As I was brainstorming blog post ideas for this week, I had just got off a call with one of my friends. She hired an interior designer and was questioning some things. It got me thinking that client / designer etiquette or cultivating a good working relationship may not be common knowledge. Having been in the design industry for many years, I thought it may be helpful to list out some common pet peeves designers often run into with their clients. Click through for 10 ways to be a bad interior design client… and how to avoid being that person. Trust me, your project and outcome will turn out its very best if you have good communication and a respectful relationship with your designer!
If you have worked with a designer, you’re already familiar with how the process works. If you haven’t worked with a design professional in the past, check out this post on what it’s actually like the work with a designer. Hopefully it will help shed some light on the process, their job duties, training, and can help you decide hiring someone in the future would be beneficial for your project! Now, let’s dive into what NOT to do as a design client…
1. Being Unaware or Unrealistic About Your Budget
Some clients don’t fully understand what things cost… and why should they know the price of a handmade mohair sofa or how much labor will cost to install kitchen cabinetry? It’s not common knowledge. Luckily, designers can help guide and establish a baseline budget. However, you have to be realistic about your budget and totally up front about it. Share with your designer what you expect to spend, your goals for your project, and they can assist in determining what you can get with the budget you have. Perhaps budget constraints means completing the project in phases, maybe it means eliminating something, or you may need to increase your budget to get everything on your wishlist. Regardless, always go in with a budget and always be totally honest about it with your designer. Otherwise, you may be wasting their time and resources. That brings me to my next point…
2. Expecting Discounts or “Shopping” Your Designer
While I do believe interior design is a fun job- it’s still a job. Designers make money two ways… for their time or hours spent on a project, as well as from commission. Commission makes up the larger piece of the pie. Trade pricing is in place so that industry professionals can make a living. Some designers pass that discount along to their clients (or split it), but charge a higher hourly or per project rate (to recoup the cost). Most designers don’t pass their trade discount along to clients because that’s how they make a living. It also allows them to have a competitive design rate. Don’t go into a client/designer relationship expecting discounts. Your designer will let you know exactly how they work and will give you a detailed estimate.
The absolute worst thing you can do is to “shop” your designer. What exactly does that mean? They present you with a plan and an estimate for the items it includes, then you take that plan and find the same (or similar) items on your own… playing the comparative price game. Buy the furniture, decor, fixtures, and lighting through your designer. They took the time to create a personalized plan for you and find these beautiful items… and that’s also how they make a living. Some designers even have contracts in place to prevent this, because it happens more often than you might expect. If your budget is that tight or you have that much time to shop pricing, maybe working with a full-service designer in that capacity wasn’t the right path for your project. Perhaps taking the DIY route or simply booking a consultation with advice to point you in the right direction to shop on your own would have served you best.
This situation often occurs when clients aren’t up front about their budget or are unaware of how much things cost. Sure, as an industry professional- I understand the value, heirloom quality, and price of that handmade, mohair sofa, filled with down cushions, atop a kiln dried frame… made in the USA (most likely North Carolina). However, some clients can have sticker shock which leads them to shop for “better options” on their own when they see a $12k price tag for a piece of furniture. Trust that your designer has your budget in mind and will use it wisely, based on your goals.
3. Not Trusting Your Designer
You probably anticipated this point coming next. It’s very important to hire a designer your trust. Lack of trust can ruin projects and working relationships. You hired your designer for professional help, in hopes of a stress-free renovation or build… as long as you’ve communicated your goals, budget, aesthetic, and needs… allow them do their job. They are the professional and also want the best possible outcome for your project. At the end of the day, designers always want their clients to be happy. They appreciate beautiful projects and good working relationships. Micromanaging stifles creativity, eats into your budget, and can cause strain in designer/client relationship.
4. Allowing Your Designer to Play Referee
This surprisingly happens more than most would care to admit, but some clients bring drama with their significant other to their designer. Sometimes it’s in regards to the budget, where a partner will ask a designer to remove line items or charge a different form of payment in an effort to hide costs from their significant other. Other times spouses can’t agree on the aesthetic or direction they want to head, even though they live under the same roof. This can result in putting the designer in uncomfortable situations to mediate. Don’t expect your designer to persuade your S/O to get on board with the idea you like. Don’t expect your designer to play counselor or referee in your relationship, for the sake of your design project. Make mutual decisions with your partner (if they want to be involved in the process), and be up front about the cost. Believe me when I say, this will prevent many uncomfortable conversations. Sure, your designer will present their personal feedback and the option they prefer, but then it’s up to you and your significant other to approve it.
5. Not Properly Communicating
You would assume having a client that says, “Just run with it!” would be a designer’s best case scenario for creative freedom. However, often times it backfires when a client gives the designer “complete control”- they still have expectations or a vision in their mind and end up being disappointed. Be sure to clearly communicate your goals, budget, vision, and hopes for your project. Having a few parameters actually forces designers to get creative. Personally, I like having a few points or parameters to run with. At the same time, allow them to do their thing. Checking in everyday or even every week isn’t necessary. Be sure to communicate, but trust their process.
6. Having Unreasonable Expectations
Similarly, clients often have unreasonable expectations. Whether it’s too much inspiration (I once had a client bring 50+ Pinterest pins to a meeting, and none of them were consistent), an unrealistic assumption of what they can get with their budget, a skewed timeline, or assuming that designers can work magic (ha, to an extent!)… level with and listen to your designer if they tell you something is not realistic. Choose a direction, stick with it, understand the budget and timeline, communicate, and avoid making unplanned changes throughout the process. I also think it’s worth noting that manufacturing lead-times are out of your designer’s hands. Sure, they’ll keep you in the loop… but it doesn’t help to get angry with them, when it’s out of their control. The industry lead-times are absolutely insane right now, and designers are struggling through it the best they can. Remember- they’re humans with feelings, too. They want that pretty mirror or sofa installed in your home just as badly as you.
7. Making Last Minute Changes
Each designer has their own policy on making changes. In their contract and estimate, you’ll know exactly how many changes they accept, during each phase of the project. It’s important for a client to understand their designer’s policy on changes and updates before a project begins. This is to the benefit of both the client and the designer. Some indecisive clients continually make changes. They’ll hop on Pinterest, see something new, and immediately want to apply it to their design plan- which doesn’t aways fit the budget, timeline, or even their aesthetic. This results in lost time, money, and energy for both parties. Do communicate your likes and dislikes during the presentation phase of the project, but once things are approved- stick with that direction to avoid fees and adding time to your already tight deadline. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that design is not a one size fits all solution… something that looks lovely on Pinterest may not work well in your home.
8. Not Taking the Advice of Your Designer
Your designer is an industry professional. They have the skills and knowledge to bring your vision to life… and most of the time- give you something better or more functional than you had even imagined! Trust them and take their advice. Sometimes that requires starting with a clean slate, getting rid of existing pieces, or rethinking things. Change can be difficult for some clients, but try not to get so attached for the best result. If your designer makes a recommendation, it’s in your best interest. Sometimes it’s tricky for clients to see where their designer is headed with a plan, which causes them to ignore their advice. Visuals and samples help, but for some- it can be difficult to see the overall concept. The bottom line? Listen to your designer. It’s ok to ask questions and express your concerns, but listen to their recommendations. After all, that’s what you’re paying them for.
9. Crossing Boundaries
I learned about setting boundaries with clients the hard way. My first year practicing residential interior design, I wanted to be accessible to my clients 24/7. I would take a call at any given time (even on vacation). I even made the mistake of giving clients my personal cell phone number (in addition to my work number). I was getting lots of texts and calls after my set hours… sometimes at midnight or on Sundays. Please understand that like any other profession, designers do not work around the clock. Try to communicate with them during their set business hours. Avoid texting or calling on weekends or during the late hours of the night. Understand that your designer is still focused on your project, and they may even be putting in time on your project after hours… but it’s not appropriate to contact them during those times or to expect an immediate response outside of their set window. Would you call your mail carrier or accountant on a Sunday, if you needed something or had a question? Probably not. Just be respectful of your designer and their time.
10. Being Impatient
Today, it’s easy to be impatient. We live in a world with instant gratification, same day Amazon deliveries, and HGTV makeovers that are basically finished in 30 minutes. That’s not the reality when it comes to quality interior design, renovating, and building. Good things and good homes take time. Try to be patient! Some renovations or new builds can take years to finish. For styling or furnishing an entire home, you’re looking at 5-10 months (maybe more with current lead-times). Your designer will communicate the schedule and timeline… they’ll also do their best to make it happen as planned, but being patient is always worth the wait. Remember- you’ll have a beautiful, timeless home at the end of the process, that you’ll enjoy for years to come!
I hope this post was helpful! Whether you’re planning to work with a designer in the future, are a current client, or are just curious about the process- designers have a fun & rewarding, but tough job. Try to be a good client and cultivate a healthy working relationship with your designer. It will manifest in your project outcome! Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to share additional information. Kudos to all of the designers out there! While I haven’t taken on client projects in years, I love cheering for my friends who are constantly producing gorgeous work for theirs.
LaurenAugust 22, 2022 at 7:50 am
10 hard truths on a Monday morning, hahahah!! This was such an interesting post to read, not just for the good advice but for the drama tidbits designers have to put up with. I’ve personally seen someone I know hire a design professional and do all of these things. As a bystander, it was easy to see why she wasn’t getting what she had hoped from the professional she hired. Ultimately the project was finished, but the timeline had doubled. It was a beautiful end result, but had she focused more on trusting the professional she hired, it could have been that much more beautiful and in less time. Playing referee to spouses was an interesting point to hear about. It probably happens more often than designers care to admit. I know 100% the differences in my and Jeff’s aesthetic would never be suitable for hiring a professional to tackle a project. Often times when we’re faced with a project, those differences have to be sorted out as we move along. That’s too much to expect a professional to deal with. This post is so helpful for those who are looking to work with a designer, and those who are thinking about it. Thank you for sharing Sarah! I hope your weekend at Lake Powell was amazing. I can’t wait to hear about it. Happy Monday!
SarahAugust 27, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Haha!! Maybe I didn’t plan this post appropriately. I should have scheduled it for Friday when everyone is happy and ready for the weekend. Lol! It definitely helps when both spouses are on the same page. I feel like it’s important to align with your S/O before diving into a project. If you can agree on your must-have list and narrow down a couple aesthetics for your designer to interpret, you’re golden. I’m still recovering from Lake Powell, ha! It was the best time, but now I’m in catch up mode. It’s easy to see why your grandparents loved that place so much- it’s really special and absolutely stunning.
AmandaAugust 22, 2022 at 7:58 am
Oh gosh this is so accurate. I only worked as a designer professionally for two years (then got pregnant with twins and incredibly sick, now have baby twins and a chronic condition, so I’m done working for the foreseeable future). But dang, I didn’t realize how much PTSD I had from bad clients and a poorly organized business. My boss was the most casual, disorganized person (frustrating, but gave me so much flexibility for my down days with chronic issues). But every point hit home- especially budget and partner issues 🙈. And working magic- every client wanted their dream mood board we would put together, but for like 2k and done in three weeks when they get back from vacation. As a person, I understand where they’re coming from, it’s just not respectful or realistic. I wish they would sort out their priorities first and then feel comfortable knowing how much they’re ok spending for what quality they want. Anyway, super accurate, and sounds like you don’t really miss client work too much, haha!
SarahAugust 27, 2022 at 12:44 pm
Oof, I feel for you Amanda! I also had some less than pleasant experiences with clients and it can be tricky to navigate. I definitely don’t miss those stressful client conversations, but I do miss working with wonderful & thoughtful people- and projects outside of my own home! Maybe someday I’ll get back into it, but for now- I’m pretty content.
PeggiAugust 22, 2022 at 8:02 am
Good morning! Interesting topic! I think several of these mistakes could be avoided by having clear information and expectations. Maybe because of the exposure to so much design (tv, IG, blogs, magazines), folks think they know more about the job than they do. Everyone is an expert. Ha. That’s where the initial meeting with the designer would be crucial! You’re paying a designer for more than just their technical knowledge; you’re accessing their artistic vision. That can be difficult to quantify, and I think that’s also why trust is so important. I appreciate how services like “The Expert” are attempting to provide broader access to designers. I’d be curious to hear how all involved parties like this model. Regardless of how the design services are structured, some of the behavior you outline seems to fall under “Don’t be a Jerk.” Calling at all hours, being dishonest and impatient, ignoring expert advice…yikes. Why do people need reminders about these? And relationship drama? Gulp. No thank you, sir. Now that I think about it, maybe I understand why you don’t take client work anymore. Lol. Hopefully, your clear guidelines here will make the process smoother for those who do!
I hope you’re having the loveliest time! 💜
SarahAugust 27, 2022 at 12:42 pm
I definitely agree with you, Peggi! I think expectations and communication is key in avoiding most of these. I also agree with your statement on the saturated design market, DIY, and the access that makes everyone feel like an expert. I also like that the Expert is providing a broader access to designers, in whatever capacity clients are looking for. I’ve been toying with joining, since you can set your hours and scope.. but I’m not convinced I have time to commit this year. Maybe next! I stopped taking on clients years ago because I enjoy having complete creative freedom with the blog, renovating our own house, and the shop, but I do miss working with wonderful people and projects outside of my own home. Maybe someday!
Danna FAugust 22, 2022 at 12:27 pm
I opened up the blog and read the title and thought you were talking to me. HA! How to be a good client has been on my mind. First of all, I want to find the “right fit” which can seem daunting. Would you think it is a good idea or one full of challenges if I used one that is not local? I ask because each time I admire a designer’s aesthetic, I am a little disappointed that they are from another state. I am still searching for one here even if they are 3 hours away.
You have given us all very good points for how to “behave” as a client. ;) I know that my husband & I really need to sit down at each phase and really communicate about our wants and expectations first before we go into it and find out then. We have already done some of the work but we recently decided to put a ‘hold’ on our building plans. We feel the need to wait. Until then, we are looking into buying an investment property. I say that lightly because we really just came to this decision and we may change our minds again. I need to go back and read your earlier post on working with a designer.
Have a great Monday! Hope your trip to Lake Powell is wonderful!
SarahAugust 27, 2022 at 12:37 pm
Haha! I can’t imagine you being a bad design client, Danna. You’re one of the sweetest people I know! Ha. I totally agree that finding someone who is the right fit for your project is the most important… and that can take some time. I’m partial to working with a local designer, just to be able to meet in person and see swatches close up, but it’s definitely not necessary. There are plenty of designers who do phenomenal remote work, and e-design is still gaining popularity. If you can’t find a good match locally, I wouldn’t shy away from someone who is in another state, but is perfect for your project. You have me dreaming of coming out of my interior design “retirement” (lol!) to help with your project. That would be so fun! Communication will be key- between you and your husband, as well as with your designer or architect. I’m glad you’re listening to your gut… if it’s telling you to hit pause and wait, lean into that. Good things and home takes time! I love your idea of an investment property. The beauty of life, home, and design is that you’re able to change your mind as often as you’d like! I’m a big believer in doing what makes you happy- if something is no longer enticing or serving you, change the plan or switch things up. I hope your weekend is off to a good start :) xo
Jennifer LauraAugust 23, 2022 at 7:47 am
I love all of this! I worked with clients for years as a wedding planner and this advice is applicable to that as well! It’s also a big reason I’m not eager to take interior design clients even though that’s the field I work in now!
SarahAugust 27, 2022 at 12:31 pm
Thank you! Juggling client relationships can certainly be tricky. I imagine this applies to many creative industries. I hope you’re having a great Saturday :)