When I first started doing Design in 2001 things were simpler. I had a bricks and mortar store and the benefit of a community that valued its local businesses. Each trip to the High Point Furniture Market or the New York Gift show was exhilarating, informative and a bit stressful. I loved getting to meet the manufacturers. Yes, the manufacturers not the distributors. I got to see the factories, meet the designers and the buyers of the materials used to create the furniture. I lamented having a budget; because, there were so many objects I wanted to purchase. As I carefully selected the lines I would carry and the items I would fill our store with, I worried if our customers would love my choices as much as I did.
I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed having our store. Our customers and clients were our neighbors, friends, family and colleagues. They came often and brought their friends and family with them. Whether they stopped in to see what was new while waiting for their prescription to be filled or came to buy a gift or furnish their home, we were honored and thoroughly enjoyed each interaction.
It was also so much easier to help a client select their new sectional when they could sit on the various cushions to gauge which seat was right for them. They could see, feel and touch the fabric and even bring it home to see how it would look in their home. Each day we had a sense of accomplishment and received positive feedback for a job well done. Every time someone came in and said “this is my favorite store” or said how much they loved their new furniture, we were filled with pride and joy.
The onset of the internet and its ever increasing change in the way we shop has forever changed retail and the furniture industry; as well as design. It was the reason we chose to close our store. This is not a story about the internet, it is a story about change. As we all know, change can be difficult; but, when it works we call it success.
I’ve become quite adept at change. I would like to say it has a lot to do with my intelligence and charming personality; but, I know it has more to do with luck, integrity, hard work, experience and kindness. All who know me, know I am not afraid of hard work and I value honesty above most everything. I have had the good fortune to learn from some of the brightest people throughout my life. My experiences have given me the skills and ability to adapt and retool myself. But, it is kindness that has truly been the result of my success. The kindness and compassion we received when we made the difficult decision to close our store in 2007 gave me strength. Our customers became our friends and their positivity and support became the cornerstone of our new business.
In particular, I owe my success as a Designer to Gary and Sheila. Their belief and trust in me gave me the confidence to know I could continue without the stability of a bricks and mortar building. In fact, their project shaped my business model. Gary and Sheila were busy professionals who traveled a great deal. They had a home in Manhattan, the Caribbean and a historic country home upstate. I was honored to be asked to help them remodel their country home. Since they were traveling extensively, my role as a Designer evolved to one of a Project Manager. I was tasked with ensuring the right contractors were hired at a fair price and that they performed as promised. I represented Gary and Sheila at the Architectural Review Board and took ownership of their project as if the work was being done on my own home. As with all large remodeling projects, challenges arose and difficult issues were resolved. All the while a lasting friendship was born.
I don’t get to see Gary and Sheila often; but, when I moved to Southport, NC and relaunched my business, Gary and Sheila were the first to take their time to write a review on Houzz. What is Houzz? It is a social media platform heavily used by professionals in the home remodeling industry to find and collaborate with clients.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a story of change and the internet has played a huge role. The internet was once a competitor and now it is paramount to our success. It is more than a marketing vehicle for us. It is the platform we use every day to run our business. The internet provides the opportunity for us to collaborate globally with our clients. We are able to provide our clients with photorealistic images of their design. They are able to see exactly what their home will look like after the remodel. This not only gives them the confidence to embark on the project, it saves time and money by ensuring everyone knows what is expected. Mistakes are avoided and changes in scope are reduced.
Have you ever tried to put something together reading instructions without pictures? How many times did you have to remove a part and put it back on a different way? During a training and team building seminar 15 interior designers were partnered with their General Contractors(GC) and asked to tell the GC how to build a lego model. Both the Designer and GC were given the same lego pieces. As the Designer stacked pieces, they told their GC what piece to use and which direction to place it. At the end of the exercise all but one team built the same thing. While I am happy to say I was that Designer, I can assure you it was an extremely painful endeavor.
During the last thirteen years, I have had the responsibility for communicating my clients’ design vision to many a GC. Early on, I did so by providing a written scope document, floor plans and 2D sketches. I color coded cabinets and counter tops on floor plans and elevations to aid the installer in understanding the design. I created mood boards to enable the client visualize how their selections would work together. I put together material and fixture lists by room and I still spent an inordinate amount of time on communication and fixing things that were not built as specified. As with the lego exercise or assembling something using 2D drawings and words, it can be hard to fully comprehend written instructions and finish the project without having to fix something.
It is equally as hard for clients to fully visualize the end result. It can be hard for them to appreciate how that shade of gray they painstakingly selected after applying swathes of paint all around the house will look a bit blue at night under the new LED recessed lights that are going to be installed; or, how it may fade to near white when the wall of windows is added. Alas, it is just paint and a coat of another color will easily give them the look they wanted all along. I’m sure you can imagine how much harder it is to make these decisions from afar.
Remember, I said I was pretty good at adapting and success has a lot to do with luck. Well, Interior Design is a second career and I am fortunate the Marine Corps thought I would be a good programmer. I learned COBOL programming in the Corps and my career evolved as technology evolved. As such, I full heartedly embrace technology and tools that make my life easier. There are Apps that allow me to show how things will look in their home. Online visualizers make it easy to change the color of paint of your home or change the surface of a floor so you can see how different tile may look in your bathroom. One of the most important tools to me is computer-aided design software (CAD). CAD enables me to draft construction documentation and collaborate with clients on design ideas and help them visualize their concepts through photorealistic renderings.
Clients get to see all of the subtle nuances of their desired design. They get to see their home and imagine how they will live and or work in the new space. They can see how the furniture will fit, how the space flows, what the cabinets will look like; and, so much more.
Copy and paste this link into your browser to see a 360 panoramic view of the space about:
Once the CAD file is built, the design can be easily modified to ensure every detail is built in accordance with the client’s vision. We are able to get approvals more quickly from Home Owners Associations and Architectural Review Boards. More importantly, we are able to get competitive and accurate quotes from installers; as they know exactly what they are being hired to build.
Every client and every project is different and the level of detail required for visualization varies. But one thing holds true, a successful project is based on everyone being on the same page.
When I think back to the time when I had to sketch out each piece of furniture, do a floor plan on graph paper and how many erasers I went through, I am so glad I can hit undo. There was a time when we couldn’t imagine the tools and technology we have at our disposal. Now I have a phone that is able to take photos that look like portraits and my iPad is more powerful than the first computer I programmed on and it filled up a room.
One thing I am sure of, is I need to be ready for what changes lie ahead.