clients enjoy a marble floor from a standing position rather than squatting, the clients burst into laughter, and I knew we were back on track.

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Design Lesson

Design lesson: Brush up on your design etiquette