Being an interior designer involves working with couples and families on what is often the most important investment they have: their homes. And when projects get personal, things sometimes get difficult.
So, how do interior designers handle couples who can’t agree on a design pattern? Or clients who are 100% on board with the decorating plan — until it actually comes time to make it happen? Or a project that just does not turn out well at all?
Interior designer Jennifer Mehditash is the founder of Mehditash Design, a boutique interiors firm with offices in California and New York (she’s also the Editor of the interior design blog Dec-a-Porter and an Editor at Large for California Home + Design Magazine). With more than 15 years experience as an interior designer, Jennifer has definitely seen it all. And she’s sharing with Yahoo Makers her Confessions of an Interior Designer.
We designers sometimes have to play psychologist
I think some level of psychology should be part of every interior design course. Because if you cannot read people and if you cannot help lead the conversation to somewhere positive and steer people to come to some sort of end result, then you won’t be a good interior designer; you will not be able to do your job. [Interior design] is more about psychology than it is about choosing whether things are green, purple or pink.
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We’re also marriage counselors to couples who can’t agree on their decorating plans
That’s usually difficult — dealing with couples and having them have conversations about things that they’ve never really had to discuss before. Maybe they’ve never discussed whether they like wallpaper. Or maybe they’ve never really had the conversation about what they want in their bedroom — a king bed or upholstered headboard? These things don’t often come up in your first date conversations.
Now I think with experience I have a good grasp of how to deal with those difficult conversations and how to turn what can quickly lead to an argument into something positive — where the end result becomes apparent and there’s a compromise.
We solve problems you don’t even know you have
I’ll give you an example from a house I did. It was a second home for this family with young children. When they bought the home, they thought it was perfect the way it was. But the house had what I call “ghost rooms”: the formal living room that no one uses or the formal dining room that no one uses, but they both look really pretty.
So I decided to take the formal dining room and turn it into the husband’s man cave. And turn what would be the formal living room space into a really great home theater. So now it’s a house that actually accommodates the way that this family lives.
I think that’s probably my favorite part of my job: it’s finding solutions to problems that sometimes the clients don’t even know exist and creating solutions for them. And then, obviously, making it pretty.
We need you to trust us
The most difficult part of an interior designer’s job is when your clients start to doubt you. That’s really hard to deal with. In every single project, whether you’ve worked with that client before or not, there’s what I call a “leap of faith moment” — where you have to convince them to jump off the bridge with you into a place where they’re not sure if they’re comfortable. It’s usually in the creative phase of the project when the client has to actually make a decision to let you wallpaper their ceiling, or put fabric on the windows, or do this and that. You’re pushing them a little bit beyond their comfort zone. And you’re making them trust you 100%, even though they’re not able to visualize or understand fully what the end result is going to be.
I get that that’s scary. But I think homeowners forget that if they’ve done their due diligence in the beginning when they hired you, they need to trust themselves. I try to remind them that they’ve researched me, they went to their friends’ homes and got a referral about me. Or we’ve been working together to that point where I’ve proven myself to be trustworthy and that they can believe me when I say, “I know what I’m doing; let me lead you to where you want to be.” And there’s always a moment where they have to just hold their breath and jump.
But we do make mistakes
It happens. Not often, but it does happen. You made a decision or you kinda wanted to push yourself out of your comfort zone and you risked and you tried something that you maybe have not tried before. And sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I think different designers will deal with it in different ways when that happens. Some might be like, “No, it’s fantastic!” and try and convince their clients that it’s fantastic even though everyone knows that it’s not.
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For me, I think the faster you own up to those situations, then everybody sort of has a better reaction to it. I tell my kids that all the time: "If you make a mistake, you’re human and that’s part of it. But own up to it and say it immediately and confront it head-on.” And there’s always a solution that can come from that.
Sometimes those mistakes turn out wonderfully!
I did a project at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, where 25 designers were asked to renovate the rooms for the house. We were offered our time for charity. I was doing the bathroom and I had gotten these beautiful tiles — hand-made cement painted custom tiles. But when the tiles arrived, a bunch of them were broken.
I can tell you that was a very dark moment; I must have shed a thousand tears. There were no extra tiles and there was no solution — or so i thought. We ended up rearranging the remaining tiles to make a different pattern and I added mirrors to fill in the gaps where the broken tiles would have been. The bathroom was really small so the mirrors actually helped. It was a solution that kind of appeared from the heavens above. In those moments of sheer despair came one of my happiest moments in the project. And now it’s probably one of my favorite bathrooms that I’ve done. It was a happy accident.
You can always turn things around. There’s always solution; you just sometimes need to be pushed to the brink in order to find it.
You can check out our websites. But before you hire us, you should check out our social media pages too.
Sometimes it’s hard for a client to look on my website at a picture of a house that I‘ve designed because the house isn’t similar to theirs. The architecture of the house is very different and very distinct and there’s isn’t, or vice-versa.
I ask clients when they’re considering me to go to Pinterest and look at my boards. I feel my Pinterest boards represent me probably even more so than the designs on my website because the design on my site reflect my clients. But Pinterest is a great look at me: who I am; what I like; what attracts me; what turns me on art-wise, design wise, fashion wise. Then you can see if we have a similar design aesthetic and we’ll connect. The project’s going to be successful because we see things the same way.
If we could tell you one thing, we’d tell you this:
Please, with capital letters and bold: BUDGET FOR THE AMOUNT OF FURNITURE AND OBJECTS THAT YOU WILL NEED TO BUY BEFORE YOU PURCHASE THE HOME!
Most people forget that. When they’re buying their homes, they’re looking at how much they can afford with their mortgage. They’re forgetting that they actually have to furnish it. And then they’re stuck. So the rule of thumb is you need a minimum of 10% of the cost of your home to actually furnish it. That does not include high-end finishes, that is just a bare minimum to furnish your home properly. And that means TVs and painting walls and just getting a couple of sofas, chairs, a dining table and lighting and all that kind of fun stuff. It starts to add up, believe me! And if you really want to go high-end, it’s probably 40% of the cost of your home.
So people need to know: you need at least 10% of the home’s cost to furnish it. I can’t make miracles happen. If I had a tree that made money, I’d be using it myself!