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So, before I decided to follow my dream and work in design, I was a marriage and family counselor. Yeah, quite the career change, but let me tell you, that past experience comes in quite handy when I’m starting a new project.

Now, I can’t speak for all designers out there, but it’s fairly safe to say that we all have a process that we go through in getting to know our clients and in getting the information we need from you in order to do our job. Based on my previous vocation, I tend to tailor my approach to the client after the initial contact.

Because enquiring minds want to know (and really? I just wanted to use that phrase…), here’s what you can expect when we’re getting a project kicked off.

You have reached a tipping point. A point of pain you simply must have addressed, or a point where you are able to move forward with a project you’ve long had in mind. You know you want *something* done, and you recognize that hiring a professional is the way to go. You may contact several designers. Or you may just pick one. Either way, you’ve let your fingers do the walking and you’ve either found my website or learned about me from a friend or colleague, or our paths have somehow crossed. We chat on the phone. During the initial phone screening, I’ll ask questions about timeframe and loose budget parameters. There’s got to be trust and rapport – I’m not going to spend every last cent; that’s not my goal. The budget is framework – I’ll know my limits this way. If you’re on a leaner budget, I’m not going to seek out the highest end fabrics, etc. I’m going to get a feel for how much of this process you want or need to do on your own. And I’m going to assign you some homework in preparation for our first face to face meeting. That homework is going to involve research – you’re going to go through magazines and websites and whatever media you have at your fingertips to identify both what you like, and what you don’t, if something like that really sticks out.

The reason I have you do this is that, like setting a budget, identifying what you love and what you loathe gives me a framework. None of the designing I’m going to do for you happens in a vacuum – I need to have boundaries identified both in dollars and in tastes.

Now, once you’ve done your homework and perhaps learned something about yourself along the way, we have our first face to face. This meeting is crucial – and since you’re providing me with much needed information, I’ll be filling in some blanks for myself, such as listening for what is going to make this feel like a home for that person/couple/family. Its oftentimes difficult to get that feeling into a verbal description – how do you translate warm & cozy into decor? So, it’s my job to interpret for you what it is that you mean. Many times it’s a matter of “I can’t tell you what I like, but I can tell you what I don’t like”, which is a great start.

Once I have this information, the meeting is all about giving you much needed information about the process you’ll be facing. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as too much information about what to expect – knowledge in this case is both power and sanity. Remodeling, for instance, has portions of job that are really stressful. Drywall, wires, all over the place – total chaos – it can be really stressful. While I do use a very tidy crew, and we leave as little mess as possible, it is still disruptive. You know yourself well enough to know how you’ll handle this – will you be able to deal by escaping to another part of your home? Will you look at the disruption as exciting evidence of change being afoot? Will you be better off staying elsewhere? Will you need to make arrangements for pets? One thing I can’t stress enough about any process is that there will most likely be something that doesn’t go how you expected it to go. And here’s where the knowledge imparting portion of the face to face meeting is so important. Above all, even though there will be mis-steps, you need to know that I will be there the whole way and hold your hand. If it’s wrong, we’ll make it right.

Ultimately, after the interview and meeting, it’s a collaborative process. 2nd appointment is for logistics. I come over and measure and photograph, and have another sit-down to make sure we’re on the same page – iron out likes and dislikes. Then I go to the drawing board. If it’s a smallish job, it could take a week, if it’s a huge job, it could take six weeks. I go to my sources for inspiration – look at fabrics, fixtures, colors, for inspiration. At first, it’s a chaotic soup. There are moments of the designers equivalent of writers block, but getting through that is what makes the planning process. The dust settles, I pick a direction, come up with a space plan (dimensions of room with furniture, rugs, lighting, etc. Laid out where I think they’ll be best suited.) This is important because when people do this on their own, they buy furniture that they think will fit and it ends up being the wrong scale for the space it’s in. This is an expensive mistake that you don’t make when you’ve hired a designer. I take into consideration the traffic through the room, etc. Then I start having fun and pick the fabrics and the color palate and the furniture style. Once I have all that together, it’s time for meeting #3, where I present the plan I’ve arrived at.

After this, I get feedback – love this, love this, want different here, etc. I go make the minor tweaks. My goal is to have interviewed so well during the phone consult and initial meetings that I leave the presentation with only minor changes.

Redesigns, like the kitchen project in progress described in an earlier blog post, are a bit different. For instance, we have to work with existing materials – flooring, counters, etc. So color palate must coordinate with those things. In this instance, the counters were a terra cotta color with a backsplash with bronze accents, and the rest of the house is leaning toward a decidedly contemporary look, so I decided to follow suit with the kitchen. The initial interview highlighted what wasn’t working. The organization and flow wasn’t working that great – space was an issue, so I needed to come up with a way to create more space in the existing space. The client letting go of the coat closet, which isn’t a total necessity in southern California, would be better used as a secondary pantry for a kitchen that is used heavily for both cooking and baking.

Came up with the idea to put a cart on wheels that pulls out with the workhorses and allows you to plug that stuff in. Then you roll it away. So I try to find the ingenious solution. We decided that a built in banquette with storage in the seats and a bookcase on the other side would provide additional space and much needed storage.

The pot rack, while necessary, was interrupting the flow of the kitchen and making it feel smaller, so relocating it to over the sink will make the kitchen seem larger and less cluttered. Then, dropping in lighting over the island will provide both ambiance and task lighting for baking prep. These ideas were embraced by the homeowner, who was delighted and indicated that she’d never have come up with them on her own. The redesign is a project where I’m working with someone who is very much a hands on, do it yourself type person. However, if she and her husband don’t know how to do something, I’ve got a wide array of painters, carpenters, electricians, you name it – who can step in and make that portion of the project happen.

So now you have an idea of what to expect. It’s a collaboration between you and me. A journey we’ll be taking together – and as with all adventures, good communication and rapport make for smoother sailing toward that goal. It’s my job to chart the course by asking the right questions; it’s your job to make sure that you give the answers all the consideration they deserve – after all, this is your space we’re making better!