Don't Try This At Home

Irwin Weiner - The first design project I ever did - now over 20 years ago - was helping decorate the home of friends of my parents in South Africa. Financial difficulties forced them to scale down. Using their good-quality furniture and art, I created an interior that was a lot better than what they had expected. It was so successful, in fact, that they were able to feel that their move was not as much a "social decline" as they'd anticipated.

I did for them what I still maintain a good interior design project should do for any client: create a stage set to live in that is so beautiful, that it enhances your life.  It's a little grandiose, I know, but it's a worthy goal nonetheless.


My first design project was a great opportunity for me, too. Even though I wasn't being paid, I realized that it was a good chance to gain my first referral. When I asked the wife what she thought of the interior I'd completed, she said that she particularly loved that it didn't look like it had been "decorated," and she was happy to know that her friends would feel the same way.

When I pressed her on that remark, she confided that hiring a designer made her feel inadequate, both in terms of her taste level, as well as it being somewhat of an unnecessary luxury. One could say that it was like the extravagance of hiring a trainer at the gym when all one needs is self-discipline and a bit of research. And most people think that they've got good taste, so why hire an outsider to design your home?

I'm often confronted with similar thoughts from people who express a disdain for the interior design industry. There are many people who don't have good taste, they can afford to hire a designer, but they elaborately  justify not using a professional. One of my favorite Why I Won't Hire An Interior Designer rationales is "Interiors are like Art, and I don't need to know much about it; I only need to know what I like." 

Now that I'm older and more exerienced in my profession (of which I am very proud), when I meet people who profess the reluctance to hire a professional, or demean interior designers as a whole, I now have a few stock responses. These are the remarks I have reserved for those people who will never hire a pro, so they will never be on my list of prospective clients: 

1. Knock yourself out.

2. You're on your own, 007.

3. Have you ever thought of making your own clothes, too? 

4. Have fun with your decorating project.

5. Have a nice day.

6. Good luck to you.

I find that people who are secure about their taste and sense of style tend to be more trusting with hiring a professional interior designer. They know that going to a designer is not a sign of weakness or decorating surrender. They are purchasing the skills and abilities that a good designer possesses, the professional expertise that we acquire through years of experience in a variety of residential settings and years of study, training, and certification. It's like going to a doctor for her expertise, a tree surgeon for his special knowledge, a vet to cure your sick pet, or a realtor to help you find and negotiate the best deal on a new home in a neighborhood you know nothing about.

I have a fine arts, architecture, and interior design background. Here's how I (and many of my design industry colleagues) can assist clients in a professional way that puts us on a par with any other professional you might want to hire.

  • I can step into a bare room and visualize an interior that first starts out with architectural enhancements to get the "bones" right before decorating begins.
  • I can sketch the room so you can visualize how the drapery treatments look and where to put furniture and artwork to enhance the final effect.
  • I can draw detailed schematics showing where electrical elements go, from recessed lighting to lamps and sconces and electrical sockets and dimmer switches.
  • I can help my clients make small rooms look larger, sunless rooms look bright and cheerful, and help inject the owners' personality and verve into each aspect of a room.
  • I help educate my clients and bring them up to a higher level of understanding and appreciation for their surroundings. They learn about colors in different lights during different times of day. They understand about different periods of furniture and what features make a piece great or dreadful. They learn how to mix scale and other elements in a room to achieved desired effects. They learn how to make a home beautiful rather than turn it into a page from a Pottery Barn catalog or make it look like a hotel lobby.
  • My resources can help clients invest their decorating budgets wisely, and the people I work with will work hard to ensure satisfaction. If something goes wrong, a professional is better equipped to remedy the situation. Believe me, this is a godsend to clients! Imagine what can be damaged during transit, the juggling that has to happen to choreograph a complex remodeling project that requires numerous vendors and permissions. The list goes on and on, and we have the experience to problem solve.

What's intersting is that I find my experienced clients are much more relaxed about their projects. They understand the process, and all the expenses and patience that goes into a profesionaly designed project. They also know the rewards.

Sometimes first-timer clients can be very difficult. In many first meetings, they pour out their design frustrations and dreams, and by the end of the meeting they're quite breathless. These are the clients who have difficulty "letting go" during a project. They second guessing and micro manage and don't enjoy the process of working with a professional decorator to make their home beautiful. It makes me ask such people if they would treat Giorgio Armani the same way if he were desisigning their wedding gown. As the question begins to sink in, I inform them that Mr. Armani would fire them on the spot for insubordination.

Here's the question: If money were not an issue, why wouldn't you hire  a professional interior designer? Please add a post . . . .