trade tales | Feb 5, 2021 |
What are the challenges of working with out-of-town clients?

While most designers love the chance to work in a new location, there are logistical challenges that come with those opportunities. We asked five designers—Breegan Jane, Lauren Lerner, Eddie Maestri, Gala Magriñá and Colette van den Thillart—to share their biggest hurdles in working with clients outside of their area.

Gala Magriñá
Gala MagriñáCourtesy of Gala Magriñá

Quality Time
“Aside from needing to rely on a local team to project-manage, there aren’t significant differences. It’s a designer’s job to be equally attentive over email, phone or Zoom as we are in person. Our level of service is not contingent on being in the same room as our client. What is critical is to be there for the installation, the final touches and the final reveal. These are the moments a project really comes all together. They are also the most rewarding times—I wouldn’t want to miss a reveal for the world.” —Gala Magriñá, Gala Magriñá Design, New York

Colette van den Thillart
Colette van den ThillartCourtesy of Colette van den Thillart

Stick Together
“I have a certain process for finding local workrooms, vendors and talent—they are always my first port of call. Once you develop a few choice contacts, just ask them to recommend everything and everybody they know! I find artists love to share and support local talent, so they are a great resource. As regards to clients, I think the onus is really on me to keep the client feeling connected and heard.

“I try to stay ‘sticky,’ so depending on the relationship, that might mean frequent emails, video calls and texts, more so than usual. I try to contact them before they contact me, which relieves a lot of their anxiety. Establishing weekly reports and calls can be very helpful. I actually find my out-of-town clients tend to feel more heard and involved, as we make more of an effort to have a structured communication strategy. I think video chats have been fabulous for the clients who in the past may have had a notion that they needed you to be on site for every tiny decision (which is neither feasible nor cost effective). Everyone is getting so used to this method, and that’s really just made clients more focused and open!” —Colette van den Thillart, Toronto

Eddie Maestri
Eddie MaestriCourtesy of Eddie Maestri

Use Time Wisely
“The biggest challenge is having fewer opportunities for face-to-face sketching. I like to sit with my clients and explore options together with a pen. Thankfully, there are now tools to do similar through a virtual meeting, but it’s not the same as sketching in front of them and understanding their reaction. When visiting an out-of-town client, we have to be very conscious to do as much as we can on-site: measurements, documentation, photos—anything that we cannot do back at the office—and try to fit as much into our time at the project location as possible.” —Eddie Maestri, Maestri Studio, Dallas

Breegan Jane
Breegan JaneCourtesy of Breegan Jane

Tech Skills
“Fortunately, video chats reach globally and we are good at what we do! We are able to spatial-plan and source via Zoom. It has been amazing how much we have been capable of doing through video and photography during the pandemic. Creating a home is creating a home, and we have leaned into and empowered ourselves to be reachable to our clients in a way we wouldn’t have been otherwise. It really does work! During COVID, we found that, while our clients are still more comfortable with us being there in person to direct their setups, be it construction or installing furniture, these days they don’t mind putting in a little work on their own in order to ensure our safety and theirs.” —Breegan Jane, Los Angeles

Lauren Lerner
Lauren LernerCourtesy of Lauren Lerner

Virtual world
“We’re able to conduct all of our meetings and consultations virtually—and we did that well before COVID hit—so that’s just something we’re continuing to offer. To bolster the virtual meetings, we mail sample packages out to these clients so they can feel and touch the finishes before committing. In this sense, we haven’t had to adapt too much because of COVID, so that’s been a great thing.” —Lauren Lerner, Living With Lolo, Scottsdale, Arizona

Homepage photo: A project by Eddie Maestri | Courtesy of Eddie Maestri

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