June 03, 2014:

The Design Process - Including Speed Bumps!

A lot of people are terrified at the thought of working with a designer. Their fears are often rooted in the unknown both when it comes to process and price. I actually think the former is more often the bigger of the two fears. Even the most veteran designers often have a hard time articulating their own process - residential designers that is, unless they are the types who have a particular uniform they put on and paint each project with. Clients are fickle. More often than not, a designer has to tailor their process to suit the client's needs especially early on in a designer's career. I often refer to this period as "Designer Chasing the Money" which more often than not, means chasing one's tail. We are always refining our process so it isn't set in stone but we definitely DO have a process and a few "you can take this to the bank" isms....


You can't have all three. If you want something Good and Fast it will cost you. If you want something Good and Cheap it will take a long time (and if you are using a designer to try and source it - let's be real, it will end up costing you just as much if not more so you might as well stick with the Good and the Fast and cry once so you can enjoy). If you want something Fast and Cheap, it's not gonna be good. It will be crap.

We are currently working on an outdoor patio space for our #Nobscot project. The client wants it Fast for sure and she would prefer it to be cheap (she has a family discount with a certain supplier). I should say I don't mean cheap as in cheap and tawdry just she doesn't want to invest in say Janus et Cie at this time. The problem with the company that she gets a discount from is that they are just enough shy of not being perfect to make saying yes to them hard. We are looking at one of our suppliers for the furniture as well which will be significantly more than the family discount will allow for but we'll get the fabrics and the finishes we want.

For years I have been guilty of falling in love with price and ignoring my own Process. After purchasing a certain YSL bag last year though, I decided enough was enough and that I needed to break my own cycle of cheapskatedness. I still find myself enamoured with choices that are more fiscally minded but I try to shelve them aside and ask myself the following questions:

Do I love the item on it's own without looking at the price tag?

Is this something I will tire of after only a few years (or less in some cases)?

How easy is this to change out if I get bored of it?

If I settle, how fast will I hate what I've settled for?

In the middle of writing this, I got called out to look at a back up fabric option for a chair we are putting in one of our client's kid's rooms. I then was asked to look for an alternative fabric for a different project and low and behold I found a fabric that I had forgotten about. Something that is the missing link to my back den. This excites me. I also know that it's not a huge expense but it makes a huge statement. It's from my friends at Thibaut. My process always includes room to change a decision because these happy little accidents or finds can really take a project from good to spectacular.

Now back to the cost thing. What does it cost to work with a designer on your project. Well if you are a budget kind of person, set aside 20% of your overall budget for design fees. That's my ballpark throw a dart at it number. For projects under $100,000 this tends to hold true. I've looked back over the years at previous projects and the fees we billed out for them, using just our hourly fee. No flat rates, no % rates just our hourly rates. 20% is the magic number. There are only so many hours in a day, days in a week and this is just ends up being what it is. Now people with a smaller budget say of between $30,000-$50,000 may balk at the idea of paying 20% of design fees instead of on product but here's what you get for that investment.

1.) A Big Picture Plan that you will be HELD To. No deviating and getting caught up in the frenzy of paying for something you love the price of vs love the look of and then working around a $500 decorating mistake.

2.) You will save time and stress. When we know that we have a limited budget to work with, we already know which vendors to work with and where we can save and were we should splurge.

3.) It's not about discounts - it's about making the right purchases and doing so within budget. This means you have to hand over the decision making more so than you would if you had more money to spend. You DO have less options. This isn'ta bad thing it's often easier than when you have a bigger budget. Limited choices means building a foundation that you can add to. Rome wasn't built in a day.

4.) That's right. Trying to get it all done for one lump sum in a specific time frame is NEVER a good way to create a home. Walk into a beautiful home and you get the sense that it evolved over time and is a reflection of the people who live there. It's not a race. Houses are created with a race mentality. Taking a short cut is never a good investment. It can sometimes backfire and cost you more time and money in the long run. Even our biggest projects are phased which leads to...

5.) When you make the decision to work with a designer you are not just investing in their creative genius, but you are investing in an ongoing relationship with someone who's vested interest is YOU. As a designer we are tasked with understanding HOW you LIVE and all of the wonderful foibles that make you YOU. This is how we customize any design, no matter the size to you. It's why no two projects look the same.

Each designer creates his or her own way to make all of this happen. The more experienced designers do so - usually with an effortless and seamless finesse that you may not even realize is underway. I try to communicate this process to our clients with our initial proposal and a document that details how we work. Some get overwhelmed by this but it's really a litmus test to see who is best suited to work with us and within our process.  We can't change this process to suit individuals but we do nuance certain aspects of it to respond the specific needs of each client.  Good communication is essential to any project and having a point person on each side of the equation is likewise important.

So it's a lot more than just fluffing pretty pillows and creating vignettes isn't it?

Now the usual caveat - we are an international design firm and we are happy to travel to you or have you come to us or both. Do you have an exciting small project that you need some guidance on or are you about to embark on a bigger project that you need expertise and that certain je ne sais quoi to bring it all together? We are interested and happy to take a look at whatever you are considering to make your house more like the home you deserve and aspire to have so be in touch! (I will add what I usually say which is "We Don't Bite... Okay We Nibble but just a bit...")