5 Characteristics of an Amicable Designer-Client Relationship

Building your clients trust to ensure a design project stays on track.

There's a rumor going around about designers and decorators — that we're all bossy people who roll into your lives, whip together a design plan, slap on a hefty fee and then steamroll through your house executing our vision, client be damned. Truth be told, most of us have strong opinions — it comes with the territory — but believe it or not, most of us have gotten a lot of invaluable tips, design ideas and trend information from our own very clients. 

Some have mastered the art of listening closely to their clients' needs with award-winning results. Some will admit that even though they hated a client's choice of paint or countertop, the end result was pretty darn fabulous. I actually learned about Houzz from a client — and it has forever changed my design business. Here we'll discuss the qualities that can make for a great client-designer experience.

Trust. Some of the best design projects happen when designers and clients trust one another. Designer Gigi Magness struggled with a paint color to add a modern touch to her client's historic home. Her client admittedly balked when Magness first suggested gray but fell in love once the sample went up on the wall. 

The trust paid off. The project, shown here, took first place in the 2013 Emerald Design Competition by Sherwin-Williams.

Flexibility. Be flexible with your design choices when working with a designer or on your own. You'll save yourself plenty of heartache and maybe even an ulcer or two. When you have your heart set on something, it's hard not to blow a gasket if it's been discontinued or is otherwise not available. But when it comes down to it, it's just a piece of furniture, and there is always a similar item that your designer can source that's just as fabulous.

Budget can cause similar issues. If a luxurious item like wallpaper isn't within your budget, being flexible is key. There are many ways to achieve the same result, and a good designer-client relationship will give you room to explore those options.

This stenciled look is very similar to wallpaper, and it's a fraction of the cost. If you're a homeowner or a renter comfortable doing a DIY project like this, your designer can use the funds saved to make other key purchases while you stencil away.

Diplomacy. New Jersey designer Pamela DeCuir admits she didn't like a client's countertop choice — at first. "When she showed me a picture of the sample online, I thought it was awful," she says. But when DeCuir saw it in person, she was sold. "It turned out to be the most beautiful choice for her kitchen."

There are going to be plenty of things you and your designer disagree on. I suggest handling these issues "The United Nations Way," as I call it. When someone colorfully expresses their hate for an item without a plan B, nothing gets solved. I've seen plenty of projects stalled over intense differences — or worse, the designer and client part ways with only bitter tales to share at happy hour. 

Tip: Don't rely only on online images to form an opinion on materials — it pays to order a sample and get a sense or feel of the real thing. Many companies will send free samples to the trade and clients.

Collaboration. A willingness to share ideas and take risks can make a huge difference in a designer-client relationship. For example: I love color and often suggest using bold choices in projects. But not every client is thrilled with this idea at first; some need some guidance before jumping in. Collaborating on ideabooks to see how a color works in a space, choosing paint and fabric samples together to consider other options, and taking a few calculated risks in the overall design can help both designer and client think outside the box.

Creativity. When this homeowner selected and purchased her own tiles for a bathroom project, she hit a wall with the design, says Rhoda Fry of Bill Fry Construction, hired to handle the construction phase of this project. The Frys recommended a designer who was willing to help, even at the last stage of the design process.

The homeowner had ordered too many tiles and was facing a hefty restocking fee with the tile store. The designer suggested using the tiles to create an outdoor shower — something the owner had already planned, but without using tiles. The result was more stunning and luxurious than the shower the homeowner had imagined.

Tip: It's rarely too late to seek design guidance. Even a quick consultation can save a client a lot of money and heartache.

Tell us: What are some of your best client or homeowner tales or tips?

This is a guest article by Nicole White Quin. Nicole is an interior designer and contributor to Houzz.

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