Many in the industry knew Designer Previews when it was run by Karen Fisher, an interior design expert and trend forecaster. She created one of the most widely used “matchmaking” services pairing residential and commercial clients with designers and architects. After she died three years ago at age 72, design journalist Donna Paul took the reigns as the official owner and president of the New York-based company, and has since expanded the business to include branches in Los Angeles and Miami.
“We knew [Designer Previews] was a business that had been such an important part of the design community in New York that it shouldn’t lapse,” said Paul.
Paul follows the same process Fisher did. She meets with clients who are looking for residential redecoration or restaurateurs wanting a fresh space for a new restaurant or store owners looking into new retail ventures, and discusses the goal, budget, aesthetic and scope of the project—then finds the solution.
“I see their spaces and do a presentation for them of various designer’s portfolios that I think fit their vision,” said Paul. “It can take one visit, it can take two. I tell all my clients, I’m ‘theirs’ until we find the right designer or architect for them. I talk with clients many times on the phone if they need me, and it can go on for weeks. I’m a therapist, a design consultant and ultimately the ‘connector.’”
This reporter chatted with Paul to learn more.
How did you know Karen Fisher?
I met Karen in 1995, so I knew her for about 17 years. I was doing a book, "The Home Office Book," which was the first book on really stylish home offices (now so common, but back then, so new), and her office where she ran Designer Previews was fabulous. As everyone who met with her knows, she had a rent-controlled 500-square-foot penthouse in Gramercy Park with a terrace. I also wrote about that apartment in the New York Times Home section in 2000, when she had lived there for 20 years. She was an amazing person, a visionary and a dear friend. I took over Designer Previews in 2011 when she became ill and I purchased the business from her estate in early 2012.
How is Designer Previews different today?
The business is different now in the way I meet with clients, in their own spaces, which they prefer. I have to be more service oriented, and I don’t use the old book style portfolios for presentations, everything I show is on PowerPoint or on my iPad. And, I can easily travel all over the country if I need to, to meet clients.
Also, my website is much deeper—it has many more photos to look at and it has a blog where I write fairly long articles. Given my journalism background—I wrote about design for many years at Metropolitan Home, and other major shelter magazines—that is still part of who I am, so I enjoy writing blog posts that are real articles. I cover hotels, art shows and all kinds of topics that relate to design and lifestyle that I am passionate about and that I think my clients will resonate with.
What makes Designer Previews distinct from other “matchmaking” services?
People are overwhelmed in their lives, they have too much information coming at them and it’s a relief for my clients to have someone take away the pressure of sorting through websites—as I streamline the process for them. My clients are generally not people who want to, or have a lot of time to sit and scroll through websites. And, they like service. I can not only guide and help focus them, I knowledgeably answer their questions that no website can. There’s tremendous value in that for them. They also appreciate that I have vetted all the designers or architects ahead of time. Every year since I started there has been growth. I have a very good rate of success.
Why did you pick Los Angeles and Miami as the two new cities to launch in?
I chose L.A. and Miami as the two new cities to focus on based on the robust design communities in each—exciting work where important architecture and design is happening. They are very different, but the work I’ve found by designers and architects in each city is really spectacular. These are the innovators of our time. I personally have always loved the architecture of L.A., the work of the mid-century masters like Craig Ellwood, John Lautner and R.M. Schindler, which was thrilling when it was new.
Any other new initiatives coming down the pipeline?
There will always be evolution within Designer Previews as the Zeitgeist shifts in terms of design. For now, I’m staying focused on my new sites and giving attention to new clients, wherever they are. And, I like to stay connected to the talented team of designers and architects who have chosen to be represented by me. They continue to inspire me so that I can work hard. Design is a 24/7 business.