Jane: You completely personalize the work so it’s about needs.
Pat: Yes. I’m not going to live in your space. I may not like what you select, but my job is to make sure what you want is appropriate and will work with everything else. It’s not my job to talk you out of your decisions, unless I really, really, think they are bad. Then I have to be very delicate.
Jane: Pat, tell me, how does one evaluate an interior designer? When you are ready to hire one, what should one look for?
Pat: When it comes to spaces you’ve liked, ask who did them as a start. Go through magazines looking at designers’ names whose style you like. I’m not one of those designers with a specific, recognizable look. My style is what the client wants; I’m led by my clients. There are designers out there, who have a specific style, and people resonate with it. If this is the case, then go for it. But I believe that design is a process and creating your own style should be part of it. You should be open.
Then it’s about chemistry when you meet the designer. They use the right words. Something resonates that he or she says.
I just interviewed with a woman who has medical issues. She needed to do her apartment over so that it worked within the framework of her disability; but that didn’t mean she would negate her desire for a functional and aesthetically pleasing home. I brought up the fact that I do medical offices. I understand traffic issues and how she’s going to move around. All these things come into play in design. It was a very good interview. I’m hoping that I get that project – these types of jobs are fascinating to me. I understood her situation and brought her needs to the table upfront. I’m very sensitive to her and discussed outright her limitations as well as her long-term plans moving forward. Take, for example, the kitchen. She doesn’t use it. I didn’t feel that in a studio she should have a full-size refrigerator since she has prepared meals brought in.
If your gut says I’m not sure, she’s really talented, but there’s something about her I don’t like, then don’t hire that person. It’s a long process–you’re going to be together for 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, or maybe a year. There’s got to be chemistry.
Is she going to understand and do right by me? If the chemistry is not there, you’re not doing yourself any service. Find a designer with whom you have chemistry and comfortable rapport.
Jane: Great advice. Anything else you want to add, before we wrap up.
Pat: I think the most important issue I’ve encountered with clients is budgets. They get a number in their heads and they think this bathroom is only worth xyz. This is what they are willing to spend. People just don’t understand why things cost what they do, especially in New York City. In addition, people want to keep an existing element, like a sink. But once you take something off the wall that has moving parts, like a sink, a shower, or a stove, it becomes more complicated. You may own the apartment, but you do not own what is inside the walls; the building management is responsible for the infrastructure. The building doesn’t want you to keep that old plumbing pipe that’s going to crack and cause damage throughout. You don’t want a lawsuit such that you have to now replace three ceilings from floor 3-5 because you had a leak. More money is behind the walls than what people actually see on the surface.
That’s what clients don’t understand. Then you have to deal with the plumber. He thinks he’s going to be there for two hours, and he’s got a great parking spot, but he encounters more of a problem than he envisioned. The connectors don’t work or a pipe breaks. He has to fix it and has stayed longer than planned and he’s gotten a ticket that he will pass on to you.
Then there are the times when the client says the tile you showed me is too expensive. I saw it online for much less. The truth is that it’s not the same quality, and won’t look as good or hold up as long.
In short, you’re not hiring just a designer, you’re hiring someone who will be responsible from day one through to the end result. He or she is your project manager, your eyes and ears with the contractor, and everything that goes on, including deliveries. If a designer has value, you shouldn’t have to lift a finger–other than going to showrooms (or if you prefer, samples are brought to you). The designer says here’s our recommendation. If you don’t like what you are shown, then fine. Take a day off from work, and come with me. Some people like doing this, and some can’t be bothered. But this is what you’re paying me for–it’s all about the value.