Design engagement - Homefront feature

Jacqui Smith, HomeSmiths Interior Design, Haywards Heath

By Jacqui Smith, interior designer

Having recently experienced the tender process for two commercial jobs and the hoops we had to jump through to even make the shortlist it got me thinking about how different the engagement process is between private residential and commercial clients.

A recent 22 page tender document for a new build care home development asked us to provide CVs for each member of the team, and it’s not uncommon, at fist interview stage, to be sat at a board table faced with six members of the project team. Of course the rigorous selection process makes sense commercially, and, with so many people involved in the project from the client side, it necessitates the large interview panel and gives them the opportunity to scrutinise who they might be working with for what is often a long period of time. Yet in all the 15 years which we have been in business we have only come close to an interview scenario with a residential client on two or three occasions.

The relationship with your interior designer can become a very close one and the nature of the work means that rapport, clear communication and understanding are incredibly important if everything is to run smoothly. You would not take on an employee without asking some detailed questions about their experience. You are engaging an interior designer for work and also to gauge how you might work together, so it should be more than acceptable to check them out when you meet them.

For us a great deal of our work comes through word of mouth, and personal recommendation counts for a great deal, but still the personalities need to work for the optimum client/designer relationship.

Questions to ask any designer you are considering commissioning would be relevant experience (fairly obviously), how long they have been in practice and how they trained. You might want to understand how they have dealt with more challenging aspects of a project. Interior design is a process which, regardless of how carefully planned the project is, always throws up unforeseen hurdles along the way and how the designer deals with this is definitely worth exploring.  

It’s your home, not the designer’s. Whilst they can bring to their clients, among other things, exciting new fabrics and wall coverings, a designer should not insist on clients using anything that they do not like. I know that sounds obvious but I have met many people in the past who have been robustly persuaded into a scheme which they did not feel at all comfortable with. Last year a client explained that, whilst her sitting room looked lovely, it really ‘was not her’. This should never happen. It’s the designer’s job to listen carefully to a client’s brief, analyse their style and seasonal personality and produce a scheme that looks beautiful and makes their home easy to live in. If you ever come across someone on a crusade to use a certain fabric or paint colour which he or she has been aching to use, run for the hills!

Your designer should be able to save you time and money and prevent you from making expensive mistakes. Designers will typically specify from trade sources, using suppliers with whom they have a long-standing relationship and whose quality they trust. Designers can specify from high street sources and point clients in the right direction for some online suppliers but it’s very difficult for them to vouch for quality and service. There are plenty of excellent online retailers out there but there are also those who offer discounts but little in the way of service. Sourcing through a designer will free you from hassle; they deal with all the ordering, scheduling, deliveries and any after sales issues on the rare occasion that they arise.

You will want to explore how your designer charges. The most common model these days is a design fee for pulling together the scheme and then anything they supply being charged at retail. You should look for broken down costs rather than lump sums.Your designer should be a reassuring rather than a bossy presence. You should feel comfortable in their company and the whole experience should be an enjoyable one!  01444 440880