Every now and then, I read a blog post that mirrors my own thinking and philosophy so well, that I just have to share it with my readers. Such is the case with the talented Anne Lubner. Her post, this week, is so spot on, I think it should be required reading for anyone considering doing their own interior design. Enjoy!
This painting is Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy by Francois Lemoyne. There are many things that make it difficult to tell the truth. Who among us hasn’t been in this position: We’ve been asked for our opinion by someone who doesn’t really want the truth. The person asks for our opinion, but we know that to be 100% truthful would create hurt feelings, disappointment, and maybe even jeopardize the relationship. The problem is that when people ask us for our opinion, often what they really want is our validation. They want us to like whatever they did.
As Guylaine Rondeau, a graphic designer at Guylaine Rondeau Design wrote, “In a world becoming quickly and obsessively a do-it-yourself-everything, someone will inevitably one day come and ask you the painful question. The most difficult time for being honest is when someone designed something on their own and asks a professional designer for their opinion on the final result.”
As interior designers, we get DIY’ers who show us their do-it-yourself projects and wait expectantly for our response or ask us outright for our opinion. It’s awkward because we know what they really want to hear is that they did a good job and it looks beautiful. It’s awkward because 9 times out of 10, we see the mistakes and how we would’ve made the project better.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. We all hire experts all the time to get the best results. The tailor, the plumber, the caterer, to name a few. Few of us dare risk ruining our expensive suit. Hardly anybody feels competent enough to fix their hot water heater. The very idea of preparing a gourmet meal for our daughter’s engagement party has us calling our friends for help–to find a good caterer, that is. Oh and let’s not forget the hair stylist. I don’t know a single person over the age of 5 who doesn’t get their hair cut by a professional. Who’d want to risk having to wear a hat for 6 weeks?
So why do people feel they can be their own expert when it comes to interior design?
HGTV has fueled an explosion of interest in interior design and decorating. Decorating shows appeal to people who have a genuine interest in making their homes beautiful and I’m all in favor of that! Unfortunately, viewers often infer that interior design and decorating are not difficult, that anybody can do it, that it can be reduced to a formula. This can lead to the totally unrealistic expectation that everyone “should” be able to decorate their homes beautifully. People need to realize that decorating shows are entertainment, not education. Sure you can pick up tips, but don’t be surprised if your results don’t look professional, because there is a lot that goes into designing interiors. The shows do not tell the whole truth about what good interior design involves, nor can they in 30 or 60 minutes. Most of the real work is done off camera, somehow labor costs are usually not included in the budget, and beautiful furniture can be picked up for a song. Watching a design show in order to learn how to design and decorate your home is like trying to learn what giving birth is like by watching a woman having a baby on a sitcom. You can see what’s going on but still not know what the experience is really like – and the baby sure appears a lot faster than in real life. Not that there isn’t a wealth of design talent to learn from. It’s always inspiring to see good design; one show I’ve always enjoyed is Candice Olson’s “Divine Design”.
You can learn a lot about what you like and don’t like by looking at pictures in shelter magazines and reading the articles. My favorites are House Beautiful, Veranda, Elle Decor, and Traditional Home. There are always good tips and beautiful rooms you can study to help train your eye. That’s still not enough to make anybody an interior designer though.
While I believe we are all born with creativity and an appreciation for beauty, that doesn’t mean everyone has the talent to create interior beauty in their home. People can learn the elements of good design, and which steps to follow, but good interior design goes beyond following a formula. Anyone can take an art class and learn to paint a landscape, but that doesn’t make them an artist. Good design involves more than education, there’s artistic talent involved, and while appreciation can be taught, some talents are just inborn. This applies to anything creative: writing, painting, music, cooking, dancing, singing, anything design related. Expressing beauty is harder than it looks.
Interior design is a marriage of right brain and left brain, of creativity and art with analytical and project management skills. And we may have talent but not enough, like Salieri in the movie “Amadeus.” I have clients who have an eye for beautiful furniture, but not how to combine colors; who know how to arrange accessories but not pull the room together. I sing well enough to get compliments in church, but believe me, nobody would ever compare my singing with Celine Dion or Lady Gaga.
And this leads to my next theory on why people feel the desire to be their own interior designer. I suspect they think if they hire an interior designer, they can’t take any credit for how good their house looks. That can be true with some designers who are more concerned with “The Look” than with the client, but they are in the minority. That’s certainly not how I work.
What I absolutely love-love-love about interior design is the creative design process, the happy satisfaction I get from helping people discover their own style, their inner creativity. It’s the joy that springs from the synergism of collaborating together to create a space that perfectly reflects who they are and how they want to live in their home. It’s a partnership not a dictatorship.
Maybe people think hiring an interior designer is expensive. Consider that it can easily cost a few hundred dollars to have the plumber come fix your water heater, to have your carpets cleaned, your trees trimmed, etc. Anytime you have a professional come to your home to perform a service, it costs but it’s worth it because in the long run, it actually saves us money. Surely spending that much to make sure your DIY project isn’t heading for mediocrity or disaster is a worthwhile investment too. Nobody ever thinks their DIY project will come out anything but great, but there are a lot of not so great DIY projects out there. It’s a shame to spend your budget on furnishing and decorating a room, or remodeling a bathroom, only to have it turn out just okay, or worse. If you’re going to work that hard, you want it to turn out great!
Many designers, including myself, do consulting work for a reasonable fee as well as offer complete design services that are well within budgets much more modest than those seen in Architectural Digest and other shelter magazines. It doesn’t matter how big our homes are, we all deserve to feel our home is our castle!
Which means that before you buy that furniture, hire an interior designer to design a space plan for you. That way you will know before you go shopping what the focal point will be, which pieces will work best for how you’ll use the room, which pieces it’s worth spending a little extra on, and what pieces you can spend less on, and you’ll know the furnishings will be in appropriate scale to the room. You’ll know that your investment of time and money will pay off in a beautiful room that’s just right for you.
You may not be able to afford Mario Buatta’s designs, but most designers don’t charge his fees either.
And certainly before you go painting your living room, hire an interior designer to help you select the right color, one that won’t have you gasping in dismay when you see the painted room. This is a very reasonable fee, one that can save you hours of back-breaking re-painting. [Don't even think of trying to duplicate the above wall finish on your own, this is a project that needs to be specified by an expert and accomplished by an artisan!]
But what if you didn’t hire a professional and you chose to do it all by yourself, should you ask a designer their opinion? And if you’re the interior designer being asked, should you be honest?
I think if the selections haven’t been ordered yet, and there’s still time for a designer’s input to be implemented, and one makes it clear that one really is looking for guidance, then it makes sense to ask a designer for their opinion.
But if someone has just spent thousands of dollars on new furniture or a basement remodel, would that person really want to hear how the project would’ve been improved if XYZ had been done instead?
Let me put it this way: If you’re at a party where the appetizers are just okay, and the hostess who’d made them asks you what you think of the hors d’oeuvres, how would you feel? What do most people say? Right. Good manners trumps Truth.
When I’ve been put in this awkward position, I say what I like and hope that’s enough. I’ve toyed with the idea of saying what I would’ve done differently, if only to demonstrate that I really do know what I’m doing, but I don’t. I don’t want to jeopardize the relationship.
So I say that if you really want an honest opinion, ask an interior design professional, but ask them at the beginning of the project, not the end. If what you really want is validation, ask your friends. But please don’t ask an interior designer for their opinion when what you really want to hear is how good a job you did. As Guylaine says, “if you can help it, please don’t ask, we love you and we just don’t want to hurt your feelings.