It doesn’t matter if you plan to hire a decorator or do-it-yourself, you can’t avoid knowing these 6 things.
There’s a dirty little secret most decorators and interior designers would never tell you. It’s what they really think about some of their clients.
When they put out their portfolio and hang up their shingle they really only want two types of clients:
A. The client that loves their style so much, they say to the decorator, “I trust you. I love everything you do. Do whatever you want.”
B. The clients that are so comfortable in their skin they ooze personal style. The decorator can tell by looking at them what their ideal life is like. They know their decorating style. They just need a decorator to make a room out of it.
Decorators love clients like A and B. Either one makes their job easier and more fun. They get to stick in their zone of genius rocking out their style or bringing someone’s personal style to life in a room. Sadly, they don’t get to work with As and Bs very often or at all.
Client A is like a unicorn. We’ve all heard about them, but no one’s ever seen one.
Client B is a rare breath of fresh air.
Most clients aren’t like Client A or Client B. Most clients start out as a decorator’s worst nightmare. Most clients have no clue what they want at all, which can result in a lot more work for the decorator. It also tends to be the reason the client isn’t comfortable decorating their own space.
Decorators know this. They know most clients aren’t A or B. So, they have an intake process to deal with all the rest. It’s designed to get enough information from the client to know what they would really like. It works…most of the time.
But there are just some pain-in-the-you-know-what clients that it doesn’t work for. I like to call them “blank slates”. They don’t know, don’t care, or can’t decide. Red or blue? Surprise me. Traditional or modern? I don’t know. How much do you want to spend? I haven’t decided.
They make the decorator’s job hard, which makes the project less enjoyable. Which makes the decorator question their own confidence in the choices for the space, because they have no starting point. Which leads to a high probability the client won’t entirely like the end result. It’s lose-lose for the decorator and the client.
Whether you work with me or another decorator, the intake questions probe for the same core information. You need to know the answers for yourself before you hire a decorator. If you can’t answer all of these, then you aren’t ready for a decorator or to start decorating on your own. Unless, of course, you want to become a unicorn and bow down to whatever your decorator recommends.
I know you thought hiring a decorator would mean they do everything for you. Sorry love. Whether you are working with a decorator or not there is a little bit you have to give first, if you want good results.
6 Things You Must Know to Work With a Decorator or Decorate For Yourself
No, you shouldn’t adapt to their style and let them do whatever they would like in your home.
Don’t worry if you aren’t oozing enough personal style to turn into a “this outfit inspired this room” blog post.
If you don’t know what your style is, at least know your answer to these 6 things. These are your starting point. Good design doesn’t happen without knowing these.
1. Know What You Don’t Like
For most decision-phobes, it is easier to point out what they don’t like than what they do. Get clear on your decorating aversions. List out every color, fabric, style, metal finish that has ever done you wrong and you never want to see again.
For example, say you struggle to decide if you prefer cool colors or warm colors. Then, focus on what you know you don’t like? Maybe there is a certain color you hate. As a decorator, knowing specific things you don’t like helps a lot. If you can give me enough dislikes, I can start to piece together what you like. Or at the very least avoid giving you something you hate.
2. Know What You Like
To assess your style and what you want for your room, a decorator is going to ask you some questions. If you can’t answer them, it’s a problem. They will be pretty basic on the surface. What colors do you like? What style do you gravitate toward? What do you want to do in this space?
I used to love watching the style diagnosis segment on Emily Henderson’s show Secrets of a Stylist. She didn’t ask her clients questions. Instead, she showed them a range of objects (usually unrelated to decorating, like a collection of coffee mugs) and made them choose their favorite. From that info she diagnosed their style, or more specifically what they liked. It was her creative way of getting to the information she needed from the client.
One way or another the decorator has to learn more about you. If you can answer basic questions about what you like or choose a favorite from a set of things, you’ll be fine.
If you freeze up and have no idea, you need to figure that out before you hire anyone. They can only be as good as the input you give them. Their zone of genius is assembling all the things you like into a beautiful room. If you don’t know even your basic likes, it makes creating a room for you hard.
3. Know What Your Budget Is
It isn’t real until you attach a dollar sign to it. You have to decide on your budget. Unless you have unlimited funds, you need to give your decorator an amount you are planning to spend on the project. If you are decorating for yourself, you need a budget, too. Without a budget, you or the decorator will find it impossible to design a room that meets your needs financially.
Also, never assume your budget isn’t big enough or that you need a huge budget to work with a decorator. I have worked with many clients that only had $500 to spend on a room makeover. I used my expertise to help them stretch those $500 for the biggest impact. In fact, it might be wise to work with a decorator when your budget is limited, because there is no room for mistakes and you need all their creative sources and ideas. Note: Some decorators do have a minimum budget. It doesn’t mean you need to spend at least that amount for a great room, it just means they aren’t the right decorator for you.
It also isn’t fair to give the decorator a blank check that you know they can’t cash. Unless the budget is flexible and you will buy whatever your decorator recommends, you are wasting their time and yours. No matter what, they need to make financial assumptions to get started. If they are off base, then the design won’t work for you, and they won’t have another room to add to their portfolio. Then, nobody’s happy.
You need to be crystal clear on what your budget includes and how you want the money spent. Does your budget include shipping, delivery, the decorator’s fee, the plumber, etc.? Also, be really clear on how you want the money allocated. If a client tells me they have $15,000 to spend on a room, I am going to assume they won’t mind spending $500 on a piece of art. But if you really want the bulk of your money spent on quality furniture and want to be thrifty with the wall decor, you need to set expectations.
4. Know What Your Timeline Is
When do you want to have your room “finished”? A decorator needs to make sure they can deliver on the design and that there is time to acquire all the things or do all the work to pull the room together. If you are doing it yourself, you’ll need to account for things like shipping, delivery, and upholstery times.
There is a fine line to walk between enough lead time to design a space and too much lead time where the design is outdated at execution time.
With my online services, some clients purchased a design but weren’t ready to execute the room. So, what they really paid for was ideas, because by the time they go to purchase the pieces I recommended they might not be available anymore.
On the other hand, it’s bad form to commit to a decorator with a specific timeline and then pressure them to finish faster, because you miscalculated when you wanted the room done.
5. Know Where You are Comfortable Shopping or Not
I spend a significant amount of time sourcing furniture and decor for my clients. And whenever I get a response like, “I like it, but I don’t shop there” or “It’s nice, but I don’t want to pay for shipping”, it makes me kind of mad. Mostly because I ask for preferred sources or places to avoid upfront.
If the decorator is only creating the plan (typical in e-design) and you are executing (buying and installing the items), then you must be clear about where you are and are not willing to buy from.
If you are decorating for yourself, it’s good to narrow the scope of stores you prefer to shop from, too. There is no point in wasting time searching for things at stores you would never actually go into or order from.
Do you prefer certain stores? Maybe you want to get everything from local stores or you like stores you have visited in person or stores you trust.
Are there stores that should be avoided? Maybe you don’t like the quality, you had a bad experience with them, or you don’t want to pay their shipping/delivery charges.
Do you mind ordering furniture and decor online? Or do you require being able to see it in person? Be specific here. Maybe you want to see a sofa in person, but you are okay ordering coffee tables and accent chairs online.
Realize the restrictions you are putting on yourself or the decorator. If you truly don’t want to shop at a certain place that is fine, but it might be the best place to get the perfect thing for your space.
My advice would be to only rule out places you refuse to shop no matter what. Otherwise, set some general guidelines, like online stores are okay if the shipping is less than 10% of the cost. Or these are my favorite types of stores, if you know other sources like that I am open to them. Or I had a horrible experience with furniture from this store, but I don’t mind if you source other non-furniture items from there.
6. What’s Your Story
Your home needs to tell your story. Like every word in a book has the purpose of taking you through the tale, so everything in your home serves to tell your story.
You should know and share your story. What is most important to you? What are your hobbies and interests? What is your profession? Even if you think it has nothing to do with decorating because you never know. The details of your story can be used to personalize your space and make it uniquely you.
You Are the Best Person to Decorate Your Home
It’s a little and a lot at the same time, but if you can answer those six things, you are ready to work with a decorator or to start decorating for yourself. If you are like Client B, it will be a breeze to come up with these answers. If you are like most clients, it will require a little more thought. And, yup, it requires work on your part…more than you knew, right?!
That’s why I am a fan of decorating for yourself. By the time you have done all the legwork to get a good result from hiring someone else, you are in a great position to just do it yourself.
Awesome post Jackie! Thanks for all the details that go into “knowing what you want.”
Thanks Melissa. Glad you liked it. You did well in the intake process :)
This is all such good advice. I’m finding that clients are also surprised that good quality furniture can cost more than they expected. They don’t want the Ikea furniture, but they want the Ikea price. This trips them up and can stop the process, especially when two people (like a spouse) are making the decision.
Lisa, You are so right. I have definitely had clients say they don’t like Ikea, but might only have an Ikea budget. It’s the hardest when the couple can’t agree on the budget…definitely something to align on before engaging a decorator (it will be less awkward for everyone).
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Great post Jackie. So much thought, detail and helpful info really sets you in a class of your own. I suspect that while client A is the unicorn, client B is a rare breed for a decorator to work with as they are already doing their own decorating naturally as a reflection of their personal style. I used to dress very 40’s & 50’s vintage pin up and my decorating style naturally followed that. Now, I’ve kind of lost my way with my personal style and it’s reflected in me decorating. Trying to recapture both is an adventure that is difficult but I’m enjoying it.
Fiona, Thank you. I understand that lost feeling. I think it is a byproduct of life, sometimes our confidence slips. I am excited you are on a mission to recapture your style and honored to be a part of it.
These comments are really interesting to read!