business advice | Aug 10, 2021 |
My designer has screwed up multiple custom orders. Who pays for the mistakes?

Dear Sean,

I’ve been working with a well-known, high-end New York–based interior designer to furnish our entire home. Almost every custom item has had an issue—a dining table that showed up the wrong shape; bedside tables not to scale (or with correct dimensions); mismeasured rugs in the living room and master bedroom; and custom chairs that do not fit at a table. The wiring specifications on a pair of vintage European sconces were not checked to ensure that they were compatible with our home—the list goes on.

We also repeatedly asked for a family-friendly fabric for our basement sofa and questioned the designer’s selection to ensure it was durable enough. Now that it’s installed, it looks terrible after minimal use. I received B&B Italia’s maintenance instructions, and it explicitly states that “regular maintenance” is required “when the product is subjected to daily use.” This is the opposite of what we asked for.

It seems like attention to detail and quality control was nonexistent. Meanwhile, we paid in full for these items, and waited six to nine months for them to arrive wrong. The designer will not take responsibility for anything, blaming COVID or the vendor or implying that it is somehow our fault.

Most problems could have been avoided if the designer had measured properly, approved drawings of the custom pieces before production, and checked on the items before they were delivered to ensure they were in line with our needs and requests. Who pays for these mistakes?

At a Loss

Dear At a Loss,

Something is amiss here. What you describe would be gross malpractice by any designer, let alone a high-end New York designer. Your question as to what to do is fascinating to me, as it is a reflection of the times we now live in. Pre-internet, who would you talk to about the incompetence of your designer? Your friends and a few vendors? No one who would deeply affect your designer’s business. Fast-forward to today, and you have the possibility of an enormous megaphone: complaining on social media or a review site. While it would be nice for your designer to pay for their mistakes, it will not solve your problem, as you have a home you are deeply unsatisfied with.

I am sure your designer will have their side of the story. Though I know it might sound New Agey, how about trying to salvage the things that went well and fix the elements that broke your trust so that you can have the home you aspired to in the first place? Perhaps not with your current designer, but either on your own or with the assistance of another designer. A terrific solution might be to engage a designer on a platform like The Expert who could advise based on the work of your current designer.

No matter what, this is an exercise in sunk costs for all involved. There is absolutely nothing to be done about the missteps—only what will be done moving forward. The point is to course-correct. Now, if your designer becomes entrenched in the position that you are in the wrong, not them, then so be it. However, any designer you would truly want to work with should be as invested in getting back up from a misstep as working with integrity from the get-go. We all make mistakes.

I know that you are gun-shy after this experience. Please know that there are bad seeds everywhere, and perhaps this designer falls into that category these days. On the other hand, I would absolutely ask you to question your blind faith in your designer. It sounds like you trusted them without really understanding the decisions you were making. If your home would be as your designer wished it to be but not reflective of the life you and your family desire (i.e., your family-friendly sofa vs. the B&B Italia sofa), is that what you signed up for in the first place? You only need to know the story of Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Winston Churchill (Churchill burned it) to know that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to art, and if you wish it to be as you would desire, that is not the same thing as seeking what the designer would dream for themselves.

I suspect there is a bit of that confusion going on here, and I highly suggest that you both sincerely endeavor to correct the confusion. Know that achieving a creative vision is your aim no matter what. You need to find your way back to that level of trust if you hope to have your home be the reflection of you. You need to acknowledge that you cannot see what your designer can. That said, it is up to them to open your eyes, not require you to close them and leap.

Last, to the practical. Will you recommend the designer if they do only that and do not try to help you complete your home? Probably not. Throwing more money at the problem or demanding money solves nothing. Move on and find a path to the transformation you seek, whether on your own or with a new designer. Blind faith burned you once; no need for it to happen a second time.

Homepage photo: © Victoria Andreas / Adobe Stock

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.