When Designers Behave Badly

Closeup Living Room Shot

By Corey Damen Jenkins for Bellacor.com

Recently over lunch, one of my clients told me that she had interviewed several interior designers prior to hiring my firm. Of course, each candidate brought something different to the table, but she commented that many possessed a condescending attitude during the vetting process. She got the impression from some that they felt they were doing her a favor by granting the interview. In fact, one designer didn’t even bother bringing a portfolio to the consultation: she claimed that her name and work spoke for themselves. Wow. Really?

I sipped my tea quietly as my client related these experiences. I readily agreed with her that considering the economy, service providers should be a bit more humble in their approach to getting new work. And I winced as she recited these stories because they reminded me of why some homeowners shy away from hiring designers: they think we’re all a bunch of divas!

Well, “rumors” notwithstanding, good interior designers are actually the lifeblood for successful projects, and wise homeowners realize that value. But while clients can be demanding at times, it is fair to say that designers also have a responsibility to “behave”, especially when being interviewed for a new project. As the old adage goes, a first impression is a lasting one. It’s vital that the client and designer get along! So what should you look for when interviewing an interior designer?

1.)    “Seeing Is Believing”: Having a portfolio is essential for designers since they claim to have the skills to create interiors. It doesn’t matter if the portfolio is electronic (swiping through a gallery on an Ipad, etc.,) or hardcover—the important thing is to have one! While perusing the body of work, use questions to draw the designer out. For example, thoughtful inquiries like “What do you think is the most unique thing in your portfolio?” and “What shows your technical proficiency best in your portfolio?” or even, “Where did you find the inspiration for that light or piece of furniture?” make for insightful conversation and gives the designer a chance to express him or herself.

2.)    “Be Web-Worthy”: In our sophisticated tech age, it’s amazing how many service providers still do not have a website! Websites are basically on-line resumes and they are the No. 1 place homeowners research before calling a designer for an interview. A designer’s website needn’t be fancy. An online portfolio, summary of experience, testimonials and before-and-afters are sufficient. But what if a designer doesn’t have a website or blog? Well, that might be a warning sign. But keep in mind that some seasoned designers are “old school” and rely solely on word-of-mouth business. So call them up anyway. Most likely they’ll have some sort of portfolio in-person. Unless of course their “name/work speaks for itself”…and that’s your cue to run for the hills.

3.)    “Bedside Manner”: Interior designers are like physicians who operate on ailing homes. That means their bedside manner (ergo their attitude) towards you is key. Personally, I’d rather have a kindhearted doctor performing surgery on me than reckless Edward Scissorhands. Similarly, technical ability is great. But if the professional is a condescending snob job with cutting words or actions the project’s morale will suffer. Working in someone’s home is an honor and privilege—not a right of passage.


So it really boils down to that initial consultation. Observe the designer’s body language. Do they “get you”? Do they make you feel optimistic about your project? Can you sense their excitement? Most importantly, do you like them? That last question is king because this person will be in your personal space for a long time. Listen to your gut instincts: human nature doesn’t lie and you need to click with this person. Designers are human beings: some are gabby and bubbly, others are more reserved and serious. But everyone can—and should—be polite especially during an interview. The best foundation for a healthy client/designer relationship starts with cordial friendliness and professionalism.

By the way, don’t forget to offer your guest a cup of coffee or refreshments at that first meeting. Since interior designers are service providers, hospitable actions from homeowners set a good first impression. Remember, you’re being interviewed too!  With the right behavior, and the right chemistry between the designer and the client, you will get stunning results!

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