Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Rush for Regulation

In my last blog l wrote that the Society of British Interior Designers (SBID) and the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) had announced developments with regard to establishing recognised criteria for interior design qualifications. Since then an article in idfx issue 141 mentions that the Interior Design Association (IDA) is also making new efforts to forge better links between interior design education and industry, and in their Annual Review the outgoing president of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) mentions that a professional practice qualification is being developed.

It is difficult to see how 4 bodies purporting to represent the profession of interior design in aiming to develop their own individual qualification requirements are really contributing to strengthening the industry and thus producing clarification of it in the eyes of the public. ln my humble opinion the only real way forward would be for the SBID, IDA, BIID and CSD to get together and organise the best from each to form a strong cohesive organisation representing all aspects of interior design. The CSD represents more than just interior designers so perhaps the new organisation could be called the Royal Institution of Chartered Designers. The problem with this idea is that personal agendas and egos will always be an obstruction to such a development. Recently l ventured my opinion to a very experienced and wise colleague who amongst his duties advises the Government on the development of the creative industries. In line with his worldly experience he replied that it is only in times of real crisis that people in situations such as this set aside their personal ambitions and work together for the good of the cause in trouble.

l can't justify longing for a crisis in the industry and l can't change human nature so l stand on the sidelines watching the scramble for (personal) glory continue at the expense of developing the industry to which, after training for 5 years at Art College and University l have given almost 30 years of my life. An industry for which l have great passion and for which l dearly wish to see public recognition and validation and government regulation. Unfortunately l don't think it will happen in my lifetime.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Regulating the Regulators!

In the May/June issue of Interior Design Today Jim Rankin writes about the necessity for clients to know that a designer is accredited through one of the (ever growing) number of industry bodies for the design profession in the UK. He writes that although as yet there is not one single body which can truly regulate the industry he believes it will soon come. However events these past weeks indicate that the confusion is set to continue.

In the same issue of the same magazine the Society of British Interior Designers announce that they have been selected by the Interior Educators Organisation to help advise the UK’s leading universities and design courses on providing students with experience and connections to the interior design industry. This work goes hand in hand with their declared aim to ‘establish a UK-wide individual accreditation system for individual interior designers’. And on the 24th May the Chartered Society of Designers sent out a press release announcing as the first stage of their new education initiative they have accredited their first design course. At present neither the British Institute of Interior Design nor the Interior Design Association accredit any design courses.

Apparently the UK interior design industry has an annual turnover of £11.6 billion and employs over 185,500 designers. Currently there are some 60,000 students studying to become designers, although most of them are training for jobs which presently do not exist. There is no doubt in my mind that regulation is much needed. It is my opinion that the best way forward would be for all 4 Interior Design organisations to undertake discussions with each other to work out a united plan to provide the industry with regulation for the different aspects of the profession, such as residential, hospitality, retail and office design. Duplication by the various industry bodies does nothing to elevate the profession and if progress continues along the lines it is developing there is a good chance the public will be even less inclined to take the profession seriously.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Unification of Services

l noticed whilst deciding which events l want to attend during the impending London Festival of Architecture - sponsored by the Arts Council of England, Land Securities, London Development Agency, The Architecture Foundation, NLA and RIBA - that no mention was made of any interiors, nor had the Festival received the backing of any of the 4 professional bodies purporting to represent interior design. Interior design appears to be divorced from architecture when in fact the two really go hand in hand. Whilst it is generally accepted that architects are responsible for everything integral to the structure and included in the builder's contract and interior designers are responsible for everything movable there are important areas of overlap: lighting, bath and kitchen fittings, hardware, wood species and finishes for floors and cabinetry, paint colours and special wall and ceiling treatments.

Last week l had a long discussion with a prospective client whose solution to coping with the confusion, threatening lawsuits and general stress of realising a highly ambitious residential building project was to look for someone to employ as a mediator. Architects, project managers and surveyors had all fallen by the wayside before the first trench had been dug. The interior designers were not planned to enter the arena until the construction work had been completed. The client was looking for someone to carry the burden of the project. Unrealistic and too late. Why l wonder do we keep the professions apart? Shouldn't they be working together?

Wouldn't it be best from the outset to facilitate collaboration between all the professionals involved? Outlining the scope for each service, highlighting tasks that require collaboration and stipulating start and completion dates would give any project a much better chance of being successful, reduce stress and ultimately better serve the interest of our clients as well as ourselves.

In: collaboration between all the professional services involved.
Out: working in isolation and paPublish Postssing the buck.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Insurance Matters

This week l have been approached by an interior designer who has been practising in Milan for the past six years. She wanted my advice on how to set up her business in London. During the conversation l asked her if she had PI and PL insurance. l explained that Professional Indemnity insurance is to protect the designer from the consequences of serious professional mistakes and Public Liability is to insure the designer against causing personal injury. Needless to say she had no idea that she could either be held legally responsible for such situations or that it is possible -and essential- to insure oneself in this way.

l remembered an incident, years ago, when an interior designer l knew was responsible for the carpeting of a five floor house. Measurements were taken and plans drawn up on standard tracing paper and then a photo copy was made and given to the carpet fitters who decided that because such huge quantities were involved they would cut out the basic room pieces in the warehouse, roll them up, label them and deliver them to site to fit. Imagine the horror when it transpired that the photocopy was made with the tracing paper facing the wrong way up and all the rooms had been reversed. (Apparently the labelling had been added to the copy afterwards.) PI insurance came to the rescue.

And then there was the time my grandmother fell over the gas man's bag where he had left it in her sitting room when he went to read the gas meter and she broke her risk. The Gas Board's PL insurance was invaluable.

The smallest mistake can have expensive consequences and whilst none of us ever want to be in the position of having to claim on our insurance policies it is our duty to ourselves and to our clients to have them in place.

IN: Designers who carry PI and PL insurance.
OUT: Designers who don't. Ignorance is no excuse!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Shattered Hopes

For some years now it has been my desire to see interior design recognised by the public as a profession and as such subject to regulation. It is my belief that interior design, real interior design not cushion shuffling, is worthy of being ranked alongside architecture and chartered surveying. Today students are undertaking 3 - 5 year university courses in the subject and when they practice operate with the appropriate Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance and continuous professional development requirements in line with the two professions l have already mentioned. However, this week l have had to face up to the reality that there is no likelihood of this happening during my career and possibly lifetime. This month's Interior Design Today magazine features an article on the two newest bodies set up to represent interior designers: the SBID and IDA which along with the CSD and BIID now makes a total of four!

Many of my colleagues agree with me that these developments only serve to further confuse the public and dilute the industry's standing. Unless and until the SBID, IDA, CSD and BIID (and any other newcomers in the intervening period) get together and formulate a single body to represent all aspects of interior design the likelihood of the industry becoming recognised as a profession will remain improbable.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Using a Designer

This week l have been talking to my colleague James Charles about the reasons clients make the decision to hire a designer. We came to the conclusion that clients usually have one of the following reasons for engaging a professional: they appreciate good design and want the input of a professional; they are time poor; they recognize that they do not have the ability to produce attractive and suitable solutions themselves; they want a designer to create spaces which express their life style.

The Client-Designer relationship is intended to be highly beneficial. Clients will achieve the best results if they allow their designers to do what they do best and let them use their expertise. Some find this difficult, after all in the instance of a residential interior a person's home is at stake and this can be highly emotive. If clients are able to maintain a 'hands off' approach they will contribute hugely to enabling the designer to achieve solutions which exceed their expectations.

Once the project is underway the 'hands off' approach for a client can become even more challenging. It might help to remember that paint is paint and fabric is fabric. Design evolves, and whilst the first stages might seem to be lacking cohesion all will fall into place by the final stage.

Try to enjoy the journey even though a design project is one time when the importance rests almost entirely on the destination.

IN: Clients who maintain a 'hands off' approach.

OUT: Clients who want to control the design decisions.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Intelligent Design: Concept or Theme?

It's my belief that good design is only possible if it is inspired by an excellent concept. A concept is quite different from a theme. l have witnessed many projects inspired by a theme: Greek pillars, Egyptian mummies, the proverbial blue and terracotta of Morocco and so on. But for me these spaces usually have none of the criteria by which l would define professional interior design.

So what do l mean when l talk about concept? Examples are probably the best way to elaborate. A colleague of mine recently completed a very smart Japanese restaurant. Her concept was an ear of rice and water. Rice is the staple diet of Japan and cannot grow without plenty of water. When ready for harvest the ears of rice shine gold so she used gold for the main colour and added contrast by using dark oak and black and white. The flow of water has inspired the fringes which circle the lighting and hang down from the ceiling in the dining area and also the beautifully curved shape of the plates. True to the concept the ears of rice provided inspiration for the logo of the restaurant. The result is a beautiful sophisticated space and a true example of everything that any self-respecting interior designer aims to achieve.

Similarly a couple of years ago when l had been asked to transform a TudorBethan themed space into a Thai restaurant l was inspired on a visit to an exhibition by a photograph taken by Andy Small of a beautiful orchid which to me epitomized all that is Thai. Ultimately the entire interior of the restaurant and the logo related to that photograph. http://www.andysmall.co.uk/

IN: Design inspired by a concept.

OUT: Interiors inspired by a Theme.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Keeping up Appearances


Mine was a humble upbringing and there was no money for private college fees. Luckily my training was supported by grants from the ILEA and Wandsworth Council. When l started practising it could have been easy for clients to detect my astonishment and sometimes shock at the amounts of money some of them spent, but one of my mentors had told me that l should not be judgemental nor should the words 'lounge' (except in connection with pubs and hotels), settee and toilet pass my lips. He explained that clients use designers to create an image of their life style and they would not be comfortable with anyone who was not conversant with it. A few months into my career l was heartened to receive a phone call from a well-meaning client urging me to hurry down to a certain store on Sloane Street where cocktail dresses were reduced in a sale to as little as £2,000. This to me was confirmation that l had succeeded in gaining my client's trust as an equal, although in financial terms nothing could have been further from the truth.

Personal Style
Everyone knows how important first impressions are. l knew a very successful Creative Director in advertising who didn't own a tie. When l asked him why he told me his clients expected him to look 'creative' and that they would not hire someone who looked like them. Similarly there are expectations of interior designers 'though personally l look terrible in the ubiquitous black and prefer to wear bright colours. My style is a conscious statement inviting clients with courage and humour!

IN: Designers who work at putting their clients at ease

OUT: Clients who fail to grasp that talent and ability are the most important qualities for a designer.

Contracts & Fees

It is good business practise not to begin a new project until a contract has been drawn up and agreed. In conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects and published by them, the British Institute of Interior Design has developed a contract entitled "Form of appointment for Interior Design Services (ID/O5)" for this specific purpose. This contract has become recognised by judges and recently when a colleague was attending a court case in his capacity as an Expert Witness the judge enquired at the outset whether there had been an ID/05 agreement and when he was told there had not the judge asked why not.

IN: Designers and Clients who agree a formal contract, preferably an ID/05.

OUT: Designers and Clients who forego any formal agreement. The likelihood is it will end in tears.

Fee Basis
This is a thorny issue. In 2008 Members of the then British Interior Design Association had a discussion about methods of charging which only served to confirm that there are almost as many ways of arriving at a fee as there are design practices. However the following is a breakdown of the most frequently encountered methods:

1. An hourly rate. The designer will keep a time sheet for each project and on it will be recorded what was done and when. A limit to the number of hours may be agreed beforehand so that a client can anticipate the likely cost. Hourly rates in London currently vary from approximately £70 to well over £100, depending on the experience and reputation of the design practice.

2. A fixed fee basis. An experienced designer will probably have a reasonably good idea of the amount of time needed for certain aspects and can use this knowledge to arrive at a fixed fee agreement with the client. However, when fixed fees are involved it is essential that the contract states exactly what is and what is not included.

3. A percentage basis. This is more commonly applied when the designer is to act as a Project Co-ordinator and is anything from 15% - 20% of the total contract cost.

The Designer earns payment for different aspects of a contract: Design Fees, Project Co-ordination Fees, and retaining any trade discount when purchasing items for the client. The designer may pass on some discount, usually up to 10%. However this is entirely at the discretion of the designer.

Is it time to put together a Scale of Fees for interior design? What do you think?

Interior Designer or Interior Decorator?

There is often confusion about the role, purpose, responsibility and value of the interior designer, or as known in Europe: Interior Architect, and how it differs from that of an Interior Decorator. (In the UK the term Architect is protected; the only other people who can use the term apart from Architects are Landscape Architects and Naval Architects.) Currently there are a series of Think Tanks being set up internationally to determine the interiors entity in the 21st Century. The conclusions will not be published for at least another 18 months so until then l set out below my personal understanding of the roles. Please feel free to add your own appreciation of the two roles.

Interior Designer
A person who is professionally qualified to at least BA Degree level and undertakes work which involves the use of space and light. In addition to soft furnishing, lighting design and detailed drawings for bespoke aspects of the design they will have a basic knowledge of construction, observe the requirements of Planning Control, structural engineering calculations and Building Control inspectors. These are the creatives employed to re-design interiors, possibly by gutting them and re-configuring the space.

Interior Decorator
A person who is professionally qualified to Certificate level and undertakes to put together room schemes to include all aspects of soft furnishing e.g. paint, wallpaper, flooring, furniture, artwork, window treatments, cushions etc. lf a lighting scheme is required they will probably refer to a lighting designer. lf bespoke pieces of furniture are required they will probably refer to a furniture designer.

IN: Interior Designers and Interior Decorators, they both have their place.

OUT: The limited use of the word Architect.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The First Meeting

So you're a bona fide client-in-waiting, have done your homework and arranged to meet one or two interior designers whose style you like. What can you do to help yourself choose the right person? Please feel free to add your own comments but in this instance it is not appropriate to tell designers exactly how to take a brief.

IN:Clients who have prepared by having a selection of images of schemes they like. These can come from many sources: (including being impressed with the work the designer has done for someone they know), magazines, books, the designer's own website etc. Know what you like. If you do this you will soon discover whether or not the designer is on the same wavelength as you.

OUT:Clients who want plagiarism. It is to be remembered that they are commissioning someone to design something specifically for them. It's a waste of the designers' talent and a lost opportunity if they want something copied, similarly if they have made all their choices already and just want the designer to undertake to bring their own scheme to reality.

Most projects last for several months so it's important that both parties feel they are on the same wavelength and that they'll be able to work together. Neither the designer nor the client should make assumptions. l remember an occasion when l made a frustratingly incorrect assumption. The couple concerned lived in a large, cluttered, singularly unimpressive and very outdated house. They gave me the impression they had only been in the house a couple of years and they talked excitedly about the changes they wanted to make to their home. Many weeks later it became apparent that they had in fact lived in the house for over 16 years and had been struggling to decide how to redecorate ever since the day they moved in.

That is the only time l have encountered someone with a genuine psychological problem: the poor woman just couldn't make a decision and stick with it and her husband just couldn't take charge. So far in 26 years of practice it is the only commission l have had to resign. With hindsight l should have asked more direct questions such as if the existing interior was their own choice and how long they had lived there.

IN: Designers who ask searching questions.

OUT: Clients who withhold relevant information.

Making Contact

Word of mouth, the Internet and searching the website of the recognised pre-eminent body for UK interior design (British Institute of Interior Design www.bida.org) are all common ways of selecting an interior designer. Amazing architecture and vast sums of money do not have to be involved, professionalism does: from both the designer and the client. Today interior designers will have spent up to 5 years training and if they are BIID Full Members have at least seven years' experience. They will also carry public liability and professional indemnity insurance. They have earned the right to be treated with the same respect that a client would offer a dentist or a solicitor (for example).

l often encounter people describing themselves as potential clients, phoning around many design practices asking for free site visits and making appointments with four or more designers. Sometimes the amount of travel involved will mean almost an entire day is given to making the visit and the likelihood is that the 'client' will just pick the brains of each designer and then think she (and it usually is a she, l am not being sexist here) has all the ideas she needs (although probably not the expertise) to undertake the job herself. Please feel free, whether designer or client to add comments about your own experiences.

IN: Designers: it is reasonable to ask an enquirer how many interior designers are to be involved in the selection and also to request a site visit fee. If the economic crunch means you are nervous about making such a request you will at least have some idea of whether you will be wasting your time, incurring travel expenses and giving away your expertise for nothing before deciding whether to go.

OUT: Clients: if you are only looking for ideas to use yourself search magazines, (Elle Decoration, 25 Beautiful Homes, Ideal Home Magazine) stores, the Internet etc.