magazine | Jul 15, 2021 |
We asked contractors and architects what they look for in designers. Their answers might surprise you

A designer’s relationship with the architects, contractors and tradespeople on the job is a two-way street—and for every interior designer with a bad experience, there’s a wallpaper installer or electrician with their own horror story. What separates a successful partnership from one that’s doomed? We asked some pros for their side of the story, from common frustrations to what makes a collaboration work.


“Some designers I’ve worked with seemed to think that the more expensive a piece is, the better it must be. Just because a light fixture costs $15,000 doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for a space. I prefer to work with designers who are more interested in picking the best option than looking for the biggest-ticket items.” —Ciaran McCabe, owner and general contractor at CPMC Renovations, New York


“People act like you can find collaborators that fit well within your team all the time, but you can’t. When you do find a designer that meshes well with you on a personal level, that’s worth its weight in gold and you want to foster that relationship. From a technical perspective, I always appreciate a designer that can have someone do all the CAD drawings on a project. Sometimes we need a designer to fill in where an architect has left off and take charge of interior elevations, and it’s a strong place for [the relationship] to start when they can offer those services in pre-construction. I also love designers that push the envelope. Life is too short to do boring work, and I don’t want to do things that have been done before or build something that looks like every other house on Pinterest. I like when designers can push us and the client.” —Ben Coats, owner and president of Coats Homes, Dallas

Out of practice

“Every designer works differently. Sometimes, you get so used to working with one designer, and then you move on to a new project and you’re back at 
the beginning, learning how this person approaches things. I’ve definitely run into designers [who don’t]understand the fine line between beauty and practicality. [They] put a plan together, but the family has three kids and it’s just not practical to use certain materials that they’ve chosen.” —Rob Amoroso, project manager and general contractor at True North Development, Huntington, NY


“The most successful designer-architect relationships are the ones when the expectations have been discussed and are set from day one. There is room for crossover and collaboration, but having that scope set out and responsibilities divided is crucial to avoid duplication. When I have a good rapport with a designer, I like to show things to each other before we bring a question to a client. Mutual trust in each other’s design sensibilities is important, but I’ve worked with designers in the past whose only solution to any problem is to throw more money at it. It’s easy to find a solution if your answer is just to spend more, but it takes a skilled designer to find a solution while still honoring the budget.” —Stuart Hills, founding partner at Apparatus Architecture, San Francisco

This article originally appeared in Summer 2021 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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