The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 08 The Client - Designer Relationship - Part 08

In the last five installments, we've discussed the questions that you need to ask in a complete client interview to help you propose design and decorating solutions that will be meaningful to the client and the family for whom you're going to work. We've listed the questions, but there's another important aspect that we're going to take up in this installment - how and where is the best place to conduct this interview?

Where Should You Conduct This Interview?

When you start out as a professional interior designer, you will probably be operating "out of your night table." That is, you will probably have no outside office, and will most likely use a home office as your base of operation. Should you invite the Redfords into your home for this interview?

No. You are holding yourself out as a professional. Unless you have a full home office with a separate entranceway, holding an interview in your home may conflict with the image that you want to project.

In addition, the Redfords may not like the decoration in your home. Let's say your home is decorated in a traditional style, and they prefer a modern style. Even though you may be perfectly capable of designing a modern room for them, they may have concerns that you can't do the job to suit their taste. Their confidence about your ability to create what they want (or what they think they want) may be diminished by their reaction to the specific décor in your home.

When you start out, therefore, we recommend that you conduct the interview in the client's home. This approach has a number of advantages.

First, by visiting their home you immediately learn a great deal about your clients. Once glance around their home is worth the thousand words they might use to describe how they live and their tastes. In an instant you will have a sense of their lifestyle, their current décor, and their attitudes.

Second, visiting your client will usually permit you to examine the room or rooms on which you will be working. It also permits you to see their current furniture and make some mental notes concerning pieces that you may want to save and use within your design, or that they want you to use in your design.

Third, it has the important added advantage of setting up an atmosphere for the meeting that is comfortable for them and conducive to a more open discussion.

For these three key reasons, we commend that you conduct the interview in the client's home when you are starting out.

Benefits to Using Your Office

Later in your career, when you have an outside office, you may prefer to conduct this interview in your office. Many experienced designers feel that this helps them establish their credibility as "professionals." It also saves travel time, which can be a significant factor depending on the area in which you work. Saving this time can be extremely important to a busy designer. In addition, it enables the designer to show models and photographs of other jobs that might otherwise be too cumbersome to take to the client's home.

In your office, the décor is not likely to raise any questions because it is business-oriented, so it isn't likely to affect the client's attitude toward the type of design work that the designer will do in a home.

Set a Time Limit

Regardless of where you hold the interview, don't permit it to last longer than about an hour. By setting a time limit, you make it clear that this is a professional meeting, that you are a busy person, that your time is valuable, and that you have other jobs to attend to.

If you are offered a cup of coffee or some light refreshment, by all means accept. But, don't settle in for an afternoon or evening of small talk. Throughout your working relationship with the Redfords, you'll be happy to answer relevant questions, but you want them to understand that your time is limited and that you have a number of clients. Spending too much time can create the wrong impression about your availability.

In the next installment of this series, we'll offer some parting thoughts about how to conduct your 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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