The Real Value of Interior Design – Pat Gericke Talks Space and Style

pat gericke

 Pat Gericke artfully helps transform space. The result is a space that not only looks beautiful, but functions beautifully. This is as important in a home as it is in a professional environment. Jane Tabachnick interviews this New York City based interior designer on her work and philosophy. 

Jane: Pat, people have a perception that an interior designer is a luxury. Can you address this view?

Pat: It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity. As a designer or architect, we work with visual aesthetics, but it’s not just about them. It’s about the space and how you develop it. You have to ask: how does it function? What is the person using it for? You really get down to the nitty-gritty this way. It’s all in the little minute details. It’s what makes the room flow, what makes people feel comfortable. It must be organized; everything in its place. That’s where the dollar value comes in. It’s not the color of the walls.

Jane: So it sound like it applies especially to places like New York, where real estate is at a premium and you get less space for your money. A designer such as yourself could bring incredible value.

Pat: Absolutely, especially when you look at the size of bathrooms and kitchens in NYC. It’s important to make good decisions that work over the long term for the home owner. I’ve also worked in both city and suburban areas where a lot of people have looked at TV programs and have seen unbelievably large bathrooms.

I have had clients who wanted Jacuzzis despite my recommendation against it.   I don’t like Jacuzzis as they’re high maintenance. Most of the time I go back six months later and ask, “How’s that Jacuzzi working for you?” And they say, “Oh my God, I don’t have the time to sit there for an hour in a tub.” It’s my job to give them the facts. Why put in a Jacuzzi when most of the time it’s an expensive novelty, they won’t get the perceived value from it.  

Jane: In effect you save people from themselves.

Pat:   Yes. It’s about getting people to really think about their decisions, and it’s often emotional. Even with office space, I have to guide clients to make a decision that I know, even if they don’t at first, that it’s in their best interest and will deliver the most value for them.

Jane: Tell me about your clients

Pat: I work with a wide range of clients and to both office and residential work. I have a number of clients who are doctors. The office is really their first home: their true home is secondary–where the kids and the wife live. Once I work with them to design and layout their office, they turn their homes over to me. They know that I understand who they are–not only as a professional, but as a real person. I know their likes and their dislikes, and that’s really the key to achieving good design. Most people don’t know what they want. Want and need are two different things.

Jane: Pat, what do you tell people who say they don’t need a designer, that they can do it themselves, or that a contractor can handle it. Why is that not a good approach?

Pat: I think it’s a mistake. Most people think they can do it themselves, but they don’t know what’s out there in the market. They look at magazines and run then around to different stores and showrooms, and they get overwhelmed and can’t make a decision.

For example, years ago a client showed me a picture of some magnificent doors in a villa. She wanted to use them in her apartment dressing area. I suggested we could scale them down to be able to use them. “What do you mean scale it down?” she asked. “They’re going to look different!” I had to explain that they looked great because they were in a villa with 18-foot ceilings, in a room larger than the size of her entire apartment!

It’s about proportion and scale. In this case it wasn’t a question merely of how they would look, they wouldn’t physically fit in the apartment – something she had never thought of. You have to think of the total picture and how everything works together. You have one bad element and it all comes down like a domino effect.

As for contractors, do you trust that the one you select will know your needs and tastes? Most of the contractors I know don’t. They want to sell you the tile they have left over from another job. I’m not saying all contractors are like this; but most of the time, they don’t want to be bothered. They want to go into a job and get out quickly.

Jane: So in some ways, unlike interior designers, contractors don’t have your best interests at heart.

Pat: Exactly. They don’t care whether you buy a marble that’s going to stain. A contractor will assume that you did your homework and they only care that the materials for the job are on site. “You want to use it, lady, go ahead. Here’s is what it’s going to cost.”

As designers and architects, our responsibility is first and foremost the client. We are responsible for producing a project appropriate for the person who is going to use it. You may use your living room differently than Mary Jane down the street. Because you love Mary Jane’s living room doesn’t mean you should end up with it. As much as you think you and Mary Jane are the same, you are not. You may not entertain the same way. Yes she had a big party, and you will have a big party. But you know what? Mary Jane only does it once a year. You have people coming over at least once a month. Your needs are completely different, and that’s what people don’t take into account, whereas as a designer, I factor all that in to give the client the best result.

Jane Tabachnick

Jane Tabachnick is a bestselling author and a contributor to CNN, Firepole Marketing and other publications where she covers influencers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.