The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 07 The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 07

In the last four installments, we've been considering the questions you need to ask in a complete client interview to help you propose design solutions that will be meaningful to the family. In Part 6, we listed questions to give you the composition of the family, the most common activities that the family members enjoy, and the dining habits of the family. Now it's time to turn to other activities.

Party Time

One element that needs consideration is how much your clients entertain at home. After all, if you're designing a beautiful house for them, it's likely that they will want to show off your work by inviting guests into their home.

One thing you need to know is if the client has large parties. If so, how often do they hold them? And what style is preferred? Chances are their large parties are informal, but you'll need to work through with your clients what rooms will be used. How many people constitute a large party, and how much seating space will be required? What about holiday events? Do those include family and friends, or just family? What style is preferred for holidays? Do your clients prefer a formal sit-down dinner, or a more informal buffet style?

It's also possible that they enjoy giving smaller, formal dinner parties. Again, it makes sense to get a handle on how many people they invite to such parties so you can plan the dining room to accommodate them easily.

Bed Time

To plan proper bedrooms, you need to learn about the family's sleeping arrangements. What kind of bed is required for the master bedroom? Does each child have his or her own bedroom? What kind of bedding is preferred there? What are the accommodations for guests that sleep over? Is there a guest room? Should there be foldout or convertible sofa beds planned for any other rooms? Do the children have classmates or friends that come for sleepovers?

Overall Objectives

Since you've covered lots of specifics with your clients, it's time to step back a bit and consider some generalities.

What overall mood and style do your clients prefer? Classic or contemporary? Try to get as much detail as you can with regard to their tastes.

Ask about color preferences. What colors do they like? What colors don't they like?

It's also important to make an inventory of furniture and furnishings that they plan to keep. Whether it's a piano, some living room furniture and a favorite sofa, you need to know the details. Naturally, there may be times when you want to discourage them from reusing a particular piece, but in today's economy, it's not unusual for people to want to keep a number of items. You'll have to work with these in your plans.

Here's a really big question: What are the budget considerations? Right now, you're looking for a ballpark figure. Explain to your clients that they will sign agreements for every item before you make any purchases, so they can modify their expenditures as you go forward, and that they're not making any commitment until they approve your plans and specific selections. You'll find that in most circumstances as you go along your clients will end up spending more than they state during the interview, particularly if the job is spread over a period of time.

But that doesn't mean that you can put off talking about the budget in relation to their plans. This is, after all, a job for you, and both you and your clients need to be realistic about what is going to be done and what can be done. If they've discussed a job that might run to $50,000 in your estimation, and they currently say that their budget is "around $30,000," you're in the ballpark. On the other hand, if they say their proposed budget is $5,000, then you've got to talk with them in some detail and review what's been covered so far. There's no sense going forward if they're laboring under some sort of misunderstanding as to the cost of things.

A final question should be about the schedule. When are we planning to start, and when do we hope to finish? Obviously the start date is important for you so that you can schedule the job, and they'll usually have a deadline - Christmas, or the start of school, or some such, when they will want the job to be done. Needless to say, big projects don't always proceed on a precise timetable. This is another area where you're trying to get a general idea of the schedule. It can be fine-tuned as you go.

Then there are other considerations that will need to be taken into account.

What days can your clients accompany you for shopping trips and show room visits? Naturally you'll be doing a lot of pre-shopping before you take them anywhere, but you need to know when they are available.

Will there be anyone home to accept deliveries? How about access for trades people such the plumber or an electrical contractor?

These are issues that your clients may not have thought of and it is important to get them to consider these before you begin the job. Make clear to them that you can't do this all without their assistance, input, and approval. The more you help them understand what's going to happen, and what is required of them, the smoother the job will be. You should probably plan to close with a series of open-ended question, such as, "Is there anything else we should take into consideration? Are there any other topics you think we should discuss? Are there any questions you can think of that I haven't asked?" You'll find that often clients have ideas or questions that they haven't raised because you haven't asked the precise question they expected. Try to draw them out before you end the interview.

In the next installment, we're going to discuss some thoughts about how and where to conduct this interview.

Excerpted from the Lessons "Client Designer Relationship" and "Planning for People" from the Sheffield School Complete Course in Interior Design.
Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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