The Design-enabler: Confessions of a bitchy kitchen designer

Jackie Beat Fact: I don't know anyone that can afford an exclusive designer a minimum of $16,000 per month ($100/hr.)

Fiction: Your designer works on your project and your project only.

Merriam-Webster defines an enabler as: one that enables another to achieve an end; especially one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior. I define it as bending over a really big barrel for a client and getting screwed. I'm no hollaback girl.

These In recent years I have been met with some unusual circumstances as a result of a difficult client or contractor that:

  • Does not respect timelines
  • Does not comprehend the design package
  • Does not have the courage to ask questions
  • Assumes that designs can be changed during construction

Most of the time these issues aren't uncovered until construction begins after contracts are signed, if you're lucky before hand. Each of these issues are hard enough to manage for individual clients, but imagine having two or all of this issues in one client! You might be shocked to learn that none this is the designers problem, and they are all one-hundred percent the clients problem. If you think otherwise, you are a design-enabler.

Being a design-enabler means that the relationship between the client and designer is so effed up that there's some spoon feeding happening. This sense of entitlement proves to be a huge time waster, energy sucker, not to mention eye-ball roller, frustration maker, budget blower (cost over-runs), and a down-right big stupid head.

So what's the point? Kitchen Design, any Interior Design really (because I do both), has a process much like a flower that is opening to bloom. If design is purchased off the peg-board at Home Depot then it would be a product and not a service. Working with a designer is the same as hiring an accountant, lawyer, or a mechanic; all three can cost you money but they will also save you an incredible amount of money. To get to the truth of the matter, designers are not paid a salary and they do work more than one client. Each client is not exclusive, deal with it.

During the Programming Phase of Interior Design, several steps are taken by the designer, including producing Construction Drawings (blueprints), to ensure that everyone (homeowner and contractors) fully understand what is being designed, selected, and specified. The client is often required to sign-off (initial) on every drawing, changes, and cut-sheets/specifications along the way. Designers do all this, go through all the work, because no single person can afford a do-over. This is a big deal, do not take it lightly. The whole purpose of design is to provide a plan and direction of the complete project to prevent unnecessary costly over-runs.

There is no mulligan in design.

So, what can we all (clients and designers alike) do in order to smooth out this experience just a little and avoid the traps of becoming a design-enabler?

  1. Respect the time - I can't believe I have to say this, but if you book an appointment and don't want to go, all you have to do is cancel it.
  2. Be engaged - Put down the BlackBerry and the iPhones and pay attention when there are conversations taking place. Some designers and clients work well by email, some don't. Whatever your communication method, be sure that attention is being paid to what is being said.
  3. No question is a stupid question - No question is small and meaningless, ASK IT! Spending $50,000 on a mistake is a terrible waste.
  4. Review the design plans - Even if you don't understand a single thing in the drawing package, look at it. Refer to #3. I don't know a single designer that won't explain how to read drawings when asked.
Transparency and honesty go a long way in every project, they help develop trust and respect. We all need to work just a bit harder at this. Don't become a design-enabler.