I’ve come across a lot of resources aimed at helping interior designers uncover their clients’ preferences, tastes, and styles. Learning your client’s interior design style is all well and good, but it’s hardly as useful as knowing what makes them tick! In my years as an interior designer in Austin, I’ve encountered 5 main types of interior design clients. All approach the process and decision-making differently. Unlike other services, interior design is a real partnership between the designer and the client. As designers, part of our job is evaluating if we can stand our clients through the many months it takes to complete a project and vice versa.
I’ve discussed how clients can get the most out of working with an interior designer. Now, I want to shift focus and share how designers can identify the right clients for their business. While this article is geared toward designers, I welcome prospective clients to read it as well. It will help you identify your role in the project and if your designer complements your work style. Let’s learn about the types of interior design clients and how to form productive partnerships with each.
Learning How to Build an Interior Design Business
In the Designing a Business series, Interior Designer Amity Worrel shares experiences and lessons learned on her path to running a successful interior design firm in Austin, Texas.
Choosing to Work with the Right Interior Design Clients
I have often joked I want to have potential clients take psychological tests before we decide to work together. It sounds snarky, but it’s a genuine want! Knowing how your potential client makes decisions and operates allows you to evaluate if you’d work well together. Expectations are key when managing the design process, which can be a long and emotional journey for all involved. In the end, we have the same goal. However, completing a successful project and still being on speaking terms is an art form of its own.
The 5 Types of Interior Design Clients
I lay out the five types of interior design clients I’ve encountered over the years and the pros and cons of each. As a fellow designer, you may gravitate towards a different style of client than myself. Finding the right clients is all about the interactions and challenges you want to have through the process. Both parties should be mindful of each other’s personalities.
1. The “Hard to Let Go”
The “Hard to Let Go” type is cautious, trepidatious, and skeptical. Typically, this client tries to complete a home project themselves but comes up against an obstacle that makes it clear they don’t have the chops to see it through. They often don’t trust interior designers, feeling their preferences won’t be considered or their decisions will be steamrolled. They’re used to doing the work themselves and may feel frustrated they finally had to ask for help. If they let their guard down, they can actually make good clients. A designer’s role in this situation is to show the “Hard to Let Go” you have their best interest at heart and are there to make all their home design dreams come true.
This client cares a lot about their project, and designers will definitely run into them throughout their careers. If they feel heard throughout the project, they can turn around to the idea of hiring out work and form great lifelong partnerships.
Sometimes, this client just can’t let go. In an attempt to maintain control, they end up standing in their own way, stalling the project and frustrating the professionals.
2. The “Do It for Me”
The “Do It for Me” type is hands-off, trusting, and appreciative. They seek an interior designer because they enjoy professional services and the ease they bring into their lives. They don’t fix their own cars, trim their own trees, or do their own taxes. This client knows their limitations and stays in their own lane when they recognize the task falls outside their specialty. The “Do It for Me” is easy to work with and is pretty trusting right off the bat.
This client trusts easily. They don’t question a professional’s value and keep their eye on the end goal.
Sometimes, this client can lack imagination. Compared to other types, they might be less willing to contribute ideas and communicate their sense of style.
3. The “Emerging Arbiter of Taste”
The “Emerging Arbiter of Taste” type is trusting, involved, and communicative. This type values personalization and is driven into the design process by a desire for their home to reflect them to the nth degree. While they trust the professional to lead the way, they want to join in on the creative process and learn throughout the project. As the job progresses, this client becomes inspired by how the designer makes decisions and begins to participate in a more developed way. “Arbiters of Taste” tend to partner well with designers, often for a stunning outcome that reflects the client’s taste in a highly elevated sense.
I might be biased here, but this client is all pros to me! This client pairs well with almost all designers, knowing when to lead and follow.
If I had to find a con, I’d say this client can be hard to leave once the project is complete. Typically, designers and “Arbiters of Taste” become great friends over the course of work, and it can be sad to see the chapter close.
4. The “Fairweather Hobbyist”
The “Fairweather Hobbyist” type is noncommittal, skeptical, and inconsistent. This type dabbles in interior design and tackles projects themselves until they become too challenging or move on to the next focus. While they value design, they are never all in. Rather than tackle an entire project, they will do one room at a time to save money or test out the professionals. This client sees the value of design but remains unsure if they want to tackle those larger projects. They can keep a designer on the books for years — dabbling in small renovations, ordering new furniture, or asking for advice.
This client can be fun to work with, send you business for years, and be quite happy with the results.
Since they never fully commit, you don’t get the satisfaction of a fully resolved home. Moreover, it’s hard for this client to stay motivated or find a good workflow because the project constantly starts and stops.
5. The “More Please”
The “More Please” type is trusting, enthusiastic, and consistent. This type of client is rare but extraordinary to work with when you can. Typically, they have used an interior designer in the past and have experience with home professionals. Rather than seeing an interior designer as a one-time service, they view the professional as a partner in life. They want a designer who can creatively problem solve while handling small needs that come up, like finding a new accent chair or art piece. In short, the designer’s services are never enough. This type will always find a new project — whether it’s yearly redecorating with the trends, new properties, or special projects.
This client has experience working with professionals and already knows the designer has their best interests at heart. They need no convincing! They can be fun to work with and appreciate surprise and delight in their project.
Sometimes, this client can view the designer as an order taker. Occasionally, they must be reminded of the designer’s real value and skills.
We’re All Vetting Each Other
While clients are interviewing to find the right interior designer, designers are evaluating if they’re talking to the right client! In short, we are all vetting each other to determine how successfully we could work together to bring a project vision to life. It might sound competitive, but we all want healthy working relationships. Asking the right questions to learn about each other’s personalities is the best way to get there. We all want the same thing: A successful project completed on time, on budget, and full of happiness.
Personalities Make the Project
Getting in touch with your own personality and knowing what kinds of clients you like to work with is the best way to ensure a successful project from start to finish. I like to work with the “Emerging Arbiter of Taste” type, but it’s harder for me to form a partnership with the “Hard to Let Go.” If I hear in initial conversations the client cannot trust me or allow me to take the lead, I simply tell them that we are not the right fit to work together. I have enough experience to know they won’t be happy no matter how their project is managed. A home’s interior is a very personal thing, and it can take months to get right. These projects take time, money, and trust. The right mix of personalities can make or break the end result and the experience.
Whether it’s love or design, we all have a type.
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.