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.