trade tales | Jun 25, 2021 |
How does your firm deal with change orders?

While the design process should be collaborative to an extent, no designer wants a client who constantly changes their mind. We asked nine designers—Caroline Brackett, Monica Jacobs-Driskell, Dani Haas, Nina Magon, Gideon Mendelson, Christina Nielsen, Courtney Robinson, Tula Summerford and Lance Thomas—to share their policy on change orders.

Courtney Robinson
Courtney RobinsonCourtesy of Courtney Robinson

Set aside time
“I like to give a dedicated design development time period for changes and revisions in respect to drawings for custom furniture or millwork, as well as a deadline for when materials and fixtures must be finalized. The design process can be stressful, so by making my process collaborative with my clients, we get to the end result smoother and I feel confident in the choices we make.” —Courtney Robinson, Materials + Methods Design, New York and Los Angeles

Gideon Mendelson
Gideon MendelsonCourtesy of Gideon Mendelson

Stick to a schedule
“We have a very clear policy that limits the number of revisions and change orders. Additionally, we have documentation that outlines project schedules with deadlines so that clients understand from the outset of a project when decisions will need to be made. We also consistently communicate about timing and deadlines with all stakeholders. No one wants to hear that something needs to be done by tomorrow!” —Gideon Mendelson, Mendelson Group, New York

Monica Jacobs-Driskell
Monica Jacobs-DriskellCourtesy of Monica Jacobs-Driskell

For a fee
“I allow my clients to make change orders as long as they understand timeline adjustments and fees associated with those changes. Unfortunately, social media apps like Pinterest and Instagram can send clients on a design spiral. I had a client that literally added a new line item to the scope weekly. Mind you, it was a yearlong project, so, yes, I welcome change orders—but with a cost and timeline expectancy associated.” —Monica Jacobs-Driskell, Monica Jacobs Interiors, Atlanta

Dani Haas
Dani HaasCourtesy of Dani Haas

An inevitability
“Revisions and change orders are often inevitable during the design process. I am very transparent in my initial service agreement that explains my policy for such changes. I allow one revision per deliverable per room at no extra cost, but any changes beyond that are billed at my hourly rate. I find that this gives the client the opportunity to make tweaks while still respecting my time and energy. It’s critical to set this boundary early on, and most clients are very understanding and appreciate the heads-up before they start making revisions. I have had difficult clients in the past who are so indecisive and ask for more and more options, and unless I’m being compensated for my time, I won’t entertain the back-and-forth! In one instance, after months of not getting anywhere, I decided to part ways with a client. The inability to move forward told me that we were simply not a good fit.” —Dani Haas, Dani Haas Design, Denver

Caroline Brackett
Caroline BrackettCourtesy of Caroline Brackett

The cost of doing business
“We do not have a policy on change orders in our contract. When clients are being charged an hourly design rate, they usually realize that changing their minds can be quite expensive. Also, clients trust us, which is why they hired us in the first place, and typically go with what we present and specify. Our design process is always collaborative and we present options to clients, so that helps avoid revisions as well. At the end of the day, we want them to be happy, and in the case that we do have to revise something once or twice, it is worth it!” —Caroline Brackett, Caroline Brackett Studio of Design, Greenville, South Carolina

Tula Summerford
Tula SummerfordCourtesy of Tula Summerford

Realistic expectations
“My contract states that no orders, custom or otherwise, can be canceled. I am transparent with my clients when they are placing orders and give them realistic shipping dates. Revisions can be made to design plans until the actual construction has begun. After construction has begun, the client must agree to pay a change fee and any additional fees incurred by the construction firm. Upon payment and approval, the changes are put into place. With construction delays, the clients sometimes decide a few months later that they want a different style than originally planned. If it can be done, we will make it happen. My goal is for my client to be happy! Most of the time, the client understands they will incur a change fee but are willing to pay the fee.” —Tula Summerford, Design By Tula, Raleigh, North Carolina

Christina Nielsen
Christina NielsenCourtesy of Christina Nielsen

Live and learn
“I will be flexible with clients on edits to a design aesthetic prior to placing orders, to a certain extent. I fully understand that designing a home is an ever-evolving process, and visuals organically flow and change as the project progresses. However, when I started my business, I was very green and I did not create boundaries in terms of how many changes were allotted until those modifications became excessive. Because of that, I experienced last-minute changes that cost a lot of valuable time and stress on my end, while having to juggle several projects. Now, I specify that I will provide two schematic overall themes, and we can base our decisions off of these. These schematics come after speaking with the client about their needs and desires for their home. The process is much more time-effective and efficient for both parties.” —Christina Nielsen, Christina Nielsen Design, New York and London

Nina Magon
Nina MagonCourtesy of Nina Magon

Price check
“We do occasionally have clients that change their minds quite a bit throughout the design process, so we have a section in our contract that explains what a change order is and what our change order fees entail. We understand that people change their minds, so we like to be prepared and make sure we are compensated for our time spent on any changes made to a design throughout the process.” —Nina Magon, Nina Magon Studio, Houston

Lance Thomas
Lance ThomasCourtesy of Lance Thomas

Floor model
“Very rarely do we run into this issue. The only time a change order will happen is when we’ve already confirmed a design for a space and we find out that a fabric is back-ordered. That’s when we have to make changes sight unseen. But for the most part, we set ourselves up for no errors with custom furnishings, thanks to virtual renderings and showing the client samples. I will say, with casegoods and smaller items, we do a lot of designing on the fly, and because we have a showroom, if the client doesn’t care for, say, a pair of lamps we’ve selected, we’re able to put those on the showroom floor and select something else as a replacement.” —Lance Thomas, Thomas Guy Interiors, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Homepage photo: A living room by Thomas Guy Interiors | Courtesy of Thomas Guy Interiors

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