I am joined today by special guest Courtney Clark, an Uploft Interior Design Academy student. She has been on the podcast before to share her personal story, from being interested in interior design to enrolling in the academy and now working for herself and taking on clients. Since I get asked so much by prospective students about what an actual coaching session entails, Courtney has graciously agreed to help me give you a snapshot of what these look like inside the Uploft Interior Design Academy for our students.
This episode, we discuss…
[3:54] Bringing the suitable artwork into an open floor plan to create a more intimate feel
Courtney is currently working with a new client who has a newly built home with an open floor plan. One of the biggest challenges she has noticed working with these new builds is how open and large the walls are. She has been trying to stay as creative as possible while figuring out what artwork options to give them.
Her clients aren’t big on artwork that isn’t meaningful to them or doesn’t represent them and their family. Even though she has found many things that work, she wants to know how to make the large walls ranging from 16 to 18 feet more intimate without doing several gallery walls or artwork groupings. Additionally, the ceilings are at least 10 feet high, and many of the walls are taken up by sliders or multiple windows.
With multiple artwork pieces, I believe it can start to look like a cluttered space and be overstimulating. What I’ve realized about new builds is that the ceilings will be high along with those long walls. It’s not your standard eight-foot ceiling anymore. So there needs to be some impact made in this space.
I’d suggest reducing the amount of wall space by using drapes to emphasize the room’s length and height. I like to hang my drapes higher and outside the window, especially if they’re purely decorative. If nobody’s going to draw these, say they have lines, then I would hang it significantly outside, like between eight and twelve inches for that bracket. My guideline for drapery and windows is under 60 inches; typically, designers double the drapery width for the window. It’s acceptable that they are purely decorative because most panels are 50 inches wide. So do the 50-inch wide panel on each side and hang it out 12 inches to help eat up two more feet of the wall space, which then draws your eyes up to introduce color and pattern in a new house that most likely has neutral paint colors.
It can also provide you with that soft texture you need because the problem with art is that it is hard, framed, and two-dimensional. The other thing I like to think about is maybe not doing a piece of framed art and instead doing something outside the box. For example, if I have a piece of framed art above the fireplace and a piece of framed art on the opposite wall, I may do a large clock, tall shelving, or credenza on the perpendicular wall. These things can give you visual interest.
The other thing you want to ensure you’re incorporating is the personal and meaningful piece you mentioned. When you’re initially meeting the client and having them fill out that questionnaire, you want to make sure that the questionnaire addresses different ways to get to know your client. Our firm changes the questionnaire regularly every six to twelve months. You don’t want to overwhelm your clients, but you also want to target those questions to help you get to know them better. For example, if they have mentioned travel in the questionnaire, then I may go literal and use a map to add in the space.
[13:00] Guidelines for incorporating molding into an open floor plan design
Courtney has thought of offering the idea of molding or chair railing to her clients to help the space feel cozier and eat up some of that wall space. For instance, when you enter the home, there is a 20-foot long by six-foot-wide hallway of expansive walls. She and her clients wanted to possibly do a gallery wall or framed art and put molding through the hallway. She wants to know guidelines for this idea as the hallway opens up to the open-concept kitchen and family area.
Since the actual square footage is limited, but the wall space is expansive, I think it should be grand and a little more over the top since you can’t put anything on the floor. Having oversized art can feel dominating and sometimes cluttered, especially with too many gallery walls. I love the idea of incorporating architectural details, like molding. You just have to be careful because it is expensive, and your clients just bought this home and may not want another considerable expense.
The key for me when I’m trying to convince a client that this would be worth it is to find a similar inspiration picture online. You don’t have to convince them that it’s going to be fabulous, but you can show them it will be fantastic. Then, you can Google search the idea with a similar foyer and height to share with them. It may even give you new ideas. The one thing to avoid with high ceilings and long vertical walls is chair railing because it can break up the clean lines and make the hallway look out of proportion.
So if you want to do molding, you will have to sell your clients on the vision and have to make it fit the proportion of the ginormous space, which is a significant expense. As a new designer, you must also sell yourself on the cost-expense style design. I’d recommend you get that inspiration photo and ensure a clean architectural break with it opening up into the open floor plan. If there is an organic break, you can stop the molding there. The same goes with an accent wall being done in wallpaper. If there’s no natural break, you need to continue it.
Architecturally, you need to stay a bit more cohesive than you do with furniture. If I have a different kind of furniture in one room, as long as it’s not directly open to the other room, I can go in a different style. If I choose to do chunky, quite prominent molding, I might want to bring a chair rail in the dining room with lower ceilings. I might feel like that’s important. I can’t have this be the only space that has prominent moldings. So just think about that and ask yourself if it adds to the visual value of the home.
[20:06] The most significant challenges being faced as a new business owner
The biggest challenge right now for Courtney is having to readjust to a client’s needs after they change their minds about a pivotal piece of the design, sometimes because of the added expense.
It sounds like Courtney is creating excellent plans while fitting each piece into the budget to fit within that transformation. However, when a client changes their mind about something like a pivotal piece, you have to reverse engineer the design to either shift the inspiration item or find something else that fits the exact same color palette to make it work.
There are a couple of tips to help you before you start shopping with a client’s shopping list. First, I show them everything I’ll be sourcing so that if they don’t want a specific item, it will let me know. If they don’t want to do drapes, after all, I need to know these things. Second, I may have the entire design based on those drapes, which you’ll need to know before diving into getting those items.
When you do the whole presentation, share the importance of the items to help them see the entire picture of your reasoning. If a piece is no longer wanted, I would push back a little bit and make sure not to say, “oh, okay, I get it.” You’re there to lend your expertise and to give them the best possible space for their budget and needs, so it’s your job to advocate for things they need. It’s about that dialogue and showing your expertise without being insistent about staying on their team.
I always fight three times when a client pushes back about something. I will re-guide them three times about the importance of an item to the outcome of a space. If they insist on not having the item, then continue to be on their team and find new options to improve the space.
[28:06] Following up with clients after the initial presentation to finalize selections
Courtney is working with clients with whom she is having difficulty reconnecting after the initial presentation. She knows that in the summertime, life can get in the way for people, but she wants to know how to make that connection again to help them finalize their selections after presenting their designs. How often should you follow up with a client after a presentation, or do you just wait for them to come back to you when they are ready?
I don’t think it is a good idea to let a client reconnect with you in their own time. A year ago, I would have had a different answer, but right now, with supply chain issues, if you create a presentation for them and they don’t get back to you in two months, all those items are gone or are on backorder. We have no idea when more will come in. So now, if you wait more than three weeks, your design is obsolete, and all the work you did, all the items you found, they don’t exist, and your client is delaying, and they’re left with the design that they can’t execute.
As the person creating your own business and deciding what your rules are when working with clients, it is up to you to have a policy in place or let your clients know what the next steps will be. In my business, we have a policy that if you don’t purchase these things within three weeks, if an item goes out of stock, you have to pay us to find replacements. We can’t reinvent your design because it takes a lot of work to start over. So that is an agreement you have to make from the beginning.
I always let a client know that I’m happy to change the design, so to speak, but it will be extra. Suppose you don’t let them know that at the beginning of the engagement, they will not like that surprise. So set those terms of service of what it looks like to work with you. Most clients don’t understand the supply chain issues, so you have to educate them on that and help them understand.
[33:27] Supply chain issues and how to articulate that to clients
It just so happened that last week, Courtney was purchasing items for clients that were available the day she presented. Later in the day, a particular item was out of stock as she was buying. Luckily the item came back into stock, but it was no longer available within hours. So she knows why supply chain issues are happening, but it frustrates her on her client’s behalf. She could have completed the design, but because she couldn’t get the item, it’s still hard to make those reconnections with them, and she now knows the importance of putting a clause in her agreement with clients for things to be in a timely manner.
These may not be the kind of clients you want to work with. If you’re in the middle of a sales call and a client isn’t wanting to work the way you have planned, I want you to ask yourself if this is the way you want to work. That’s how many high-end designers work, but that isn’t how I like to work with my clients. You have to make the rules in your design business. If they aren’t the right fit for you, you can offer them another resource for someone who does work that way. This allows you to stand in your power. When you have something happen that you want to prevent in the future, it’s essential to create those plans for your business and how you are willing to work.
When you’re starting your business, and even when you’ve been running it for 17 years, treat it as an experiment. What do I like? What don’t I like? What’s working? What is no longer working? If you reevaluate your business through that lens, not only will you stay more current with what’s happening in the design world, but you’ll also be more fulfilled, because you’re doing just what you’d like to do with people you’d like to do it with.
You can dream all you want for your clients, but ultimately it has to meet them where they are at.
[38:14] Letting go of the need for approval and finding fulfillment in your interior design path
Courtney is still struggling with being new as a business owner and in the interior design industry, and she wants her clients to love the design and the direction of the plan.
It sounds like Courtney is trying to prove that she is a good designer to her clients, maybe even prove to herself with the fantastic reveal of the design and having her clients love it just the same, but sometimes, that’s not what the client’s looking for. Even just having the plan of what they can execute over time when they find those items on Facebook Marketplace gives them the remedy for their illness versus the bigger vision we had for them. So we have to let go of the result somehow, as long as they’re telling us they’ve gotten what they need.
This kind of reaction is usual at any time in your business. If you get fulfillment from the ultimate result, you set yourself up for failure. The same can be said for all areas of life. It’s the journey, not the destination you are after. But, of course, you might just be working with the wrong clients, so you also want to keep that in mind.
Sometimes it can feel frustrating, but I want you to feel the freedom. Sometimes you make a mistake and try to find your way, but you can always create a new plan. I want you to understand that when you work for a large firm or anybody else, you have to power through and deal with the issues. Treat it as a journey to perfection when you’re playing your own game or creating your own world.
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