If a person has the taste to desire a beautiful home, the savvy to know she needs help creating one, and – what luck – the money to engage an interior designer, what could go wrong?
Interior designers, like bespoke tailors, a few society hairdressers and sommeliers, are Tastemakers. For most of us, baring our foolish desires to a Tastemaker or, God forbid, disagreeing with one, feels intimidating. We may be masters of the universe on our own turf, but if we knew how to layer a room and then light it, we wouldn’t be clients, now, would we?
And so it happens that on rare occasions, a client closes his or her checkbook at the end, and thinks, I really hate that $18,000 rug I agreed to. Or else: It’s pretty. But it feels like a stranger’s home, not mine.
Designers don’t like to talk about this any more than cosmetic surgeons enjoy admitting that, at times, a patient is unhappy with a facelift.
But I call around. I leave messages: How should clients talk frankly to designers to ensure that they love what they get – since occasionally it happens that they don’t?
Only one designer returns my calls. She sounds exactly how you want your interior designer to sound (more on that below). Meanwhile, two old friends, both pros in the business, are delighted to dish over dinner. One, G, edited a top design magazine for years. The other, P, used to deal in antiques; now she writes for another interiors magazine.
G and P tell me this: As a client, you need to be courteously blunt about your likes, your dislikes and your desires, foolish or otherwise. And yes, your secrets do need to come out.
They just aren’t the secrets you think.
Post-its are crucial for your design process. (image by istock)
Pro Tip: Maybe you’ve been keeping a file. If not, buy Post-its, and every interiors magazine on the newsstand. The Post-its are for annotating the tearsheets. Acrylic desk!!!! You might write, or Hate the green, love the tile.Don’t hire a designer who intimidates you. Hire a designer who makes you feel like this one does:
The designer knows, looking at your file, if her esthetic and yours can mesh. She can see at a glance that you like curated clutter, whether you can articulate this or not, while she prefers spare serenity. She can’t tell that you swept 20 painted Russian boxes off the sideboard and into a cupboard before she came over, but she still knows you’re wrong for each other.
Kesha Franklin,CEO and principal designer of Halden Interiors. (photography courtesy of HaldenInteriors.Com /COAST magazine)
I’m never forceful with my ideas. I never come in like I’m an expert. I use the word “partner” with my clients. I want to feel proud of the space, as the designer, but I’m not living here. So I do look at it as a partnership.
If you take away the “interior designer,” I’m Kesha first. I pride myself on being caring. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I come in respecting their boundaries and their privacy at the door. I’m grateful that a client will trust me this much in their space.
– KESHA FRANKLIN, CEO and principal designer of Halden InteriorsSTUDY HIS PORTFOLIO. IF HE’S THE PERFECT DESIGNER FOR YOU, YOU MIGHT DISLIKE SOME OF HIS WORK.
Sounds like terrible advice – hire someone whose work you don’t like? But variety in his portfolio, from homes you dislike to homes that strike a chord in you, esthetically and emotionally, tells you he listens to his clients and gives them what they want. Chances are he’ll listen closely to you.
Here’s another scenario: You spot the same taste on every page – boldly mixed patterns, which the designer calls “fun.” Or a thousand shades of beige. You adore it. You can stop speed-dating now. He’s the one.
Pictures are everything. If you don’t bring tearsheets of rooms you love to the first meeting, you have only yourself to blame if you don’t get results you love.
***Before you order anything – a sofa, a set of bookshelves – ask how big it’s going to LOOK.
“People are afraid to tell their designers, ‘I don’t like it,’” says P. “Perhaps they don’t read drawings. Perhaps they’re ashamed to say, ‘I didn’t really know what you were showing me.’” So ask: How long will this 102-inch sofa look in my living room? Can you put cardboard on the floor and show me?
Here’s a scenario, says P, that can happen to the best of us. “He shows you a picture of the refrigerator. It looks nice, it comes, it goes to the ceiling, and you didn’t realize it would go to the ceiling. And you hate it and you’re stuck with it.”
Shouldn’t the designer mention the height, not just in inches, but relative to the room?
“He should,” says G. “But he doesn’t know how little you understand.” She adds, “You can’t blame him for that.”Talk about how you spend your days. Be your true, unedited self.
If you do taxidermy, like my friend’s husband, maybe you want a specialized room for that. (Just spare me the details.) Maybe you dream of a room for interpretive dance, like my novelist friend, who has one. (It’s invitingly empty.)
Your present home may constrain you, so tell the designer how you use your time, not your rooms. She may see the space more fluidly than you do.
Colin Kaepernick wanted a pool table. But he told Kesha Franklin, whom he hired to design his San Jose house, that it probably wouldn’t work. “He assumed he had to have a dining room,” says Franklin, “and it didn’t fit in the sun room.”
So she asked whether he entertained formally. Then she suggested he put the pool table, not a dining table, in the formal dining room. (Yup, he totally went for that.)TALK ABOUT HOW YOU SPEND YOUR NIGHTS.
Perhaps you crave a special room for sex? Oh, just say it. Sex is old hat.
What’s mortifying for some couples to admit – to anyone – is that they sleep apart.
“Separate bedrooms,” says G, leaning across our dinner table. “That’s the biggest secret. I hear stories about this all the time. Many couples do want to sleep separately, with conjugal visits. But either they don’t tell their designers and then regret it. Or they are honest, and then…”
“And then, I guess,” says G, “there’s decorator-client privilege.”“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Call her N.
Her bedroom was small, her closet tinier than a shower stall. Since she was gut-renovating the condo, she asked for a wall of built-in closets, and in the living room, a wall of built-in shelving.
She knew the rules – pictures. She showed her architect lots of pictures of narrow, tall wardrobe doors.
Later, she found herself admiring finely inked architectural drawings on pale vellum. Her young architect watched her through retro black glasses. He’d done a great job so far, arching the foyer doorway with a perfect curve, laying countertops like wet ink. (Silestone.) She liked his sense of proportion.
Yet now, at the interior design stage, something was amiss.
“The cabinetry felt graceless,” my friend says, “as if the closets were meant for a Big and Tall store. I asked for runway-model doors. He gave me sumo-wrestler doors.”
The architect then showed her drawings she did like – and explained why they wouldn’t work. “I started to feel guilty,” says my friend. “And shrewish.” (P comments: “Women are so used to being pliable with men.”) So when the architect yielded slightly on the living room shelves, redrawing the moldings, she caved on the rest.
She built it all. And hated it.
“Tear it out now,” her contractor said, “or you never will.” (P confirms this: “Anything you don’t do in the first year,” she says, “you never will.”) But it seemed so wasteful. So N tore out only the hulking built-in shelves. The new ones were perfect – trimmer, prettier. “I spend all my time in the living room now,” says N, “writing, or talking to friends.”
The closets stayed. “I thought, if I have extra money for ripping out new closets, I should donate it,” she says. Was she right? She isn’t sure. “I can’t spend five waking minutes in that bedroom. My husband dislikes it, too. And it’s a very small apartment.”
A few years later, N called her architect’s boss, who is famous. He agreed to visit, and when he saw the closets, he winced, very slightly. “These should never have come from my firm,” he said. “They should be narrow, and tall.”
He declined to tear them out.
She did not argue.
She regrets it. So …PRACTICE ALOUD THE TWO FORMS OF SAYING “NO”
“I don’t like it.”
“I won’t spend that much.”
Don’t try to justify either statement.
A designer who is famous for the hushed, worldly opulence of his rooms was working with a client in a top fashion house. For her bedroom, he selected a large painting to fit the color scheme. But his client refused to buy art she didn’t love (the only reason to buy art, after all), and chose instead a cheaper painting she did love, and which, the designer felt, disrupted The Look.
“He was pissed about it,” says P. “He wanted to control the vision.”
The client prevailed. Good for her. Not all of them do.
P also tells of another famous designer who, midway into a job, presented his clients with images of a $40,000 sofa. They refused. He persisted. Finally the husband – presumably a Master of the Universe – shrugged and conceded.
“It’s only a car,” he said.
No one told him it was just the front seat.
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