On Aril 29 I attended the fascinating “Find A Designer Day” event at the Washington, DC Design Center. Traditional Home magazine sponsored the day, and their editor Ann Omvig Maine served as emcee for Barry Dixon’s keynote presentation “How to Work With a Designer”. Barry showed how he interpreted the design desires of his clients in creating three, very different homes. He and Ann also listed the questions a client has for the designer, and that the designer has for the client.
More details on that later, but the larger question is: Why does the design world need such a program? Because the internet has turned our wholesale world upside down, allowing consumers in to what was once to them a closed world. Pre-internet, a designer provided access to the wholesale goods sold only design centers. Now, however, designers serve more as concierges to the homeowner, providing value through their professional training in space planning, scale and color selection, and sustainable and universal design. Quoting Crans Baldwin, the CEO of Donghia, the designer today serves as “a guide to authenticity and luxury” and as a ‘cultural concierge’.
The internet has made shopping for all kinds of goods seem so very easy. It has become a virtual shopping center for the world. On-line you see what you like, research it thoroughly, and then can make the securely purchase with your credit card. That’s all very easy and very impersonal. For simple and complete products like a case of Windex or the newest print book by your favorite author, I think the internet has created a perfect shopping experience. However, I think many of us need trained intervention before purchasing products that include bundles of options, like which version of the Blackberry is best for you, or how to customize a chandelier in size and finish for your lifestyle and the ceilings in your home. Sometimes, a person really needs to see and hold and use an actual product before making an intelligent choice. In my experience with designing a home to be innately comfortable and hospitable, I’ve needed major input from a professionally trained interior designer.
When you read Crans Baldwin’s provocative blog, A Glass Half Full, the April 19 entry includes this statement:
You know, I am not a designer, just an ordinary client involved in the design business. However I value what designers, real designers, bring to the party. They do the homework so I don’t have to think about it. They plan, they envision, they draw, they select and specify, they measure, and they consult me when it matters. They deal with late shipments, wrong shipments, mistakes, finish problems, difficult installations, problem suppliers, last minute substitutions, etc. Buying at retail is different, with different expectations. Working with a designer is like working with any other profession, and it has little or nothing to do with retail….
Joe and I understood that truth for the first time when we selected our NY apartment. We are used to living with large open spaces in the country, and so I loathed the spaces shown us in Manhattan. Our world shrank to tiny windows, scuffed floors, ridiculously small “kitchens”, bathrooms marred by eons of other people’s crud layered over by new coats of paint, and an irritating neighbor. While Joe reveled in all the cultural attractions the city offers, I had issues with our living conditions. In order to keep me happy, Joe had to make our humble, dark rooms look marvelously inviting, and miraculously he did all the things that Crans lists in his blog. He dealt with the landlord, selected the wall coverings, scheduled the workers and waited for them and watched the quality of their work, and made the entire space metamorphose. He also created new furniture designs to help illuminate the apartment. Before he created this living room, I likened the space to the inside of a portabella mushroom. Afterward, however, his newly designed interior checked off all the points on my wish list: light-filled, scaled properly, comfy seating, decent lighting to eat by and to read by, pretty, clean, and seeming to be tall and airy. The neutrals reflect Joe’s desire for calm interiors; the bouquet my need for flowers and for color in my home.
Ever since Joe accomplished all this interior design himself, he is now content to let a professional designer work with our home. We have learned that being a furniture designer is very different from being an interior designer, and they are worth their weight in gold.
That’s a nice segue back to Ann Omvig Maine and Barry Dixon’s keynote presentation on “How to Work With a Designer”. They spoke in the Niermann Weeks DC showroom, where enough consumers attended so that all seats were occupied and some attendees were required to stand.
As an interior designer, Barry listens to what his clients want in their home, paying attention also to their non-verbal cues. He showed images of three different homes, explaining how he integrates a home with its exterior. He “tethered the room to its geography” by painting one serene living room in a single shade of muted green, reflecting the grove of magnolia trees outside the windows. As you know, magnolia leaves are shiny green on top while the bottoms are dusty brown. So Barry included accents of sueded brown in the living room, on several ottomans and in the pillows.
In this room Barry gave his client a flood of natural light with a pale palette of design, including Niermann Week’s very own Voliere Lantern.
Advising consumers on how to interview an interior designer, Barry’s suggested interviewing three or four designers before making a choice. Things to consider:
* Does the designer have a signature style? If the consumer likes that style, that’s a good sign of success in their relationship.
* Will the designer develop an interior that’s ‘bespoke’ and personalized for the home owner? Show some examples in their portfolio of previous work.
* Do you stick to the home owner’s budget?
* Where do you shop for furniture, fabrics, and accessories?
* Is the designer experienced in working collaboratively with an architect, a point that’s critical in new construction.
* Reviewing the designer’s portfolio, ask and expect detailed explanations of how the interiors developed. If the designer says, “I just did it because it was pretty”, that’s not a good enough answer. Don’t hire that person.
* Can the designer provide a list of references from past clients?
Ann Maine asked Barry how an interior designer prices his or her work. He has an hourly charge of $150 to $300 for space planning and working with the architect on new construction. Many interiors designers are now acquiring products for the home like sofas and tables, pricing that work at the cost of the product plus 25-30%.
Then Ann asked Barry what he and any interior designer needs to know about the potential client.
* What’s their real budget?
* Show a binder of tear sheets and color chips that have appeal to the home owner.
Following Barry and Ann’s presentation, most of us trouped to the Donghia showroom. Most but not all. Consumers had been able to sign up for free 30 minute consultations with interior designers. Bringing their photos, plans, and swatches, they could learn first-hand how much insight a professional interior designer brings to a home’s decoration and function. The two designers stationed in the Niermann Weeks showroom interacted effectively with their consumers, and I think will be hired to help a newly engaged, first-time home owner design his home for his comfort and within his budget. I really enjoyed watching these useful and eye-opening interactions.
Back at the Donghia showroom, their CEO Crans Baldwin spoke on “Jumpstart Your Own Recovery”. Crans has been speaking for over a year at design centers around the country, gathering and sharing innovative ideas used by interior designers to attract consumers to hire them professionally. WOW, he presented a cornucopia of stimulating ideas, and you can read more about them at his blog A Glass Half Full. To condense his point, an interior designer brings vision and talent to the service of a homeowner. I don’t want to steak his thunder, so please follow the link to his blog at the end of my blog.
Then the Century Furniture showroom invited us all to a swank cocktail party where interior designers, showroom staff, consumers, and the editorial staff of Traditional Home mingled for informal chats and useful networking. On the whole, I think all benefited from this series of events at DC’s “Find a Designer Day.”
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