podcast | Jun 17, 2024 |
Markham Roberts keeps calm and decorates on

Markham Roberts was working in client services at Sotheby’s, handing out catalogs and directing guests, when one day Mark Hampton approached him asking for directions. The designer—one of the most influential at the time—discovered this was the creative young man his former client, a friend of Roberts’s grandmother’s, had recently written to him about in a letter. The next week, the two met in Hampton’s office, and Roberts walked out with a job; he would work for the legendary designer for the next six years. “I think of it much like an apprenticeship in Renaissance times, really learning how to do something,” he tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. Then he was ready to go off on his own, and opened his eponymous firm in 1997. Now he manages a firm of 12 people, and has been on the AD100 for the last 10 years.

He attributes his success to his ability to stay calm with clients and be upfront with them throughout the whole process. “If you treat someone with respect, they will do the same to you,” says Roberts. “You must keep your word too: If you say you’re going to do something, either do it or explain why you haven’t done it and when you’re going to do it. Managing expectations is the key to our profession.” Oftentimes, designers struggle with sharing the bad news or wait too late to tell the client so as not to disappoint them. The designer’s advice: “Never kick the can down the road. Sometimes you have to take a loss. Sometimes you can figure it out and something else happens that’s even better. Just go slow and keep your wits about you and your head on your shoulders.”

Elsewhere in the episode, Roberts discusses why giving clients access to too much information is a double-edged sword, how publishing a book gave him three of his biggest jobs, and why it’s much harder to begin a career in design today than it was 30 years ago.

Crucial insight: While he didn’t take this route, he encourages aspiring designers to go to design school if they can. Just as valuable, though, is finding a place where you can get hands-on experience. “I went straight to work, and that practical experience in a place like Mark’s office was invaluable. I could not have been in a better place to absorb more,” he says. “I tell people, whether you’re in school or working, absorb, look at what’s going on and understand what’s going on, and you’ll learn from that.”

Key quote: “You realized quickly that [the design business is] a lot more than just picking out nice furniture or understanding fabrics and how to use them, and that it becomes this sort of great production of getting all manner of things done and getting many different people in different areas to do what’s necessary to get it finished.”

This episode is sponsored by Loloi. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Thursday Show

BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus and host Dennis Scully discuss the biggest news in the design industry, including the shuttering of Oka, serious accusations against Carpenters Workshop Gallery, a new Havenly acquisition, and an “adventure” with RH CEO Gary Friedman.

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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