Thursday, May 17, 2012


Why use a designer? It's an unspoken question we sense we come up against a lot. Most people are too polite or intimidated to ask it out right but we can see the skepticism bubbling in their heads. It's unfortunate that the question doesn't get asked openly often enough. If it did we could attempt an answer. It's become somewhat like the current political atmosphere where changing someone's mind about interior designers is like trying to change a republican to a democrat. This is not an easy task, but we're going to give it a go.
The directors at Madison's Museum of Contemporary Art gave us the opportunity to try out our persuasive argument at a talk we gave during the Design MMoCA event. Here's how it went:
We started out by outlining our top three reasons. We only had a half hour to persuade, inform and do a little arm-twisting so we tried to keep it brief. Here we go:
One: it's actually cost effective.
Two: you get the guidance, training and experience of a professional along with their professional contacts and resources.
Three: it frequently ends up in a life long relationship with the benefits usually reserved for a patient and their therapist.
The first thing a designer will do is help you to develop a master plan. Even if you're only looking for a few pieces for your living room you need a master plan. How is this cost effective? Ever know someone who went out and bought a new bed that turned out to be too big for the room or found out that the new custom-made sofa with twenty yards of $120 per yard Calvin Klein fabric was too four inches to wide to fit through the front door? How about the people down the block that added a master bedroom addition on their home but only put in enough closets for her clothes. We spoke to a designer working on an Upper Eastside apartment where the client had originally gone at a renovation by only hiring a contractor. The job required a library with four wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves, built-in speakers and a hidden TV cabinet. The bookshelves only allowed for books to be stored laying down and the TV cabinet was would only hide a 32" TV, not the 50" TV the client had purchased. Cost to correct these errors: $50,000. Working with a master plan can help avoid these costly mistakes.
Having a designer on hand also helps to keep your budget in line. When you're working from a master plan you can plan out your expenditures. We like working from an established budget. If we know what you want to spend we can base the design around that number. Even if the initial plan is to only do a few purchases or a single room it is still worth developing an overall plan. Many clients work on a plan that is implemented in phases, but having a master plan to work off of makes sure that unnecessary purchases aren't made and construction calamities don't happen. We've watched design novices make quarter million dollar mistakes because they thought they could do it alone. You really don't want to go there.

That master plan is the designer's biggest contribution to a successful design experience. Being able to construct a master plan usually comes from many hours of course work and internships with established designers. I think most designers have an innate gift, but as with any gift it needs to be nurtured and developed. The history of the interior design legacy, the guidelines of functionality, the mechanics of construction and rules of design theory are all bundled together in a good designer. This is not to say that all designer have these capabilities in equal measure but a good/well-trained designer should be able to guide you to achieving your desired end result.
 I can't tell you how many clients when asked, have started out saying, "I don't know what my style is, I don't know what I want". This is due to a lot of deep seeded issues, the biggest issue being fear. We see a lot of places that are just plain bland. Madison has a local newspaper that does a top five article every week. One week it was the top five selling colors at the local Sherwin Williams paint store. The results came in; they were all shades of beige. I don't think this is due to Madisonites all being bland but I do attribute it to a fear of making a color choice where the choices number in the thousands. It's a daunting task.
We know another set of customers who purchased a beautiful arts & crafts sideboard to go with their Hepplewhite dining set. Others marvel at the realization that they have nothing in their living room that is over thirty inches tall. That's where the designer comes in. Everyone has a style. They may not know it but it's up to the designer to help them discover it. A client's style has to be consistent with their comfort level but in so many cases it is far beyond their fear level.

There is so much personal information that is exchanged in a designer-client relationship that you usually end up in friendship that lasts a lifetime if for no other reason than to keep tabs on someone who might know too many of your skeletons. A designer's task is to find out who you are and how you live, what makes you comfortable, what your dreams look like and how we can make you feel proud of yourself through the home you live in or the place you work in. We've all seen thousands of TV programs where a designer walks into a home and transforms it into a palace.
There's that gush of, "Oh, my God", as the client's hand goes to cover her mouth and her eyes glisten with joy. That's the biggest reward of being a designer.


Frank Lloyd Wright 1947
Arnold Newman, photographer
Represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery

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