What would You Do? Advice for Designers/Consultants

It took 10 years of experience before I could answer this question with confidence. In addition to an entire year of blogging–posting only images that I loved–before I could tell you exactly what ‘my look’ was.  As a new designer, I would say “I can do anything, any style, I take your look and make it beautiful”, because I needed the work.  Now that I’ve done everything, I know what I like to do and what I’m good at.

Anyway, it’s much easier as a designer to improve upon an existing look than to create something from nothing. That’s when having a ‘signature look’ really comes in handy.  The opposite is true with specifying colour.  It’s way easier to specify colours when starting from scratch than to walk into an existing home, take all the fixed elements, good and bad, decide which to ignore, what you absolutely cannot ignore and pull a space together with the right colours.

My advice to any designer starting out would be to distinguish your look and find your ‘niche’ as fast as you can. Especially if you have a blog. When I hit a site and read a post where the designer is saying “There are so many supercalafragalistic-expialadoshus kitchens out there I can’t decide, and here are some of my favourites. . . ”, I am not left with ‘that’s bad or ‘that’s good’. I just keep surfing.  When you find a blog where a designer has an aesthetic you love, you keep reading because you know you’re probably going to find the answers you are looking for.

Copyblogger wrote a great post last week about money booths. You know, the one where it’s swirling all around you and whatever you can grab in 30 seconds you keep?  If you try to grab the big clumps you end up with nothing.  Same with establishing yourself as a designer or a consultant; “Instead of painting a picture with individual details, we try to go for a “clump,” a generalization that can cover every client and every scenario.” It’s way too hard to make everyone happy and even harder to run a business doing it this way.

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Everyone knows how I feel about White (painted) Kitchen Cabinets, backsplash tile, Cloud White, and Throw Pillows, just to name a few. But do your clients know your opinion?

Recently I received this email from a reader: “I am currently trying to plan my new kitchen remodel. . . but I am horrid at it.  I have been looking on-line for ideas and the photos with white cabinets are the ones I am drawn to time and time again. . . but friends around me are all about wood and white walls.  After finding your website and reading about your thoughts on white cabinets. . . I have made the decision to ignore everyone and go with white.  I am once again looking forward to my new kitchen and might just avoid an ulcer.” Thank you. Andrea. W.

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Just before you think this came to me overnight, let me assure you that my ‘clean aesthetic’ took hundreds of calls to develop. I saw way too many backsplashes and accent tiles that did not coordinate in the slightest before I came to the conclusion that it’s a design detail that is better left on the drawing board. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. And, my taste and style is not for everyone.  If you are someone who wants an elaborate, detailed, accent tiled backsplash, then you probably won’t call me to help you.  And when I am talking to a client who has hired me because they love my look, I feel like a rock star because everything (well almost 🙂 that comes out of my mouth is what they want to hear.  It’s really quite wonderful.

Bottom line, don’t be afraid to let your fabulous and unique design opinion out of the bag. Stick to your aesthetic with confidence, and your perfect clients will beat a path to your door!

Related posts:

Design Lessons from Elizabeth Stevenson
3 Steps to Finding a Mentor in the Design Industry
Do you make this Mistake in your Business/Blog?

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  1. Maria, you are spot on. I used to tell people I did "every style" when in fact my look has a bohemian vibe with a mix of ethnic and vintage bits. 5 years ago, I wouls NEVER has said that to a client!

  2. A Color Specialist in Charlotte

    Reading your blog Maria, makes me feel like I'm reading a page out of your diary. You add such a personal side of your designs and your writing comes from your heart. Love the points you make!

  3. Once again, and interesting subject. While I do believe that good design can exist within any design style, I think we all gravitate towards the style that feels most comfortable to us. While I'm confident that I could design in the neutral Swedish style, I don't want to and it wouldn't be me. I do think a good designer is able to help the client realize their own design style and implement it in their home. I think birds of a feather do that flock together thing, so maybe we get the clients we're supposed to have!

  4. This is so true in all aspects of design! As a graphic designer, I too tried my hand in a variety of styles before I finally figured out what my special style was. And now I have clients knocking down my door (well, almost!)

  5. Oliver @ Sabi Style

    You’ve nailed it! I am always surprised by how many designers pitch themselves as a “jack of all trades” because surely that makes them “master to none”.

    For me the journey of discovering the sort of designer I am was one that I loved. It was a true adventure into the realms of self discovery. In some way I am still on it – I don’t think we will ever stop learning or evolving.

    That said, I believe that for a design to really work it needs come from an authentic place – one that the designer truly believes in, otherwise you just end up with a wishy-washy finish.

  6. Make sure you sign up for "The Red Bench" which is all about creating your "niche" which will draw the customers to you. Now have you seen some of the black kitchens out there….they are really incredible.
    black tile…..dark and mysterious…..love that too.
    pve

  7. Classic...with a twist

    Great thought about creating a niche… it is very true but often scary for designers as well. They don't want to "miss out" on anything. It takes time to develop the trust factor with clients and you are spot on with your advice! Traci

  8. This is a thought provoking post Maria and a timely one for me. I think every decorator has a personal design aesthetic but we only get to use it in its entirety in certain situations – when you have design power over a whole room or house. Otherwise, you are doing bits and pieces- colour schemes or window treatments. You are forced to interject ideas into someone's previous design. In such cases you can discuss the overall look or feel the person wants, but you can't start from scratch. I'm more involved with really listening to what a client wants and meeting them in that design. It's about practicality. I feel my job is to help clients express their personality in their home. I have to ferret that out. It's much more difficult than only designing rooms I love personally.

  9. Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    Can I call you "mentor"? 🙂 I'm always, always learning so much here! I love reading your posts…. reading and learning. How great is that?

    Have a beautiful day!

    xo

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    Post of the Day: Interior Designer Brad Ford's Home.

  10. “Instead of painting a picture with individual details, we try to go for a “clump,” a generalization that can cover every client and every scenario. And we end up with nothing.”

    Oh my, that is so true! Focus and specialize – you will attract those people who want or need what you are selling.

  11. Another excellent post, Maria — and great advice for those of us just starting out. You do such a great job of making your blog both interesting and helpful, no matter what the day's topic is!

  12. traci zeller designs

    That is such great advice, Maria. I quite willingly tell potential clients that there are certain things that they would be better off calling a different designer for … and thanks for giving us the confidence to do that!

  13. I think we all have the most energy and success, when we work within our favorite vernacular. I'd rather speak in my native tongue.
    best,
    Liz

  14. Agree 100 percent. We have decided that we would much prefer to have fewer jobs that are right for us. If it's not a match, no one is happy.

  15. If you want a deputy to travel the world (or at least Vancouver), painting its cabinets white – I'll do it!

    'Know what you like & stick to it' – a good reminder applicable for everyone – in any field!

  16. What a great article! I only wish I would've read this a few years ago…it would've saved me a lot of frustration. Projects always turn out better when the client wants something in my style. While I can do other styles, I always feel like the client is trying to box me in.

  17. The perfect advice! It makes perfect sense: Why would a client hire a designer who doesn't exactly have the taste as they do? Enjoy the gorgeous day, Kellie xx

  18. Maria,

    I agree. Own your knowledge and lead the trail of self discovery for your clients.

    About a year ago I had dinner with my wonderful design instructor and I thanked her for her great advice on the first day of class (many years ago). She said "Know your clients well and know yourself better". Meaning, well known becomes even better. My instructor had her degrees interior design and in psychology for good reasons.

    Bette

  19. A thought provoking post indeed. But I for one really enjoy working with different styles, really finding what works for a client and their home – one if the best reasons for being a professional designer is getting to create spaces for clients that couldn't possibly work in my own house. My own preference for simplicity, asymmetric balance and not too much matching informs everything I do, but the fun part is the constant evolution. I think! Great post, as usual.

  20. Maria, That is really phenomenal advice. And BTW I love your look too. What do you say when someone loves the clean aesthetic modern lines and colors..but keeps gravitating to the ornate? I feel torn about it. It's just plain weird. Every time I walk into Tim's office..I breathe a sigh of relief..it's so simple, natural, light earth tones… clean lines.

    I'm half tempted to dump my antiques! Yipes–did I say that???

    BTW, I'm thinking the same thing is true about a blog. We can't please everyone…we have to be unique..and then they will want to stay. Every time I get tempted to 'emulate' someone else..I know I've blown it almost before the post is up.

    Great principle!

    xo
    Donna

  21. Maria- as always you know just what to say. Thank you for the reminder, to do what you love and not to worry about pleasing everybody. I have been having little conversations with myself letting me know it is OK to like my own style, knowing not everyone will get it. The right people will in the end.

    Thank you

  22. Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home

    I agree about the accent tiles. They look out of date eventually. My style is a mix of Traditional and ethnic. I came to this conclusion just looking at the things I choose for my own home. I know what I am drawn to, but I also like other styles. I am good at mixing different styles also. Thanks for the post!

  23. Great post today….something I've been trying to establish: what my niche should be….
    I featured you today on my blog post regarding a great quote you once said about pillowscapes.
    http://jvwhome.blogspot.com

    thanks again for all your great articles….

  24. As someone who is just statring out, and writing a blog…I really REALLY appreciate your post!! There is a tendency to try to please everyone and get noticed and I like how you framed this, my energy is better spent on my passions…that's what got me here in the first place right? THANKS!! Loved it.

  25. My House, My Garden

    Maria … what a great post. I think any designer (new or otherwise) is hesitant to try to design for someone whose aesthetic is completely the opposite of theirs. Maybe the better choice would be to refer them to a fellow designer that is more akin to their style. You gain a referral source yourself but do not gain the stress of trying to create a look that you do not enjoy creating.
    As always, I love your posts!

  26. I tell people that you ARE my mentor, because not only do I love what you write, you give me great insight into how I should address certain issues should they arise when working with clients. JUST LOVE YOU and your work.
    Sticking to what my opinion and aesthertics are, is eventually going to drive the people to my door.
    That’s a nice feeling to have. 🙂
    This post is very helpful as I have a client who has a house that they have purchased but before they move in they would like to have it decorated and furnished before they move in. A great opportunity to bring in an aesthetic and plant it into their vision,