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What Your Designer Wants You to Know (but is afraid to tell you)

Hi, friends! It’s the start of the school year and you know what that means? Starbucks is peddling their pumpkin spice everything and that’s got you thinking about the holidays. And the holidays have you dreaming of entertaining and how you’d like to have your dining room Instagram ready in time for Thanksgiving. Happily, that has my phone ringing with clients who are ready to take the plunge into full-service, interior design. But before you call your friendly, neighborhood designer, there are a few things you should know—and that lovely designer you call may be afraid to break the news to you in fear of scaring you away. However, since these issues happen at all interior design firms, I think it’s best that you know what to expect so that your experience can be a happy and exciting one. If you want to discover the secrets designers wish you knew but are afraid to tell you, read on!

If you want a custom, full-room redesign in time for the holidays,

you are almost too late.

Last week, I got this notice in my email (names scribbled out to protect the innocent)…

Yes, it can take months for your custom sofa to be made…or your custom table…or your custom ottoman. Not all sources take as long but restricting yourself to quick ship items (already in stock) limits the amount of customization your design will include. For some, that’s not a big deal. But if you’re looking for a room worthy of House Beautiful, it’s going to take time and patience.

If you think going retail (as opposed to trade options through your designer) will solve that problem, that is not always the case. I recently had one client whose Restoration Hardware custom chairs took just shy of six months to come in, when the original ship date was 3 months earlier.

Good things come to those who wait.

Tradespeople are booked months in advance before the holidays.

Your designer will often recommend their favorite tradespeople as a courtesy. If you work with a design/build firm, they will likely have their own in-house tradespeople. Either way, this is one of the busiest seasons and good tradespeople are sought-after. An acquaintance lamented yesterday that it took her months to find a contractor who had time to take on her kitchen remodel. Because tradespeople are in high demand, it can take weeks to get on their roster. What are the slowest seasons? The beginning of the new year and summer.

The design process will take time—so don’t delay

You’ve finally convinced your significant other that you would benefit from designer. Afterall, he remembers the time he ordered a sectional and it didn’t fit into your living room. Or when you painted your walls in the palette you saw on Pinterest and it ended up looking like a three-ring-circus (that is literally the term a client of mine had used to describe her unfortunate DIY paint job). So, you make the call, expecting that you can be seen asap only to discover she is booked weeks in advance. Even if there is a cancellation and you can meet for a consultation sooner, there may be multiple projects in the queue, meaning yours won’t be able to start until there is room in the schedule. Once you are in, the design process itself may take several weeks from consultation, to conception, to presentation, to ordering, and finally, to delivery.

Read my blog post here about the design process.

Full, luxury Bathroom Remodel

Claudia Josephine Design

Photography by Laura Sumrak

Part of your designer’s job is to fix problems—not if they arise but when they arise.

As one of my friends in the design industry always says, design involve humans and humans make mistakes. Let me walk you through the selection of a custom sofa as an example. It starts with a designer measuring your room and creating a floor plan. As she develops her plan, she also has to make sure your new sofa can fit through any narrow entryways the delivery crew may encounter. She’s got to decide on a brand (which is usually partially determined by budget); level of quality; style of sofa; type of cushion (i.e. down-wrapped, foam, springs?); if you’re using a fabric through the same line as the sofa or going custom with a C.O.M. (Customer’s Own Material); if you will be using a contrasting welt and/or trim and/or adding custom throw pillows (with each pillow having a myriad of its own custom choices); how wide, tall, and deep the sofa will be; how the dimensions accommodate your tall and lanky husband; how the sofa will fit with the other chosen furnishings; if the fabric color’s undertone coordinates with the wall color; if the sofa meets the your criteria for style and comfort; and, if it meshes with the style and vibe of your home’s architecture. This is just to choose one sofa!

Custom Room Design by Claudia Josephine Design

Photography by Brie Williams

To place the order requires client approval; writing a purchase order; collecting payment; multiple emails back and forth with the vendor; making sure the vendor acknowledgement is accurate; determining if the chosen fabric(s) is available or on backorder; ordering the fabric; ordering a C.F.A. (Cutting for Approval), especially if the fabric is on backorder and coming from a different dye lot; approving the C.F.A.; choosing a new fabric if the C.F.A.’s color is off; making sure your correct fabric is paired with the correct sofa; tracking your order to the receiver; and having your new custom sofa delivered. Even if your designer executes each step perfectly (which she does 99.9% of the time), she may later discover that your new sofa has been damaged en route to the receiver. So, this kicks off another wave of action to ensure that your sofa is replaced (or repaired if the damage is minor) and in excellent condition when it’s delivered to your home, which can mean loss of time and money for the designer. She’s also got to break the news to you when she knows you’ve been eagerly awaiting your new sofa and will be disappointed by the delay. This process gets repeated for each item that is chosen for your room design, multiplied by each room that your designer creates for you. All along that chain, there are issues that can arise that are not your designer’s fault but that she will end up having to fix.

But this IS your designer’s job—to take care of the details and fix any issues that may arise. Even if a client had access to the trade-only sources that most designers utilize, chances are good that they would make multiple errors along the way attempting a custom design process on their own. How do I know? Because I get called in to fix mistakes that homeowners have made doing it themselves. This isn’t from a lack of smarts on my clients’ part—it’s from a lack of experience and training.

To use another example--could I figure out how to do my own taxes? Surely. But would I rather let a seasoned professional take the reigns in filing my income taxes, saving me the time, hassle, and money (from potential mistakes). Yes!

Your designer’s job isn’t just to serve as a middleperson. Her job is also to create a beautifully designed space that reflect your needs and desires for your home!

Can you order furniture on the Internet or at a local furniture store? Yes. Will you end up with an esthetically pleasing design? Maybe. However, if you hire a designer whose design style meshes with your vision for your home, chances are much better that your home will look and function beautifully. Part of the design process includes innate talent that can’t be taught. Find a designer whose look you love and put your trust in the process. You’re hiring her not only for her ability to project manage but also for her talent and vision.

We are not looking to blow your budget.

Designers need a clearly defined budget to source for your project because a budget helps guide what brands we’ll use, the quality of furnishings utilized, and the scope of the project.

There are designers for every level of budget. I have designer friends who love working with a thrifty budget using retail sources like Target and Home Goods. They can take a modest budget and work wonders. I have other designer friends who won’t work with anyone who has less than a 50k budget per room, not including design fees, but they are sourcing from manufacturers who make heirloom quality furnishings. It’s best to find a designer who is familiar and comfortable working with the budget you’re looking to spend. When I meet with clients, I now provide ranges for what I find to be viable budgets based upon project type. This way clients can make informed decisions when determining a budget.

A recent foyer refresh we did for clients.

Claudia Josephine Design

Photography by Laura Sumrak

The interior design process is like having a baby.

If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. First there is the excitement of finding out you’re pregnant. You dream about your future with a little one and imagine how your life will change for the better. You revel in the excitement that comes with knowing there’s a little bundle of joy on the way. Towards the end of pregnancy, there’s the pain in your back, overall discomfort, and readiness for the pregnancy to be over and for that baby to be outta there! Then once your bouncin’ baby is born, the feelings of joy and elation erase the memories of your 48-hour labor and resulting c-section.

The design process is much the same way. The beginning is filled with possibility and excitement. The middle with the pain of paying invoices and the frustration of waiting and possible issues that can arise with a remodel or room design. And after all the waiting, handwringing, and wondering, your design is finally installed and those feelings of love and excitement return. This is best depicted in the infographic by Staged by Stephanie below.

Infographic by Staged by Stephanie

When you know this is just a normal part of the interior design process, it makes it easier to trust your designer to handle any issues that happen. If you need a lot of handholding during the process, it’s important to tell your designer. As a designer, my role is to save you from some of the frustrations that occur during the process; however, you may feel more in control if you are frequently updated. Others prefer to get broader updates and don’t want to worry about the smaller details. Let your designer know which you prefer so she can accommodate your needs.

A recent child-friendly foyer refresh we did for clients with a young family.

Claudia Josephine Design

Photography by Laura Sumrak

What are the key takeaways?

  • If you are looking to remodel or redesign a space and are not in a rush, the slower seasons are summer and the beginning of the new year. The fall and right after tax season (when people have gotten their returns) tend to be the busiest.

  • If you are in a time crunch, being aware of a typical interior design timeline will help set realistic expectations, resulting in a more pleasant design process.

  • Problems will arise during the design process and it’s the job of your designer (and contractor, if applicable) to fix them. Knowing there will be problems will help ease your mind when they do happen. You are hiring a designer both for their fabulous vision and for their project management skills.

  • There are designers for all types of budgets. The closer the fit between your budget and your designer, the happier you will be with the end result.

Phew! Thanks for sticking with me! I know that was a mouthful and there’s more to come but I hope you found these insider secrets helpful.



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