Last week at the Decoration and Design Building (DDB) in New York City, designers Jamie Drake, Charles Pavarini III and Brooke Gomez sat down for a discussion about the best and worst clients, and shared insightful stories and advice with attendees in the Donghia Showroom.
The panel discussion, “Perfecting the Designer-Client Relationship,” presented by Architectural Digest, was moderated by Carolyn Reed, vice president of residential sales at Donghia, who asked numerous wide-ranging questions: What should a designer look for in a potential client? How has the economy affected working with clients? And so on.
Pavarini, Gomez, Drake, Reed
Amidst gut-wrenching laughs, Drake spoke of having to fire clients, as well as the joy of working with one of his best clients, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gomez spoke of the fun she had designing reality television star Bethenny Frankel’s NYC apartment.
When asked what characteristics make up a successful designer-client relationship, all three designers agreed that open communication is key.
“In any relationship, communication is really key,” said Gomez. “Clients often don’t use the right language and don’t know how to ask for the right things, so really being able to talk with them and figure out their expectations is very helpful.”
Reed went on to ask about the warning signs when meeting with a potential client, what to look for and how you can tell if the relationship just isn’t going to work out.
Pavarini explained that clients come to him knowing his style and having seen the work that he has done. So the connection really just flows from there. He asks all of his clients to do a “homework assignment” and bring in pictures of designs that they love.
“That really starts the process of digging inside and figuring out what their tastes are,” said Pavarini. “It is a process and it doesn’t happen at the first or second meeting. This is a visual field, and when they bring us photographs we can go ‘fishing’ and figure out what it is they are looking for, and then the process really becomes more fluid.”
Drake said that if the process drags on for months and months, and after several meetings they still are not committed to hiring you, that is a sign that it is not going to work out.
Gomez admitted that it does get very personal because you are dealing with someone’s personal environment and emotions can play a roll, but it is never the end of the world.
“There is no need to get hysterical,” said Drake. “I’ve been lucky enough to have very reasonable clients, but I won’t put up with hysterics.”
“No one is going to live or die if their curtains don’t get hung today,” said Gomez. “We’re not doctors and this is not a life or death situation.”
The panel discussed the issue of the economy, and how the past five years has really affected designers. One of Drake’s clients began to search on the Internet for cheaper products, while another wanted to return things that were already purchased.
“Sometimes, you really just need to remove yourself from certain situations,” said Drake.
“Everyone has a budget now, no matter how much money they make,” said Gomez. “We have to adjust to work with that budget now, and often designers come last. They hire the architect, contactors etc. first and we come in last with often the smallest amount of money to work with.”
One of the last topics to be addressed was the very touchy subject of what to do when a husband and wife want completely different things. Gomez told the audience that she once had a husband call her and say, “Remember who signs the checks.” Her best advice was to stay out of the money, have a separate accounting department and to make sure that everything is very clear in a designer’s letter of agreement.
Overall, the designers agreed that open communication and dialogue, having a clear letter of agreement from the get go, being intuitive and aware, managing client expectations wisely and simply being on the same page with your client are the best ways to perfect the designer-client relationship.