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Your biggest challenge as an interior designer?

Emily H
June 5, 2014
last modified: June 5, 2014
As you work in your industry and deal with changing trends, clients and other professionals, what would you say is your biggest challenge as an interior designer?

Share your experience! (photos encouraged)

my office · More Info

Comments (245)

  • PRO
    Select Hardwood Floor Co.
    I think the point being made by MANY of you in the Design Trade (as well as some of us in the product & service industry) is well illustrated in this exchange I noticed on Houzz...
    https://www.houzz.com/discussions/can-you-tell-me-where-to-purchase-the-chairs-and-the-color-and-fabric-dsvw-vd~1034895

    As wonderful as Kittrell & Associates is... why bother asking if the Houzzer needs "design services" when you have just informed them a path AROUND your services?
    I don't get it... what am I missing here? Somebody please school me.

    And although, the Showrooms at the Laguna Design Center, are theoretically "to the trade", I don't think I'd put all of my eggs in that basket.
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Michael Taylor Interiors, As a retail furniture biz I always give my designers plenty of room for mark-up. I hated going to furniture stores and the discounts they offered were like WHAT!?! I understand both sides. As a retailer I find some designers/decorators are a little too high demand. So, everyone gets charged according to level of demand. If your easy then so am I. It's a dog eat dog world these days. Lot's of furniture horrors out there as well. One thing the biggest guy always gets the gold because the more you buy the more discounts you get. And, those guys will stop everyone to make a few hundred real quick. Check out my retail website and maybe I can help you from time to time? www.bohofurnituregallery.com I can drop ship with curbside or white glove in all the lower 48 states. And, buying furniture in advance for customers is a huge NO NO! I finance them if they need a little push.
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  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Select Hardwood Floor Co, Completely agree with you on that note! I try to personalize names of products to protect my self unless it is an exclusive or collectable object. If customers ask for resource info I share based on the wholesale companies ability to protect the trade through policing there retailers online with MAP=min advert price And, if a retailer is not complying with MAP there ass gets reported!!
  • PRO
    Think Design! LLC
    Hi Select Hardwood Floors, You don't need to be schooled perhaps you should be schooling those designers?
    It kills me to see designers complaining when they in fact contribute to their own demise. What many do not realize is that they themselves are the problem. As for the Laguna Design Center several showrooms sell to the public and I personally do not pull sources from there. I only use to the TRADE ONLY those who are open to the public are no matter how they want to portray themselves are RETAIL. I don't believe Witiford Showroom is Retail I believe they are to the Trade but I guess it would be best to ask Chris Kittrell.
  • PRO
    Apartment 46 for the Home
    I keep checking back to read what my awesome peers are saying here and still, the very best piece of advice I can offer is to be sure you charge up front for a consult, charge a set project fee based on an estimated number of hours and don't put your faith in furniture or accessories mark ups. Your expertise and time have so much value. Believe that.
  • PRO
    PH Interiors, LLC
    My last client was lovely but had too much time on his hands. I was redecorating his 5000' square foot house. Occasionally I would walk in and there would be a hideous lamp or nick knack that he was so proud of because he good deal on it on EBay. It would typically be something cheap looking and out dated, but how do you respond honestly when he loved it so much? I decided you can't. It would be like telling someone their baby is ugly. My response "the important thing is that you like it." Sigh.
  • PRO
    Apartment 46 for the Home
    One thing I have encountered several times are clients that start rearranging what I have just installed in the room - like 10 seconds before - because they cannot see the final picture. There are few things that make me crazier. What I said to one of my clients, very politely but honestly was, "Can you imagine how it would feel if you just finished a giant project for your boss or coworker and they came in and started moving the columns around on your preso/spreadsheet because they didn't like the way you had it? How frustrated would you be? That's how I'm feeling right now. I ask that you allow me to finish the install and if a couple days from now you hate it, have at it, but while I am here, working my butt off for you I'd ask that you let me finish." It was eye-opening for my client and I have another client install coming up in which the client is EXACTLY the same. Yes, it is their home. Yes, I am their designer and want them to be happy but NO it is not respectful, normal or even kind for someone to be up in your space moving stuff you just put down. I am sending the aforementioned client an email requesting that he allow me to do final install and not rearrange everything as I'm in there. Many clients forget that we are people who care a great deal about what we do. PH Interiors, LLC, you are a saint. Some babies ARE indeed ugly. :)
  • PRO
    Nancy Schnur of Universal Interiors, LLC
    I am working with two clients right now who are on exact opposite sides of our recent discussion. One sends me emails every twenty minutes asking if I like a particular rug, saying it doesn't match perfectly, or isn't the correct size, but its only $87.00! What a deal! Then there is my other client who has such respect for the work I am doing that they are afraid to buy a vase without tampering with my overall design. Apartment 46 I feel for you, my recent client at least waited until I got home to send me a photo of the wall I had done, which she had promptly redone and wanted to know what I thought. Dealing with the public, always a challenge. But I'll take our way over food service any day :)
  • PRO
    A Blind View, LLC
    Hands down for me is when you give a client great advice and they say " well let me call my friend over and see what she thinks because she's kind of a decorator'' thats when the fun starts all over again
  • PRO
    Nancy Schnur of Universal Interiors, LLC
    LOL I think you win A Blind View!! Of all the woes listed here, that was has to take the cake.
  • PRO
    Center Stage Interiors
    After days and days of reading complaints ( including some of my own), let's face it. We have the best careers in the world. I love what I do and am so grateful for finding this path in life.
  • PRO
    A Blind View, LLC
    Thanks Nancy
  • PRO
    Ellen Pandorf Interior Design
    It's interesting that people looking on this site ask questions about the color, the tile, the light fixture when searching for ideas, not about hiring the designers who do this for a living. It's much like that when I do designer showhouse, it's about copying your design not hiring!
  • PRO
    Select Hardwood Floor Co.
    @Ellen Pandorf Interior Design...
    That's right Ellen... the internet is everyone's personal "brain trust" for ideas & expertise on the cheap.

    Little or no thought goes into the fact that eventually, there will be nobody left in biz to GIVE away free advice... then there will be nothing but a bunch of dumpster divers & do-it-yourselfers blindly following one another's lead.
    Talk about biting the hand...
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Does anyone do change orders? That's why I do not get in to final touches. Selling your self is enough hard work, separating ppl from their $$$ is hard work. I really don't care their taste in decor. I'm making money on the initial consult and that is only for listening. I don't offer anything there because 1. waste of time 2. then they are on the ph. with friend for opinions 3. Just sell the big stuff and next. And, selling flooring, counters, wall coverings, window treatments, is a cake walk. If you have good trade partners like Select Hardwood Floor who pay nice percentages, keep them fed. They do all the work and send you a nice check! I love it. Most of the money is in FF&E plus large furniture. Your trade partners need to sign there own contracts, do their own repairs, and handle their own change orders. They just send you a check. It's glorious! Two words sell, delegate. My partner often gets wrapped around doing everything perfect. Drives me crazy. If you want perfect vignettes then decorate your own and advert them. Oh, and lol. Don't forget "UGLY SELLS".
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Not that I'm trying to prove a point or that any of us has time to read all this. But, consider the whole ugly sells concept and check out the heading of this post. I hate sharing marketing because it is so hard to get to the bottom line but everyone on this feed is considered my family, examine the concept. It took me 14 yrs. to realize https://www.houzz.com/discussions/what-do-i-do-with-this-gaudy-rococo-bedroom-set-help-dsvw-vd~610717
    must be 500 posts now, even the title lured me in.
  • PRO
    Think Design! LLC
    Boho yes ugly sells and after having been visually scarred for life with the images from that link, I can only say... and then man created the Walmart shopper. I just keep in mind for my own sanity that there is specific niche in society for that particular clientele and that is not mine. If they are happy more power to them as that is what we all strive for anyways...with that in mind I hope happiness finds us all too.
  • PRO
    Select Hardwood Floor Co.
    @Think Design...
    Agree with you... everyone needs to identify the niche they strive to appeal to, and focus on that.
    I long ago gave up the idea that once in a while, it was necessary to "wrestle around in gravel & broken glass" with the low price junk peddlers just for the sake of making a sale... simply will NOT do it anymore! That dog simply WILL NOT HUNT!

    By doing it, one does GREAT disservice to their own self esteem... not to mention that it's a slap in the face to QUALITY seeking Clients who are willing to compensate you for products & services they feel are worth the extra money... In essence, you end up penalizing the GOOD clients by devoting the rewards of their patronage to chasing the low-end price hunters.
    I had 2 separate calls this morning from a "potential" customer who stated quite clearly she was looking for the cheapest hardwood flooring she could find. When I suggested that she may be overlooking the fact that with low pricing, usually comes low quality... she seemed oblivious, and doubled down stating that she didn't even care what specie was used as long as it came in a particular color range and hand-scraped finish.
    It was with GREAT satisfaction, after her second call, that I cheerfully directed her to the big yellow sign guys who specialize in "liquidating" substandard products to an unsuspecting public... and told her Good Luck!
    After all, who am I to try to interfere with her race to the bottom?
  • PRO
    Think Design! LLC
    Select Hardwood, that is just a sign of our times we live in a throwaway society so I figure I will use that mentality to my advantage...I toss them aside and never look back. I also tell them I am a quality design firm working for clients of the same caliber. I tell them I have been trained to design an environment that reflects my client residential or commercial therefore how do they wish to be seen?
    I find it interesting that the person who called did not read into the name of your company..."SELECT" Hardwood Floor you should have pointed that out :-)
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    From high-end to low. Ugly sells. And, yes we live in a throw away society. I sell them what they want. Because, high-end would actually begin with names like Boca De Lobo, Henredon, Nina Campbell, Arthur Brett, Lexington Home, on and on are a few. If your selling Amini, Home Elegance, and the like then you are still selling junk. And, that is still a disservice in my eyes. If they like it, I love it. I don't take anything personal. So, if you have a "high-end" client calling once a month then praise you, please share your secrets here. I would love nothing more than to have a real "high-end" client appointment even once every quarter. Mid-end and low end have almost become one.
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Think Design, I agree was very scaring. I get the new comments everyday. I delete before opening. It's like this long never ending post of terrible bargain shoppers. They were spurred on by super ugly Rococo knock-off out dated set and then made comments about painting it, omgosh! Then led up to Walmart crap? Very popular post. Select Hardwood why do you care if the woman wanted that low end stuff? Give her a warranty that fits, 72 hrs. Just wondering? I know you can get bad reviews, right? I'm just wondering because I have a hard time selling a 599.00 sectional. I have only agreed to sell one in the last four yrs. Some ppl really know how bad it is and still purchase it. I would send most of those buyers down to the competitor. But, then I wondered why I was doing that. I started to question my self and still do.
  • PRO
    Select Hardwood Floor Co.
    @Boho...
    You ask "why not sell low end"...?
    3 MAIN reasons immediately come to mind.

    1} If the customer is so intent on finding the cheapest product available, their goal is to make sure that there is NO extra $$$ left on the table... which means your margin has to be almost nonexistent. After 38+ years in the biz... I don't do this because I need the practice.
    2} Risk vs. reward... Once you've decided to "deal" with that customer base, you are also "saddled" with all of the high maintenance nit-picking that is almost ALWAYS a character trait for those individuals trying to make sure that they have drained every last penny out of the vendor, as well as their will to live.
    3} As a result of the conditions that make LOW MARGIN a necessity for dealing on that level, you have got to keep your fingers crossed & pray constantly that there are no unforeseen problems or difficulties... because if there is, you'll be digging into your own pocket to do the fix.

    And as far as giving the 72 hr. warranty, that sounds like a great idea... but we both know that would never work... the people who spend DAYS & DAYS or even WEEKS hunting for low priced junk, obviously have nothing better to do with there time than to make your life miserable, if they think they can squeak a little more "value" out of you... whether it's in cold hard cash, or your added time & effort.
    Just not worth it, in my opinion...
    There are way too many QUALITY seeking Clients out there to invest time & effort in the losing proposition of participating in the price wars.
  • PRO
    Think Design! LLC
    Select Hardwood, you are so right on I am crushing on you! I at the beginning use to try to please everyone and at the end felt depleted and defeated. I learned the hard way that the NO- margin customer was usually an individual who literally enjoyed making you squirm and is the customer that will call you if there is a slight flaw or damage they may have inflicted to the item and have you replace it for new regardless of warranty. These customers often times have the money to pay and it is all just a game. This is how I learned the truth: I had a client that was a BILLIONAIRE who literally wanted very expensive items for nothing. I tried and tried to please them thinking this would launch me as a designer. I was called at all hours, shopped, and made to hate doing what I loved...design. I finally got the balls to fire them when I over heard them talking to their friends telling them how they acquired the home I was designing for them. They were reeling in the joy of sticking it to the previous owners and they and their friends were laughing. I was so upset and pacing back in-forth in the other room before I lost it and walked in the room told them off and fired them as a client in front of their friends letting them know I saw them all as the boil on the butt of humanity. To tell you the truth I could not believe I did this but I did. This is the first time I have ever told this to anyone because it probably was not the most professional thing to do but it sure as hell felt good and a weight was lifted. I thought at that time I would NEVER work in that circle again but I was good with that because they were NOT good people. I had to be at peace with myself. Believe it or not one year later that client friend requested me in LinkedIn and I rejected them. I figured I did not need to become a battered woman...if the milk is sour why put it back in the refrigerator and continue to drink sour milk?
    I made a promise to myself that no matter what my integrity will never be sold even if it is a billionaire client and trust me that was one of the hardest paydays to walk away from but I did. Trust me I think about it every time I pay bills! LOL I knew deep down they would be laughing at me with their friends just like they did with the others they screwed out of an honest living...so not worth being the joke it felt better to laugh and walk away. Oh, I also think about them when in Costco, Trader Joe's etc. they are in the food industry and I make it a point never to buy their products it is my own way of sticking it to them and I laugh inside when I pay at the register for my own satisfaction. :-)
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Wow Think Design, good for you! Thank-you for sharing. I think 99.9% of customers have it in them to get things for free and cause small biz pains. Does not matter what level they are on. My invoices are iron clad. Learned the hard way too many times. Sometimes I feel like helping a low budget customer with up-graded furnishings because it feels good to help, then they want to bite ya in the butt? Most of the time they appreciate it though. When I got away from ind. design work and opened a furniture retail location I thought it would be much easier, No it was not. It's actually way more competitive so sometimes forced to sell things I know are not so great. It's a Chinese mentality, lol. Omgosh.... Thank-you for your input Select Hardwood :)
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Rebecca Mitchell Interiors, Was wondering what brand those Hepplewhite dining chairs are? That design you did for that customer is very Serene, beautiful :) Glad it worked out. I guess that is a big complaint for me to is chasing product for customers. Sometimes they get so crazy I have to tell them that I'm just A retailer, I'm on their side, I don't freight forward, I don't warehouse, I don't consolidate, I don't push the gas on trucks or boats. Keeping some customers calm can be a real stress. Good Work!
  • PRO
    Rebecca Mitchell Interiors
    @Bobo thanks for your comments and question. The dining room furniture was all from Hickory White - COM on chairs.
  • PRO
    MJ Designs
    One of my biggest challenges is scaring a potential client with a realistic estimate of time of completion. After 16 years of experience as a designer, I know it can take a good 9 months to renovate an entire home. I want to be honest with them up front but unfortunately, I have lost a few jobs this way. Are the contractors I'm working with slow or are other designers/GC quoting less time so they can get the job??
  • PRO
    PLC Interiors
    MJ - I'm an independent designer and work with either the GC the client has already chosen or one that I recommend. I let the GC quote the time frame since I can't (I'm dependent on him/her as to how fast or slow it goes). You're right, it can take 9 months but it could also take 6 months. If a prospective client asks me about it, I am vague and explain that I don't set the schedule.
  • PRO
    Aggie dba Aggie Designs
    MJ, I've found that at the beginning of the project the client is very unrealistic about the timeline, and they get more realistic as the project starts and they see how long things take. But you are right, you don't want to be the first person telling them it will take triple the amount of time they think it should. So I think we are OK to quote them a time that is realistic say to install all stock items, provided that everything is available and in stock, and ready now. They think, for example, IKEA has a full stock non-stop and that it will be delivered on the day they want. Then they see that the sink is on back order for 6 months, etc.

    So I think if they ask, what the timeline would be, you can say something like, if everything we chose are stock items, the project will take 3 months. If we want something nicer, good custom work takes time to complete. Altogether it can take up to 6 months (even though you think it will take 9 months)...

    And yes, most good contractors will be honest, but you run into desperate ones, who will say anything the client wants to hear:(
  • PRO
    MJ Designs
    @PLC: Excellent advice. I've been put on the spot to quote time frame but it's really not my job. Thank you for sharing. :-)
  • PRO
    MJ Designs
    @Aggie: Thanks for your response. I like this tactic too!
  • PRO
    Boho Furniture
    Aggie, you are so right. Agreed. Sometimes you have to fudge it to keep up. But, you also have to read your client to see if you want to put up with their naggy times or if you want to pass the unrealistic client buck.
  • PRO
    Interior Remedies
    After hearing a peer complain about the number of daily hours and effort, (without the equivocating results) she puts in on social media, which BTW all looks professional, I commented about my concerns that she was being observed as an information center rather than a proficient designer seeking work. There's a line that must be drawn....show your talent. ..charge for information and "work" Sourcing is work! The language is, " I can order it for you if you like".
  • PRO
    Interior Remedies
    I recently bid on a job and was passed over. I asked for feedback and was told another "designer" came in at less than half of my already extremely reasonable rate.....it wasn't a pro rate, for sure. This look-alike will obviously bilk this customer by stacking hours.....the customer wont get the pro results either....
    He made a good point though...after looking at my website told me it looked like I only did high end work...I am now considering how to attract a middle client.
  • PRO
    Select Hardwood Floor Co.
    @Interior Remedies...
    And the problem with appearing to do "high end work" is what?
    Don't second guess yourself into downplaying your talents in the "hopes" of appealing to a lower level client base.
    As they say... "be careful what you wish for..."
    Take it from me... even the mid-range client is drawn to the high end look... the task is finding out whether or not they recognize the "difference" and are willing &/or able to adjust their sense of VALUE for the project.

    If you dampen your presentation, you'll find that the client base worth appealing to will breeze on by... while the dumpster divers will be plentiful.
    Lowering your identity is like joining a "race to the bottom" IMHO.
    Regarding the lost client who suggested you "only do high end"... sounds like ANOTHER individual trying to live beyond their means... you may have dodged a bullet.
  • PRO
    Al Fortunato Furnituremaker
    An interior designer I work with says there a two types of clients. Those that are financially comfortable and just want it done (high end), and the wann-a-bees. You don't want to work for the wann-a-bees (high end on a big box budget).
  • PRO
    Think Design! LLC
    Hi Everyone it has been sometime since I was Houzz and I just read all your responses to Interior Remedies and you are all spot on. Interior Remedies first that person should NEVER be your client and be thankful they are gone. First a decorette low balled you and you should send them a thank you card. That potential client was only interested in what they can get for less. He/she was fishing for CHEAP decorating labor and they will obtain that with the person they hired. The decorator will shop Houzz for ideas and STEAL a pro's work because they can we make it easy and free. Second: The "potential Client said your site looks like you do high-end work so if he/she is not high end why did he call you and why was he on your site? Think of it this way people shop Walmart, KMart, Target, Sears, Macys, Nordstrom, Neimen, Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf. Some just window shop the stores they can't afford. You need to qualify your clients prior to meeting them and decide if they are your clientele and need your services. Your work speaks for itself, your work looks high-end because you are a professional and those are your clients. You need to decide who your target clients are and work within that market by qualifying them first. Good luck!
  • PRO
    Minnesota Cabinets, INC
    Our biggest challenge is working with sub-contractors. After spending so much time on a beautiful design you have to trust them to come through with the design. It's hard to find good ones, especially tile layers!
  • PRO
    Evoke Space

    This is a really good topic. I would have to say our biggest challenge is our clientele. Lovely California people feel entitled and expect you to bow down to them. I think this is in part because we handle a ton of our clients money. But I would have to say this is our biggest. Followed by contractors. Lol.

  • PRO
    Transforming Rooms

    Getting people to be realistic about their budget, and staying focused so they don't make impulse purchases. It's not fun to be the one to remind people of their budget... UNTIL the room is completed for much less than they thought they needed to spend and they LOVE IT!! For the ones that trust the process, it all works out.

    Designers help you think outside the box!

    Often homeowners will want to do things that would put them way over budget - we'll show them how a few "tweaks" can make a major impact, such as by adding color through a window valance or a new tile back splash.


    Remodeled Kitchen on a budget · More Info

  • PRO
    Saanti Design

    Totally agreed. Clients often do not realize that designers can safe them money. However, sometimes they do not realize the cost of renovations or furniture and we have to convince them of the best options. The best clients are the ones that let you just do your thing and I have yet to have a client who was not totally happy with the result. Unfortunately not all people are confident enough to give up control, which can be frustrating for us, designers, and ultimately cost us way more time to get to the end result.

  • PRO
    Center Stage Interiors

    Saanti Designs is so right! I spend more time selling people on my ideas when all they need to do is trust the process. Sometimes it's exhausting....

  • PRO
    Laura Wallis

    Terrific topic. So many insightful and thoughtful comments.

  • PRO
    Transforming Rooms

    It helps (tremendously) to ask a new client to look at your portfolio in the early stage (and before & after photos). It helps them:

    1) realize what an experienced designer can do - even on a limited budget!

    2) shows them you really listen, and can work with different personalities and styles

    3) allows them to see how designers think outside the box - to provide solutions they may not have thought of

    4) helps the "anxious to proceed" spouse communicate goals with the "not on board" spouse!

    Window Treatments · More Info

    I love this story board so we can all help each other!! It helps to know others run into the same situations.

    "Like" if you AGREE!

  • PRO
    Saanti Design

    So comforting to get encouragement and support from peers! Something not often discussed is the mediation job we have to do between husbands and spouses, partners, siblings, roommates, etc! It demands patience and some psychology insight! Most people think our jobs are mostly consisting of fun! I hear myself explaining over and over the true value we bring to our clients!

  • PRO
    Transforming Rooms

    We'd be rich if we had a dollar for every time we hear "I've always wanted to be a designer" and or "do you need an intern?"

    We spend a large percentage of our time searching (which can be very time consuming), following up with upholsterers, painters, seamstress staff, tile installers, electricians, delivery men, our sources, etc. The "behind the scenes" requires much more than people realize.

    The one thing that keeps us going is the end result of making clients happy!

  • PRO
    Friedman Design Group

    Doing Residential Design/Private Homes eventually Burnt me out after a 10 years in the line because many of the reasons mentioned above. As long as I was using my energy for 50% Design & 50% Psychiatry (those who feel/felt it, know what I mean) I was still able to deal with it, but once I realized that I'm actually spending 70% of my energy on Psychiatry & only 30% on Design, I wasn't able to deal with it anymore so I got out of the Residential Kitchen Because I couldn't take the heat & started focusing on Commercial Design Projects which I was doing as well at that time until I was able to get to the point where I don't except Private Homes anymore & what a breather it as been ever since.

  • PRO
    Saanti Design

    I am there with you!!!

  • PRO
    Pyramid Design Group Architects

    Shouldn't this be in the pro to pro section

  • PRO
    CM Natural Designs

    Sourcing was always our biggest challenge but it's so much easier once we found Interior Atlas. Can't recommend it enough! www.InteriorAtlas.com

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