Earlier this month, we wrote about 'toxic' client relationships and how to avoid them. One of the key ways to avoid a bad relationship that ends in a lawsuit is to be clear and honest about your requirements/services but often, Clients jump into a design contract without giving it enough thought. Read on to find out what we would suggest to ensure your relationship with your designer runs smoothly instead of being doomed from the onset.

Without question, the most important relationship in a renovation or redecoration project is the relationship between a Client and their Interior Designer. Of course if you have hired an architect, this relationship is equally important but for the sake of this article we are focusing on the interior designer and their role within a project.

There are lots of parties involved in a typical refurbishment, such as surveyors, structural engineers, local council building regulations officers, the contractor and their building team, joiners, specialist builders or decorators (window fitters, glass suppliers, worktop/stone manufacturers)... the list goes on. If you as the client can build a relationship with all of the parties involves, that's great - but it's not always the case that you will be on site to meet with them or even contact them at all. Often, that responsibility is passed on to the interior designer who coordinates all parties. Therefore, if nothing else, you should be able to trust your designer as they will be controlling (or coordinating) many elements of the project!

Apart from the logistical side of a project, the designer is responsible for designing and delivering the entire concept for your home - often starting with extracting information from you on your likes and dislikes that you may not even think that you know! Therefore, it is vitally important to make sure that you feel you can share your opinions openly with your chosen designer.

Choosing the Right Designer:
Most home renovators are very aware that they need to be weary of builders and tradesmen and need to choose carefully, ask for references and ask to see examples of former work. However, when choosing a designer, many people don't give nearly enough thought before entering into an (often expensive) contract. Ask yourself:
1. Has this designer been recommended? Do you know someone who has been satisfied with their service? Have you read good reviews about them?
2. Have you seen examples of their previous work, maybe photos on their website or in magazines? Is their work of a high standard?
3. Do you like the style of their previous work? Be careful with this one as, although many designers have a signature style (minimal Scandinavian, for example), keep in mind that a designer is working towards a brief and to their Client's preferences.
4. Meet the designer! Often we get emails from people with a one-line description of the works and an estate agent's plan attached, asking for a quotation for 'the interior design', wanting to start the works tomorrow. By all means contact the designer and send them as much information as you already have but plan to arrange a meeting either on site or at the designer's studio (often a much better way to understand their company and work methods) to get to know each other before discussing quotations and project particulars. Most of our clients have at least one meeting with our designers before we are appointed - depending on the project and the client, we may not even offer to quote after the first meeting if we feel that we need to still get to know each other better before talking business.
5. When you meet the designer, do you feel a connection and an understanding? Do you feel that the designer has listened to you and understood your needs? Have you found it easy to share your thoughts and feelings with the designer?
6. FEES: A designer is not offering a free service and every designer has a slightly different fee structure. Some designers work on hourly rates, others take commission on products and orders placed. Not all designers include the same list of services in their quotation, so be sure to check that your designer has understood (from your face to face meetings that you have undoubtedly had before you receive the quotation) your needs for the project, so that their services cover everything that is needed to take you from day one to completion.
7. Finally, it's worth repeating steps 1-6 to meet a few designers and forming a shortlist, before choosing your designer.

Understanding Each Other Is Key:
In your earlier meetings, get to know each other on a personal level. In order for the designer to produce your perfect home, they need to understand you and the way you live. The more honest and clear your relationship is, the more successful the project is likely to be, taking the design to fine-tuned details that make the space unique and personalised. Show the designer photos of other designs that you like and let them know your likes and dislikes. You should feel that you can speak constructively and freely but at the same time, you need to be open to new ideas, listen to your designer and believe in their talents. At Ardesia, we have a saying that 'anything is possible but you may not like the consequences' - we know that clients are demanding and often they want 'everything' and we don't like to say that what our clients want is 'impossible', no matter how outlandish the request may seem. However, as an 'advisor', listen to your designer when they suggest changes or amendments (or even omissions) of your desires, there's probably a good reason for their comments!

For example, if a client wants a bathtub and a shower in their en-suite bathroom but the room is too small to accommodate both comfortably, your designer might advise you against it - not because they want your vision to fail but because they can foresee that you would probably not be satisfied with a tiny, cramped and impractical bathroom.

Or, a client might want a luxury kitchen, a luxury bathroom and custom made joinery throughout but the budget does not allow for everything, your designer might advise you to choose where your priorities lie and to compromise, with your budget in mind.

At the end of the day - it's your home and it should be your vision, but you have hired a designer to bring that vision to life - so share, and listen to each other.

Do it Right, Work to a Brief:
We include the Brief, or our first meeting to discuss the design and the client's requirements (wants, wishes, needs and dreams) as part of our contract and we would never embark on a design job without a Brief. The Brief exists to give factual, objective and comprehensive guidelines for the designer to work towards, to help them aim towards the right creative direction.
The designer is not a mind reader, so unless you define important factors from the start, you might be disappointed later.
In this way, the Brief also serves to protect the designer from hours of wasted work - the designer is not responsible for you changing your mind, so if you later decide that you actually want a traditional, rustic look that costs X amount but originally told the designer to aim towards a modern, Scandinavian look that costs Y, you will of course be paying for additional hours to make those changes.
Therefore, GIVE INPUT - don't say 'Do whatever you think is best' and then be upset if your vision isn't met. This goes back to communication. Trust your designer, yes, but don't expect them to read your mind and get it right.

Remember who the Professional is:
This point may come across as a bit rude or self righteous but it's not intended so. It's a simple statement of fact. Sometimes, the deeper a project gets into the build stage, Clients start to feel a bit anxious - either about the completion date, the quality of work or even the design decisions and product selections that they have made with their designer. We try to be as accommodating as we can to our clients' concerns (and sometimes panicked fears) to ensure that the project stays on track and the client is satisfied with the completed project.

However, there is a point when late changes or unnecessary concerns can jeopardise not only the completion date or the quality of the work, but can also put a strain on the client-designer relationship. If the designer has done everything they can to help you make the right design decisions in the first place and has kept you up to date with project progress (ensuring the client everything is running smoothly) but the client is still unsatisfied, it can be very frustrating for the designer to keep backtracking and making changes. Remember, the designer is the 'middle man' who undoubtedly will have to deal with the frustrations of the builders and other parties as well as the client's own complaints if the project is delayed.

If you, as the client, find yourself panicking halfway through the building works and second guessing your choice of finishes, take a deep, calming breath and call your designer to have a discussion. At this point, try to remember why you hired a professional designer to run your project in the first place. You probably liked their style of design on other projects and felt like your designer understood your needs and likes correctly - so trust your designer to know what's best!

A Final Note on Fees:
We know that refurbishing costs a lot of money and clients want to as much clarity as they can in terms of costs. They also want to save as much as possible! When it comes to paying your designer, however, this is not where you should be pushing for savings. If you want to hire a designer, check very carefully that you will be able to afford to pay them for as long as they are needed on your project. We have experienced several times the consequences of a client cutting out the designer halfway through the project to 'save money' - the design is jeopardised and mistakes can happen very easily. Remember that you are paying for an advisor and they should be around for as long as advice is needed.

There is often a confusion about what the fees are paid for - most designers will price a project depending on how much resource they estimate your project will take (man hours) - factoring in the size of the house, complexity of the design and the expected hours spent liaising with the client. Bluntly put, if the designer things you are going to be a pain in the behind and phone up twice a day asking for changes or extra details, you can be sure that your project costs will skyrocket. You are paying for an advisor's hours spent on your job, not for a finished design - so don't expect to take advantage of a 'fixed' contract (most contracts have clauses for when the design deviates from Brief) and ask for 20 revisions for free!

If you reach the end of your contracted hours with your designer and you are still not satisfied with the outcome, it's time to question how clearly you briefed your designer to empower them to design for you. Be sure in the knowledge that no designer will continue working for you for free.

Essentially, the point about fees is to respect the profession you are employing. If you try to negotiate down a designer's price or push for 'free' work, your designer will ultimately not be motivated to engage with you and your project fully. If you do not build a friendly, professional and respectful relationship, you will not be making the most of the design potential of your project.

Once you have chosen your designer, agreed on fees and produced a Brief, make sure you formalise your agreement with an industry recommended contract - we use the standard form contracts produced by the BIID (British Institute of Interior Design).

We are always happy to offer our advice to clients looking to hire a designer or other industry professional. Get in touch if you have any questions!