trade tales | May 28, 2021 |
6 designers on how they manage clients’ difficult family members

Whether it’s a brooding teen or a meddlesome mother-in-law, clients often come with family members who aren’t easy to deal with. We asked six designers—Adnan Anwar, Demi Campbell, Mark Cravotta, Holly Kane, Debbie Mathews and Katherine Nedelkoff—how they make a project work when input is coming from all angles.

Demi Campbell
Demi CampbellCourtesy of Demi Campbell

Too many cooks
“For clients with difficult family members, it's all about setting expectations and establishing trust. During the consultation, I find out who the key decision-makers are and explain how the process works. During the design process, I kindly remind clients why they hired me and how important it is to me to capture their vision of home. This includes telling clients that while their friend or mother-in-law may have great ideas, they’ve hired me to bring their vision to life and create a space that truly reflects who they are. Additionally, crowdsourcing opinions only slows down the process and doesn’t allow the client to gain the confidence needed to make decisions they are happy with in the end.” —Demi Campbell, Decor by Demi, Atlanta

Holly Kane
Holly KaneCourtesy of Holly Kane

Listen and learn
“From the start of each project, we engage with our clients by learning about their lifestyle and desires. Listening closely and establishing a relationship of open communication better equips us to design a home where each family member can thrive. A difficult family member is often a person in need of feeling heard. The beauty of design is that we have the opportunity to bring balance and harmony into a space. We can transform the environment for the well-being of individuals, families, and even the greater community.” —Holly Kane, Holly Kane Interior Design, Montecito, California

Debbie Mathews
Debbie MathewsCourtesy of Debbie Mathews

Lesson plan
“When this happens, it has mostly been an issue of the spouses not being on the same page with either budget or design. In my design business, 95 percent of the time I meet with the wife only and view her as the client whose design goals I am trying to meet. Sometimes, the husband will join in when proposals are presented and deposits are required. Often, the husband will not understand why drapery or other items can be expensive. I find that educating them usually pays off. I literally met with a client’s husband one evening and gave him a lesson on how drapery is constructed with lining and interlining; the different types of pleats; how yardage is calculated; and the different types of drapery hardware. Once my client’s husband understood all that goes into making beautiful drapery, he approved the proposal and wrote the check. I believe it’s all about identifying who the client is and educating them—as well as whoever is writing the check—so that they understand how their money is being spent.” —Debbie Mathews, Debbie Mathews Antiques and Designs, Nashville, Tennessee

Adnan Anwar
Adnan AnwarCourtesy of Adnan Anwar

Shopping list
“I’ve sometimes run into a situation with extended family members who are sourcing in parallel with me, which can create a lot of inefficiency. They send my client endless links or online inspiration pictures. When this happens, my favorite strategy is to give the relative some very specific items to shop for. Then, their voice is represented and they feel empowered. I don’t give a lot of guidance on where to look, but I have been amazed by what these client family members have found. Another strategy I’ve had success with is doing accessory shopping together at a brick-and-mortar store and welcoming clients to invite family or friends to this. It’s a great bonding experience and memory of the project.” —Adnan Anwar, Adnan Anwar Design, New York

Katherine Nedelkoff
Katherine NedelkoffCourtesy of Katherine Nedelkoff

Get them involved
“Designing for any family requires a lot of interpersonal management and thought. Spouses don’t always share the same vision, and some clients may have specific ideas that aren’t practical. When it comes to teenagers, I always like to involve them in the process so they feel like they have a voice. I ask their favorite colors, give them magazines to look through for rooms they gravitate towards, and try to incorporate space for activities other than sleeping. That may be a desk for schoolwork or a sitting area for relaxing. Usually, I get preapproval from mom for two schemes and then let them decide what they like for their rooms.” —Katherine Nedelkoff, Katherine Nedelkoff Design, New York

Mark Cravotta
Mark CravottaCourtesy of Mark Cravotta

Built to last
“We don’t hear so much about unruly family members in the contentious sense, but we do hear a lot about messy family and friends. Increasingly, our clients are asking us for really durable and forgiving materials, fabrics and finishes that can handle active and feisty family members. They don’t want to fret over wet swimsuits, muddy paws or spilled wine. Fortunately, we’ve got a rich stable of possibilities to create beautiful interiors that can take what comes with a life well-lived.” —Mark Cravotta, Cravotta Interiors, Austin, Texas

Homepage: A dining room by Debbie Mathews | Photo by Ruby & Peach Photography

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