This is the second addition to the Case Study Series by our designer Michael A. Thomas, a noted author, teacher and experienced designer who knows his way around the design centers. Enjoy.
Designers are basically an affable bunch. I should know, having spent a quarter of a century volunteering for my professional society, ASID, the American Society Of Interior Designers. And in those years, I have met many congenial types from those who do office environments to retail spaces, from residential remodels to historic preservation.
But the one thing that they have in common with me is the little things that clients (and potential clients) tell us that just drive us totally nuts. So here is my list. And please forgive me if you are a client and you recognize yourself.
• Number one on the list is when a client says during the last of the first interview, “You know, if you design this project for me at no charge, I will tell everyone I know that you’re the best designer in town.”
My response: “Well, thanks but no thanks. First of all, we are not a non-profit design organization. While we are designers, we are first + foremost a business that is expected to pay its bills on time, hire people to contribute to the local + national economy + over time build a reputable reputation on consistency, quality and service. We can’t do that if we don’t make a reasonable return on our investment. But we certainly do appreciate the offer.
√ N e x t .
• Number two. And I know all designers have heard this.
“I can’t make up my mind but I will know it when I see it.”
My Response: “Then keep looking because you won’t want to pay me if I keep looking. Seriously, I do appreciate your thoughtulness but please. You’ve seen my work, portfolio and seemed to like it. The references you checked on were impeccable. And you have hired me to pull it all together. Trust your initial instincts and let me do my job. That one piece you can’t decide upon is part of a whole, not an individual piece. I would not have made this recommendation if it would not have worked.”
√ N E X T .
• Number three is a real kicker. We want to jump out of our skins and rip our hair out when a client says, . . .
“My sister-in-law’s maid has a real keen eye for design and she suggests that a darker color on the walls will make the space seem more romantic. What do you think?”
My response: “How wonderful that your sister-in-law can afford to have a maid. And one with such good taste. Perhaps you should be asking her for more details about her design expertise. Maybe she might be looking for additional work. I know someone who has 5 kids, three dogs, two cats and one mouse and really needs their house cleaned and decorated in the worst way.”
√ N E X T !
• Number four is a killer remark.
“I want to have my house look just like this picture in Architectural Digest.”
“No, you don’t. It should look like you and not some gaudy space that was staged for the photo shoot and doesn’t reflect anything more than how much money was spent gilding the walls, faux finishing the lamps, glitzing the tables and painting anything else that doesn’t move. And if you continue to look at those voyeur home décor magazines, I may fire you as a client.”
√ N E X T !! !!
• Number 5. And stop me if you have heard this one already.
“ I was watching HG-TV and they got this room done in under $500 and just in 24 hours. What is taking you so long to finish my project?”
“I have had a lot of problems lately. My glue gun over-heated. My staple gun jammed. The painter didn’t show that you hired in the first place. The clear vinyl to cover your davenport melted in the sun. And I ran out of the little purple dangly ball fringe that I was going to put around the bottom on your lampshade.
And besides, your fired.”
In his first of a series we are calling Case Study: Design Is Important, Michael A. Thomas, FASID explores the harsh reality of designing spaces.
During an initial interview with a client, I was asked about the role an interior designer might play in a remodel of a condo she was purchasing. Her questions were typical of a client who had never before worked with a designer.
• What is our design philosophy?
It is very often clean and basic, with textured neutral backgrounds that create the best interiors when punched up with hits of color, pattern, art and accessories.
• What types of projects have we been doing?
Three decades of practice provide a range of experience and expertise, from residential new construction and remodeling, to historic preservation and boutique country clubs.
• Do we have a portfolio of work to be reviewed?
Yes, of course. It is located online in our three websites.
During our conversation, she admitted that she often bounces from one part of the job to another, making decisions when needed but often without a frame of reference, and jumping to other parts of the project without a single focus.
What was clear was her concern that at the end of the day, at the close of the project, the whole space would not hang together well and that critical details would be overlooked. This is often the result when no master plan has been established.
While it appeared that she is was doing a bang-up job in pulling together a lot of the work, she indicated a need for someone to reel her back in from time to time and perhaps help her avoid mistakes that cause delays and cost money. In other words, the desire for someone to develop a vision and establish a strategy to get the job done.
So I told her that the role of an interior designer is actually simple:
• Help the client define the dream.
• Communicate in drawings and written instructions the design intent.
• Help manage the process.
The analogy that I also often use to describe the process is when one goes to a doctor. The doctor will ask questions, identify what is wrong and will then write a prescription to make it all better. The master plan of an Interior Designer is a prescription. And a good client (i.e. patient) will be able to follow it as a path to a successful environment.
There is also an additional consideration. Knowing that design is so very important, people will become deeply stressed over the simplest of details, delaying the work and derailing the project for fear of making a mistake. This can result in a measure of chaos.
And designers can actually get stressed for the same reason. Designers do know the important role design plays in ones life.
For me, I am also reminded of the following.
• Design, of all types, both good and bad, impacts the human existence.
• Good design influences human behaviors for the good.
• But great design inspires the human experience and lifts spirits.
So I gave her some advice as we concluded our time together.
First take a deep breath. Take a step back. Take a moment to return to “the dream.”
Keep in mind that if the small details are so critical, imagine how important it is to have a master plan in place when making the big decisions. And a design plan, specifications and strategies do one thing.
• It ensures a great design outcome rather than chaos. . . Because chaos is a bitch.
The new studio was spotless. The lights were set. The flowers were arranged and at 4pm, Michael and Michael began welcoming guests to the Preview Opening of Design Pure + Simple on Tuesday, Jan 15th.
By all accounts, everyone that attended the private by-invitation-only event seemed to enjoy the space and investigating all the products collected and curated for the Michaels' new space in downtown Palm Springs. Of course, it did not hurt that the theme was Chocolate and a favorite Chocolate Martini, Chocolate Red Wine and Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake was served to the some 40+ people. Some even drove over from LA to attend.
But the excitement continues on Wednesday, Jan 16 when the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce officially welcomes Design Pure + Simple with a ribbon cutting at 4 pm. Should be a great time and drop by and have a little chocolate. The event runs from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm
Design is not about trends. It is about defining a design process to get to successful conclusions.
With more than three decades of practice, I have come to a couple of conclusions about life in the desert valley. But it doesn't matter where one is in the world, the design and the design process impacts the human experience on many levels.
So here's what I've been thinking about that.
Everyone in the design profession looks at design trends and interior designers. Clients are no different. But if there is one trend that is classic and enduring it that good design process is good design. No matter how you might slice it, design that functions as intended, that complements the client and provides them a higher quality of life will always been "in vogue." And if it increased the value of the real estate in some way, even better.
It's not the colour du jour nor what the furniture designers create that makes the difference when it comes to trends. It's about sitting down with a client, nose to nose, getting them to share their desires, goals and objectives... no matter whether the style is contemporary or classic. But how do you start such endeavors?
It starts with a through conversation about what clients hope and desire in the design of their spaces. And as an experience designer, I can dig that information out and offer it back as credible design solutions. So my first question asked during an initial client interview is this: "How Did You Come To Realize That You Might Need The Services Of An Interior Designer?"
With that open ended question and with many to follow, I can begin to visualize what I will need to do to match the client's expectations. And being in alignment with the client makes all the difference in a successful client relationship. During the course of that first meeting, it will be important to understand who all will be involved, what special needs that require attention and what the time frame is. Designers also like to know if there are any requirements such as working with a preferred set of trades, incorporating any existing furnishings inventory and who will make all the final decisions.
That's the design process that every client should expect no matter the designer, architect, builder and contractor. It helps to define the scope of work so that there are no misunderstandings about who will be responsible and for what. That's the design trend, trust and transparency that will further define the outcomes, something that should be the goal when a client interviews the designer and when the designer interviews the client.
My study of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright has enabled me to experience 84 sites up close and in person. From California's textile block homes to the subdivision he created in New York State, from Florida Southern College to Taliesin West, his work continues to inspire design professionals after more than 100 years.
Many who follow Wright's legacy closely are concerned about preserving his work. Recently the David Wright home, the house Mr. Wright designed for this son, went on the market. After much angst and loosing two buyers, the home was purchased and will be preserved. A collective sigh of relief was heard by those who champion historic preservation efforts.
And in Oak Park, IL, historic preservationists plan to increase the area around Wright's home site to include the numerous prarire-style homes built in the twenties and thirties. While some are not too happy about the prospects, perhaps making their own home hard to sell, it sets up this zone to protect what is no doubt the beginning of an important and significant American architectural style unlike any others.
Having had the ability to travel and lecture, I have been able to spend a couple of hours and/or sometime a couple of days to visit a Wright building. home or places of worship and ponder what it must have been like to have seen him directing the contractors and crews in the construction of his buildings.
Several places offer tours and provide great accessibility to the property. One example of his work that is very accessible is the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, AZ. If you go, plan to stay in one of the rooms in the original building or in a casita so that you can imagine what it would have been like to stay at the resort during the 40s and 50s when it was THE hotel retort of the southwest. While he may not have been the architect of record for this property, there is no doubt that he was deeply involved with the owners during its development.
It is doubtful that any recent past nor current design professional will have such a legacy as that of one enduring architect, Mr. Frank LLoyd Wright.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Springs, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.