trade tales | Jul 14, 2020 |
How useful are inspiration images?

With the advent of Instagram and Pinterest, there are an infinite number of beautiful images to scroll through, but how useful are those images to the design process? We asked 12 designers—Minetta Archer, Jocelyn Chiappone, Ashley Dixon, Abbe Fenimore, Kate Hamilton Gray, Tamu Green, Darren Henault, Michelle Lisac, Nina Liddle, Wesley Moon, Ashley Moore and Cheryl Rosenberg—how inspiration images inform their conversations with clients.

Jocelyn Chiappone
Jocelyn ChiapponeCourtesy of Jocelyn Chiappone

Vision quest
“Rather than having our clients send us inspirational images, our initial discussions center around helping them evoke a certain mood and aesthetic that enhances their way of living, or how they want to live. We believe that our clients hire us to creatively realize these visions. We aim to understand how they respond to certain colors and materials to a degree, but it’s also our job to lead them in uncharted directions that delight and nurture them. One of the best tools we use in articulating our design direction is a rendering. We have found these to be incredibly valuable when illustrating how we plan to solve for a space. From there, it’s a wonderful jumping-off point for the next discussion.” —Jocelyn Chiappone, Digs Design Company, Newport, Rhode Island

Wesley Moon
Wesley MoonThomas Loof

In the details
“Inspiration images are invaluable tools. When a client shows me an inspiration image, it tells me so much about them and what they expect. Most clients can’t speak our design language fluently. They don’t always understand plans and elevations or our terminology, and many descriptive terms are subjective, so pictures are the best translator there is. I try to understand the essence of what the client is trying to show me and then apply that idea to their specific project in a way that’s appropriate. [When showing clients inspiration images], you have to be very careful when selecting images. You have to be sure that the overall image is something the client will find appealing, even if you just want to show a detail. If it’s an ugly picture, they will think everything about it is ugly. My motto is, ‘It’s all about the sexiness of the graphics.’ If an image or drawing is beautiful, the client will go for it, but you’ll never sell a client on an idea without an appealing illustration to back it up.” —Wesley Moon, Wesley Moon Inc., New York

Cheryl Rosenberg
Cheryl RosenbergCourtesy of Cheryl Rosenberg

Common language
“Design has its own vocabulary and language, and when a client doesn’t know what words to use, pictures can do the talking for them. I’m able to look at their Pinterest boards or magazine clippings and interpret their personal style so that we are speaking the same language. I also show them inspiration images to help communicate my design, but I am always very specific about the feeling, emotion or element I’m pulling from the image. It’s very easy for clients to think they are getting exactly the image you’ve shown them if you’re not clear.” —Cheryl Rosenberg, ROI Design, Boston

Kate Hamilton Gray
Kate Hamilton GrayCourtesy of Kate Hamilton Gray

Talk it out
“Most of my clients come to me with inspiration images in some form, but I don’t request them. I’d rather have a conversation about what they want their space to feel like, how it should function, what colors they respond to, and if they have any particular aversions. I assume they’ve already seen some of my work and liked my style. I do show inspiration images in an initial presentation and include images that will give me a good idea of the client’s style. I try not to show many complete rooms or looks from other designers’ projects as my inspiration, instead focusing on elements of color, materiality and mood that can drive an original design.” —Kate Hamilton Gray, Hamilton Gray Studio, Brooklyn, New York

Tamu Green
Tamu GreenCourtesy of Tamu Green

Tool kit
“Many clients describe themselves with design catchphrases, like ‘modern,’ that do not convey much information. Inspiration images provide more detail about their aesthetic and often paint a different picture than their verbal description. I frequently show clients inspirational photos during the conceptual phase of the design process. Some ideas are best communicated with technical drawings, while others don’t require you to reinvent the wheel. Inspirational images can be a great tool to gauge interest in a concept before spending time and resources to develop it.” —Tamu Green, Lux Pad Interiors, New York and Atlanta

Darren Henault
Darren HenaultCourtesy of Darren Henault

Different languages
“I think images are very important, but only if you really review them with the client. You can’t take them at face value. When you start working with someone, you don’t share the same vocabulary. Your ‘traditional’ is another person’s ‘transitional.’ My visions of neoclassical may be another person’s Consulate. Looking at images together and getting the client to pinpoint what they like is very helpful. I don’t think it’s a great idea to show a client your inspiration images. Unless you’re copying that image, it’s not really conveying what they’re going to end up with. There is nothing better than a rendering.” —Darren Henault, Darren Henault Interiors, New York

Michelle Lisac
Michelle LisacCourtesy of Michelle Lisac

Pin it on
“Even if they appear random and incongruent, I always look for a common thread in the images clients bring me. We also show our own inspiration images to clients. In fact, we start a Pinterest board for each project that we collaboratively use throughout.” —Michelle Lisac, Michelle Lisac Interior Design, San Francisco

Abbe Fenimore
Abbe FenimoreCourtesy of Abbe Fenimore

Jumping off
“I communicate visually and find that images from my client are a great way to dive into the look and feel they want for their home. Looking through their ideas can clear up any confusion regarding color, style and overall aesthetic. This process helps to clarify their vision and establish trust and confidence in our partnership. Once we have a detailed vision, I think it is important to present our own inspirational images to them and make sure we are moving in the right direction. It’s also important to let my client know that we are not going to replicate or copy these images, but use them as the jumping-off point to creating something unique and special for them.” —Abbe Fenimore, Studio Ten 25, Dallas

Minetta Archer
Minetta ArcherCourtesy of Minetta Archer

Do the homework
“I love it when clients come to the initial meeting with inspiration images. It shows me they have done their homework and are ready to start the process. This step allows a client to weed through the many different ideas they may already have and hone in a bit more. I don’t follow the direction of these images to the letter, but take cues from them as I pull together the design scheme. I also use inspiration images when trying to convey design themes to clients and usually create Pinterest boards to share images. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.” —Minetta Archer, Studio 388, New York

Ashley Moore
Ashley MooreCourtesy of Ashley Moore

Guiding light
“Whether you’re building, remodeling or simply need furniture, it’s important to have visual inspiration for clients and the design team to reference. We love it when clients come to the table with vision boards for each room. Even better when they include specifics in the description to make note of their likes and dislikes. We want to see images that inspire our clients and exude the style they’re looking to bring into the home. This helps to guide our design team and make sure we can create the style our clients are after. Then, we take everything that they like and create our own inspiration boards to present to the client as we kick off their project.” —Ashley Moore, Moore House Interiors, Tomball, Texas

Ashley Dixon
Ashley DixonCourtesy of Ashley Dixon

Dream home
“I think inspiration photos provide a window into the client’s mind. The one thing I ask clients to be mindful of with inspiration photos is understanding whether they just appreciate the beautiful room or if it truly speaks to them. I like to tell clients that the purpose of those photos is choosing those that give you butterflies and that you would be ecstatic to have in your home—that’s the feeling I want to tap into to create the home they deserve.” —Ashley Dixon, Alexander Renee Design, Atlanta

Nina Liddle
Nina LiddleCourtesy of Nina Liddle

Down by the sea
“Due to my team being 30 miles out at sea on Nantucket, when we have our clients in person, we take advantage! During this phase, I ask clients to come to the table with images they are inspired by, as well as be prepared to view my vision through the help of past work, inspiration from my peers, and design books. Certain aspects of the design, such as trim styles on pillows, arm styles on sofas and mixing patterns are important to understand and can be grasped when using inspiration images. Residing on such a historic island allows inspiration to come from certain pockets and parts of the island, which is something I always take into account.” —Nina Liddle, Nina Liddle Design, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Homepage photo: A New York City apartment by Kate Hamilton Gray | Courtesy of Hamilton Gray Studio

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