Three Key Questions To Ask Before You Start Your Design Project

 

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As an interior designer with nearly 25 years in the field, I have learned that the most successful residential design projects consistently share some predictable attributes. Having worked in penthouses of downtown Manhattan, island homes in the tropics, mountain retreats, brownstones in the northeast, and throughout my hometown of Austin, since returning in 2006, I can attest that this is not a “happy accident,” to quote the infamous PBS painter, Bob Ross.

Satisfaction throughout and especially at a project’s completion is a result of a solid alignment of expectation, communication and collaboration. Conversely, without these elements in sync, a home renovation or interior design project can go amiss. This blog is intended to help those who may be pondering their next project set-up for a successful experience.

IS THERE A SECRET?

Yes. Frankly, it’s that experience helps.

Many of the clients we work with have previously undertaken a remodel or new build for their residence or vacation home. They have worked with a designer before, and we are consulted to bring fresh design perspective and expertise to their new project. 

Other times, it is a client’s desire to rely on our professional collaboration with architects, builders and trades in order to avoid the painful pitfalls of previous projects. They want to stress less and rely on professionals more.

For our clients who are newer to the process of working with an interior designer, we understand that they are looking to our experience and expertise to help them navigate the often overwhelming undertaking of bringing their vision to life.

While these client profiles are quite different, it is predictable that those who are happiest at the end of their respective projects all have very clear expectations based on their own personal experience, and from trusting in ours.

THREE KEY QUESTIONS:

Clients who have a baseline understanding of the answers to these questions may have somewhat of an advantage. I believe it helps them enjoy the process a little more.

  1. Do you understand each professional’s unique role?
    Understanding what each professional does best helps.

    Interior designers provide an immersive perspective on living in the home. This design process involves a thorough investigative process to arrive at a plan. We work through the client’s desires, develop and design the way the clients will experience living in their space. Beyond interior decorating (which is a significant part of what we do), we select materials, design millwork, cabinets, baseboards, trims, moldings. Clients hire interior designers for ideas, project management and to take advantage of their professional trade connections.

    Architects provide a layout for the overall space. There is a natural overlap between specialists. As the client’s plans are developed, sometimes it becomes clear that an adjustment is needed. The designer may alert the architect that they need to work together in order to accommodate selected materials or adjust the layout to achieve the desired functionality in the space. This mutual collaboration is most successful when the team works effectively and expediently together to adjust drawings, share CAD files, and pivot together to achieve the end result the client desires.

    Custom home builders execute the drawings and problem solve with respect to the job site. The builder’s shared communication and cooperation with the team is also vital to execute a smooth and successful outcome.

    When there is mutual respect for each design team member’s professional perspective, proficiencies and expertise, combined with a sense of teamwork with the homeowner, and flexibility to respond to the needs of the job, these turn the experience for the client into a home run.

    Conversely, problems or scope creep can occur if roles are not clearly understood and communication is not transparent and team-based.

  2. Do You Know What The Design Work Includes?
    Understanding the process and trusting the professional yields the best results.

    In the concept phase, the design/team works with the client as a consultant, first by observing, listening, and then planning, predicting outcomes. This means trying on ideas and working them through, problem-solving, and concept development. This thorough investigation produces valuable strategic direction, often prevents costly missteps and inspires innovative solutions. This is a process and shouldn’t be confused with a product. (For example, a product is more of a retail ‘shopping’ transaction that some assume can be made in-studio. It’s just a misconception.)

    The value of a thorough, professional design concept development process begins to materialize in the next phase of the project, when meticulously detailed drawings reveal the culmination of the investigation and ideas. As well as when orders of carefully selected or created items begin to arrive! The vision begins taking shape, and momentum accelerates.

    Then the design project moves into execution and project management.

  3. What Matters Most to You? 
    When clients understand the way they want to be involved in the project, it helps!

    Clients’ mindsets and personas vary from these four primary mindsets:
    – “Just leave me out of the details. I want a professional to get the job done right,”
    – “I have very specific ideas and want a designer to help me with logistics so my space feels truly original and reflects my personality,”
    – “I very much enjoy the creative process, but will rely on the designer to help discover the best approach,”
    – “I’m looking for practical expertise, and technical know-how so this project can be completed efficiently.”

    We are able to easily adapt to each client’s style, and can often quickly identify the priorities and communication preference. It is helpful when a client is aware of the personal style they are bringing into the experience.

    An architect we work with often always says, “celebrate the professional,” and I agree.  A professional interior designer works on home renovations and designs every day and ideally has expertise in their field when often a client has not had the same experiences.  It is a strength to know when to turn to a professional for help!

The truth is that there is no silver bullet to avoid issues, as they come up with design projects. In fact, I have had projects encounter turns that initially seemed like a disappointment or a compromise, but with thoughtful design work and reframing, we were able to turn a liability into an asset!

When a challenge is brought to bare, the value of having a professional team–architect, custom builder/general contractor and interior designer/decorator–in whom you trust, is highlighted. If there is respect and trust in the relationship as well as good communication, challenges are overcome, and clients can truly relax knowing that they are in good hands.

 

Amity Worrel

Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.