Decorator Divorce Court or How to choose a decorator.
I have been thinking about this for a while… since I am not really a designer, and not really a client, I hear design war stories from both sides of the fence on a DAILY BASIS.
What are these design war stories, you ask? Custom sectionals that come in wrong, gridded floors that are laid out improperly, a client and designer who accidentally separately ordered the same chandelier twice and the client got stuck with two, clients that poll every Tom, Dick and Harry about their decorator’s choices, and then undermine them every step of the way. Decorator orders couch in a special fabric, orders 5 yards extra in case of emergency. Fabric is discontinued. Client dirties couch and somehow the extra 5 yards are lost: blames decorator. Couches that dont fit in the door – who pays for the sofa doctor? Wallpaper installs and the $100/roll wallpaper runs out midway- putting the client 2x over budget for that room! I hear about disputes like this every day!
The decorator/client relationship is a battlefield. And its not hard to see why. Designing someone’s home is SO PERSONAL. Its probably one of the most personal things that you can do with someone. You have to spend A LOT of time with them, asking them about their habits, their likes, their dislikes etc… THEN, you are faced with the challenge of successfully spending their money. Another ridiculously personal task, and you have to make them feel like their money is important and hard earned even if they have sticker shock when they see what good design really costs. So many clients micromanage EACH PURCHASE because they live in constant fear that the decorator is going to go over budget by triple… I can literally list you a hundred ways things can go wrong.
I originally wanted to start a feature called “decorator divorce court” where people send in their stories anonymously and then the readers can comment on what went wrong. But I decided that could easily turn into a catty mess, with me at the center.
So instead, I decided to list some ways to make sure that above all else- YOU PICKED THE RIGHT DECORATOR!
Here is what I see as the base of the problem: Person buys a new house, is desperate for help. Really wants to work on the house but doesnt know where to start. Asks a friend who they used. May or may not see a portfolio. Friend says she liked decorator. They start working together. The client wants to buy stuff ASAP. No real plan is made… and shit goes awry.
So number one rule when looking for a decorator:
1. LOOK AT THEIR WORK. A lot of it. Call more than one person that they worked with in the past. Analyze their personality at an interview. If they are a fly by the seat of their pants type and you are SUPER ORGANIZED this isnt going to work. If they are slow and meticulous and you like things done super speedy- this isnt going to work! The personality issue is a huge thing that should not be overlooked.
I think people really rush to hire someone without really interviewing or analyzing a lot of different designer’s portfolios. Dont just use whoever your friends are using. If you kinda liked one room in your friends house, but not 100 percent, but its better than what you could do alone- thats not a reason to hire their designer.
If you like someones work but its too tradtiional and then they insist they can do something more modern for you, but you cant really picture it… DONT HIRE THEM!
If you heard that they go overbudget, but you think your friend is exaggerates… ASK MORE PEOPLE!
2. GET A BUDGET AND PRESENTATION UPFRONT.
This cant be overstressed. After you discuss your likes and dislikes with the designer, have them make a presentation for you. This step gets skipped so many times. This presentation should include your budget. If your budget is $50K and the presentations value is equal to $49.5K, you should reevaluate. Leave room for mistakes, because I can tell you from now- EVERYONE MAKES THEM. There are many times that this is NOT the designers fault… it could be the vendor, the contractor, the shipping company… bottom line is – leave some $ room for mistakes because there will inevitably be mistakes.
3. GET A CONTRACT- You need to have everything written out. Who pays for what if there is a mistake. Does the designer have insurance? If the designer makes a mistake will he make good on his error? These things need to be discussed before things get ugly.
4. Discuss before hand the EXACT ROLL OF YOUR DESIGNER. Is the designer picking out the finishes and furniture, or is this designer project managing for y0u? You need to figure out how involved of a client YOU are going to be and how much you expect from your designer. Is the designer going to manage the installs or are you?
5. DISCUSS BILLING. You do not want to be surprised to learn that you were not paying net + 25% + hourly after you have already started the project, but instead somewhere a little less than retail, more than net, plus a percentage and an hourly. Its fine if that is the formula- but you must know it before hand. If you dont, you will feel cheated when you eventually do figure out how you are being billed. Every designer has their own process so its not standard. Dont assume.
6. LET YOUR DECORATOR DO THEIR JOB! Hopefully, you hired this person because you love their taste, enjoy working with them and think they can do an amazing job on your place. I know a lot of people want to be involved- but there is something to be said for trusting the decorator! Creativity cannot flourish in a micromanaged and overly critical environment. (That being said – if you hate something and she SWEARS YOU WILL LIKE IT- and you say yes… its a mixed bag. You gotta speak your mind too!)
Ok- I think thats all I got for right now… if any clients or decorators want to add in some more tips that would be awesome! I just want to stress… The whole key is in finding the right match for you. And that has to do with more than just taste. Its also about personality, work habits and styles. So be picky, do your due diligence and you can have a successful long term relationship with your decorator! Someone that you love, consider a friend, and come back to for project after project! Its not impossible!!!